Why Stephen Harper thinks he's smarter than the experts - 2010-08-09
An outsider to Stephen Harper's Ottawa might easily be forgiven for assuming that this summer's uproar over the Prime Minister's decision to scrap the long-form census was an isolated event. How could a debate, no matter how heated, over the way government gathers statistics signify much beyond the argument's own peculiar details? But ask prominent scientists and researchers who've struggled to influence federal policy over the past few years, and they'll quickly link the census flap to wider misgivings about how the Harper government uses data and evidence—or refuses to—in shaping policy.
On sensitive files from crime to health, taxation to climate, the Harper government has often clashed with experts who argue the fruits of their research are undervalued by the Conservatives in the development of new laws and regulations. "I think," says Gordon McBean, a University of Western Ontario geography professor and internationally respected climate-change scientist, "there is a significant problem—unwillingness to entertain, or invite, or listen to, people who are experts in their fields and want to provide advice and guidance to the government."
Since he's a prominent advocate for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, McBean might be suspected of merely having an axe to grind, considering the Harper government's track record of hesitant steps, at most, on the global warming file. But it's not just that frustrated academics turn resentful when Conservatives look skeptically, even dismissively, at the recommendations that flow from their work. In fact, the Prime Minister and some of his closest advisers have occasionally expressed reservations about letting expert views directly inform their policies.