Hot! Tim Hudak’s Troubled Geometry

FFF-general [list serve] – Facts from the Fringe: 226
Sept. 13, 2011.     Jim Stanford
The   Ontario   election is in full swing, and the Conservative party’s campaign is guided by a platform booklet called the “changebook.”  It’s an audacious manifesto for significant change in the policy and the philosophy of government in the province, mapping out a long agenda of measures to cut taxes, balance the budget, privatize government assets and agencies, get tough on criminals, change labour laws and arbitration systems to reduce wage increases, end government support for business investments, and many others.  The changebook has drawn criticism from commentators on all points of the political spectrum, most pointedly for its implausible claims to cut taxes, balance the budget faster, yet still increase spending for health and other “priority” services – all funded from very small cuts to non-priority services.
While I disagree with its overall political thrust, of course, when I read the changebook my attention was diverted in a slightly different direction.  I am a self-confessed numbers nerd.  I am never happier than when ensconced in front of a big computer spreadsheet, crunching the numbers, generating correlations, punching out tables and graphs.  And as I examined the numerous charts and graphs that illustrate Mr. Hudak’s platform, niggling concerns began to gnaw away in the statistically-inclined regions of my brain.  The lines were too smooth.  The contrasts too dramatic.  The proportions too extreme.
I got out a ruler to actually measure the bars and circles in the various graphs.  I double-checked the data and the cited sources.  I examined the proportions illustrated in the graphs, comparing them to the numbers contained in the changebook’s text.
There are 13 statistical graphs contained in the changebook.
In fact, not one of the 13 graphs is completely labelled and sourced, consistently scaled, and accurately graphed.  This consistent failure to accurately and completely present the empirical data cannot be ascribed to sloppiness or typographical errors.  The statistical graphs in the changebook have been presented in ways that are clearly unacceptable in normal academic or professional practice.  They consistently mislead the reader about the relative proportions of the variables being discussed.  The changebook’s graphs reflect a consistent willingness to bend the statistical truth, and a disrespect for normal standards of honesty and transparency in written work.  From a group that aims to govern the province, this pattern is deeply concerning.
My complete dissection of the 13 graphs might not be the most thrilling reading (unless, like me, you are a true numbers nerd).  But it casts major questions on the numerical credibility of the Tory platform.   Here’s the link to the full study, called “Graphs for Dummies,” released Tuesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Ontario office:
< http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/graphs-dummies >.

3 Comments

  1. I am inclined to agree with Mr. Stanford’s assessment of the Conservative Party’s platform. Political rhetoric is always a high priority among candidates at election time. The general public would benefit more from a historical reminder of the conservative party’s welfare policies.
    The Mulroney government (in the 80’s) paved the way for cuts in child benefits, income tax, family allowance, unemployment insurance benefits, social assistance, and transfers to the provinces. All these have managed to increase the financial burden on the most vulnerable of our society – the poor. The affect of these have been devastating emotionally, socially, and psychologically for many. It is here where I part ways with Stanford’s column.
    It is obvious that capitalist economic theory is alive and well in Canada. Government is more focused on balanced budgets and less on our social safety net. However, we will be unable to address any social problem if we reduce humanity to the level of purely statistical representation – regardless of whether the numbers add up, graphs are proportional, or the presentation academically acceptable. By their very nature, these can do little to restore individual or collective social conscience. In the upcoming election, we must remind ourselves that our decisions have social implications for those less fortunate than ourselves. We need to choose our government carefully.

  2. It is platforms and ideas like the conservative party’s “change book” that have brought us to, and keep us in the current state we are in today. Tax cuts, privatization, and cracking down on criminals are all short term solutions, if even that.
    One point that stands out to me in the article, is the plan of changing arbitration and labour laws to reduce wage increase . This type of change would not be in favour of the worker- who it truly affects. Putting the responsibility to change laws and policies such as this in the hands of a select few is usually beneficial only to those few. These laws should be greatly determined by the workers who must live under the ruling of labour laws, not the one receiving the pay cheque for the cut on their income increases. These types of dealings only reinforce the ideology of meritocracy, and takes away merit of the opinions of the workers, and how laws will affect them.
    It is ideas in the platform such as this that make it clear that it would not be effective. Of course it is nearly impossible to cut taxes, balance the budget, and still somehow manage to increase spending to “priority services” – especially while they are all funded from very small cuts to non-priority services. Any logically thinking human being could of course realize that these types of political promises cannot be kept.

    More disturbing than the flimsy platform and ideologies within it, is the research and statistical data that stands behind it. While 13 statistical graphs backing the change book seems quite impressive on the surface, it means little if none of the numbers add up. The fact that this economic plan is based only on unstable, unaccredited work is a major disservice to Canadians everywhere. People have the right to know the truth behind political party’s platforms and regimes. Instead they are given data and research that work in the favour of the government, not the people, and many lack the knowledge or initiative to question it besides.

    Canadians need to take the time to keep themselves informed of movements such as the change book, and let go of the type of ideologies and short term solutions that the conservative government presents to us all. Thinking critically about these types of platforms that claim to be the solution for economic hardship would benefit the country greatly as a whole, and if nothing else guarantee that every citizen who does decide to vote is completely informed.

  3. Christine Woodhouse

    Upon reviewing Hudak’s Changebook, it appears that the graphs and charts were compiled on the basis of numbers that were simply made up. It also appears that the graphs and charts were drafted by an amateur, rather than plotted quantitatively. I could not agree more with this writer’s concerns around the visual presentation of the changebook.
    On the otherhand, I think about the voters who are not as educated as some, especially around statistical data analysis, and may not be able to comprehend graphs and charts that are compiled “correctly”. In this case, to be effective, materials need to be formatted differently and to be written more simply. I question whether this was Hudak’s intention, or is the information presented in the changebook simply a matter of sloppiness.
    With this being said, contrasting graphs should have been provided – Hudak’s “eye-catching” illustrations versus a more truthful version.

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