Saturday, January 31, 2004


I just rediscovered the blog On the Fence by J. Kelly Nestruck. I used to read it before I started up my own blog and then once I started writing here, I somehow forgot about On the Fence. Nestruck is a McGill alumnus who used to write for the variously esteemed and maligned McGill Daily. I must say the Daily's editorial page has declined since Nestruck's departure. Nestruck has since moved on to bigger (I wont say better) things at the National Post. (What do you're former Dailyites think of that one Nestruck?!).

Anyway, On the Fence is good stuff and Paul Wells appears to be a semi-regular commenter and I haven't seen him comment anywhere else, so that's something.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:29 a.m. :: (0) comments

Friday, January 30, 2004


The so called 'democratic deficit' is supposedly an important issue for Paul Martin. It was the subject of his first major speech when campaigning for the leadership and it was in the news again today as MP Roger Gallaway indicated the government is considering a process in which Supreme Court nominees would be questioned by members of parliament.

I think parliamentary reform is an important issue and I think it is important to the prime minister as well, but I question how llikely real change is likely to occur. I think a lot depends on the outcome of the next election and I think the best thing for improving the 'democratic deficit' is a landslide Martin victory in the spring. Now, this may seem counter-intuitive at first. How is re-electing the Liberals on a powerful majority going to improve democracy? I think, however, that it will facilitate change and improvement by making that change and improvement safe for Martin to accomplish.

Martin is considering various parliamentary reforms but they largely come down to a change in the culture of parliament rather than major institutional changes such as an elected senate or proportional representation. Martin plans on allowing more free votes, more powerful committees and generally more automony for the average MP. Most of Martin's proposed changes could be rolled back or not implemented if he only gets a small majority government. If Martin has a majority of, say, 5-25 seats a band of unruly backbenchers focused on a volatile wedge issue could be quite a nuisance. On the other hand with a majority of 30-35+ Martin wouldn't have anything to worry about even if a significant number of MPs disagreed with the party line.

Faced with a threat to his government or parliamentary reform my cynical bet is that Martin would choose his government. He could put off his proposed changes and spin it as 'slow change' as Dalton McGuinty is doing in Ontario, but the result would be the same: less reform, same power in the cabinet and PMO. Conversely, if Martin has a big majority he can implement his changes and test them without much worry for his government. Parliament would have 3 to 5 years to get used to the new way of doing things and by the time the next election comes around the new culture would be on its way to being institutionalized.

All of this, of course still depends on how serious Martin is about reform, but as I said I think he's pretty serious. It will help though if he has favourable conditions to work with.

Cross posted to BlogsCanada Election Blog

Posted by Matthew @ 7:26 p.m. :: (0) comments


At least I do anyway. All my applications to grad school are complete and in. There's nothing to do now but wait, or bribe admissions committee members... whatever works.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:55 a.m. :: (0) comments

Thursday, January 29, 2004


The Bank of Canada has announced the release of a new $100 bill. The billl is the third to be redesigned in the Canadian Journey Series that is replacing the Birds of Canada Series. The new note is enhanced with four new security features including a water mark, holographic stirpe, see-through number and windowed thread. The design of the bill maintains the dominant colour scheme of the old bill as well as the image of Prime Minister Borden in a newly engraved portrait. The theme for the reverse of the note, replacing the Canada goose, is 'Exploration and Inovation.' It features an image of a 1632 map of New France by Samuel de Champlain along with a birch bark canoe as well as a depiction of the satalite Radarsat-1 along with a satalite image of the entire country.

As for my opinion on the new series of bills I'm torn. I like the fronts of the new bills. I prefer the new portraits of the prime ministers and the greater prominence of parliamentary buildings. The overall look is simple, sleek and distinguished. As for the backs, I don't like them. I understand how they're trying to modernize the theme but its not working for me. The design is too collage like and the images don't have the right sense of gravity.

Now to start my lobbying campaign to replace the image of the Queen on the $20 with that of Trudeau. Or better yet, keep the Queen and put Trudeau on the reverse in his pirouette pose.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:13 a.m. :: (0) comments

Wednesday, January 28, 2004


I know I haven't posted very much lately on my political theory class with Ed Broadbent. Its not because the class or Broadbent are not interesting, both are. Broadbent is obviously very intelligent and its good to know that there are at least some politicians who think seriously about the ideas that underpin their policies. Class discussion has taken a little while to develop but its coming along now. There just has not been anything that has seemed particularly blogable to me.

What the class really needs is someone with a hard-core classical liberal, free market focused philosophy to speak up. Most people in the class are varying degrees of modern liberals or social democrats. I have a feeling that there are a couple serious liberals in the class but they have yet to really show themselves. We'll see what develops and I'll see if I can glean anything really interesting out of Broadbent

Posted by Matthew @ 7:33 p.m. :: (0) comments


Public Security Minister Anne McLellan has announced there will be a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deportation of Maher Arar. McLellan said the inquiry would, "assess the actions of Canadian officials in dealing with the deportation and detention of Maher Arar."

Justice Dennis O'Connor who headed the Walkerton Inquiry will head this this one.

"He will have all the powers set out in the (Inquiries) Act, including the authority to hold public hearings, summon witnesses, compel testimony and to gather such evidence as needed to conduct the inquiry,"

This inquiry was long overdue, however, it is good that the government has come to realize that an inquiry is necessary. Many questions have been raised about Canada's security and intelligence services since the realse of Arar. Arar has some questions of his own that he hopes the inquiry will answer:

- What information did the RCMP and CSIS pass on to U.S. authorities that led them to believe he was a terrorist? How reliable was this information? Did the agencies use lawful means to obtain it?

