The toll we pay for a bunker mentality

Posted on September 21, 2015 in Governance Debates – Globe Debate
Sep. 21, 2015.   Lawrence Martin

If you say too much you are dangerous. If you know too much you are a threat. It’s a mindset that some governments have had and that some, distressingly, still have.

I was reading an article on former tennis star John McEnroe in this newspaper the other day whereupon, from the realm of “You cannot be serious!,” appeared a shining example.

In the election campaign, the Conservatives have barred their candidates in a great many ridings from participating in all-candidates debates. That’s right. The candidates are censored by the leadership from taking part in the most basic, the most elementary of democratic functions. The Conservatives dispute that this is going on but evidence contradicts their half denials.

You might think Tory candidates with even a pinch of pride would refuse to put up with this. You’d think they’d tell the leadership that this isn’t the Canada they grew up in, that this isn’t Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Instead they kowtow.

Another report jumped out of the maze the other day, one which also focused on information suppression by our government. It’s a report in Maclean’s by Anne Kingston called “Vanishing Canada: Why we’re all losers in Ottawa’s war on data.”

It examines the impact of the killing of the long form census, how hundreds of small towns like Melville, Sask., have been turned into statistical dead zones and ghost towns. They are no longer factored into employment numbers, poverty rates, divorce rates.

But the report is about more than that. It tells of the degradation of knowledge across the board in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa and the threat it poses to a functioning democracy. It’s about how studies on air pollution and toxic chemicals containing unwelcome news have vanished. It tells of how credible information about our history is being supplanted by mythologizing historical narratives. It’s about how our data collection system with its emphasis on voluntary surveys is now skewered so that there is less evidence – how convenient is this for the party in power – of a poverty problem in this country. It reminds us that we’ll never find out if there was really a politically-driven crackdown on charities opposed to government policy. Why? Because the Canada Revenue Agency ordered employees to destroy all text-message records.

It’s no secret the Harper government, like the Republican right in the United States, has an anti-intellectual lean. By the party’s base, the erudite are looked upon as elitists. In Harper circles, empirical data isn’t wanted because it can readily contradict ideology, an example being sophisticated studies on crime. They negate the wisdom of Tory policies, driven by gut instinct, that favour increased levels of incarceration.

The remedy is to stop that kind of expertise from getting out, to stop the population from becoming more enlightened. The less people know, the less they challenge. It helps explain why in the Harper years, the public service, the giant bureaucracy in Ottawa, has been all but silenced.

With the transformation to the digital world it is easy for a government, any government, to reconstruct realities, to reinvent the historical record. The integrity of the Access to Information system becomes more and more important. But ours is becoming more and more ineffective. So many roadblocks have been put in place, says Michel Drapeau, one of the leading experts on our system, that “Access to information is on a slow descent into irrelevance.”

In a globalized knowledge economy, the bunker mentality needs be avoided. But phrases like the closing of the Canadian mind are gaining currency. Ten years of a government catering to a right-wing base has had a cumulative impact. Not a closing, but a narrowing.

The Conservatives have taken a lot of heat over information suppression. But it has had little effect. There are few signs of change. Their attitude is stay the course. If you say too much you are dangerous, if you know too much you are a threat.

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One Response to “The toll we pay for a bunker mentality”

  1. This article strikes me as a piece of anti-conservative propaganda; however there does seem to be some troubling points worth discussion. The most troubling point, especially with an election just around the corner, is the barring of conservative candidates from taking part in all-candidate debates. To me this seems to be quite possibly the most undemocratic and unproductive campaign technique I’ve ever heard of. By only taking part in debates in which the other major political parties are not present, the conservative candidates can ensure that their views and policy are not challenged or questioned. This is an intrinsic part of the democratic process! It is simple to say the policy your party is implementing is good or just if there is nobody questioning the content of it. Of course, however, it removes the chance of social media picking up a video of a conservative party member losing a debate and having it go viral.


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