Are we ‘getting it’?

So this morning I lamented openly about the seeming inability of my fellow Canadians to notice the extremism and hypocritical, bullying nature of our current government. I may have oversold the argument a bit – it may not be that people don’t notice; it may simply be that they don’t care. Whatever the reason for the lack of national outcry over a series of should-be-scandals that are much larger than the one that played a role in unseating the previous government, we do not seem particularly concerned with the incompetence and malice that characterizes much (but certainly not all) of the current regime.

There is another potential explanation: the data may just take time to hit home. I will confess that I probably pay more attention to politics than the ‘average’ person. I find the discussion of competing alternative explanations for the same issue fascinating, and I find the foibles of humanity displayed proudly in the halls of power to be endlessly diverting. I also care passionately about the direction of my country (and the world in general), so I am always hungry for new information about the political system. There are, believe it or not, people who are even more passionate and motivated than I am, and it is to them I go when I need the cracks in my understanding filled in a bit.

So I suppose it is likely that what I might see as apathy or purposeful indifference may simply be an entirely-understandable ‘lag time’ between when I get fired up, and when the rest of the country comes around:

Canadians are finally getting the message that crime rates are falling. New poll results show the public is abandoning a stubborn belief that crime is on the rise, bringing public opinion into alignment with a 20-year trend of declining crime rates. The long-standing disconnect between public fears and reality has confounded criminologists and fuelled federal get-tough policies.

However, the Environics Focus Canada poll – obtained by The Globe and Mail and scheduled for release Thursday – shakes conventional wisdom even more by finding growing support for the use of crime prevention rather than punishment. “This doesn’t mean that people want to lay off criminals,” said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute. “But what people would like to see is more crime prevention. They feel that this is the right thing to do.”

Anyone who’s been reading this blog longer than a couple weeks knows pretty well what my feelings are on the approaching federal crime bill. It’s an approach to criminal justice that completely flies in the face of the facts. This isn’t a liberal/conservative issue either – even conservatives agree that the “tough on crime” approach simply does not work. However, there is something in the popular mentality that always thinks that crime is getting worse (it’s not), and that our streets are more dangerous (they aren’t), or that this current batch of youngsters is worse than those that came before (that’s not true either). It is encouraging to see that maybe, just maybe, we are coming around to the facts in time to realize what a shit sandwich the crime bill is.

We might be getting smarter in other places too:

“Just because she isn’t saying no doesn’t mean she is saying yes,” the poster says. “Sex without consent = sexual assault. Don’t Be That Guy.” The poster is one of three that went up at bars and around the city last summer as part of a campaign to chip away at the increasing rate of sexual assaults in recent years in Vancouver. Six months later, Deputy Chief Doug LePard says the Don’t Be That Guy campaign has contributed to a turnaround in statistics on sexual offences in Vancouver. The rate dropped in 2011 by about 10 per cent, the first time in several years it had gone down.


So I know what you’re probably thinking: “One ad campaign isn’t going to result in such a dramatic decrease”, and you’re probably right. However, the campaign is indicative of a change in the way people are thinking about (and talking about) sexual assault. I remember when I started undergrad, and we got ‘the bar talk’ about how women need to guard their drinks and never leave them unattended and only accept them from strangers if they watched the dude at the bar pour them. I’m not knocking this advice, protecting yourself is important – a woman on one of the neighbouring floors was drugged (luckily she wasn’t assaulted, but I know that it happened to other people that year). However, what advice did the men on our floor receive? Nothing. Nothing about how to distinguish between someone capable of consent and someone too drunk for it not to be date rape. Nothing about how to talk other male friends out of drunken assault. Nada. Zilch. I went to a pretty progressive school, too.

At the time I didn’t think anything of it. After all, I certainly wasn’t going to date rape anyone – dust my hands off, not my problem. It would take several years and a lot of listening/thinking for me to realize what a missed opportunity it was. Vancouver’s police department (who I have a hard time hating when they do stuff like this) is recognizing that the conversation can change from “women, safeguard your virtue” to “men, you have responsibilities too”. The extent to which this specific campaign is responsible for the huge reduction in assaults, or what role the accompanying change in officer training played, is an interesting practical question, but it is not the most remarkable part of this story. The remarkable part is that we may actually be seeing big, positive changes in the way we think about our culture and our world, whether it be social policy or something like assault.

