P.T. Barnum would delight in Trump’s White House run

Published on July 31, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

The metaphor most frequently applied to Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential candidacy is that it sucks up all the oxygen, denying other candidates media attention for their own campaigns.

The media obsession with the self-promoting billionaire and reality show host seems to be having an enormous impact upon the Republican contest, despite hardly anyone taking Trump’s prospects seriously as the eventual winner.

Read more.

Will it be Hillary, Jeb, Marco or Rand?

Published June 15, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record

Observers of the American political scene might wonder why the 2016 U.S. presidential contest is drawing some 20 prospective contestants, most of whom have engaged in a peek-a-boo exercise of “exploring” their candidacies, while evidently running flat out.

The motivation for exploratory campaigns relates to the regulation of campaign fundraising, which is more flexible before an official declaration is made. The reason for the massive number of candidates — many of whom have little prospect of winning — pertains to ego, a desire for attention in the media spotlight, and alternate agendas.

Read more.

Former NWT Premier George Braden Died on Monday Night

George Braden was the first NWT government leader to be called “premier” in the NWT. I got to know George when I was completing my project on territorial devolution in the Canadian north.  At time, he was working for another former territorial Premier, Dennis Patterson, who is the Senator for Nunavut.  I had interviewed George in Ottawa, I think, several years ago and was amazed at the vast amount of knowledge he had and how generous he was in sharing it.

Several years later, when the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations invited me to contribute a chapter to its 2011 State of the Federation book, I readily agreed but only if George would co-author and happily, he agreed.  And boy was a glad, because his knowledge of territorial intergovernmental relations was vast and unparalleled.  Check out our chapter here (ungated) and you can find the entire book here.

George was a real joy to work with, whether as a co-author or simply as someone I could bounce my crazy ideas off of about the north.  We had, at one point, talked about doing a conference and book on the north, with Kirk Cameron.  The goal was to gather all of the territorial “founders” together to talk about “the once and future” political and constitutional development of Canada’s territories but much to my regret, we never put aside time to do it.

Here’s the story about George’s passing.

Full public disclosure: Publish water bills?

Published Apr. 30, 2015, in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Over the last several years, accountability and transparency issues have been at the forefront of discussions and news coverage of Canadian politics. The usual targets have been politicians such as former MP Bev Oda, former Alberta premier Alison Redford, and senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin. Other popular targets include the “sunshine list” of public-sector employees at all levels of government, such as professors, teachers and police officers, among others.

The usual narrative in these stories is how we need more accountability and transparency in our governments. In practice, this means the government should post more public information about these politicians and employees, such as salaries, benefits and expenses, and to include as much detail as possible about their office, travel and technology expenditures.

Read more…

 

Rethink policies on extracurricular activities

Published Apr. 23, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Over the last several months, Ontario teachers have been negotiating new collective agreements with their school boards and in some cases, with the Ontario government.

As students inch closer to graduation day, some parents have started to worry about the possibility of teacher strikes or school lockouts, the former of which is occurring in Durham this week. Others are concerned about the possibility of “work to rule,” where teachers protest the pace of their negotiations by ceasing all extracurricular activities to focus solely on teaching the curriculum.

In most cases, work-to-rule is the first line of defence for teachers when collective bargaining hits a wall. This strategy is designed to put pressure on the school boards to negotiate in good faith without jeopardizing the ability of students to complete their studies.

When work-to-rule happens, however, many parents and students complain bitterly about how unfair it is that they must suffer as innocent bystanders in the dispute between teachers and school boards.

Read more…

Obama-Netanyahu spat just political game-playing

Published Apr. 11, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

In discussing the future of Middle East peace, it should be stipulated that whether it takes a year, a decade or a century, at some point a partition and “two state” solution of some kind is inevitable.

Unfortunately, the implementation of this is nowhere on the horizon, and in fact prospects have regressed in recent years as the optimistic memories of the Oslo Accord fade. That said, the ramifications of the Barack Obama-Benjamin Netanyahu spat for the future of Middle East peace seem neither as revealing nor as significant as the initial media outburst would suggest.

An important part of Netanyahu’s motivation in criticizing the Iranian nuclear deal was probably an attempt to stiffen the U.S. bargaining position, rather than simply scupper the negotiations, much as he might have wished to do that as well.

Read more…

Reviewing Journal Manuscripts: Some Thoughts

Earlier this week, I received an email from the editors of Political Research Quarterly that I was one of the recipients of the 2014 PRQ Outstanding Reviewer Award. Odd, right? But I must admit it was also somewhat gratifying. Reviewing manuscripts is often a thankless task and doing a good job rarely produces any tangible benefit to the reviewer.  So the award, from a large and well-respected political science journal, was actually kind of nice.

