Ever wonder about useless laws. The proposed Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act is a case in point. You can find a media discussion here:
Barbaric Practices Bill:
Clearly, this act is pandering. It is also clearly useless because it does nothing to address whatever problems might actually exist with murder, forced marriage or other forms of gender-based confinement in Canada. It is, for instance, odd that the current government will do nothing about the hundreds if not thousands of missing aboriginal women -- real women who have disappeared -- while it fights paper tigers that do not exist.
That, at least, is one way to look at this proposed bill and I think it is one right way. There is, however, another way that is equally important. It will not change our assessment of the merits of this proposed bill. But, it might help explain it a bit more, where it comes from, and why it is so important to the current government and what it tells is about the state of Canadian conservatism.
Contemporary Canadian conservatism is an odd ideological mishmash. One might or might not like Grant's _Lament for a Nation_ but at the least it made an effort to sketch out an ideologically coherent way of looking at the world and to specify the public policies that followed from that worldview. I find contemporary conservatism difficult to grapple with precisely because it is such a mixed boat. At times, it is promotes neo-liberal economic policies; at other times, it looks to the state to intensely regulate society. At times it tows a law and order line (building prison), at other times it ignores the very law enforcement agencies in whose name it supports (say, with regard to gun control). At times it argues for religious tolerance ... at others it seems (at least according to commentary on the current law) to recycle the worst types of religiously-oriented stereotypes.
All ideologies carry with them some problems, at least as far as I can tell. But, the odd mishmash of Canadian conservatism suggests that something else is going on here than the standard type of brokerage politics that pervades Canadian public life. Indeed, the conservatives seem, at times, oddly unconcerned with broadening their political base. I might also say that assessing a conservative world view is difficult for me because I'm not a conservative. Things that I find odd are things that seem odd to a person from outside that particular perspective. I have little doubt that from within conservatism, some of the things that current government is doing make a great deal of sense and appear consistent and cohesive. This is, however, precisely the importance of ideological analysis. It can show us how people who hold different perspective think, what they view as important, threatening, energizing, traditional, etc.
We also want to avoid what historians' call "presentism," as much as we can if we want our analysis to be something other than parti pris commentary. Our goal should be to try to understand what motivates conservatives -- what motives them, how they think about the world -- more than showing that we think their perspectives are illogical. This is, of course, not easy to do because we are looking at a present-day ideological perspective. By adopting the approach of historians, however, we might be able to cast this new bill (and, other like it) as primary documents that we could interrogate in the way we might, say, the letters of John A. Macdonald or a bill before Parliament in 1870. If we did that, what would this new proposed law show us?
Let me quote Walkom's commentary (cited above) because it is a good place to begin: