Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Today, the CBC reported on a poll that indicated a majority of Canadians disapprove of the current direction of the nation's foreign policy.

While three-quarters of those polled agreed there has been a definitive shift in foreign policy since the Conservatives won the Jan. 23 election, more than half (56 per cent) said they do not agree with the direction foreign policy has been taking.
Meanwhile, in the Toronto Star, John Kirton, associate professor at UofT, wrote that under Stephen Harper's government Canada is gaining increased world recognition and status.
With global demand and dependence closely matching Canada's surplus capabilities, the country is becoming one of the great global connectors within the top tier clubs that count. From the North American Summit in the spring, through the G8 Summit in the summer, to the Francophone Summit this fall, Harper's Canada became a leader.
Kirton not only argues that Canada is gaining an increased status, but with that status we are more successfully promoting our ideals.
Canada's privileged position is helping shape the world the way Canadians want. Against America Harper's Canada has secured the long-awaited softwood lumber deal, a delay in America's protectionist passport plan, a suspension of American live fire exercises on the Great Lakes, and a resumption of open Internet pharmacy sales to the U.S. [...] Globally, Harper is advancing core Canadian values, such as defending democratic states attacked by terrorists
I think that Kirton overstates Canada's position and is a too generous to Harper in some areas, he also puts too much emphasis on a declining America, however his main point is well taken. In my opinion, Harper's foreign policy and his emphasis on carving out a principled leadership roll for Canada in world affairs has been his greatest strength, despite it not being one of the government's five campaign priorities.

Unfortunately, the prime minister still has a lot of Canadians to convince.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:36 p.m. :: (1) comments


I spent much of yesterday reading editions of The British Whig, from the 1850s and 1870s in relation to my research project on the Frontenac County Court House. The British Whig was one of Kingston's local papers in the 19th century, and a precursor of the current Whig-Standard.

The Whig-Standard, and most modern newspapers, don't write the way they used to. An excerpt from The British Whig, 29 June 1855:

One of the Apologies of the British Whig

The British Whig is a most unfortunate newspaper, everlastingly getting itself into all manner of scrapes. The use of the Cockney term, "Cock and lien Party," meaning simply that ladies and gentlemen were intermingled at the Dinner to the Governor General, has given deep and very serious offence to the Aristocracy of this good city. Now really, when no offence of any kind was intended, it is most stupidly ridiculous, to take offence; and if the aforsaid Aristocracy are offended, all that can be said is that the British Whig is very sorry - very sorry indeed, that it did not use a more elegant phrase.
The sarcasm is fantastic, as is the phrase "stupidly ridiculous."

Also of note, a bushel of potatoes could be purchased at the Kingston market for 3s.6p. and a pound of beef for a mere 6p. Also, you could have seasoned your beef with Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce; the product was advertised continuously in the Whig during the summer of 1855.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:24 a.m. :: (2) comments


A lot has been written about Iggy's Quebec national recognition proposal over the past week. If you haven't been keeping up, excerpts of mainstream political opinion are here compiled by Coyne. A very small sample of blogosphere opinion is here and here.

I do not feel I have anything new to add at the moment, but I'm not going to let that stop me from expressing my opinion.

Quebec is not a nation. At least as the largely arbitrarily defined political jurisdiction of the province of Quebec goes, it is not a nation. It can no more be a nation than Alberta, or Yukon, or Calgary or Toronto. The attempt by separatists to declare the entire province of Quebec as a distinct nation ignores the many Canadians who live in Quebec who do not agree with them.

Nevertheless, that a French speaking, culturally distinct, Quebecois nation exists, is difficult to dispute. There are certainly a very large number of people within Quebec who consider themselves to form a nation, and to tell a group of people who think of themselves as a nation that they are not is next to impossible.

However, this does not mean that Quebec or any of the people whithin Quebec should, or need to, have recognition as a distinct nation within the Canadian constitution. Such recognition would be disasterous for Canada and would only advance the cause of the separatists.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:35 a.m. :: (0) comments

Friday, October 27, 2006


Okay, not really. But now I have a few more points on my side of the argument.

For years, to the chagrin of certain family members, I have refused to get a flu shot. I have argued that given the varriable effectiveness of the flu vaccine and that I am a young, healthy, adult, with a history of a ridiculously strong immune system, the shot, for me, is not worth the time or public expense.

I have made these arguments, as with so many arguments against things that I don't really want to do, having done little research into the topic.

Now, today the British Medical Journal is publishing a commentary that supports the basic gist of my stance.

There isn't enough proof that flu vaccine is effective to support public programs advocating widespread use of flu shots, a controversial vaccine epidemiologist is suggesting. [...] "There's a huge gap between policy and evidence," Jefferson, who is co-ordinator of the Cochrane Vaccines Field in Rome, said in an interview Thursday. [...] In the journal, Jefferson argued too few good quality trials have been conducted to be certain flu shots are worth the time, effort and cost of flu vaccine programs.
Of course, not everyone in the medical community agrees:
"Even a vaccine that is not as effective as we would like could still have a substantial benefit," said Tam, who noted that as far as the agency is concerned, there is enough evidence to conclude vaccinating people against the flu lowers the annual toll of the disease.
The question seems to be, is the widespread public vaccination program ballanced by a corresponding benefit? I don't know. But, personally, I don't think there is a need for me to increase the demand for a flu shot.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:19 a.m. :: (2) comments

Thursday, October 26, 2006


The striking down of certain portions of Canada's anti-terrorism legislation has again put questions of how best to approach the war on terror at the forefront of public debate.

