Category Archives: Politics

Free the beer 35 million

In my latest National Post commentary I praise the New Brunswick court ruling that our Constitution (S. 121) does indeed clearly expressly ban interprovincial trade barriers. It’s high time someone did something about them, and shameful that the New Brunswick cabinet apparently intend to continue riding roughshod over the rule of law and their citizens.

See also the paper I had the privilege of co-authoring for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in 2010, along with its Executive Director Brian Lee Crowley and the late Robert Knox, a veteran of efforts to free up interprovincial trade, arguing for striking down all internal protectionism in goods, services and trades on exactly those grounds. It looks as if it’s finally going to happen.


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Raised hands and raised fists

Suppose you are a delegate at a political convention. And suppose a resolution is put forward that “No delegate shall vote for any candidate who threatens violence, or condones violence by his or her supporters, to influence the political process in this party or our nation.” Could you vote against it?

In fact the convention is a major one, being watched carefully by many of your compatriots and many people abroad. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s a question of who you are. Are you someone who could possibly fail to support a resolution that forbids thuggery and intimidation as tools for gaining a nomination or winning election?

Now you may see where this is going. But beware of what Soren Kierkegaard called “a covetous eye on the outcome”. Close your eyes and answer the question clearly and frankly in the privacy of your own conscience.

OK. Now do look at the outcome. Because I am indeed thinking about Donald Trump. And I’m thinking about him because of a post by Ilya Somin on The Washington Post’s excellent “The Volokh Conspiracy” blog, in which he suggests that the Republican Party can, and should, stop Trump by adopting precisely such a rule.

As Somin notes, “The Republican National Convention Rules Committee has almost unlimited power to change the rules by which the delegates vote.” And the committee will be selected from delegates to the convention. He says he is not optimistic about their finding a way to stop Trump. But they “certainly will have the power to do so, even if not the will.”

As Somin further notes, among many other observations and arguments worth reading, “Trump has threatened “riots” if he does not get his way at the convention and repeatedly condoned violence by his supporters against even nonviolent protestors. If there has not been a rule against such behavior in the past, it may be because, until this year, no one imagined that a candidate who condones violence in the political process could get so close to the nomination.”

At this point some people will be saying hold on, this is just a trick to keep Trump from getting the nomination. And it certainly would have that effect. But that doesn’t make it a trick. Rather, it would be a principled decision. If it excludes Trump, it’s because Trump is unfit to be given the nomination.

Some Trump backers, including Canadians, might be inclined to dispute that claim. But before doing so, I ask them please to close their eyes, forget that Trump is involved, imagine if it helps that it’s some radical leftist firebrand who’s actually said the kinds of things he has, and then picture themselves confronted with the resolution above as a voting delegate. And never mind “democracy”.

I’m not asking what you think of other people’s decision to back Trump. I’m asking whether you personally could vote against a resolution blocking the nomination of people who openly advocate and threaten violence not against the nation’s enemies, but to gain political advantage in a political system based on liberty under law.

Could you really?


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The Invictus

There he goes again, you may be tempted to say. Our PM posed with the Canadian Invictus Games team and did their pushup-then-lock-one-arm-and-extend-other-hand gesture while issuing a thinly veiled challenge to Prince Harry and President Obama to do the same or something similar for the British and American teams for the upcoming games in Orlando. NBC headlined it “Watch Justin Trudeau’s Macho Challenge to Obama, Prince Harry” and indeed my first thought was “Showing off again, huh?” But on reflection I’m going to praise him instead.

First, the Invictus Games created by Prince Harry “for wounded, injured and sick Service personnel” are an excellent cause. Second, fitness is an excellent cause. Third, and crucially, the two leaders he implicitly challenges are both themselves healthy and physically active. It would be unfair and in bad taste to call out a political leader who through age or misfortune couldn’t do such a thing. But in this case I appreciate his doing the… well, it sure is a clumsy thing to describe.

So I was thinking of dubbing it “the Trudeau” so we can do it at the dojo without spending five minutes naming it. But I decided “the Invictus” was a better name. Because this time I don’t think he was calling attention to himself but to two worthy causes: rehabilitating wounded members of our Armed Forces and those of our allies, and staying fit.

