Tory leader Andrew Scheer promises more autonomy for Quebec on immigration, Coyne comments

As Coyne notes (Andrew Coyne: Shameless bidding war for Quebec votes is only going to get worse), the bidding war begins:

Quebec will be given more autonomy over immigration if the federal Conservatives win October’s election, party leader Andrew Scheer promised Monday. But he wouldn’t say whether he agrees that Quebec alone should determine how many immigrants it receives.

Premier Francois Legault campaigned on a promise to temporarily reduce annual immigration to Quebec, beginning this year. But almost one month into the new year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — an advocate of increased immigration to Canada — hasn’t said whether his Liberal government will help Quebec reach its goal.

Trudeau has said he is willing to continue discussions with Legault over his immigration demands, but he stresses his priority is to ensure Quebec has enough workers to fill widespread labour shortages across the province.

Speaking in Montreal at the end of a months-long consultation aimed at courting Quebec voters, Scheer promised “to ensure that Quebec has more autonomy” over immigration.

“Trudeau has had months to do something about (immigration), and what I’m saying is that come October, when I sit down with Mr. Legault, we will actually have actions and not just words, and not just meetings for the sake of meetings,” Scheer told reporters.

Legault says he’s concerned too many immigrants fail to learn French or leave the province soon after arriving. The premier, elected Oct. 1, wants to reduce immigration to address those issues.

Immigration has become a particularly sensitive topic in Quebec since 2017, when an influx of asylum seekers entering the province illegally from the United States began. Last year alone, 18,518 out of 19,419 — or 95 per cent — of RCMP interceptions of migrants crossing between official ports of entry occurred in Quebec.

Scheer said Canadians’ concerns over immigration “stem from the fact this government has completely lost control of the immigration file. We see a situation in Quebec where over 30,000 people have entered Canada illegally and the government — Justin Trudeau — has literally done nothing to stop that.”

Quebec controls roughly 70 per cent of immigrants who settle in the province every year, all in the economic migrant category. The remaining 30 per cent arrive through the family re-unification system or as refugees, two categories controlled by the federal government. Legault has stated he wants to reduce by 20 per cent the number of immigrants in all three categories.

Scheer on Monday declined to say whether he thinks Quebec should control all three categories of immigrants to the province. “I think if you have the right approach … you don’t need to have one party and one level dictating to the other. You work together in collaboration, understanding that Quebec has specific challenges, specific needs.”

Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said last week he and other federal ministers will soon be meeting with their Quebec counterparts to discuss Legault’s plan to reduce immigration. But LeBlanc said that discussion will have to be “in the context of a broader discussion around labour shortages and … around asylum seekers and the appropriate compensation that the government of Quebec requires.”

The Conservatives sense an opening in the province due to turmoil inside the Bloc Quebecois. The sovereigntist party that once dominated federal politics in the province has been reduced to 10 MPs and last week elected a new leader, Yves-Francois Blanchet, by acclamation.

Last March, Scheer wrote an open letter to Quebecers in La Presse inviting people upset with the “incompetence” of Trudeau and tired of the “existential crises” of the Bloc to come over to his party. An aide said Monday Scheer is taking French lessons, and the Tory leader’s increased ease with the language was noticeable at the news conference.

Aside from promising more autonomy over immigration, Scheer said a Tory government would agree to Legault’s demand that Quebecers file a single tax return to be overseen by the Quebec government.

The Tory leader also promised to “offer incentives” to retirees who want to re-enter the work force, in order to help alleviate labour shortages. And he said a Conservative government would invest in infrastructure to prevent wastewater discharges into the St. Lawrence River and appoint a federal minister from Quebec to oversee economic development in the province.

Later on Monday Scheer was scheduled to attend an event at the campaign office for his candidate, Jasmine Louras, who is vying to replace former NDP leader Tom Mulcair in a Feb. 25 byelection in the Montreal riding of Outremont.

Doug Saunders: The politics of border-crossing bogeymen are unwise – and dangerous

Valid points:

There’s a trick, long known to certain politicians, to get an electoral boost when you’re down in the polls: You declare that dangerous people are about to come across the border, and you latch onto a conspiracy theory claiming that the other political party, or some dark forces associated with them, are responsible.

