21 April 2012

Dumbing down Canadians

It started, perhaps, with the Economic Council of Canada. The Council, a Crown Corporation whose role was to conduct a wide range of economic and policy research for the federal government, provided Canadians with an objective analysis of economic affairs. In 1992, Brian Mulroney, furious over a Council report that said Quebec separation might not have the dire consequences his government predicted, shut it down. Mr. Mulroney did not want certain inconvenient facts before the public.

Our current Prime Minister's distaste for facts goes well beyond Mr. Mulroney's. Demographic analysis increasingly shows that equitable societies are healthy societies, a fact antithetical to the Conservative fetishes for capitalism and privilege. So out went the mandatory long-form census.

Indeed, social inequality is not something Mr. Harper's government wants to hear a lot about, so the National Council of Welfare has now been scrapped. The Council in effect acted as the country's conscience, identifying areas of poverty, providing appropriate information to the government and bringing social policy thinkers together to develop solutions. It provided citizens, particularly low-income citizens, and NGOs the facts they needed to speak out effectively about poverty, facts that may no longer see the light of day.

Nor does the PM think too much knowledge about climate change is good for us. Facts in this area tend to conflict with the agenda of the Conservative/Oil Industry coalition. So the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab is closed (global warming is particularly pronounced in the north), the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy is shut down, environmental reviews of major projects will be "streamlined," and so on.

Indeed, science itself often produces too many inconvenient facts for the growth at all costs policies of this government, so its scientists are routinely muzzled. And National Research Council funding that once might have supported pure scientific research will now be handed over to private companies. One suspects that energy and mining companies will be high on the priority list.

And then there's the recent budget assault on the CBC, the only national mass medium in the country not owned and controlled by the corporate sector. The Harper administration prefers to have the dissemination of information safely in corporate hands.

Citizens of a democracy need sources of information independent of vested interests—governments, political parties, and corporate agents—in order to make informed decisions. Universities and other non-profit groups need objective information to participate effectively in analysis and policy formulation. Lacking the expertise and the funding to conduct their own independent research, and confronting an increasingly complex world, citizens rely heavily on institutions like those mentioned above. A fundamental responsibility of democratic government is to ensure that citizens have the information they need.

The Harper government clearly has no intention of fulfilling this responsibility. It prefers to leave Canadians dependent on corporate institutions such as the daily press, PR firms, and right-wing think tanks. Facts, and indeed entire issues, in which these agents have little interest or outright antipathy can be conveniently massaged or simply ignored. The result is a citizenry more indoctrinated than informed. And that, I fear, is the direction we are headed.

No comments:

Post a Comment