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The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada > News & Events > Communications Magazine > Vol. 36, No. 4, Autumn 2010 > Evidence vs. Ideology in Public Policy
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Evidence vs. Ideology in Public Policy

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On November 4, 2010, on Parliament Hill, MPs, journalists, and stakeholders gathered to discuss the roles that evidence and ideology play in the formation of public policy. This forum, entitled “Evidence vs. Ideology in Canadian Public Policy”, was hosted by Professionals Serving Canadians, a joint partnership of the Professional Institute, the Association of Canadian Financial Officers (ACFO), and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE).

The distinguished panel was composed of Lawrence Martin, Ottawa-based public affairs columnist for the Globe and Mail and a leading biographer and author of Harperland; Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; and Dan Gardner, award-winning journalist and author of Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear and Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway.

Evidence and ideology are at opposite poles of an increasingly vocal debate on the future of Canada’s public institutions, the development of national policies, and the role that the federal government plays, or should be playing, in the economy and in the country’s social fabric.

Consider the matters of integrity and transparency in the development of Canada’s public science policies and capabilities. Are ideology and secrecy gaining the upper hand over science and evidence-based policy making? Events over the past few years illustrate the extent to which media and public access to federal scientists has become politicized. This has led to a disturbing inability to effectively communicate important scientific news to Canadians through the mainstream media. Yet indirectly, all Canadians ultimately rely on accurate and timely scientific information in order to develop knowledgeable opinions and to make well-informed decisions about everyday topics such as the products we buy, the foods we eat, even our travel plans.

From the Institute’s perspective, policy-making rooted in facts seems disturbingly out of favour on Parliament Hill these days, as this summer’s census affair so clearly illustrates. We have witnessed the resignation or dismissal of well-respected senior public service employees whose professional analysis and opinions differed from the government’s agenda. We have seen the results of a troubling and apparently ideologically-based approach to reduced industry regulation and oversight and its impact on Canadians’ health and on the environment. Legitimate questions are being raised about the consequences of repeated cuts to Canada’s public service on our nation’s fragile economic recovery and future prosperity.

As Canadians look at some of the key issues that revolve around the ongoing evidence vs. ideology-based discussion, it becomes clear that the outcome of this debate lies at the core of what kind of country we want to build in the years ahead. Canadians need a knowledge-based public service and legislators who respect and value the input of public service professionals in policy-making for the benefit of all Canadians.

Evidence vs. Ideology panel
Eddie Gillis, moderator and Institute Chief Operating Officer; Dan Gardner, journalist and author; Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; and Lawrence Martin, author and Globe and Mail columnist.
Union Presidents
Claude Poirier, President of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE); Gary Corbett, President, PIPSC; and Milt Isaacs, President, Association of Canadian Financial Officers (ACFO).