This is a different way to ask you to read an editorial. If you’re reading it in the paper version of The Telegram, go to the bottom of the page first and read Peter Jackson’s column on the federal Tories and science. If you’re reading online, go backwards one click, read Jackson’s offering, and then come back here.
The column, as you probably know by now, looks at the federal Conservatives and their strange penchant for gagging scientists: despite the fact that science thrives on the sharing and testing of ideas, the Tories apparently don’t want scientists sharing anything that might conflict with Tory ideology. Politicians, and politicians alone, will decide what science can be discussed.
It’s a stand that has lately gained the interest of the federal information commissioner, who has launched an investigation into the muzzling.
But while Jackson makes good points, he left out the core of the Tory argument, which could be summarized as the government saying that, since it paid for the science, it gets to decide how and when it will be used or disseminated.
In the simplest terms, it’s he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Problem is, the federal government has made a crucial error in its hypothesis: while the piper may well call the tune, the Harper Tories have missed a step. Put it scientifically; X calls the tune, but X is not the Tories. X is actually the taxpayer.
Stop for a second and imagine the same equation playing out in scenarios other than science.
The federal government, for example, is responsible for overseeing health care.
Does that mean, therefore, that the Harper cabinet could select which Canadians get medical treatment, and whether, perhaps, Tory cabinet ministers get preferential treatment? It is, after all, the exact same equation.
Since the federal government pays the RCMP, should the federal government decide who gets investigated by that police force — and, more critically, who does not?
What about National Defence? Does the federal government’s role as official paymaster mean that they have their own private security service?
Away from science, it’s a position that no one would find acceptable. The simple wonder is that we’ve been willing to accept that one political party owns the work we have all paid for — and to add insult to injury, work that blossoms when it is shared.
The fundamental confusion is that, somewhere along the line, especially when it comes to science, the federal government has confused itself with one small piece of history. It, for some reason, believes in the description often credited to Louis XIV of France, who was alleged to have proclaimed “l’Etat, c’est moi.” — “I am the State.”
Unfortunately, governments forget that they are not the state. All of us are. We own federal science, we own federal health care, and we own our federal police force. Governments that forget that, come election-time, may find the electorate has found another use for “X.”