Writing to your MP in Support of a Bill in the House of Commons

In POLI 1100, we have been discussing the concept and structure of legislatures. Near the end of Chapter 8 we looked at the path a bill has to traverse in Parliament before it becomes law (see Figure 8.2 of the Dyck textbook, p. 235). We viewed a video clip of MP Ruby Dhalla introducing a bill to amend the residency provisions of the OAS act. (If you don’t know what OAS stands for, watch the short video.)

We have learned in the past couple of weeks that most of the contact that you, as a Canadian citizen, have with the government is via the political executive, whether at the provincial or federal level. Apart from voting for your MP (MLA), there is very little contact between you and the legislative branch of our government. This week’s blog assignment can help change that. As I’ve noted on Blackboard, for this week’s blog assignment you can choose to write on anything to do with “legislatures”. You may, however, choose to write a letter to your MP (or any MP) in support (or opposition to) any bill that is currently in middle of the legislative process in Parliament. Here are the steps:

1. Go to http://www.parl.gc.ca (and select your language of choice):

2. Click on “Bills before Parliament” on the left (see the screenshot below). (“Projets de loi a l’etude au Parliament”, en francais)

3. On the next page, you will see, amongst other things, a list of the “All Bills for the Current Session (41st Parliament, 1st Session). The Bills can be sorted by number (as seen below), or by “Latest Activity Date”.

4. Find a Bill that interests you, and write a letter to the MP who is sponsoring the bill. Here’s an example of a letter I wrote below:

Mr. Jean Rousseau, M.P. House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Cher Monsieur Rousseau:

I am writing to you in support of Bill C-312, The Democratic Representation Act, which is currently at the Second Reading state of the legislative process in the House of Commons. As I understand it, the bill is meant to assuage the concerns of the Quebecois regarding the province of Quebec’s decreasing population, as a share of Canadian population as a whole. Bill C-312, should it be adopted into law, would maintain proportional representation of Quebec’s delegation in the House of Commons at 2006 levels, regardless of the relative proportion of Quebec’s population in the future.

While some might see this as anti-democratic in that this law would mandate a divergence from the idea that every citizen’s vote should be counted equally, I believe that the the violation of this core principle is justified in this case. (Indeed, in many areas of politics and public policy, debates centre around clashes of competing (and contradictory), fundamentally legitimate–morally and politically–principles.) In this case, the competing principle is the protection of a strong Quebec, and Quebecois society, which I believe is of inestimable value to Canadian society as a whole.

In the view of this Canadian citizen, who since immigrating to this wonderful country as an infant, has lived in the western province of British Columbia (when not living outside the country), Canada’s French heritage is an indispensable part of our country’s unique heritage and is part of the basis for the creation of what is today (though we know it hasn’t always been) a tolerant multicultural society, which is the envy of many around the world.

Sincerely,
Josip (Joseph) Dasovic
Dept of History, Latin, and Political Science
Langara College
Vancouver, BC

Do you agree with my position? Should we violate the principle of “one-person, one-vote” in the way intended by Bill C-312?

 
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Does Political Ideology Change as we Age?

It has long been accepted conventional wisdom that as we age we become more conservative in our political views. Remember the quote that has been (allegedly) wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill:

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

But as with many things, conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to be very wise. According to recent research, individuals do not become more conservative as they age. In fact, just the opposite may be true. From an article on the Discovery magazine website, we learn:

Ongoing research, however, fails to back up the stereotype [about age and conservatism]. While there is some evidence that today’s seniors may be more conservative than today’s youth, that’s not because older folks are more conservative than they use to be. Instead, our modern elders likely came of age at a time when the political situation favored more conservative views.

In fact, studies show that people may actually get more liberal over time when it comes to certain kinds of beliefs. That suggests that we are not pre-determined to get stodgy, set in our ways or otherwise more inflexible in our retirement years. [emphasis added]

The studies do reference data collected in the United States, but there’s no reason to think that the same phenomenon wouldn’t apply in other advanced capitalist democracies.

How do your political beliefs compare to those of your parents? What was the political climate like at the time your parents were becoming politically aware? In which country (if it wasn’t Canada) did your parents come of political age?

Are your Political Attitudes and Ideologies Biologically Determined?

Next week (January 31) in POLI 1100, we’ll be discussing political attitudes and political ideologies. The conclusion of Chapter 5 in Dyck summarizes political ideologies nicely:

Conflicting ideologies offer us a means of understanding our society, situating ourselves in the political world, and participating in actions intended to advance our interests and those of our communities.

