In this section we publish two articles that are on the same theme, yet could not be more different. The subject is the relevance of the left-right distinction for understanding and positioning oneself in the political world.

Patrick Webber argues that the traditional centre-left versus centre-right distinction is no longer the main cleavage in democratic countries. He notes that social democrats and conservatives share a liberal understanding of the political world, one challenged on each side in not dissimilar ways by the “alt-right” and “regressive left.” To meet the challenge from their respective extremes, the moderate left and right must first face up to this reality and combine efforts. In essence, Webber is endorsing the German approach, which calls on grand coalitions to ensure that it never again relives the experience of the thirties, when the democratic left and right fought each other, rather than taking on the Nazis, until it was too late. He could also point to Sweden, currently being ruled by a de facto grand coalition to ensure that the illiberal Sweden Democrats do not enter government (see the article by Patrik Öhberg and Elin Naurin in this issue).

In his contribution, Gad Horowitz, from a wide historical perspective, argues that there is something fundamental that continues to separate Canadian social democracy from the mainstream: the vision of a cooperative commonwealth. While he admits that this current is not as important as he found it to be in the 1960s, when he wrote his classic essay “Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation,” Horowitz refuses to accept that it has been extinguished in pragmatic NDP policy pronouncements – or that it should be.

While he does not spell it out in terms applicable to contemporary political debates, Horowitz clearly has something in mind that transcends the illiberal political correctness on the left that Webber objects to. In a sense, these thoughtful, clearly written articles, whose authors have little to say to each other, reflect the state of political debate on the centre-left. The latest version of the two solitudes?

Is it useful to compare Canada and Sweden’s policies, as set out in these next two articles, when it comes to taking in refugees? Yes and no. Both countries are relatively rich and open to outsiders. Both have programs in place to integrate newcomers. And both – especially Canada – are relatively sparsely populated. Yet there are crucial differences.

Sweden’s open border policy, as described in the article by Patrik Öhberg and Elin Naurin, resulted in the arrival between 2013 and 2016 of approximately 320,000 asylum seekers – more per capita than any other Western country – including 35,000 unaccompanied minors in 2015 alone, the vast majority of them young males. This for a country of 9.5 million. By contrast Canada, a country of 35 million, had brought in some 33,000 Syrian refugees as of June 2016.1

Sweden has also been per capita one of the biggest exporters of jihadists in Europe – during this period more than 300 people left Sweden to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. While it is too early to know if the two are related, reports on the situation of young Muslims in Sweden raise this worrisome possibility.2

In Canada the number of jihadists leaving for the Middle East is negligible. But Sweden is far closer to the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. In her contribution, Julia Smith suggests that Canada’s longstanding efforts at integration in the context of its multiculturalism policies are the explanation of the relative absence of would-be terrorists. But if that is the explanation, then Sweden, which has a wide range of services to assist newcomers to integrate, should have produced far fewer jihadists. Clearly, as Smith recognizes, distance from the terror centres from which refugees flee has enabled Canada to be selective and keep numbers within bounds.

There can be no doubt that Canada is turning out to be effective at integrating a still modest number of asylum seekers. This is best reflected in the fact that there is nothing like the backlash we have seen in much of Europe, and even the United States, which has taken in far fewer refugees than Canada.

The Swedish case is more complex. In the context of rising European anti-refugee sentiments, even in a traditionally welcoming country like neighbouring Denmark, Sweden stands out as especially generous. But Sweden overreached.

In the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Inroads, Patrik Öhberg and Elin Naurin told readers that in Sweden asylum policy was not to be publicly questioned since as “a matter of humanity versus inhumanity” any move to less generous policies toward refugees would be understood as playing into anti-immigrant views and thus legitimizing the populist, nationalist Sweden Democrats. Yet they predicted that while Sweden would continue to have generous refugee policies, the underlying challenge of combining these policies with a strong welfare system would only grow more intense.

For two years numbers continued to rise, placing increased stress on welcoming institutions and generating increasing resistance at the grass roots. Yet nothing changed in policy, or even the willingness of elites to consider reducing the flow. Then almost suddenly, in November 2015, everything changed. In this follow-up contribution, Öhberg and Naurin tell us about this change, how and why it happened, and what it means for the future of Sweden as a “humanitarian superpower.”

Continue reading “Immigration: A tale of two countries revisited”

Michael Booth tears down the Scandinavians – but doesn’t really mean it

Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia. London: Jonathan Cape, 2014. 416 pages.

Michael Booth’s wide-ranging and often amusing exploration of the Nordic world was spurred on by yet another survey describing his wife’s fellow Danes as the happiest people on earth. Not having encountered so many happy Danes, he decided that this was something he had to try to explain, to get a handle on their Scandinavian psyche. Dedicating a section to each of the five Nordic countries, he has much to say about Denmark, his adopted home, but his favourite target is Sweden. Like many people in his adopted country, he is at his most biting when it comes to laying bare the underside of its neighbour, the supposedly most perfect nation on earth.

There are, of course, other targets. In his generally lightly mocking tone, he tells us of such things as the Finns’ addiction to antipsychotic drugs, the Danes’ addiction to hyggelig or “cosy times,” the Norwegians’ antisocial isolationism, and the Finns’ sisu or machismo. He also finds space to recount the sad tale of the Icelanders’ suicidal corporate spending spree. Some of the time he seems to be asking us to treat his put-downs as part of a comedy routine, but at other times he implies that he is getting at some fundamental truth. Overall, he portrays Scandinavians as uncool nerds.

The fundamental problem with this book is the all too frequent lack of context. When describing a particular propensity, the language is unrestrained by any effort to determine how the non-Scandinavian world – for example the author’s own United Kingdom – fares in comparison. As journalist-observer, eschewing any claim to social science expertise, he sees no need to compare. Hence there are few facts and figures to back up his contentions, the sources for which are typically quotes from a book or author. And sometimes, if need be, a different book or author that takes the opposite position. This can make for good reading but leaves the nonexpert reader unsure as to what is credible and what is not.

Compared to the sections on Denmark and Sweden, Booth has relatively little to say about the other three, so I’ll start with those.

Iceland: From my short visits to Iceland, it was clear that it is the least Scandinavian of the five. It is typically placed in that category because its language has roots in the Old Norse spoken by the Vikings (though incomprehensible to the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes), and because it was a Danish colony in the past. Booth includes it, I suspect, to allow him to write of its huge banking crisis and throw in a few tales about beliefs in elves. In the end, he reveals its un-Scandinavian character. His explanation for Iceland’s failure to restrain its banks from building up huge debts is the inevitable nepotism of a very small country, which doesn’t really tell us very much about Scandinavia as a whole. In the remaining chapters we see that, at least in certain costumes, one size fits all – but not Iceland.

Finland: Here second-guessing Booth turns out to be unnecessary, since he shares my admiration for Finland, where I lived for four months and have returned frequently. It is the most resilient of the four Nordics, ravaged by invasions and civil wars and kept under the thumb of the Russian and then Soviet empires. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Finland was able to overcome its dependence on Soviet markets, developing high-tech products based on its world-class system of education and research. It faces challenges today now that Nokia is no longer big enough to prop up the economy, but there is every reason to expect the resilience of its people to shine through again.

Norway: Booth has apparently spent some time here, a country I know fairly well. The chapter is not inaccurate, but somewhat mean-spirited nonetheless. After telling us about the Norwegians’ peculiar practically universal custom of wearing the national colours in traditional costumes and flying their flag on May 17, their national day, Booth turns to an event that still traumatizes them: the murder of 77 Norwegians, many of them youths who would have been the leaders of the future, by a right-wing fanatic who hated foreigners, Anders Breivik. This provides a springboard to what he sees as their ambivalent feelings toward foreigners who are doing the jobs that now-rich native Norwegians refuse. He goes on to write at length about how much oil riches have changed the Norwegians, at the same time admitting that it has changed them less than would be the case for any other country in their situation. Similarly, while critical of the national oil company, Statoil, he is forced to acknowledge that any other company administering so much oil wealth would do much worse.

He writes of a boat trip along the coast to the far north, pointing out that the importance of the coastal cities diminishes the prominence of Oslo, compared to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. For him, this is a matter of choice by Norwegians to invest heavily in their northernmost cities, noting how you see nothing like this when you cross to the south into northern Sweden. However, he fails to mention the fundamental factor underlying the difference: being on the coast, Norwegian northern cities have Gulf Stream–warmed milder winter weather compared to Oslo, let alone to the cities on the Swedish or Finnish side of the mountainous border.

The chapter peters out with a bunch of stale jokes told by other Nordics about the Norwegians’ antisocial nature, something belied by the many popular, trendy pubs of Oslo and Bergen.

Denmark: Given that Denmark is where Booth lives with his family, we need to take his analysis with only a slight grain of salt. He tries to resolve what he sees as the basic contradiction. The Danes do not have the best welfare state, they are not as rich as the Norwegians or Swedes, they do not have their neighbours’ imposing mountains and valleys in their flat and often grey countryside, and they smoke a lot and have high cancer rates. Yet despite all this, they are the happiest. Trying out various explanations, Booth suggests that perhaps they are not really quite so happy, but rather something in their makeup makes them feel the need to say they are. But he isn’t sure.