Over at Mader Blog, Mader is promising to read the judicial decision in its entirety (and links to it) and, as usual, I think
one of the most civil and well reasoned discussion of the issue is going to go on there in the comments - so keep your eye on it and don't shy away from contributing.

Meanwhile, in his column yesterday, Thomas Walkom argued that one of the broader implications of the recent ruling was to undermine the political and ideological legitimacy of the war on terror. He writes:

If the definition of terrorism itself is struck down, there is not much point to having special laws above and beyond those aspects of the criminal code that already ban murder, bombing and mayhem.But if terrorism loses its privileged place, the political rationale of the war on terror begins to slip away. Terrorism is no longer a unique world-defining struggle. It becomes instead just another mundane horrible crime [...] Which wouldn't be a bad thing. Part of the problem of the war against terror is that it has got us all spooked. We forget that we are far more likely to be murdered by a close relative than an Al Qaeda devotee.
I have a few preliminary thoughts related to this argument. First, just because the legal definition of terrorism is struck down does not necessarily relegate the importance of the war on terror. The war on terror is confronting a group of people who believe in a radically fundamentalist and intollerant interpretation of Islam. The criminal law has great difficulty confronting ideology. This does not mean that governments and citizens should not be confronting this ideology in other ways and on other fronts. We can use the criminal law, were appropriate, to charge and convict people who would kill or attempt to kill us for whatever reason. We can and must use many other strategies to undermine the violent ideology that is at the root of these crimes as well as using other means outside the criminal code to confront, and defend ourselves agains, the people who are motivated by this violent ideology.

Secondly the argument that we face a great many more likely causes of death and harm in our everyday lives than from radical Islam is such a common argument and so irrelevant. As already mentioned, the threat from Islamism is the hateful and violent ideology it expresses. The deaths inflicted are just one of the most devestating consequences of this ideology.

Consider a corollary example:

It is much more likely that people will be killed or injured for any number of reasons than in a racially motivated murder. However, racially motivated murders are so deplorable, in part because of the ideas underpinning them, because they are hateful and because they should be so preventable. Further, while racially motivated killings may be thankfully rare in our country, it does not mean they are rare everywhere, nor does it mean Canada does not face many instances of racism that result in harm less than murder, nor does it mean confronting racism should not be an imperative of every tollerant and thoughtful member of society.

There will likely be many more thoughts to come on this subject - and remember to follow the discussion at Mader Blog.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:46 a.m. :: (1) comments

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Posted by Matthew @ 1:35 p.m. :: (0) comments

Monday, October 23, 2006


I don't know too much about American electoral politics, so I found the ballot for the 8th district of Massachussetts interesting for a variety of reasons. However, the detail that most surprised me was the contest for the 8th district House of Representatives seat. The candidates are:

Michael E. Capuano - Democrat, and Laura Garza - Socialist Workers Party. That's it; no Republican.

It strikes me that this is roughly the equivalent of the Conservative Party not running a candidate in Trinity-Spadina. The point of interests is that in Canada any (federalist) political party that wishes to be taken seriously nominates candidates in every federal riding, regardless of how unlikely they are to win that riding. To not run a candidate in every riding would be seen as undermining the legitimacy of the party's claims to national representation.

Why is this not the case in the U.S? Is it a matter of the greater number of electoral contests each year and the need to focus resources on winnable races?

(Link via The Tiger in Exile)

Posted by Matthew @ 9:38 p.m. :: (5) comments

Thursday, October 19, 2006


There seems to be a lot going on today - much of it Garth related. I woke up this morning to find over 50 new posts highlighted on my RSS aggregator - Bloglines.

However, I am in transit to the centre of the country and so will have to catch-up later.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:40 a.m. :: (0) comments

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Parochialism and decline?

Canada has suffered from too much of both in its historical reforming and conservative intellectual traditions. We seem to be able to rid ourselves of either.

Alan's comment:

If Gzowsky were still on a panel of west central Saskatchewan beat poets - the North Battleford school - would spend the hour from 10:00 am to 11:00 am this morning dissecting what was said about Canada, criticize it, complain about the war on terror and geopolitics generally - but still end up giggling about how nice it is to be noticed.
Andrew Potter on the Dominion Institute's Vision 2020 project:
It is pretty amazing. This country has a healthy and relatively well-functioning democracy, is rich and getting richer, is in the best fiscal position of any developed country, hasn't had a recession in 15 years, the dollar is strong, and still everyone thinks we're doomed. It is like the spirit of George Grant has so infused this country's punditocracy, they don't really feel like they're being nationalists unless they declare the country finished.
This criticism could apply to almost every contribution to the 2020 project.

