Tagged: canada

The Muzzle Puzzle

‘Whenever you have a filter you are, by definition, losing information.’— Jeff Hutchings, Dalhousie University

Today’s Twittstorm du jour was sparked by a piece in Maclean’s magazine by Professor Andrew Leach on the alleged muzzling of Canadian scientists by the Harper Government. The heart of his argument is this passage:

For me, the key questions are whether government researchers should, themselves, be able to speak out when they feel a government policy does not align with the evidence and, if so, why we would only restrict that to a particular class of government researchers? To speak out publicly against government policy is, by the current definition, fundamentally at odds with the role of a public servant in our democracy. Public servants are expected to provide impartial advice to the policy development process and loyal implementation of government policies once decisions are taken. They are not supposed to critique that policy publicly when it doesn’t align with their interpretation of the evidence or their beliefs with respect to how that evidence should be weighed. Allowing public servants to be openly critical of government decisions – whether based on scientific evidence or any other criteria – turns the relationship between the bureaucracy and their democratically elected masters on its head, undermining the trust essential to an effective working relationship.

On the one hand, this argument is well-rooted in the traditions of parliamentary democracy we inherited from Britain and the new tightened rules on media accessibility introduced the government in 2007 were intended to address this problem.

On the other hand, what problem? It’s an especially odd position since the Tories came to power advocating the opposite:

Yet the No. 1 policy statement for government communications, according to Treasury Board, is to “Provide the public with timely, accurate, clear, objective and complete information about its policies, programs, services and initiatives.”

The directive is part of the “Communications policy of the Government of Canada,” posted on the Treasury Board website and dated Aug. 1, 2006, months after the Conservatives came to power.

The policy calls on public servants to speak “openly” with Canadians.

“Encourage public service managers and employees to communicate openly with the public about policies, programs, services and initiatives they are familiar with and for which they have responsibility,” says the document.

“Openness in government promotes accessibility and accountability. It enables informed public participation in the formulation of policy, ensures fairness in decision making and enables the public to assess performance.”

So what changed? Why the volte-face? Was there a sudden rebellion by federally-employed scientists that required a change to the previous rules? Did, for example, Professor David Schindler cross this line? Leach doesn’t allege so. If yes, no one has provided any compelling argument this was a demonstrable, large-scale problem.

At this point, we should probably examine what the real-world consequence were of the new media rules.

Exhibit A:

But in a message sent to its employees this week, Environment Canada said it had denied interviews with scientists in 22 per cent of the 316 media requests received since the beginning of 2013.

Exhibit B:

A dramatic reduction in Canadian media coverage of climate change science issues is the result of the Harper government introducing new rules in 2007 to control interviews by Environment Canada scientists with journalists, says a newly released federal document.

“Scientists have noticed a major reduction in the number of requests, particularly from high-profile media, who often have same-day deadlines,” said the Environment Canada document. “Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent.

Exhibit C: 

Braithwaite and her colleagues — aware of the national and international interest in the shrinking polar ice — 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.

The briefing never happened. Nine levels of approval — from the director of the ice service up to the environment minister’s office — were needed for the “communication plan,” according to the documents released to Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

“Ministerial services” — the sixth layer — cancelled the briefing

So the real-world effect of providing just enough of a speed-bump to reporters on deadlines in access to federally employed scientists has been – surprise, surprise – a reduction in media coverage of certain issues which also has the effect of restricting the public’s understanding of both the science and by extension how sound government’s policy is.

Which I would posit, given the Harper Government’s record, is a feature not a bug.

Ah, say Professor Leach, “there are plenty of entities, government-funded and otherwise, that can do a fine job of holding the government to account externally.” Which is a nice thought. But in addition to an era where the Harper government is restricting access of the media to government scientists, we also concurrently live in a era where the Harper government is making life difficult for “other entities” trying to hold the government to account. Specifically providing extra funding to the Canadian Revenue Agency to audit environmental charities who are now self-censoring themselves on public issues. And so on and so forth.

Leach also broaches a better way where government-supported research” could “take place in arms-length agencies” like NASA ( forgetting that despite being at “arms-length” NASA has had war waged against it all the same by the GOP over climate matters).

