Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Policy By Stealth

A month ago, Allan Gregg spoke at the opening of Carleton University's new Public Affairs Building. He writes in today's Toronto Star:

I never expected these remarks would “go viral.” Like most public speakers, I held out nothing more than the modest hope they would reach beyond those in attendance, that they would have some impact on the broader conversation.

The most obvious reason for the reaction my speech received is that there are a lot more people than I realized who harbour some of the same concerns I expressed — namely, that governments are ceasing to use evidence, facts and science as the basis to guide policy and instead, are retreating to dogma, fear and partisan advantage to steer the ship of state.

If anyone doubts Gregg's central thesis, I urge them to review last week's presidential debate. Mitt Romney delivered a superb public performance. But, as all kinds of fact checkers have noted, many of his statements were patently false -- starting with that $716 billion "cut" to medicare.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives, inspired by Romney's party, have taken dead aim at the people who provide the facts.Gregg writes:

Even a cursory examination of the most recent federal budget reveals that the 19,000 job cuts announced therein were not to be achieved across-the-board or through attrition, but were targeted very precisely at researchers, statisticians, scientists and other organizations who might use data to contradict a government which believed that evidence and rational compromise are not the tools of enlightened public policy, but barriers to the pursuit of an agenda based on ideology over reason. 

For the truth is that, for the Harper government, reason is the enemy. Like Cotton Mather, Stephen Harper believes that Canadians are Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God. He intends to put the nation on the path of righteousness. However, righteousness is the real enemy. There is a history which supports reason as the root of good government:

More than anything else, societal progress has been advanced by enlightened public policy that marshals our collective resources toward a larger public good. Over time, we discovered that effective solutions can only be generated when they correspond to an accurate understanding of the problems they are designed to solve. Evidence, facts and reason form the sine qua non of not only good policy, but good government.

Gregg then goes on to analyze the "newspeak" behind the titles of government legislation:

What’s disconcerting about all of this is not just the substance of these bills, but why a government would want to disguise that substance. Maybe dismantling the Wheat Board or sending more potheads to jail is a good thing. But before we make those decisions, let’s look at all the facts; have a full and rational debate; and make a reasoned decision on what is best for all the parties involved. For voters to determine whether they support these measures requires that they know what is at stake and what the government is actually doing.

Moreover, for the rule of law to work, the public must have respect for the law. By obfuscating the true purpose of laws under the gobbledygook of double speak, governments are admitting their intentions probably lack both support and respect. This too explains this government’s obsession with secrecy, message control and misdirection.

And that is Gregg's point. The Harperites are painfully aware that they have the support of only 39% of Canadians. They have always lacked a mandate -- so they can only implement their policies by stealth.


the salamander said...

A timely reminder re 'disguise of substance', 'reason is the enemy' etc .. Gregg's essay was refreshingly blunt and accurate. I read the Star article this morning as well as the 'comments' .. Thank you for the link.

We ended up with Stephen Harper here in Canada. We also have ended up with the dull, brutish, dogma & ideology he and his followers find necessary to appear intelligent, reasonable, honest.. or competent. Harper uses constant obstruction, secrecy, legal disregard, legal loopholes, and majority power of legislation to fend off reason, truth or accountability. In essence, he now is saying he is not only above the law.. he is the law.

To the south we see Romney attempting to win an election and accompanying 'power' with the same negative attributes, strategies, including vote suppression and pathological deceit and lying.

I'm not really sure who I fear more... a single man such as Stephen Harper or Mitt Romney .. or the ignorant political animals, hacks and partisan horde and government lawyers & partisan bureaucrats that put the muscle and meanness and malignancy to work.

I think about similar shallow but smart, ethically bankrupt people like Jason Kenney or Peter Mackay.. or a Newt Gingrich in the USA getting into power as PM or President.. what a frightening and dangerous nightmare.

Owen Gray said...

It's a nightmarish scenario, salamander.

Obama is no knight in shining armor.But at least he puts his faith in reason.

The problem is that the people who are presently in charge believe that faith trumps reason.

thwap said...

Funny how Gregg once worked to elect an airhead like Kim Campbell.

But harper doesn't want to know the facts about his own policies. He doesn't want anyone else to know what his policies even are.

Owen Gray said...

When the guy who once was Kim Campbell's pollster comes out swinging against Harper thwap, you know that -- as far as Gregg is concerned -- Harper is really off the wall.