- When did U.S. authorities first contact their Canadian counterparts? When did Canadian authorities learn of the deportation decision and who approved, encouraged or failed to discourage this action?

- Why did Foreign Affairs officials not take his concerns that Americans would deport him seriously? Why did they not protect him?

- What information did CSIS and RCMP share with Syrian military intelligence? Did they provide information that was the basis for interrogation by his Syrian captors?

- Who revealed information obtained under torture to the media and why? What were they trying to achieve by doing this

These are all necessary questions but hopefully the inquiry will not confine itself to the Arar deportation specifically. The questions specific to Arar lead to broader questions about how the RCMP and CSIS are operating, particularly under our new anti-terrorist legislation.

Opposition leader Stephen Harper made this point today saying:

"From what I've seen, the terms of reference for this are fairly narrow," he said. "We don't just want to look at the deportation. We want to look at the role of Canadian government agencies in this, what information may have been disseminated and why."

As Harper alludes to, obviously, obviously more attention has been drawn to this case in the past week because of the search of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Niel's home and office. It is unfortunate that the suspect, if not outright illegal, deportation of a Canadian citizen to face torture was not enough to prompt an inquiry. It is even more unfortunate that intimidation of the press had to be added to the list of questionable RCMP tactics before an inquiry was called.

Regardless, we now have the inquiry. Hopefully it will give us answers.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:15 p.m. :: (0) comments


Last week RevMod and James Bow were discussing the need for a statutory holiday between New Year's and Easter. I completely concur. Canadians have almost the fewest paid days off throughout the year amongst other western nations. There was an article in The Star during the summer arguing that a few more days off would actually make people more productive. Whether that's true or not doesn't matter, we need more holidays. By my count we don't need just one, we need at least three. Here are my suggestions.

Obviously, as Bow and RevMod note, we need one at this time of year between New Year's and Easter. Bow and RevMod favour Chinese New Year, based on the Lunar New Year. This is a good suggestion but it could come too soon after our current New Year holiday. My prefered date is February 15 - Flag Day. It is currently a recognized day by the federal government we just don't get it off work. It marks the first day that the Maple Leaf was flown in Ottawa as the official flag of Canada. Its simple, its nationalistic and it falls in the middle of February, just when everyone needs a day off. Plus, the day already has its own mythology associated to it as a result of this incident.

Secondly, we need a holiday in June. We have a holiday in every other summer month except June. We have to suffer from Victoria Day to Canada Day without an opportunity for camping or barbecues. Our summers are short enough we need another day to enjoy them. And what better day than the official first day of summer? June 21st (occasionaly the 22nd, but no one would notice) marks the summer solstice. It is the longest day of the year, we should get to enjoy it. Further, June 21st is National Aboriginal People's day. We could also celebrate that and use the occasion to draw the attention of school children and others to historical and contemporary First Nations culture and other important related issues.

Finally, we need a holiday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In late November when things at work and school are always busy and the weather is always dreary a holiday is definitely in order. The trouble here is finding an appropriate day. I considered advocating Remebrance Day as a statutory holiday but decided against it. I think it is more important for students and people at work to have their day interrupted to remind them of the importance of the occasion. Ideally everyone would take an hour out of their day and attend their local Remembrance Day ceremony but hopefully the two minutes of silence makes people contemplate the sacrifice of our war veterans. If we had the day off people would sleep in until 11:30 and the day would lose its meaning.

What day then? I'm at a bit of a loss. November 1st is All Saints Day. While it would be usefull for many to have the day after Halloween off, I doubt instituting a new holiday derrived from a Catholic religious tradition would go over very well. The only other options I have are not much better though. I looked through our nations history to try and find a day to commemorate. November 19th marks the day in 1869 when the government bought Ruperts Land from the Hudson Bay company thereby expanding Canadian territory into the North West. An important day but not really one worthy of celebration. November 21st marks the day in 1921 when our current coat of arms was made official by the King of England. Again, that's pretty lame. But other than that, I've got nothing else, so any suggestions would be welcome.

I think all Canadians can get behind the idea of having more days off.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:59 a.m. :: (0) comments

Sunday, January 25, 2004


On Friday Paul Martin announced that he has invited U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan to address Parliament in early March. Said the prime minister:

"We spend a lot of time in Canada talking about our relationship with the United States. That's important but, fundamentally, our relationship with the rest of the world and how that world works is going to be the determining factor as to whether our children and their children after them enjoy the same quality of life that we do."

Historically, Canada's foreign policy outlook has been divided into two camps. Conservatives have generally advocated that Canada focus its efforts on maintaining a strong relationship with its colonial masters be they British or American. Tories have consistently believed that Canada's economic and military security lies in trade with Britain or the U.S along with support for their foreign wars.

In contrast reformers (the pre-confederation type) and Liberals have cautiously resisted the colonial hegemony of London and Washington while timidly attempting to expand Canada's reach to the wider world.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the colonial power was Britain and the wider world, in Canadian terms, often did not extend beyond the U.S. Hence Tories like John Strachan forcefully proclaimed that Canada must be a refuge of British values in defence against American republicanism, while reformers like William Lyon Mackenzie saw in the U.S some valuable attributes that Canada could incorporate.

The Liberals under Sir Wilfred Laurier looked beyond the exclusive trade relationship with Britain to pursue free trade with the U.S. Laurier also compromised on sending Canadian troops to South Africa, forcing the British to pick up the tab, something Conservative leader Robert Borden never forgave him for. Borden, conversely, sacrificed national unity to support the British during the First World War.

