Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stockwell Day redefines reality

In our first ever roundup of Canadian political news, aptly titled "free lunch coffee", we're looking at the news du jour. We don't like what we find, but maybe you will.

Stockwell Day prison

This worrying, inexorable march toward a Police State based on truthiness rages on. It seems as if the Gxx show of force was only a rehearsal (or a planned milestone).

First, it was the fracas with Stats Can. As it has been widely covered in the media, the Harper government through Industry Minister Tony Clement has decided to shorten the census form. When they claimed that Statistics Canada recommended this, its director Munir Sheikh quit, unable to live in Harper Wonderland. The changes in government bureaucracy seem to resemble more and more those performed under Bush, when only “loyal bushies” were allowed to work for the government, everybody else being fired or severely censored. It’s almost as if reality and facts are something to abhor. The scene in the legislature when the Industry Minister is asked how many citizens were ever jailed or penalized for not responding to the long census (none is the correct answer) with the Minister dodging the question is EPIC.

Some commentators felt that the government wanted to do away with figures relating to poverty. But the plan came to light a couple of weeks later. Don’t forget, Stats Can had just released its report on July 20, showing that the crime rate had decreased again last year (cbc-crime).

Total Crime Severity Index of selected Canadian cities
City 2009 % change from 2008
Regina 143.7 -12
Saskatoon 132.1 -5
Winnipeg 127.2 +2
Edmonton 115.1 -7
Vancouver 109.6 -8
Halifax 97.2 +1
Saint John 96.4 -6
Victoria 92.2 -10
St. John's 90.6 +4
Montreal 89.6 -2
Calgary 78.4 -7
Windsor 71.1 -5
Ottawa 67.0 -2
Toronto 61.9 -4
Quebec City 61.0 -4
(Source: Statistics Canada, Police-reported crime statistics )

The Stats Can report quoted by CBC states:

Nearly 2.2 million crimes were reported to police in 2009, about 43,000 fewer than in 2008, according to a report released Tuesday. Car thefts, break-ins and mischief cases accounted for most of the decline. The crime rate, which is a measure of the volume of crime reported to police, fell three per cent last year and was 17 per cent lower than a decade ago. The crime severity index (CSI), which measures the seriousness of incidents reported, declined four per cent last year and was down 22 per cent from 1999. Violent crimes, from harassing phone calls to homicide, accounted for about one in five crimes in 2009. The report said violent crime is declining but to a lesser extent than overall crime.

There were about 165,000 youth age 12 to 17 accused of a criminal offence in 2009, a slight drop from 2008. Both the numbers and the seriousness of youth crimes have generally been declining since 2001.

It is well known that as people get older, they feel less safe and secure and start to believe that the crime rate is increasing, even though it is not. As such, it is quite obvious that a conservative, “tough on crime”, “family values”, “strong army” government will be very much inclined to pander to this constituency. James Travers explained it best in his Star column:

Liberals and Tories freely spent taxpayer dollars finding political advantage in opinion polls that sometimes seeped into the public domain. Conservatives mostly pay their own research bills, a twist that both cuts communal costs and allows the party to keep private what it learns.

Useful now, that information becomes politically priceless after the census is gutted. When no one else knows anything, reality becomes putty in the hands of those who know something.

As a political dynamic, that has particular Conservative appeal. It opens the unopposed way to shaping into policy the core beliefs smuggled from the Reform movement’s raw beginnings into national office. As an added bonus, it presents the Prime Minister as a libertarian defender of personal privacy even as he strips the information necessary for voters to assess the wisdom of his ways.

It’s been said, perhaps by Yasser Arafat, that fighting a war over religion is like arguing about who has the best invisible friend. Still, as so many kids know, having a special pal no one else can see is always comforting and often useful.

Still, I could not believe my ears when I heard Stockwell Day’s “unreported crimes” bomb, especially following the Stats Can scandal, when they were supposed to – I thought – tread lightly. Here’s how National Post (a conservative national news outlet) reports through John Ivison:

It had all the hallmarks of a classic Stockwell Day gaffe, a highlight reel moment comparable to his comment during the 2000 election that Canadian jobs were flowing south "just like the Niagara River," which actually flows north.

The Treasury Board Secretary held a news conference in Ottawa to talk about the economy but reporters were more interested in why the government is intent on spending $9-billion on prisons at a time of declining crime rates and fiscal restraint.

"We're very concerned about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys clearly show are happening," Mr. Day replied.

Like sharks sniffing blood, reporters circled, claiming to be "baffled." "There's a statistic about unreported crimes? I mean, if they're not reported, by definition we have no idea about these crimes," said David Akin of Sun Media.