When I when I first heard about the project, I was interested. The partners were encouraging, the Dominino Institute, with its committment to Canadian History, and the Toronto Star, my favourite daily newspaper. I expected the invited thinkers and pundits to put forward ideas and prescriptions for Canada's future. Instead every entry I have read has been unremittingly declinist, pessimistic, and completely detached from Canada's present or past. It is as if each successive writer has taken it upon his or herself to outdo the other in presenting a completely imagined dystopian representation of a future country.

The only exception (of the entries I have been able to stomach reading) has been Mark Kingwell's. Instead of projecting doom for the country based on little more than speculation, Kingwell identifies a problem of serious concern (the decline of democratic participation and institutions) and proposes actual ideas to engage with, and address, the problem.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:15 p.m. :: (1) comments

Monday, October 16, 2006


A compilation of punditry on yesterday's Liberal leadership debate (a debate I didn't know was occurring, more on that below), suggests many political pundits see Stephen Harper as the real winner of the debate.

This opinion is, of course, un-clever punditry masquerading as the opposite.

The suggestion is that the Liberal contenders beat up on each other so much last night that Stephen Harper looks great by comparison. This may be true, but the only people making that comparison are political pundits.

1. It's easy for Haper to look like the better prime minister, because he currently is the prime minister.

2. The Liberal leadership contenders, while they are running for Harper's job in the long-term, are currently running against each other.

3. The Liberal leadership contenders are currently competing for the votes of a select group of Liberals, not the votes of the Canadian public.

4. The only people who care about the race are Liberals and those others who care A LOT about political process and competition. I generally consider myself amongst the latter crowd, and I didn't know about the debate until I turned on the evening news last night.

Therefore it is rather unreasonable to say Harper won last night's debate. As a non-Liberal I'm not even beginning to consider my vote until I can assess what direction the Liberal party is taking with a new leader.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:21 a.m. :: (0) comments

Friday, October 13, 2006


I learn from Paul Wells that Michael Ignatieff will deliver "a major policy speech" at noon today. The location? University of Toronto's Innis College.

It strikes me, and probably others, that while three of the four leaders in the Liberal leadership race hold Ph.D's Ingnatieff is by far the most professorial of the bunch. While Dion and Rae are clearly intelligent men, their intellectual experience augments their political experience, principally because they have political experience.

I am a great believer in the idea that political leadership in a democracy does not require specifically political office holding experience. I think that candidates should be able to put themselves forward for public office and be judged on their general merits of intelligence, common sense, and ability to reasonably govern in the interest of all their constituents. I generally deplore the modern tendancy toward 'professional politics' and the idea, often advocated by Calgary Grit (just to pick on someone) that our leaders require experience in lesser political offices.

Ignatieff however is doing his best to undermine my belief. My guess, based solely on Ignatieff's public performances, is that he recognizes the world of politics is not the same as the world of academia and is therefore trying too hard to be a politician. This leads him to think that he needs to say what his particular audience wants to hear, because he thinks that is what politicians do (to be fair it often is). Then he discovers that he has ignored his own iternal logic, i.e. he's not losing sleep over war crimes because they weren't real war crimes, and worse, his remarks have not been isolated to one lecture hall.

In effect, Ignatieff is a professor performing as a politician instead of allowing his professorial experience to inform his actual being a politician.

Amost immediate update - Barely related thoughts and speculation:

The problems of "professor performing as politician" were taken up with great narrative results in the third (and last decent) season of The West Wing. Fans should re-call specifically the espisode combination of "The Two Bartletts" and "Night Five."

Pure speculation: Are there any parallels between what kind of leader Ignatieff might be with the kind of leader the most professorial of American president's, Woodrow Wilson, was?

Posted by Matthew @ 11:21 a.m. :: (3) comments


When I re-launched, I forgot to mention that sport would be another occasional topic on this blog - namely soccer (football) and the Montreal Canadiens. Why the focus on an entire sport but no particular team of that sport, and a particular team with out much regard for the sport that team plays? Because I was raised playing soccer in Canada.

I love all aspects of soccer; I can appreciate the game played at any level from under-5 kids games to the Champions Leage and the World Cup. This is probably because my only connection to soccer for the first ten years of my life was through my own playing of the sport. Conversely there is my experience of hockey; a sport I have never played even remotely seriously and have much less appreciation for in form than soccer. However, due to family indoctrination and the conditioning of growing up on Canadian school-grounds I cannot shake the totally irrational connection I have with the Habs.

I don't read many soccer blogs, but I am sure that one of the best ones out there is Gramsci's Kingdom. The writing here rarely focuses on team stats or player gossip but instead tends to examine the broader politics, history, and business of football around the world. As a North American who loves soccer but feels little connection to the sport's broader culture, I find this blog an invaluable and entertaining read.

And I'm looking forward to the Habs thrashing the Senators tomorrow night.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:37 a.m. :: (0) comments

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Try and get past the boring title.
Below are two posts discussing L. Ian MacDonald's recent speech on Canadian constitutional tradition given at the Calgary Congress. The full text of the speech is posted by Stephen Taylor, presumably with the permission of Mr. MacDonald and the conference.