As 'Britain's Weakness Forced Canada into the Arms of the U.S' as Jack Granatstein has so eloquently put it, the U.S could no longer provide a counter-balance to the colonial power, it was the colonial power. Conservatives switched their allegiances accordingly and Liberals attempted to truly internationalize. Diefenbaker focused on the Cold War American relationship while Pearson and Trudeau attempted to broaden Canada's international relationships, the former doing so much more successfully than the latter. Under Mulroney Canada entered a free trade agreement with the U.S that was not unlike the trade agreements with Britain from earlier in the century.

With Chretien we saw the rise of the 'modern' Liberal. He attempted to play both sides during his tenure. In the early years of his government he sided more with the Conservative tradition by accepting the FTA. By the end of his career he had returned to the Liberal legacy in the style of Laurier with his rejection of a unilateral American war in Iraq.

In the early months of the Paul Martin government we see him perfecting the modern Liberal policy of being all things to all people. With his right hand he curries favour with the imperial president in Monterrey while his left hand is courting the leader of the largest international organization in the world in Davos. In which tradition will Paul Martin's policy follow? Are his attempts to play both sides a simple balance for political reasons? Or, is he truly attempting to create a new vision and break the dichotomy that has shaped Canadian foreign policy for the last 150 years?

Cross posted to BlogsCanada Election Blog

Posted by Matthew @ 2:44 a.m. :: (0) comments

Saturday, January 24, 2004


Prompted by comments to this post below by Dennis (who happens to be my Dad), in which I am referred to as "an RCPM apologist" I have this to say.

I certainly do not support the RCMP investigation of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill, which included the search of her home. These tactics serve to intimidate the press and its sources and infringe on its ability to act freely. The recent operations of the force with regards to the entire Maher Arar affair serve to remind us of why the RCMP was relieved of its intelligence gathering responsibilities twenty years ago. It is becoming increasingly clear that Canada's 2001 anti-terror legislation, which returned certain intelligence powers to the RCMP, needs to be reviewed.

The Prime Minister recently indicated as much. But what was the PM doing commenting on the RCMP raid and investigation? As Dennis pointed out in the comments, since when does the Prime Minister comment on an ongoing investigation of federal officiers? This is certainly bizarre. I happen to agree with the PM's opinion in this case but that doesn't make it right for him to speak out in such a manner. Is he going to make a habit of commenting on such investigations? Are on-going Supreme Court cases next?

What is obvious about this entire fiasco is that a public inquiry into the entire Arar affair and the operation of our security services since September 11, 2001 is absolutely necessary. James Travers believes that the search of O'Neill's house makes an inquiry inevitable. I hope he's right.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:54 a.m. :: (0) comments

Friday, January 23, 2004


Jim Elve of Blogs Canada has organized a group blog to comment on the expected spring federal election. The idea, as I understand it, is to blog on a wide range of election oriented topics in an attempt to inform and stimulate discussion. It's kind of an exciting project.

Even more exciting is that I am a member of this group blog along with many impressive bloggers including Warren Kinsella, Jay Currie and James Bow; I'll try and keep up.

I'm not sure how this will affect my blogging here. Obviously the e-group blog will have a far greater readership, but that's not to say I will be abandoning Living in a Society. I may be cross-posting entries from the group blog to here or visa versa, I'm not sure yet how it will work out.

I can recommend you keep your eye on the e-group blog though. There are a lot of excellent bloggers involved and I'm sure its going to be producing good stuff.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:54 p.m. :: (0) comments


At least that's what John Ibbitson thinks.

Ibbitson has joined the call for a public inquiry into the Maher Arar affair: and why? Because his rights as a reporter are now being threatend. Ibbitson writes:

Until this week, there were good reasons to oppose the idea of holding a public inquiry into the deportation and alleged torture of Maher Arar. Those reasons have now vanished, with the RCMP's decision to go after people who leak information to reporters on the case.

The reasons against an inquiry were:

First, such an inquiry could compromise national security, by revealing the ways in which Canadian and U.S. police and intelligence agencies co-operate in their efforts to detect and prevent terrorist threats.
The other reason for avoiding an inquiry is that many of the answers to questions about who told what to whom reside south of the border.

Ibbitson then gets indignant and righteous about freedom of the press:

Since the government will not or cannot be candid about who did what in this affair, and since the media are being intimidated by the police, the only recourse left is to hold the public inquiry, whatever the risks to national security.

A distinguished retired judge will have to be found; he or she will need to be given broad powers to subpoena individuals and evidence; much of the inquiry will doubtless be held in camera, and some of its findings may have to be kept from the public. But better this than innuendo and threats and assaults on the fourth estate.

Maher Arar had all of his personal liberties infringed when he was deported to Syria, imprisoned and (allegedly, as Ibbitson would have it) tortured. Never mind this though, national security is more important than a Canadian citizen's basic right to security of the person. But now one reporter's house is searched and Ibbitson is calling to take down the RCMP. Please.

Perhaps Ibbitson should consider that compromising a free press and compromising an individual's security are both infringements of basic rights. Just because Ibbitson is more likely to have his e-mail monitored by the RCMP than be deported by them does not make one offence greater than the other.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:15 p.m. :: (0) comments

Thursday, January 22, 2004


... A post about doughnuts generates the second most comments of any post this year.

Today was a pretty busy day, hence the lack of blogging.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:17 p.m. :: (0) comments

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


I just left the Tim Horton's store located in the basement of the McLennan Library at McGill University in outrage. I had not been to a Tim Horton's outlet in Quebec for quite some time and I was shocked to discover the price of a Timbits SnackPack had gone up to $2.75.

Now, Timbits have always been more expensive here in Quebec. They used to be $2.50. This price was already out of range for snacking purposes but I was willing to pay it, on occasion, when I had a real craving for the sugary-doughy goodness of Timbits. But I draw the line at $2.75. I will go on a Tim Horton's hunger strike. I will starve myself of Timbits before I succumb to this price.

