Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tory daycare plan: faulty ideology?

James Bow, with a little help from his wife Erin, takes a look at the daycare debate. It's a really interesting read, and in quoting extensively from a debate that he had with a commenter who favours the Conservative plan, he manages to give equal attention to both sides while hesitantly coming out on the side of a universal plan of the sort favoured by the Liberals and the NDP.

Reading James' post--and especially reading the quotes from the commenter in favour of Harperbucks for Kids--I'm struck by how whiny Conservatives sound when they complain about how the Liberal and NDP plans don't help them, as they're not choosing to put their children into daycare. Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: the myth that the Conservative plan "helps everybody equally" is exactly that--a myth. Leaving aside the fact that giving $1200 a year to a rich family and giving $1200 to a poor family is quite different from helping both families equally, there are in fact millions and millions of Canadians who would not be helped by the Conservative plan at all. I'm one of them--as an adult who works full-time but who has no children and no intention to have any, the Conservative plan would mean me putting my hard-earned tax dollars toward a social programme that provides absolutely no benefit to me.

By contrast, it can be argued that a universal daycare program does provide plenty of benefit to me personally, since a program that creates more daycare spaces would a) help lower-income families who don't have the choice to stay home with their children provide a safe daytime environment for the future citizens I will be living alongside, and b) stimulate the economy of the country I live in. If Harper and company really want to help everybody, then they should come up with a program that actually manages to do that, rather than favouring only the small minority of Canadians who would qualify for their $1200 a year. They're not about to do that, though, because they're not actually interested in helping everybody--in fact, they're not even particularly excited about helping families with young children. The real point of the Conservative plan wasn't to provide $1200 in Harperbucks, it was to undermine the proposed Liberal plan. The $1200 is nothing but a concession our new prime minister made so that he wouldn't look like a heartless asshole for doing what he really wanted to do--prevent the implementation of universal daycare.

Having done that, Harper has ended up in an ideological quagmire. Even Tory blogger Greg Staples argued in his last Bloggers' Hotstove podcast that individual Canadians should provide for their own children. For those who agree with that sentiment (and there are plenty) it makes complete sense to oppose universal daycare. If, on the other hand, you regard children not as belonging exclusively to their parents but also to the society they're a part of, then a program that provides a healthy environment for the children of parents who need to work during the day makes sense. But regardless of which side of the ideological fence you fall on, the Conservative plan does not make sense. If you want to offer a program that will help the maximum number of parents care for the maximum number of children in a way that fits in with the way society works for most people, then it falls short. If you think children should be provided for exclusively by their parents, then it goes too far. This is the reason why, as James Bow points out in his post, Conservatives are more likely to respond to challenges to the Harperbucks For Kids program by bashing the proposed Liberal plan rather than by defending their own plan. Harper has forced them into that tiny space between the proverbial rock and its corresponding hard place, and they're stuck arguing for a plan that's inconsistent with their own ideologies.

My real point, though, isn't to argue that I'd be getting a raw deal under the Conservative plan, even though if you look only at the dollars-and-cents bottom line, I would be. My point is that governments don't exist to cater to the eclectic life choices of Idealistic Pragmatist from Edmonton, Alberta, and they don't exist to cater to the eclectic life choices of the countless Tory bloggers whining about how a universal daycare program wouldn't help their families, either. The function of government is to act on behalf of society as a whole, and as such, the function of the Canadian federal government is to do things for the country that individual Canadians can't do on their own. Even the most die-hard of our small-government types must realize that it makes more sense for the programs the government offers to be ones that benefit not just a minority of individuals, but the whole society. And a well-run universal daycare system (which the Liberal plan arguably wouldn't produce, though that's fodder for another post) would come far, far closer to fulfilling that objective than pennies a day to a minority of individual Canadians.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Two pseudoposts

A good two months after the election, I'm finally starting to feel like writing about politics again (as some of you might have figured out from the rather lengthy comments I've been leaving at your blogs). Unfortunately, this desire to return to blogging has happened to coincide with a week to end all weeks at work. I just can't win. In lieu of a lengthy, thoughtful missive, then, here are pseudoposts (i.e., a cursory opinion squib with a bunch of links) on two topics.

The Toronto Star on electoral reform

Those of you who aren't either Ontario denizens or electoral reform geeks might not have heard about that province's recently formed citizens' assembly on electoral reform. 103 randomly selected citizens from across Ontario have been charged with building a better mousetrap, after which, as in B.C., there will be a province-wide referendum. Given its track record, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that this has got the collective knickers of the Toronto Star's editorial board in a twist. Sinister Greg and the unnamed writer behind the terrific new blog Just Society provide their rebuttals, and Declan of Crawl Across the Ocean takes it one step further and accuses the Star of deliberately spreading misinformation. Genuinely puzzled, he asks why they might do that--what do they have to gain?

Well, Declan, there are two things that make proportional representation scary to the Toronto Star people of this world: the fact that it would make transparent the fact that this country doesn't actually have a "natural governing party" (and although PR would be beneficial to western Liberals, many clearly still see this as too high a price to pay), and the fact that under a system of proportional representation, our politicians would have to learn how to do their jobs entirely differently from the way they do them now. In other words, as I said in my proportional representation FAQ, the people who have the power to change the system were elected by it, so it's in their best interests to make sure that the misinformation persists. On the other hand, it's also quite possible that the esteemed writers of this editorial were both ill-informed enough and lazy enough that this sort of thing could happen with no malicious intent. After all, it wouldn't be the first time.

