WHEN ALLAN GREGG DELIVERED THE Knowles-Woodsworth lecture at the University of Winnipeg 18 months ago, his speech created much introspection on where Canada is going. Yet the well-known pollster, television interviewer, and political pundit, began with who were are as a people before launching into his concerns of who we might become.
He spoke of how we were a nation of facts, data, progressive thought, and directed by research for public policy decisions. Such dependence on evidence-based data and relevant statistics had served us well for decades, helping Canada to stand somewhat apart from other countries through its unique balancing of social justice and economic health.
But no sooner had he said that than he got to nitty-gritty: “It seems as though our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy was declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency was on the rise.”
Using the termination of the Statistics Canada long-form census by the Harper government, he asked a practical question: “How could you determine how many units of affordable housing were needed unless the change in the number of people who qualified for affordable housing? How could you assess the appropriate costs of affordable housing unless you knew the change in the amount of disposable income available to eligible recipients?” These were vital questions every community across the country required answers for, but the feds had removed the main resource whereby we could acquire the information required to respond with effective public policy. The termination of the census, he reasoned, “amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts, and evidence to challenge government policies.”
Then Gregg took a deliberate turn into history, reflecting on how civilization would inevitably take steps backward the moment ruling elites suppressed knowledge from getting to citizens. “The subversive power of the flow of information and people has never been lost on political and religious tyrants. This is why they suppress speech, writing and associations and why democracies protect these channels in their bills of rights.”
The list of key public servants fired by the present government is now lengthy and acknowledged. The suppression of scientific voices, and the requirement of such voices to first have their facts and speeches vetted by the government public relations office has now become so glaring that even voices from around the globe have wondered why Canada, of all places, has chosen to emasculate its own conscience and intelligence in such a fashion. It takes all of 30 seconds on Google to verify that there is a huge body of evidence on this political suppression.
I especially appreciated Gregg’s observation on how this has affected our political life together, wondering whether government’s forcing a false division between reason and morality, “might be responsible for the shrill, callow and uninspirational public discourse that takes place today.” Just sixty seconds in Question Period would seem to answer that question with some sense of clarity.
Allan Gregg quoted Mahatma Gandhi strategically in the middle of his speech by reminding his audience that such false divisions were what often pulled houses of faith into decades of ineffectiveness: “A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.” We understand his implication: any government that refuses enlightened research and information from its citizens in order to maintain power is no government.
Yes, government panhandlers will argue vociferously against this, and opposition parties will concur outright with Gregg. But these parties aren’t the ultimate arbitrator or judge on such matters. And as vital as the voices of science and information are, they are not what will fully convince us that something is amiss in Canada. For that, we only have to live a little while in our own minds to understand the implications of all this. We know politics is in decline. We are aware that citizens feel left out of their own collective fate. We live with the effects of climate change every season and marvel that no imagination or sense of urgency emanates from Ottawa. We feel angst because we are aware that poverty is growing and that small businesses keep getting passed over for the big firms with clout and influence.
We know all this already – more scientific voices or data will only confirm what we already sense. If Gandhi was correct when he said that,” we are the change we have been seeking,” then fewer things can drive change as effectively as a people who know in their heart of hearts that we have lost our way as a nation due, in part, to manipulation by government. We don’t require more data to know we must alter our path; we need citizens who will bring their own lights of conscience to overpower the shadows cast by partisan urges of the political order. To create change, it’s not more science that we need, but average citizens willing enough to put already established facts over the political establishment’s fictions.