Whith the switch to frozen dough and now this price increase I sense a possible Tim Horton's backlash coming on.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:12 p.m. :: (0) comments


Last night (this morning?) Jon Stewart brutally satarized political commentators for only covering the primaries from the angle of a horse race and on top of that doing it badly. He makes an excellent point.

First, why does political punditry so often never rise above the level of trying to predict who wins? Where's the coverage of 'issues' and 'ideas?' Perhpas the pundits are only giving the public what they want, or perhaps they're being intellectaully lazy and making us the same by extension. Its a chicken and egg thing.

Secondly, when commentators do nothing else but attempt to predict outcomes, how do they so often manage to be wrong? Stewart highlighted this point quite well. Of course he picked the most damning examples, it wouldn't be funny otherwise, but the point is the same. For all the energy pundits expend they're hardly ever right.

Finally, when they aren't right, they rarely acknowledge or explain their wrongness. Stewart satarized this by mockingly asserting that CNN had totally failed in Iowa and that if they didn't nail their predictions on New Hampshire then they would probably be obliged to drop out of the primary coverage.

The important point however is this: Broadcasters and particularly political commentators assume a position of expertise. They claim expert knowledge and wrap themselves in the trappings of experience. When they refuse explanation or apology for being wrong and suffer no consequences for it they indicate that they are unaccoutable. But if our professornal commentators, these perceived experts, are unnacountable then what's the point in listening to them? What's the point of expertise or professionalism?

Anyone can become a political commentator and publish predictions on their blog, many people do. Except that the community of bloggers often imposes its own high degree of accountability. Why should the opinion of a percieved expert hold any greater currency than some amateur when the results they reach are often the same and the latter is arguably more accountable for his opinions?

Posted by Matthew @ 2:36 a.m. :: (0) comments

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Ed Broadbent has won the NDP nomination in Ottawa-Centre. As expected he won it pretty handily, by margin of about 4-1. Said Broadbent:

"Forty to 50 NDP MPs would turn the Liberals upside down. Fifty to 100 would turn Canada rightside up."

We'll see what Broadbent has to say in class tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Paul Martin has moved to strike certain troubling questions from a form all candidates seeking a Liberal nomination are required to complete. The questions asked if prospective candidates had ever been treated for mental illness, including schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar disease or manic-depressive symptoms. The questions had been critisized by various MP's including Shelia Copps along with the president of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Sometimes the Liberal party is just a little to regimented for their own good.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:28 p.m. :: (0) comments


A CP article at reports:

Sheila Copps says she's willing to sign a Liberal party form promising not to run for the NDP if she loses the Grit nomination in her riding, but she doesn't consider herself legally bound by the promise.

"I don't believe that the form is worth the paper that it's written on," Copps said in an interview Monday. "But I will sign it, because I have no choice." All candidates for a Liberal nomination in the next federal election are being asked to make written declarations that they will not run for any other party if they fail to get the Liberal stamp of approval.

So really Copps has not ruled out anything. Basically the form will be used for political embarrassment if Copps decides to run for the NDP. As I have already said here, Copps needs to make her decision about which party she's running for before her nomination meeting.

I suspect, that as a life long Liberal, and one who, as Warren Kinsella says, kept the party alive during the Mulroney years, Copps is very reluctant to leave the party. If she goes it would be next to impossible to return in a post-Martin era, which she may want to do. However, Copps is also a career politician dedicated to her constituents, Canadians, and public life. Faced with the prospect of having no seat in the Commons at all she may still switch her alliegance.

Basically, like the rest of us, I have no idea what she's going to do. But speculation is what this forum is all about.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:44 a.m. :: (0) comments


In a wide ranging interview with The Hill Times (registration required) Jack Layton claims that if former prime minister Pierre Trudeau were still alive he would be running for the NDP. Now it might just be because I am a great admirer of Trudeau and the policies of his Liberal government that I take exception to this.

However, I think it also offends my sensibilities as an historian-in-training. It seems rather ridiculous and dishonest to me to make claims about what past actors would do in a contemporary situation. History has to be kept in context. Would Trudeau, were he alive, vote for Layton and the NDP? Maybe. I don't know, and neither does Jack Layton. Its a meaningless assertion. No one can know so its easy for Layton to appropriate the memory of a popular deceased prime minister. He obviously needs to do so because there are no NDP prime ministers.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:40 a.m. :: (0) comments

Monday, January 19, 2004


From the BBC, test your knowledge of the U.S presidency with this 10 question quiz. There are a couple of interesting questions, particularly number 1. Most are pretty easy if you know the basics of American history or politics. I scored 9/10 (question 3 got me).

Be warned that question four is poorly worded. The intended question is 'if the president and the VP cannot serve who is next in line for the presidency?' The way it is written however, suggests that if only the VP is removed that his replacement is constitutionally designated, which is incorrect. In such a situation the President appoints a new VP to be ratified by Congress.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:06 a.m. :: (0) comments


My current fiction reading is The Paradise Eater by John Ralston Saul. I've read most of his non-fiction essays but never any of his novels. The book is easy to read and quite good. Many of the explicit topics of his non-fiction work such as The Unconsious Civilization are subtly apparent in his fiction. I just came across this passage that is interesting to contemplate but not necessarily very encouraging:

'The fact is, I never understood that business about life being short. I'd say its long. Very long,' Field repeated. 'And most of it doesn't matter. I'd say only a few seconds of it matter - the big moment, the big choice. But those seconds are never marked out, so you can charge right on through them without even noticing. Then there you are. You've had your big chance, your final, determining test. You didn't recognize it, let alone sieze it. You probably won't notice for years. But you have failed. Irrevocably failed. And after that, all the rest is an interminable wait for the end. Waiting for nothing.'(190)

Now, based on Saul's other writing I don't think he actually subscribes to this particular philosophy. The character, Field, is in a pretty tough spot and in a pretty nihilistic frame of mind. Still though, I hope I haven't missed my moment.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:40 a.m. :: (0) comments


Five small eighteenth century ivory statues were stolen from the Art Gallery of Ontario on Saturday afternoon. The sculptures, valued at $1.5 million, were on display as part of the private collection of media mogul and art collector Kenneth Thomson.