The first post discusses the principal thrust of MacDonald's speech, that is that the 'centralizing federalism' of previous Liberal governments along with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms threatens to unbalance the Canadian Constitution. I attempt not so much to disagree as to call for greater consideration of Canada's constitutional history and tradition.

The second post is specifically related to MacDonald's assertion that the original intent of both the British North America Act and the governance of Sir John A. Macdonald was to provide a balance between federal and provincial powers in Confederation; that the 'classical federalism' of Stephen Harper is based in the non-centralizing intellectual tradition of the BNA Act and Macdonald. In this case I believe I provide a reasonably strong argument that L. Ian MacDonald is wrong about the BNA Act and Prime Minsister Macdonald.

Post-script: You've probably already noticed that two men with vary similar names are under discussion here. Based on the context of a present day MacDonald talking about a past Macdonald, distinguishing between the two is hopefully clear.

Post-post-script: Okay, despite the boring title if it doesn't at least pique your interest you will probably find the posts equally boring.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:03 p.m. :: (0) comments


Steven Taylor has posted a speech by L. Ian MacDonald at the recent Calgary Congress. It is a thoughtful speech to which I would like to add some additional and often opposing considerations.

MacDonald’s speech advanced two principle arguments and several secondary ones in support.

The principal arguments are that the Canadian constitution comprises two traditions, that of the British North America Act and that of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Further, MacDonald argues that the government of Stephen Harper represents the intellectual tradition, extending back to Sir John A. Macdonald, of ‘classical federalism’ based on the recognition of provincial rights, whereas the Liberals are the party of ‘centralizing federalism’ infringing on provincial rights. Finally, he argues that the Charter risks subverting the sovereignty of the federal and provincial legislatures and that these legislatures, particularly the federal, must be prepared to use the notwithstanding clause to maintain the balance of federalism.

My main point of disagreement with MacDonald is that he seems to conflate the threat of Liberal ‘centralizing federalism’ and the threat the Charter poses to the supremacy of Parliament as the same type of threat.

MacDonald argues says that,

“The Conservatives, from Sir John A. Macdonald to Stephen Harper, are the party of classical federalism. The Liberals, from Lester Pearson to Paul Martin, are the party of centralizing federalism.

The Conservatives are the BNA party. The Liberals are the Charter party."
The first two sentences I have no problem with, I would tend to agree (accept that Sir John was hardly a proponent of provincial rights, one of the secondary points I will come to later.) The third sentence, though I might agree with it on its own, when put in relation to the first two implies that the Charter has something to do with ‘centralizing federalism’ when it does not.

The British North America Act defined the rights of the federal and provincial governments in relation to one another. The Charter defined the rights of individuals in relation to the State.

The Charter has nothing to do with the threat of Liberal centralizing federalism because it can be used equally to overturn the laws of the federal and provincial legislatures and can do nothing to change the relationship between the federal and provincial powers regarding their respective rights.

To be fair, MacDonald seems to admit this much later in his speech, despite the problematic inferences early in his speech. MacDonald instead, by the end of his speech, infers that the similarity of centralizing federalism and The Charter is that they both threaten to ‘unbalance’ Canadian constitutional tradition.

Let us then examine this argument premised on the threat of ‘unbalance.’

1. The problem of centralizing federalism

I have little problem with MacDonald on this point. Certainly in the years following the Second World War the Liberals (who have generally been in power) have centralized federalism and encroached on provincial powers, while Conservatives (basically Mulroney) have been more respectful of the traditional division of powers and the role of the federal government in Confederation.

My principal disagreement, which is secondary to the main point, is that John A. Macdonald was not nearly the ‘classical federalist’ L. Ian Macdonald makes him out to be; but I will comment on this at the end. (Scroll down to the bold heading if you’re interested in that bit right now.)

2. The problem of the Charter

MacDonald doesn’t really get around to the problem of the Charter until the end of his speech, particularly when he sums up his argument as follows:
The balance of 1982 has been missing, largely because the essential deal maker of the Charter, the notwithstanding clause, has been silent, and risks being lost, unless parliament and the legislatures find the courage to assert their constitutional legitimacy over the courts.
After 600 words of preamble on my part, and about an equal amount on the part of MacDonald, we have come to the main point of contention, if not outright disagreement.

My divergence with MacDonald is the inference that the Charter adds a new element of debate to Canadian constitutionalism. This is only the case if one starts consideration of Canadian constitutional and intellectual history at Confederation, as MacDonald does. If we consider the important pre-Confederation and British antecedents we see that the addition of the Charter is simply a continuation of the debate surrounding the necessity to check the sovereignty of the executive in its powers over individual rights.

The debate goes back at least as far as the Glorious Revolution. With the success of the Revolution, the Devine right of the monarch was checked by the power of Parliament. This led to the solidification through the 18th century of the theory of mixed monarchy, of the Kings, Lords and Commons providing a balanced constitution and government.