It can be an effective tactic. Immigration is often a popular election issue, especially when it’s mixed with atavistic fears of mysterious predators entering your territory. It is also a profoundly dangerous tactic.

On Wednesday night, we heard the U.S. President attempt this trick, for the umpteenth time. Americans, Donald Trump declared in an address, are being “raped, murdered and beaten to death with a hammer” by nefarious figures streaming across the southern border, and “thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now” to build his wall.

Never mind that the threat is an utter fiction – illegal border crossings from Mexico to the United States are at their lowest rate in almost half a century, and those who make the crossings are measurably less murder-prone than Americans.

It’s also based on a wild conspiracy theory. Mr. Trump has repeatedly told voters that migrants approaching the U.S. border include “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,” as well as terrorists, even though his own immigration officials deny this. He’s said that their march on the border is being funded by mysterious Democratic-linked forces; in October, he publicly endorsed an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory blaming Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros for the “caravan.”

But Canadians can’t watch this with any sense of superiority. For the first time in decades, this tactic has crept into mainstream Canadian politics.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer shocked many members of his own party last month by taking up a cause that had emerged from the fringes, denouncing a United Nations document known as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

That document, if you bother to read it, is an anodyne, purely symbolic statement of principles intended to reduce overall immigration numbers, and especially to discourage irregular – that is, illegal – immigration. Like other such UN compacts, its main purpose is to provide principled-sounding statements for preambles of other documents.

Instead, Mr. Scheer claimed that the Compact “gives influence over Canada’s immigration system to foreign entities.” He then denounced the “crisis at our borders” and “chaos at our borders” caused by “illegal border crossers” – suggesting that cross-border chaos, danger and criminality would be products of this document.

Where did this weird theory come from? As Laurens Cerulus and Eline Schaart found out in an investigation this week for Politico, it was the product of a calculated social-media campaign by “a coalition of anti-Islam, far-right and neo-Nazi sympathizers” based in Europe. It was taken up in September by far-right parties in Europe, and by figures in Mr. Trump’s circle.

Mr. Scheer’s decision to join Mr. Trump in picking up this ugly thread might have seemed like an expedient way to turn immigration fears into anti-Liberal sentiment. Yet, the larger danger of such conspiracy theories is not just that they are absurdly false – but that some people really believe them.

In October, 11 people were shot to death in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a man shouting anti-Semitic slogans. To judge by his social-media posts and statements, the alleged shooter, Robert Bowers, had come to believe that criminal migrants headed to the Mexico-U.S. border were being funded and supported by Mr. Soros and other Jewish figures and organizations – the same conspiracy theory Mr. Trump endorsed. A few days earlier, a Trump supporter in Florida had sent pipe bombs to Mr. Soros and other Democratic-linked figures in apparent support of this theory.

These incidents, and others like them, followed a 2011 massacre in Norway orchestrated by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people – many of them children – because he had come to believe a theory, promoted by European right-wing politicians, that “globalists” and “cultural Marxists” (including his victims) were conspiring to bring in threatening Muslim immigrants.

That conspiracy theory has now reached Canada. In January, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette walked into a Quebec City mosque and shot 19 people, killing six. In his police interview, he said he had been spurred to action after watching reports about Mr. Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, and after hearing conspiracy theories about Canada’s Syrian refugees. “I saw that and I like lost my mind,” he said. “I don’t want them to kill my parents, my family.”

Nobody but these killers themselves are responsible for their actions. But they all had been led to believe fictions about border-crossing bogeymen and the figures who supposedly back them. Given the dangerous implications of such inventions, to amplify them in the name of momentary political gain wouldn’t just be profoundly unwise. It would be absolutely reckless.

Source: The politics of border-crossing bogeymen are unwise – and dangerous

Andrew Coyne: Andrew Scheer steers hard to right on UN migrants pact

Some good contrasting articles from Andrew Coyne and John Ivison on the Conservative opposition to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, with Andrew Coyne’s, in my view, being the stronger.

Campbell Clark also, correctly I think, how the Conservatives are playing this as a wedge issue, similar to M-103 on Islamophobia, and possibly to counter Bernier, who will be attending a rally organized by the far right on Saturday on Parliament Hill:

Starting with Coyne:

Since he became Conservative leader, it has been a matter of speculation: how far would Andrew Scheer go to pander to the populist-nationalist right, specifically on the matter of immigration?