I found this detail of the story confounding:

Five ivory statues, created in the early 1700s, were discovered missing from a display case in the gallery just after 3 yesterday afternoon. At 4:30 p.m. patrons were told that the gallery was closing immediately.

Immediately? It took 90 minutues between discovering the statues were missing and making the decision to close the gallery early? Were they hoping the things just slipped under the rug and that they would turn up later? I imagine that by 4:30 the theives were long gone.

Update, 12:12, 1/19/04 - A more extensive article on this story is in today's Star. It explicitly acknowledges the confounding (to me) detail I already highlighted but does nothing to explain it.

The pieces were discovered missing about 3 p.m. Saturday and 90 minutes later patrons were told the gallery was closing immediately.

Again, why did it take so long to make the decision to close the gallery? I'm not necessarily suggesting some kind of incompetence on behalf of the AGO (although a theft in itself suggests some). Nor am I necessarily suggesting some kind of nefarious inside operation (although it may be a possibility). There could be a simple explanation for why it took the gallery 90 minutes to decide to close; I'm just interested in what that reason is and why the news articles don't think such a delay is an issue.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:26 a.m. :: (0) comments

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Not the the city, the bar in Montreal. Located on St. Laurent south of Duluth this place has to be in the running for scuzziest bar in the city. I don't know what does it for me, the absence of any 90 degree angles anywere, or the holes in the walls covered by retro posters? It has the advantage, however, of being a mere four minute walk from my house. On top of this, they serve Jamieson Irish whiskey for $2.75. Who knew? I spent the night there, drinking and chatting with two friends. Ah, the college life. Good times had by all.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:20 a.m. :: (0) comments

Saturday, January 17, 2004


Thanks to the good people at my comments are back. All previous comments from my last provider were imported to the new one as well, so nothing was lost.

So go ahead, hit that comments button and start typing.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:10 a.m. :: (0) comments


I can't remember exactly, but I think it was Paul Wells Drew Fagan who said that Justice Minister Irwin Cotler was the new minister most likely to resign on a matter of principle.

Cotler has not yet resigned, however, he has removed himself from any discussion and decisions regarding the case of Maher Arar.

Before his appointment to the cabinet, Cotler supported Arar's demand for a public inquiry into his deportation. A noted human rights lawyer, Cotler also acted as counsel to Arar during part of his imprisonment.

The justice minister speaking like a truly principled man of the law stated, "justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done."

The irony, of course, is that a good man doing the particular right thing will make it harder for the common good to prevail. Some will argue that Cotler is shirking his responsibilities. I do not think that is so. I think the minister rightly saw himself in a conflict of interest and rightly removed himself from it. Would anyone have noticed or cared had he not done so? Perhaps not, but that's not the point. Cotler would have. He is obviously a man of principle. It is good to know that he is the minister of Justice.

Update, 12:31, 1/18/04 - In the comments Pogge makes me look lazy (which is the case in this particular instance) and does my research for me. He notes that this column from the Globe by Drew Fagan is the one in which Cotler is described as most likely to resign on a point of principle. Thanks.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:00 a.m. :: (0) comments

Friday, January 16, 2004


Wow. Blogging about my class with the Hon. Prof. Broadbent is doing wonders for my traffic. That was never really the intent but obviously I'm pleased. This quick post in the discussion forum of is bringing in a lot of readers. I'll try and live up to the hype but won't make any promises. Really the content on the blog is pretty dependent on what happens in class. So far though class has been good. For other Broadbent posts on this site go here (Dec. 18) and here (Jan.7).

Class is on Wednesday afternoon so any specific Broadbent related content will likely be up that night or Thursday afternoon. Of course I do write about other things here. Don't feel you have to limit yourself.

Note also that this site is usaully equipped with comments. However due to uncontrolable circumstances they are currently down.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:47 a.m. :: (0) comments

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Yesterday Prof. Broadbent told us an interesting anecdote about a visit he once had with Fidel Castro.

In 1992 Broadbent went to see Castro in Cuba on behalf of various social democratic and left-leaning European governments. The situation was that Spain was holding big celebrations in honour of the 500-year anniversary of the Columbus expedition. They were inviting representatives from all Latin American countries to Spain for the party, but specifically not the United States. Spain wanted to invite Castro but some other nations wanted to take the opportunity to try and get serious concessions out of Castro, in fact to get him to give up his dictatorship altogether.

Broadbent made the offer to Castro that he step down as dictator-for-life and open up the country to free and fair elections in which Castro himself could run. In exchange various European countries would pledge substanial foriegn aid to Cuba no matter who won, and Castro would get the token of being invited to the big celebrations in Spain without the U.S.

Braodbent put the argument to Castro that while he may be in control of Cuba now, he would not be able to predict what would happen to Cuba after he died(i.e U.S policy). Broadbent suggested that opening up the country to elections would allow a basic economic system Castro desired to be perpetuated in Cuba more legitimately after he was gone. Broadbent also made the point that Castro would nearly assuredly win the first election and proabably subsequent elections.

Castro, apparently spent an hour and a half saying 'no' to Braodbent. He reasoned (probably correctly as Broadbent noted) that he may be able to win the first election and even the second but he could not guarantee his perpetual reign, which is what he really wanted.

