Face the facts

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If you don’t have the facts, it makes it that much easier to simply apply your own ideology.  But it doesn’t mean good results are on the way for everyone involved.

Two different pieces of news surfaced this week that make that point in spades. The first? While the federal Conservatives were arguing that job numbers were showing that the country needed more workers in the temporary foreign workers program, the federal government actually cut funding for job market data by more than 20 per cent, leaving many suggesting the feds don’t have enough information to accurately assess whether job programs are effective and needed.

“Things are getting done in the opposite direction,” economist Don Drummond told the Globe and Mail. “Normally you create an information infrastructure and that informs the policy. But here we’ve had dramatic changes in policy with the temporary foreign worker program and the Canada Job Grant, while we’re undermining the lousy information infrastructure we already had.”

Provincial finance ministers and even the Parliamentary Budget Officer have said much the same thing: the federal government is looking at sudden changes without information that even shows whether the changes are necessary or anything close to being the right ones. The Tories have already been stung on the temporary foreign workers program when it was revealed it had been basing its support for the workers on an Internet-based job market study that showed far more openings in Canada than existed.

Ideologically, the Tories are already on board with the job program changes — proper, accurate information just seems to get in the way of where they already want to go.

In another story, new information is undermining a different long-held policy plan for the Tories.

New data on the on-again, off-again federal plan to allow income splitting for tax purposes shows that the program will cost about $3 billion, and will primarily benefit the top 10 per cent of wage earners, and earners in the Alberta Conservative heartland at that.

As the Globe points out “Overall, the study shows that 90 per cent of families would get no benefit, either because they have no children under 18, are single-parent households or because the two working spouses are in the same tax bracket.

That hardly suggests the cost would be $3 billion well spent.

The latest study comes from the left-of-centre Broadbent Institute. What’s really interesting about that is that its results mirror a study by the, well, other-side-of-centre C.D. Howe Institute from 2011. The biggest benefits would go to the country’s wealthiest single-income families.

Income-splitting has been a popular idea, but observers suggest that’s probably because Canadians assume they’ll see an immediate reduction in their taxes. Information showing that the benefits will primarily rain down on those who need them least might well dampen that enthusiasm.

Another reason why, for ideologues, facts and research can turn out to be the worst of things.

Organizations: Globe and Mail, Broadbent Institute, C.D. Howe Institute

Geographic location: Canada

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