His predecessor had pulled in both directions at once, one minister building bridges to immigrant communities even as another was blowing them up. But candidates who had courted the pop-nats during the leadership race had not attracted many votes. Perhaps their moment had passed.

But then came the influx of asylum seekers crossing our border. After that came Maxime Bernier’s dramatic departure to found his own party, the one-time libertarian wonk rebranded as an immigration skeptic. And the question returned: how far would Scheer go to keep  from being outflanked on the issue?

Well now we have our answer: as far as it takes. Exploiting Liberal discomfort over the border-crossing issue was one thing. But with the Conservative leader’s embrace of far-right fear-mongering over an anodyne UN agreement on immigration, we are deep into the fever swamp. It is disturbing and frankly embarrassing to see.

The document in question is the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Negotiated and drafted over a year and half, the text was agreed to in July by all but one of the UN’s 193 countries, the lone hold-out being the United States. It’s to be formally adopted later this month.

That so many countries saw the necessity for such an agreement is in recognition of the international dimensions of the issue, especially as migration has expanded in recent years. With so many people on the move — some 258 million now live outside their country of birth — there is a pressing need for states to work together. If countries attempt to deal with the pressures of immigration by dumping migrants on each other’s doorsteps, no one’s interests will be served.

Accordingly, the compact sets out a few basic principles to guide states’ actions, with the aim not just of facilitating “safe, orderly and regular migration,” but “reducing the incidence and negative impact of irregular migration.” That’s right: the agreement is as much about reducing immigration as it is facilitating it, specifically by addressing the “structural factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin.”

Among the 23 “objectives” are such not-terribly-shocking ideas as that states should “collect and utilize accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies,” that they should “ensure that all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation,” “facilitate mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competences,” and so on.

Some are admittedly a little more contentious. Maybe not everyone believes states should “provide access to basic services for migrants,” or “establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements.” But here’s the thing. Suppose Canada, or any country, does not live up to these or any other of the agreement’s objectives. What happens then? Answer: nothing. The agreement is entirely and explicitly non-binding, non-enforceable, and non-justiciable.

This point is made at several points in the document. “The Global Compact is a non-legally binding cooperative framework,” it says, whose “authority rests on its consensual nature.” How does it affect national sovereignty? Not at all: “The Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction in conformity with international law.” It could not be any clearer.

And yet in the months since it was agreed upon, the compact has become one of those bizarre objects of fascination among the conspiracy-minded, in which it has been elevated into a fiendish plot to dictate immigration policies to national governments, if not to eliminate them altogether. As in previous such episodes, what begins on the outer fringes of debate migrates inward: from racist websites to the right-wing press to opportunistic political leaders.

Toronto Sun columnist Candice Malcolm [MALCOLM: The UN Migration Compact – the details are truly worrisome] handily sums up the theory in one breathless sentence: “This dystopian UN plan seeks to erase borders, destroy the concept of citizenship, undermine the rule of law and circumvent state sovereignty.”

It seeks, she claims, “to make immigration a universal human right,” while blurring “the distinction between refugees and migrants.” After all, doesn’t it say right there in the preamble: “Refugees and migrants are entitled to the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms”?

Yes it does. And in the next sentence says: “However, migrants and refugees are distinct groups governed by separate legal frameworks. Only refugees are entitled to the specific international protection as defined by international refugee law.” The compact is a statement of broad principles, not a body of law.

And yet there was Scheer on Tuesday, claiming the agreement could “open the door to foreign bureaucrats telling Canada how to manage our borders.” The Conservatives, he said “strongly oppose Canada signing” the compact and would “withdraw” Canada from it if elected. To which I suppose the best answer was supplied by Louise Arbour, UN envoy for international migration and former Supreme Court of Canada judge: “There’s nothing to sign. It’s not a treaty.”

Still, Scheer would put us in select company in rejecting the compact: not only Donald Trump, but the right-wing nationalist parties in Europe, such as now govern Hungary, Austria and Poland. I had not thought I would ever see the Conservative Party of Canada among their number, but you learn something new every day.

