Sam Ajzenstat

IN MEMORIUM: Sam Ajzenstat


Howard Adelman

Sam Ajzenstat died in his sleep on Thursday in the early hours of the morning. He suffered from diabetes for years. More than a year ago, he had a severe stroke and had been living in a full care facility at ShalomVillage. He had retired as a professor of Philosophy at McMasterUniversity a few years earlier. He will be buried this afternoon on Hamilton mountain at the HessStreetShulCemetery. There will be a service first at the United Hebrew Memorial Chapel Funeral Home in Hamilton at 4:00 p.m. and a shiva following at the home Sam and Janet lived in for decades at 172 Cline Ave. N. in Hamilton.  As his son, Sandor, wrote, Sam “was a man of words, and a man of love.” 

Sam Ajzenstat and I attended the same high school, Harbord Collegiate, in Toronto. He was one year behind but had already made a name for himself throughout the school. He was one of the few students to take Greek as well as the Latin, French and German that the rest of us studied. Further, he became infamous when he asked one of the few shiksas in our school overwhelmingly populated by Jews for a date to the prom and then even more infamous over the year book he edited.

We both attended the University of Toronto. When he became editor of the Varsity at university, I was its chief drama critic and Peggy Atwood was the poet in residence. We undertook many political pranks together. I played a minor roll in a sting operation Sam generated to show that sororities and fraternities, which were given extraordinary privileges on campus at the time, were then ridden with racism. Those university privileges were henceforth taken away from those social clubs. The revolution had begun.

We both majored in philosophy. We were both then pacifists and naïve idealists. One of the most infamous editorials Sam wrote was on Remembrance Day and Sam celebrated pacifism. I was influenced by Gandhi. Sam took his pacifism from his own moral precept of integrity, Kant`s injunction to be a self-legislator and not allow others to determine your course of action. He found that precept of autonomous rational self-legislation supported in the Torah and in God`s rejection of David`s offer to build Him a temple because David was a war-monger with blood on his hands.

Sam and I studied for our PhD comprehensive exams together. One day we started a discussion and a philosophical argument. It went on for 28 hours. In the last hour, Sam recapitulated the whole argument we had covered clearly stating both my and his point of view as the debate unfolded. I could not even remember what I had said let alone what he said. I conceded total defeat. 

I was a universalist anti-Zionist until the build up to the 1967 war when I witnessed my struggle between my ostensible indifference to the existence of Israel and the tremendous fear that I felt that this small and unique country would be wiped off the face of the earth. My emotions were totally at odds with my head. I vowed to visit Israel and did so with my wife and first four children just before the 1973 war. I became a Zionist, slowly but surely. I credit Harry Crowe, a gentile and philo-semite, for my conversion. Sam became a Zionist on his own as he gazed down at Israel from a visit to the Golan Heights and threw off his pacifism. For though he was unwilling to go to war to save his own skin, he was no longer willing to forfeit the war option and give up protecting the skin of his loved ones and his people. Secondly, pacifism was surrendering control over the moral project of taking responsibility for one`s life and surrendering it to the man of power, the one who carried the big stick.

In a piece Sam wrote called “Reflections on an ‘incurable tension'” in 2008, he said, “Of course, just because we are still in a world of hard choices, made even harder by Israel’s genuine desire to live up to high moral standards, doesn’t mean we can’t ever criticize the choices she makes. Criticism is not treason. Israel’s real enemies are those who think there are no hard choices because we must always choose purity above survival. That naïve idealism is our worst enemy. It only begins to turn into anti-semitism (or Jewish self-hatred) with the realization of how deeply Judaism rejects naïve idealism.” Sam was a Kantian. I was and am a Hegelian. But we were both wedded to critical rational discourse and saw the idealization of purity above survival as the source of deep evil, that naïve idealism, which we had both embraced in our teens, as mankind’s worst enemy.

After I quit teaching at TrinityCollege at the University of Toronto and had vowed never to teach in a university again, Sam tried to lure me to McMaster where he was then ensconced in the philosophy department. At the same hiring hall at the meeting of the American Philosophical Association in New York – Canada did not have its own learned philosophical society then – I was offered a job at AtkinsonCollege at YorkUniversity where I was assured that I would only have to teach students who were dedicated and hard-working. Instead of taking the job offered at McMaster, I opted for Atkinson and York. It was the right choice for me but, as a result, Sam and I saw each other much less frequently as the years passed. I had watched his wife, Janet, become a noted academic and political theorist in her own right, and his children, Sandor and Oona, grow up. Oona became a professor of Jewish studies and my daughter, Rachel, became a professor of rabbinics at a rabbinical college in Boston. Neither of us could have predicted such an outcome when Oona and Rachel were teenagers, though it was predictable that Sandor, and my daughter, Shonagh, would both enter the field of art.

Though others may have been able to predict that, as we grew older, religion would become a central theme in our lives, neither Sam nor I foresaw such an outcome. Sam became an Orthodox Jew decades ago and played a very important role in saving and reviving the Hess Street orthodox synagogue in Hamilton. As Sam wrote, the Sabbath ends with God making a distinction between the sacred and the secular. We both took the injunction to mean that one should not try to import the world of pure spirituality into the everyday world of mankind. It did not mean excluding religious practices or different forms of religious dress and self-expression from the secular world, for that was to make the secular a sacred idol and a betrayal of the rationale for the original distinction. Sam wrote, “Secularism, with as as-yet unchastened sense of its liberatory power, has no tradition by which to see the point of accommodation with the sacred. For it, modernity must be secular relativism: the struggle of the secular finally to gain exclusive authority over the civil order.” We both found secular revivalism, as an agent of the same coercive uniformity that made society eject organized religion from much of everyday life, as something to protest and criticize.

Sam loved opera. I love Broadway musicals. Sam became a commentator on opera on the old CBC program, Saturday Afternoon At The Opera. I may not have had a taste for opera, but I appreciated his insights and evaluations. Last evening, my wife and I went to hear Audra McDonald at Koerner Hall. Audra McDonald is a soprano who trained at Julliard and has sung opera — Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine”, and most notably, Kurt Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” that won her two Grammys, one for Best Opera Recording. However, last night she sang a medley of show tunes and other songs for which she is much better known – she has won an outstanding five Tony awards in the past. But the song she sang last night that made me think of Sam and that she delivered with such articulation and feeling was a song I had never heard before, and for which she accompanied herself on the piano. It was dedicated to her father who died seven years ago in the crash of a plane he was piloting. It is called “Migration V” written by Adam Guettel for his musical The Light in the Piazza that won a Tony Award.

The lyrics go as follows: 

We sail above the weather
We search the ocean floor.
We rival our creation,
Still yearning for more.
But can we fly together-
A migratory V?
How wonderful if that’s what God could see.

A single voice in whispered prayer
Can only pray to travel there.
But all as one,
We sound the everlasting sound
And sing our salvation.

Aloft and in formation,
A migratory V.
How wonderful if that’s what God could see.

Sam sailed above the weather, always the lead bird in a migration that soared above us all. Always in intellectual flight, he nevertheless also always articulated, not what he professed or what he believed, but tried, as a true neo-Kantian would, to express “what God could see” and to marvel at its beauty, wisdom and ethical coherence.

Audra McDonald also sang a number from the Kander and Ebb oeuvres, the last one they wrote before Ebb died, the song “Go Back Home” from The Scottsboro Boys. The musical is the story of the Scarborough nine, five black youth convicted totally unjustly of rape and sentenced to death in Alabama at the end of the thirties, a conviction later reversed but they were convicted again – and again and again on retrial after retrial – though they were unequivocally innocent. In the musical, performed as a Minstrel show, as the boys await execution in death row after their first conviction, they sing about what they most want (“Go Back Home”). I thought of Sam who has now gone back home and who was a pioneer in seeking racial justice before any of us. I also thought of Sam during another song written by a very young composer, Adam Gwon, called “I’ll Be Here”. Though it is written about a woman who loses her partner and deep love in 911, the song is so moving and universal that Audra McDonald sang it as a hymn to the recovery and rebirth she and her mother experienced after her father’s tragic death and that I saw that Oona, Sandor and especially Janet would necessarily have to go through. 

I know with Sam as their father, they will be reborn and will be truly here. I will miss Sam and his loving wisdom.

Branding and the Apocalypse

POSTCRIPT: Branding and the Apocalypse


Howard Adelman

Sanjay Khanna, a Visiting Scholar at Massey College, wrote a very intellectually stimulating position paper with James McKee, a PhD student in Political Science. The paper, “A Force of Nature: Emerging Conditions of Social Protest” ( was written for the 2013 Trudeau Summer Institute. I initially responded by suggesting a reservation to my enthusiastic initial reception – that the apocalyptic message seemed in total contradiction with the academic style of the writing and the reformist benign message. Upon reflection, I think the problems is far more serious.

While the Khanna/McKee piece was written in cool academic language, its message was anything but. The authors see the future in terms of VUCA – volatile, unstable, complex and chaotic, as well as ambiguous. Externally, climate change is the prime source of volatility, but it extends to economics, politics and the character of future societies. Increasing complexity and chaos are matched on the subjective side by ambiguous responses and resultant instability in the political and economic realm. Yet, in spite of the horrendous message, the report weakly suggests that they can help people navigate through this apocalyptic vision and transition to a more resilient future for Canadians.

For example, politically the confidence in democracy is seen to be on a declining trend with a response, especially among youth, characterized by apathy and a general transition from a civil to a courser political environment. Given the increasing costs of health costs well above general increases in GDP, given the increasing rates of unemployment among youth (17% youth unemployment in Ontario according to very recently released figures) and the declining youth political participation rates and the shift to confidence in non-political processes or single issue politics, the authors predict a continuing shift to micro-targeted politics and continuing to ignore young people’s priorities thereby enhancing the democratic deficit and the risk of following more and more irrational courses of action. Less listening, more manipulation, rougher politics and greater risk for non-rational political processes leads to “the central presumption that politics will be an increasingly emotion-laden process, the shift away from policy and into the political ‘tribalism’ of a polarized electorate” …and “the transformation of political policymaking into something resembling a continuous appeal to a political ‘lifestyle’ or ‘brand’ that treats the citizen primarily as a passive consumer limited to selecting options rather than driving policy change.”

In the discussion of brands, the authors went on to argue that people in societies under stress do not behave deliberatively but become driven by immediate fears, prejudices and tribal affiliations, but they can be encouraged “to hold onto their core values of tolerance, dialogue, mutual respect, and respect for diversity.” They argue that efforts should be undertaken “among coalitions of corporate partners to meet social aims through brands, using brands as an element of trust-building within and between generations.”

Since the paper at several points brings in a discussion of contemporary branding so, to make my points in the discussion of the prognostication and formulation of a rescue plan, I will make reference to Ira Basen’s one hour long radio feature documentary on branding cleverly entitled, “A Brand New World” that was broadcast a week ago on CBC’s Sunday Morning Magazine show. ( Ira argued that we are entering an era where, “People behave like brands and brands behave like people.” What he meant by this catchy phrase was that consumers were no longer simply passive recipients of brand messages focused on the selling the name and quality of a specific product. Rather, businesses were transforming brands into associations with lifestyles in order to connect with consumers on a personal level and connect to their value biases. Business wants to become your friend and show the brand shares your vision of the world. As he said in his special, “Brand used to talk to you but now brand has to listen and has to link to what people think and feel. Brand is now controlled by the people who use it.” In the process, companies become communities as they seek new connections to brands and efforts of brands to articulate the values of the consumer to develop an active dialogue between the brand and the consumer. So instead of expecting less from businesses and government, consumers and citizens expect more.

So we get two very different pictures of the future through the perspective of trends in branding. Instead of just enhanced volatility leading to greater ambiguity as the whole economic, political, social and natural environment becomes both more complex and more chaotic, the apparent instability reveals a pattern that is varied and diverse and decentralized. The ambiguity is then whether those businesses are in control and merely manipulating consumers or whether businesses are entering into a partnership with consumers. Is Coca Cola teaching the world to sing and to save polar bears and to fight obesity simply as a ruse? But consumers are too sceptical and Coca Cola had to prove its sincerity and integrity by developing Coca Cola plastic bottles made from plants. Companies can only do well by doing good. 

