Issues

December 2010

Re: “Canadian Political Science: Missing in Action?,” by Sylvia Bashevkin

Advice to progressives from the Calgary School

Sylvia Bashevkin’s plaintive cri de coeur confirmed my belief that conservatives are winning the war of ideas in Canada. The Calgary School of political science—Barry Cooper, Ted Morton, Rainer Knopff and I, along with our historian outrider David Bercuson—did not cause this transformation, but we and our students have played an honourable part in making it happen. Based on our experience, let me offer five helpful hints to “progressive” political scientists who would like to exercise some influence upon public affairs:

1. Learn to write clearly so you can reach the general public. Shake off the influence of academic trends that are so deadly to effective communication. One is postmodernism, with its misguided insistence on using nouns as verbs (“gendered,” “to foreground,” etc., etc., ad nauseam). Another is multiple regression analysis, with its opaque vocabulary, such as “homoscedasticity” (conservatives, of course, prefer “heteroscedasticity”). Read Hemingway and learn to write short declarative sentences. Do it. Now.

2. Tackle controversial topics that people care about. In The Court Party, Knopff and Morton took on judicial activism. Cooper and Bercuson’s Deconfederation undermined the Meech Lake agenda of endless concessions to Quebec. In First Nations? Second Thoughts, I stood up against the juggernaut of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. All these books were widely discussed in the media and have had some impact on the course of public affairs.

3. Get involved with political parties. If you want to effect change, there is no substitute for getting control of the government, or at least pushing it hard by creating a credible threat to take control. I spent years helping Preston Manning build the Reform party and managing campaigns so Stephen Harper could come to power. Ted Morton got elected to the Alberta legislature, ran for leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, and is now provincial minister of finance.

4.Encourage your students to get involved in public affairs. Danielle Smith, Alberta’s own wild rose, is the fairest flower of the Calgary School. When she won the leadership of the Wildrose party and made it a contender, she scared Ed Stelmach into appointing Ted Morton finance minister. Maybe she’ll be the next premier. Ezra Levant is putting the fear of God, Jehovah, and Allah into human rights commissions—even as he finds time to defend the tar sands. Ian Brodie was Stephen Harper’s chief of staff in the critical first two years in office. Mark Milke, Marco Navarro, and Mercedes Stephenson are working for think tanks and filling the media with conservative commentary. The students of the Calgary School will be its most long-lasting legacy.

5. Have a long-term plan for world domination. The Calgary School is now grooming Sarah Palin to be the next president of the United States. When that mama grizzly is installed as POTUS, our work will be complete. Until then, we will not cease from mental fight, till we have built a Hayekian Jerusalem in Canada’s green and pleasant land.

Tom Flanagan
University of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta


I read with interest and amusement Tom Flanagan’s letter in the January/February 2011 LRC. He makes suggestions from which politicians of all persuasions can surely profit. Although I shall take his remark about his hopes for Sarah Palin to be tongue-in-cheek, however, his point 5 does require comment. It seems strange that he and his fellow Calgary neoliberals should still be trying to built “a Hayekian Jerusalem” in Canada after two years in which the inadequacies of deregulation and free market economics have been so abundantly demonstrated.

Michiel Horn


According to Article 464 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which makes counselling another to commit a criminal act an indictable offence, Tom Flanagan’s incitement to murder WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last December ought to have landed him in jail and led to his dismissal from the University of Calgary. The jury is still out on the police investigation, but the university has shamelessly refused to discipline the murder-by-proxy professor, who was breezy, but clearly not joking, when he made his self-described “manly” suggestion.

So certain was Mr. Flanagan of his immunity that within weeks of committing this potentially criminal act on public television he felt entitled to give condescending lessons in the fine arts of political activism and writing to author Sylvia Bashevkin. Strangely enough, Professor Flanagan neglected to include advocating murder as part of his five-step program towards achieving ideological supremacy.

Was he also joking when he bragged that his “Calgary School” is grooming Tea-Party queen Sarah Palin to be the next U.S. president? What country does he live in? Do the more comic extremes of U.S. Republicanism now look to Alberta for Karl-Rove-style “grooming” advice from one of their ex-patriots?

Flanagan and his provocateur friends have amply warned Canadians about their ideological goals for this country (a “Hayekian Jerusalem,” i.e. extreme libertarianism and hostility to social democracy), which include, as he proudly announced, the indoctrination of a new generation of students. These young people may have entered university with the classic expectation of learning how, not what, to think. Did they agree to have their minds hijacked by teachers with an agenda?

Having received this notice of intent, Canadians who do not share this vision of Canada’s future need to make their voices heard before the next election.

Erna Paris
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “News for the World?,” by Paul Knox

Paul Knox, like myself, is a lifelong journalist. When one of our own, like Stephen Ward, author of Global Journalism Ethics, becomes an academic and then criticizes the ethical code of his former colleagues, it is natural for working journalists to feel slighted.