A final note: on one of the agreement’s objectives, that urging states to “(stop) allocation of public funding or material support to media outlets that systematically promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination towards migrants,” the critics have a point. The threat to press freedom is obvious.

But the answer to this concern is not to give public funding to media outlets — on any side — not to pander to hysterical fears about open borders and shadowy world governments.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Andrew Scheer steers hard to right on UN migrants pact

Ivison urging caution:

The late Christopher Hitchens called conspiracy theories the “exhaust fumes of democracy” — the unavoidable result of large amounts of information circulating among a large number of people.

The latest conjectural haze drifting in from the fringes of the political spectrum is that the United Nations’ agreement on migration, which Canada is set to sign in Morocco next week, will see this country lose control of its borders.

The Rebel’s Ezra Levant called the UN’s global compact on migration “dangerous” — “a done deal cooked up by unelected bureaucrats with no regard for national sovereignty.”

Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, said his party strongly opposes Justin Trudeau’s plan to sign Canada onto the compact, saying it will open the doors to foreign bureaucrats to direct immigration policy. He was specifically concerned about an objective in the compact that deals with how media report on migration issues. The section calls for an effort to eliminate “all forms of discrimination” in public discourse about migration issues — which, if enforceable, would be an existential threat to The Rebel.

After question period on Wednesday, Scheer asked for unanimous consent for a statement that urged the government not to sign the compact and which blamed the UN for the torrent of refugees that has crossed into Canada from the U.S. Not surprisingly, he did not get it.

For now at least, Scheer’s fears are overdone. The potential limitations on media reporting, for example, are not enforceable. Chris Alexander, a former Conservative immigration minister, pointed out that the compact is a political declaration, not a legally binding treaty. “It has no impact on our sovereignty,” he wrote on Twitter.

Trudeau made the same point on Wednesday, as he boasted about Canada’s “global leadership” and its adoption of “open policy.”

It’s hard to find anything particularly offensive in the compact — it says refugees and migrants are entitled to universal human rights; that countries should improve co-operation on international migration to save lives and keep migrants out of harm’s way. It is explicit that it is not legally binding and the sovereign rights of states to determine their own migration policy is re-affirmed.

Still, I remain unconvinced that Canada should sign on. The compact also says that states should “determine their legislative and policy measures for the implementation of the global compact.” The very act of signing creates an expectation that the signatories will take action. It’s not nothing.

We have heard in the past about UN declarations being merely “aspirational.” As it turned out, they have become much more than that.

Take the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was also sold as a non-binding, aspirational document.

When it was introduced in 2006, the Harper government opposed the declaration’s 46 articles, on the practical grounds that previous court decisions had referenced the work of UN bodies and used them to interpret the laws of Canada. One article in the draft version could have been interpreted to mean military activities could not take place on land that had traditionally been Aboriginal.

The late Jim Prentice, who was then Indian Affairs minister, said the declaration was inconsistent with Canadian law and refused to sign. The declaration only received the Canadian government’s unqualified support in 2016 under the Trudeau government. The new prime minister had already agreed to “fully adopt and implement” the UN declaration, even though his justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, called it “unworkable” and a “political distraction.”

Whatever your views on the declaration, it is beyond dispute that it is not merely an “aspirational document.”

In fact, it is now the law, after NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s private members’ bill was passed by the House of Commons last May. The bill required that Canada’s laws be consistent with the declaration.

In the coming months and years, legislation and judicial interpretation will determine whether Canada’s existing jurisprudence on the duty to consult is sufficient to meet the UN declaration’s requirement on the need to secure “free, prior and informed consent” in any given area of policy. Critics argue that the passage into law of the declaration gives Indigenous Canadians rights not enjoyed by other Canadians.

What was presented as a nice thing to do to be onside with a global consensus has now evolved into a situation that could yet result in legislative gridlock, if the declaration’s provisions on the “rights of self-determination” are taken at face value.

The global compact’s intentions may be pure, but there will be consequences to its adoption that could over time impact Canada’s ability to set its own course on migration.

It won’t erase the border but it could erode sovereignty on immigration. You don’t have to inhale the exhaust fumes of the online conspiracy theories to believe that signing the UN global compact on migration is not a great idea.