The first thing I did after receiving the email, of course, was to pull up the reviews I did for PRQ last year.  According to my records, I seem to have only reviewed one manuscript (twice) for the journal, but the review was typical of how I do them now.  At the core of all of my reviews is to start from a position of respect for the author(s) of the manuscript.  Why respect? Because these authors probably spent months and months on this papers and it would be disingenuous of me to believe that I have some sort of absolute authority or expertise on the topic.  Also, if we keep the idea of respect front and centre when we review papers, no matter their level of development, then everyone will be happy and the peer review process, wait for it, may actually work to everyone’s advantage! Continue reading

So, what are some things I keep in mind when I review manuscripts?

1) Always respect what the authors are trying to do and never read the manuscript in terms of what you wished they had done.  You aren’t a co-author!  As long as the authors make the case that the paper makes a contribution in some form, then the task of the reviewer is to assess whether they are successful in making that contribution.  So once I make a decision on whether the paper’s question and answers are a contribution (which is almost always the case), given the journal, I usually focus all of my time on assessing the rigour of the paper (e.g. concepts/theory/methods/data and analysis/conclusions).

2) Subdivided your comments and suggestions into two categories: absolutely necessary changes and changes that would be nice, but are purely optional. Again, I try to respect the fact that this isn’t my paper and I haven’t been working on it for months and months.  And so I try to identify some things that are clearly necessary to ensuring the paper meets the standards of the journal, then I provide some other things that might be helpful, but perhaps aren’t necessary for defending the basic arguments and contribution of the paper.  I always tell the authors which suggestions are necessary for my support, and which suggestions are purely optional and can be dismissed if they provide some convincing reasons.

3) Turn around reviews within a week or two.  Without exception, we all hate waiting on reviews. Everyone I know complains about long delays from reviewers and journals.  Yet delays are the norm!  I don’t get it. Again, respect that publications matter for careers, for future research and for public policy development.  So get off your butt and carve out an afternoon or two to review that paper that has been sitting in your inbox.  Respect your colleague’s careers and the amount of time they put into the paper and turn around your reviews asap so they can make revisions or send the paper to another journal.

I would say those are the big three things I try to do. The other thing I do is communicate with editors when I know or can pretty much guess who the authors of the paper are.  Our discipline and subfields are pretty small and I think it’s important we declare any possible conflicts of interests to the journal editors.  Let the editors decide and make assessments of manuscripts and referee reports with full information. That includes letting them know that you reviewed a paper previously for another journal!

Israel-U.S. ties strong despite leaders’ friction

Published Feb. 25, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record

Much has been made of the personal animosity between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two men clearly have had differences and don’t play well together.

However, even if we assume the invitation to the Israeli leader by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to address Congress on March 3 — bypassing the president and the U.S. State Department — was a bush league stunt used for partisan advantage, the long-term implications of it are minimal.

American support for Israel in its conflicts with the Arab world was not always as automatic as in recent times. That support grew over the years in the face of Palestinian alignment with the Soviet Union during the days of the Cold War, and then the emergence of Islamic hostility to America, the West, and even modernity, among its extreme elements.

Read More. 

Uber decision may be out of region’s hands

Published Jan. 28, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Uber, the popular “ride-sharing” smartphone application, wants to come to Waterloo Region.

The San Francisco-based company has created a business model that effectively shirks municipal taxi regulations and connects passengers and drivers through mobile devices.

The proposed arrival of Uber shouldn’t come as a surprise. The company now operates in more than 200 cities in 45 countries. Setting up shop in Waterloo may only be a matter of time.

Read more. 

Why Makayla Sault was allowed to die

Published Jan. 27, 2015, in the Toronto Star

Like many Canadians, I was saddened to hear about the death of Makayla Sault, the 11-year-old girl who died after choosing traditional aboriginal medicine over chemotherapy to treat her leukemia. Unlike the majority of commentators in the media, however, I was not outraged by her death or by the refusal of the courts to choose provincial legislation over Aboriginal rights. Instead, this outcome was simply the logical product of how Canada has chosen to balance and protect different and competing individual and group rights.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives all of us a set of individual rights by virtue of being citizens of Canada. At the same time, some Canadian citizens enjoy additional rights that accrue to them on the basis of their membership in one or more demographic or cultural groups. For instance, French-speaking Canadians have the right to communicate with the federal government in French whereas I, as a Filipino-Canadian, do not have the right to use Tagalog, a Filipino dialect, to do the same.

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Francophone rights are not the only group rights protected by our constitutional and legal order. Others include gender, religion and Aboriginal rights, all of which seek to protect historically vulnerable groups in ways unique to each case.