There is, I think, a rather simple explanation. The Danes have, if not the best, still a well-functioning welfare state, providing them with an enviable level of security and prosperity. But as simultaneously Scandinavians and continental Europeans, they have fewer inhibitions about enjoying the pleasures of life. They are more like the French when it comes to alcohol consumption, less burdened by the legacy of the binge drinking that was pervasive during their Nordic neighbours’ long and dark winters. Booth has loads of witty anecdotes about a country he knows well. If anything, he lets the Danes off the hook too easily. While he pays much attention to examples of ethnocentrism in the others, he does so less for the Danes, even though the Danes are now the most restrictive of the four when it comes to letting outsiders live in their country and the most prone to vote for anti-immigration parties.

Sweden: While he gives Denmark the benefit of the doubt, the same is not true when, in the last part of the book, he diagnoses the imperfections of Sweden, a country in which I have spent many months. His analysis betrays some of the resentment of his Danish neighbours that their upstart Swedish cousins get so much international attention, a resentment summed up for me by a colleague from Copenhagen pointing to the channel separating Denmark from Sweden and noting, “For us Danes, Asia begins here.”

When Booth crosses the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmö in Sweden, he is entering “the central piece of our Nordic puzzle, the hub, the crux, the Rosetta stone.” The truth, Booth somewhat accurately suggests, is somewhere between the Danes’ view of Swedes as prissy, pedantic and humourless and the left-leaning media’s characterization of them as a paragon of all that a country should be. But he dwells on the negative: the Swedes are breathtakingly rude, and even their good qualities are actually bad – they are too punctual, too consensus-oriented. They are good listeners only because they have nothing to say. And unlike the Danes, the Swedes are too politically correct when it comes to confronting the problems of integrating the many refugees they are admitting.1

Then Booth gets to the crux of his critique. Practising a form of “benign totalitarianism,” a (typically Social Democratic) Swedish government, in cooperation with docile unions and collaborative industrialists, tries to regulate everything for a Swedish population content to be regulated: “the most diligent of worker bees, happy to toil for the good of the hive.” Much is made of historical faults: sterilization of women, guilt over benefiting from Sweden’s neutrality by trading with Nazi Germany. These are seamlessly linked to a craven willingness to depend on services and subsidies from the state, a bad deal, he says, compared to depending on relatives or spouses (or, I would add, private charity). By the end of the chapter he presents – sort of – the other side from a couple of Swedish interlocutors, but he remains sceptical.

He decries the state’s (past) treatment of families, the state knowing better than mothers what is good for their children. But soon afterwards he comes around to say that if he were a woman, he could think of no better place to live. Pages then mock the entirely powerless Swedish royalty – strange coming from a Brit, but then the British never claimed to be egalitarians. The final Swedish chapter tells us that overall, despite this, Sweden is actually doing all right. But even this is presented negatively: he cites a couple of Swedish pessimists to the effect that current Sweden has lost its way, no longer holding on to those old certainties – certainties that he so viciously mocked just a chapter before.

The book ends with an epilogue which asks the reader not to overreact. In effect, he really didn’t mean much of this; he was just playing devil’s advocate. It is only because Scandinavians have succeeded that they need to be torn down. Perhaps that was the point: to remind Scandinavians of their imperfections. Shouldn’t he have warned the non-Scandinavian reader at the outset?

Finally, by seeking out opinions about generalities, you risk missing specific problems and potential threats. And there are problems. Ironically, in his epilogue, which is an almost unapologetic tribute to the “still enviably rich, peaceful, and progressive” Scandinavians, Booth tells us of an education system that not only is free but also has the best standard in the world. If only it were so.

With the exception of Finland, deteriorating standards in education are a serious problem in Scandinavia. This past spring, an OECD report concluded that Sweden has failed to improve its school system despite a series of reforms in recent years, noting a decline in the OECD’s PISA survey over the past decade to significantly below average. School discipline has worsened, with students more likely to arrive late for school than in any other OECD country. And, despite relatively high job satisfaction, only 5 per cent of lower secondary teachers believe that teaching is a valued profession in society.

Now here’s where things are not even nearly perfect. But it’s more fun to write of benign totalitarianism. Continue reading “Almost perfect people or uncool nerds?”

The big news in this election was strategic voting gone awry. “Anybody but Harper” voters deserted the NDP in larger numbers than expected, resulting in a Liberal majority rather than the Liberal minority supported by the NDP that almost everyone expected. What was also unexpected was that in francophone Quebec a fair number of these deserters went to Justin Trudeau, giving 36 per cent of Quebec’s vote and 55 per cent of its seats to the Liberals. As the NDP’s Anne McGrath put it, the niqab issue “shook the party’s Quebec supporters loose.”

From various discussions I had, one part of the answer to why so many went to the Liberals is simple bread-and-butter politics: lower taxes for the “middle class,” retirement at 65 rather than 67 and home postal delivery for those of a certain age, and federal civil service jobs and job security for residents of the Outaouais. The one really significant such promise made by the NDP, universal inexpensive day-care, meant nothing in Quebec, which has it already.

As I write, it is too soon to judge the wisdom of the voters. In my view, the most important consequence of the Liberals’ success at winning a majority rather than needing the NDP’s support to govern will be on the prospects for electoral system reform. The NDP was committed to bringing in proportional representation. Indeed, had we voted this time under PR, Trudeau – who promised that this would be the last election under first-past-the-post – and Tom Mulcair would be negotiating the fine points of a working relationship. (In his accompanying article, Wilf Day simulates how the seats would have been distributed had the election been fought under PR.)

Electoral reform is usually discussed in terms of PR’s well-known advantages in fairly representing the views of voters. The election results highlight this point. To put it bluntly, under FPTP strategic voting by NDP supporters brought an unwanted result: a much weaker NDP and, thus, a majority Liberal government. Here, however, I want to stress a second point, one that really hasn’t entered the discussion: the relationship between the electoral system and the workings of our democratic institutions.

A refreshingly revealing moment in the campaign came when Justin Trudeau said in his interview with Peter Mansbridge in early September that since it was his father who started concentrating power in his office when prime minister, it was only fitting that he be the one to end it. Mansbridge correctly reminded him that Stephen Harper had also promised to devolve power away from the PMO.

Underlying Mansbridge’s point is the fact that the problem of PMO autocracy lies more in institutions than in the will of individual politicians. But which institutions? In two full-column editorials in late August, the Globe and Mail bemoaned the lengths – as revealed in the Duffy trial – to which Harper’s PMO would go to control the flow of information to Canadians, indeed to everyone outside the small circle close to the Prime Minister. This theme was taken up on October 1 by Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson. Noting the low quality of the Tories’ front bench, he asked why someone should want to be a cabinet minister when you had to get the permission of the PMO to make any sort of public intervention. (Simpson had written a book in 2001 portraying Jean Chrétien’s government as a “friendly dictatorship”).

The Globe’s solution was more free votes and the like to pull MPs out from under the thumb of the PMO. Such an approach presumes that our “Westminster” institutions can still function the way we are taught they do in our civics textbooks. In the standard Westminster model, Canadian voters choose among party programs and give a clear mandate to their preferred party. The “loyal” opposition identifies weaknesses in the governing party’s proposed measures and offers alternatives which find their way into parliamentary debate, and are reported by the press gallery to an attentive citizenry. The process produces, where needed, improved legislation plus a basis for judging the government on its record after four years.

The Westminster model is based on majority government. Minority governments are aberrations to be avoided since they are not clearly accountable. This is why the model is associated with our first-past-the-post electoral system. Unfair and unrepresentative as the outcomes of elections under it often are, FPTP has the saving grace of usually turning parties with plurality voter support into parliamentary majorities.

But the Westminster model simply doesn’t fit. While evident under previous governments, its weaknesses will not be perceived as a problem during Trudeau’s honeymoon period, with the Conservatives looking for a new leader and the NDP trying to figure out what went wrong. But the honeymoon will be over in a year or two, if not sooner. Then Trudeau’s adviser Gerald Butts, like Nigel Wright in Harper’s PMO, will be faced with the exigencies of majority government. It will be necessary for the PMO, or whatever the institution at the centre of government working closely with the party leadership will be called, to reassert itself.

It is the media’s job to get at the facts underlying the government’s pronouncements, the very same facts that the opposition needs to discredit the government. So the opposition, working in tandem with the media, will be trying to catch government spokespersons in an error of fact or a contradiction. Hence, whatever the initial inclinations of its boss, the prime minister, it falls on the central political body to keep this from happening by shaping and controlling what comes out from members of the cabinet, caucus and bureaucracy. This in turn makes the media only more determined to get at the underlying facts, which, in turn, generates greater efforts to control – a vicious circle. The 24-hour news cycle, the blogs, the Twitter feeds and the like make the process much more pressing than the one Simpson described 15 years ago.

Tweaking the system with more free votes will not change much: the problem lies in the accumulation of power in one place under majority government. One solution would be to adopt American-style separation of powers. But experience there suggests it to be a cure worse than the disease. The solution lies in sharing power at the highest level of our Westminster system, replacing majority government by stable minority government.

Minority government sometimes happens under FPTP, but it is considered the exception rather than the rule, and thus unstable. As we saw in this election, like the last one, in Canada you can win a majority of seats with less than 40 per cent of the vote, so minority governments’ priority becomes finding an excuse for calling an early election in which they ask for and expect to get a majority. To get stable minority or coalition governments, we need to put an end to this expectation. To do that we need to replace our electoral system with one used in most mature democracies: proportional representation. In his article, Wilf Day sets out the logic of a PR system made to measure for Canada.