But Knox should not forget that ethics as practised by journalists is narrow. This is the everyday ethics of checking the facts, challenging the police version of events, or making certain that the marginalized are heard by the mainstream.

These are important tasks. But they involve breaches of well-understood rules and principles within our own society. This is an ethics ill adapted to a globalized world.

To clarify, let’s look at Iraq war coverage.

In 2007 CBS News refused to air a report by its chief foreign correspondent, Lara Logan, which showed murdered civilians in Baghdad, together with footage of Iraqi bystanders blaming the carnage on U.S. soldiers. The network said “some of the images were a bit strong.”

A documentary broadcast by CBC at about the same time showed that the problem was general. Numerous journalists reported censorship of Iraq war coverage, especially where U.S. or coalition soldiers unchivalrously slaughtered Iraqi soldiers using vastly superior weapons. Their employers told them that these images made viewers uncomfortable, an observation echoed by CBS head Leslie Moonves.

Notice how easily the commercial concerns trumped “deep” ethics. When Adolf Ochs selected “all the news that’s fit to print” as the New York Times slogan, he spoke truer than he knew. Generations of editors eroded its meaning until it described little more than the Times’s craven failure to report that President George W. Bush lied about uranium shipments to Iraq. The newspaper feared reader backlash, not to mention being cut out of White House press conferences.

What would a “large” or “global” ethical discussion of this issue look like? It would revisit Hegel’s observation that criticism of the four estates of society could only be accomplished by a courageous “fifth estate.” Over time, journalists evolved a code of ethics to deal with the pressures that would be brought to bear. This was doable because only one estate was embarrassed by a given story, and the other three were avid to read about it.

The problem today is that journalism is global. A story, such as the Iraq war, that challenges the patriotic exceptionalism of a media company’s entire customer base cannot be managed within the Hegelian ethical framework.

By the way, this can also be a sub-national problem where there are ethnic tensions. In the runup to the 1995 Quebec independence referendum The Globe and Mail suspended a series of articles in which separatists explained their viewpoint. The reason was reader outrage. Similarly, an editor asked me not to quote Quebeckers who recalled historic anglophone injustice against the French.

Stephen Ward has not, as Knox alleges, failed to “extract the good from the existing.” Rather, Ward is reminding us that the dictionary has two definitions of ethics. One is “professional standards.” The other is the classical definition of ethics as “the general nature of morals.” He is suggesting that the media need to add the second to the first.

Those of us who have laboured in the trenches should be relieved, not hypersensitive, that this important conversation has finally begun.

Ray Conlogue
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Intervention or Protection,” by Ramesh Thakur

We respect Ramesh Thakur and thank him for his fair summary of our main points. We are happy that he agrees with us on several key issues and look forward to working with him in the future. This letter responds to the most important points on which he feels a “strong sense of unease”—our book’s focus on mobilizing the domestic will to intervene in Canada and the United States and our making recommendations to Ottawa and Washington rather than criticizing the five permanent members of the Security Council and their failures to react at the international level.

Thakur states his criticism directly: he believes that “the real task is to mobilize the international will to intervene” [our emphasis] and to focus on convincing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to act at the international level “to honour and not shirk” their “responsibility to act” when mass atrocities loom. And since the Responsibility to Protect mainly concerns protecting threatened people in developing countries, he proposes that “the conversation on R2P should be principally among their governments, scholars and civil society representatives.” He criticizes us for omitting their voices in our book. What we need to do, he recommends, is “focus instead on the international policy community in New York and hold the feet of the Security Council to the fire of an internationalized human conscience.”

With all due respect, we believe that Thakur and his fellow members of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty addressed that task in their 2001 Responsibility to Protect report. The staff at the New York office of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect is continuing to pursue that task today, ably assisted by experts like those of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect in New York.

In Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership to Prevent Mass Atrocities, which focuses on Canada and the United States, we carried out a different, but complementary task—beginning to fill the gaps identified by the authors of the R2P report when they wrote “the key to mobilizing international support is to mobilize domestic support, or at least neutralize domestic opposition” and when they acknowledged that “the extent to which the domestic factor comes into play does, however, vary considerably, country by country and case by case.”

We agree. And that is why we first studied the obstacles to mobilizing the domestic will to intervene in the United States (where our recommendations are making significant progress) and Canada (little progress yet) and why we are joining with national research teams in South Africa and Britain to prepare studies identifying the obstacles to mobilizing the will to intervene in their countries. We see organizing a series of such country studies in our role in the international division of labour and hope that Thakur will eventually recognize the value of our approach by joining us in our work to operationalize R2P principles.

Frank Chalk, Roméo Dallaire and Kyle Matthews
Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
Concordia University


Re: “A Tangled Tale,” by Douglas Hunter

I welcome this opportunity to respond to Douglas Hunter’s review of A Fleeting Empire: Early Stuart Britain and the Merchant Adventurers to Canada and begin by noting a point of agreement. I concur in his assertion that the growing influence of the Dutch on the Hudson River and Manhattan Island was an issue of wider importance, both strategically and in the context of the fur trade, than I have explicitly stated. In a different study that pursued a broader conceptual framework, I would have analyzed that theme. I do not ignore it completely but instead, via citations, refer readers to secondary material. For the principal British players within this study, however, the Dutch initiatives he refers to were of little direct importance. Cited correspondence demonstrates this.