Aboriginal rights have particularly complex origins, rooted as they are in the many historical and modern treaties signed with the Crown, but also in a number of pre- and post-Confederation constitutional documents like the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Constitution Act of 1982. As a result, Aboriginal rights empower their holders with a unique legal and moral basis to protect their traditional and evolving cultures, customs and internal constitutional orders in a myriad of ways. In Canadian law, we refer to this basis as Aboriginal self-government or self-determination.

So, in the case of Makayla Sault and other similar situations, legislation like the Child and Family Service Act can rightly and justly be ignored by Indigenous community leaders and members. The special group rights that Indigenous groups have through Canada’s Constitution and through their treaties with us means that they have the right to make unilateral decisions affecting their communities and members within the confines of their traditional and evolving customs and practices.

In many ways, then, the death of Makayla Sault is not as outrageous and illogical as most mainstream commentators portray. Instead, it very accurately reflects a legal and political reality that is consistent with Canada’s approach to human rights. Our country recognizes that all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, have individual and group rights, and that different groups, by virtue of their inherent differences, also have different or asymmetrical sets of rights.

Some Canadians may chafe at this analysis and see it as being the root of the “Aboriginal problem” in this country. All of us, however, need to realize and accept this logic if we hope to build a respectful and just relationship with Indigenous peoples. This is especially true if we believe that the multicultural and multinational character of Canada is worth protecting.

France can no longer ignore Islamic alienation

Published Jan. 14, 2015, in The Waterloo Region Record.

One should be appalled but hardly surprised by last week’s jihadist attacks in Paris.

This has been only the latest and most outrageous of a series of assaults occurring internationally in the cause of trying to incite conflict between the Islamic world and western modernity. That France was the site of these most recent provocations does have some particular implications, however.

It is the western nation with the largest Muslim population and proportion (about eight per cent) and until now has seemed to be the one most dedicated to ignoring potential problems from that source.

The days of sweeping Islamic alienation under the carpet are probably at an end, as free speech in the media has become the focus of the debate and national values are now at stake. Moreover, the spectre of Marine Le Pen and the far-right National Front looms to concentrate the minds of France’s mainstream politicians.

Read more.

Ideology and Political Science: Diversity Matters!

I hate ideology.  Or at least, I’m suspicious of people who are extremely sure and confident about their ideological beliefs.

The discipline of political science is very ideological.  I know from first hand experience that academics like to sort different scholars into different ideological camps, usually based on superficial information (e.g. where you went to school or who you co-authored with) or the reading of only one publication.  Where do I fall? Most believe I’m a hard core right-winger, based on my association with Tom Flanagan (because he was my MA supervisor and we co-authored some books and articles in the past). Yet, the reality is, I’m ideologically confused! Continue reading

People are usually very surprised to hear that.  They would rather have you fall neatly into one of three ideological camps: left, right, or centre (the latter of which my buddy Chris Cochrane will show in his forthcoming book, is not the middle position that people assume it is!).  Last year or so, I participated on a panel for Steve Paikin’s, tv show, The Agenda.  One of the panelists was a very popular and well-known Aboriginal scholar.  Throughout the taping, this person was very cold and detached towards me, right from the first time we met.  By the end, however, he had warmed up considerably, even remarking to me that “you weren’t quite what I expected.”

In any event, I don’t trust ideological certainty and indeed, I value scholarly uncertainty because it facilitates meaningful knowledge production.  Indeed, in my view, an ideal scholarly environment is one where you are surrounded by people who inhabit all parts of the left-right divide but who are open to discussion, debate, and, dare I say it, changing their mind in the face of empirical evidence and logically-sound argument. Surprisingly, however, not all departments agree.

Recently, a number of prominent psychologists published a piece in Behavioural and Brain Sciences that confirms many of my beliefs on this topic. Although the authors are talking about social psychological science, my hunch is that their findings also apply to the discipline of political science in Canada.  Below is the abstract:

Abstract: Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity—particularly diversity of viewpoints—for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: 1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years; 2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike; 3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking; and 4) The underrepresentation of nonliberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.

Check out the article here.

Republicans ignore minorities at their peril

Published Nov. 29, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

As controversial as U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent executive order was concerning the status of undocumented, illegal immigrants in the United States, the issue might pose more strategic problems for his Republican opponents in Congress.

For all the threats and warnings from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner about “not playing with matches” or “poisoning the well,” a review of his own actions suggests the Republicans have themselves contributed substantially to the toxic atmosphere by blocking any legislative proposals by Democrats over the past four years. Moreover, they have been shown to have no new policy suggestions of their own on the issue.