PR elections result in power being shared by the largest party with one or more other parties. While these parties agree to support a common program, their relationship to the media and the population at large is beyond the control of the prime minister and his party. In other words, PMO autocracy is no longer possible. Minority government, the bane of the classic Westminster system, turns out to be a solid basis for adopting PR as an antidote to the way our institutions work today.

If Trudeau is really interested in making government less secretive and more cooperative, he will need to live up to his promise that this will be the last election under FPTP. Have we good reason to expect this? The language in the Liberals’ platform leaves much room for doubt:

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures – such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting – are fully and fairly studied and considered. This will be carried out by a special all-party parliamentary committee, which will bring recommendations to Parliament on the way forward, to allow for action before the succeeding federal election. Within 18 months of forming government, we will bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.

Mandatory and online voting are perfectly compatible with FPTP, while ranked ballots do not result in any more proportional outcomes than FPTP, but do favour the centrist party.1 There is good reason, thus, to suspect that this is the only alternative to FPTP that the Liberals will consider. I tabulated the numbers on the website of Fair Vote Canada, which contacted all the candidates for their position. The result was: 68 Liberals endorsed PR, 28 leaned toward PR, 30 were ambiguous, one was opposed and 202 gave no response. And that was when they could not expect to govern alone.

So it will be up to Justin Trudeau. He has proved willing to make institutional changes that went beyond his party’s traditional position – for example, by setting Liberal senators free of the Liberal whip. And, as reported in the Toronto Star, when asked on the day after the election, he did not step back from his commitment that this would be the last election under FPTP. But doing so in any meaningful way means standing up to those in his party who see in FPTP the assurance of their again becoming the natural governing party and relegating the NDP to long-term small party status. My own inclination is to be sceptical. Easy promises, a winning smile and a mastery of set pieces can win an election, but go only so far when it comes to governing. I very much hope that Prime Minister Trudeau II will exceed my expectations. Continue reading “Electoral reform, the power of the PMO and Justin Trudeau”

by Henry Milner, Rafael Belliard and Jeffrey Oberman

Canada has long had positive relations with the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the two countries that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, and millions of Canadians visit Hispaniola each year. While seldom in the news until recently, the DR has found its way into many news reports and political statements about the plight of Dominicans of Haitian origin. In what follows, the authors of this article, who have lived for different periods in the DR, try to re-establish the facts and assess prospects for the future.

It all began in 2013 with the verdict in the DR’s highest court against Juliana Dequis Pierre.


Juliana Dequis Pierre was born in 1984 in the batey of Los Jovillos in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents who had settled in the DR in the 1970s. In 2008, she applied for a Cédula, the DR’s ID card, and was refused. An initial appeal in court was rejected on the technical grounds that she had supplied a photocopy of her birth certificate. She then appealed to the highest judicial body in the country, the Constitutional Court, and the repercussions of that appeal resonate to this day.

On September 23, 2013, the Constitutional Court again decided against Juliana Dequis Pierre, but its decision – “La Sentencia” – went much further.1 The ruling covered the children of all undocumented persons living in the DR born since the 1929 Constitution was adopted, affecting an estimated 210,000 people born in the DR. Almost all of these people are from families of Haitian origin. The current Dominican Constitution recognizes as citizens all persons born on national territory, except children “of foreign members of diplomatic or consular legations, of aliens in transit or residing illegally on Dominican territory.”2 The Court ruled that the category of children of “aliens in transit or residing illegally on Dominican territory” applied to children of undocumented persons living in the DR.


The decision was swiftly denounced internationally for rendering longtime residents “stateless.” (Use of this term is technically inaccurate, since children of Haitian parents retain their Haitian nationality.) Unquestionably, it posed a serious political as well as administrative problem for Dominican President Danilo Medina. Faced from all sides by condemnations of this human rights tragedy and demands to stop the impending deportations, but constitutionally prevented from appealing the verdict, Medina met with a group of those affected by the ruling to plan the government’s response.

In November 2013, he issued a presidential decree launching the National Regularization Plan (PRNE), which was executed over the course of 18 months and expired on June 17, 2015. Under the PRNE, anyone who was settled in the Dominican Republic before October 2011 was eligible to obtain a migratory visa confirming their legal status in the country, and eventually citizenship. The path to citizenship was elaborated in a new law, passed in May 2014. It first opened the door to DR citizenship for the 24,000 who had been inscribed in the civil registry and issued birth certificates before La Sentencia. The estimated remaining 186,000 born in the DR but without birth certificates could prove their birthplace by providing one of four acceptable documents, such as a signed statement from a midwife or witnesses, and then apply through the regularization plan, the PRNE.

Of the others affected, estimated up to 250,000, born in Haiti but living in the DR since before 2011, the plan listed the kinds of documents needed to prove their length of stay in the DR and “ties” to Dominican society. The possibilities included a deed to a house, a letter from a schoolteacher, a note from a boss or a notarized memo of good conduct from seven Dominican neighbours. The documents were to be presented at one of 31 designated offices. However, none of those offices are located in the bateys, the isolated company towns in which many of those affected live.

While there was no fee for applying for regularization to cover the estimated US$27 million the process is costing the DR, there was a cost incurred in gathering the documents. Moreover, those carrying out the process were not always sensitive to the situation of the applicants, many of whom spoke rudimentary Spanish. Rumours of abuses abounded and, no doubt, some eligible to apply did not do so out of fear or ignorance.

The international outcry

Expiry of the regularization period set off another round of international protest. An article by Rachel Nolan in the May 2015 issue of Harper’s was entitled “Displaced in the D.R.: A Country Strips 210,000 of Citizenship.” It was followed by a statement by José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, cited in a New York Times editorial under the headline “Stateless in the Dominican Republic” on June 12: “The Dominican Republic is denying tens of thousands of citizens their right to a nationality, and despite mixed messages, people are being detained and shoved over the border.” And on July 2, the New York Times Magazine featured “The Dominican Time Bomb” by Jonathan M. Katz, which told of plans to expel hundreds of thousands of residents of Haitian descent and buses to transport the deportees to processing centres at the border.

Racism was one of the themes of the reports, especially an August 23 article in USA Today by Yamiche Alcindor who noted that “many deportees and international human rights organizations believe that racism motivates the government’s immigration purge. They claim the immigration ruling is rooted in age-old racist notions of dark-skinned people as inferior to those with lighter complexions.” She was echoing the analysis of Jonathan Katz for whom the “expulsion … seemed like the logical culmination of decades of hate: a long-ticking time bomb finally poised to go off,” an expression of “the intensity of the hatred and violence long directed against Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent – and against anyone black enough to be confused for either.”

In the process, politicians also got into the act, notably New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who on June 17 publicly expressed concern “about the potential forced deportation tonight of hundreds of thousands of people from the Dominican Republic, including many children.” Others followed, including Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal, who, on June 23 sent out a statement voicing his “outrage over the illegal and immoral depossession (sic) of hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian origin” in the DR.

The full story shows that such characterizations are misleading. Multiple realities result from the fact that Haitian immigration developed over generations as an informal, extralegal process. And these multiple realities give rise to differing interpretations. The Haitian interpretation has, for understandable reasons, found its way into much current international coverage. Unfortunately, when an emotional issue becomes a matter of political correctness, the facts are the first victims.

In our view, in what is admittedly a complex and difficult situation, the Dominican government has, on the whole, acted appropriately. The U.S. Ambassador to the DR, James Brewster, has praised the DR’s efforts toward resolving the issue, accusing the international press of “being unfair to the DR” with its attacks. To be fair, we need to look at the context and go back to the beginnings of the strained relationship between these two peoples who share an island.

The immediate context was a change in relative economic conditions. Until the 1990s, most Haitian workers came to the DR for the sugar cane harvest and returned home once it finished. Afterwards, however, as conditions deteriorated in Haiti, many thousands of Haitians stayed. Meanwhile, more were coming. Especially after the earthquake in 2010, their numbers provoked Dominican fears of an “invasion” – rekindling painful memories of brutal invasions by Haiti in the 19th century. Still today there is no shortage of statements, typically on Internet blogs, evoking a conspiracy to unify the island through unchecked migration that will undermine the DR’s mulatto and Hispanic national identity, an identity incompatible with the Haitians’ African roots. Political leaders of the current generation do not express such ideas, but they were frequently voiced by Joaquín Balaguer, the authoritarian leader who dominated Dominican politics for 35 years after the death of dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961.

Distrust on the other side is typically associated with, and frequently reduced to, race – Haitians treated as virtual slaves on Dominican sugar plantations. Here memories are rekindled of the slaughter of 1937 when Trujillo ordered his army to kill Haitians who could not produce proof of their Dominican status. The killing of thousands went unreported in the media, all of which were government-controlled. Educated Dominicans, while not denying these atrocities, point out that typically Haitians were exploited with the cooperation of their own elites (the Haitian government accepted an indemnity of US$750,000 from Trujillo as compensation for the killings). But the historical roots of Dominican and Haitian reactions to recent events go back much further than that.

The weight of history

In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the island he eventually named Hispaniola. Forced labour and diseases introduced by the Spanish decimated the indigenous Taino population, which lacked natural immunity to such ailments. To replace that vanishing labour force, the Spanish brought in African slaves. People from France and other countries began to settle Tortuga Island just offshore and later in the northwest of Hispaniola itself. While Spanish Santo Domingo, based in southeast Hispaniola, developed primarily as a land of small livestock ranchers and tobacco and coffee farmers, French Saint-Domingue relied largely on slave-based sugar cane growing.