This seems to be a first hand lesson that dictators crave power above all else and will do anything necessary to hold on to it. Compromise is rarely an option for them.

There may also be a more complex lesson about how to deal with dictators but I'm not entirely sure what it is.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:42 p.m. :: (0) comments


As Warren Kinsella says, this so-called "local matter" just went national.

As reported in the Globe and Mail this morning Sheila Copps has not ruled out transferring her allegiance and running for the NDP in the next election should her nomination fight in Hamilton fail.

James Bow and Don already have their own comments on the issue. I agree with both of them that its another signal of the Liberal shift to the right under Martin and the increasing strength of the NDP. However, I think us left-leaning folks might be overestimating the magnitude of this shift.

My unsolicited advice to Copps is to gauge the outcome of the nomination meeting and make her decision to switch parties before the actual vote. If she goes NDP before the meeting then she will appear principled. If she waits until she loses she risks alienating too many people by appearing too opportunistic.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:17 p.m. :: (0) comments

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Pogge and Andrew Spicer both have good accounts and commentary on the 'unique agreement' that Prime Minister Martin reached with President Bush respecting the deportation of Canadain citizens to third countries a la Maher Arar.

Both Pogge and Spicer make the obvious criticism that this 'agreement' gives Canada next to nothing. So the U.S will tell us when its going to deport one of our citizen's to another country to be tortured? Thank goodness for that! I feel safer already. Of course I don't because Martin did not get a guarantee that citizens would not be deported and also because Martin has not come clean on this issue and Canada's own involvement.

Norman Spector writes in today's Globe and Mail that Martin did not and could not push for anything more from Bush because he already knows the truth of the situation. Spector writes:

"in unravelling the circumstances leading to Mr. Arar's horrific 10 months in a Syrian torture chamber, Mr. Martin likely discovered that the Americans have been telling the truth all along, and that our side has not."

That truth is that Canadian security organizations gave information to the Americans about Arar and were complicit in his deportation. Further, Spector points out that the RCMP and CSIS quite possibly withheld this pertinent information from Solicitor-General Wayne Easter, Foreign Affairs Minister Graham and Prime Minister Chretien.

All of this makes the need for a public inquiry into how our security and intelligence organizations operate more necessary. Unfortunately the increasing obviousness that something is seriously amiss makes an inquiry less likely. At the end of the day Canadian citizens still are not safe travelling to the U.S. But at least Martin and the rest of Canada know it.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:52 p.m. :: (0) comments

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


A brief explanation and rant, from my comments service provider. I liked the comments service I used to have but it may be time to change if the problem is not fixed quickly.

Update, 23:03 EST, 01/13/04: The link above know indicates that my comments should be back up by the weekend. Perhaps I'll wait until then to see how things go.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:08 p.m. :: (0) comments


Rick Mercer's Monday Report debuted last night The Middle Man and Don have already reviewed it.

I am in agreement with both of them that the opening monologue was flat and mediocre. I think, however, it was more a factor of the form than the content. The jokes seemed like they could be funny but Mercer looked as if he was doing stand up rather than a news style satire. The camera angles were bad and I felt like I was watching an average comedian on Just for Laughs not Rick Mercer doing a new show.

Thankfully after the commercial break Mercer got behind a desk and the show improved. Following that things continued on an upward trajectory. Shirley Douglas boosting a car: funny. A savage satire on the holdings of the Ontario Teacher's pension fund. A rant on the state of defence spending and a 'streeter' segment in which Torontonians, including a cop and Mayor Miller, declared their city as the centre of the universe and every other part of Canada as worthless backwaters.

It seems to me that the best parts of the show were segments that Mercer had already developed in his time at 22-Minutes and the bad parts were new stuff and bad simply because it was a Mercer overload. All of this begs the question, why not just return to 22-Minutes? Does Mercer just want to be his own star? I didn't think I would ever say this, but a half hour of Rick Mercer is too much. With some more variety though the show has a lot of potential.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:43 p.m. :: (0) comments


With the opening of the British Columbia Citizen's Assembly on electoral reform, the Toronto Budget consultations and planned Ontario budget consultations, John Ibbitson says we have entered a 'new era of liberal democracy'. That my be a little grand and pre-mature but I think these initiative do signal something new. Whether they signal the beginning of real reform in our political system remains to be seen.

All of these projects I think have good potential and stem from a motivation to have greater citizen involvement in operations of our democracy. With the continuing decline in one of the most basic exercises of democratic participation, that of voting, citizens perhaps need to be reminded that democracy requires constant involvement from its citizenry to function at its best.

In ancient Athens, citizens (which, admittedly were limited to free men) were required to serve on juries, in the Boule, and to sit on various boards overseeing public works and departments. In addition to this, a large proportion of citizens attended the Assembly regularly. The result was a mentality that "those who took no interest in politics were not minding their own business, but that they had no business at all."

I am not advocating a move to direct democracy on the level of the Greek polis. Such a system would be both impractical and unruly. Modern western societies, such as Canada, have a long tradition of representative government that, on the whole, functions very well. However, this system, in its basic form, can only function better if more citizens involve themselves in it either by directly participating in the decision making process or, more importantly, indirectly through the exercising of their right of speech on public matters.

I am somewhat wary of the fact that these new democratic initiatives have been imposed from the 'top down.' It is somewhat paternalistic to tell citizen's that they have to participate. It leads me to question what the true motives of the governments that initiated these projects are. If they turn out to be only a means to appropriate and regulate public opinion that will be unfortunate.