Finally, I would posit that maybe, just maybe, not all data-collection is the same…

Store economist 1: “I think we should price aggressively. My data suggests this would lead to a dramatic increase in market share.”

Store economist 2: “I disagree. We should maintain our current high margins. This adds an aura of exclusivity to our product line and will be better over the long term….”

Store scientist: “Guys…THE FUCKING STORE IS ON FIRE. WE GOTTA DO SOMETHING OR WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE

An excellent collection of links on this subject at the Canadian Science Writers’ Association.

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From the files of “Cartography Oddities”

Some may remember the controversy over a map used in commercial from the Enbridge Corporation promoting the Northern Gateway Pipeline that removed about 1000 sq. kms of islands from Douglas Channel, suggesting that navigation for tankers would be a much simpler task than it would be.

image

Today, a group called Canada Action tweeted the following map:

BtjyNnnCUAIfnFc

Oh my, you say, what a difference in traffic. Norway seems to be okay, so what’s our problem?

You don’t think there might be something strange with these maps too?

Why yes, yes there is.

Using the Distance Measurement Tool of Google Maps the map on the left depicts an area 270km x 200km (or 54000 sq. kms). The map on the right depicts an area 640km x 535km (or 342,400 sq. kms). Do you think if you increase the scale of a map, in this case by a factor of 6, you will see more stuff?

Why yes, yes you will.

The second problem is the map on the left depicts an internal coastal waterway, while the map on the right depicts the open ocean of the North Sea.

So who are Canada Action?

Hard to tell. Especially here.

But rest assured Canada Action does not have an ideological or partisan agenda.

They just stand up for the truth. Just not in comparative map-making.

Dissent, audited

It’s been known for the past few years that the Harper Government would utilize the tools of the Canadian Revenue Agency in order to harass the bearers of bad news [as it relates to Conservative party policies].

The labour movement is one. But most notably, the environmental movement.

Bruce Campbell writes on this today in Behind the Numbers blog over at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The tactics employed, how CRA’s rules are [likely] being retroactively changed to fit with the Tories predetermined outcome. A sample:

While this government is focused on reducing so called red-tape for for-profit businesses, it has imposed an onerous and seemingly interminable administrative burdens on the charitable organizations it chooses to audit.

These audits are highly intrusive—requesting information that has no discernible relevance to an organization’s charitable activities. They demand the most miniscule of financial details. They force charities to devote considerable resources to compiling successive rounds of information, diverting from their policy and other charitable work, and incur substantial, sometimes prohibitive, legal costs.

In some cases they have demanded charities turn over all e-mail correspondence, a measure which has major privacy implications.

But towards the end comes this newsflash:

While the targeting of environmental NGOs has received prominent media attention, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), whose work covers a broad range of public policy issues, is also being audited.

The CCPA is a registered charity. Like charities have for many decades it produces original research on and speaks to public policy – mostly on economics but on a variety of subjects.

Much like the Fraser Institute.

Which is not, to public knowledge, being audited. And all things being equal, they bloody well should be. But as we all know, some animals are more equal than others.

The Conservatives, and conservatives, may find it politically convenient to utilize the tools of the State to make life difficult for those that disagree with them and have the facts to back them.

But this is short-term, short-sighted expediency. In the long game they are playing with fire. For one, they might not be in power in a few years time. Precedents have been set, rules have been changed. If I was the Fraser Institute I might be tempted to lay low for the next couple years. But what I would really do would be to stand in solidarity with the CCPA. For despite differences they are the same sort of organization, serving the same purpose. For the day may come when CRA auditors go through their accounts with a fine-toothed comb (and maybe finally we’ll find out who their donors are).

The Fraser Institute cannot condemn the CCPA without condemning themselves.

Second, the Tories, by redefining the rules so that the outlets for disagreement and dissent are increasingly narrow and toothless, are pushing a lot of people towards radicalism. Ordinary people.

It’s not healthy for our democracy.

 

Oh Pauline!

[Marois] told the Montreal newspaper that her government is leaning towards the French model of secularism, blasting what she called the English model of multiculturalism.

In England, they get into fights and throw bombs at one another because of multiculturalism and people get lost in that type of a society,” she said.