Yet, critics began to worry that the Devine right of the King had simply been replaced by a Devine right of parliament. In 1765 Lord Chancellor Camden denounced the Declaratory Act as, “a bill, the very existence of which is illegal, absolutely illegal, contrary to the fundamental laws of nature, contrary to the fundamental laws of this constitution.” Similarly, Lord Blackstone denounced other legislation, “fundamentally opposite to the spirit of our constitution.” And of course, Lord Camden’s statement on the Declaratory Act reminds us of the example of the American Revolution where the American colonies protested the sovereign right of Parliament to legislate without consideration for rights believed to be inherent to the British constitution.

The debate over the need to check the sovereignty of parliament in order to preserve British liberties was also transferred to the colony of Upper Canada. In the 1820s and 1830s as the colonial executive, controlled as it was by the conservative elites of the family compact, continually disallowed legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly, Reformers called for the need to check on the sovereign power.

For years, the function of the jury had provided a certain check on the sovereignty of the legislature in Canada and parliament in England. In the common law tradition the rights of the jury to acquit on the basis of conscience and to thereby tacitly reject laws passed by the legislature was seen as a great bulwark for British liberties. Yet in the early decades of the nineteenth century the Upper Canadian elites used their power of patronage over local sheriffs to pack juries and subvert this check on the legislature. Patronage corruption and the packing of juries became a major complaint of the Reformers.

The debate is highlighted by a further example; when William Baldwin argued that the passage of the Sedition Act was unconstitutional, on the basis that it violated long-held British liberties, attorney general Christopher Hagerman responded that the law could not possibly be unconstitutional because it had been passed by the colonial legislature. The argument, obviously, was that the legislature by virtue of its existence and power could not be wrong.

All of these grievances culminated in the Reform campaign for Responsible Government. By the achievement of Responsible Government the executive’s sovereign authority was legitimized because it was held accountable by the legislature, which in turn was accountable to the freeholding electorate.

Responsible Government, of course, remains the basis of the sovereignty of parliament for which MacDonald advocates. However, the Baldwins and the other Reformers envisioned the executive held accountable by an independent legislature. Through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the de-legitimizing of the senate, in combination with the powers of patronage and party discipline invested with the prime minister, a reverse of the original intent developed, in which the executive is able to dominate the legislature, particularly in majority parliament situations. Like the grand juries of the 18th century, today the principal check on the sovereignty of a majority parliament remains the courts with the powers invested in the Charter.

The Charter, when considered in the long history of debate over the sovereign power of the executive and parliament, is not a new aspect of Canadian constitutionalism. MacDonald argues that the Charter must be considered in the spirit of balance that has shaped the Canadian constitution. While I agree with that, the factors that contribute to that sense of balance, particularly the balance between the State and individual rights, date back much farther than Confederation.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:02 p.m. :: (0) comments


L. Ian MacDonald argues in his speech to the Calgary conference that the BNA Act and the governance of John A. Macdonald established a tradition of respecting the right of provinces and established the foundation of Canadian compromise and asymmetrical federalism.

I have to disagree.

The BNA Act did delineate both Federal and Provincial powers but which powers did it give to which level of government. MacDonald himself spells some of them out:

In the BNA tradition, Ottawa's powers are invested in section 91, the POGG, peace, order and good government. Defence, foreign affairs, international trade, the economic union. The powers of the provinces are in section 92, including health care, daycare, and cities.
I would argue that Ottawa got control of most of the powers that really mattered to government in the later nineteenth century. Health-care was an entirely private concern. Upper and Lower Canada had well established public education systems that pre-dated Confederation with the School Acts of 1841 and 1843; there was no need to undo what was already working. As for post-secondary education it was largely private and largely the reserve of a small elite. As for cities, even in 1901 the country’s population was still predominantly rural, with most people’s livelihoods connected to farming.

Further, MacDonald overlooks two major factors that diminish this portion of his argument. First, powers over jurisdictions not specifically enumerated in the BNA Act were reserved to the federal government, not the provinces. Second, the BNA Act allowed the federal government the power of disallowance over any provincially passed statute.

Lets discuss this aspect specifically. MacDonald himself argues that the power of disallowance “fell into disuse.” This is hardly accurate.

The provision of disallowance began to fall into disuse in 1881 when Prime Minister John A. Macdonald three times vetoed a piece of Ontario legislation. Macdonald’s use of the disallowance clause was finally appealed by private interests, whom the proposed law benefited, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London where Macdonald’s use of the clause in this instance was ruled to be a gross violation of private rights. From that case the precedent of not using the disallowance clause was set.

The use of the disallowance clause was not the only example of Macdonald’s often centralizing outlook. Ian MacDonald sites the NEP as an instance of Liberal centralizing tendencies. Indeed. But what of Sir John’s National Policy. Remove the ‘Energy’ aspect and apply it to everything. Not to mention Macdonald’s massive use of patronage to solidify his power not just in Ottawa but also to influence policy and placemen in the provinces.