However, the initiation of these projects could also be a response to the public's desire for a greater level of public participation and consultation. If the citizen's involved in the project are given a wide degree of latitude and the governments take their recommendations seriously then the legitimacy of these assemblies and consultations will be affirmed. More importantly, if the quality and quantity of public debate is raised as a result then this may be the small beginning of a revitalization of our democratic systems.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:21 p.m. :: (0) comments

Saturday, January 10, 2004


Everyone is talking about how cold it is in Eastern Canada right now.

Incedentally, my roommate and I just spent 40 minutes walking home across Mount Royal tonight with temperatures below -25. Of course we had a warm house to come home to.

Tragically, the freezing weather is taking a real toll in human terms as the homeless and the elderly are dying from the temperatures. Reason number four not to complain about the cold.

Update: 18:41 EST, 1/10/04 - The number one story on Google News Canada right now is the weather. Yeesh.

More... blogging about how cold it is. James Bow takes a good attitude toward the weather though, of course it's not as cold in Toronto as it is in Montreal and I think its a little too much to hope for it being warmer after February second.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:10 a.m. :: (0) comments

Thursday, January 08, 2004


On the subject of cold weather and its innevitable attendant complaining, I have a much more pertinent gripe: There are not enough places to hang your coat in public buildings in this country.

Don't let the topic or the flippant tone of the past post fool you; I'm serious about this. Some of my close friends have been hearing this complaint over Christmas.

As noted below, Canada is a cold country. It is a country that necessitates wearing large insulated coats along with scarves, hats and gloves for nearly five months of the year, and sometimes more. Yet in most public establishments from coffee shops to restaraunts, to shopping malls, and movie theatres there is rarely a place to hang one's coat. This is important in both practical terms and theoretical ones.

Practically, it is annoying to have to carry one's coat around a shopping mall, or place it on the back of a chair at a coffee shop, or sit on it at the movie theatre. If you're wearing a big bulky jacket, carrying it or sitting on it is akward and uncomfortable. If you're wearing an expensive coat of leather or fur draping it on the back of a chair or laying it behind you and sitting on it may not be good for your coat.

More importantly our collective refusal to create places in which we can hang our winter coats is in a way a refusal to understand the place in which we live. Are we trying to pretend we do not live in a cold country? In designing our public buildings are we praying for perpetually warm weather? It is sheer inconsideration and arrogance to overlook such a basic design element.

More importantly this situation could be quite easily resolved in most locations. At many coffee shops and restaraunts a small coat rack could be installed at the front door. Where this is impractical, standing coat hooks could easily be placed in strategic locations throughout the establishment. (To be fair, I have noticed some restaruants where this is done, but no coffee shops or other places like book stores and doctor's offices). The bigger problem lies at larger places like shopping centres and movie theatres. While it may seem impractical to have a coat check in these places I believe it is not too much to ask. Perhaps at the mall it is too much to ask to have an attendant take one's coat but at the theatre, where tickets are up to $12 or $13 it is not. An attendant, however, should not even be necessary. An easily accessible coat check room should suffice. Some may worry about theft, but, if there were coat check rooms in all such public locations everywhere, leaving one's coat would become normal and not stealing a coat would become a part of the social contract. I'm sure it could be accomplished.

Here at McGill in the Arts Building (which dates from a time of superior architectural principles and a better understanding of civility) every classroom has coat hooks at the back of it. The graduate student's lounge has an entire coat room to itself. These amenities are incredibly convenient and in their design show an understanding of the place in which they were being built.

There should be more of that.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:00 p.m. :: (1) comments


It was pretty cold today across most of central and eastern Canada. It hasn't been as cold as it was last winter but its only January 8th. Some of today's temperatures (without windchill) from major cities and other places where I know people included:

Winnipeg -22, North Bay -25, Kingston -19, Ottawa -22, Montreal -22, Quebec City -25, Halifax -20.
All temerpatures via The Weather Network.

Everywhere I went today someone was complaining about the cold. I tend not to do this for three reasons; one, I like the cold, or on days like today don't mind it. Two, it's probably going to get colder before it gets warmer and then what are you going to complain about? Three, right now it's probably colder somewhere else, like say Iqaluit (-30 today), so deal with it.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:35 p.m. :: (0) comments


At some point over the Christmas break the question as to the origin and development of the word 'mall,' as meaning a shopping centre, came up in conversation. I resolved to look into the matter once I got back to Montreal as I own a copy of the Shorter OED (which is actually not so short).

It seems the word 'mall' as a noun first came into use in middle English derrived from the middle English noun 'maul' which at the time referred to "a massive hammer." The middle English noun 'maul' was derrived from the Latin malleus. The verb form of 'maul' meant the action of striking with the object 'maul,' hence our modern definition of that word.

The middle Enlish noun 'maul' then developed into the middle english noun 'mall' meaning a mallet or hammer. By the mid-17th century the noun 'mall' came to mean alternately the hammer specifically used in the game 'pall-mall', the game 'pall-mall' itslef, or an alley used for the game of 'pall-mall.'

Incidentally the game of 'pall-mall' was played in a long alley, in which players tried to drive a boxwood ball through a suspended iron ring in as few strokes as possible.

The mid-17th century meaning of 'mall' as the place in which 'pall-mall' was played developed, by the late 17th century, to mean a sheltered walk serving as a promenade. The original one of these was the Mall, a walk bordered by trees in St. James Park, London.

By the mid-20th century this meaning developed into our modern understanding of the noun 'mall' meaning a shopping centre. By the late 20th century 'malling' was used as a verb referring to both the development of shopping malls or the activity of passing time in a shopping mall.