Marois promises gradual phase-in of Quebec secular charter. September 6, 2013. Globe and Mail

Actually, Madame Premier, the English get into fights and throw bombs at each other because they are drunk.

She had to fish overseas for her example. No mention of the relative calm in multicultural “Rest of Canada”, of course.

UPDATE: And there has never been race riots in France. Right, Pauline?

Fraser Follies: Kids are cheap edition

Every once in a while the Fraser Institute will write something so sloppy and transparent that even a schmuck like me can see through it. Such is the case with today’s release of their report “The Cost of Raising Children” (also discussed here in the Globe, CBC and by Don Cayo in the Sun.

The big red flags in this report is that they don’t include the cost of daycare or housing.

Yes, you read that right.

But first, based on a 2011 Moneysense article1 that bases its estimates solely on costs in Winnipeg and an “informal online survey” down in 2010 for Today’s Parent magazine (amongst other things) the Institute calculates the cost of raising a child – sans daycare, sans housing – to be $2,264.38/yr for a 4-year-old and $4,115.04 for a 12-year-old. Or $6.20/day for the former and $11.27/day for the latter. That’s not food. That’s everything. Except daycare. And housing.

One thing that popped out for me is the Institute study used average family household income for families with children, rather than median. Which is what you’re supposed to use, really, when discussing non-symmetrically distributed things like income. According to the study, the average after-tax household income in 2009 with 2 parents, 1 child  was $109,412. According to StatsCan, the median after-tax household income in 2007 with 2 parents, 1 child+ was $73,000. Gee, I wonder why they chose to use the average rather than the median. The study also doesn’t include the loss of income if one parent stays home because it’s “difficult”. But that’s easy to calculate from the StatsCan report above – the median income of  a 2 parent, 1 earner with children household is $49,300. So 73,000 – 49,300 = $23,700. Of note, the average cost of daycare in Vancouver is estimated at $1200/mo (which jives with my personal experience). That’s $14,400/yr and certainly not economical for one parent to forgo employment.

So, yeah, daycare. Why wasn’t it included?

Well, says the Institute, based on nothing at all,  “it’s mainly because many families with children will have little or no daycare costs”. For example, “in some two parent (intact) families, one parent may decide to stay at home” which, as we saw above, isn’t actually very economical. How many households are there where one parent decides to stay home? Well the HRDC (sorry only Google web cache available at the moment) says it’s the minority. In 61.9% of 2 parent households with children both parents work. Oh, btw, that’s for 2001. So by “many families” the Fraser Institute actually means “the minority of families”. Oh, there’s this chestnut too: “In other cases, parents may have free daycare at their place of employment or have a close relative who cares for pre-school children.” Yes, free employer-provided daycare. You get that when you receive your T4 and your unicorn. A relative helping out is more reasonable, but again no stats are cited in support. From anecdotes I know some relatives get paid for full-time daycare service or some other cost in kind.

And then there’s housing, also known as “shelter”. Well it shouldn’t be included either. Home ownership, you see, is a “financial investment that yields a rate of return over time.” The “over time” part is the key one. Oh sure, when you’re 65 you can sell your house and make, perhaps, a nice profit. But that really doesn’t help you in the here and now, does it? Also suggested by the Institute: Housing costs don’t have to rise if you have extra children – you can just make them sleep in the closet under the stairwell.

So what’s it all about then? Well, concludes the Fraser Institute:

There are vested interests in having high costs for raising children. The social welfare community, a broad coalition of public service workers, social activists, academics, and many journalists, is active in lobbying the state for more resources for families with children. This agenda, associated with left-liberal and social democratic positions, is part of a redistributionist perspective and it would be naive to ignore the influence it has on public policy. A high cost of children is consistent with this agenda.

The infamous Childcare-Industrial Complex. Also, and: Socialism.

Similarly, child support schemes that compel non-custodial parents to pay custodial parents [more in child support]

Nothing angry white man about that.

So, people of Canada, stop being afraid and start having more babies. Canada needs a good source of future cheap labour a boost to the national birthrate.

1 The author of which stated “I found that some of the costs we calculated were a little low” (Cornell, 2011: 6)”.

UPDATE: Edited for clarity.

