No 733 Posted by fw, May 01, 2013
“Alas… it seems as though our government’s use of evidence and facts as the basis of policy is declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency are on the rise…. Even more troubling, especially from the perspective of a public opinion researcher, is that Canadians seem to be, if not buying it, certainly accepting it.” —Allan Gregg
In a 39-minute speech at the annual convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour on April 27, 2013, “Long-time Tory pollster and strategist Allan Gregg ripped into the Harper Government … for what he termed its ‘systematic attack on evidence-based research.’” Below is journalist David Climenhaga’s selected highlights of the speech. Click on the linked title to read David’s original account. Or read the following reprint with added subheadings. In addition, there are SEE ALSO links to an embedded video of the complete speech at the end of this post along with a link to a transcript of a 2012 version of Gregg’s speech.
Gregg’s “eye-popping” attack on Harper ignored by Alberta’s mainstream media
Long-time Tory pollster and strategist Allan Gregg ripped into the Harper Government on Saturday for what he termed its “systematic attack on evidence-based research.”
But since Mr. Gregg was speaking to the annual convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour, his startling comments went completely unremarked by Alberta’s mainstream media – notwithstanding the readily available “local angle” of an Edmonton native who did well in the big cities down east returning to his old stomping ground for a few hours.
Back in the day, Mr. Gregg was an influential pollster for the then-still-Progressive Conservatives under prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, and a proponent of negative political advertising. He is credited with having devised the cruel images of Liberal Jean Chretien that went so badly awry for the Conservatives in the 1993 federal election. Perhaps that is why by 2001 Mr. Gregg had undergone a much-publicized change of heart on that topic.
Nevertheless, Mr. Gregg’s harsh view of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, given his history of service to Canada’s Conservatives, was eye-popping – although it is perhaps less so when one considers the fellow has made his money for decades toiling in the field of public opinion research, which inevitably encourages a certain respect for measurable facts.
Harper replaces evidence and reason with “dogma, whim and political expediency”
Indeed, that background no doubt informed his view that “effective solutions can only be generated when they correspond with accurate understanding of the problems they are designed to solve. Evidence, facts and reason, therefore, form the sine qua non not just of good public policy, but of good value.”
Alas, as Mr. Gregg told the 500 or so trade unionists at the AFL conference, “it seems as though our government’s use of evidence and facts as the basis of policy is declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency are on the rise.”
It’s even more troubling that accepting Canadians are allowing Harper to get away with it
He added: “Even more troubling, especially from the perspective of a public opinion researcher, is that Canadians seem to be, if not buying it, certainly accepting it.”
Harper’s track record in gutting evidence-based government
Mr. Gregg cited a long list of evidence-based government activities that have been gutted by the Harper Government – often saving only insignificant amounts of money – since 2010.
It was pretty quickly clear to Mr. Gregg – as it was to many of the rest of us – that there was indeed something larger going on.
Harper offers no evidentiary basis for multi-billion-dollar spending boondoggles
At the same time, the government proposed multi-billion-dollar spending where the evidence didn’t support it – as in its penitentiary-building spree. “This flew directly in the face of a mountain of evidence that suggested that crime, far from being on the rise, was on the decline,” noted Mr. Gregg. “This struck me as costly, unnecessary. But knowing the government’s intention to define itself as tough on crime before all else, once can see, at least ideologically, why they did it.”
Harper deliberately attempting to obliterate legitimate government programs and eliminate opposing voices
However, he said, “when the specific cuts started to roll out, it became clear that something else was starting to take shape” – something that went beyond mere ideology.
“This was no random act of downsizing, but a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision making,” Mr. Gregg stated. “Namely, using research, science and evidence as the basis to make public policy decisions.
“It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who would use science, facts and evidence to challenge government policies,” he added.
Harper’s Orwellian use of misleading titles for legislation and dissemination of misleading information
Mr. Gregg also assailed the Harper Government’s use of intentionally misleading titles for legislation – which often do the opposite of what their names declare, as in the case of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which will result in more pot smokers being thrown behind bars.
“In George Orwell’s 1984, the abandonment of reason is twinned not simply with unthinking orthodoxy, but also by the willful dissemination of misinformation,” he said. “Today, more and more, we see the same kind of misdirection and Newspeak in the behaviour of our legislators.”
Harper wants to hide the true purpose of legislation behind Doublespeak
So why does the Harper Government want to disguise the substance of its legislation, Mr. Gregg asked, when a “fulsome and rational debate” would help Canadians make the best decisions? The pretty obvious answer: “By obfuscating the true purpose of laws under the gobbledygook of Doublespeak, governments are admitting that their intentions probably lack both respect and support.”
His explanation in the case of the Harperites: “I do believe that this particular government is pursuing a not-so-hidden agenda that few truly understand. It starts from a premise that the Canadian political spectrum has over-swung in a direction of liberalism.”
Harper is out to “systematically right what they see as this wrong.”
Mr. Harper and his government, the pollster argued, intend to “systematically right what they see as this wrong.”
“Their problem is, notwithstanding the fairly widespread consensus around the orthodoxies of balanced budgets, market economies, open trade which does exist and is embraced by the public today, Canadians by and large still believe in tolerance, compromise and egalitarianism.
“Policy for them should be based on conviction, and not bloodless statistics. Governments should be guided by what they believe is morally right, and not by reason and rational compromise. From this view, science, statistics, reason, and rational compromise are not tools of enlightened public policy, but barriers to the pursuit of swinging that pendulum back to where they believe it belongs.
Devious Harper uses “stealth and circumvention” in place of “transparency and directness”
“So to realize this agenda, given that continued point of view on the part of the public, it becomes necessary to pursue it by stealth and circumvention rather than through transparency and directness. This too explains the apparent obsession with secrecy message control and misdirection we see every day coming out of Ottawa.”
Instead of reason, he said, the Harper Tories encourage “prejudice, fear and wishful thinking.”
Mr. Gregg may be a man who once favoured red shoes, wore a rock ‘n’ roll haircut, and worked for Brian Mulroney, but it’s hard to dispute his scary assessment of the Harper Government.
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