Monday, January 9, 2012


In Adam Radwanski's absolute gem of a column today, he makes a very important point: When Conservatives do something that experts don't like, that's bad because it's "not supported by evidence". But when Liberals do something that experts don't like, that's good because of "intangibles".

Back when Dalton McGuinty took power in 2003, some of his own bureaucrats and advisers cautioned that lowering class sizes wouldn’t be worth the cost. In 2010, long after Mr. McGuinty’s Liberals had charged ahead anyway, Malcolm Gladwell used a keynote speech at their policy conference to call the investment a “ludicrous” waste of money. Now, previewing his government-commissioned report on public-service reform, economist Don Drummond has said there “isn’t really solid evidence” that it’s had value.

For all that, the Liberals continue to insist that it was the right policy. The argument they make, which is more about intangibles than hard evidence, is quite reasonable.

[whitewash whitewash whitewash]

When Mr. McGuinty took office in 2003, they argue, the turmoil of the Mike Harris era had left a toxic atmosphere in schools. Teachers, feeling undervalued, were miserable. As a result, students were under-served. A growing number of parents were considering putting their kids into private schools.

The Liberals felt they needed a big gesture to restore faith in the system. And smaller class sizes, popular with teachers and easy for everyone else to grasp, fit the bill.

So if I understand Radwanski correctly, the important thing about McGuinty's money-wasting initiative to cut class sizes is not that it made any sense, but that it made people happy. Effectively, he just admitted that McGuinty bought the goodwill of the public without any regard for whether it would help them. Intangibles.

Well, you know what? From now on, everything that Stephen Harper and Rob Ford and Tim Hudak and every other conservative does is the right thing to do because of intangibles. Because while experts may not like it, it makes some people feel better about themselves.

Here, let's try an example. I'm sure that being tough on crime makes people feel safer. So the next time someone says "There's no evidence being tough on crime works", I'll just say, "Well, it makes people feel safer, so it's a good idea as far as I'm concerned. Intangibles." End of argument! Absolutely brilliant.

All kidding aside, do you see what's going on here? Evidence has become just another tool in the Liberal tool kit. If it moves their agenda forward, it's great. If science can be used selectively to make conservatives look dumb, then it's fantastic. But if evidence based policy causes problems for people, or if the evidence doesn't support well intentioned policy, then all of a sudden it's not so important anymore. What's more important is that it meant well.

The end justifies the means.

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