I disagree entirely with Hunter’s dismissive view of the central aims of the book. As is stated clearly in the introduction, the intention here was to explore what has customarily been treated as a footnote to early Canadian history and its traditional narrative that features French enterprises from the perspective of British interests. This requires both domestic context and the introduction of a variety of individuals who are central to understanding the unfolding narrative. Given that, he should hardly be surprised that much of my analysis rests on those antecedents, and that much of the action takes place on “the other side” of the Atlantic. He is good enough to acknowledge that I expand our knowledge of the likes of Sir William Alexander (the pivotal figure in the story) and Lord Ochiltree. However, he clearly has scant interest in that dimension of the book, and chooses instead to focus on points of detail that would have added little to the study as defined. Addressing them would not have changed my major assertions or analysis.

The role that Charles I and the dynamics of his court played in drawing the Kirke brothers and their backers, and Sir William Alexander and his, together in late 1628 and early 1629, is clear from a variety of sources. These included supplications to the king, interventions from his key advisors and direct contemporary references to his interest. Furthermore, these, and the actions that his agents pursued on the St. Lawrence, on Cape Breton Island and in Nova Scotia, confirmed the need to coordinate efforts, in no small measure because they knew the French were preparing military responses of their own, throughout the theatre, for the spring of 1629. Hunter desires a smoking gun. I would counter that the work demonstrates a series of dots that I have tried to connect persuasively. I hope that interested readers will judge for themselves.

Andrew D. Nicholls
Buffalo State College


Re: “A World Turned Upside Down,” by Taylor Owen

I read with interest “A World Turned Upside Down,” your review of Getting Back in the Game: A Foreign Policy Playbook for Canada. There is no doubt but we need some fresh foreign policy ideas. I was reminded that the caveman’s response to the temperature dropping as the ice age approached was to throw another log onto the fire. Indeed, the opportunity exists for our foreign policy to try and proactively assist as we inevitably move into the post-carbon era. The problem we have is a national government that is in denial and that sees the idea of being strategic as threatening; they have as their priority partisan survival. So given that their perspective is set by the twenty-four hour news cycle, is it any wonder that our foreign policy is 40 years behind the times? To modernize our foreign policy will be a challenge, unless it comes with a Tim Hortons gift certificate.

David McPhee


Taylor Owen and I appear to profoundly disagree on foreign policy, starting with its definition (see his review of Getting Back in the Game and “Open Canada” in LRC Online). Canadian foreign policy is what the government we elect thinks, says and does in the world, on our behalf and in our name. For all the good (and in some cases, ill) that academics, civil society and businesses do abroad, their interactions with the world do not constitute foreign policy, much less “radically democratized” foreign policy, any more than their activities in Canada amount to domestic policy. That is not to say that foreign policy can, much less should, be formulated in isolation from what Canadians think and do abroad, in this age or any other. Nor that international networks are unimportant—working with others to achieve a common goal has long been a feature of Canadian diplomacy. It is, though, to recognize that the exuberance about the liberating, transformative powers of social media notwithstanding, states remain the central actors in global governance, and diplomacy remains an indispensable instrument, including for Canada. Even in the 21st century it remains fundamentally a Westphalian world out there and, post-nationalist Canadians please note, seems likely to stay that way. No one attaches more importance to sovereignty than the emerging powers do, unless it is the United States.

In such a world, Canada qua Canada needs seats at the world’s top intergovernmental tables not, as Owen implies that I think, just for the prestige of being there, but because that is where the major decisions are made that can harm or help Canadians and where Canadian diplomacy can advance and protect their interests, and even help to make the world a better, safer place. Governments are at those intergovernmental tables because they have the representative legitimacy, political responsibility and financial, diplomatic and military capacities to act that NGOs, business and academics lack. When Muammer Gaddafi threatened rivers of blood, the world turned to the United Nations and NATO to stop him — not to Médecins Sans Frontières and S.N.C. Lavalin. When famine struck East Africa, the UN’s World Food Programme led the international response. When the global financial system seized up, the world turned to the G20 to fix it, not the TD Bank. (The G20, the most innovative global governance idea in a half century, itself originated with the Canadian government, not Princeton or UBC.) The list goes on.

Nowhere is the distance between Owen and me greater than on the importance of quality political leadership and appropriate financial resources to address Canada’s challenges, in the 21st century as in every other. Having represented Canada in five world capitals and the world’s principal governance councils, I have no doubt that absent sufficient money and the political will to act, Canadian views become merely academic.

Paul Heinbecker


The LRC welcomes letters. We reserve the right to publish such letters and edit them for length, clarity and accuracy. E-mail editor@lrcreview.com.