Source: John Ivison: The UN’s global pact on migration sounds nice — but don’t sign it

Lastly, Campbell Clark on the politics and similarity with M-103 tactics:

The Global Compact for Migration is the new motion M-103, held up by anti-immigration right-wingers as a scary monster that is going to radically change Canada even though it won’t do much of anything at all.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stepped out on Tuesday to warn, wrongly, that the Global Compact, a document negotiated by many countries under UN auspices, would force Canada to cede its sovereignty and cede influence to shadowy “foreign entities.”

In fact, the Global Compact – which aims to promote international co-operation on migration flows – is a vague, non-binding document full of long-winded, gobbledygook claptrap that includes a few worthy principles and a couple of dumb ideas. But it won’t force anyone to do anything.

So if Mr. Scheer had opposed the signing of Global Compact on the grounds that Canada shouldn’t put its name to long tracts of big words that don’t have any clear meaning just to make people feel good, he would have deserved a nod of respect.

But the warning the Global Compact will put Canada’s sovereignty in imminent danger is fantasy.

This is the kind of fabricated freak-out we saw in 2017 with M-103, a Liberal MP’s motion asking the Commons to condemn Islamophobia. The motion sparked conspiracy theories – fuelled by the online site the Rebel – that it would restrict free speech, provide “special privileges” to Muslims or somehow lead to sharia law.

It was bunk, because such parliamentary motions don’t lead to anything other than a study. The motion passed, a parliamentary committee issued a bland report last February – and sharia law was not imposed.

Now, the same angst machine is working on the Global Compact for Migration. The Rebel argues it is dangerous, Maxime Bernier, Leader of fledgling right-wing People’s Party, complained about it on Tuesday morning. Then Mr. Scheer followed.

The thing is, the Global Compact is a mess of muddle verbiage, but it is not going to cede immigration policy to the UN or anyone else.

“There is no duty on Canada to implement, enact or enforce anything,” said James Hathaway, a Canadian who is director of the University of Michigan’s program in refugee and asylum law. The compact not only explicitly says it is non-binding, it is also not a treaty, Prof. Hathaway noted. It signs up countries for a discussion process. “No government has to do anything here other than show up for meetings.”

Of course, it’s reasonable to ask whether there’s much real point to the 16,600 words of bureaucratic blah-blah. It is supposed to encourage things such as sharing data on migration. The signatories say they hope to “minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin” – you know, like poverty – but there are no firm commitments.

Some of the criticisms seem to be based on a misreading of the document itself. The Rebel’s Ezra Levant decided that approving references to “regular migration” meant that the compact aims to make mass migration normal and permanent. But regular migration refers to orderly flows of migrants through official border crossings and legal methods – as opposed to irregular migrants. Mr. Bernier echoed Mr. Levant’s words.

One commentator argued that the compact muddies the divide between refugees and migrants, but as Prof. Hathaway noted, it explicitly separates the two. Another commentator alleged it establishes new human rights for migrants, but it doesn’t.

There are flaws: circuitous language and dumb stuff. There’s a section on “promoting independent, objective, and quality reporting” on migration, including cutting off public funds to media outlets that “promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination towards migrants.” Canada certainly shouldn’t want state re-education of the media to be an accepted notion in such documents.

It is worth asking whether this loose collection of words is worthwhile.

Chris Alexander, the former Conservative immigration minister, who tweeted that Mr. Scheer’s warnings were factually incorrect, also opined that there is nothing wrong in setting out some principles for dealing with migration. Prof. Hathaway said there were some ideas in it that made it “a little bit better than nothing.”

Mr. Scheer has every right to think it’s worse – full of misguided notions. But no, next week’s signing won’t give the UN control over Canada’s borders.

Source:     To right-wingers,the Global Compact for Migration motion is a sign the sky is falling again Campbell Clark December 5, 2018     

Andrew Coyne: Conservative war on media fizzles in Canada, but war on truth remains

Another good column by Coyne:

So is the war on the media off? Late last week, the national press were ablaze with stories about how the Conservatives were planning to target the media in the coming federal election.

“The Conservative party appears to be gearing up for a fight with news outlets as part of its 2019 electoral strategy,” reported the Toronto Star.

