Friday, March 27, 2009

'We never had to engage the evidence'

Ian Brodie offers a candid case study in politics and policy
John Geddes, Maclean's: 'Despite economic evidence to the contrary, in my view the GST cut worked,' Brodie said in Montreal at the annual conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. 'It worked in the sense that by the end of the '05-'06 campaign, voters identified the Conservative party as the party of lower taxes. It worked in the sense that it helped us win.'

There was something unsettling about Brodie's candid presentation. He made it in a panel discussion meant to try to address the question 'Does Evidence Matter in Policy-Making?' To some of the other panelists... the assumed premise was that evidence -- facts, objective analysis, expertise -- should matter a great deal more in policy than it does now. But Brodie painted a picture of politics where that would appear to be a hopeless aspiration...

He mentioned the way 'sociologists, criminologists, and defence lawyers' attack just about every aspect of the Harper government's tough-on-crime policy package... Brodie noted that such experts are 'all held in lower repute than Conservative politicians.' 'Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition. So we never really had to engage in the question of what the evidence actually shows about various approaches to crime.'...

I'm left with two unsatisfactory impression of the link between evidence and policy. In good times, politicians might feel they have the luxury of ignoring evidence, and so design and implement expedient policy; in bad times, politicians might feel they don't have the luxury of gathering evidence, and so design and implement expedient policy.
Image source here.