In 1697 the French presence in Saint-Domingue, covering the western three eighths of Hispaniola, was recognized by the Treaty of Ryswick, which ended a war in which Spain was part of an alliance fighting France’s King Louis XIV. A century later, at the Treaty of Basel in 1795, Spain ceded the remaining five eighths of the now highly profitable island to France. However, France was preoccupied with wars in Europe and slow to occupy the former Spanish territory. During this time, Toussaint L’Ouverture emerged as political and military leader among the slaves and led a revolt against the French slavemasters. After defeating French landowners and the mulatto population in a civil war in 1800, Saint-Domingue ended slavery and in 1804 won its independence, though France extracted harsh reparations that limited the ability of the nascent nation, now called Haiti, to develop.

The Haitians sought to take control of the Spanish parts of the island with an 1805 invasion led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, self-proclaimed Emperor of Haiti. Atrocities against civilians, an outlet for the Haitians’ hatred for their former “blanc” and mulatto rulers, left a very bitter taste among the Spanish-speaking population that by now defined itself as “Dominican.” The Haitians withdrew when a French fleet appeared, but in 1822, after the Dominicans had proclaimed their independence from a remote and neglectful Spain, Haiti invaded again. The harsh 22-year-long military occupation from Port-au-Prince that followed was deeply resented for its brutality. It was not until 1844 that the Dominican Republic was able to gain independence, though it had to repel four Haitian invasions at the cost of great loss of life and property. Dominicans are still reminded of this today, and of the fact that the DR has never invaded Haiti.

Haiti, at the time, was the larger and more powerful of the two, with a population of just over 510,000. The census identified three distinct classes: 452,000 Africans at the bottom tier, a middle tier of 28,000 mulattoes and 32,000 white colonials at the top. Over time, this developed into a two-caste population, composed of an urban economically and politically empowered mulatto elite of roughly 5 per cent of the population and a largely rural black underclass. These have viewed each other with utmost suspicion and no middle class was able to develop.

In Spanish Santo Domingo, the population numbered some 125,000, composed of 40,000 whites, 25,000 mulattoes and 60,000 African slaves. The population imbalance placed Santo Domingo at an obvious economic and military disadvantage. In 1861, out of fear of further Haitian incursions, Santo Domingo negotiated a controversial annexation agreement with Spain, an ill-fated relationship that by 1862 had given way to a “War of Restoration” that lasted until 1865 when defeated Spanish troops abandoned the island. In 1866 the Dominican Republic attained its “second independence.”

At the end of the 19th century international demand led to a boom in the Caribbean sugar industry. The countries best placed to take advantage of it were Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with large areas of fertile soil and abundant rainfall. In the DR, labour was acquired from abroad, first from the English-speaking eastern Caribbean islands, but soon mainly from Haiti. The Dominican census figures showed a total of 28,000 Haitians in 1920, which climbed to 53,000 by 1935. A major factor was the role of the United States, which occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and the DR from 1916 to 1924. The labour and other requirements of American owners of sugar plantations in both places were well served by the two military administrations.

With the end of the occupations, the two countries’ development paths diverged. Haiti’s economic power waned as a result of the loss of sugar markets to competitors and relentless unchecked deforestation to make vegetable charcoal for cooking fuel, an activity that endures to this day and has brought the country’s current forest cover to a meagre 2 per cent. In contrast, the DR made some progress. For all its brutality, the Trujillo dictatorship (1930–1961) in the DR achieved a degree of development through education, public works, road construction and public health. This was not matched in Haiti, especially under the dictatorships of François Duvalier (“Papa Doc”) from 1957 to 1971 and, even more so, his son Jean-Claude (”Baby Doc”) from 1971 to 1986.

The new Haitian immigrants

The sugar plantations were a state within a state. Law and order, housing, roads, transport, essential services and shops were provided by the company. A number of the companies were owned by the state – i.e. Trujillo – and a larger number for many years by American multinationals. In the bateys the status of the population was defined by the sugar companies. The municipality had no mandate for the population on the sugar estates. If you were lucky, the batey was a place where you could get help from local NGOs and church and philanthropic groups. Even when the international price of sugar, which fluctuated wildly, was high, conditions of the workers were worse than those of Dominicans in comparable industries.

While the traditional batey can still be found in certain areas of the country, significant change was caused by the collapse of the state-owned sugar industry in the late 1980s. The industry was hurt by the United States’s decision to reduce its sugar import quota for the Dominican Republic in order to protect its own farmers, along with the DR’s failure to invest in modernizing the plantations even when the industry was booming. In the 1970s average annual production was over one million tons, around 60 per cent of which was exported to the United States. By 1991 it was down to 340,000 tons.

Beginning in the 1980s, a wave of migrant labourers left the plantations to find jobs elsewhere in agriculture, in the construction industry and in the informal sector of the economy of the cities. During this time, economic dependence on sugar was replaced by the growth of tourism, foreign exchange earnings from remittances from Dominicans living abroad and the establishment of assembly factories in free trade zones. Agricultural production other than sugar also increased, in modernized rice and poultry cultivation and in coffee, cocoa and tobacco plantations protected by government subsidies and protective tariffs.

While migration mostly has economic causes, flight from Haiti for political reasons has also been significant at times. From 1991 to 1994, following the military coup that overthrew the newly elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, there was a mass exodus of up to 100,000 Haitians who escaped by boat or crossed the border into the DR. In the years that followed, the situation improved and the Haitians crossing the border came mainly to work in agriculture or construction, many returning at the end of the season. After 2003, conditions in Haiti deteriorated while those in the DR improved markedly: more Haitians came and more stayed, especially after the terrible earthquake early in 2010.

Although the migrants are still predominantly young men, women are also now migrating in significant numbers. Until recently, the vast majority of this migrant labour was “informal” – that is, it was uncontrolled in the process of exiting from Haiti, crossing the poorly policed border without visa or permit and accessing unregulated work in the DR. Powerful Dominican interests, like the sugar plantations of an earlier day, depend on a supply of relatively cheap and compliant labour. Cutting off the supply of labourers from Haiti would bankrupt part of the agricultural sector and create a crisis in the construction industry. Hence, until the Constitutional Court acted, Dominican authorities were ambivalent about introducing effective mechanisms to regulate migration. Unloved as they were, the Haitians were still needed.

Why Haitians increasingly wanted to go to in the DR is evident. While in the DR real annual GDP per capita, measured in 2005 U.S. dollars, increased from $1,085 in 1960 to $5,101 in 2014, that of Haiti actually decreased, from $1,070 to $497, during that same period. In other words, starting in roughly the same place 55 years ago, today the per capita GDP of the DR is more than 10 times that of Haiti.

After the earthquake

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by a strong earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, followed by two aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.0 respectively, which destroyed large parts of its capital, Port-au-Prince, as well as other cities. Up to 250,000 perished. Most available infrastructure, including the international airport, hospitals and basic government services, collapsed, and the presidential palace crumbled. The DR acted immediately, sending shelters, field kitchens, drinking water, medical and rescue teams, food shipments, heavy equipment to remove debris and other necessities. Not a small number of the injured, including many high government officials, were flown to the DR for medical care.

Following this disaster, a massive wave of refugees crossed the border into the DR. Moreover, a severe cholera outbreak traced to Nepali UN soldiers occurred in Haiti, spilling over to the DR. The DR found itself having to provide medical care and many other basic services, services that are not available in Haiti even during normal times. In 2013 the University Hospital José María Cabral y Baez in Santiago, the DR’s second biggest city, offered services to 25,022 foreigners, of whom 24,507 were Haitian nationals. These represented approximately 25 per cent of the total patients, and 30 per cent of the total income of the hospital was spent on them, exhausting resources intended to care for the Dominican population. (The hospital receives only half of the required US$670,000 from the Dominican government.)

The DR contributes to the education of Haitians by charging the more than 12,000 Haitian students in Dominican universities the same fee as Dominicans, unlike other foreign students who pay a hefty premium. And 44,000 children of Haitians study in Dominican public schools.

Regularization takes shape

Of the estimated up to 250,000 who were born in Haiti but were living the DR since before 2011, those who submitted Haitian passports or the equivalent have received ID papers, though they often disappointingly found that they needed to be renewed in one or two years. Dominican authorities are very critical of Haiti’s civil registry (responsible for providing legal ID documents) for being unable to provide many of them with needed basic information and, initially, demanding a substantial fee from those who did receive copies of birth certificates. (Haiti has refused to recognize as Haitians those unable to register under the PRNE, accusing the DR of “mass deportations and creating a humanitarian crisis.” As noted above, the campaign bore fruit.)

Of those of Haitian origin with papers indicating they were born in the DR, only a minority of the estimated 55,000 eligible – including Juliana Dequis Pierre – have received Dominican ID papers. Obstacles include not finding names on the list, not having received requested documents and not being able to register their children. Overall, the process has been unjustifiably slow, though the government has assured them that they are not subject to possible deportation.

Including those claiming to be longtime Dominican residents but lacking papers showing where they were born, the total goes up to an estimated 435,000. By the June deadline, a total of 288,466 people had applied for regularization, and, in early September the government announced that 80 per cent of them, or more than 230,000, had been successful. By late September, more than 105,000 had received ID cards attesting to their regularized status. Still, there are certainly many eligible who did not apply under the plan out of distrust, lack of information and misinformation. Critics note the slowness to set up local units for receiving the applications, especially in border areas, creating additional difficulties for people living in provinces without local units.


