Sunday, December 14, 2008

Free Will and Canadian Politics

I make my bloggingheads debut (and obviously need a better-quality webcam if I'm going to keep doing this) on Will Wilkinson's "Free Will" show, discussing recent Canadian politics.

If you're clicking over here from bloggingheads, browse around the Canada, Quebec, or federalism tags to see more about the stuff Will and I discussed. For my academic writing on federalism, Quebec, and ethnocultural loyalties, see especially this article, "Federalism, Liberalism, and the Separation of Loyalties," APSR.

Updates: I think I did not-bad by the standard of people who've only lived in a country for 30 months, but various commentators at Will's blog and at the BHTV link above note some corrections and supplements to things that I said. One faithful reader e-mailed me with several related objections that I'll put in comments below this post.


Colby Cosh said...

In other news, the situation in Nigeria seems pretty complex.

Jacob T. Levy said...

[comments sent via e-mail:]

One major gripe:

You make Canada seem more left-wing than it is.

Some related points:

1. a) There is a significant cultural and political divide between East and West (which I know you're aware of, but I think you under emphasize it). For example, you state that Canadians, especially in the West, were more worried about separatists ruling than the socialist NDP. That may be true of Ontarians -- although even many Ontario Liberals are weary of aligning with the socialist NDP, even Michael Ignatieff -- but it's not clearly true of Westerners. See the attached photo taken on the way to an anti-coalition government protest in Calgary (I took it off Facebook). Westerns, especially on the right (which is most Westerners), perceive central Canadians as domineering, arrogant, and socialist. How do Ontarians react? By labeling Westerners "American" -- which does nothing but show them to be bigots (which they are -- and I say that as some in a serious relationship with an Ontarian and holding a graduate degree from an Ontario university).

b) The privatisation agenda of the Ralph Klein government of Alberta in the early 1990s was more radical than anything undertaken in the United States that I know of. Klein, or one of his ministers (especially Steve West), would come out in the newspaper and say, "public servants in industry/department x, you're all fired and everything associated with your industry/department is for sale." This might happen again once the current recession seriously slows down the oilsands.

2. There is the history of Quebec prior to the Quiet Revolution. The provincial Liberals were very classically liberal and I understand that the state regulated very little economically. Further -- and this I need to double check -- in spite of social Catholicism, strippers and other socially liberal elements were tolerated. (Montreal's history of tolerance of the sex trade apparently goes back quite far. I need to brush up on my Quebec history.)

3. The federal Liberals prior to Pearson were classically liberal, especially under Laurier. Pearson brought in most of the building blocks of the current Canadian welfare state federally and admitted socialists like Trudeau into the party. This, of course, was in the 1960s and made Canada lag behind the United States and other English countries in adopting a significant federal welfare state.

4. At the time of Confederation, America was scorned by Canadians as unruly and egalitarian.

"For myself, sir, I own frankly I prefer British liberty to American equality. I had rather uphold the majesty of the law than the majesty of Judge Lynch. I had rather be the subject of an hereditary monarch, who dare not enter the hut of the poorest peasant without leave... than be the free and sovereign elector of an autocratic president [i.e. Abraham Lincoln], whose very minister can boast the power to imprisoning one man in New York and another in St. Louis by the touching of a bell-wire!" -- Richard Cartwright, Legislative Assembly (United Canada), March 9, 1865

Two minor gripes:

1) Trudeau did not have a PhD was only briefly a professor (as far as I know). Of Canada's PMs, only MacKenzie-King held a PhD.

2) Most historians (and I) would question your statement that Trudeau was Canada's great Prime Minister of the 20th Century. The title is usually handed to Laurier or MacKenzie-King (both pre-socialist Liberals).

Jacob T. Levy said...

[This is me again:] I guess it's the bias of recentism. I'm a big fan of Laurier, but he doesn't come up in conversation. Almost 25 years after Trudeau's last term ended, I still hear him discussed more frequently and more passionately than any other past PM, and with an ongoing sense among friend and foe that he made modern Canada himself. The current state of federalism, bilingualism, multiculturalism, the welfare state, and the Constitution and Charter are all attributed to him; there's a Great Man aura around him that surpasses the American view of Reagan and reminds me most of my grandparents' generation's view of FDR. (Even though Trudeau wasn't a wartime PM.)

Jacob said...

Harper is from Alberta like Bush is from Texas: both identify with the place but were born in more liberal environs (Ontario, Conn.)

Also, LeBlanc didn't run in the last leadership race.

Colby Cosh said...

The e-mail you've been sent is a pretty good tonic. Your correspondent slightly overstates the viciousness of the Klein Revolution (which was nonetheless pretty awesome if you think "public servants" should occasionally have the fear of God put into them); by most measures of economic freedom and related concepts it only moved Alberta into the middle rank of U.S. states. Plenty radical enough, I suppose.

But you have Trudeau in the right place, certainly. He is our Napoleon, as passionately loathed by his critics (and victims) as he is venerated by his admirers. Most people couldn't name one thing Laurier or King did that didn't involve a European war.