Fear and loathing keeps voters tossing and turning

TheStar.com – News/Canada
Published On Thu Sep 30 2010.   By James Travers, National Affairs Columnist, OTTAWAIt’s a wonder Canadians can sleep at night. When Russian bombers aren’t probing the Arctic perimeter, Tamil terrorists are supposedly storming western shores and statisticians are peeking into our private lives.

Mercifully, this federal government stands on guard for thee. It’s mustering our white hats to see off those tricky Reds, locking up suspicious interlopers and stopping census police from kicking down honest folks’ doors.

Stuff this stirring belongs in the movies. Scrambling F-18s against Kremlin museum-pieces races the patriotic pulse. Barring the door to migrants reassures the rest of us immigrants who got here first. Protecting little people from Big Government is, well, just the right libertarian thing to do.

Similarities with Hollywood don’t end there. Along with gripping drama, shrewd politics, requires the willing suspension of disbelief.

Only an audience contentedly frozen in the Cold War could still fret that the Russians are coming. Tamils put themselves more at risk than us by crossing the Pacific in a rusting hulk. Canadian jails — the ones Conservatives plan to overflow with hardened litterers, crazed dope smokers and Stockwell Day’s masterminds of unreported crime — have yet to incarcerate their first long-form census scofflaw.

Banging the drum so loudly about so little is a sure sign other mischief is afoot. That contrived bit of Ruskie theatre was really about positioning the Prime Minister as Canada’s fearless protector of Arctic interests and justifying spending a breathtaking $16 billion on stealth fighters. Getting tough with Tamils is part of the trend shifting immigration from a social and economic dilemma into a law-and-order peril. Blowing smoke about jailing citizens for census disobedience is cover for the determined Conservative effort to control information.

Of the three, the last isn’t just the most currently controversial. It also has profound implications beyond the Prime Minister’s plan to ignore the will of Parliament expressed in Wednesday night’s vote to save a viable census.

Destroying a public asset is political vandalism. But it’s even more destructive to pit belief against science in charting the nation’s course.

Pollsters find that Canadians, particularly the highly educated, increasingly grasp that dynamic and spot its danger. But many still miss that gutting the census is not a singular act.

Largely lost in the shouting is that Conservatives are strangling the public’s right to know. Harper and friends are muting or distorting internal critics as they did the former chief statistician over the census. They are suppressing contrarian evidence as they did with the RCMP long-gun report. They’re flouting Access to Information laws, slashing federal research while jacking advertising to record levels and moving polling out of public reach in their war room.

It’s refreshing and commendable that this ruling party, unlike Liberal predecessors, is climbing off our backs to pay its political expenses. But it’s tiring and ominous that Conservatives are systematically limiting the capacity of Canadians to understand the what and why of government decisions.

Voters and taxpayers are vulnerable in an information vacuum. They have little empirical protection from the spin that away from here is known as lies. We the people have no consistent means of separating fact from fiction, reason from ideology or imminent dangers from imagined threats.

Sometimes those problems self-correct. The military smirked at the Russian hysterics, time is easing Tamil fears and census rhetoric now rings foolish even to some Conservatives.

But knowledge is power and a country denied the information it needs faces sleepless nights tossing and turning in the dark.

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