By early August roughly 66,000 had returned to Haiti, with the right to return and regularize their status as long as they could produce the required documents and a visa. There have been conflicting reports about their status. The U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Pamela Ann White, accompanied by her Canadian counterpart Paula Caldwell St. Onge, visited the border to check on those charges and told the press that “there have been no mass deportations and no humanitarian crisis exists here.” She noted that the Dominican government had instituted a hold on deportations for 45 days following the PNRE deadline on June 17, so that those undocumented aliens without IDs had extra time to obtain them.

The Dominican government states that it is keeping Haitian authorities apprised of the identity of returnees, as well as the places and dates when its citizens are being repatriated. Haiti’s own consul in the DR border town of Dajabon, Noil Luken, told the media that he had not witnessed any violations of human rights after initial deportations began in mid-August 2015 following expiry of the 45-day grace period. The Dominican Army has strengthened security at the border with new recruits, noting that they have undergone a three-month course on how to combine courtesy with military discipline to respect human rights in immigration detentions.

Of course, promises are easy to make, and those affected are justifiably sceptical on the basis of past experience. In areas where large groups of Haitians are concentrated, there are reports of violent incidents and threats of intimidation by Dominicans in and out of uniform, reflecting the strain that the massive Haitian presence has placed on these communities and their institutions. Hence we should not be surprised that there is no shortage of reported cases of individuals treated unjustly. On many occasions, neighbourhood committees and public notaries asked for excessive fees, and some employers have refused to cooperate. There are numerous complaints that local officials have demanded additional documents not required by law, such as mothers’ birth certificates and extra declarations by midwives. In some cases misinformed hospitals refused or were unable to hand over the certificates of live birth. As a result some individuals entitled to stay in the DR were deported by overzealous officials.

An emotionally charged issue

In sum, what has been happening does not lead to the concludsion that institutionalized racism and xenophobia are the driving forces. Despite the real problems in the application of its measures, the overall approach taken by the highly popular Dominican government has been reasonable under the circumstances. Even critics of Dominican policy like Bridget Wooding of the Caribbean Migrants Observatory, OBMICA, acknowledge that the Dominican government has been making efforts to harmonize policies and practices throughout the system. Wooding sees this as a response to criticism from outside the country and from civil society organizations in the DR. Whatever the motivation, no one looking objectively, and from an international context, can simply dismiss Dominican efforts to rectify the situation.

Another important factor in the equation is the role of the Haitian authorities. As we write, Haiti has imposed a partial ban on imports of DR products into Haiti in advance of the Haitian election slated for October 25. Clearly the ban is politically inspired, since the main economic costs will be borne by Haitian consumers. And this is not the first or last of such tensions. Still, overall, there has been an improvement in relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, allowing for a certain level of cooperation on cross-border matters that has been sustained even during a protracted period of political crisis in Haiti. The weight of history, it appears, has been ever so slowly lightening.

Before casting stones, those outside Hispaniola would do well to examine how their own country has welcomed, or would have welcomed, the many thousands of poorly educated, poor, black migrants who continue to seek a better life than that offered by the chaotic, effectively failed state that is Haiti. It is easy to criticize the DR, but few compare what they are criticizing with the treatment by their own countries of would-be migrants from Haiti. American critics like Mayor de Blasio might reflect on how their country in effect made the situation worse, especially during the dictatorship that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide, turning boats carrying thousands of Haitian refugees back to Hispaniola. Haitians constitute a substantial number of the annual average of 400,000 illegal aliens deported by the United States in recent years. And unlike the United States or other countries critical of the Dominican Republic, the DR is still a developing country. According to the IMF World Economic Outlook Database of 2013, the DR ranked 91st in GDP per capita among the world’s 184 countries.

Constructive criticism is welcome, but politically correct denunciations only make a difficult situation worse. We hope that this article will help stimulate more informed discussion of this admittedly complex, emotionally charged issue. Continue reading “Multiple realities: Haitians in the Dominican Republic”

The main theme of this issue is the breakdown of the European consensus in the face of, and manifested by, different brands of extremism. This is not the first time Inroads has addressed Europe’s crises. As portrayed on the cover of our Summer/Fall 2004 issue, the most acute of those crises was the difficulty of integrating Muslims. In Winter/Spring 2010, writing at the time of the British election that brought David Cameron to power, Ian Malcolm noted that the Tories and Labour were clambering over each other to keep up with a public that wanted cuts to immigration, worried by threats of “terrorism, ghettoization, forced marriages, honour killings, anti-Semitism, homophobia, pressure to veil, crime and demands to import shari‘a.” Yet, Malcolm added, European journalists, academics and politicians, fearful of being labelled racist, were still engaged in wishful thinking on immigration, so that it took an American, Christopher Caldwellto lift the veil in his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.

Fast forwarding to now, there is no shortage of European opinion leaders who share what Malcolm depicted as Caldwell’s “implicit lament for old, conservative Europe, rich in tradition and self-confidence, a place that would have resisted the cultural challenge of Islam without hesitation.” There is nothing implicit in the argument by Éric Zemmour in Le suicide français, a much-discussed book published shortly before the murders at Charlie Hebdo, here reviewed by Philip Resnick. But most compelling are the laments of moderate Arab writers such as Mezri Haddad, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Kamel Daoud, which we have translated.

In Britain, Caldwell and Zemmour are given political voice by the United Kingdom Independence Party, which won 13 per cent of the vote in the May 7 election. The single seat captured by UKIP understates its impact, as it pushed both the Conservatives and Labour to be critical of open borders. In France Marine Le Pen’s National Front expresses a similar political tendency. But opposition to immigration is only one form the rejection of the postwar European consensus has taken. On April 28, The Independent of London claimed to have uncovered a loan to the National Front of €40 million (eight times its annual budget) from a bank with links to the Kremlin. The story went on to note,

Moscow has been building strong political – and allegedly financial – links with hard-right, nationalist parties all over the EU. There have been unconfirmed allegations in the United States that Moscow is funding the virulently xenophobic Hungarian party Jobbik and the avowedly neo-Nazi Greek party, Golden Dawn … While there have been no suggestions of Russian money going to UKIP, its leader Nigel Farage described Mr. Putin earlier this year as the world leader that he “admired most.”… Ms. Le Pen, who has made two visits to Moscow in 18 months, says that Mr. Putin is a “defender of the Christian heritage of European civilisation.”

We do not know just what Mr. Putin’s personal views are, but some insight is provided here by Ronald Beiner’s analysis of the ideas of Aleksandr Dugin, whom Foreign Affairs dubbed “Putin’s Brain.” How close he actually is to Putin is uncertain, but Dugin’s goal is nothing less than to unite all the global enemies of liberalism under Russian leadership, and to replace the current liberal dispensation with something virulently antimodern or premodern, a sort of fusion of totalitarian ideologies.

Finally, another kind of extremism is expressing itself on Europe’s Mediterranean shore. Grabbing the headlines are rickety boats full of would-be migrants, stoking the fear of uncontrolled immigration across the Mediterranean. But the threat cannot be separated from Europe’s economic woes. And these economic woes have given rise to what appears to be a different phenomenon in the south, Greece and Spain in particular, where parties on the radical left have surged.

Marc Sanjaume looks at Podemos, the Spanish anti-austerity party that has come from nowhere to challenge the established conservatives and social democrats in the polls. Sanjaume sets out Podemos’s program and prospects for next fall’s Spanish election, as well as its roots in the Indignados movement. Irene Martín Cortés, who wrote about the Indignados movement in our Winter/Spring 2013 issue, this time turns her attention to Greece and the history, program and hard choices of its anti-austerity party Syriza, which took power at the beginning of this year. Its predicament threatens the future of Greece and the European Union; its radical posture has antagonized its partners, placing into doubt the deal to bail out Greece’s debt. But it remains the favourite of Greek voters who, like Syriza’s leaders, cling to the hope of an arrangement that would allow it to at least appear to have kept its election promises. That enduring support says as much about the failure of the traditional parties of the centre-left and centre-right, both of which have governed in the years since the 2008 financial crisis and failed, as it does about Syriza.

In an important article in the Journal of Democracy, the journal’s founding co-editor, Larry Diamond, provides a wide-ranging analysis of what he calls the “Democratic Recession” that has accompanied the global economic downturn.1 The tide of democratization that Samuel Huntingdon called the “third wave,” which began with the collapse of Soviet Communism in the late 1980s and crested in 2006, is now receding. Since 2000 there have been 25 democratic breakdowns, as countries that enjoyed competitive elections and the rule of law regressed to dictatorship or military control. While 10 of the 25 have returned to the democratic fold, among the remaining defectors are significant actors relevant to this discussion. On Europe’s eastern front, Russia can no longer be classed as a democracy by any serious observer. Turkey is rapidly sliding toward authoritarian rule as the governing AKP subverts state institutions and President Erdoyan extends his personal powers to include punishment of media outlets that draw unflattering cartoons of his likeness.

In the face of the Western-inspired and Western-backed third wave, autocracies have evolved like strains of drug-resistant malaria. They have learned to mimic structures that gave Western institutions the ability to push for openness, press freedom and democracy. Thus, Russia’s RT television has all the professional presentation of the BBC – and the same disregard for facts and adherence to a party line of Fox News at the height of the Bush administration. Election-monitoring NGOs have sprung up in Russia and elsewhere with the sole function of rubber-stamping elections held by clients of Moscow.