Mr. Day babbled nonsense like a man with a concussion, leaving the distinct impression that Liberal critic Mark Holland was correct when he said later that the minister was making it up as he went along.

(..) statistics that show most categories of crime (including violent crime) have been falling since 1991.

Even though it is clear the crime rate started falling long before his government came to power, Mr. Day was quick to claim some credit for the falling numbers. "I think some of that is because of the large amount of resources we've put into some areas of preventative criminal justice issues," he said.

Then Mr Ivison joins Stockwell Day in his flight over the cuckoo’s nest:

(..) every five years Statistics Canada asks Canadians about their experience of crime.

The Crime Victimization study, part of the broader General Social Survey, found that in 2004 only about 34% of criminal incidents came to the attention of the police, down from 37%in 1999 and 42% in 1993.

The Opposition was fuming and foaming, but will the public reason with them, or choose the “seductive” (though idiosyncratic) “arguments” of Mr Day?

Liberal MP Mark Holland, his party’s public safety critic, called Day’s remarks ridiculous.

“I think they (Conservatives) are so desperate to turn the channel with crime issues that they are willing to just make up facts and hope that people believe that in fact there is some basis in reality for this fantasy that they are writing,” Holland told reporters.

“Clearly this is a government that doesn’t have any respect for facts, let alone for Statistics Canada,” he added, “and I think they’ve shown it in how they are addressing crime.”

New Democrat MP Don Davies added that crime rates have been dropping steadily and consistently across categories for decades. “So faced with those statistics, (the Conservatives) turn to unreported crimes. Why in 2010 would you be less likely to report a crime than in 1980 or 1990?”

The Tories have also introduced legislation that expands the definition of “serious crimes”, giving police more tools to fight it. The Opposition lamented bypassing parliamentary debate:

But he denounced the Conservatives for moving on measures without subjecting them to proper parliamentary study.

“This is about changing the channel. This is about raw politics,” said Holland.

“What I detest and what I think Canadians see through is when you have a government that just whips up policy in the middle of the night and throws it out as a diversion to their other political problems.”

Holland slammed the Conservatives for shifting about $5 billion to $8 billion of prison construction costs onto the provinces, slashing support to crime prevention programs to $19.3 million in 2008 from $57 million in 2005 and for cutting funding for victims of crime services.

Holland also derided Treasury Board president Stockwell day for relying on so-called “unreported crime” statistics to justify an overall $10 billion to $13 billion in new prison spending.

“Do they propose to lock up people who haven’t been criminally charged?” he said.

“The Conservatives prefer wild, out-of-control spending to fund their ideological pursuits even when taxpayers are forced to finance the largest deficits in Canadian history,” Holland said.

The obvious question remaining unasked is why would we give greater weight to the purported increase in “unreported crime” (though this is most likely hogwash) when it is way below the 17% real decrease in actual, reported crimes over the past decade? Why claim you are keeping costs under control, but the new census form will end up costing $8 million more?!?

Still, the government appears to show the same determination and focus that the Bush gov has showing in pursuing their single-minded / single-neuron agenda. He will spend $9 billion on new prisons even though we don’t need it, another $9 billion for F-35 fighter jets even though we’re “peacekeepers”:

Ottawa: Canada on Friday unveiled its most expensive military purchase ever -- a multi-billion dollar deal to buy 65 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets to replace its aging squadron.

The Joint Strike Fighter jets, developed by Lockheed Martin in a multinational effort that included Canada, the United States and Britain, will cost nine billion Canadian dollars (8.5 billion US), Defense Minister Peter MacKay said.

The purchase will reportedly occur in tandem with plans by the US government to buy 2,443 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets.

Despite his aura of austerity, Harpers’s track record reads, according to p2l:

P2L has seemingly missed the $5 billion for CCV (Army) and the $4.3 billion for new (but unnecessary, really) Arctic ships.

This government’s priorities are clear: though I agree with killing the money-sucking gun registry, I did not agree with killing the national daycare program. The Liberals (left) wasted money on demented gun control, the Tories (right) waste money on more guns that we don’t need. I remember the bumper sticker that used to be displayed in Juice for Life, one of my favorite restaurants: I cherish the day when the local school will have all the money it needs and the military will have to hold a bake sale for a new bomber.

Sources / More info: ctv-stats-can-fracas, np-day, vancsun-day, cbc-day-accurate, cbc-crime, stats-can-crime, ts-day-q, dt-f35, afp-f35, pushed2l, dn-ccv-5bil, arctic-ships, ts-fantasy, ts-at-odds, vs-lie, ts-politics-policy, ts-imaginary, ts-organized, cbc-organized, yt-stockwell

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