So it’s not all doom and gloom here at the Manifesto. Sometimes we get a couple of rays poking through the clouds that let us know we just might be doing something right.

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  1. Brownian says

    I was pleased to see the “Don’t be that guy” campaign here in Edmonton, though I have no idea how widespread it was (I only frequent two pubs, both of which are LGBT friendly and attract a more-or-less progressive crowd, so I hope it wasn’t preaching to the converted.)

    I keep hoping (and voting) that this idiotic dalliance with Harper is just a blip.

  2. janiceintoronto says

    Harper and the gang make me crazy. With a majority, there’s not much that the Tories can’t do. The crime bill is going to put us back by years. I really believe Harper wants Canada to be U.S.A. North.

    I have a bad feeling that it’s going to have to get much worse before it gets better. Right now though, the public is getting what it voted for.

    Friggin’ sad…

  3. says

    I’ve long held (and I think the data backs me up) that it is reasonably well established that our government is corrupt and unaccountable but people are painting all politicians with this same brush and rather than rebelling against the Tories are just giving up on the whole system. The drop in voter turnout reflects this rising frustration. Similarly, attack ads have been shown to only drive down turnout, which often works just as well in favour of those running them.

    What the NDP and Liberals need to do is not just continue on about how bad Harper is but to actually paint that better picture of what kind of government we could have. A progressive government is not Utopian but it is a lot better for everyone (even the rich who have to pay more taxes tend to be happier in a more equal society).

  4. karmakin says

    What’s needed most of all is a NDP/Liberal alliance party.

    But the concern about corruption is for sure a real issue. Not so much the corruption itself..I’m a person who actually downplays the importance of corruption..but the perception of it.

    It’s especially tricky in Canada, where PM’s and other Cabinet ministers actually represent specific Ridings, and in fact are expected to throw a bit of weight around in order to help out said Ridings.

    It’s corruption when your guy does it, but it’s just fine when my guy does it, more or less.

    I think that generally corruption is a much smaller role in government than most people, and generally speaking things such as ideology and worldview are the dominating factors for politicians deciding what to do.

  5. says

    What’s needed most of all is a NDP/Liberal alliance party.

    Wow. No. Not even.

    The NDP and the Liberal parties have different visions for Canada, remarkably different politics, and overlap only in the sense that they are not the CPC. All a merger would do is muddy the waters and set up another two-party system (the American one working so well – why wouldn’t we want to emulate it?). Canada is better served with two parties vigorously articulating opposing positions than in a system where we have the Conservatives and the “everyone else party”.

  6. karmakin says

    Unfortunately a situation where one side is united and the other side is not will pretty much always result in the united side winning.

    It’s similar to being forced to get super-majorities to do stuff. Generally speaking it’s a structure that helps the bad guys more than the good guys.

  7. Marina says

    It actually increased reporting. Women felt that they were more likely to be believed since people were talking about it. They’re rolling out another campaign this year.

  8. karmakin says

    To clarify, I think that regardless of the political structure, if one “side” is able to for one reason or another is about to “unite” their side, then all the benefits of multiple-party systems quickly turn to negatives.

  9. collif says

    Keeping in mind I’m likely suffering from confirmation bias to some degree, I find out here on the east coast (Newfoundland specifically) people talk rather openly about the horrors of the Harper-led conservatives. It is almost assumed here that an individual would vote for any party but them. I’ve even had proffesors openly imply their hatred for the government in front of rather large lectures. It’s quite refreshing but has drawbacks. It’s hard seeing so many people openly hate a party but still see them win a majority. It’s hard to trust in a system like that.

  10. says

    I have always thought that the world is safer today than it was yesterday, and that overall this philosophy has been true since some point in 1945. Overall, we are safer today than we were 10, 15, 20 years ago.

