When in doubt, demonize!

Let’s play a fun imagination game. Imagine for a moment that you’re the political leader of your country. You’ve just won, with a minority of the votes, a majority of the power. It’s a majority that you’ve been fighting for tooth and nail for nearly a decade of consistent disappointments. You’ve had to compromise with a political system and a populace that disagrees with everything you believe in, but now you’ve finally got the ability to push your pet projects through.

Let’s continue the game, and imagine that you’ve managed to win this majority by playing groups against each other, and ramping up personal attacks against your opponents. It’s paid dividends thus far, because your opponents have been feckless wimps who don’t have the wherewithal to punch back. What happens when, in the absence of a credible politician to oppose you, you’re instead opposed by reality. What do you do?

If your answer is “launch personal attacks against reality”, then congratulations! You have the right kind of political instincts it takes to be Prime Minister of Canada:

One expert after another is warning the federal government that its massive crime bill will do more harm than good, costing taxpayers dearly for a punitive system that will only serve to make the streets more dangerous. But Conservative MPs are questioning the credibility of those experts, suggesting they are advocating for criminals or are too detached from the real world to offer solid advice.

Let’s leave off for a moment the irony of a Prime Minister who is the most closed-off in history making claims about his opponents being “detached”. This kind of hypocrisy has become de rigeur from the Republican North Party. What’s different about this particular response is that instead of leveling his attacks at the opposition parties, the Prime Minister’s Office (which basically tells Conservative MPs what to think about issues) is trying to impugn the credibility of anyone who points out the deep flaws in his dog’s breakfast of a crime bill.

Since the Republican North Party has had success in casting all issues as “with us or against us” questions, they’re expanding this tactic to governance. People who argue that stiffer criminal penalties don’t deter crime, or that the money would be best spent on prevention and treatment rather than imprisonment and clemency denial, these kinds of people are “advocating for criminals”. Against mandatory minimums for pot growers? You must be pro-crime! Against the rapid and forced expansion of prisons? PRO-CRIME!

Sadly, the list of people who need to be demonized and excluded is growing by leaps and bounds:

Quebec has opened up a second front in the fight against Ottawa’s law-and-order agenda, refusing to pay for higher prison costs flowing from a federal omnibus anti-crime bill and blasting the legislation as counter-productive. The Quebec government is also in a dispute with Ottawa over its decision to kill the long-gun registry, suggesting it will go to court to get the information it contains on gun ownership in the province and set up its own database.

So now it’s not just a few isolated egg-heads – it’s the entire province of Quebec. A province, incidentally that is the stronghold of the official opposition party. A province that has long struggled with the federal government, particularly when it oversteps its bounds. A province that, while desperately needed for political reasons, is reviled by the same base that elected the current regime. And thus does Stephen Harper’s careful tightrope walk become even more precarious.

I find it endlessly fascinating to watch the Republican North Party fail, again and again, to show any ability to lead outside of bullying and fear-mongering. They have once again betrayed themselves as being anything but a conservative political party by expanding government spending and stepping on provincial autonomy – moves which, if done by a Liberal or NDP government, would elicit howls of outrage and vindication from every Conservative Party MP with access to a microphone.

In this case, however, they are not fighting against an undisciplined opposition that can be bullied into submission. They are fighting an escalating struggle against large political players that have not only the scientific evidence behind them, but poll numbers as well. And the number of fighters in the ring is increasing:

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty also jumped into the fray on Tuesday, saying Bill C-10 could force the province to build new prisons and train more guards. “It’s easy for the federal government to pass new laws dealing with crime, but if there are new costs associated with those laws that have to be borne by taxpayers in the province of Ontario, then I expect that the feds will pick up that tab,” he said.

The B.C. government is not yet willing to wade into the debate about cost. “We are still working through those numbers,” B.C. Premier Christy Clark told reporters in Victoria. “The solicitor general does have some concern about what that could be … [but] until we have a final number though, I don’t have an answer.”

Considering that Ontario just re-elected its third consecutive Liberal majority government (one seat shy of a majority – h/t Ian for the correction), and that British Columbians, for the most part, favour rehabilitation and treatment over punishment (which is to say nothing of our attitudes about marijuana), the federal government is in far bigger trouble than it seems to realize. With two provinces outright refusing to pay to implement the crime bill, and BC poised to do the same, other provinces may begin agitating their own rebellions, hoping to capitalize on a federal government desperate to achieve consensus.

I’m not a political analyst, nor am I an expert on the relationship between the provincial governments and Ottawa. What I am an expert on is science, and my favourite line from this story was this:

On Tuesday, Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier told a parliamentary committee the legislation is an ineffective “Band-Aid” to deal with Canada’s crime problems. He said that more prison terms lead to increased rates of recidivism, and accused Ottawa of ignoring proven statistics in its bid to get tough on criminals. “Science is useful. At some point, someone discovered that the Earth is round,” he told MPs.

Can I vote for him instead?

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