Author outlines the Tory attack on facts

Posted on November 9, 2013 in Governance Debates – components – Chris Turner’s book deserves attention
November 09, 2013.   Catherine Ford For The Calgary Herald

Most Calgarians will recognize Chris Turner’s name as the Green party candidate in last year’s Calgary Centre federal byelection. In that election, he and the Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke, almost achieved the impossible – sending someone other than a Conservative to Ottawa. Sadly, as all of us who live in the riding know, Turner and Locke split the non-Conservative vote. Had it been amalgamated, Calgary would not now be the Conservative monolith. Because of Turner’s political leanings, many of his fellow citizens will dismiss him and his new book. This would be a mistake. This is not the all-too-familiar screeching from the tree huggers and apocalyptic climate-change Cassandras. This is a detailed, factbased account of how Stephen Harper and his ruling Conservative government have set out – with presumed malice aforethought – to eradicate, as far as possible, scientific facts the federal government doesn’t want and the pesky scientists who uncover such truths.

As Turner writes: “This is a government that does not simply ignore the best evidence but attempts to destroy the source of it, a government that does not merely disregard the advice of experts but prohibits them from speaking about their work in public.” (Even the New York Times published an editorial questioning such actions.) Turner quotes University of Alberta ecologist David Schindler as saying “these people don’t know enough about science to know the value of what they are cutting.” This is the reason for reading Turner’s book – so at least we taxpayers will know what we are jeopardizing.

Turner isn’t asking fellow Canadians to buy into his political ideology, but he is setting out facts that are all too clear to anyone paying attention: “The Harper agenda’s impact on the basic operations of Canadian government should not be underestimated. It goes far beyond overzealous message discipline. It has created a government that will not listen to inconvenient facts or insubordinate experts on matters of vital policy. It has hobbled the ability of some entire departments to fulfil their mandate and do their jobs. It has blinded Canadians to who we are, where we live, what our government is doing, and why it matters.” Canadians can choose not to believe Turner, but it takes a particular kind

of wilful ignorance not to believe one’s own eyes. A case in point is the longform census, abolished by the federal government in 2010. Ostensibly the reason was some Canadians were “forced” under threat of criminal punishment to answer such embarrassing questions as how many bathrooms were in their house. “It was,” writes Turner, “arbitrary and illogical, a deliberate choice to limit the amount of data the government keeps at hand to fulfil its most basic duties and employs daily to make its most fundamental decisions.”

Being able to count the citizenry, calculate the wealth or poverty of a particular region, who’s employed and in what industries, and the median age of the population affects every service any government, from municipal to provincial to federal, delivers to the people who pay taxes. It might not seem like much, but this seemingly simple act will result in skewed data, with statistics always having to carry an asterisk. As the years go on, such data will begin to vary far from the truth.

What has replaced the mandatory long-form census, which cost little more than the price of printing it out, and distributing it to all Canadian households, is something called the National Household Survey. Not quite the same thing. The costs of this survey are far greater. The objection to the NHS, as Turner puts it, are “subject to potentially higher non-response error than those derived from the 2006 census long form.”

Count our house among the non-respondents. I refused to take the survey when a pleasant woman came to our door and I told her why. It is irrelevant, in that it is voluntary.

That Chris Turner is angry is obvious. He is right about Canada becoming a “narrow, mean place,” a country “where policy determines the facts and evidence is shaped to fit political goals.”

That should make every Canadian angry.

Catherine Ford is a retired Herald columnist

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