    What happens today is that more crimes are reported and publicized by a news media that sells fear on a daily basis. We’re told we’re not safe. We are told that our children are being preyed on by strangers when they’re most at danger from the people who know them. We’re told there are more sexual assaults, but in reality more are being reported and prosecuted today than they were 10 years ago. The statistics are easy to sell but hard to comprehend.

    As for Harper…I think we need to change our electoral system. I don’t want to see a NDP-Liberal alliance party. I want to see a system where the preference of voters is taken into consideration, an exercise I wrote about awhile ago.

  11. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    So it’s not all doom and gloom here at the Manifesto.

    And why not? You do have standards to fulfill.

  12. David says

    Recently had a bit of a discussion with my dad. He voted conservative because he believed, regardless of what the conservatives as a whole represented, this one conservative best represented him and would do things in a way that more or less aligned with how my dad saw the country running. In a perfect environment, that is how I take it would work: the person you vote for represents you and gives you an equal voice. That’s how I was taught politics, that’s how I always voted as well. Individually, a lot of the conservatives seem like reasonable people who really want to improve the economy at a time when we could use a bit of a boost. To be clear, I didn’t vote conservative, in my area the conservative was a jerk with no concept of real world economics, so of course he won anyway, but I digress.
    To see Harper abuse the power of majority the way he has makes me realize that that isn’t true, at least not anymore, and may not have been true for a while, but it does make one thing clear in my mind: we can’t afford to vote for the person we thing will do the best job, we need to vote for the team that will do the best job. In that, we’re one step closer to being USA North anyway in terms of politics. I can’t say “I’ll vote for the candidate that I think will do the best job of representing me for the next few years, even if that particular person happens to be conservative”; instead I have to say “anyone but conservative” (and I really hated the “anyone but liberal” mantra) because while some of the conservatives might be good people with good ideas the party as a whole is driving this country into the ground at a slow and steady pace.

  13. says

    I have a friend who is of the opinion that a lot of people base their voting decisions on one or two issues that they feel most strongly about. A perfect example of this is one of my uncles who lives in Mass. is very strongly anti-abortion. He doesn’t care at all about any other issues, so the Republicans have his vote. My friend is a gun owner and supports the Conservatives because of the Liberal/NDP stance on gun control.

    The crime bill pisses a lot of people off, but doesn;t impact them directly. The pension issue, however, may be the sinker for them. At least I hope so.

    Here on PEI, we have a high percentage of seniors and seasonal workers; low average income adn low crime. The Conservative mentality is not strong here. The only Conservative member we have got elected because she is well liked and was an effective provincial politician, not because of Harper.

  14. says

    What Crommunist said.

    By reducing choice we’ll only further reduce voter turnout. People aren’t voting because of Harper’s negative attacks and the poor job the opposition parties have done selling their visions. Jack Layton had some success last year when the NDP broke through on its positive messaging. We need to continue that trend and bring more people back to the polls to vote for a better vision – not against an obviously bad vision.

  15. audiolight says

    No offense, but clearly that ‘solution’ was tried and already ignored by the Canadian federal government (specifically, the Conservatives… obviously!) Here’s what they generally had to say about the whole affair:

    Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has sought to deflect the ire with a smidgen of sympathy, a defence of Canadian difference, and a little fatherly head-shaking. “What are these demonstrations actually about?” he asked rhetorically in a television interview Sunday.

    The governing Conservatives have so far chosen to view the protesters’ angst as something aimed elsewhere.

    The movement that complained that the wealthiest 1 per cent had more than the other 99 per cent is being told there’s not as much to see here, north of the border. In Canada, Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Harper have argued, banks weren’t bailed out and the social system is fairer.

    “It looks like it started off as some people concerned about large income going to some Wall Street people, a relatively small percentage of people in the United States, and large youth unemployment in the United States. Which is, you know, accurate,” Mr. Flaherty said in an interview Sunday with CTV News.

    But now, he said, it’s blossoming into something different – “and a whole different series of people with various grievances seem to be participating.” Finance ministers from the G20, in chats outside their meetings in France, he said, were wondering mostly who and what the protests are now: “What are these demonstrations actually about? Who’s participating?”

    Yep. That sure showed them what we’re angry about and taught them a lesson! 😛

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