There has been a lot of head shaking, confusion and anger in the wake of the recent Canadian federal budget. Academics value evidence, reason, and rational argument. The cuts just don’t make sense.
What happens if we turn the question around? How do we make sense of what appear to be nonsensical policies?
The Conservative government is not stupid
The more I think about what they are doing the more I think there is a genius at work. Possibly an evil genius but a genius nevertheless.
Any government can ignore evidence when they make policy. Any government can make ideologically based policy and then look for the evidence that would support it.
This government not only ignores the evidence (e.g. in their crime policy) but is systematically destroying the ability of future governments to use evidence even if they wanted to by cutting inter alia
- long form census
- First Nations Statistical Institute
- National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy
- University and College Academic Staff System (a StatCan survey of HE issues)
- the budgets for basic research at the research councils (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC)
Not only does this tie the hands of future governments, but it also makes it very difficult for anyone to challenge policy directions or make policy proposals based on evidence.
For example, in his post about the UCASS cuts, Leo Charbonneau points out
Much of the faculty chapter in Trends in Higher Education, published by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, is derived from UCASS data.
AUCC uses their Trends in Higher Education document to influence policy. As the organization of University and College presidents they might be in a better position than most to find other ways to collect this data, but that is not the case for many private and non-profit organizations.
What can be done?
I have no idea, really. What I do know is that arguing that we need this evidence for policy-making to someone whose agenda is precisely to prevent the use of this kind of evidence in policy debate is not going to be effective.
Somehow we need to start from a recognition of the enormity of what is happening. The legacy of these cuts will be significant.