It's one thing to stop debate in Parliament, it's quite another to stop public debate altogether. Yet that's what's been happening over the past few years, slowly but surely. Take the case of CPRN (the Canadian Policy Research Network). CPRN is just the latest in a series of organizations dedicated to fostering public debate that's been closed because the Harper government stopped funding it.
Here's how it happened. "In April 2006, the newly elected Conservative government approved a new four-year grant based on a solid positive independent evaluation. But only five months later, the government turned around and cancelled the CPRN grant as well as the funding for the Law Commission of Canada, the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, the Court Challenges Program, Volunteer Canada, the Centre for Research and Information on Canada and two policy units within the federal government." (page 9, CPRN Annual Report)
OK, so what? Here's what: Democracy depends on open debate. Without debate, we quickly descend to doctrine (we call it "spin doctoring" these days). Informed choice then becomes a fiction and democracy a façade.
It gets worse. Public policy stagnates as well, held hostage by ruling authorities. Instead of richly nuanced policy responses to complex social and economic challenges, we get government by press release. If citizens are consulted at all, the only call they get is from a pollster. But polling, as CPRN points out, asks for "top of mind answers", gives "scant background information" and allows no discussion. "It’s a one-way conversation, with no time for reflection." (page 14)
CPRN was one organization that offered a viable alternative for Canadian policy makers. Its demise is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in our country. By all means, let's get parliamentarians back to work. Once they're there, however, we must also demand their support for sustained and lively public debate. We deserve no less.
* Note: Anatomy of Power #1 can be found here.
Posted On Feb 02 01:32PM
What independent think tanks are left? The Conference Board largely survives on industry (and other) memberships, so I wouldn't call it independent (and maybe not even a think tank in the traditional sense).
The Fraser Institute (right wing) and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (left wing) are both ideological and partisan, and supported with foundational or industry/labour money from their respective camps. Again, not what you'd call independent.
The Government bureaucracy does not have the infrastructure or resources to do its own policy research -- as much as it may like to.
So who's left? There are a few, (IRPP, Pembina, CD Howe?) but not enough for a flourishing landscape of independent, non-partisan thought from which to base intelligent and thoughtful policy.
I guess that's the idea. The current government bases its policies on ideology and not research. No point in letting evidence-based research stand in the way of partisan beliefs!
Maybe Thomas Axworthy got it right when he said that the Senate is Canada's foremost think tank.
Into all things politics, policy and parliamentary.
Posted On Jan 30 06:56AM
“Democracy depends on open debate” indeed it does and it must be based upon accurate information which is the other thing sorely lacking from this government.
Let us hope that the current public thirst for debate and knowledge within and about our parliamentary democracy continues.
Democracy requires dialog, please join us at http://democracyunderfire.blogspot.com/
Posted On Jan 28 08:55PM
Very sad to see CPRN and all the others -- Court Challenges program esp. -- go. CPRN made it through Conservative and Liberal governments alike over a 15 year period, which just shows how especially paranoid the Harper govt is of independent dialogue and debate.
Well, the CPRN rose like a Phoenix from the ashes of the Economic Council of Canada. So, it will be interesting to see what rises from the ashes from CPRN.
Hopefully it won't take too long -- or be too late.
Posted On Jan 28 11:10AM
With the Liberals sneaking forward in last night's poll, I think that finally Canadians are starting to hold Harper to account for this words and actions. Perhaps we ourselves are guilty, because we have not been exercising our democratic freedoms and demanding more of politicians in the absence of other options over Harper......maybe Canadians are starting to say enough is enough.