Robyn Benson, PSAC

Trouble with facts



ideological limo.jpg

Once again, Tony Clement, the President of Treasury Board, is speaking out against “alarming” public service absenteeism. It’s a perfect replay of comments he made last June, during Public Service Week, a supposed “no-nonsense” approach to an ailing public service with its alleged culture of slackness. Since June, however, Statistics Canada has tried to correct the record, noting that when appropriate comparisons are made, the differences in absenteeism between the federal public sector and the private sector are minimal.

But it’s as though StatsCan never uttered a word.

When ideological bias runs into facts, those facts are at a clear disadvantage today—assuming we can even get access to them. But there is nothing new here from Clement. Remember when he was Minister of Industry and he trashed the long-form census? A voluntary census, he said, would yield equally valuable results. Statisticians said otherwise, but what did they know?

As it happened, they knew more than the Minister.

But I need to be fair to the Minister at this point. He’s not alone in the car here. In fact, he’s not even the driver. Speaking of the ill-fated long-form census, he announced that “There’s not a micron of difference of opinion between myself and the prime minister on this.”

Well, there seldom is. But that’s true of Harper’s entire Cabinet.

It’s no coincidence that scientists, as well as statisticians, have been under the gun since Harper was first elected in 2006. Facts are their stock in trade. But facts can get out of hand. The muzzling of scientists is by now too well-known to merit a detailed discussion. But if you have the time, check out this informative piece about the Experimental Lakes Area, a world-class ecological laboratory shut down by the Conservative government last year, allegedly because of cost. The flow of uncomfortable facts about environmental pollution had to cease. Amazingly, it’s now illegal for scientists to pursue their research there.

Speak out against this sort of thing, better prepare to be trashed. Four scientists did: Diane Orihel, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta; Britt Hall, an associate professor at the University of Regina; Carol Kelly, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba; and John Rudd, the former ELA chief scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. They were immediately dismissed as a “group of radical ideologues who have lead [sic] a campaign of misinformation about [Science Minister Greg Rickford’s] work to protect the Experimental Lakes Area.”

Facts, and the folks who bring them, can be downright annoying when they get in the way of ideological prejudice. But they’re all we have—other than the will and the determination to be guided by them.


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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on November 13, 2013 8:30 AM.

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