UPDATE 2: RossK explains why some of the peer reviewers at the Fraser Institute might still be dead.

Notable Linkage: Canadian Inequality: Recent Developments and Policy Options [PDF]

Excerpt:

Our analysis of income inequality in Canada has produced several important findings that should guide any policy developments in this area. First, income inequality at the family level has increased substantially over the past few decades, and policy developments since the mid-1990s have likely reinforced rather than countered this trend. Second, the share of total income going to the top 1 percent has increased dramatically since 1980, mirroring trends in the United States. These high earners are mostly male and highly educated, and while many financial industry workers and executives can be found in the top 1 percent, so too can many professionals such as doctors. Third, the forces driving inequality are varied, ranging from technological change and off-shoring to institutional factors such as the role of unions and minimum wages. Fourth, we find that the experience of women is notably different from that of men; in particular, women have suffered less of the “hollowing out” of th…

Canadian Inequality: Recent Developments and Policy Options [PDF]

The real deficit

Norm Farrell left this in the comments of the previous post. I think it’s worth elevating:

I grew up in Powell River when thousands of union workers earned good livings (and good retirements) in the pulp, paper and lumber mills. There were good wages, strong apprenticeship programs, employment for young people in post-secondary schooling, aid to programs in sports, music, arts and other elements that create vibrant communities.

Once upon a time British Columbians in towns like Powell River had a clear path for economic security. Yes, there was boom, there was bust, but in general they could plan their lives with relative confidence in the outcome.

This path – and this confidence –  is disappearing, if it isn’t gone already.

Of course the nature of an economy changes over time. Nothing is forever. But a new path that British Columbians can bank on has not been forged.

One of the political parties in this province – who will say anything on the campaign trail – but who represent the “business class” that tells us in no uncertain terms we can…

  • No longer afford job security we once knew
  • No longer afford decent wages we once knew
  • No longer afford pensions we once knew
  • No longer afford social programs we once knew

and who…

  • Imports workers from other countries in greater and greater numbers

Yet we are also told simultaneously by the same folk we live in The Greatest Place on Earth or some other trite catchphrase. And then there’s what common-sense and our own eyes tell us: British Columbia is one of the wealthiest places on the planet.

There is a disconnect.

The other political party only tepidly defends the above. In many ways they too have bought into the underlying scary assumptions put forth by the lords of the realm that we can no longer afford the things that made us great.

Then there’s this factoid, from The Sixth Estate:

One of the most important things that people should realize, and generally don’t, about the present state of Parliamentary democracy in Canada is that we have a structural, steadily growing democratic deficit which continues to increase regardless of voter turnout levels, regardless of how responsive political parties are or are not to public opinion, and regardless of how much or how little freedom of speech is granted to backbench MPs by party leaders. The problem, quite simply, is that we do not have enough MPs…

… In 1867, if you were an actual voter, you were one of about 1500 people to whom your MP was accountable. Today, you’re one of almost 50,000. Given this fact, is it any surprise that we feel as though our views are not represented in Parliament?

There is democratic disconnect. There is democratic deficit.

Why don’t people vote?

Quite frankly, why bother.

P.S. They’ll say – If you don’t like it, get involved in the process and change the system! Ah, but you see we can no longer afford the 8-hour work day either so that means I have to dedicate more of my diminishing free time to an endeavour of dubious outcome. Or my employer will fire me for my political activity. Or I can’t afford the financial investment to back the candidate of my choice. Or I’m splitting the vote.

Or any of the growing numbers of impediments to participation in a gamed system.

New gig, old tricks

95% of small business owners? Really? That’s pretty definitive!

Oh…oh wait…

That’s 95% of those that responded to this push poll scientific survey. And how many were there?

1029.

So what Mike really meant to say was “95% of poll respondents who belong to an anti-tax group oppose new taxes.”

The CFIB claims 109,000 members nationally.

Duty of Loyalty

Yesterday there was a Twitter-storm over this story about Library and Archives Canada’s new Code of Conduct for its employees. It stresses something called “Duty of Loyalty” to the employer, to the government and to elected officials.