L. Ian MacDonald glosses over a lot to argue that the BNA Act as envisioned and implemented by Sir John A. Macdonald respected the power of the provinces and did not hold any federalist centralizing tendencies.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:01 p.m. :: (0) comments

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


It is fairly well recognized that 1900-01 and 2000-01 represent marks of "the turn of the century." But which century?

Was 1900-01 the 'turn' of the ninetheenth century or twentieth? I had always assumed the former. I thought, based on observations from texts and my own sense of logic, that when centuries turned they finished - as in 'turned over' or 'turned out.' So, when one said "at the turn of the nineteenth century," it was the end of the nineteenth century one was referring to.

However, recently I was reading a review in the Canadian Historical Review, the subject of which was a book on Canadian-American-British relations around 1890-1910. In this review the author continualy referred to the book's subject matter as taking place at "the turn of the twentieth century," meaning, of course, 1900 not 2000.

Is there a standard reference for the phrase "turn of the century?" It was easy in the latter years of the twentieth century to use the phrase and be fairly clear. Now however, I'm not as sure. Is it possible that "turn of the century" was a phrase coined during the nineteenth century, and so the issue has never seriously come up?

I believe that the phrase is much more common in speech rather than in formal writing and so would be subject to much more variable definition. But now having seen it in print in an academic journal I want a standard.

Which way do centuries turn? I'll look into it. In the meantime - opinions?

Update: The next afternoon -

Obviously, the source to answer this question is the Oxford English Dictionary.

Conclusion: There is no definitive standard for use of the phrase "turn of the century." Although certain uses seem more common and appropriate than others.

The OED notes the first use of the phrase in 1926 to O. Barfield in History in English Words quote: "Just before the turn of the century there burst..upon England that strange explosion..the Romantic Movement."

Here, given the time of writing, the phrase indicates the preriod ending the 19th century and beginning the 20th, withouth requiring further specification. This appears to be the most common way in which the phrase has been historically used. Futher examples:

1935 - Discovery, Oct. 3, 10/2, "It is interesting to compare Dr Burr's notes, dating back to the turn of the century, with present conditions."

1981 - W. Haggard Money Men xi. 122, "What was still called the parlour..was vintage turn of the century."

However, the term has also be used to describe the "turn" of any century, provided it is clear which centuries are under consideration:

1968 - A. M. Farrer, Interpretation & Belief, 190, "It was as a doctrine of free will that Neo-Platonism was embraced by St Augustine at the turn of the fourth to the fifth century."

1976 - Church Times, 9 July, 6/2, "He begins with a splendid assembly of Church of England men all earnestly proclaiming, at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, doctrines then trendy."

But, just to confuse things, the OED documents a usage of the problematic type that got me onto this topic in the first place:

1979 - Scientific American Dec. 96/1, "The evolutionary significance of the original Neanderthal discovery and of other human remains uncovered at Paleolithic sites was not apparent until the turn of the 20th century."

In this case, as with the CHR case I note above, the author refers to "the turn of the 20th century" and means the beginning of the twentieth not the end.

It would appear that the phrase "turn of the century" generally refers to the period circa. 1890-1910. In most cases this usage would be clear. In other cases, when not referring to the immediately preceding century, authors should specify which centuries are beginning and ending under their consideration. Finally, there seems to be limited, and therefor problematic use, of the phrase "turn of the x-century" to indicate the beginning of a particular century and not the end.

I encourage you all to employ the first two types of usage and to avoid the latter.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:11 p.m. :: (1) comments


I get the sense, as does Alan, that no one really knows what to do about North Korea.

I believe that this is largely due to the fact that the principles of governance in a representative democracy are ill-suited to the conduct of foreign affairs. Namely that the full range of information required to proper decision making simply cannot be made available to the public at large.

So we are left with the citizenry expressing their opinon on the basis of general principles while governments test what specific actions they can take while maintaining public support, legitimacy, and power.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:08 a.m. :: (0) comments

Monday, October 09, 2006


It came to my attention that readers not taking advantage of the superior Firefox web browser and/or Mac OS where having some difficulty appropriately viewing my site. Using my trial and error knowledge of HTML I belive I have corrected the problems. In doing so I had to make the banner picture at the top larger which, I belive, significantly reduced its visual appeal. So, I have a few questions for you, my tiny audience, particulary returning readers, who, my stat counter tells me, there are a very few of. Questions are listed in order of relevance to me.

1. Were you having trouble reading the site before the weekend? If so is it better now, or not?

2. If the page looked fine before are there now significant layout problems, i.e overlapping text, columns out of place, major areas of white space?

3. Is there anyone with a greater knowledge of these technical issues than I have (that would be almost anyone) who is willing to offer some minimal assistance or advice?

4. Overall how does the page look? Any comments?

Please post your answers in the comments section below. Thanks.

UPDATE: The next day

I've re-worked the banner. There's a new graphic, which I like, and my name is more visible, though I'm still not sure about the colour. Is black best, or something else? Friends and relatives know that I'm totally colour blind, so colour suggestions would be helpful.

