Saturday, July 17, 2010

Further to that whole census thing...

If Jeffrey Simpson is to be believed, I should have given Tony Clement a little less grief the other day:
Last fall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided his government would oppose the mandatory long-form census. Since then, nothing has changed his mind. His right-wing ideology and political instinct combined to make a policy that’s being denounced by almost every leading institution and commentator in Canada.

His decision was also opposed inside the government by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and by Industry Minister Tony Clement, who’s responsible for Statistics Canada, the agency that administers the census.

Both wrote to the Prime Minister, underscoring the importance of the mandatory long-form census to compile the most accurate statistics on which so much public policy and private-sector decision-making depends. The issue went back and forth inside the government, but, as with everything in Mr. Harper’s Ottawa, the Prime Minister decides.

His is a government in which most ministers are reduced to silence, except for those kept on short leashes, and in which everything, down to astonishingly small details, are decided by the Prime Minister, and only by him. His mind can be changed, but only occasionally and usually only after the passage of time between his initial decision and a new one. In this instance, despite internal discussion, his initial decision has stuck.
So, as ever, I can assign the blame to Harper himself. Yet it seems plain to me that a cabinet minister in this position ought to have the courage of his convictions and resign. Flaherty too. Would that damage the Harper government? Absolutely - and so it should. Where are the conservatives who favour good policy over this asinine autocratic nonsense? Is it just about ideology?
Clement’s statistical illiteracy is so profound it gives one vertigo. The notion that simply making the sample bigger can’t fix a skewed sample is something undergraduates learn in first-year classes, yet is somehow beyond the mental grasp of a senior minister of a G8 country. And the comedic benefit of watching Clement fail first-year economics is undermined by the cold realization that he fundamentally does not understand the intellectual foundations of the files that he controls. When he is cornered by his intellectual betters, moreover, Clement’s instinct is to reach for the debating-hall comforts of cheap populism.


There are libertarians and there are libertarians. When it comes to Tony Clement and James Moore, theirs is not the principled and defensible small-government ideology of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. It’s more like the sweaty-palmed fanboy libertarianism forged by too many late nights in high school spent switching between the anti-feminist Nietszcheanism of Ayn Rand and the corporatist space fantasies of sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein.
I consider it a gross failure of the uttermost negligence by the press and - ahem - the Official Opposition that this cabal of morons remains ensconced in power.

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