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Nov 08 2011

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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22 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    “When in doubt…”?

    Doubt, per se, seems to be the last feeling the contemporary right-wing allows itself to experience.

    Well, maybe next-to-last, after compassion.

  2. 2
    Ian B

    Ontario technically elected a Liberal minority government by 1 seat.

  3. 3
    Crommunist

    ORLY. Sloppy, Crommunist, really sloppy.

  4. 4
    Tabby Lavalamp

    Texas has told our government that this “tough on crime” plan doesn’t work. Texas!
    When the government is skewing so far to the right that friggin’ Texas is telling them to slow down, you know things are bad.

    As for those of us who feared the majority government the Tories have been slavering for, this is one of the reasons why.
    I wonder how many people they have trying to work out how they can scrap the Canada Health Act without permanently destroying any chance they have of forming a government again.

  5. 5
    Dhorvath, OM

    Tough on crime eh? Is privatization of the penal system part of this mess too?

  6. 6
    eNeMeE

    Tough on crime eh? Is privatization of the penal system part of this mess too?

    If they think they can get away with it, privatization of everything is on the menu.

  7. 7
    madderthanhatters

    Personally I am deeply curious as to how the justification for all of this happens in the heads of those who do this. Seriously, you know what you’re doing will screw the country in the long run because pretty much every expert you have hired specifically for the purpose of telling you’re being stupid when you’re being stupid has said, “This is stupid,” (before you fired them), but you still go ahead and do it? It’s un-freakin-believable.

    And since it’s fairly obvious that the purpose of the crime bill isn’t citizen safety (before Harper abolished the long-form census, stats pretty much indicated that street-level crime, overall, has been on its way down; white collar crime is on its way up. Incidentally, this omnibus crime bill doesn’t do jack about the latter), one has to wonder what this is all actually about. (I’d put my money on…money. But that’s just me, always following the money…)

  8. 8
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    And here I am on r/vancouver dealing with someone who is calling me stupid because I don’t acknowledge the existence of legitimate defenses of right-wing policy that they have not presented…

  9. 9
    Crommunist

    It comes from axiomatic thinking, and inflexibility. They’ve also made promises to people in their base, who don’t want to hear any arguments about “long term”. “People are being mugged in the short term!” they reply, while ignoring the statistics as failing to factor in “unreported crimes”.

    I am immediately made uncomfortable by any speculation of my opponent’s motivation that rests on her being greedy, avaricious, or lacking in compassion/decency. Those are intractable starting positions. I prefer instead to think of them as regular people with bad ideas. It’s a struggle sometimes, especially with people who are as unrepentant as the Republican North, but I try at all times to remember that every villain in history thought she was doing something good.

  10. 10
    WaNgErDoHg

    I’ve tried so hard to point out these problems to my parents but theres just no getting through to them. Harper could turn PEI into a prison and they would still vote Conservative. *Sigh* Thus is life if you’re child to two Albertans in the oil industry I guess.

  11. 11
    jolo5309

    Welcome to politics, every Canadian prime minister has demonized his opponents.

  12. 12
    Katy

    Awesome way to think about people and what they do or which ideas they espouse. Very few think of themselves as evil, I’m sure. I appreciate keeping humanity in our perceptions of others.

  13. 13
    jolo5309

    One thing I would like to ask as well, why do people keep on harping about “majority government, minority votes”. Do you know when the last time the federal government was formed by a majority of voters?

    1984, Brian Mulroney lead the last government (and the first since Diefenbaker in the 50s) that had more votes then all the rest.

  14. 14
    Crommunist

    Probably because with a shift of a really slim number of votes, a major shift in power was accomplished by a party that has proclaimed, on many occasions, to be interested in completely changing the face of Canada, and that has demonstrated repeated contempt for our democratic institutions and the will of anyone besides its base. Your point is well taken though – the FPTP system sucks and has for a long time.

  15. 15
    jolo5309

    The problem is, and I am not trying to derail your rant, is that prop-rep has it’s own problems, not the least being that a small group can be powerful enough to push the government too far away. United Torah Judaism being the best example here

  16. 16
    Crommunist

    Fair enough. I have heard of electoral schemes that try to find a balance between FPTP and other methods. I don’t know that there is one method that is perfect, but right now we are facing major damage as a result of FPTP.

  17. 17
    Leon

    Wow, those guys sound just like our Republicans! You sure they aren’t transplants from the States? We have some *really* crazy people here. Your description of the guy’s methods and motivations are so familiar to me from following the teabaggers that the only surprise is they’re in another country.

    Incidentally, politics has gone so far to the right in the US that as far as I’ve been able to tell, “greedy, avaricious, or lacking in compassion/decency” is the actual thinking behind the current Republican Party, which is dominated by the religious and corporate right.

    The major difference I see right now is that in Canada, a significant number of people are standing up and saying “No, this is crazy!”, whereas down here, such policies just get a murmur of response from what passes for the “left”.