“The Conservatives are making it clear,” the Globe and Mail reported the same day, “that taking on the media is now a key part of their political message.”

The evidence for this grand strategy is a little thin. MP Pierre Poilievre called a Bloomberg reporter a Liberal. A Conservative senator accused Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells of being a “liberal.” Andrew Scheer gave a speech complaining “the media” were taking the Liberal side in the carbon tax fight and promised, in an open letter in the Toronto Sun, to stand up to “this government, the media and the privileged elite.”

Still, with what’s been happening lately south of the border, the president calling the media the “enemy of the people” and whatnot, nerves in our business are understandably a little jangly. Were there parallels here? Had the war already begun?

And then, just as suddenly, the whole thing appeared to have been called off. Monday, Scheer’s director of media relations, Jacqui Delaney, a brash populist last seen bragging of her taste for the media “jugular,” left after just five weeks on the job. The next day, Scheer himself was mildly avowing his belief that it was the media’s role in a democracy to “hold politicians of all parties to account” and to “hold us responsible for what we say.”

What’s going on? Scheer’s apparent backtrack may be evidence of a rethink at Conservative HQ, or simply a pause to regroup, a tactical retreat in the face of the previous week’s blowback.

Or there may never have been such a strategy. All parties like to “play the ref” sometimes, hoping to influence the press to call a few their way as proof of their fairness. Conservatives, in particular, have never been averse to complaining about media bias.

Nor is the complaint entirely unfounded: while most reporters are professionals who try to be fair, stories tend to be framed through a crisis-and-response lens that, while more a narrative bias than a partisan one, nevertheless is broadly favourable to parties of the left.

At any rate, let us hope that is all this amounts to. If indeed there are Conservatives who think aping Donald Trump’s approach is a winner, they should think again. They risk doing grave harm not only to public discourse but their own cause.

I don’t mean there aren’t upsides to picking a fight with the media. It’s especially fun if the media take the bait, as arguably I’m doing here. Who could resist being called a “threat to democracy” by a bunch of self-appointed Solons never elected to anything? What gladder sight could there be to a critic than the media rising as one to declaim on their own specialness? What firmer proof of media bias, than the media denying it?

But Canada is not the United States, and Scheer is not Trump. The Harper Tories made some yards with this approach, but eventually the voters they needed to reach, the ones just outside their base, tired of the act. The image Scheer is attempting to project is of that Nice Young Man Who Isn’t At All Like Harper. A darkly paranoid campaign focused on the party’s supposed media enemies would scarcely help in that regard.

Neither does Canada appear to offer rich soil for the kind of nihilistic, post-truth tribalism that has taken root in the United States. It exists here, of course. But a new survey by the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill and the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy finds large majorities of Canadians — upwards of 85 per cent — still profess trust in the country’s major media outlets. Moreover, divided as they are on partisan and ideological lines, they appear to believe in broadly the same set of facts about the issues.

That’s good news. But it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. We haven’t been scarred by the same traumas the States have that have given rise to such distrust of elites there, but we are exposed to some of the same forces, notably the rise of social media, breaking down our ability to reason collectively.

The issue isn’t whether people trust the press these days, but whether they trust anyone. Healthy skepticism about this or that story or source is too often curdling into a blind rejection of knowledge itself, and of those whose business it is to know stuff: experts, or as they are now dismissed, “elites.” What do economists know about free trade? What do climate scientists know about climate? After all, I read something on the internet …

This is the bitter fruit of today’s class politics, where class is defined, not by income, but by education and culture. There’s fault on both sides of this divide, but the Conservatives’ indulgence of populist egghead-bashing is especially dangerous. It puts the whole institutional apparatus through which knowledge is collected, tested and disseminated — what journalist Jonathan Rauch has called “the constitution of knowledge” — in play: mere experts, to be dismissed not in spite of their expertise but because of it.

When Scheer sneers, for example, that on carbon pricing the Liberals have not only the media on their side, but “the academics and think-tanks” — when he takes a broad consensus of experts as suggestive, not of the weight of the evidence and analysis, but of a near universal partisan bias among the educated classes — he veers close to conspiracy theory.

Expert consensus need not be taken as proof that a position is right, but it should never be offered as proof that it is wrong. That way lies madness.