Yes, it’s a challenge, to other leaders and to the rest of us. But it’s a worthy challenge because most of us should be able to do at least one “Invictus”. If Trudeau happens to look good doing it, it’s because he keeps himself in shape. And that’s a good thing.


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Trump chump

It seems that Donald Trump will indeed win the Republican nomination for president. For months I have been predicting, at first blithely and more recently grimly, that it would not happen. And now I am eating crow. I got it badly wrong and I apologize.

I have no excuse. I don’t even have an explanation. I have great faith in Americans and a great deal more faith in Republicans than most commentators around the world and even, I often feel, in the United States. And perhaps I allowed wishful thinking to distort my sense of what was likely to happen.

The GOP has nominated candidates I did not approve of in the past. So have the Democrats. But normally I could find some sort of explanation, even for Hillary Clinton, who I think would make a pretty bad president. For Trump I just can’t. It makes no sense to want this man as your leader or your representative. You can’t admire his grasp of the issues, his consistent adherence to a philosophy, his suavity, his gravitas.

Sure, he annoys the right people. But so did Ted Cruz and any number of other potential nominees. Ronald Reagan drove them berserk, as did George W. Bush. You didn’t need Trump for that, and I have no idea what anyone does think they need him for. And annoying people may bring a certain sour private satisfaction. But it cannot drive political conduct anywhere you want to go.

I’m not abandoning my faith in the United States or in American conservatives. But I am saying this outcome, and with Ted Cruz suspending his campaign after his crushing defeat in Indiana it seems inevitable that Trump will be their nominee, reflects badly on both the nation and the movement.

It’s too early to risk a prediction about what will happen in the general election especially given how wrong I was about this nomination race. But I am certain that those who backed Trump will eventually be very sorry they did.

As for me, I’m already sorry. In both senses.


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Be counted… or else

Today I got this envelope from Statistics Canada saying “2016 Census: Complete the census – it’s the law.” (Equally rude in French: “Recensement de 2016: Répondez au recensement – c’est la loi”.) I am told the government is the servant of the people. But this peremptory tone, giving orders without even a pretence at “please,” is not how a servant speaks to a master. Quite the reverse.

Remember how all the right people were shocked and appalled when the Harper Tories got rid of the long form census? Without accurate data, they complained, social scientists would find it hard to engineer satisfaction of the human units to a sufficient number of decimal places. Which I always found rather an odd conception of the proper role of government and of its abilities. And look how they talk to us now that it’s back.

The smart set make a lot of fuss about “evidence-based decision-making”. But a decision to trust the intelligence or benevolence of government doesn’t seem to me to be based on much sound evidence. Not even the personal stuff I have to provide or else, according to this envelope that just marched into my house, waved a pair of handcuffs at me and started shouting questions.


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Judges please be nice

An odd piece in today’s National Post by former federal justice minister and attorney-general Peter Mackay laments that “Over the last decade, the Supreme Court has often seemed at odds with elected governments over legislation designed to emphasize enforcement of the rule of law and reflect the public demand for greater accountability.” The complaint is not odd given how often the Court was at odds with the ministry in which he served or given how often Courts do now make law. What is odd is that he offers no remedy.

In the piece, which I’m not linking to because I can’t find an online version, he complains that judge-made law seems not to meet the needs of the situation: “Lost in the activist celebration in some circles are the basic facts. Recidivism rates in some areas of our justice system are on the rise and public confidence in our system is waning and turning victims in particular away from reporting.” And he notes that judges increasingly go beyond their mandate to strike down blatantly unconstitutional law to override decisions made by legislators elected in campaigns in which those issues were thoroughly debated. But his argument seems to be mostly against the substance of what judges are doing, not the process.

To be sure, his concluding paragraph says “Today one branch encroaches on another over mandatory minimums or truth in sentencing. Let the next activist victory not be at the expense of society’s most vulnerable.” And the first part seems to point to rebalancing our constitution. But the second seems to me to be a plea to judges not to misuse their mighty new powers.

I say “activist” victories should not be at the expense of society’s elected representatives, and of the right of the rest of us to control government and set the terms under which it operates. All three branches of government, that is. Which is why, again, we launched our “True Strong and Free” project to fix the constitution, including restoring balance with respect to the judiciary rather than just begging judges to be nice to us.



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