This pushback against democratic institutions has accelerated in recent years as Russia endures the arrest, harassment and in some cases murder of opposition politicians, journalists and civil society activists. The inability of the domestic opposition or the West to respond to these attacks on what had been, for a brief bright moment, potentially universal human rights has emboldened autocrats like Putin. He is able to fund extreme-right parties around the world with impunity, and that leads to the heart of Diamond’s argument: democracy is under threat not only in Eurasia but also in the established democratic heartland of western Europe and North America. From a gridlocked Congress to deluded Texas governors declaring martial law to protect the Lone Star State from invasion by President Obama, there is not much to commend American governance structures. Mainstream European parties are seeing their support bases chewed up by extremists from the left and right, incapable of effectively defending the liberal, pluralist, social democratic structures that made them wealthy, successful and relatively equal.

Diamond concludes on a note of moderate optimism, noting that the receding tide hasn’t ebbed completely. People around the world continue to be inspired by the ideas of freedom and equality that underpin democracy. Autocrats who hold elections and claim to uphold principles of press freedom and judicial independence are demonstrating that democracy remains the only legitimate form of government. According to Diamond, we have not yet degenerated to the point that attacking those institutions is presented as acceptable or even positive.

We would like to share Diamond’s optimism, but what has been happening, as described in these pages, leaves us more pessimistic. As in the 1920s there is a weakness in the political establishment, left and right, that has led to a questioning, within Western democracies, of the legitimacy of our foundations. Europe is struggling with this hollowing out of its ideological heart, as the essays that follow illuminate in different ways. A question for readers on this side of the Atlantic is whether we offer any solutions or whether we will simply wait for this next, darker, tide to rise on our shores. Continue reading “Europe: Beset by extremes”

Steven J. Ross, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics.
New York: Oxford, 2012. 498 pages

As I was editing Jeffrey Oberman’s analysis of Hollywood films (see p. 100), I noticed a book that had been gathering dust on my desk. Hollywood Left and Right presents case studies of ten politically active Hollywood figures, five liberals and five conservatives. Although I have long followed American politics, and seen a great many Hollywood movies, I learned a lot from this very well-written and engaging yet carefully researched book. Though he has nothing to say about other countries, Steven J. Ross, a film historian at the University of Southern California, confirms to us outside observers of the United States that American politics is indeed exceptional: nothing like this is to be found in comparable countries. Moreover, while it reinforced the prevailing impression that Hollywood is a liberal place, it drove home the point that it was the conservatives who put their involvement to greater political effect.

Ross starts in the early days, with Charlie Chaplin, still perhaps the greatest genius Hollywood has produced. Despite his immense success, Chaplin never strayed from his progressive beliefs, beliefs which, in part, caused him to have to leave the United States in the 1950s. In contrast, during the same period, Louis B. Mayer of MGM produced films that celebrated the status quo as he came to play a major role in the California Republican Party. Actor Edward G. Robinson shared Mayer’s eastern European Jewish background, yet espoused diametrically opposed political views, views that in the 1950s attracted the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and ended his career.

22_Brother_Orchid_(1940)_Edward G. Robinson
Brother Orchid (1940) Edward G. Robinson

Ross usefully notes that HUAC members and staff were not simply reactionaries on a political witch-hunt. They targeted Hollywood because they realized that movie audiences were made up of voters who could readily be influenced by glamorous movie stars. And despite the efforts of Mayer and his friends, all but a few of the many prominent figures in Hollywood who shared his European Jewish background remained liberal Democrats, though typically more circumspect than Robinson.

Among the more recent politically active progressives, Ross follows the career of Warren Beatty. As Mayer was to Herbert Hoover, Beatty was a close adviser and funder of Democratic presidential aspirants George McGovern and Gary Hart, though neither proved successful. Beatty was regularly urged to run, but chose to remain behind the scenes, stressing that he was good at promoting his left-liberal views – through his films Bulworth and Reds in particular – but knew nothing about implementing policy. (He also knew that his promiscuous lifestyle was incompatible with a political career, a fact driven home by the political demise of Gary Hart when his adultery was exposed.) Informative chapters also recount the tireless efforts of Harry Belafonte in support of the civil rights movement and Jane Fonda’s sometimes counterproductive role in the antiwar movement.

Ross details the vast sums that left-wing Hollywood political activists were able to earn and then contribute to progressive causes and candidates. When it came to money, it was Hollywood, along with the trade unions, that funded Democratic politicians at a level high enough to counter corporate generosity to the GOP and allowed the Democrats to win elections. When conservatives identify Hollywood as their enemy, they are not simply spouting rhetoric.

Yet Ross suggests that despite its far greater clout and financial resources, the Hollywood left’s overall effect on politics and policy proved to be less durable than the right’s. Among his case studies, he includes the unexpected accession to the U.S. Senate by musical comedy actor George Murphy in 1964, followed by his famous successors Ronald Reagan, elected Governor of California in 1966 and later President, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments

While it is well known that Reagan started out as a liberal, Ross points out that Charlton Heston, too, was for many years a mainstream Democrat before becoming a National Rifle Association spokesman and symbol. According to Ross, Heston was offended and pushed to the right by the McGovernites’ takeover of the Democratic Party in 1972. The Heston case illustrates Ross’s contention that movie audiences can be moved by the political views of their favourite actors, as long as those views give expression to an appropriate projected image. Many years after The Ten Commandments, Heston was still Moses for a large swath of Americans.

According to Ross, there is a parallel in Reagan’s move to the right. Here the catalyst was the intransigence of doctrinaire leftists who dominated the Hollywood unions. His experience as president of the Screen Actors Guild in the context of the anti-Communism of the 1950s led him to question his own roots as a New Deal Democrat. By the end of the decade, Reagan was ripe for recruitment by the Republican right. The rest is history.

Hollywood Left and Right ends after the 2008 election cycle, drawing attention to media personalities who influence politics, like Oprah Winfrey and Jon Stewart. Perhaps a new category of actor/celebrity/politico is emerging – a fitting subject for Ross’s next book. But he will have to take into account the fact that while media celebrities are still predominantly liberal, now that the Supreme Court has opened up American politics to effectively unlimited corporate funding, they can no longer dream of acting as a counterweight to business’s financial support for the GOP.

I was in Glasgow in early September for a conference and was able to stay in Europe to observe two campaigns: the first leading up to the election in Sweden on September 14, and the second to the Scottish referendum on independence four days later. I brought along my camera, and in this section I present my impressions in words and pictures. In the case of Scotland, it will be mainly pictures since Canadians were kept relatively well informed about the campaign and its result. Ideally, it would have been the other way round, since the Swedish campaign was perfect for picture taking, highly public and visible, which was not at all the case in Scotland.

The narrow victory for the “Red-Green coalition” led by the Social Democrats in the Swedish election was also fairly widely reported. What is less known, and what I stress here, is how different a campaign in Sweden is from what we experience in Canada. Not only do Swedes turn out to vote far more (83 per cent this time, compared to 61 per cent in Canada in 2011), but in making their choice they are far more informed about what the parties – all nine of them – stand for.

In Glasgow and Edinburgh, a key question in the discussions was the impact the referendum would have on British politics, specifically on the election to take place in May 2015. The question of how and whether the authorities in the United Kingdom have lived up to the promise of more devolution to Scotland will certainly be raised in that election. But there are also many other issues, some of which – as Eric Shaw, a specialist on the British and Scottish Labour party at the University of Stirling, explains – may keep Labour out of power despite its current lead in the polls.

The question of Catalonia’s status within Spain has also been at issue this fall. Eric Guntermann brings us up to date on developments.

Finally, for a small country, Sweden manages to get our attention frequently as a policy “model.” For many, this was again the case when the newly elected Red-Green government promised to recognize the Palestinian state. But sometimes Sweden gets it wrong. Turn to the book review section for a disturbing portrait by Patrik Öhberg of a notorious recent case of justice derailed.

An introduction by Henry Milner

Sweden, September 14

Sweden’s election resulted in a narrow victory for the “Red-Green coalition” led by the Social Democrats over the centre-right Alliance led by the Moderate Party (conservatives). However, this victory may prove short-lived, in part because the populist Sweden Democrats (SD) hold the balance of power, having come in third with just under 13 per cent.


Red-Green promised more funding for schools and welfare and accused the Alliance, which had introduced tax cuts and social welfare reforms, of making Sweden more unequal. Sweden’s economy has done well, but that failed to convince a sufficient number of voters to give the Alliance a third term. Many felt that Sweden could afford to spend more on welfare, health care and schools, and better tackle youth unemployment. But many other voters focused on Sweden’s extremely generous refugee policy, with close to 90,000 refugees accepted this year in a country of 9 million. Only SD opposed this policy, arguing that money should instead be spent on social welfare and humanitarian aid. SD’s effective leader, Jimmie Åkesson, was able to attract votes from conservative young people in the cities, above and beyond the party’s core of supporters in smaller communities in the north and south who feel marginalized in the postmodern world.