Is that true of politicians? Unfortunately, not! On closer examination, the tale Khanna and McKee (KM) tell of increasingly dirty and manipulative politics that use branding to identify political parties that touch the ideology of constituents suspicious of government and gain voters by appealing to irrational fears is not inconsistent with Ira Basen’s alternative tale of business allied with an increasing savvy youthful generation to market their products by lining up with an identification with the lifestyle of youth and their predominant values that celebrate diversity, tolerance and freedom. These two tales are not inconsistent even if they appear contradictory on the surface. For KM are telling the story of how more conservative approaches in terms of both method and content will work on an increasingly aging population increasingly fearful about the size of their pensions and whether the benefits accrued will see them comfortably through their old age. Ira Basen was writing about the innovations of business trying to take advantage of the new technology as well as the very different attitudes of youth towards business, politics and youth. Taken together, both are describing the landscape of a new generational war radically different than the battle fought in the sixties.

Let me play out that battle on three fronts: 1) health services; 2) medically assisted suicide; and 3) post-secondary education. The first is the easiest. With an aging population, with advances in technology, there is simply no way to keep the costs of health care from going up at rates significantly faster than the growth of the economy. The rate of growth of the latter has shown, as KM illustrated, a propensity to increasingly lower rates of growth in developed countries. The rate of growth of health costs, in contrast, has shown an increasing propensity to higher rates of growth. Governments may answer this squeeze by the federal government downloading costs onto the provinces and by increasing the age of retirement to increase productivity, but the downloading method combined with increasing revenues from elsewhere and decreasing costs of pensions only shifts the mode of payment, not the amount. And the latter may increase revenues but not nearly sufficiently to offload costs. The baby boom generation is not going to tolerate their addiction to good health care and the values of reduced suffering and enhanced enjoyment of this life while also being told they have to work longer and further postpone the satisfactions they anticipated in their retirement years.

This takes us into the second issue – medically assisted death with dignity. This is NOT euthanasia. This is not a public body deciding upon who should live and who should die based on their medical condition. Medical assisted death with dignity places the value of choice over death in the hands of each individual. This “freedom to choose” appeals to both the baby boom generation as they age and the new generation of youth. It is an issue on which they can – and will – unite to change existing laws. It is, therefore, a wedge issue that can generate coalitions, address directly the issue of fast rising health costs and the issue of a possible generational war of conflicting values.

This is also true of the next issue – post-secondary education. This is the other area of government costs increasing at greater speed that the rise in productivity. These costs are already being carried primarily by the provinces. As those governments face the burden of carrying increased health costs downloaded by the federal government, they will desperately look for ways to save money and not continually increase the level of indebtedness of this level of government. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is an obvious place to save that money that fits in with the values of the new emerging consumer culture insistent on being in control and new developments in both the technology of delivering higher education and branding. This is the development of MOOGs, those courses delivered via the new technology directly to youth and others all over the world by the universities with the best brands in higher education. When those universities learn that a much greater investment in the preparation of the product is needed to fit in with the new media, and that the costs of doing so will be minimal relative to the overall costs of the whole product and the radically reduced costs to consumers of education, it is very easy to realize how enormous savings can be made in this area to deliver both high level education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences and realize huge savings.

What will happen to the huge investments in capital in the plethora of colleges and universities? They will be used to foster innovation and co-research projects as businesses partner up with people of all ages to rent the facilities as campuses of innovation and development of ideas replace the primary model of passive learning inherited from the past. What will happen to the old order of professors and teachers employed by these institutions? They have increasingly been replaced by adjuncts, recent under-employed PhD graduates and researchers following an independent path who will now continue in more tutorial rolls as adjuncts to the MOOGs. 

In other words, here are three areas in which interests coalesce with both the old politics of manipulation and irrational appeals (what I have called populism) and the new politics of co-partnerships through issue specific priorities coalesce. But how does that deal with the huge issues of climate change over which there is an almost unanimous consensus among environmental scientists that these changes are real, that they are relatively dramatic and that they are fuelled by human intervention in the environment, and that challenge the environmental change deniers of the older generation? They do not. In this area, the politics of brand manipulation versus the politics of business-youth partnerships are at odds. What we are witnessing is a new political alignment. Big business in the areas of the media, communications, (travel and electronic) is siding with youth and environmentalism. The old politics has shifted in an effort to appeal to consumers over control of media companies, airlines and cell phone companies and trying to brand themselves as state run consumer protectors. It may work to some degree in appealing to the older generation susceptible to this type of older style brand manipulation. But it will not work for youth.

So, ironically, we are witnessing a realignment of politics, not with business on one side and workers on the other, but with some types of businesses on one side – old fossil fuel based industries, as an example – versus communication, transportation and media businesses on the other side and a necessary realignment of political allegiances and parties.   

Lauren Zinn in Michigan sent me a note saying how she was moved by my memorial to Sam Ajzenstat, but asked, “Does the moral project of taking responsibility for one’s life necessarily lead to Zion-ism or any other -ism?  Is there no other option between naive idealism and Zionism/other nationalisms?”  I argue that there is not. If the old politics of manipulation, populism and appeals to irrational fears is to be dealt with, if the politics of defining a nation in terms of a political leader and branding a political leader in terms of a polity to substitute the Harper nation and the Ford nation or the sovereigntist PQ nation for the Canadian nation, then the only uniting social appeal is to appeal to the nation as it has been developed through the years of experience of all voters, young or old. There has to be an emotional connect. The natural connect is the nation – whether American in its melting pot vision or Canada in its multi-national development and vision, but that nationalism must be articulated with greater clarity, with more resonance with how it has actually developed and emerged and with a greater connect with citizens of all ages.

The war between the troglodytes of manipulation, of shouting less government and lower taxes in easy slogans of appeals to fears and trepidations and the new politics of partnerships and facing the environmental crisis head on, of new realities in education and health services – as well as conflicts abroad and new forms of refugee flows – are coming into place and will require a shake up in the make-up and character of the opposition parties that will make the shake up on the other side look like child’s play. For the transition of uniting populism with personalism, of uniting anti-centralized politics with fiscal conservativism, fit a slash and burn method of dealing with excessive costs but does not fit the challenges facing politicians or the people currently at the forefront of concern. Politicians using the new forms of branding will require new partnerships, new alignments, new ways of communicating and new ways of rallying coalitions that will have to rely on nationalism – not as a simplified reactionary appeal – but as a deeper understanding of the developments of the values of this nation that will throw off the knee-jerk anti-nationalism of people such as Pierre Elliot Trudeau who preceded Stephen Harper in successfully introducing cognitive populism and personalized political branding to Canada but at a tremendous cost of a disconnect with this nation as it emerged and developed.

The new democracy requires more listening and less manipulation, more partnerships and less posturing, more inter-personal civility and less crassness in either gesture or methodology, more facing real risks than allowing risks to multiply and accumulate without facing them, more genuinely emotional politics and less reliance on fear, a new appeal to what unites us to balance the new individualized politics to counteract a widely differentiated electorate that is trying to be manipulated in terms of the old polarized ‘isms’ and politics of manipulation.  In this process, business can be no substitute for politics, but politics will have to make common cause with business in celebration of this nation. 

Commentary on the first six books of Genesis

Parashat Bereshit (Genesis 1.2-6:8)


Howard Adelman

This week Jews (and some others) begin the annual re-reading of the Torah. And the beginning is my very favourite part. Why? Because it is about what we are given as gender beings and how that forms the foundation of our ethics. We are born equal, man and woman; God created men and women as equals. But not in man’s head. Man has the delusion that he was born first and that woman is but a physical extension of a man. While man does not take responsibility for his own penis and sexual drives, he presumes woman is merely an appendage and physical extension of himself to serve him. This inversion of how man regards his own body and how he regards a woman’s body are the foundation of ethics and what it means to say a man is born in sin. It not because he is sexually driven; rather, it is because he does not take responsibility for his sexual drives, for his embodiment. Further, he turns a woman, not into an object, but into an extension of his own agency and does not respect her as an agent in her own right.

Take the issue of revelation which supposedly divides the Orthodox – or, at least, most of them – from the non-Orthodox in a debate over whether the Torah as written is the word of God transcribed on the page or the collation of a number of writers over years when the importance of the Torah is that, as one reads and examines the text, the text reveals to us profound truths, beginning with the roots of sin and the need for ethical norms and their compass. The usual division of Bereshit starts with the first seven days (1:1-2:2) and then moves to the Garden of Eden Story (2:3-3:23), then to the story of Cain and Abel (4:1-4:26) and ends with the prelude to flood (5:1-6:8). I want to cover all four sections in one commentary.

Though the narrative begins in cosmology in the discussions of light emerging from darkness, the emergence of the sky, the earth and the heavenly bodies, and then the creation of the fish of the sea, the birds in the air and the animals on earth and finally, the relatively new species, human beings, the significance of the story has nothing to say about how the world was created. Rather, it is a set up. Nature is good. God says it over and over again. Then God created humans and, understandably, needed a day of rest.  

When we throw light on nature, when we separate the darkness and allow light to bathe over not only the earth but even the deep depths of the ocean floor, one has to be amazed. Just watch an episode of National Geographic or the BBC series on deep water exploration. What a fantastic place we live on! It is truly a wonder to behold. By the fourth day, we have a cosmos that gives us our days and nights, our weeks and our years, the rhythms of time in accordance with which we live. And even when monsters and wild beasts came into being; it was all perceived as good.

And then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (verse 27)  So begins the problem and the paradoxes. Man is created in God’s image even though God has no visible presence. But what is clear is that he created both male and female. (verse 28) And then we have the first blessing and the first commandment: “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” Being created in God’s image is not about physical appearances but about the human role as an agent – a creator AND a ruler. “And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (verse 32) In ch.2:3, God rested and blessed the 7th day as He looked with satisfaction on what He created. 

But not for long! Then the dissolution set in. God discovers for the first time, and it will not be the last time, that He made a mistake. For what he thought of and pronounced as good was no such thing. Why? 

We then move onto the second segment and read the second story of man’s and woman’s creation, and in this story they are not created equal. For this is the story as the male imagines it. Man is the product, not of a virgin birth, but of a femaleless birth. He is made sui generis out of earth and water and air that is used to inflate him. And then God created the Garden of Eden with all kinds of trees, but two special trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is a huge garden fed by four great rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon (where the wealth of the earth’s resources, especially gold and precious gems, can be found) and the Gibon (the Nile ?) that runs through the Cush. The Garden extends from Babylon or Iraq down through the Arabian Peninsula where Noah’s son, Shem, and his son, Joktan (the Ishmaelites) (Genesis 25:18) will settle, down into East Africa where Noah’s descendent, Cush, the son of Ham, will settle. 

God issues the second commandment, not to eat and enjoy, but rather not to eat, specifically not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If man eats thereof he will realize that, unlike God in whose image he is made, man will know that death is certain. Further, man in the Garden of Eden did not recognize he was lonely; God observes that. God pronounces that as not good. In the second imaginative version of creating woman, woman is fashioned out of Adam’s rib, but for a specific function, to be man’s helper and aide de camp. Rulership is perceived as extending over women. Third, man is given a job. He becomes a biological taxonomist giving names to the different species of animals and fish and birds and perhaps even the insects in the billions. Perhaps this was the reason he did not even recognize his emotional need for a woman – he was so caught up in his mental work of naming and imitating God as a creator. Finally, it was observed that man and woman were together and were naked and were not ashamed.

Chapter 3 tells the story of what is often called “The Fall”, on the supposition that until this moment Man and Woman lived in a state of grace. But if in man’s imagination he was born not from woman, that woman was created as a projection of himself, and in service to himself, then the seeds of trouble had already been planted. We are introduced to the Serpent, a new character in the story. Who is the Serpent? He is shrewd. He is a wild beast. He is erect. Unlike other animals, he speaks. He is masculine. And who does the Serpent talk to? Not man, but woman. And what does he say? He does not behave like man walking around the Garden as a biologist naming everything and therefore serving as a surrogate in bringing things into being in the realm of knowledge. Instead, he behave like Socrates sceptically asks a question. 

