Time for Evidence-Based Lawmaking

Dean Beeby, “Justice Canada Chops Research Budget by $1.2 Million” (May 12, 2014) Globe and Mail online.

This report solidifies what librarians and critics of this government’s approach to evidence, information, data and research have been decrying since the discontinuation of the long-form census; information and data is to be manipulated so as to support the government’s political agenda.

“Previous legal research in the department sometimes caught senior officials “off-guard … and may even have run contrary to government direction,” says an internal report for deputy minister William Pentney.”

Some past projects have “at times left the impression that research is undermining government decisions.”

Researcher Charlotte Fraser found many Canadians lacked confidence in the courts and prison system, but suggested it was the result of misunderstanding rather than any failures in the system, and that education could rectify the problem.

Critics said the finding was contrary to the government’s approach, which is to pass tougher laws and impose harsher penalties rather than to cultivate a better-informed public.

Another 2011 study, on the sentencing of drunk drivers, found that harsher terms for first offenders had little bearing on whether they re-offended — a finding critics held to be contrary to the government’s agenda of tougher sentencing through mandatory minimums and other measures.”

Read this article together with “The Big Chill: Silencing Public Interest Science, A Survey” (The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, 2013), online. It found that: “90% of federal scientists feel they are not allowed to speak freely to the media about the work they do and that, faced with a departmental decision that could harm public health, safety or the environment, nearly as many (86%) would face censure or retaliation for doing so. …the survey also found that nearly one-quarter (24%) of respondents had been directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons and that over one-third (37%) had been prevented in the past five years from responding to questions from the public and media. In addition, the survey found that nearly three out of every four federal scientists (74%) believe the sharing of scientific findings has become too restricted in the past five years and that nearly the same number (71%) believe political interference has compromised Canada’s ability to develop policy, law and programs based on scientific evidence.”

This federal government believes that law and policy should be made based on their political will, and the resources of the government only exist to create or manipulate data that justifies their political direction. Rather than making decisions which are directed by facts and evidence, instead, this government will manipulate data, silence or control employees and degrade the structures that have been put in place to inform government and strengthen our democracy. This course of action is a perversion of democracy that every citizen ought to be angry about.

There is absolutely no place in a mature democracy in an advanced information economy for a dark-ages approach to law and policy-making.
In an advanced democracy, a government earns the right to lead through intelligent, well-informed policy making that makes life better for citizens. As citizens we need to demand that government take significant steps to put into place accountability measures to ensure that everyone who operates as an information provider, a researcher, a statistician or a watchdog are able to operate at full arms length from the influence of government.

What would our world look like if these professionals were to produce data on our society and economy, and law and policy making were directed by the evidence, rather than the other way around?

The time has come. We are in the 21st century and our democracy has reached its maturity. It is time to ensure that our democracy is solidified for the future. Politics left untethered is an affront to democracy. We must work together to move towards Democracy 2.0 – a democracy that is informed by citizen participation, knowledge, information and evidence.

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Comments

  1. Good piece. We see a similar approach to data and evidence by politics here. Evidence must re-engineer what I want as a politician, if not, the evidence is bad.

  2. As you’ve pointed out information and data can be manipulated to meet political agendas. Well so too can evidence — and for that matter, fact, be manipulated and distorted for political agendas and expediency. IMHO, what’s needed of all governments is non-partisan law-making focusing on the common good, i.e., not just meeting the needs of the majority but also sensitive to the views and dignity of the minority. Rather idealistic, but I’m always hopeful.

  3. I agree with Sam, we’ve been seeing this trend towards evidence based decision in federal politics, especially in challenging the decisions being made by the current government.

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