(Replacing the Senate with a House of Identities: A response from the bleachers) Howard and Robert Chodos respond.

Author:Chodos, Howard

John Richards' criticisms of our constitutional proposal seem to be of two orders. On the one hand he argues that a new House of Identities would not do enough to alter the prevailing patterns of Canadian politics (typified by the dominance of Quebec's interests at the federal level as a result of Quebecois bloc voting), while on the other he says that we misread the underlying "true" nature of politics and therefore propose to change too much. While one could wonder about the internal coherence of a position that tries to hold on to these two critical stances simultaneously, we would rather reply briefly to each of them separately, starting with the second.

We are, in principle, suspicious of any absolutist definition of what politics "must" be, as in Richards' assertion that politics "is" a process of interest-group brokerage. No explanation based on interest-group politics alone--as opposed to questions of identity, recognition and symbolism--can adequately account for the outcome of Canada's attempts at constitutional reform between 1987 and 1992 (Meech Lake and Charlottetown), or indeed for the growth and persistence of the Quebec sovereignty movement. A survey Richards cites elsewhere in this issue notes that identifying as a Quebecer rather than a Canadian was one of the leading variables explaining the probability of a YES vote in the 1995 sovereignty referendum. Other surveys over the years have come to similar conclusions. In other words, identity questions not only are important in themselves but also have significant political ramifications. Our proposal is an attempt to accommodate these questions within the political process.

In any case, the proposal is quite compatible with the pursuit of interest-group politics. All we are suggesting is political institutionalization of a new kind of constituency through the House of Identities. We retain the party system, which is central to the brokering of interests through the political process. Nor do we suggest that identity groups will be any more homogeneous than traditional geographical constituencies. The fact of...

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