 “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” 2 The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. 3 It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.'” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die, 5 but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who knows good and bad.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.


Why were they embarrassed? What were they ashamed of? They had disobeyed a commandment. But the disobedience had been very pleasurable. Further, they became wiser in some sense in taking pleasure from themselves as sexual beings. The serpent had been correct. They did not die from eating the fruit. Only their innocence died. They became ashamed of their bodies. Why? Because, commandments and ethics did not determine what they did; their bodily desires did. So they recognized who the serpent was. This erect figure, this male penis, was not an independent voice, but the voice of male desire for which the man did not take responsibility. Just as the woman was seen as an extension of his own body, the penis became an independent agency for which man did not take responsibility.


Both were internally conflicted, each torn inside and confused. When God sought them out, they hid. God clued in. He immediately knew that they had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God knew that they had the sexual relations, those relations that Bill Clinton denied he had had with Monica Lewis. God asked, “Did you eat of the fruit that I had forbidden you to eat? The gender wars were now on. The male said, “She did it. She put me up to it.” So really, God, it is not only her fault. It is Your fault. For you created her as company for me. The woman was not much better in refusing to take responsibility. The serpent, his penis, tricked me, she said. So God addressed the penis directly and said that henceforth, the penis would no longer stand erect but crawl on the belly of man. Henceforth, this now shrivelled and wrinkled piece of flesh would be the source of enmity between man and woman and the male and female children of man and woman that will spout from their loins. She will strike at the head of man, at man who attempts to rule over woman by guile and rational cleverness. Man will strike back, nip at her heel and forever undermine her as he attempts to seduce her and then rule over her. In spite of that, her desire will be directed towards him. As a result, she will have children, but bring them forth only in pain, and not simply physical pain.


As for man, no more would he simply be the biologist and taxonomist, but he would, like his scrawny shrivelled penis, be cursed and henceforth survive only through physical toil in an earth no longer bountiful but full of thorns and thistles. Man would have to become a farmer and a herdsman and work all his life by the sweat of his brow. You thought you were made from dust so to dust shall you be returned. And Man named his wife Eve – no longer a generic name but a particular name, but as a generic name in a different sense than as a class term, the mother of all of humanity and even of everything that lives. Woman would henceforth be Gaia. And man would henceforth not be allowed a life of leisure, simply living off the fruit of the land.


The third segment of Bereshit begins with Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel. For if the story of cosmology is a tale of awe and wonder and the beauty and bounty of nature, and if the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the story of the inner conflict within each between Desire and Life and between not only the two of them and between Desire and Life, but between Desire that envisions man as God living off the earth and ruling over that bounty and Desire for Woman and becoming one flesh, and between Life that aspires to immortality and Life that simply endures the hardship of survival, the story of Cain and Abel moves into a new struggle, the struggle for recognition between two alpha males and between two different ways of life bequeathed to humans who no longer live in the Garden of Eden. It is the story of emerging from the second stage of what began to be called in modern political theory, ‘the state of nature’.


Cain, the eldest was a farmer. Abel was a shepherd, a herdsman. But the cowboy and the farmer could not be friends. Each wanted exclusive recognition of his rights. For their ways of life were pretty incompatible. One needed fences. The other needed open pasture. One life meant being on the move. The other meant settled life. Each offered the best of what he produced as a sacrifice to seek recognition for his way of life at the same time demonstrating that they were still above the work of mere survival and wanted divine recognition. God gave it to the shepherd, not the farmer.


God had said that the farmer could do fine without recognition as the superior way of life, as the way of life worthy of divine sanction, but the farmer did not want to live on the margins of a pastureland, as in the pampas of Argentina, or to lose the status as God’s chosen imitator. It was not the man dedicated to domesticated animal husbandry who killed the farmer, as one might imagine, but the farmer who killed the peaceful shepherd. Farming became the dominant mode of earning a living and herding animals and sheep or camels was thrust off into the margins. Agriculture became the central route to building civilization and cities. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain, unlike his parents, did not seek to hide but replied equivocally: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”


Ironically, his smart-assed reply revealed the very core of the ethical code necessary to avoid murder and mayhem. As punishment, the man of the soil who only wanted to settle in one place, was made a nomad, driven to seeking more fertile soil always elsewhere. He became the unsettled settler, the migrant par excellence and not just a nomad. He went to live in the Land of Nod (ארץ נוד), East of Eden, the land of wanderers, for “nod” is the root of the Hebrew word, “to wander” ((לנדוד). Ironically, the desire and need to wander would become, not so much the source of agricultural settlements, but the foundation of cities where man lives uprooted from the soil as neither a farmer nor a herdsman.


What is the mark of Cain that God put on him to protect him from murder? Cain was made into a fugitive and wanderer alienated from nature and destined to live in cities. To live in a city, man requires protection. No more could a man be recognized for what he did and how he brought forth the means of survival by his labour. The mark of Cain is recognition that man must be a citizen of a polity to be protected; he can no longer rely on his own devices; he must have membership in a political collectivity. This is his mark of Cain. He can enjoy no freedom without such a membership. So in the fight for recognition of one way of life over another, neither wins. A new form of polity centred on the city and civilization comes into being where man must be recognized as a member of a people and ruled by a government in order to survive. Ironically, the mark of Cain is citizenship. It is the mark that means man has totally left the state of nature and entered into the world of polities. So Cain and His wife bore a son, Enoch, who founded a city. And another son born of Adam and Eve, Seth, gave birth to another line of humanity.


And so humanity grew and multiplied and settled the world until Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth came along. The fourth segment of Bereshit is told following the alienation from the wonder and awe of the beauty of nature, following the discovery of treachery and duplicity rooted in a failure to take responsibility for ourselves as embodied creatures, and then following the war between different ways of life and the search for recognition of the superiority of one over the other only to end up with murder and the emergence of a new way of life, living in cities and a polity where each carries a mark of identification, the artifact of citizenship, as the means of protection. But civilization will breed classes, those who sacrifice themselves for the future and develop their capacities and means of sustenance, and those who look sceptically upon the whole effort of service and duty to family and nation and country and simply want to get satisfaction from life.


Then who were the Nephilim, divine beings, the heroes of old, men of renown, who cohabited with the daughters of men and who made wickedness the prevailing mode of life on earth, and who made God regret that he had created life on earth altogether so that he wanted to start all over again to correct his mistake and decide to bring forth the flood? The Nephilim are neither those who achieve mastery over men and themselves nor those who are self indulgent. Why are these Nephilim equated with those who fell who are associated with wickedness, children of God and fallen angels, or, alternatively, those who cause others to fall, giant Samurai, heroic warriors of a bygone age worshipped in epic tales?


The Nephilim are both. They are the knights of the roundtable, chivalrous men whom women idolize. They are gods and God Himself becomes God si love. True love becomes amor where the new ethical basis is between the idealistic knights who dedicate their might to an abstract ideal and the ladies who worship those knights. Knights were not wicked in the sense of bestial, lewd beings in pursuit of the satisfaction of a night of passion. Rather, they were the epitome of courage and valour, of honesty and integrity, loyalty and fealty and dedicated in a totally pure way to the women to whom they gave their troth. Women were not perceived as physical extensions of man but as a source of inspiration. They are put on a pedestal and, in turn, appreciated as an ideal. Life itself becomes etherealized. And man is no longer in bondage to man but in bondage to a heaven-sent partnership that has nothing to do with the passions of the flesh and everything to do with mutual recognition, with grace, with mutual protection and mutual fulfillment in an ideal conception of life.


Why would God see this as wickedness? Why are heroic fearsome giants (Numbers 13:32-33) viewed as a source of distress and discomfort? Because in a land of heroes and romanticism, in a land built on the premise of romantic love as the source of ethics, in a land built on an ideal of purity and perfection as the fullest expression of life, that land devours its inhabitants. That is not a land rooted in the family and in children, but in ethereal passion and self-sacrifice for abstract ideals. These children of God become the real source of the virus of wickedness and repression. And ordinary humans are seen as grasshoppers or cockroaches, inyenzi, insects to be exterminated where the rule of law and of civilized men is sacrificed in service to an abstract ideal and dream of perfection.


So God will strike first and drown all but the select few.


So it is no surprise that the Haftorah reading comes from Isaiah, for Ashkenazim, Isaiah 42:5-43:10. God opts for nationhood and not heroism, for enlightenment and not self-repression in stark opposition to idolatry of any kind. God becomes dedicated to innovation and not nostalgia where the citizens of cities will lift up their voices. The warriors will not be knights of the roundtable but, rather, the Lord will go forth like a warrior, raising a war cry and prevailing against idolatry. And so we are given an apocalyptic vision of a God in labour giving birth to the new:


  הֶחֱשֵׁיתִי, מֵעוֹלָם–אַחֲרִישׁ, אֶתְאַפָּק; כַּיּוֹלֵדָה אֶפְעֶה, אֶשֹּׁם וְאֶשְׁאַף יָחַד.

14 I have long time held My peace, I have been still, and refrained Myself; now will I cry like a travailing woman, gasping and panting at once.

טו  אַחֲרִיב הָרִים וּגְבָעוֹת, וְכָל-עֶשְׂבָּם אוֹבִישׁ; וְשַׂמְתִּי נְהָרוֹת לָאִיִּים, וַאֲגַמִּים אוֹבִישׁ.

15 I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools.

טז  וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים, בְּדֶרֶךְ לֹא יָדָעוּ–בִּנְתִיבוֹת לֹא-יָדְעוּ, אַדְרִיכֵם; אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר, וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר–אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים.

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, in paths that they knew not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and rugged places plain. These things will I do, and I will not leave them undone.

יז  נָסֹגוּ אָחוֹר יֵבֹשׁוּ בֹשֶׁת, הַבֹּטְחִים בַּפָּסֶל; הָאֹמְרִים לְמַסֵּכָה, אַתֶּם אֱלֹהֵינוּ.  {פ}

17 They shall be turned back, greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say unto molten images: ‘Ye are our gods.’ {P}

יח  הַחֵרְשִׁים, שְׁמָעוּ; וְהַעִוְרִים, הַבִּיטוּ לִרְאוֹת.

18 Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.

יט  מִי עִוֵּר כִּי אִם-עַבְדִּי, וְחֵרֵשׁ כְּמַלְאָכִי אֶשְׁלָח; מִי עִוֵּר כִּמְשֻׁלָּם, וְעִוֵּר כְּעֶבֶד יְהוָה.

19 Who is blind, but My servant? Or deaf, as My messenger that I send? Who is blind as he that is wholehearted, and blind as the LORD’S servant?

כ  ראית (רָאוֹת) רַבּוֹת, וְלֹא תִשְׁמֹר; פָּקוֹחַ אָזְנַיִם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָע.

20 Seeing many things, thou observest not; opening the ears, he heareth not.

כא  יְהוָה חָפֵץ, לְמַעַן צִדְקוֹ; יַגְדִּיל תּוֹרָה, וְיַאְדִּיר.

21 The LORD was pleased, for His righteousness’ sake, to make the teaching great and glorious.

כב  וְהוּא, עַם-בָּזוּז וְשָׁסוּי, הָפֵחַ בַּחוּרִים כֻּלָּם, וּבְבָתֵּי כְלָאִים הָחְבָּאוּ; הָיוּ לָבַז וְאֵין מַצִּיל, מְשִׁסָּה וְאֵין-אֹמֵר הָשַׁב.

22 But this is a people robbed and spoiled, they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth, for a spoil, and   none saith: ‘Restore.’

(Hebrew-English Bible/Mechon-Mamre)


But they can and will be redeemed.




Cecil Responds


Hello Howard
I wrote an article for an anthology that Kathy Walker and Will Kymlicka edited on Cosmoplitanism. I took up issues of interculturalism in terms of the Bouchard-Taylor report. A reviewer for UBC said I was “simply Quebec bashing” primarily because I agued B-T calls for reconciliation/harmonization gestured towards my ideals of multiculturalism as cosmopolitanism. Worse, the reviewer suggested I read some articles I thought offered one-side and unexamined arguments that Quebec was the ideal society for immigrants in the West, and that no other society incorporates diversity and differnce as well as Quebec–what I thought was very different from what B-T were saying. I don’t fault people for having different and even strongly held positions on anything. We can debate the merits of our conclusions.  I find it intimidating when terms like “Quebec-bashing” are used so freely and in my view unnecessarily, even if there is strong disagreement. (Indeed a few months later Bouchard came out and said that he wanted to disagree with those who (deliberately?) misinterpreted the B-T report and argued a position very similar to what I had offered Will & Kathy). Needless to say the article was not published. Will and Kathy were very understanding but I assume the UBC editors would not have dared to go against the reviewer, not even accept a rewrite as the article was so tainted, So I withdrew the article. But it did hurt. I admire how you have dealt with this allegation. Of course, I continue to learn from you.


Peter Responds


Hi Howard


Enjoyed the talk at Massey yesterday. I think there is a missing piece.


Aside from political personalities and populism, there is actually a political theory underpinning what otherwise appears to be irrational political actions of Ford-Harper et al.

They actually have a different theory of the State. I encounter this in my philanthropy work and it is a pre-occupation right now among the foundation leadership.


There was for decades a consensus around policy development, dialogue and political decision making. It was assumed that there was a linear progression from academic research to pilot projects, evaluation, policy debate then a dialogue with the civil service that eventually resulted in options being presented to Cabinet. Foundations played a major role in funding the initial research, pilot projects and evaluation studies.


That model of policy development has now been broken, spectacularly by the Harper government, rudely by the Ford administration but not so subtly by the late McGinty government. It is not just ideology.


The new proposition is that governments have values they got elected on and they now they implement based on those values. They are not interested in research or policy dialogue or in hearing from the civil service. The theory is that the State is in the business of making decisions, it is not in the business of Socratic dialogue.


In my view, we have to seriously consider this and respond. These guys are crude, but they actually have a theory motivating their actions. We ignore it at our peril.


Best Regards





Warren Bell Applauds Howard


Magnifique, Howard!

When we lived in Québec, the Québecois we met were generally more personable, more warm and more social than their Anglophone counterparts. Educated Québecois were generally broader and more holistic and humanistic in their outlook on life. 

The Charter of Québec values is not, in my opinion — and as so eloquently laid out by you — a good representation of the historical or social truth of la belle province (ou “mon pays…”). It represents a retrograde step legally and ethically, for whatever narrow political end. 

The people of Québec deserve better.

Salmon Arm, BC


Marc-André’s Criticism of Howard on Québec


I do not want to go into a debate over this very sensitive issue.

I would simply like to say that I share many of Howard Adelman’s concerns, and I do agree that the debate over the charter partly “appeal to the fears of pure laine francophones”, which are mostly irrational. I simply think it is non-sense to reduce the pro-charter perspective to ethnic populism.

There is a civic, rational debate that is also taking place on this issue. I would like to bring to your attention that the ex-Supreme Court judge Claire L’Heureux Dubé, the ex-Minister Louise Beaudoin, and anthropologist Luce Cloutier announced yesterday that they are quitting the main feminist organization in Quebec, Fédération des femmes du Québec, because the organization is embracing a liberal, individualist feminism. The new organization, in the name of women’s rights, wants to go further than the proposed charter in order to Laicize the Quebec society.

I do not agree with their position, but I would never call them anti-democratic ethnic nationalists in order to discard the civic perspective of these progressive, even radical, feminists. And again, during an unrelated speech in science policy, calling the Quebec minority government anti-democratic for raising the issue remains to me unacceptable (as if Quebec bashing was the easiest way to get support of a Toronto audience when discussing any issue).

And while I am at it, in his blog entry, Harold Adelman suggests a causality between opposition to wearing ostentatious religious symbols in Quebec and recent drop in employment. I mean, come on! Do I really need to explain that, once again, it is pure unrelated Quebec bashing. In the last year there was significant job creation in Quebec (yes we see a decline since January, but comparisons are normally made over one year, cherry-picking the start date to do comparisons is what lobbying groups do, not academics). He also mentions that Quebec also witnessed a dried-up investment for developing natural resources in the province. I have a lot of troubles understanding the causality here. Is he saying that the PQ should continue supporting asbestos mining, or maybe the PQ should refuse requiring more dividends from mining companies.  Maybe we should simply do away with environment concerns and transform Anticosti and Gaspesia into FortMcMurrays, and while we are at it deregulate oil transportation to create jobs. Unfortunately, people at Lac Megantic might disagree.

Sorry, I am getting carried away.

My point was that Howard Adelman has very valid points on both science policy and identity politics. I am just appalled about the way Quebec-bashing has become the new norm even among the academic elite in the rest of Canada.





Howard Responds to Marc




Why is criticism in a debate that is supposed to be encouraged called Quebec bashing? The piece praised Quebeckers for their common sense and tolerance generally, but criticized the GOVERNMENT for its policies and failures in other areas. If I criticize Harper is that Canada bashing? If I criticize Bob Ford, is that called Toronto bashing?




Marc Responds


Dear Howard,

Sorry for snapping out on you, but let’s just say that I am angry with the way that this issue has been covered in the rest of Canada. I agree with Michael Ignatieff about the irrational Quebec bashing this issue launched in the rest of Canada:

I thought your opinion was well balanced and, like I mentioned, I almost completely agree. However, you say that everyone supporting the idea that public employees should not display ostentatious religious symbols are not upholding the values of pluralism, democracy and equality.  I disagree.  In your blog entry, you reduce the contrary view to ethnic nationalism showing its ugly head, to irrational pure laine francophones. As if Quebecers were tainted by a dark side and that the only thing that PQ wanted to do is to gain votes by capitalizing on that dark side.  At the contrary, I thought that arguments in favour of a laic face for public employees are also supported by the values of pluralism, democracy and equality. You  might say that  you are criticizing the Government and not Quebecers, what I read is that Quebecers, especially the ones supporting the PQ, remain a bit backward, still struggling with crypto-ethnic debates as compared to the modern rest of Canada who fully embraced equality, plurality and democracy.

I know my perception of your opinion is certainly not the right one, but the way some elements were expressed in both the speech and the blog entry did not help in lifting the confusion. You still need to explain to me why you used the economic argument to discredit the PQ and their charter on values.

Please send any additional correspondence to me directly and not on the biojest mailing list.

All the best,




Trudo Responds



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I understand the irritation about Quebec bashing Marc-Andre.  There is a tendency to do that among some commentators outside Quebec, but I’d emphasize  ‘some’. I have personally written a short blog piece for the Huffington Post some time back about a particular example of this bashing by a Globe and Mail columnist whose name I don’t even want to mention.  


But let me make some friendly comments about the exchanges on this: it is also too easily seen as a ‘Toronto’ thing in Quebec or Montreal, this Quebec bashing, as suggested in your last message, as if it is a common practice and widely popular down here. Among the many Toronto colleagues and friends I know, it’s a rare exception rather than the rule. 


Another thing I’d point out, as an ‘adopted’ member of the francophone minority here in Toronto in relation to one of your comments: there is a tendency in Quebec to trivialize the significant rights francophone Canadians have outside Quebec. Are they always easily enforceable? No, but they are there nevertheless, and are impressive rights that exist within the Canadian context for a proportionally small population, because of the significant role of the francophone community in the construction of the federation. From my experience talking about this with Quebec friends and family (and particularly with nationalist friends and family), the francophone reality and the existence of language rights are all too easily brushed aside because they don’t fit the Quebec nation-idea. Franco-Ontarians tend to be irritated by this, and I’m sure other francophones outside Quebec as well (e.g. the more than 30 % francophones in New Brunswick, which is after all a bilingual province).  Yes, you are right that anglophones have significant minority rights in Quebec, but francophones outside Quebec also have significant rights, which is true even though there are proportionally much less of them than anglophones in Quebec–where anglophones still represent close to 8% of the population, and historically represented close to 14%.  My kids like to engage my nationalist family members in Quebec about this, as they are proud franco-ontarians who have had all their education in Toronto in French public schools. An interesting phenomenon in the Toronto context: francophone schools–and we’re not talking here about immersion!–are thriving. While english schools are closing, several new francophone public primary and secondary schools have been opening up since we arrived here in 1997. There are other examples of significant rights… You suggested that anglophones have ‘way more rights’ than any francophone minority in other provinces, which seems to overstate it. Measuring and comparing the ambit of these rights in their complex historical and geographical contexts is very hard anyway… 


Finally, stereotyping also occurs in the other direction, and particularly even in the context of the multiculturalism debate: what we get to hear about the ‘failure’ of multiculturalism in ‘Toronto’ (and the UK), and the alleged existence of ghetto’s here from some in Quebec (including some influential commentators) is truly astonishing and even irritating, as it is so far from our lived experience. Those same people fail then to acknowledge the incredible failure of good integration in countries that have enacted ‘laicite’ measures or outright anti-muslim measures. It’s for me truly disappointing to hear that even people like Justice L’Heureux Dube seem to ignore that countries like Belgium (my home country), France, Germany and others with measures along the lines of what Quebec is proposing are absolutely not examples to be followed and have clearly not succeeded in improving integration as a result of those measures… In fact, the measures added onto existing isolation and exclusion.  I’m just mentioning it here since it shows troubling stereotyping the other way round, and I understand you are not in favour of those measures. 


My reading of the PQ charter-project is that it is certainly in part a calculated attempt to stir up a new nation building project, and by the same token create a distance between Quebec and other provinces who stick to a more common-law model of multiculturalism. It is very clever politics, since the louder others complain, the more Quebec uniqueness is confirmed and the more Quebecers will get the feeling that they are not understood. Our exchanges about this confirm to some degree the political success of this approach. In fact, the term ‘Charter of Quebec values’ is just a confirmation of the political component of this: if this is just about laicite, state neutrality, and equality of citizens, there is nothing uniquely ‘Quebecois’ about it and you could call it something very different.  What’s particularly ironic is that Quebec is putting on the table something that is probably reasonably popular also outside Quebec, but not publicly acknowledged… 


These are just some thoughts….





Mag Responds to Trudo


Hi Trudo,


All your points are very well noted.

On comparing rights, you are right that I should be more careful. In some regions of Canada, some franco minorities are thriving. Still, most analysis, like the one by the Canadian Council of learning ( ), agree that the franco minorities in Canada usually face much more troubles in terms of access to education and cultural events in their language.

I agree about how stereotyping occurs in the other direction as well. You should hear all the stereotypes we hear here about Alberta… I certainly did not want to fall into stereotypes as well, and if it looked that way in anything I wrote,then please accept my apologies.

I am not sure how much the measures in Belgium or Germany look like the ones proposed in the Charter of Values, but I know that what is suggested in QUebec is in the end far more balanced than what we saw in France.  I simply hope the debate over the charter here will learn from international experiences, as you mentoned, in the same way that Canadian multiculturalism (a model of integration not favoured in Quebec) can learn as well from international experiences.

I completely agree with your reading of the project in terms of political strategy, and it is also where I found the most discomfort on this issue. I am happy that Quebecers (under an all-inclusive civic definition of what “Quebecer” mean) are having this democratic debate about laicity. I just hate the way how this democratic debate is being instrumentalized for electoral reasons, and I hope that we will still be able to have an enlightened debate, based on evidence and embracing shared core values of equity and democracy. In all cases, it does not mean that the pro-charter voices in Quebec are only ethnic nationalists incapable of embracing modernity.

All the best,



Authority, Influence and Power

At my Monday talk at Massey College, my good friend, Abe Rotstein, challenged me to define populism, implying that it was just a useful smear word with too many equivocal meanings, that my account of populism was simply a series of political practices without a central core definition and that Tommy Douglas was a populist.Below, find my answer to Abe. It is NOT a definition, for populism is, as I implied, an equivocal term applied to a number of varieties. But it it can clearly be differentiated from representative responsible democratic government using benchmarks rather than a singular univocal definition backed up by what I previously presented as a series of illustrative practices. I further suggest that Tommy Douglas was NOT a populist.