Andrew Coyne: It’s that time again, when Conservatives say anything to woo Quebecers

Typical acerbic Coyne commentary on CPC flirting with the Quebec nationalist vote:

Certain things recur eternally, in time with the rhythm of the seasons. Flowers bloom in spring. The swallows return to Capistrano. And the federal Conservatives prostitute themselves for the Quebec-nationalist vote.

Well, that’s a bit strong. Prostitutes, after all, expect to be paid. Whereas the Conservatives’ periodic efforts to sell themselves, their principles and their country to people with a proven lack of interest in all three are as notable for their unremunerativeness as they are for their self-abasement.

The Conservatives have been trying this same act now for several decades, most notably — and destructively, to both country and party — under Brian Mulroney, but in their different ways under Robert Stanfield (“deux nations”), Joe Clark (“community of communities”) and even Stephen Harper (“the Québécois nation” resolution).

Occasionally, they manage to attract some attention in the province that has remained largely indifferent to them since 1891. If they are particularly extravagant in their offerings, as under Mulroney, they may even win their votes — but only for as long as it takes to sink in that there is no support in the rest of Canada for what they are proposing, and no possibility of their being implemented.

At which point the whole exercise sinks in a heap of dashed expectations and accusations of bad faith, leaving the country divided and the Tories in ashes. Until, inevitably, some genius gets it into his head to launch the whole routine again.

As, indeed, some genius now has. There were early warning signs during the leadership campaign, with Andrew Scheer’s efforts to prostrate himself before the dairy lobby on the issue of supply management — a policy that is not explicitly about Quebec nationalism, but which only exists because it has been incorporated into the “Quebec consensus,” and is as such, like others of its kind, untouchable.

There were further hints in Scheer’s expressions of interest, as leader, in the Couillard government’s ruinous plan to leap again into the constitutional bog, this time with a set of demands that include entrenching “the Quebec nation” — not the Québécois, as in the Harper resolution, but the province entier, as national proto-state.

But it wasn’t until last weekend’s gathering of the party in Saint-Hyacinthe that we began to see just how far the Scheer Conservatives are prepared to go down this road. We now learn that among the proposals Scheer is considering including in the platform for 2019 is a federal retreat from responsibility for culture and immigration in Quebec, in favour of the provincial government: a longstanding nationalist demand, and another brick in the wall dividing Quebec from the rest of Canada.

As in a growing list of other fields, MPs from Quebec would be setting rules for the rest of Canada that did not apply to themselves, legislating for other provinces in areas over which Quebec reserved all power to itself. To now we’ve been able to paper over the inequities this implies: the levies Quebec MPs voted to impose on other Canadians under the Canada Pension Plan were until lately the same as those imposed under the Quebec Pension Plan. (They are now slightly lower.) But the principles of federalism can only be stretched so far. At some point they’re bound to break.

And there was this gem. In the name of preserving its autonomy, Quebec has long been the only province to force its long-suffering citizens to file their taxes twice: once to Ottawa and a second, entirely separate return to the province, with a separate set of deductions and credits. The Tories now propose to end this silliness — not, as you might expect, by the province agreeing to use the federal tax base in return for the feds collecting its taxes for it, as in the rest of Canada, but by the province collecting both sets of taxes, then remitting the federal portion to Ottawa.

Wonderful: henceforth, the federal government would be dependent on the grace and favour of the government of Quebec for a fifth of its income — even as the government of Quebec depends on federal transfers for about a fifth of its income. (Would it just subtract its share? Or would the two governments send each other cheques?)

And should there arise some dispute between them? That’s a nice little revenue source you have there. Pity if anything should happen to it.

There’s no actual need for any of this, you understand. There never is. The reason Quebec has its own pension plan is not because Quebecers age at different speeds, but because the government of Quebec fancied the cash — and because the Pearson government, with the Quiet Revolution then at its peak, was too unnerved to say no.

So it is with immigration and culture. Believe it or not, the federal government employs many francophone Quebecers. To the extent Quebec has special needs in these areas, they are quite capable of understanding and addressing them. Meanwhile, the province continues to enjoy the greatest degree of latitude in a country whose provinces generally have more powers than many sovereign states.