SD’s success could push outgoing Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party further to the right. Exit polls showed that nearly 30 per cent of SD voters supported the Moderates in 2010, something Reinfeldt’s successor will have to take into consideration when deciding whether to continue the policy of refusing to deal with SD. This choice will take place in the context of a parliament in which the Social Democrats and Greens together have only 38 per cent of the seats. To cement the support of the Left party for the coalition, Red-Green will have to adopt policies such as reducing state support for privately owned schools, hospitals and old-age care facilities. This would alienate the small middle-of-the-road parties in the centre-right Alliance, the Liberals and Centre, whose cooperation Social Democratic Leader Stefan Löfven may need. The Alliance threatened to present an alternative joint budget this autumn, which could defeat the government if SD supports it – but this is unlikely since it will include large increases in spending on asylum seekers. Nevertheless, for the first time in 30 years, an elected Swedish government might not survive the full four-year term.

How Swedes elect a government

Sweden has a parliamentary system like Canada, with fixed four-year terms, with the government formed and led by the leader of the largest party in parliament. Because it has a proportional electoral system, these are almost always coalition governments. Each party has a clear program emphasizing specific priorities, some of which are incorporated formally or informally into the joint program of the two potential ruling coalitions.

In Sweden, voters simultaneously select their local, regional and national representatives, from regional-district lists drawn up by each party. In the city of Stockholm, for example, there are six such regional districts electing between 10 and 20 representatives to the local and regional councils and the parliament. If in one of these a party wins, say, 15 per cent of the vote, and 20 seats are to be allocated, the top three names on its list are declared elected. Most of the lists alternate female and male candidates, assuring something close to parity in the composition of the assemblies.


Voters receive list/ballots (see photo) for each level from each of the parties in the mail and at the polling stations – and often from party campaigners outside the polling stations. They place the list/ballot of the chosen party for each of the three levels in the ballot box. They can affect which of their party’s candidates will be elected by placing a mark in the box next to one candidate they wish to move to the top of the list. They can also vote early, anywhere in the country and at consulates and embassies, with the option of changing their minds on election day.

At the national level, a party needs to win 4 per cent of the overall vote to gain entry to the parliament. The left-wing Feminist Initiative, with 3.1 per cent of the vote, was thus excluded. To ensure overall proportionality, a few extra seats are allocated in certain districts to parties whose total of combined seats from the district lists is below what they are entitled to on the basis of the overall total of votes received.

11_Sweden election results

Each of the eight parties represented in the Swedish parliament has its own program, in addition to the agreements that form the basis of the mandate sought by each potential coalition. There was no mistaking the different approaches of the two potential coalitions when it came to tax cuts and privatization. Because party programs are consistent at municipal, district and national levels, choices are clearer and more transparent than in Canada. Most impressive to me was the clear identification of each party with certain concrete issues that give expression to its underlying political views, as articulated in the numerous televised leader debates and in campaign literature. For example, the Christian Democrats, a small party within the Alliance, stressed making it possible for one parent (i.e. the mother) to take the entire 14 months of parental leave rather than, as now, two of the months being available only to the second parent (i.e. the father). This was not retained as part of the Alliance program, since the Liberals – who presented themselves as feminist but, unlike the Feminist Initiative, not socialist – opposed it.


On the other side, the Left party sought to abolish the provision brought in by the Alliance allowing tax deductions for money spent on domestic help, something to which the Social Democrats would not commit themselves, given the popularity of the program.

The ubiquitous posters stress the main themes of party programs, rather than the personalities of party leaders and candidates. Interested citizens can and do drop by the parties’ wooden huts (see photo) in the central square of Stockholm (as in every city and town), where parties distribute literature and their representatives take turns speaking, sometimes debating, from a temporary stage. These “election villages” are reminiscent of a unique Swedish political happening known as Almedalen (see box). On page 86, you will find the results of a recent poll, which dramatically illustrates the relative knowledgability of the Swedish electorate.


How much of this is applicable to Canada? We have already moved toward fixed election dates. On the other hand, our federal system is not compatible with aligning election dates and electoral boundaries at the three levels. Nevertheless, aligning provincial and local elections is certainly a possibility. This, combined with proportional representation, would go a long way toward promoting a more informed and engaged electorate – though I would prefer the German/Scottish version in which the outcome is proportional but there are individual districts as well as regional lists. Canadians have debated these matters before but, as a new and even less electorally engaged generation takes its place, we will surely have to debate them again.


Scotland, September 18

11_figure 1It was not until 5 a.m. that we had sufficient numbers of votes counted to be sure of the outcome. It turned out that the predictions based on the many surveys that had been conducted were accurate. As figure 1 (compiled by Claire Durand) reveals, the two sides came closer as the date of decision came nearer, largely because the Yes, as noted by most observers, ran an especially effective campaign. Nevertheless, the gap between the No (top line) and the Yes (bottom line) levelled off at roughly 10 per cent (In the chart, you can see the three “rogue” polls in early September which panicked the No side). Since no exit polls were conducted, our knowledge of just who voted Yes or No and why is limited. One thing we do know is that the group consistently against independence were Scots aged over 60 – a combination, we can assume, of fear of losing benefits and greater identification with things British. And we know that this is the group that most dependably turns out to vote.

During the last two weeks there were a couple of surveys that showed the Yes within the margin of error, and this got the attention of the media and the authorities in Westminster. The front pages printed a joint statement by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Leader Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, which contained a solemn promise to devolve greater powers to the Scottish Assembly. At the same time, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a proud Scot, emerged as key spokesperson for the No, a far more convincing public speaker than his successor (see photo).

11_Henry_Scotland_8Scotland also drew much international attention. The Canadian media were very much present, as were a fair number of interested Quebec politicians and political activists. One dimension of the comparison with Quebec lies in the content of the campaign. The No played on economic fears, especially loss of the British pound, while the Yes stressed social justice: that the welfare state was safer in an independent Scotland which elected few Conservatives than in a U.K. prone to be ruled by Tories.

The media in Scotland were especially keen to compare and contrast events there with the Quebec referendum of 1995, especially when it looked as if there might be a similar very close outcome. While the publicity surrounding the promise to devolve power and the emergence of Gordon Brown may have had some effect, I suspect that it was marginal and the Yes effectively peaked at 45 per cent. Thus the more apt comparison is 1980, when the newly elected Parti Québécois found itself committed to holding a referendum that it could not win.

11_Henry_Scotland_5When the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, support for the Scottish National Party was around 20 per cent, never having exceeded 30 per cent. The electoral system chosen was based on the German model. Though not quite as proportional, it was believed to be proportional enough to ensure that the SNP could never win a majority and impose a referendum. In 2007, the SNP, having won one seat more than Labour (each at about 32 per cent), formed a minority government. There was no real talk of independence for the next four years. In 2011, for a number of reasons having much less to do with independence than with the unpopularity of policies in Westminster, the SNP won 45 per cent of the vote and, unexpectedly, a bare majority of seats. Despite fewer than one third of Scots favouring independence at the time, the SNP government announced that it planned to hold a referendum as promised. A meeting with the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was planned.

To the surprise of many observers, the meeting produced an agreement to hold a referendum on independence. Given the numbers at the time, Cameron must have felt that he had nothing to fear by recognizing Scottish self-determination in this way. There was no mention of a third option, more devolution without independence, which SNP leader Alex Salmond had apparently anticipated.

Without disparaging Salmond’s competence or the effectiveness of SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon as a public speaker, the movement in Scotland in 2014 cannot be compared to that in Quebec in 1995. By 1995, a clear majority of the boomer generation among francophones favoured Quebec sovereignty, with a large number ready and able to mobilize publicly when the occasion presented itself. Their presence was unmistakable on Quebec’s streets in the weeks before the 1995 referendum.

Admittedly I was in Scotland for only ten days, but I couldn’t see anything comparable. In part this reflects differences in political culture when it comes to electoral campaigns, but there is more to it. Although I was not lacking in contacts on both sides and in the local media, I could find very few public manifestations on either side. Indeed, on the high streets of Edinburgh in mid-September, it was easier to find activities organized by secessionist movements from elsewhere. And the polling places I visited on voting day were rather quiet. By Scottish election standards, a turnout of 86 per cent was indeed high, but nothing like the over 93 per cent turnout in Quebec in 1995.

Will the loss in 2014 be followed, as in Quebec, by another such confrontation 15 years later, when the generation that voted No will have largely been replaced? We cannot rule out the possibility. A great deal will depend on what happens in the interval: whether the promised devolution to the Scottish Parliament in fact takes place. We would do well to remember that if the Meech Lake Accord had been ratified, and if Lucien Bouchard – who almost won the 1995 referendum for the Yes – had stayed in Brian Mulroney’s cabinet as a result, the second Quebec referendum probably would not have taken place.

Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics.
Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013.
205 pages.

Tom Flanagan, Persona Non Grata: The Death of Free Speech in the Internet Age.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 2014.
248 pages.

Michael Ignatieff (PhD history, Harvard), and Tom Flanagan (PhD political science, Duke) are intellectuals who entered the Canadian political arena, paid the price, and lived to tell the tale – in the form of these two books. Writing books is what intellectuals do, and they know what they are getting into, but as evidenced by these books they can be unprepared for what awaits them in – or after leaving – the political arena. As a PhD who also dabbled in (Quebec) politics, these books have a particular resonance for me.

Clearly Flanagan’s and Ignatieff’s experiences are not comparable. Tom Flanagan was apparently quite satisfied with the job he had done when in 2005, after five years, he left the Stephen Harper team, having served as chief of staff among other top positions. (He returned briefly to work in the party’s war room during the 2005–06 campaign.) He explains the prevailing attitude at the time: “When the Liberals seemed to be in power forever, Conservatives concluded that part of their secret of success was ruthlessness … We concluded that we would have to beat them at their own game, and we did. Harper led the way.”

