Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Which society is more transparent, USA or Canada?

Background: about a year ago the New York Times published an on-line interactive map of US census data. You could look up stuff like median income, unemployment, life expectancy,.. Here's a link:


         Well, prof Mark Jarvis of the Mowat Center (School of Public Policy and Government) at the University of Toronto saw the NY times map, showed it to his coworkers and everybody agreed it would be a good idea to do one for Canada. They even dreamed of improving the map's performance by introducing more search items such as local facilities for mental health care, the handicapped and the obese.

          The researchers at the Mowat center were quickly surprised to find that much of the data they were looking for was simply unavailable! There were large holes in the Canadian census data, especially in rural and northern Canada, geographical voids where information simply didn't exist (or was unaccessable). The prairies seemed most affected (ironic, as we'll soon see, because the data holes are due to policy decisions on the part of the Harper government which aims it's right wing rhetoric at - you guessed it! - rural populations). 

          The following Canadian Broadcasting Corp podcast contains an interview with prof Jarvis, between minutes 40 and 50. 


          Professor Jarvis blames the Harper government's elimination of the "long form" census report in 2010. The flimsy rationale provided at the time was that people objected to a purported "invasion" of personal privacy by Big Brother. Here, once again, we see the Conservatives playing the populist, hairy-chested individualist card to their rural community base. Subsequent investigation demonstrated that the rationale was a lie: very few people actually did complain about the census' purportedly "invasive" nature - but it played well to the peanut gallery..

internal blog links: keywords: long from, census


         The real problem here of course is not just the petty, perennial problem of politicians pandering to the lowest common denominator to get the vote out: populism, scape-goating, smoke and mirrors (diverting attention from real issues), rabble-rousing, threats..

         The real problem is an ideological one. The Harperites have set out to remake the Canadian political scene in a foreign image, based on a radical American-style neoconservative, free market ideology. This vision, despite its down-home, folksy rhetoric and appeals to "traditional values", actually favors Big Business over democracy, environmental health, public safety and social justice. One suspects that Harper intends, not just to scoff up populist, anti-government votes in rural Alberta and Ontario, but to destroy the very basis upon which viable "progressive" social programs could be founded: he wants to destroy the information flows that such programs require both for their implementation and their on-going administration. What an ironic end for a government that was voted into power on a platform which promised governmental "transparency"! They serve masters that are not the people (megacorporations and their elite). They peddle "patriotism" but introduce foreign models of the social contract that negate traditional Canadian "middle of the road" progressivism (Health Care..) They, more than any Canadian government I can't think of (outside of war), have done more to suppress, spin and control information flows.

         The irony does not end there. Professor Jarvis of the Mowat center contacted the guy who did the New York Times interactive census map. In typical liberal American style the Times journalist expressed surprise, assuming that, of the two societies, Canada was the more liberal, the more transparent, the more open. American liberals often make this mistake, harking back to the "good old days" when, on many matters, Canada generally tended to the left of the US. American liberals seem to have failed to take note of the damage that, first, the corrupt, divided and corrupt Chr√©tien Liberals did to this country and second, the profound deepening of that wounding of the body politic and ethics by the Harperite neocon wanabes.

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