  18. 18
    madderthanhatters

    It comes from axiomatic thinking, and inflexibility.

    Certainly true, but I was thinking more along the lines of their underlying psychological mechanisms – they are basically not only ignoring huge reams of data, but also actively stifling it. It’s one thing to say that “So and so is an example of confirmation bias” but in that case what I’m interested in is why we humans tend to cherry-pick our data from a set even when all data is presented and equally accessible. So yes, of course Harper and co. are demonstrating axiomatic thinking and an overall party line, but I wonder how their internal justification happens, because surely there must be a process. Cognitive dissonance is a bitch.

    On the other hand, I think you actually just nailed it with the promises to their base bit. Maybe that’s actually all they care about, in the end. Hard to say.

    I am immediately made uncomfortable by any speculation of my opponent’s motivation that rests on her being greedy, avaricious, or lacking in compassion/decency. Those are intractable starting positions. I prefer instead to think of them as regular people with bad idea

    Actually I was being more flip than anything else with my “I’d put my money on money! Follow the money!” line but I guess I should keep in mind this is SRS BZNIZ. Thinking cap ON!

    In all honesty the idea that anyone would wake up in the morning and think to themselves, “Today, I am going to be douchiest douchbag to ever douchebag,” is pretty ridiculous – as gratifying as it would be to have the all the world’s evil summed up in mustachio twirling villainy, science (and common sense) says no; “evil” is largely banal (and comprised of middle management, haha). So no, I don’t actually such policy decisions rest on naked greed or deliberate malice.

    On the other hand, I also think that the idea of “regular people with bad ideas” is a bit generous. Not that I don’t think they are regular people with bad ideas – they are – but they have to justify their bad ideas somehow. A lot of times that’s where “us vs. them” comes in (way easier to pass jerk-off policies once you manage to convince yourself that “those homeless are homeless because they’re lazy and they deserve it,”), and aside from the justification aspect, it is also entirely possible to be subconsciously swayed by less-than-noble temptations (like say, money or status, though I personally tend to think money is important *because* of status, but I digress).

    Anyway, tl;dr: I think that the Cons are rather ideology driven due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is ego, status, the comfort of ideological simplicity, and the possibility of wealth, even if these drives happen to be subconscious and subject to various internal justifications. In my view, the money factor (or temptation) is active on multiple levels and is actually more an accessory to other central tenants, but that’s just a hypothesis on my part.

  19. 19
    jolo5309

    You do realise that conservatives (PC, Reform, CHP, CPC) have said that “right now we are facing major damage as a result of FPTP.” whenever the LPC was in power as well?

    It is hard to take your argument seriously (I am opposed to the crime bill already) when you use such hyperbole.

  20. 20
    Crommunist

    Golly gee, I’ll try to live with the pain of your disapproval.

    The FPTP system is flawed, has been flawed, and always will be flawed. At no point did I say that the CPC/Reform/Whoever were wrong in their assessment. Any time a minority of voters can wield a majority of power, you no longer have a representative democracy – that’s a problem. As far as ‘hyperbole’ goes, if you can’t take my argument seriously because I said that the crime bill is a major problem… in the COMMENTS SECTION… of a post that’s about how they reacted to criticism… AND NOT ELECTORAL POLICY… then I don’t know what to do with you.

  21. 21
    jolo5309

    Golly gee, I’ll try to live with the pain of your disapproval.

    I known you went home crying because some jerk on the internet disagrees with you…

    Some hyperbole you used:
    Republican North Party (they are about as right wing as Barack Obama)
    again and again, to show any ability to lead outside of bullying and fear-mongering
    (name a party that didn’t use this)
    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.
    Hogwash, the LPC balanced their budget by doing the exact same thing

    The FPTP system is flawed, has been flawed, and always will be flawed.

    Then suggest a solution…

  22. 22
    Crommunist

    Hyperbole… you keep using this word… I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Wrt:

    Republican North – yeah that’s my bad. I should have included a link explaining my use of that name rather than CPC. Oh wait, that’s exactly what I did. Whether or not Barack Obama is a conservative has nothing at all to do with the fact that the CPC is embracing the techniques and ideology of the Republican Party more or less wholesale. When you begin violating conservative principles of small government and devolution of power to local authority, then you’re no longer a conservative party.

    Name a party – name a party that doesn’t exclusively use this to get votes? Sure. All of the other ones.

    LPC balanced their budget – the LPC doesn’t claim an ideological alignment with small-government axioms. It is hypocritical of the CPC to tout provincial autonomy and then violate it when they get into power, which is exactly what is happening now. The LPC has always been a mixed bag of federalist and libertarian approaches, which adjusts to meet their read of the context. If you get into power saying that provincial authority should be inviolate, then violate that principle at the first opportunity, you’re a hypocrite.

    Suggesting a solution – amazingly, this article isn’t about electoral reform. Despite your best efforts to make this whole discussion about one throwaway sentence at the beginning of a 1,000-word blog post, I am not interested in the discussion of different electoral models.

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