He was nevertheless unprepared, seven years later, for the reactions of his erstwhile colleagues to “the incident” (see box). Back at the University of Calgary, and despite acting at the time as unpaid adviser to Alberta’s Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith, Flanagan the public intellectual complains bitterly that, in effect, he was treated as a politician and not the academic he now was. It is from this standpoint that he uses his own experience to expand on what he sees as a wider phenomenon, one that threatens academic freedom. Much of his discussion of the threat to academic freedom is quite persuasive, though its academic tone makes it less than compelling reading for a wider public.

This cannot be said about Ignatieff’s Fire and Ashes. Its author is a fine writer. Ignatieff too reflects on his experience, but this is not a dispassionate analysis. Rather, it is the expression of the still raw feelings of a modern Icarus who fell abruptly to earth after flying too close to the sun of political power. A public intellectual who had never been a politician, a Canadian who hadn’t lived in his country for 30 years, Ignatieff let himself be convinced that he could be prime minister. He attributes his failure to his being unprepared for the reality of contemporary Canadian politics, in part because it had moved to the right during his absence, but mainly because it had sunk, under Harper, to a level of nasty partisanship that he was unequipped to play.

In aspiring to the Liberal leadership, he took as his model Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the last successful intellectual in Canadian politics, for whom he had volunteered as a student before leaving for Britain and the United States. But one sometimes feels that his model Liberal leader is the flower-power Trudeau of 1968, not the cynical bait-and-switch politician on wage and price controls that Trudeau had become by the mid-1970s – let alone his successor Jean Chrétien.

The book is almost entirely about Ignatieff’s five-year political career: his arrival in 2006 (just as Tom Flanagan was leaving Ottawa), winning nomination and then election as a Toronto-area MP, being chosen party leader in 2008 and, finally, ignominious defeat (third place) in the 2011 election. It reads well: even though some passages are clearly warmed over political speeches, they fit this essentially political book. His final message is to aspiring (Liberal) political activists: his failure doesn’t mean the Conservatives cannot be successfully opposed. It takes someone tougher and, clearly, more experienced than he was. One wonders, if he were to write about Canada again, whether he would entertain the possibility that Tom Mulcair, rather the Justin Trudeau, might be such a person.

Flanagan’s Persona Non Grata begins by describing and analyzing “the incident” in depth from different angles, and then contemplates its wider implications. There is a long and quite academic chapter on the child pornography debate and another, citing Machiavelli and Aristotle, on how academic freedom is essential for postsecondary teaching. Ignatieff, for his part, explicitly draws on the stories of great intellectuals who were failed politicians: Machiavelli, Mill, Tocqueville and Weber.

The crucial aspect that Flanagan gets right concerns how political correctness in the public sphere, on the right as well as on the left, combined with the internet-based 24-hour news cycle threatens public discourse and even academic freedom. His dissection of the absence of genuine discussion about policy on child porn is telling.


When it comes to the underside of politics, for which he was clearly unprepared, Ignatieff is the more compelling. Perhaps he expected that Stephen Harper would treat him as the gentlemanly Robert Stanfield treated Pierre Trudeau. If so, he was seriously misguided. With Harper there was no question of fair play. From the day he arrived, Ignatieff was targeted by the Tories. “Just Visiting” was the label they stuck on him. The effect was, as he put it, that he never gained “standing,” and looking back, he admits that the enterprise was doomed from the outset.

The book describes the sad state of the Liberal Party, still weighed down by the sponsorship scandal, upon his arrival. It takes us from the end of the Martin era through the brief Dion period – with the backroom “men in black” all the while preparing Ignatieff for his role as saviour. There are a few highs among the lows. There is his winning the nomination in his Toronto riding, despite his gaffes due to his not understanding that the very words chosen on seemingly distant matters of foreign policy – his area of expertise – could easily offend a local ethnic group.


There is the short, happy period when he wins the leadership over his old and now former friend Bob Rae. But such interludes are short-lived. Ignatieff recounts his frustrations as Leader of the Opposition facing a Conservative minority determined to use any tactics that would undermine his credibility, and then the disastrous 2011 campaign, in which the Liberals suffered a terrible defeat, losing more than half their seats including his own. He reflects on this disaster with little self-pity, acknowledging that what he ended up doing was preaching to the converted. He mistook the reception from the crowds that turned out to hear him as an indication that his message was being heard. In fact, the people he needed to reach had stopped listening long before.

Ignatieff does a good job of explaining why partisanship is an indispensable element of democratic politics, and why ordinary citizens see it as poisonous. He concludes with a call for civility, complaining that his opponents treated him not as an adversary but as the enemy. While he does describe how partisanship made it necessary to compromise his principles, he ignores the wider question of whether an intellectual is suited for partisan politics in the first place.

Both Ignatieff and Flanagan are public intellectuals. This means, first, that they are trained academics who are willing to address issues of the day beyond the walls of the academy. But as intellectuals they assume a willingness – indeed an insistence – on uncovering and disseminating the truth however unpopular it might be. In other words it means being ready, able and willing to be “politically incorrect.” I am not here criticizing Ignatieff or Flanagan the politician, since politicians – as politicians – are not obliged to risk politically incorrect stands, though I would add that this is what makes intellectuals turned politicians like Ignatieff – or his predecessor Dion – less credible, and less effective, when uttering the required partisan pronouncements.

But Ignatieff is no longer a politician. Like Flanagan, he has returned to being an intellectual, and his book must ultimately be judged on this basis. Both had taken “politically incorrect” stances in their previous writings. In Persona non Grata Flanagan continues to take the critical intellectual route. But not Ignatieff. The problem is not so much his writing as a Liberal. Taking a partisan stand is not in itself incompatible with being an intellectual. It is the blind spot in his mea culpa that reveals him for the (failed) politician that he is.

Ignatieff the intellectual had learned that as a politician he had to censor himself for fear of offending various groups. And he continues to do this in Fire and Ashes when writing about the largest group of all: the Canadian voters, of whom we get a remarkably rosy portrait. Even though they were taken in by the dirty tricks of the Harperites, they are presented as invariably open, fair-minded and caring deeply about political issues. There is no hint of the electorate’s limited political knowledge or interest, and no suggestion that the process of appealing for their support was anything but uplifting.

In reality, intellectuals are uncomfortable with the oversimplification, the banality, of door-to-door campaigning. I can understand Ignatieff wanting to cast his meetings with voters and constituents as an antidote to the poison of parliamentary and party infighting, away from the constant pressure from the media. I can also understand his not wishing to encourage cynicism toward politics among his readers. But it’s hard not to blush at his serial romanticization of an electorate of which only 61 per cent even bothered to turn out to vote.

Flanagan, the political scientist, is clearly writing as an intellectual, having been ostracized, apparently only temporarily, from the public part of the role. In a sense he goes too far in that direction. The book delves deeply, indeed philosophically, into the various arguments surrounding relevant policy issues, especially child pornography, but does not devote sufficient attention to the political game itself. The political class is condemned or, in a few cases, commended for how it treated him during those difficult days. But insufficient time is spent dissecting their actions on the basis of his insider’s political knowledge and experience, beyond his admission in passing that he was himself insensitive to much of this when he was in his political role.

The contrast is stark. If Ignatieff had not really embarked on the transition back from politician to intellectual when writing Fire and Ashes, Flanagan faces the opposite problem in Persona Non Grata. Flanagan starts from the assumption that since he was back as a full-fledged intellectual, everyone else should have treated him as such. He does not ask whether the earlier Flanagan, the political animal, would have done the same if confronted with a similar situation. Since he justifies the tactics of the Harperites as beating the Chrétien Liberals at their own game, one can imagine that he would have condomed such treatment on the basis of political expediency. Though we can sympathize with his bitterness at the way he was treated by the political class, we would be more sympathetic if he had questioned his own role in establishing a climate among the Harper Conservatives in which adversaries are enemies and all is fair.

Like Ignatieff, Flanagan is highly critical of the media. It was in reaction to media reports of his taken-out-of-context statement about child pornography as a matter of taste that his erstwhile political colleagues acted. Faced with the immediacy of the 24-hour news cycle and social networks, which leave little room for fact-checking, they did not treat him as an academic. The issue was respect for academic freedom. But his reaction is also personal: he is especially hurt by his condemnation by Danielle Smith, refusing to accept the political necessity of her disassociating her party from him at that moment.

There is also a personal element in Flanagan’s lumping together a series of quite dissimilar incidents as reflecting the same tendency. While there is a good case for treating academic intellectuals differently from politicians, in his last chapter Flanagan extends his argument to Quebec politicians criticizing two news items. One was a Maclean’s cover story characterizing Quebec as the most corrupt province in Canada. The other was a 2006 Globe and Mail column that hypothesized that the murders of the 14 women at the École Polytechnique and the shootings at Dawson College and Concordia University were expressions of “alienation” from those not in the “pure laine” Quebec culture. I suspect that it is his own distaste for Quebec nationalism that leads Flanagan to undermine his own case by comparing respect for academic freedom with politicians taking issue with media reports. Surely he must have learned during his years as an insider that it is in the nature of politicians to criticize unflattering media portraits of their constituents – however accurate they may be.

Both these books are well worth reading, but both have their strong and weak points. There is still room for a more comprehensive analysis of what happens when intellectuals get involved in politics in Canada. Perhaps Stéphane Dion will one day take up the challenge.