Benchmarks of Populism (P) versus Responsible Democratic Government (RDG) 


Howard Adelman

(Cf. Howard Adelman (1976) “Authority, Influence and Power,” Philosophy of the Social Sciences, December Vol. 6, 335-351.)

Formal Authority

P:         Political authority is vested in the people

RDG:  Political authority is vested in institutions, most basically, but not exclusively, in    the legislature in a parliamentary democracy

Authentic Authority

P:         The People are the source of virtue

RDG:  Virtue is vested in process; insofar that there exist officers who assess virtue and   vice, they are either parliamentary officers – on the federal level, the auditor       general, the ombudsman, the parliamentary budget officer – or in standing            commissions such as the Public Service Commission, the Canadian Human             Rights Commission and the Security Intelligence Review Committee

Power – Coercive

P:         Power always remains ultimately with the people, including the right to bear arms

RDG:  Coercive power is vested in the state and cannot be delegated back to the people; militias are armed units that must be armed and authorized only by the state             through its legitimate government

Power as Creative Energy

P:         Power in the form of creative energy comes from the people as a collective

RDG:  Power in the form of creative energy comes from politicians who are elected          to represent political constituencies

Influence – re Thoughts and Ideas

P:         The primary influence on representatives’ decision-making resides in and goes        back to the people      

RDG:  Influence comes from those ideas which pass the test of coherence and       congruency with reality in terms of evidence-based documentation

Influence as Money

P:         Monetary influence, and power wielded through accumulations of wealth, is          often perceived as the greatest threat to the predominance of the people

RDG:  Monetary interests are but one factor to consider in making policy, but must not     be allowed to become the dictating influence

The essential difference between populism and representative democratic government is the emphasis on institutions and rule-based processes of the latter versus the constant reference back to the “will of the people” of the former. Though populists and economic plutocrats were envisioned as being on opposite political poles, they are, in fact, often aligned against other corporate entities – such as the resource and energy-based units of the economy (on the side of the people versus the “environmental” elites) versus the airlines, communication companies and banks in relationship to consumers or the “little guy”. This does not mean that popular movements opposed education or research or evidence-based policy-making and were inherently populist. Cooperatives and credit unions were examples of grass-roots movements to facilitate the development and prosperity of the ordinary individual. To be anti-establishment and in touch with grass roots needs did not make a political party antithetical to responsible representative government. It is no accident that Stanley Knowles of the NDP became master of the rules of parliament.

RDG has historically been associated with progressivism with a strong emphasis on evidence-based research, reasoning and scientific advancement to develop cognitively-based options to formulate solutions to problems. In populism, ideas are said to emerge from the masses and there is a belief that decision-making has to refer back and be congruent with the people’s will. 

The State of Democracy in Canada

A Philosopher Reflects on Governance in Canada: Is Democracy in Decline 


Howard Adelman

 [delivered at Massey College at lunch on Monday, 23 September 2013]



I am far from the best person to offer an assessment of the state of Canadian democracy. Most of my work has been spent on issues of international ethics such as refugees, genocide, just war, humanitarian intervention, though, as you shall see, I have written on minority rights as well as good governance but mainly applied to foreign countries. Overseas, the democracy deficit can be very severe.

For example, in Foreign Policy on 13 September 2013, Maikel Nabi Sanad, an Egyptian human rights activist, offered four benchmarks on different dimensions of liberty to measure Egypt’s progress towards democracy.


1. Ensuring freedom of expression denied in Sections 11 and 14 of the Egyptian Penal Code which makes the following criminal offences — publishing erotic literature, insulting the president, a foreign leader, members of the armed forces or a civil servant, committing blasphemy or even detracting from the reputation of Egypt;

2. Strengthening civil society by guaranteeing the right to assemble, in particular, to form non-government organizations;

3. Ensuring fair elections by eliminating fraudulent names and repeated names and making provision for foreign monitors;

4. Accept international legal norms with respect to civil and political rights.

These are all standards of freedom, a precondition of democracy. If the same benchmarks were applied to Canada, this country would pass with flying colours. 

However, Canada has entered a period where, relative to its own history, it has slipped when it comes to the freedom of expression for civil servants and professional scientists, in the respect, latitude and support provided to non-government organizations (especially if those organizations are involved in environmental advocacy), in illegal activities during elections and with respect to supporting and being guided by international norms. With respect to the latter, for example, this country has withdrawn from certain international protocols such as the Kyoto Accord. But in all examples of the above four criteria, as we shall see, from an international perspective, these are tiny peccadilloes.  

Before I offer examples of these shortcomings, let me place the issue in a theoretical context.

Part I – The Framework
The Intellectual Context

Left-wing intellectuals in the heritage of Karl Marx think critically about society in terms of an analysis of the presumed failure of modern bourgeois society. For Marxists and neo-Marxists of the critical school, bourgeois society is inherently repressive. I think critically about society, not in the tradition of Marx, but in the tradition of a bourgeois philosopher, G. W. Hegel. Like Marx, Hegel argued that philosophy was NOT primarily concerned with eternal questions but about the HERE and NOW. Philosophy has a responsibility to be diagnostic without abstracting philosophy from its historical context. In fact, one of the best places to undertake critical philosophy is by dealing with the HERE and NOW as a diagnostic and critical task.

Immanuel Kant had asked about the presumptions informing our thought in the Critique of Pure Reason and about the presumptions informing our actions in the Critique of Practical Reason. Hegel argued against abstract eternal assumptions and insisted on two premises, both of which I accept:

1. We can only think and do in the context of possibilism and not in the context of eternal verities and necessities; all thought is an expression of its own time;

2. All deeds and actions of humans in our own time can only be understood if we try to comprehend our own time in thought.

Thus, reciprocity prevails between the world of thought and the world of action. Thought divorced from action is impotent. Action divorced from critical self-reflection is blind. Marx, in contrast, imposed an essentialism on the HERE and NOW arguing that it was irredeemable and that history was governed by laws of necessity rooted in the distribution of power and the exploitation of one class by another. I make no such presumption. Redemption is always possible. Democracy is now the best tool to ensure that societies are able to be redeemed and for citizens to ensure that the redemptive process continues. 

These are the premises that inform this inquiry into the state of democracy in Canada. What is the state of democracy in Canada? Since my inquiry is a philosophical one, this talk focuses on actions examined within the context of thought on the premise that rationality is not an abstract exercise primarily, but an inter-subjective and publicly shared facility and faculty which must inherently always be self-critical as it proceeds. Though I work on theory, I also relied on an informant, Brian Bitar, a Senior Resident in Massey College this year visiting from the Program on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and, more particularly, one of his long time mentors, Pierre Manent.

In general, liberty and equality, defined as equality of opportunity, are usually taken for granted compared to equality of distribution or justice which I take up under the responsibility for the distribution of risk. The French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man stressed both liberty and equality. “Men are born and always continue, free and equal, in respect of their rights.” The American constitution echoes a similar sentiment, that a self-evident truth is that “all men are created equal”. But we know that for most of the existence of either state, equality served as mere rhetoric to a far greater degree than liberty. And conservative democrats like Lord Acton belittled the stress on equality on the unarguable natural fact that men and women are born inherently unequal – in physical attributes, in genetic possibilities, in family circumstances and certainly into the political state which may have promised them little but authoritarian repression if not outright persecution. For these conservatives, liberty, as the right to be free as much as possible from government restrictions and edicts, was far more important than equality.

In Canada, however, liberty and equality were joined at the hip. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Equality did not mean equality of endowments but equality of opportunities. That, of course, only muddies the water rather than clarifying the matter for it only moves the issue a short distance downstream. For in slipping from equality of endowments to equality of opportunity, we try to sidestep the undeniable fact that inequality in endowments is the principle barrier to equality of opportunities. The only way in which equality can act as a counterweight to liberty is by stressing equality of results and not simply of opportunities, what I refer here as the distribution of risks and the most basic principle of justice and fairness. Further, the removal of class, creed and belief as barriers can, in fact, be used to suppress liberty in the name of liberty as when, in the name of secular equality or what the French call laicité, a concept imported into Québec, political representatives appealing to majority sentiments legislate against the wearing of religious symbols by public officials – Sikh turbans and kippas, headscarves and large crosses. This does not mean that equality should trump liberty — that the equal distribution of resources is a precondition of democracy as a socialist or Marxist might argue. Rather, I suggest that equality in the sense of equalizing risk is a measure of the degree of success of a democracy rather than a precondition of its attainment.

How we deal with risk and responsibility is a measure of whether a democracy is healthy. After all, we presume political equality in the very nature of the principle and practice of one man and one woman one vote. We also accept that all people must be treated equally before the law. But we also generally accept the argument that, if the difference in incomes between classes grows too large, a society becomes stressed and its democratic character is threatened. Social and economic equality may not be essential conditions of a healthy democracy, but growing social and economic inequalities can be measures of a democracy under strain.

We may distribute risk through state medical schemes, an essential democratic premise in the Canadian distribution of risk, and in paying for natural disasters. But most other risks are subject to private insurance schemes and are not the subject matter of democratic legislatures. Further, when it comes to making money and accumulating wealth, risk is heralded as an individual virtue rather than a public responsibility. So the issue of risk is where responsibility is located. I, however, argue that risk and where it is located is always a public responsibility, for without allocating that risk, democratic regimes as a whole ignore basic responsibilities and put democracy itself at risk.


Philosophy needs material upon which to reflect. I am no longer limber of limb and eager to live in refugee camps and wander around in war zones so I am happy to stay at home and reflect on the state of democracy here rather than deliberating on the effects of power in producing refugees, genocides, crimes against humanity and the horrors of war. I love the relative tranquility of my home turf.

However, I am now also a lazy gardener. Though, in some cases, I relied on my own collection of information, mostly I gathered my samples from others rather than doing my own home work. What better way to do that than to interview the journalists who are fellows of Massey College this year. In any case, they are trained and far better observers of the Canadian scene than I will ever be. So my cases are mostly drawn from their work. The political and moral issues which I examined include:

a) liberty of expression in the last election;

b) liberty of expression in the governance of Canada, particularly for scientists; my informant was Véronique Morin, the Webster McConnell Fellow at Massey College this year;

c) equality of opportunity for First Nations; my informant was Jody Porter, the CBC/Radio-Canada Fellow in journalism at Massey College this year;

d) equality of distribution with respect to health services under the theme of risk management with the recognition that a very large majority of Canadians view our health care system as the most important and central characteristic of the Canadian polity and the best measure of Canada’s commitment to democracy; my informant, but in this case, only in part, was Kelly Crowe, the Kierans Janigan Fellow here at Massey who covered the health beat at CBC;

e) minority rights and, in this case, I will be my own informant and focus of the new proposed Charter of Quebec values introduced by the Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, Bernard Drainville;

f) representative democracy as expressed on the municipal level; my informant on this issue was David Rider, the St. Clair Balfour Fellow in journalism in Massey College.

I have to apologize to José Perlata because I have not written on pipelines as I planned. In any case, I learned a great deal about Uruguay, Chile and Argentina from him and for that I am grateful.

Now, clearly, one cannot deal adequately with any one of those topics in itself let alone in relationship to the state of democracy in Canada in a 25 minute talk. I dealt with five of the above issues separately in a more extended fashion in five blogs and provide only summaries of those results here. Although my selection of cases was determined by a combination of my personal knowledge and the expertise of this year’s Massey journalist fellows to provide as random a cross section of issues and connecting themes as any other approach to offer a barometer into the state of democracy in Canada, I hope six case studies selected relatively at random is sufficient to get some sense of the state of democracy in Canada.