So there. Don't say you never learned anything reading my blog.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:38 a.m. :: (0) comments

Wednesday, January 07, 2004


Today was my first class with the Hon. Prof. Edward Broadbent. For the next 14 weeks I'll be spending three hours every Wednesday in a seminar directed by the former NDP leader. If the timing works out, Prof. Broadbent will likely be gearing up for his re-election to the House of Commons just as class is winding down, in mid-April. So, for the next few months, on a semi-regular basis, I'll pass along whatever interesting tid-bits about the elder statesman that come up. These may range from the intellectual variety to the celebrity gossip variety.

Today's class began with thirty-plus students (and the class is capped at 30) crammed into an awful room in the Leacock building that was not designed to hold the numbers present nor to facilitate a seminar discussion. The room was a-buzz with discussion about our professor, but I've never seen a class, even a small one on the first day, come to attention so quickly as when Prof. Broadbent entered the room.

My first impression is that he is a friendly, charming and very intelligent man. He began, as most professors, by laying out his objecives for the course and giving an hour lecture on the broad course themes of 'rights, citizenship and democracy.' Unlike other professors however he would occasionally drop lines such as, "a friend of mine, who was at the time the prime minister of Norway...," or "being a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council has a few privelages...." I'm sure he was not saying these things to sound arrogant (and he did not) but because he knew the room was full of aspiring politicos who love to here this kind of stuff.

I can tell you that Prof. Broadbent seems to be somewhat still stuck in the twentieth century technologically. Apparently he only recently began using a personal computer and while he encouraged us to call him at home in Ottawa (I wont give out his number) he only reluctantly gave out his e-mail address which he had only recently begun to use as well.

In his lecture Prof. Broadbent discussed negative and positive rights. He is, not surprisingly, a strong proponent of positive rights of the economic, social and cultural variety. He discussed the realtionship of free market capitalism and democracy. While he pointed out that the development of market economies has often coincided with the development of a civil society and democratic institutions he does not believe the establishment of free markets innevitably leads to democratization. This is a position I believe I agree with, however, I will have to think it over some more as it is the topic for the first paper next week.

The sylibus is full of excellent reading from all sides of the political spectrum. It should be a very interesting semester.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:09 p.m. :: (0) comments


I'm having some trouble finding anything really interesting to say or comment on recently. Posts elsewhere are eliciting reactions from me but I can't seem to start any good thoughts on my own. Not that anyone has ever really thought of something on their own, but you know what I mean.

Perhaps my first class with Ed Broadbent later today will spark something.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:01 a.m. :: (0) comments

Monday, January 05, 2004


Friends and family were all more than generous at Christmas this year and I received a great deal of reading and veiwing material. Following are my brief reviews and recommendations on some of the items.

The West Wing: The Complete First Season, DVD:
I knew that The West Wing of the past few seasons was no match for the show in its first and second season. In part, this decline is inevitable because no show can maintain its quality over several years. I was interested to see, however, how much this percieved decline was a result of actual lack of production quality versus veiwer familiarity with the show. Would I be as impressed with the first season now as I was when it first aired? The answer: Yes.

The first season of this show really is superb. The long but brisk walking/talking shots are much more carefully constructed and well executed. The dialoge, in its writing and performance, is sharper. Personal stories and political issues are interwoven better and achieve better ballance. Most importantly the show is about the West Wing and not the president as it has become over the last few seasons (my theory on why this occurred in a future post).

The best example of how all of these elements come together is the episode In Excelsis Deo. The Christmas episodes of most shows, including the West Wing of seasons 3-5 rarely achieve anything more than sappy melodrama. This episode, however, trancends most of the standard cliches and attains real emotional poignancy.
I can't wait for season two but I wouldn't pay for anything beyond that.

The Walrus Magazine:
This general interest, politically oriented magazine debuted in November. How can such a magazine possibly be successful? I don't know if it can be but its going all out. I bought the first issue off the newstand and got a subscription for Christmas. Their self-proclaimed attempt to be the Harper's and New Yorker equivalent for Canada may be nothing more than delusions of grandeur but so far they are putting out a solid magazine. They focus on international issues through a Canadian perspective but that perspective is not overplayed to the point of parochialism. For example the headline story in the second issue deals with Western foriegn aid to Russia and how it is affecting nuclear disarmament there. The Canadian aspect of this story is covered (and there is one) but the fact that the U.S is the major player,as always, in this issue remains apparent. In stories where there is not much of a Canadian angle (as in the story on Tony Blair's involvement in the Iraq war) one is not invented or contrived. Its good writing by some big to medium sized personalities. Their website is here. They are still trying to decide how to deal with online content. Currently they are posting their shorter secondary stories in full but not their feature articles.

ALIAS The complete seasons 1 and 2, DVD:
This was actually my sister's gift but she got me hooked on it (and yes I watched a lot of television over the holidays). This is a fun show to watch and is quite habit forming. The show follows Jennifer Garner as CIA agent Sydney Bristow getting herself into and out of impossible situations. The show falls victim however to 'X-Files' syndrome. That is, it's only really fun to watch when the plot of the bad guys is completely shrowded in mystery. Unfortunately such mystery cannot be maintained forever, when part of the mystery is revealed it can't live up to the viewer's imagined expectations and the attempts to create new mystery become increasingly ridiculous.

The Truth About Stories by Thomas King:
This is the print version of this year's Massey Lecture series, which I mentioned briefly in a post below. King is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and engaging writers/story tellers in Canada today and this book reflects that. King is the first person of Aboriginal ancestry to give the Massey Lecutres and he beautifully weaves Native stories, and personal stories into his work. His stories do not serve as mere examples to supplement his ideas and arguments they are his ideas and arguments, for as he says, "the truth about stories is that's all we are."

All of the above are highly recommended as fun and thoughtful ways to pass some time.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:51 a.m. :: (0) comments