Posted by Matthew @ 6:24 p.m. :: (4) comments

Sunday, October 08, 2006


There was a great deal of debate about this over the past week, with conservatives and liberals jumping to their respective barricades. Not surprisingly, the issue of post-same-sex-marriage legistaltion was featured in the Sunday Star's gernerally useless McQuaig-Anderson point-couter-point feature.

Then remaining on the side of sensible there was Mader who, earlier in the week, wrote this:

So I was in the middle of drafting a lengthy post about this when I realized that nobody can possibly have anything useful to say about it.
Everybody take a deep breath. (Especially you, Ms Jennings.) When the text of the bill comes out, then we can talk about whether it's a slippery slope, or whether it's redundant - or whether it reaffirms in statute a fundamental principle of liberal democratic government that has seemed at times to have nearly been read out of the Canadian constitution. It'll be a good debate to have, if it comes. Until it comes, let's just all admit we have no idea.
Now today the Prime Minister has confirmed the sensibility of Mader's stance with his statements on the issue:
"There is no such proposal. The government is very committed to bringing forward a free vote on the marriage issue, probably this fall, and all this speculation about what we might do afterward is just speculation."

Yet another example that reasonable arguments are best made on a foundation extant facts.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:38 p.m. :: (0) comments

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I have spent a relaxing moring (and early afternoon) with coffee, bagels, and the Saturday Star. Following are a few quick links of interest to me:

Why we fight:

"We are so scared. The Taliban want to come back. And we are breaking their law by coming to school. Totally, they want to kill us."
From an interview with young Afghan women going to school in Khandahar.

Harper, Bush and Arar:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has launched an official complaint with the United States over its mistreatment of Maher Arar, and personally told President George W. Bush the Americans must explain why the Canadian citizen was deported to Syria and tortured.
I have difficulty imagining Paul Martin handling this situation as diplomatically as the Prime Minister. Would the President have taken Martin's phone call?

McGill number 1 in Canadian research universities:
Montreal's McGill University, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver each cracked the top 50 of an annual list compiled by The Times of London.
In a list dominated by American and British schools, Canada had more top-50 universities than France and Japan, two each, but less [sic] than Australia, which had seven.
It is great to see McGill's quality acknowledged in this way, however its overall placing (21st) and the performance of Canadian universities in general is not terribly impressive.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:15 p.m. :: (0) comments

Friday, October 06, 2006


One of the many reasons that I stopped blogging and nearly abandoned the blogosphere over a year ago was that I was reading too many posts like this one:

Hard on the heels of last week's news that Status of Women Canada (SWC) has lost 40 per cent of its operational budget comes word of a new diktat from the department run by one of cabinet's biggest losers, the sad and ineffectual and utterly pathetic Bev Oda.
A few notes to certain bloggers:

1. Coming up with several words that all mean the same thing is not an example of good writing.

2. Coming up with several words that all mean the same thing does not constitute 'analysis' of any kind.

3. Ad hominem attacks on our nation's elected representatives does not constitute reasoned debate, it has no place in any discourse that seeks to appeal to reasonable citizens.

4. Ad hominem attacks and the attitude cited above in fact undermines the principles of the public sphere and deliberative democracy upon which our constitution rests.

I'm singling out a particular example here, but this problem is widespread through the political blogosphere on both the 'left' and the 'right.'

This type of discourse stultifies and polarizes political debate. It should not be welcomed any where reasonable people wish to effectively govern themselves.

With specific reference to the post in question, I went on to read the rest, only for the purposes of writing this post, and found that the author, in a rambling way, attempted several legitimate arguments, even if the overal tone was still grounded in a preconcieved ideology. However, in most cases I never would have gotten that far due to the illegitimacy of the first paragraph. That first pargraph indicates to me that the author has made up his/her mind about the people who run the government and need no longer resort to reason to confront them, and that the author expects the same from me as the reader.

That type of writing is all too common and is one of the reasons I needed a year-long break from the blogosphere, and why in the interrugnum I read only these three blogs where the writing, and debate in the comments, is always civilized and premised on evaluating the merits of ideas (or discussing the merits cheese).

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


Two examples in today's news exhibiting the impulse to incorporate and divide all history into national narratives. The headline of the Globe and Mail reads "Native Art Trove Heads Home."

The Story:

More than two dozen rare items of northwest native art will be returning to Canada for the first time since they were taken from northern British Columbia in 1863 after members of the Thomson family suddenly stepped up to the plate, spending more than $5-million (U.S.) during a record-setting auction at Sotheby's in New York.
Of course, in 1863 when these items were taken (bought, stolen, gifted - it isn't clear) what is now British Columbia was still a colony of the British Empire, as were Canada East and Canada West. And where is the 'home' that the art is returning to? It seems likely that the Thomson family will donate them to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is currently undergoing major renovations to accomodate the Thomson family collections.

It is not necessarily wrong to portray this story in a nationalist context, it is only that doing so, particularly as so often happens in journalism, limits other ways in which the story of this art could be considered, for example the colonial, imperial and Aboriginal focused implications.

