City & Politics, Columns, Politics

When the facts change, Harper ignores them

“When the facts change, I change my mind.” Famed economist John Maynard Keynes is purported to have made this comment when challenged to defend inconsistencies in his works over the years. To Keynes, dogma was a dangerous thing preventing otherwise sensible people from revising previously held ideas, beliefs, arguments or conclusions. Evidence, information, and facts ought to shape our beliefs and ideas, argued Keynes; if they change, so too must the conclusions drawn from them. What a shame it is the Prime Minister of Canada does not agree.

Indeed, if Stephen Harper has a legacy it is his utter contempt for facts, and his government’s thuggish efforts to ignore or eliminate those that clash with his dogmatic agenda.

Consider the census. Harper’s Conservative government replaced the mandatory long-form census in 2010 with a voluntary one. A promise rooted in Reform Party populism, the decision no doubt satisfied the Conservatives’ base; it has also all but eliminated vital information about Canada’s population in the years following the 2008 economic crash that ought to have been available to statisticians, policymakers, even politicians to inform the country’s thinking and guide its actions. Eliminated.

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More recently, Harper’s government unveiled plans to allow Canadian bread-winners to split their incomes with their stay-at-home spouses to lower their overall household tax burden. Only a government that steadfastly, deliberately ignores the facts would enact such a policy. After all, according to at least one study, “The bottom 60% of all families (those making $56,000 or less) would receive, on average, $50. Most families would receive no benefit whatsoever… In contrast, the richest 5% of all Canadian families — those making over $147,000 — would see an average benefit of $1,100, with one in 10 of this elite group gaining more than $5,000 from this loophole.” Moreover, this policy, for which the top 5% of Canadian families will benefit more than the bottom 60%, will cost the treasury nearly $1.7 billion in 2015 alone.

Why let the facts get in the way of a campaign promise? Or for that matter, taking action to avert the greatest ecological catastrophe in human history: climate change.

For nearly ten years the Prime Minister and his ministerial minions have avowed real action to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions all the while doing nothing to actually reduce them. Worse, in the interim, they have gutted environmental protection legislation, eased restrictions on further oil and gas projects, muzzled federal scientists who might speak ill of the government’s agenda, and waged an all-out war against science.

Adding insult to injury, the federal government has spent nearly half a billion dollars in the last five years on advertising. A staggering sum relative to previous governments in previous years. If Harper and his ilk were guided by fact and reason, why so much money spent to convince Canadians they are doing the right thing? Exactly.

In a bizarre bit of irony, a little-known but significant project currently underway in Ottawa to commemorate the “victims of communism” might well serve as a fitting tombstone to Stephen Harper’s own legacy of intellectual cowardice. To be clear: the federal government is moving ahead with plans to erect a sizeable monument between the the country’s Supreme Court and Library and Archives to honour the memory of those people who lived and died under communist regimes. Seriously. This soaring concrete structure, which some architects (ahem, experts in their field) are concerned will dwarf the surrounding federal buildings, is meant to serve as a sombre yet scathing indictment of a particular economic and social theory. If only Ronald Reagan were alive today, those Irish eyes would be glistening.

This is not a memorial to the victims of forced collectivization or to state-sanctioned genocide. Nor is it a memorial to the victims of Stalin’s or Mao’s totalitarian tyrannies. Though such things will surely be invoked at the forthcoming ribbon-cutting ceremony. This isn’t even a memorial to the victims of an idea. Racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny: pernicious ideas deserving memorialization. Communism? Socialism? Liberalism? A memorial to the “victims of communism” is akin to commemorating those factory workers who perished in that fire in Bangladesh with a memorial to “victims of capitalism.”

No doubt the federal government would argue communism is synonymous with so many heinous atrocities, hence victims of communism. Seriously, is Conrad Black consulting on this project? The conflation of an idea with the actions of those who purport to be motivated by it is intellectually dishonest, historically inaccurate, and paints a painfully simplistic worldview.

Then again, should we expect anything else from Stephen Harper? For nearly ten years, Harper has shown a profound disdain for intelligent discourse and for evidence-based policy making, for the scientific method and for academic research, for nuance and for history. In its place, baseless dogma — and a hulking mass of concrete and steel.