“Duty of Loyalty” sounds Orwellian but it is in fact a term from common law. Personally I think it’s fair for an employer to expect that it’s  decisions will not be constantly and publicly undermined by its employees (unless those decisions put public safety at risk).

Ex. The employer puts the Windows 8 operating system on its computers. You hate Windows 8. Is it fair for you to launch a public campaign in an attempt to get the employer to conform to your wishes?

Sometimes an employer will adopt an approach and you think there’s a better way. That happens all the time. But rarely is it black and white. Different strategies have strengths and weaknesses, and decisions may have been made with information you do not have at hand or to address issues the employer may place higher priority on. It’s certainly right for you to bring your concerns to your employer, and any good employer will encourage this from its employees. But for individual employees to constantly refuse to accept decisions is a road to nowhere.

But what about this situation? Let’s highlight a few things from the code:

As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities.

For example, in a blog with access limited to certain friends, personal opinions about a new departmental or Government of Canada program intended to be expressed to a limited audience can, through no fault of the public servant, become public and the author identified. The public servant could be subject to disciplinary measures, as the simple act of limiting access to the blog does not negate a public servant’s duty of loyalty to the elected government.

That certainly sounds chilling and my first reaction was that this certainly violated the Charter. However there was also this:

The duty of loyalty is not absolute. In assessing and making a determination regarding any particular public criticism, the duty of loyalty must be balanced with other interests, such as the public servant’s freedom of expression. The substance (i.e. the content of the criticism), context (i.e. the frequency of the criticism, the forum or medium in which it is made) and the form (i.e. the manner in which the criticism is expressed, e.g. restrained or vitriolic) are all relevant factors. Situations in which an exception is likely to be made to the duty of loyalty include the following: 1. The Government is engaged in illegal acts 2. Government policies jeopardize life, health or safety. 3. The public servant’s criticism has no impact on his or her ability to perform effectively the duties of a public servant or on the public perception of that ability

Mitigating? A bit, maybe, but when you consider the restrictions placed on the employee later in the code it seems, well, ridiculous. On the specifics of that and on future employment for LAC employees and on a “snitch-line” I’m going to outsource to Bibliocracy.

What do the courts say about this? The relevant case-law is here [hat-tip Matthew Lazin-Ryder]

All three cases, even Fraser v. Public Service Staff Relations Board, strike me as tipping this code of conduct over in to Charter-violating territory.

Why? It’s the intrusions into the personal sphere – the belief that even private comments could reach the public.

However, there’s a reason why I’ve bolded elected officials and elected government. That insertion moves this to a whole new level because now you’ve moved from trying to restrict criticism of corporate policy to restricting criticism of politicians and political parties.

Osborne v. Canada (Treasury Board) is clear on where the law stands on this. And this code seemingly runs right up against it, especially where it requires employees seek permission to engage in political activity. And how is political activity defined? Here. The relevant one:

Carrying on any activity in support of, within or in opposition to a political party

Does this mean you need to seek permission to say “Stephen Harper is an idiot” at a dinner party?

It certainly could be perceived that way.

But I’m not a lawyer. And I think it will take a court to resolve this.

Just another example of the restrictions being placed on us in the era of HarperGovtm

Disclosure: I am not a librarian, but I work for a municipal library.

Compare and contrast: Corporate vs. Human Development Edition

Canada has slipped out of the top 10 countries listed in the annual United Nation’s human development index — a far cry from the 1990s when it held the first place for most of the decade…When the numbers are adjusted for gender inequality, Canada slumps to 18th place.

Toronto Star, March 14, 2013

Outgoing Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney famously chided corporate Canada this summer for sitting on mountains of “dead money,” the idle dollars on balance sheets that could instead feed economic growth…The running tally of “dead money” in Canada? About $600 billion, or a bracing 32% of Canada’s GDP, according to an estimate quoted in January by RBC Global Asset Management chief economist Eric Lascelles. To put that big number into context, he noted that U.S. cash reserves account for just 9% of the domestic economy. Yet even the U.S. figures are staggeringly large.

Canadian Business, February 12, 2013

Canada’s Economic Action Plan in, er, action.

Time for more corporate tax cuts.