Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Anti-Democratic Democracy

This morning, in my print edition of The Toronto Star, I saw the following headline: Canadian scientists to be placed in isolation. While it turned out to be a story about the evacuation of a Canadian medical team helping to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone, for a brief moment I thought it concerned the latest efforts by the Harper regime to muzzle our scientists.

I can perhaps be forgiven for my initial confusion. Reading Paul Wells' book on Stephen Harper, The Longer I'm Prime Minister, two things become apparent: the Harper regime is in constant re-election mode, and a foundation of that never-ending campaign is the almost complete control it exercises over government sources of information.

Having studied what brought down previous governments, Harper et al. have almost always refused to hold national inquiries or House committee investigations into contentious matters. Such would involve too many variables that could wind up embarrassing the government and providing fodder for the opposition (a.k.a. 'enemies'). And woe to he who 'commits sociology.'

Yet of course these restrictions of information, these eliminations of the tools whereby patterns can be detected, these constant and crass manipulations of the Canadian people are all grave disservices to our democracy, predicated as it is on the essential freedoms that the Harper Conservatives find so threatening.

One of the most egregious examples of the Harper contempt for democracy is the regime's muzzling of government scientists, those civil servants who are funded by the taxpayer and whose research is, at least in theory, intended for the public good. Apparently that takes a back seat to the political good of the Conservative Party.

An essay recently appeared in The Toronto Star by C. Scott Findlay, an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of Evidence for Democracy, a organization that advocates for evidence-informed decision-making by governments. In it, the writer shows the absurd lengths to which the cabal goes in its never-ending re-election efforts.

He starts out by making reference to a Postmedia investigation that uncovered the following:

In 2012, as the Arctic ice hit the lowest point ever recorded, scientists at the Canadian Ice Service were keen to tell Canadians about the stunning ice loss.

Given the ominous implications for climate change of reduced ice cover, Canadian Ice Service chief of applied science, Leah Braithwaite, wanted to hold a “strictly factual” technical briefing for the media to inform Canadians how the ice had disappeared from not only the Northwest Passage but many normally ice-choked parts of the Arctic.

Reports Findlay:

Documents obtained under an Access to Information request show that the approval process for the briefing implicated nine different levels of government, from the director of CIS to the environment minister. Even the communications folks at the Privy Council Office felt obliged to put their imprimatur on a communications plan that was weeks in the making.

Yet despite the herculean efforts of CIS scientists to inform Canadians on the state of Canada’s arctic ice, a briefing that was planned for months was eventually cancelled.

But, he says, this should surprise no one, since the federal government’s obsession with message control is well known. In February, CBC News reported that tweets from Industry Canada are planned for weeks, scrutinized by dozens of public servants, revised by ministerial staff, and leadened by a (wait for it) 12-step protocol. (Emphasis added.)

Findlay laments the waste of taxpayer money expended in the suppression of publicly-funded research and information, but addresses the heart of the issue this way:

But the real costs of Orwellian message control are far greater. An uninformed public, which — as Thomas Jefferson noted — is the scourge of democracy. A federal public service whose motivation, creativity and productivity is being steadily eroded by the signal failure of politicians and political mandarins to treat public servants — scientists, managers and senior administrators alike — like responsible professionals, fully capable of making decisions about things like technical briefings.

It would appear that in Harperland, (public) ignorance is bliss.


  1. It's always tempting to cast your political adversary in an unflattering light but there's nothing remotely unfair in denouncing this prime minister as despotic. I hope to live long enough that, some day, I can see him clapped into irons.

    1. You express the dream of many progressives here, Mound.