Part II – Case Studies

a) The Principle of Liberty and Fair Elections

One example of the “small potatoes” of such offences with respect to fair elections was the pattern of misleading robocalls allegedly placed by one or more officials of the Conservative Party in the last election. Elections Canada determined that the Conservative Party national voter database, known as CIMS, was used by someone to systematically target non-conservative voters and misdirect them by telling them that the location of the polling station had changed so they would not vote. Evidently, 7,760 voters were contacted. This took place mostly in a Guelph Riding but also in 246 other ridings of the 308 total. The caller used a prepaid credit card to buy a prepaid cell phone registered under the fake name of Pierre Poutine at a phony address in Joliette Quebec.  In several ridings where robocalls were made, the election was won by less than a 1000 votes – Nipissing-Timiskaming, Mississauga East-Cooksville, Winnipeg South Centre and Willowdale  – Yukon

The largest effort took place in a Guelph riding won by the Liberal candidate. Nevertheless, Michael Sona, an ex-Conservative staffer, was charged by Elections Canada for placing the calls, though he insists on his innocence and denies any fault, even though he admitted that he called Conservative headquarters to learn how to place untraceable calls. Soma was charged under section 491(3)d of the Canada Elections Act for preventing or trying to prevent a voter from casting a ballot. The maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and five years in prison. It has never been determined whether he allegedly acted alone or under the direction of a higher official in the party; Ken Morgan, the campaign manager for the Conservative candidate in Guelph, Marty Burke, moved to Kuwait, changed his email and refused to speak to Elections Canada.

On the other hand, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) determined that the Liberal riding association in Guelph had used a robocall to tell voters that Conservative candidate Marty Burke opposed abortion. The violation of the Elections Act came because the call failed to disclose that the call originated from the local campaign of Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote and thereby violated the CRTC’s Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules.

In Etobicoke Centre, where 53,000 votes were cast, the Conservative candidate, Ted Opitz, won by only 26 votes. The addresses of two voters were outside the riding and 32 other voters were listed in another riding; five voters illegally voted twice. Further, 5 registration certificates from three polling stations were missing. Justice Thomas Lederer set aside a total of 79 ballots and ordered a by-election, but that order was overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada in a split 4-3 decision. The Supreme Court agreed with the test Lederer applied, “that an election should be annulled if the number of invalid votes is equal to or greater than the successful candidate’s plurality.” But it also determined that the degree of misdirection was insufficient to affect the results of the election. The Supreme Court by a majority decision also determined that Lederer was wrong on at least 59 of those ballots and may have been wrong on the 20 others. More to the point, Conservatives, while offering full cooperation in some areas, fought strenuously against the investigation and put up extended delays in others even though the original problem stemmed from Elections Canada and not a political party.

There were other instances. For example, calls were placed ostensibly by the Liberal party to Orthodox Jewish voters on the Sabbath, calls which the Liberal Party denied making. The evidence is overwhelming that significant intentional efforts were made at voter suppression in highly contested and close-call ridings, especially by the Conservative Party. Further, noted Conservative academics signed affidavits that the Conservative campaign school, borrowing from the dirty tricks campaigns of the Republican Party in the USA, instructed attendees that misleading robocalls to misdirect or be rude in the name of an opposition party were legal. They are not. Third, and possibly most importantly in what seems in the overall scheme of things to have been relatively minor infractions of the principle of free elections, the Conservative Party often took an obstreperous stand to the legal proceedings rather than always cooperating to ensure the principle of fair elections was upheld. The delicate line separating political partisanship from ensuring legal processes were observed was clearly crossed.

Relative to Egypt, Canada is a paragon of virtue. Relative to its own history, Canada has slipped, in at least one benchmark of liberty, the conduct of fair elections.

b) The Principle of Liberty and the Suppression of Scientific Voices

Following interviews with the science journalist, Véronique Morin, the Webster McConnell Fellow in Journalism at Massey College this year, in my blog on the topic, I surveyed the various efforts of the Harper government to limit the output of and access to scientific data produced by government scientists, particularly related to environmental issues. The government redacts much of the data given out after delay, delay and delay. This is part of an even larger operation to undermine the professionalism of the civil service and its critical role in ensuring a strong and responsive democracy.

I was out of touch with the media when scientists demonstrated last summer on Parliament Hill decrying the “Death of Evidence” and asserted “no science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy”. I had also missed the early April news that The University of Victoria Environmental Law Center and non-partisan Democracy Watch had requested that Canada’s Information Commissioner conduct a probe into “systematic efforts by the government of Canada to obstruct the right of the media — and through them, the Canadian public — to timely access to government scientists.” Calvin Sandborn, the legal director from the University of Victoria’s Law Centre, noted that, “the topics that require the highest level of ministerial control are topics related to the tar sands, climate change, polar bears, caribou and the oil and gas industry.”

( (Science News “Canada to probe ‘muzzling’ of scientists,” 2 April 2013)

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly protects freedom of expression. According to rulings of Canadian courts, governments can restrict a person’s freedom of opinion and expression only for important overriding purposes. There are three tests of such seriousness: 1) is the override rationally connected to the purpose it is intended to achieve? 2) is the impairment as little as possible? 3) do the beneficial effects of any restriction outweigh the deleterious effects? The pattern of muzzling government scientists passes none of these tests and seriously undermines the three underlying values of freedom of expression: participation in social and democratic decision-making, attainment of truth and individual self-fulfillment.

The evidence of muzzling contained in the over one hundred pages of appendices to the 26-page joint petition and complaint filed on February 20th by The University of Victoria Environmental Law Center and non-partisan Democracy Watch seems overwhelming. (For a summary, see Carol Linnit’s May 2013 article, “Harper attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy,” in Academic Matters: The Journal of Higher Education.) Not only have government scientists been muzzled, but important research programs and mechanisms for collecting information, such as the Long Form Census, have been cancelled. Sometimes, as Linnit wrote, the suppression is ludicrous as when Mark Tushingham was prohibited from attending the launch of his own novel exploring a future world destroyed by global warming. Federal scientists in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are required to obtain high level permission to meet with the media to discuss peer-reviewed research.

The greatest repression is connected with environmental research:

  • The Harper government new rules on media contact led to an 80% reduction in department engagement on issues of climate change
  • In 2008, the position of National Science Adviser was eliminated
  • Scott Dallimore of Natural Resources Canada required the permission of Natural Resources Minister, Christian Paradis, to comment on his research on a northern Canadian flood 13,000 years ago
  • Postmedia journalist Margaret Munro was denied access to information or government personnel regarding Canada’s radiation detectors (She subsequently won an honourable mention from the World Press Freedom Award for her story on muzzling scientists; the Canadian Science Writers Association as a collective won the 14th annual Press Freedom Award for their work on exposing government restrictions on federal scientists and deliberate delaying tactics.)
  • Scientists in Environmental Canada were not permitted to discuss their paper published in Geophysical Research on the projected estimate of a 2 degree celcius rise in global temperatures
  • David Tarasick of Environmental Canada was not permitted to discuss his research on the ozone layer over the Arctic
  • Environmental Canada research scientists were not permitted to discuss the petroleum-based pollutants in snowfall near the Alberta tar sands except if their comments were restricted to scripted statements provided to them
  • Media liaison personnel had to accompany all government scientists at the International Polar Year Conference in Montreal
  • The Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2013 announced a policy that all scientific research undertaken by the department was confidential unless released by high level officials in the department
  • In August 2011, 700 Environmental Canada positions were eliminated in the name of fiscal restraint
  • By February 2012, the number of light detection and ranging stations to monitor ozone loss and fossil fuel pollution had been reduced from ten to five
  • Funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmosphere Studies was not renewed in 2012 forcing the closure in Nunavut of PEARL, the Polar Environment Aerospace Research Laboratory
  • Funding for the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was cut in 2013 and it was restricted from making its information publicly available
  • Peter Ross, Canada’s only marine animal toxicologist, along with 1,074 other Department of Fisheries and Ocean employees, lost his job
  • The Harper government cut $3 million from the Experimental Lakes Area in an effort to shut down this natural laboratory for studying the effects of industrial and chemical pollutants on waterways and aquatic life

Year after year, the Harper government has received a failing grade from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression for policies which deliberately delay and prevent access to information. Canada was ranked 40th out of 89 countries in last year’s Global Right to Information Rating. Further, as Véronique made clear, the attack on evidence and on access to information goes far beyond environmental or even natural science issues. In my own areas of expertise, library resources and policy units have been closed down in departments like immigration and foreign affairs. The effort is not merely to protect and defend policies promoting resource development in the face of environmental criticism, but to make policy independent of any science-based foundation whether applied to incarceration of more people or with respect to immigration and refugee policy. Stephen Harper may have been the smartest kid in his high school class, but he has led a government dead set again evidence-based policies and in favour of policies which have a populist appeal. The mugging of scientists and the destruction of Canada’s esteemed mandarin class, the wrapping up of research sources and reporting mechanisms, are all part of one vast enormous but largely understated political scandal undermining representative democracy and responsible government.

c) Equality of Opportunity: Treatment of First Nations

In addition to the four benchmarks of liberty enunciated with respect to the Egyptian situation, there are also benchmarks of equality, most basically, equality before the law and equality of opportunity. There is an undisputed difference between the French and American assertion of rights and the “Johnny come lately” – in fact, very lately – Canadian version. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms quoted above guarantees equality rights and prohibits specific types of discrimination by governments, but notably exempts affirmative action programs and denominational schools. These equal rights are not guaranteed to corporations which cannot argue that they have equal rights to freedom of expression in the use of their money and the support of political candidates and causes of their choice. Those equal rights accrue to natural individuals and apply to racial and gender issues, physical and mental disabilities and could be said to mirror the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the US Constitution except equality was expanded from equality before the law to equality under the law thereby referring to outcomes and not just opportunities, to equal benefits and not just equal access.

Laws against advocating hatred could then be enacted without citing freedom of expression as a trump. The measure was not just abstract but dealt with practices if, in fact, discrimination can be shown to result for one group compared to another group in an analogous context related to a group’s actual needs, circumstances and capacities.  

In my blog on First Nations, I attempted to show that the law of real property inherently discriminates against aboriginal cultures. Nothing in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms redresses that inequality. Where the Charter does have effect – in the education of First Nations children – recent government fiscal policies have increased the discrimination against First Nations children and allowed them to fall further behind the situation of other Canadians as increased costs for education for First Nations children has been frozen for years at 2% when costs everywhere have gone up at the rate of 6% per year. As a result, aboriginal children have 25% less spent on them for their education, and, given the fact that many if not most live in remote communities where costs are much higher, that discrepancy is even greater. It is no surprise to learn that First Nations children are on average two years behind and have a significantly higher drop out rate than other Canadians. Given the above two pieces of evidence and the exceptional cases when exemptions were made to provide equal funding but only when First Nations agreed to merge their school boards with local non-First Nations boards, it is not too far fetched to suggest that, in spite of the apologies for the Residential School system, the underling trend of official cultural genocide or genocide by attrition against First Nations continues to be the pattern.

I say this with trepidation because cultural genocide or genocide by attrition is not recognized in the Geneva Convention even though Raphael Lemkin tried to include it. However, when side deals are made to equalize support when First Nations School Board agree to integrate with local school boards, then we can detect that something is amiss and that the doctrine of assimilation continues to be the prevailing doctrine when approaching aboriginal issues. This is the greatest scandal in Canada as far as I am concerned.

d) Access to Health Services – The Management of and Responsibility for Risk

Access to health care has undeniably become a defining Canadian value and, in election after election, in one commission after another, equal access as the core defining feature of the Canadian health system has been a dominant public policy issue. Even the Supreme Court’s interpretation evolved from its 1990 Stoffman v. Vancouver General Hospital in which health delivery was considered a private matter to 1997 Eldridge v. British Columbia in which Justice Laforest on behalf of a unanimous court ruled that governments are required to take special measures to ensure that disadvantaged groups are able to benefit equally from the delivery of health services.

The key variable in guaranteeing equality of access has been the distribution of human professional resources. The law may guarantee anything, but unless there are enough doctors, nurses and medical facilities in an area, the guarantee is empty. This was not adequately applied to aboriginal peoples. I, however, will focus first on taking away access to health care for uninsured immigrants and refugee claimants and then deal with the impact of Canadian policy on exacerbating inequalities around the world before I take up the issue of how the issue of equal access and the principle of managing the responsibility of risk is being downloaded onto the provinces and, likely through the provinces, back onto individuals. 