Ignatieff's (anti?)-torture article

Iggy wants to run for the Liberal leadership, so he's got to make an attempt at clear away two rather large skeletons in his closet: his previous stance on the Iraq war and his comments about the "use of torture." To address the first issue, he's offering up a vision speech on Thursday, which we will await with bated breath. To address the second, he wrote a long-ass article in a British magazine in which he argues that torture is a bad, bad idea, except when it's not. Maybe. Sometimes. He's since been crucified throughout the blogosphere, with the likes of Calgary Grit and Warren Kinsella (scroll down to March 27th) offering up their thoughts on what this means for his candidacy.

As a fellow academic, I sympathize with Iggy. No, really, I do. I know exactly what it's like to want to make people understand a complex issue by rubbing their noses in all the details they haven't considered--this is, in fact, one of the reasons why I have a blog. In a blog, you can make really terrific, really thorough arguments by taking a position and then thoroughly examining all of the possible counter-opinions that might come up. But I do know better than to try to become the Prime Minister of Canada by writing 3000-word opinion pieces in which I lay out a complicated issue in all its glorious, messy complexity. At the very least, it doesn't make for very good sound bytes.

I'll be back for real "real soon now," I promise.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ending the nightmare

Back in January of 2001, this article in the U.S.-based online satiric current events magazine the Onion was funny. A little more than five years later, well, not so much:

WASHINGTON, DC–Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over." President-elect Bush vows that "together, we can put the triumphs of the recent past behind us."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."
Hat-tip to Declan.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Today's reason why I'm loving living in Canada

The race for who's going to lead the Liberal Party of Canada is about more than just picking somebody to clean up the place, it's also about who's going to lead the party that's dominated Canada for the past hundred years. And as we all know by now, one of the frontrunners is Scott Brison, who's run for the leadership before--the Tory leadership. Of course, this very point is one of the issues his many critics both in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media have been insisting will do him in, along with his ties to the income trusts scandal and his stumbled falsehoods about his emails to his banker friend. This criticism has been coming fast and furious, left, right, and centre.

And perhaps it's true--perhaps Brison does have too much baggage to win. I find it fascinating, though, that not a single one of these critics--from anywhere on the political spectrum--is citing another characteristic of Brison's which would be regarded as baggage in many other countries: the fact that he's gay, out, and in a committed relationship. Floor-crossings, money scandals, and snippy emails might prevent someone from becoming the leader of the most successful political party in the western world, but being queer...what does that have to do with anything?

Oh, Canada.

Monday, March 13, 2006

In absentia

Since a couple of weeks after the election, twin epidemics of the diseases "nothing-to-say-itis" and "no-time-to-say-it-in-osis" have been spreading among Canadian bloggers. It's affecting large groups of us, left, right, and centre. In case you haven't noticed, I've been suffering, too. (Well, I actually did write a post yesterday but after my last post, you guys would probably have sent out the men with the white coats, so I refrained.)

I've mentioned before that I originally started this blog mainly so that I would have an identifiable persona in the blogosphere for commenting purposes, and had figured I'd occasionally throw up a piece of my own. I've started taking it a little more seriously than that, obviously, but that's still the original purpose, and for that reason I'm occasionally going to have periods where I'm more of a reader-and-commenter than I am a blogger. So for the two or three of you who have been wondering whether IP would ever post anything of any relevance again, rest assured, at some point in the not-too-distant future there will eventually be something I feel moved to say. And for those of you who are interested in my New Zealand series, it's coming--I just have some more reading to do before I can do as good a job on it as I want to, and not a whole lot of time right now to do that reading in.

Thanks for your patience.

Monday, March 06, 2006

On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog-lover

The U.S.-based "ezine" takes on the pressing, age-old question of whether it is actually the case that conservatives like dogs, while liberals prefer cats. Their findings are striking:

As you can see, Very Liberal women are most likely to own (green) cats, while Very Conservative men are most likely to own (blue) dogs. Fascinated, I decided to run this by my own three cats for a more nativist perspective. Dot said something that sounded like "Mrrrt," while Star merely stared at me. Grizabella, on the other hand, just said that she'd never heard of either a green cat or a blue dog. (She always was the smart one.)

Of course, this timely and essential research by our friends south of the border demands that we also ask how their findings might translate to the Canadian context. If you ask me, it seems likely that those dog-loving Republicans would probably find their closest cousins in the Conservative Party of Canada, while those cat-loving Democrats would be most akin to the Liberals. And the NDP? Why, we prefer mice, of course.

(Hat tip to Pandagon.)

[Update: Okay, the comments from the cats are my crazy roommate. No, really, they are. I do seem to be on some sort of unplanned post-election serious-post hiatus, but I haven't gone that far off the deep end. Just saying.]

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'm literally laughing my ass off

The best part of this Globe and Mail article about Frank McKenna? No, it's not the fact that the guy who was touted as a shoo-in for the Liberal leadership apparently feels free to chew out his party in public. It's not his joking about becoming a fisherman. It's the mental image of him having been "literally muzzled for the past couple of months." Priceless.