Monday, September 10, 2012

Jeezus he's even starting to look like him!

Harper government's assault on reason, scientists, 'Orwellian' and 'alarming,' warns pollster

Harris/Decima's Allan Gregg says feds have twinned 'abandonment of reason' with 'willful dissemination of misinformation'
Harris/Decima pollster Allan Gregg, pictured on September 5, at Carleton University: 'By obfuscating the true purpose of laws under the gobbledygook of double speak, governments are admitting that their intentions probably lack both support and respect.

By Alice Funke

Monday, September 10, 2012

OTTAWA—One-time Progressive Conservative pollster Allan Gregg lambasted the government for its “assault on reason” and bemoaned its “Orwellian” attacks on scientists and environmental policy advocates in a stinging criticism of the Harper Conservatives to a Carleton University campus audience of 250 last week in Ottawa.

“Our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy is declining,” Mr. Gregg, chair of Harris/Decima public opinion and market research, who worked for 18 years as a pollster for former prime ministers Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, and Kim Campbell, “and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency are on the rise.”

“Even more troubling,” said Mr. Gregg. “Canadians are buying it.”

In a lecture titled, “1984 in 2012: The Assault on Reason,” Mr. Gregg said he first became concerned when the government cancelled the mandatory long-form census, of which he, as a pollster, was a long-time user, calling its explanation about the need to protect privacy, “creepy” and unfounded.

Followed by the cancellation of the long-gun registry, even though its data was consulted regularly by nearly every police force, and the “massive penitentiary construction spree,” in spite of a “mountain of evidence” that crime was on the decline, Mr. Gregg said he started to see the cancellation of the census as a “canary in the mineshaft.”

But Mr. Gregg said it was the nature of the cuts rolled out in the omnibus 2012 post-stimulus budget—half the staff at Statistics Canada receiving redundancy notices; along with 20 per cent of the workforce at Library and Archives Canada; and 70 per cent of the scientists at Parks Canada; the cancellation of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy; the Experimental Lakes Area project; the National Council on Welfare and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science amongst others; plus the massive changes to the Fisheries Act and Environmental Assessment regulations—that really confirmed this “Orwellian” and “alarming” pattern for him.

“This was no random act of downsizing, but a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision-making—namely, using research, science and evidence as the bases of policy formation,” Mr. Gregg charged.

“It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts, and evidence to challenge government policies,” he added.

In another “Orwellian parallel,” Mr. Gregg observed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alberta) government has twinned its “abandonment of reason … not simply with unthinking orthodoxy, but also … the willful dissemination of misinformation.”

Citing as one piece of evidence even the titles of government bills such as Bill C-10, An Act to Enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism, which hiked penalties for pot possession and funded more prison construction; Bill C-30, the Protect Children from Internet Predators Act, which forces internet service providers to hand over user names to police without a warrant; and Jean Charest’s Bill 78, An Act to Enable Students to Receive Instruction from the Post Secondary Education They Attend, which Mr. Gregg said “basically bans the freedom of assembly,” he levelled his charges of misinformation at both the Canadian and U.S. governments.

“By obfuscating the true purpose of laws under the gobbledygook of double speak, governments are admitting that their intentions probably lack both support and respect,” Mr. Gregg said. “Again, the lesson here is Orwellian—in the same way that reason requires consciousness, tyranny demands ignorance.”

Mr. Gregg’s explanations for the public’s acquiescence range from the cultural shift to a “zero sum society” and the politics of division, to the media’s obsession with trivia and celebrity, but Mr. Gregg particularly lamented the negative role now played by the internet.

“If I believe the Earth is flat, [it] puts me in touch with legions of fellow flat-Earthers and reams of pseudo-science to support that belief. As importantly, I never have to be exposed to any contrary views and can find total refuge in my community of flat-Earthers. The internet, therefore, offers me the opportunity to have a completely closed mind and, at one and the same time, fill it full of nonsense disguised as fact. In a brand new way, therefore, the internet democratizes not just individual opinion, but legitimizes collective ignorance and spreads a bizarro world of alternative reason. When this occurs, prejudice and bias is reinforced and the authority of real science and evidence is undermined, or even more likely, never presented,” he argued.


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In a later interview with PunditsGuide.ca for The Hill Times, Mr. Gregg also pointed to the so-called decline of deference, and the rise of defiance, which combined have led to the anti-elitist and anti-science politics now practised north and south of the border.
Although Mr. Gregg said he is optimistic that reason will eventually prevail in Canada, he launched his biggest salvos at U.S. politicians, including both Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whom he ridiculed for making fun of the rising ocean level, but also U.S. President Barack Obama.

Expanding on a reference to the execution of foreign nationals on foreign soil in his lecture, Mr. Gregg went further in the interview, calling Mr. Obama’s decision to order the execution of Osama Bin Laden “by any traditional criteria, an international crime.”

“You know, I don’t care how bad the toad is, due process says that you’re innocent until proven guilty, that you have a trial that is out in the open, that you’re prepared to bring evidence, and that the evidence has to be brought against you in a public forum,” Mr. Gregg said.

Noting that this summary execution if anything became a source of national pride in the media, Mr. Gregg called it “the most egregious example of the assault on reason” and he despaired that expecting due process in a case like this is “something you’re not even allowed to say” these days.

“Even Aaron Sorkin has fallen victim to that thinking,” he said, referring to the episode of the otherwise-critical HBO series The Newsroom which celebrated that event.

Back to Canada, Mr. Gregg said he thinks that federally “we’re in a period of transition.”

“It would not surprise me if we end up with a two-party system with much clearer choice” in 2015, he said, suggesting that the Liberal Party will not wind up as one of those two choices.

“If you asked people, ‘Which political party has values that best reflect your own?’ Overwhelmingly, for all my adult life, the Liberals won that question,” Mr. Gregg said. “Today, they’ve become a party that basically represents no one and stands for nothing. And that’s how they’re viewed; I’m not being cruel or anything.”

While Mr. Gregg said he thinks the Conservative Party genuinely believes that “this mythical Canadian Tire/Tim Hortons person has not been represented and that their voice hasn’t been heard in the public discourse in Canada,” he also said he thinks the scientists’ protests have been getting through to the government.

“They’re not irrational to the extent they’re prepared to commit political suicide,” Mr. Gregg maintained. “The extent to which scientists stood up to them, and could actually put forward their case in a persuasive way, they will throttle it in; they will rein it in.”

news@hilltimes.com

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