Unlike the Democrats, they are clearly divided in trying to simultaneously satisfy tea party extremists who fantasize about impeaching Obama — among many other radical agenda goals — and the mainstream establishment wing of the party, more based in reality, which just hopes to win elections.

Read more. 

The Imagined Electorate: Values, Perceived Boundaries and the Regional Rehabilitation of Political Culture

Speaker: Ailsa Henderson.

Lecture Dec. 3, 2014 at University of Edinburgh Business School.

Abstract: The Imagined Electorate: Values, Perceived Boundaries and the Regional Rehabilitation of Political Culture
Political culture is often seen as a concept whose time has come and clearly gone, instinctively useful but difficult to treat with precision. Researchers, who have typically employed it as a tool to compare states, have largely been silent on how it might operate at the sub-state level, notwithstanding the considerable research attempting to map regional political cultures within pluri-national or federal states. And yet addressing political culture below the level of the state forces one to explore many of its unanswered questions: How do we know when political cultures exist?; How do we delineate their boundaries?: How important is evidence of distinctiveness? This lecture explores political culture as it operates below the level of the state, identifies the existence of two forms of regional political cultures, identifies markers by which we can identify and delineate political cultures and highlights the importance of perception. It provides data demonstrating that citizens believe they possess distinct values from those in neighbouring regions, even in the absence of meaningful variations in attitudes. The result is an imagined electorate for whom legislators then legislate. Far from proving that regional political cultures do not exist, such imagined perceptions of difference form a central component of the subjective dimensions of politics that political culture as a concept was originally designed to capture. Throughout it argues that by exploring political culture below the level of states we can rehabilitate it as a tool for political scientists.

Ghomeshi affair shows the importance of investigative journalism

Published on Nov. 2, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

The Jian Ghomeshi saga, sordid though it is, has been fascinating on several levels as it played out over the past week or 10 days.

On the most fundamental level, there’s the serious issue of violence against women; yes, in some situations, the state does have a place in the bedrooms of the nation.

On another level, there’s the potency of celebrity in the world of media and entertainment. In the lilliputian universe of Canadian radio, Ghomeshi was a giant; the women he allegedly abused were afraid to complain about him. Then there’s the peril of hubris, as Ghomeshi has surely discovered. Next, there’s the power of social media both to raise up and bring down those who play around with it; Ghomeshi used it to build a following and his own Facebook posting brought him down.

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And, sadly, there’s the cowardice – or call it the willing complicity – of his employer, the CBC, which knew of the allegations against its star radio host for many months, but made its inquiries so cursory that it was able to satisfy itself that Ghomeshi was being forthcoming and truthful when he lied that he was the innocent victim of a vindictive jilted lover. The CBC chose to believe the lie because it feared the consequences of the truth.

The aspect I wish to consider today is something different. It is what the Ghomeshi affair tells us about the importance of investigative reporting. To many people, investigative reporting is just sensationalism for the sake of selling newspapers or attracting audiences. Those people would be wrong.

Investigative reporting is at the heart of responsible journalism. It exposes corruption, abuse of trust and criminality in secret places. It reveals truths that those in power do not want told – in scandals ranging from Watergate in the United States to Airbus in Canada.

But investigative reporting is not easy and it is not cheap – two reasons why there is so little of it done these days. It requires patient, time-consuming research. A single story may tie up reporters for weeks or even months. Editors and lawyers will pick over every word looking for possible libel.

The best investigative reporting in Canada today is being done by the Toronto Star. All other news organizations followed in its wake as it peeled off the layers of the Jian Ghomeshi story. (When the National Post, Globe and Mail and the CBC itself are reduced to quoting Star disclosures, you know that newspaper is on to something big.)

Rumours about Ghomeshi and issues with women began circulating in Toronto media and legal circles last spring. The Star’s Kevin Donovan started work on the story in May, interviewing four women who claimed to have been sexually abused by Ghomeshi. None of the four had gone to the police and none was prepared at that point to let the Star publish her name. Although the Star believed the women – they independently described similar non-consensual experiences – the newspaper decided it would be irresponsible to run such an explosive story based on information from unnamed sources.

That changed when Ghomeshi went on Facebook last weekend to claim that he was the victim of a smear campaign. “A major Canadian media publication (referring to the Star) did due diligence but never printed a story. One assumes they recognized these attempts to recast my sexual behaviour were fabrications,” he wrote.

The Facebook posting was a big mistake. His public denial and assertion prompted the Star to run the story it had been sitting on. It cited separate incidents involving four women. As the week went on, that number grew to nine. At least two agreed to be named and three filed formal complaints with the police.

The sad saga is not over yet. Police are on the case. CBC has hired investigators to find out who in the organization knew what and when they found out. Jian Ghomeshi’s once bright career is in ruins. Sad is the word.