In my blog and study of health care policy, I argued that the Harper government has developed a gingerly approach to what is considered by most Canadians to be a sacred right as they are very proud of the system they have developed whatever its relatively minor flaws. The Harper Conservatives, in the pursuit of reducing the federal government, tackled costs only on the margins and demonstrated a Hobbesian liberal approach to the management of risk in this area by denying benefits to refugee claimants for relatively very minor savings of $20 million dollars per year. However, their major effort has been an anti-Hobbesian approach. The government downloaded future increases in health costs to the provinces thereby undermining the social contract as Canadian citizens of a sovereign state. The federal government has fractured even further the sense of sovereign and shared membership in this one crucial area as they continue to insist on preserving a unified sovereignty when it comes to aboriginal affairs.

Until 2016-17, the federal government will increase federal health care transfers by 6%. After that, increases will be tied to economic growth including inflation, but with a floor of 3%. Harper is simply obeying the “first law of cost containment” by opting for the easiest way to control costs through shifting those costs to others, in this case, the provincial governments and, likely down the line, increasingly to individual citizens. Given this trajectory, access, universality and comprehensiveness — as principles underlying the system to ensure the fair distribution of risk — will inevitably be undermined. The likelihood of expanding the provision of care to include pharmaceuticals, dental care or chronic care is unlikely.


The trajectory in this case is downward though it has been postponed somewhat.

e) Treatment of Religion in Quebec

Against the backdrop of incidents of inter-cultural conflict that were examined in the Bouchard-Taylor Report (B-T) that recommended against the banning the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols by personnel working for the state, my blog on that topic examined the effort to institute a Québec Charter of Values by the Parti Québecois that insisted on such a ban. I found that the initiative had virtually no empirical foundation, was inconsistent with the history of Québec`s Quiet Revolution, and was contradictory in its rationale and in its theory of state neutrality. The proposal is incompatible with respect for religious minorities and has stirred up a hornets nest of intolerance even though the general conduct of Quebeckers towards religious minority on the ground level has been very tolerant. Practice contradicts the preaching. The proposal is no longer supported by most Québeckers even though the proposal was initially supported by a very large majority. In the guise of the `neutrality` of the state, the initiative has been a misguided populist effort to save the fortunes of the Parti Québecois.

f) Democracy on the Municipal Level – Bob Ford and Populism

Whether he stopped the “gravy train”, whether he eliminated waste in municipal spending – a highly dubious proposition but with some evidential support — Bob Ford is perceived as a personable, approachable, regular average guy. He is not a strategic thinker nor will he work well in partnership with mandarins; civil servants are just servants, implementers of the will of their political bosses. Ford is tied to immediate gratification – excellence in service, cost savings, cleanliness – all very positive values but not helpful to the stuff that visions and strategic plans and tough choices and cost allocations require. Bob Ford is a rash, gut-driven populist where his knowledge and political street sense comes from his very large gut. His support, indeed his energy, comes from the Ford Nation who adore him and the name is its own revelation about the politics of Bob Ford. Populism is anti-democratic and I will write a subsequent blog to expand upon and elaborate this thesis further.

Part III – Conclusion

My message is simple. The record of democracy at the federal level, at the Quebec provincial level and at the municipal level in Canada’s largest city is a record of the revival of populism in three different forms to the detriment of representative and responsible government. Populism is inherently anti-democratic. Part of the fault can be laid at the feet of politicians of the left – whether Tory, Liberal or NDP – who have lost touch with the reality that Canada is a nation-state. In fact, it is a multi-nation state formed by the English-speaking nation originally constituted of a medley of Scots, Irish and English that made that Canadian Anglophone nation inherently multicultural, a Francophone – not Quebecois – nation and, most importantly, the First Nations. Because the nationalism of the latter was not only suppressed but crushed by a deliberate policy of cultural genocide put in place that continues to this day in more subtle forms of low educational and health support, denial of ownership of basic resources, in part because, for the last five decades, Quebec rather than Franco-Canadian nationalism has occupied centre stage in the political life of Canada, and because liberal ideological Canadians have sold out to the false god of cosmopolitanism and turned their backs on their roots as they pursued an unholy alliance of interest politics married to abstract values, we are in serious trouble. We gradually slide downward even as we celebrate our good fortune that Canadian traditional prudence has given us as a reward. But it comes with a complacency that is devastating in the long run.

Where is the vision? Where is the program to work towards making Canada a constellation of great nations? Where are the proposed structures – such as a revised Senate that can represent the First Nations, the Canadian Anglophone nation and the Francophone nation – to provide leadership and legislation to deal with these serious undercurrents and not be continually entertained by the follies and foibles of various forms of populist politics? For that is what populism is. Populism is entertainment and diversion for the masses while the politicians exercise power behind our backs.

More of this on populism versus representative and responsible government later in another piece.



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Rob Ford’s Populism Compared

Bob Ford’s Populism Compared


Howard Adelman



I have previously written on Bob Ford by asking whether he was a maggot and examining the question of stupidity. (See attached.) I now want to probe his populism. My informant on Bob Ford has been David Ryder. David was the bureau chief for the Toronto Star covering TorontoCity Hall and, more specifically, was the point man leading the paper’s coverage of the Mayor Rob Ford administration. He is the St. Clair Balfour Fellow in Journalism at Massey College this year. What I learned from David was that Bob Ford is a very hard working municipal politician dedicated to hearing the complaints of the city’s residents and getting something done about it. He has a solid base constituency of supporters comprising anywhere from 20-30% of the voters.

Bob Ford’s Approval

His supporters applaud him for stopping the gravy train and have determined that the press picks on him to degrade his image when his major accomplishment is being the cost cowboy at City Hall. The “stop the waste” mantra has been accepted even if the demonstration of waste has been marginal. He is also seen as personable, approachable, a regular down to earth guy, charming in his own way with the passions and shortcomings of the average man. He is definitely not viewed as a wealthy plutocrat.

He is clearly not a strategic thinker and operates by the seat of his pants, clinging to his short list of slogans. Unfriendly to bikers, walkers and even public transit in spite of his cheerleading for subways, he lives in the twentieth century suburban worship of the freedom of cars and their priority rather than in the twenty-first century move towards much greater investment in infrastructure, particularly mass transit. He is not a fan of mandarins or of expertise and sees civil servants as simply implementers to satisfy people’s every day needs – hence his tromping around with city officials in tow in response to taxpayers’ complaints to get potholes and sidewalks fixed. He is unable to present a long term strategic vision for the city or articulate core values whether it be a caring metropolis or an innovative one, or to understand how arts and culture as well as sports make a city liveable. One can be certain that he has never read the late Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of American Great Cities that had such an impact on thinkers and planners from this former American who settled in Toronto in the late sixties. Instead, he is tied to immediate gratification – excellence in service, cost savings, cleanliness – all very positive values but not helpful to the stuff that visions and strategic plans and tough choices and cost allocations require.

Bob Ford is a gut-driven populist where his knowledge and political street sense comes from his very large gut. He is courageous and bold – indeed so courageous and bold that he becomes rash and pushes ahead on schemes without thinking them through. In that sense he connects with the everyday ordinary citizen who has to get by with whatever wit and wisdom he or she picks up without long spells spent on deliberation, winnowing down choices in a process of deliberative reasoning based on gathering the best available evidence to inform judgment. He may be a conservative but he is certainly no Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, or even a calculating cerebral populist like Stephen Harper.

Bob Ford Compared to Pauline Marois and Stephen Harper

What cerebral populists like Harper, sentimental populists like Pauline Marois and gut populists like Bob Ford have in common was very cleverly demarcated when Chantel Hébert in yesterday’s Toronto Star (21 September, A8, “PQ takes leaf out of Stephen Harper book”) opined that the PQ on the Québec Charter of Values was borrowing from Stephen Harper’s political recipe book. The common elements include:

1. Addressing very concrete problems in terms of abstractions and slogans:

·         Getting the government off the backs of the taxpayer

·         The obligation of government to be neutral

·         Getting rid of waste

2. Smudging the thin red line between politics and governance so that virtually all governance becomes politics:

  • The template of take no-prisoner governance becomes the mantra of governance
  • You are either a supporter of the Quebecois nation or a treasonous dissident
  • You either go along with me or you are my enemy

3. Political warfare against mandarins, even ones they appoint or even in their own office, who disagree with the party line while running the line that they are encouraging debate

  • Insisting that top civil servants are simply instruments of the governing party and punishing those, even if Conservative appointees, who dare to criticize – such as Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer, and letting Nigel Wright carry the ball for the Duffy Senate scandal
  • Appointment of four new pro-Charter women to Quebec’s Council on the Status of Women to ensure that Council came out in support of the Charter
  • Appointment of a clearly incompetent and intemperate Dave Price and firing Mark Towney, his Chief of Staff, in May, not for anything he did but allegedly for offering advice Bob Ford did not like

4. Policies that smack of wedge politics to win a broader base of support rather than advance the interests of the city, province or country

  • The increase in lengths of incarceration for convicted criminals in blatant disregard to both costs, the lack of evidence for the need or the negative effects on both society and the incarcerated individuals
  • The Quebec Charter of Values sent to every household at public expense
  • Subways, Subways, Subways but no effort to even figure out how to pay for them

5. The war on evidence-based policy making

  • The muzzling of scientists
  • The absence of any evidence of how many civil servants wear ostentatious religious symbols, whether a single citizen was offended or treated in biased way  or even whether the citizen’s belief in the neutrality of the civil servant diminished
  • The wild improvised plan for Cherry Beach

6.  Indifference to the Rule of Law Combined with a Law and Order Agenda

  • The Senate scandal
  • The legal advice from provincial government constitutional experts that key sections of the Charter of Values would run afoul of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  • Too many incidents to list, including Bob Ford’s refusal to abide by the legal advice that he should not vote on a matter concerning his solicitation and use of funds to support his football team

7. The Extensive Use of Government Monies to Promote Political Agendas

  • The Federal campaign of up to $16.5 million for advertising to promote oil, gas and pipeline companies as well as other Canadian natural resources
  • The Provincial Government costs for promoting the Charter of Values
  • Bob Ford’s launch of his election campaign before the official January start date through sponsoring a number of events, including doubling his annual backyard barbecue now held in two city parks

8. The downgrading of the use of legislatures and councils for passing policies

  • If the federal legislation appears obstructionist to any agenda, Harper prorogues Parliament
  • The PQ went directly to the people with their Charter before it was even introduced into the House and put forth for debate
  • Bob Ford lost control of Council long ago and does whatever political mischief he can do outside the boundaries of Council

9. The Paradox of Secrecy for Such Ostensible Accountable Politicians

  • Harper is a very private and secret person while having been on record since his start in politics his belief in responding to the will of the people through referenda and recall procedures
  • Pauline Marois is totally opaque about the rationale for the Charter, so one cannot help thinking that behind it there are purely political motives
  • Bob Ford seems to be spread out before the people and is totally accessible to them while clearly having some type of underground life related to his probable addictions that leads him also to flee journalists

10. Extreme and deep-seated political partisanship

  • This is very well known of Stephen Harper and extends to members of his own party who cross him even when it is clearly an expression of the integrity of the Other, such as Tom Flanagan, his top political adviser, when Tom as an academic wrote a book about Harper and the Conservatives, and Brent Rathgeber who was forced to resign from the Conservative caucus when he insisted that his private member’s bill be given real consideration and debated
  • While saying they encourage debate, the Bloc fired Maria Mourani from its caucus when she offered a stinging criticism of the Charter of Values 
  • Bob Ford lets his city hall staffers go if they dare to cross him or question him

11. Control Freaks unable to Keep Control of the Political Agenda

  • Stephen Harper has been the exemplary control freak, insisting that MPs stay on message while ostensibly supporting open discussion and debate but he has lost control
  • Pauline Marois thought she was controlling the political agenda by introducing the Charter of Values but only two weeks into the debate it is clear that she has lost control
  • Bob Ford quickly revealed his desire to control the political agenda without discussion but quickly proved himself incapable

12. The Paradox of Personal Integrity

  • While in many countries populism is simply a cover for private corruption and unaccountability, in the case of all three levels of the government in Canada, the various expressions of different type of populism exhibit great personal integrity when it comes to personal expenditures but little integrity when it comes to a political agenda

Populism and Democracy

In the three jurisdictions where populism rather than representative democracy has become the defining benchmark, they are found in three different versions:

1) the cerebral populism of the Stephen Harper government;

2) the sentimental heartfelt populism of the Marois government;

3) the gut-led populism of Mayor Bob Ford mayor in Toronto.