But then, the interest of Quebec’s political class in protecting the province’s jurisdictional turf seems to ebb and flow. At times, they are only too happy to have the feds intervene — for example, when it comes to covering the costs of the current influx of asylum seekers. Or, in perhaps the most brazen recent example of have-it-both-ways federalism, in the Coalition Avenir Québec’s suggestion that, should it form a government, it would exclude immigrants who did not pass its “values” test — but stick Ottawa with the job of kicking them out of the country.

I get why provincial politicians behave this way. I have no idea why their federal cousins are so eager to enable them. Or rather no, I know exactly why. Certain things recur eternally, after all.

Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer: Science and religion can – and should – co-exist: Peter McKnight

The most balanced commentary I have seen on the GG controversy by McKnight, a former Templeton-Cambridge fellow in science and religion at the University of Cambridge:

My horoscope warned me that I’m likely to offend everyone today, so here goes: Governor-General Julie Payette is wrong. And so are her critics.

In a speech attacking anti-scientific sentiments in society, Ms. Payette riffed on astrology and climate change skeptics and, in the interest of complete self-immolation, tackled religious belief by saying: “We are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

As many critics have charged, Ms. Payette’s language was impolitic to say the least. Her incredulous “oh my goodness” suggests she’s shocked – shocked, I tell you – that anyone might think God had something to do with life. But I’ll leave it to others to discuss the proper decorum for a governor-general.

I’d rather discuss science and religion. And on the former subject, I’m not even sure of what science Ms. Payette was referring to. That “random process” business sounds like evolution by natural selection, which, as any biologist can tell you, is as well confirmed as any scientific theory.

Or perhaps she was referencing the origin of life, which is the province of abiogenesis, not natural selection. And as any biologist can also tell you, abiogenesis is not nearly a settled matter.

But here’s the rub: As scientists work on abiogenesis or any other scientific theory, they won’t appeal to divine intervention – because they can’t. Science, as the study of the natural world, permits consideration only of natural causes – causes involving matter, energy and their interaction. Scientists must therefore resist any appeal to supernatural causes, be they God, karma or voodoo.

This approach, known as methodological naturalism, has proven tremendously successful, allowing us to predict and control much of the natural world. But it doesn’t mean that supernatural causes don’t exist; it only means that science must, by its own choosing, remain silent about the supernatural.

And indeed, many scientists who are faithful to the methodological naturalist approach are also faithful to God, because they recognize that the supernatural lies beyond science, that when science tries to squeeze God out of the equation, it is overstepping its bounds. This, it seems, is Ms. Payette’s faux pas: She may know a lot about science, but she evidently doesn’t know where science ends.

That’s only half the story. Ms. Payette’s critics make the same mistake, from the other side. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, for example, spoke of “faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion” and opined that “respect for diversity includes respect for the diversity of religious beliefs.”

Now where to begin with that? How about here: Mr. Scheer is effectively equating respect for people with respect for opinions. That’s more than a little ironic coming from a conservative: Remember when the left was rightly ridiculed for promoting exactly this sentiment – “viewpoint discrimination” – which means we must accept all opinions as equal?

But more to the point, if religion is going to use its theories to explain the natural world – to overstep its bounds and compete with science on its own turf – then it ought to be criticized, for criticism is essential to science. Unfortunately, though, if the United States is any example, the prohibition on viewpoint discrimination has taken hold. So we see “religious freedom” laws that demand equal time for evolution and creationism in science classes. After all, these are two opinions about the nature of life, and all opinions are equal, right?

Religious freedom laws are, of course, disastrous for science. But the attempt to compete with science on its own turf, the failure to recognize where religion ends, is also detrimental to religion: It presents an impoverished view of God, one where the divine becomes part of nature rather than something transcendent, something beyond the natural world. And worse, it draws religion away from the big questions that lie beyond science, the moral and metaphysical questions that have preoccupied the religious for millennia.

Rather than engaging in turf wars, as Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer seem destined to do, perhaps we should consider how science and religion can co-exist and, indeed, complement each other. Science, after all, teaches us about the nature of life, about what we are and how we came to be, while religion teaches us about the nature of living, about who we are and how we ought to behave. And we need both. In their rightful places.

via Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer: Science and religion can – and should – co-exist – The Globe and Mail