The second example, from Mongolia:

Mongolians are concerned about foreign companies, namely in China and Russia, appropriating the identity of Genghis Khan.
Mongolia has moved to register the name of its legendary conqueror Genghis Khan as a commercial brand.
"Foreigners are attempting to use the Genghis Khan name", one parliamentarian said, claiming that businesses in Russia, China and Kazakhstan were all portraying him as a native of their countries.
Again, modern nationalist identity makes exclusive claims on history's persons and events, that, in the context of the time, had nothing to do with a particular nationalism.

Of course, nationalism requires a certain degree of exclusivity; I am certainly not arguing for a collapsing of national identities. However, the past is best examined in its historical context. Further I am not attempting here to argue that national appropriation of history is outright wrong, only that there needs to be ways to reconcile nationalist historical narriatives with competing narratives that might be better considered outside a nationalist frame.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:01 a.m. :: (0) comments

Thursday, October 05, 2006


This week I started volunteering for the City of Kingston Department of Culture researching and preparing historical reports on the city's many heritage buildings. My first assignment is one of the most prominent heritage properties in the city, and is also a national historic site, the Frontenac County Court House.

I will periodically post updates to this project as it progresses. For now, I have only the basic information on the court house, but hopefully some archival research will turn up some interesting stories or details.


1855: The growing county of Frontenac, Lennox and Addignton required greater space for the administration of justice and government. Queen Victoria granted a piece of land to the county and construction of the court house began under the direction of architect Edward Horsey.

1858: Construction of the court house was completed. The first session was held on the 2nd of November.

1865: Frontenac County Council began sharing space in the court house for administration and council sessions.

1875: A fire from one of the building's individual wood stoves got out of control. The resulting fire destroyed the wood interior of the building, but the limestone exterior remianed intact; the impressive portico was completely undamaged.

1876: The court house was re-built by Architect Power and Son. A central heating system was added, along with a re-done dome at the top of the building, one of the court house's principal heritage architectural features (visible in the picture above.)

1903: The large fountain (also pictured above) was added in honour of Sir George Airey Kirkpatrick, prominent Kingston lawyer, militia officer, businessman, and MP in the caucus of Sir John A. Macdonald.

1931: The interior of the east wing of the court house was again almost completely destroyed by fire. Architect Colin Drever re-built the interior on plans from the original construction and made a small addition to the rear of the building.

1986: The court house was declared a national historic site.

1996: The city acquired the courthouse from the county of Frontenac in an agreement over municipal amalgamation.

1999: Issues arose related to the ownership and upkeep of the courthouse. While the city owns the building it is leased by the province for the administration of justice. The city does not like the costs of owning the building while not using it. Queen's university offered to purchase the courthouse planning to make it the centre of its business school. In the face of public pressure from the Frontenac Law Association and factions of the Kingston community opposed to Queen's ownership, Kingston city council dithered and Queen's withdrew its offer.

Potential for interesting stories:

The original construction of the court house included a gaol in the rear where prisoners were held and executed in the 19th century.

More to come as research progresses.

*The photo above is from the Archives of Ontario digitial image collection. It is specifically from the Marsden Kemp collection and dates from c.1904-1920.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:20 a.m. :: (2) comments


Certain Liberals are interpreting supposedly unprecedented levels of attacks against Michael Ignatieff from Prime Minister Harper and the government as an indication that the Conservatives are deathly afraid of Ignatieff winning the Liberal leadership.

They are so obviously concerned about him that they feel the need to jump quickly to try to "define him", to "frame him", or whatever the heck else Franz Lunz is telling them they should be doing.
To track this phenomenon the Ignatieff campaign has launched the Harp-o-meter.
In honour of the Tories' burgeoning enthusiasm for the leadership race, we're starting our Harp-o-meter to keep track of the number of times before the Convention that Canada's "New" Government fires a shot Michael's way.
This strikes me as one of those gimmicks, common to internal party politics, that has a greater effect on maintaining the morale of current supporters rather than actually convincing potential non-supporters of anything; there's no harm in that as far as it goes.

But do Liberals really think that the Conservatives are afraid of Ignatieff? Based on the Conservative campaign team's success at a strategic level in the last election, is it not far more likely that they are simply "student's of things as they are" and working to discredit the likely Liberal leader even before he assumes office? That is not necessarily fear; simply smart politics.

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


My blog is back.

After a hiatus of more than a year, I'm giving blogging another go. There were a lot of reasons I drifted away from blogging but I wont get into a boring introspective meta-blogging post on my first day back. I have no grand plan or organizing principle as many bloggers clearly do, or pretend to, but I hope to approach the level of quality put forth by Mader, Alan, and J.Kelly, whose blogs I found I could not ignore over the past year.

I do intend to focus my writing on politics and my true passion - history. My approach to political questions, or all questions, remains grounded in disinterested reason, rather than a particularly steadfast ideology, which is not to say that I don't believe in anything, only that I do not automatically dismiss anything. As for history, I study it do uncover the truth of the past, even if it remains elusive.

That is enough for now.

Ben asks, "who says that we cannot begin again?" and aswers, "Not I." I would have to agree.

Tell your friends, update your links.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:10 p.m. :: (1) comments