But first a bit of theory. The French philosopher, Pierre Manent, a mentor of Brain Bidard, is my guide in this regard, although my interpretations of the three dimensions of populism in Canada are strictly my own. Manent made the point that democracy in Europe has become post-democratic, a jurisdiction of abstract rights divorced from its roots in history and the social contract upon which a state was founded, its national passions and sentiments. Modern liberalism does begin with the concept of the individual and rights, but it also begins with the separation of politics from religion – in secularism or what the French call their anti-theological secular religion, laicité.  For Manent, that separation is also at the root of the inability of the modern, morally neutral state to successfully dedicate itself to serving a higher moral purpose, whether that be the abstract “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine or the concrete challenge to end the mass killings of ordinary Syrians by the Syrian government’s use of sarin gas.

In Democracy without nations: The fate of self-government in Europe, Manent pointed to religion as the central element in the development of liberalism. That casting aside of one’s Christian heritage has become very widespread except, to some degree, in America. Let me give one very mundane trivial example from my own experience. When I began to teach at York University almost half a century ago, we had a meeting about developing a course on the history of modern political thought. There were five of us on the curriculum planning of this general education humanities course. I wanted to include six hours of the 78 hours of lectures on the history of Christianity, three on the role of Christianity in the roots of the development of modern political thought and three on its shifting role in the pattern that emerged. One faculty member on the committee was distinctly neutral about the idea. The other three were ardently opposed. As it happens, those three were all trained in the Christian ministry and one was a former bishop in the Anglican church. They remained committed Christians. All three were highly moral individuals. In a deep belief in the separation of church and state, they insisted that Christianity could not be taught as part of the course because it risked providing an opportunity for proselytizing. Modern history was an intellectual history in which religion had been confined to the private sphere; they argued against the futile counter-arguments of the one Jew on the committee.

Unfortunately or fortunately, it is just not true that religion has been successfully put under house arrest, though that effort has been part of the trajectory of modernism. The concept of individual responsibility and rights begins in Christianity. The concept of a community to which one is responsible and for which one is responsible and accountable remains part of modern discourse. Only it has been emptied of its meaning. Instead, we have replaced it with the idolatry of the people, an amorphous polity to which unscrupulous politicians can appeal when they want to escape responsibility for their own actions and cite a higher source without any connection to God. It is called populism.

In Manent’s analysis, democracy is only possible when it is rooted in the nation. Liberals who forget this create a vacuum that leaves a wide gap for an appeal to populist manipulation, sentiment and gut responses. Liberalism forgot its roots in nationalism and set out on a pursuit as mad as the attempt to build the Tower of Babel. The worship of cosmopolitanism abstracted from the state became its mission. (See Howard Adelman, “The Doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect: A Failed Expression of Cosmopolitanism,” in W. Kymlicka (2013) Rooted Cosmopolitanism: Canada and the World, UBC Press)

Democracy requires liberty. Democracy requires equality, not just an equality of rights but a quest for greater equality of outcomes, particularly in areas where the management of risk is crucial to preventing individuals suffering in ways unrelated to their talents and efforts. And democracy needs roots. It must be based in the history of a nation, not because those national roots are found to have been rooted in values beyond question, but precisely because, mixed up with individualism and equality, were other values that sabotaged individualism and equality. Each nation must know and understand the roots of its own national calculations, sentiments and driving forces both for evil and for good and celebrate the process of national overcoming and transformation rather than presuming that new inputs pose a danger or that subsequent developments – such as the vision of the state as the neutral adjudicator and administrator divorced from those roots – can offer a standard divorced from those roots. The whole of modern history and the efforts to effect such divorces yields, not democracy, but anti-democratic propensities and, in the extreme, authoritarianism.

The reality is that equality and liberty and fairness and justice in the management of risk require roots and require a sovereign state connected to those roots to defend and uphold those values. Neither the neo-liberal or neo-conservative tendencies, which are neither liberal nor conservative, to deprecate the state and minimize its role, nor the neo-Marxist and neo socialist efforts to exalt the bureaucracy of the state and turn that bureaucracy into arbiters of core values, recognizes the character of responsible government and the fundamental successful core values of a liberal democratic state rooted in its sense of the nation without idolizing either the nation or the state. These trends have forgotten the religious injunctions against idolatry 

We need institutions that protect liberty, equality, justice and the management of risk. We need a mandarin class employed by the state dedicated to those principles. We need to have that state supported by a respect for, indeed love of, common values which unite us as a nation. But these common values are not threatened by modes of dress or adornment whether associated with religion or with the Hells Angels. They are threatened when those values, because of the particular history of a nation, are viewed as antithetical to the religious roots of liberty, equality and social justice and the principle of fairness in managing risk. All religions are made to suffer in failing to recognize that the anti-movements – whether against the sovereign state (the neo-cons), against the nation (the cosmopolitan liberals) or against the very religious roots from which these values emerged – separatist opportunistic nationalists.

Hegel in The Phenomenology of Spirit in the section on Reason exposed reason as an irrational force when divorced from its spiritual roots and when reason became obsessed with appearances as the explanation for underlying tensions and problems instead of noting the way common sense deals with those problems. The focus on appearances and symbolic politics blinds us to those problems. Small “l” liberals who engage in this battle form the high ground of cosmopolitanism lose their foothold in dealing with the wave of passions and zealotry released by these idolotrous appeals and are in no position to combat them for they refuse to root their beliefs in the real trajectory of that nation, to understand and appreciate that trajectory and to recognize that without those roots and that pattern, the values which we esteem would and could not have been sustained.

Pierre Manent was correct in stressing the nation as the only viable form of a political community and its critical importance in remaining married to the institution of the modern sovereign state.  Pierre Manent has been correct to warn us that the efforts of Krojeve to build a post-Maastrcht Europe based on a neo-Marxist cosmopolitan mis-reading of Hegel and the efforts of the neo-cons to create a new Rome based in America that can be the imperial leader of the new world. These are mad delusions and a betrayal of the democratic roots of both regions. Canada with its head in France and the worship of laicité as well as possessing a contradictory love for a Kojeviam cosmopolitanism on an international scale and a belief that mandarins can be the state instead of servants of the nation through the state, has a propensity to forget where its feet are – in the ground and territory of Canada with a unique history and its own complex set of demands. When efforts are made to displace and replace – note the stress on displace and replace – democratic governments rooted in the nation and the sovereign state with governing structures abstracted from those roots in regional bodies – most successfully in Europe – or international bodies as with the efforts of Canadian pre-Harper Liberal and Tory governments – then we get rhetorical gestures and empty abstractions without political calculation, emotional attachments or the guts to put one’s body on the line to sacrifice for those values.

To accept religion as the roots of the modern nation-state does not mean jettisoning the state and the nation in service to a mediaeval religious vision as in Iran or in the vision of Al Qaeda. Rather, it means remembering and keeping in touch with those religious roots even as the nation and the state become the main outlets and expression of those religious origins. Fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Christian or Jewish – or its mirror opposite, secularism turned into a religious quest without roots – are the twin notorious dangers to the nation and the state and their marriage as the foundation stones for the democratic values of liberty, equality and fairness as social justice dealing with the management of risk. We require a passionate attachment to our histories. We require political structures to ensure that liberty, equality and social justice are pursued with vigour and with enterprise. And we require a recognition that populism is not democratic but is a multi-faceted threat to what democracy is and can truly be.

Democracies must recognize that power comes from the people. Democracies must recognize that that power has been vested in governmental institutions and representatives who have the responsibility to interpret what the nation needs and how the state can serve those aspirations. But democracy does not mean appealing to that power as if the state is not there and as if those institutions as forged over time do not matter. They are there to protect us from the very power that is the source of our strength but also the source of destructive behaviour. Democracy is both the demos, the people, and kratos, the strength and power that comes from the people. But modern democracy is built on the notion that the sovereign nation through the representatives of the people acting through a constituted legislative assembly enacts the laws on behalf of and for the people. Modern democracy is representative not populist.

Harper’s Cerebral Populism

One form of populism is cerebral. Stephen Harper was a Reformer dedicated to bringing a “purer” sense of democracy to Parliament Hill. Beware of politicians who stand on the mount of purity. The mantra was referenda and plebiscites, recall rather than responsible representation, a Tripe-E Senate – elected, equal and effective – that became more than ever a receptacle for patronage appointments to strengthen the neo-con ideology, limited government. But most of all, government was about the exercise of power, not to enhance liberty, equality and social justice as was the goals of the Red Tories, but to enhance discipline and control. The Conservatives alienated the separatists because of the underling contradiction between the neo-con ideology and that of the sovereigntists. The Harper government is in the process of alienating the 905 Tories because the belief in traditional values have proven to be a shill game sacrificed to preserve control as the state became more and more dedicated to preserving Harper in power rather than serving the nation. That government is even on the brink of alienating the Alberta nation rooted in the wealth produced by the Tar Sands because their champion is unable to engineer the pipelines needed to ship that bitumen to ports in BC for destination in Asia, or across the border to the United States still eager to consume fossil fuels. The government may be successful in getting that dirty oil to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.

The worst part is not the failures but the betrayal as the government spends millions flouting its successful championing of free enterprise as it fails to deliver a major free trade pact or an oil pipeline dedicated to international trade and as it was forced to retreat to the battlefield of cowards as it began to defend ordinary people with their own money against the predations of communication companies, airlines and banks. Even the defence of neo-con free enterprise core values would be sacrificed to championing populism if that was the calculation that staying in power required. In this case, the power vested in the state by the nation was not being used to distribute risk and enshrine fairness and foster equality, but for a misguided ideological definition of entrepreneurial enterprise.

Marois’ Sentimental Populism

Then there is the sentimental populism of Pauline Marois with its war on “ostentatious’ religious symbols that emerges as an assault on religious rights and freedoms. Its selective application to include “small” crosses hung around the neck or the big cross hanging in the national assembly since the time of Maurice Duplessis is revealing.  The exceptions betray the bias of that secularism. Secularism as a truly visionary enterprise allows everyone to practice their own faith while defending liberty and equality of opportunity. The Bouchard-Taylor Report concluded that this was indeed the overwhelming practice of Quebecers and the so-called clash of cultures that occurred were mostly stirred up by the media and political agitators.

Secularism is simply an ideological construct built on the lie that it is dedicated to preserving core values when it is, in fact, a betrayal of those core values which built democracy on the back of religion even as it rejected religion’s authoritarian propensities. Democracy is the respect for differences not the abolition of differences as the face of the state.

The key question of modernity is how to preserve the classical republican respect for public speech and mutual regard—what Hegel called “recognition” – in contemporary institutional forms that are also sensitive to the communal roots of a particular society.  In the Scottish liberal tradition, Adam Ferguson envisioned the adjudication of conflicts through political state institutions that set a primary value on social and political pluralism. (Cf. Andreas Kalynos and Ira Katznelson (2008) Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns, Cambridge University Press where they tried to show how civic republicans set the stage for the development of representative democracy that put a positive value of pluralism.) In the modern period, republic traditions espousing a common good required state institutional mechanisms, an educated and informed civil service that could defend liberalism and the emphasis on liberty, equality and fairness in dealing with differences while remaining sensitive to a particular history and social context. Representative and responsible government, not populist and ideological appeals, are the answer. The liberal idea of rights and the conservative idea of the importance of the rule of law, respect for the mandarin tradition but suspicious of the unboundaried growth of bureaucracy, genuinely suspicious of interest politics but also recognizing that the bashing of the state undermined the whole enterprise, aspiring towards service of the public good but also rooted in context and history – these are the benchmarks of representative and responsible government.