What is the source of any individual’s political ideological leanings? A common answer is that we are politically socialized into our ideologies. Agents of political socialization such as families, churches, educational institutions, and the media play prominent roles in the process of an individual’s ideological development. But what if we were biologically pre-disposed to our ideological views. Is there a chance that some of us are more conservative, and others more liberal, from birth, and the role that agents of political socialization is negligible? According to recent research, the answer to that question may be ‘yes’. How much of the developmental process of political ideology is nature and how much is nurture?

As much as we stake our identity on such core beliefs, it’s unlikely we emerged from the womb as little liberals or libertarians. This raises a fundamental question: At what point in our development did such predispositions begin to form, to coalesce and to harden? What is it about our biology and/or psychology that propels us toward a liberal or conservative mindset?

The question has long intrigued social psychologists such as John Jost of New York University. In a 2003 meta-analysis of 50 years of research, he summarizes the overwhelming evidence that political ideologies, “like virtually all other belief systems, are adopted in part because they satisfy various psychological needs.” Jost quickly adds that this “is not to say they are unprincipled, unwarranted, or unresponsive to reason or evidence” — only that the underlying motivation to believe in them emerges from somewhere other than the rational, conscious mind.

According to Jost, political ideologies derive from our effort to “satisfy…psychological needs.” What, though, gives rise to these psychological needs? It could very well be our biology/physiology:

Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln showed people a series of photos — some endearing, some disgusting — and then measured their physiological and cognitive reactions. Conservatives, in keeping with past literature, reacted more strongly to the negative images, and liberals strongly to the positive ones…

…“I figured because conservatives reacted more strongly to negative things, they’d be more likely to avoid them,” said Mike Dodd, an assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author. “That ended up not being the case. They ended up locking onto them quicker and taking more time on them, which makes sense from a policy perspective. Oftentimes they end up confronting things that they think of as threats.” [emphasis added]

Are these findings consistent with your personal experience? Are they plausible explanations for the political ideological leanings of your friends and family?

Do you even know your political ideology? Here’s a relatively painless online test you can take that summarizes political ideologies in a two-dimensional (left-right; authoritarian-libertarian) scale.

My Tribe is my Pain

Here is a very interesting and personal account of a Ugandan’s views about identity–tribal, ethnic, national. I encourage you to read it, but here are some snippets:

If you live in Uganda you must come across these sentiments. My last name begins with Kag-Kagumire. My blog is not under that name for many reasons but this is one of them. When I say my last name to people sometimes they will say: Kaguta, so you’re from the west, Museveni’s relative etc. Even if it’s a slight joke it evokes a feeling that I can’t describe. To associate me with someone that is increasingly becoming negative makes me mad and in my tribe most times it’s okay to be mad and show it. I take time to explain to friends, sometimes gently other times with some emotion that I am from Bushenyi and I have never been to Rwakitura and that my father doesn’t own a single head of cattle. I am a private person but for the sake of clarity I am forced to talk about all these things and now i am writing about them.

Here’s another piece that implies the shifting nature of identities:

But this kind of view is not limited to the ‘uneducated’ Ugandans. A friend once told me that his Ugandan female friend hates ‘westerners’ so much that at her work place when job applications are brought in, she sorts out the west first.  This personal level of disdain for a group of people  is unfathomable. Others point out how rich you’re and how many opportunities you get. Many times I tell the people about my life which is not the most difficult one but is not any better than that of an educated person from the east, north or central.

Ethnic (cultural) diversity and public spending

We talked a little bit in class today about the link between ethnic (cultural) diversity and public spending. The empirical record seems to find that the more ethnic diversity in a polity, the less public spending–health, education, etc.–there is. A recent article in the American Political Science Review (Habyarimana et al. 2007) addresses the theoretical mechanisms that may underlie this empirical association:

A large and growing literature links high levels of ethnic diversity to low levels of public goods provision. Yet although the empirical connection between ethnic heterogeneity and the underprovision of public goods is widely accepted, there is little consensus on the specific mechanisms through which this relationship operates. We identify three families of mechanisms that link diversity to public goods provision—what we term “preferences,” “technology,” and “strategy selection” mechanisms—and run a series of experimental games that permit us to compare the explanatory power of distinct mechanisms within each of these three families. Results from games conducted with a random sample of 300 subjects from a slum neighborhood of Kampala, Uganda, suggest that successful public goods provision in homogenous ethnic communities can be attributed to a strategy selection mechanism: in similar settings, co-ethnics play cooperative equilibria, whereas non-co-ethnics do not. In addition, we find evidence for a technology mechanism: co-ethnics are more closely linked on social networks and thus plausibly better able to support cooperation through the threat of social sanction. We find no evidence for prominent preference mechanisms that emphasize the commonality of tastes within ethnic groups or a greater degree of altruism toward co-ethnics, and only weak evidence for technology mechanisms that focus on the impact of shared ethnicity on the productivity of teams. (my emphasis)

Thus, what the experimenters found was that (at least in their experiment) co-ethnics were more likely to co-operate in a strategic setting than non-co-ethnics. An additional important factor is the ability of the threat of social sanction to be stronger within a homogenous social group, presumably due to more closely linked social networks. (“I’ll tell your mother on you!” as a threat has more of a potential enforcement effect if you think the person making the threat may actually know your mother. And the likelihood of that person knowing your mother increases, other things being equal, if s/he shares the same ethnicity as your mother.

Gender and violence during and after India/Pakistan Partition 1947

In a recent post, I made reference to a fascinating and very informative BBC documentary that deals with the final days of British rule on the Indian subcontinent and the eventual partition of that territory in 1947 into a Muslim-dominated Pakistan (east and west) and a Hindu-dominated India.  In part four of the documentary an elderly Sikh gentleman from the Punjab region tells the harrowing tale of how his female relatives were the victims of brutal violence. Many scholars have argued that the ethnicization of the violence that accompanied the Partition obscure the fact that women bore the brunt of the violence.  In a recent paper, Richard Lee writes about the gendered nature of the violence:

Women were arguably the worst victims of the Partition of India in 1947 and endured displacement, violence, abduction, prostitution, mutilation, and rape. However, on reading histories of the division of India, one finds that the life-stories of women are often elided, and that there is an unwillingness to address the atrocities of 1947. This reticence results partly from the desires of the Indian and Pakistani governments to portray the events as freak occurrences with no place in their modern nations. Literature can play an important role in interrupting state-managed histories, and ‘The Rebirth of Inherited Memories’ focuses upon the manner in which Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What the Body Remembers (2001) unsettles official versions of Partition. It examines how the novel acts as a counterpoint to ‘national’ accounts of 1947 through its depiction of the gendered nature of much of the violence, and it explores Baldwin’s representation of the elusive concept of ‘body memory’. The possibility of remembrances being passed on physically, or born within people, has found support in the eschatologies of Eastern religions, in Western psychological theories, and in recent scientific investigations into the ‘mind-body’ problem. The transmission of ‘body memories’ between generations serves to disrupt accounts that downplay the brutalities at the splitting of India. This paper draws upon a chapter of my doctoral thesis that investigates issues of memory and the enduring influence of Partition in South Asia.

Kurdish Nationalism

What are the prospects for an independent Kurdish state to form out of the wreckage of Iraq? How likely is it that Kurds who live in 5 separate states will set aside their differences long enough to coalesce around the common goal of creating a state for the Kurdish people? As we now know, the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the establishment by Great Britain, France, and the United States of the “no-fly zones” in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. (Interestingly, the no-fly zones were established by these three states for putatively humanitarian purposes and had not received official sanction by the United Nations Security Council. For more, click here.)

Following the war-induced collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq have enjoyed de facto independence in northern Iraq, with a temporary “capital” at Irbil (though the Kurds wish to reclaim the city of Kirkuk, located in the middle of an oil-rich region, as the capital of any independent state in northern Iraq). In IS 309, we read Michael Ignatieff’s chapter on Kurdistan, from his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging, which provides a snap-shot of the situation of the Iraqi Kurds some two years following the establishment of the no-fly zones. Ignatieff addresses the potential for greater autonomy of the Iraqi Kurdish region from the Iraqi state/regime of Hussein and finds skepticism on the part of most Kurds. Fast-forward almost twenty years (has it been that long!!) and we find the situation on the ground has changed substantially. The difficulties, though, seem to remain and the prospects for Kurdish independence are no less clear today than they were some twenty years ago, particularly given the Turkish state’s response to Kurdish separatist sentiment on the territory of eastern Turkey. Here are a couple of interesting short documentaries on the current state of the Kurdish independence movement in Iraq and Turkey.

Here’s a video on the Kurdish situation in Turkey.