Logic? Where’s the fun in that?

Russell Wangersky
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Yesterday was a funny kind of day — one of those days when you truly learn that facts matter less than ideology.

Yep, Monday was the day that the federal Tories finally pushed their new tough-on-crime legislation through the House of Commons, and the same day that they officially announced that Canada would be pulling out of its commitments under the Kyoto climate accord.

Next up? I don’t know — maybe federal legislation banning the teaching of evolution, or at least giving equal time to creationism. Or legislation guaranteeing that anything a federal cabinet minister says must automatically be taken for the truth (even if it’s an obvious nose-puller like creating a fake search and rescue training mission to justify using military helicopters as personal vehicles).


Because facts don’t matter anymore — or, more to the point, science doesn’t.

Statistically, we shouldn’t need more prisons or tougher sentences. Crime rates are falling — but that’s all right; in the clear absence of a need for new prisons, the federal government can simply invent its own statistics. Reported crimes may be falling, the federal minister says, but unreported crimes — well, unreported crimes are nigh-on out of control. The statistics on those unreported crimes, of course, are difficult to quantify, as they are, well, unreported. But everyone knows someone who knows someone …

Then there’s all that pesky research that says longer sentences don’t actually help solve the problem — but do make for better-trained criminals. You know, if you don’t bother to read stuff like that, you can’t clutter up your mind with having to think about it.

So let’s spend billions of dollars to lock people up in the vague hope that the process won’t be the same unmitigated failure it’s been south of the border. When it is, we can always blame, I don’t know, the Liberals or something.

Then, there’s Kyoto.

Missing links

Ostensibly, we’re dropping Kyoto because the agreement didn’t include everyone, but effectively, we’re bailing out because our federal government has no interest in actually cutting emissions, because that would put the damper on key industries that are still pushing our economy along.

Why not address it? Because any impact of carbon emissions is something that affects future generations (or, at least, affects the not-so-near term), while the costs of actually doing something could affect the way we live our lives right now. And when you’re picking between the future and the wallet, the wallet now wins. (Think about it — how do you address a deficit? Raise taxes or cut services? Strange, isn’t it, how every government you can think of campaigned on the idea of cutting taxes. Why? Because voting for our own personal good is far more important than voting for the good of the whole country.)

Besides, there’s no real proof that the climate is even changing, except for the regular annual increases in temperature, the substantial changes in ocean temperature, the movement north of more southern species, the extensive melting of arctic ice, anecdotal stuff like that — you know, if we applied the same scientific blinkers to other things that we apply to global warming, we’d still be selling cigarettes and snuff to children, and we’d still have lead in our paint and asbestos in our plaster.

“Cancer? Sure, you can’t prove there’s a connection to tobacco…”

Forget the fact that even

that most careful of estimators,

the super-conservative insurance industry, is already factoring the costs of global warming into its actuarial models. But Kyoto? Heck, we can’t go along with that kind of foolishness, not unless every other country agrees to do it, too. That would just be … altruistic. Or commendable. Or responsible.

Whatever happened to the idea of leading by example?

Oh wait. We’re doing exactly that.

Problem is, we’ve learned to model a different kind of example.

We’re leading by enshrining the philosophy of “me first.”

And when you think about it that way, it’s hard to feel very proud of it.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: House of Commons

Geographic location: Kyoto, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Jim Williams
    December 06, 2011 - 11:04

    Interesting how the government of Canada has pulled out of Kyoto, but not surprising. They say timing is everything. Some time ago climate change topped the list of concerns of Canadians, and government would not dare dismiss the Kyoto accord at that time. What the government needed was a more pressing concern that would occupy the Canadian populous. And behold the banking industry gave it to them (government) by manufacturing a financial crisis. What we will see, on a more frequent occurrence, in the future will be bigger and more damaging weather patterns. Insurance companies will cry out for help and just like the banking industry governments will step in and bail them out. Oh what a tangled web we weave. I cannot help but wonder if technology exists that would eliminate the use of coal, thus reducing co2 green house gases, would we embrace this technology? .

  • Lizzy
    December 06, 2011 - 10:04

    According to people like Wangersky, it is "logical" to ease up on criminals just because the crime rate is falling. Ridiculous! If you ask me, the crime rate is never low enough, and we as a society should do everything in our power to drive it down. That means putting dangerous and repeat offenders behind bars, because "logically" speaking, a criminal can't commit crimes if he is in prison.

  • Taylor
    December 06, 2011 - 09:59

    The declining crime rate is a red herring. Regardless of the total number of criminals, the real and serious question remains: How should we treat each criminal? Just because there are fewer criminals, does that mean we should treat each of them more lightly? Of course not. Even if we focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, the fact is you can't rehabilitate a criminal by putting them right back where they were when they committed their crimes. Nor can you rehabilitate someone by putting them in a prison and handing them everything on a silver platter. You have to put them in a controlled setting and condition them to act responsibly. In other words, you have to incarcerate them and teach them to earn their privileges (like TV, computer access, visitors, social opportunities, canteen privileges, etc.). After all, that is what responsible members of society have to do every day.

  • Carl
    December 06, 2011 - 09:46

    Funny how Wangersky touts the importance of facts and logic in making policy decisions, yet he presents none to support his own views. Here are some facts on the Kyoto accord: 1. Countries accounting for 75% of the world's GHG emissions are not included in the accord; 2. Almost none of the countries that are included will meet their obligations by reducing emissions - instead, they will meet their obligations by buying credits, which does the environment no good whatsoever; 3. The Chretien government signed the accord in 1996 and then did absolutely nothing to meet its requirements - instead, Canada's emissions rose by over a third before the Liberals left office; 4. Canada's emissions of GHGs have started to fall under the Harper government. So, Mr. Wangersky, where is the logic in remaining under the Kyoto accord when it is clearly useless for reducing GHG emissions?

  • Jerome
    December 06, 2011 - 08:58

    Most posters claim to have the answers. I don't. Locking up "petty" criminals for extended periods of time is an obvious waste of taxpayers dollars. But what is the alternative? Suspended sentences or house arrest? Last evening there was a home invasion on Springdale Street, and the alleged perpetrators face numerous charges, including breach of court orders. This is a common theme . More often than not, the word breach sticks out in most charges laid today. It's obvious that repeat offenders are not being rehabilitated. Would locking them up for extended periods of time solve that problem? With the over-crowding in our penal system, is that a solution? Who is going to pay for extended incarceration, but the provincial jurisdiction? Unfortunately, like almost everything else, the dollar factor comes into play. When a minister of justice or attorney general has to weigh what a penalty will cost, then we have a huge problem.