Are the Liberals really the party of science?

Trudeau is still cherry-picking between science and values, moving furtively from one to the other according to his interests

liberalsCALGARY, Alta. April 10, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Justin Trudeau likes to underscore for Canadians that the Liberal party bases its decisions on facts, an approach officially dubbed “[popup url=”http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/prime-minister-justin-trudeau-we-have-an-awful-lot-of-work-to-do/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]open data and evidence-based policy[/popup]” to give it sufficient scientific resonance.

Transparency is a high democratic ideal, data is the currency of our technological age and evidence is the basis of science. Thus the Liberals seek to embody what is most authoritative in contemporary society: democracy, technology and science – the last of which arguably carries the greatest weight today.

Most recently, the government’s Employment Insurance extension implemented in specific regions was said to follow from “[popup url=”http://www.edmontonsun.com/2016/03/30/prime-minister-trudeau-says-its-simply-cold-hard-math-excluding-edmonton-area-from-extended-ei-benefits” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]cold hard mathematics[/popup],” which Trudeau distinguished from political considerations. “If there was politics brought into this, we might have made other choices,” he proclaimed. Science thereby trumps politics, which is to say science and politics ought to be kept separate. In the technical language of philosophy, the Liberals endorse the “fact-value distinction.”

The prime minister’s wording was important, for he was aspiring to precision. Trudeau did not simply refer to cold hard facts, in general. Nor did he invoke the science of economics, as one might have expected. Any interpretation of facts requires context – a discipline or paradigm – and, as everyone knows, economic facts are often disputed.

Consequently, Trudeau professed his government’s policy rested upon the most exact of sciences: mathematics. Mathematics is universal and objective, and therefore impersonal. Mathematics does not depend on better or worse arguments, or on more or less persuasive speeches; it is independent of ideology and as such is beyond partisanship. In its utter disregard for persons and their particularities – for their opinions and arguments – math is, as Trudeau indicated, “cold” and “hard.”

That said, the policy surrounding EI was most assuredly related to peoples; to particular individuals and groups of people in areas of high unemployment. And the cut-off of a two per cent increase in recent unemployment was anything but based on objective or universal rationality. It was a political decision, despite what the PM would have Canadians believe.

Trudeau’s legerdemain of speech should come as no surprise, for the Liberal party simultaneously aspires to be the party of science and the party of values, moving furtively from one to the other according to its interests, even as it engages in upholding the aforementioned separation of facts and values that is so much a part of modern democratic life.

The [popup url=”http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/the-trudeau-government-thinks-it-has-a-monopoly-on-canadian-values-it-doesnt/article28748918/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]Globe and Mail[/popup] editorial board once wondered at the Liberal party’s self-appointment as the party of Canadian values. Such conviction has Trudeau defending, for example, his government’s policy in Iran and Syria by responding that it reflects “what Canada is all about.”

Whatever Canada may be all about, there is no geometry, algebra or calculus to determine it. Science cannot solve the issue of a community’s common good any more than it can address how a community defines itself. Furthermore, there is little evidence to suggest that Canada is reducible to the values professed by the Liberal party.

What is clear is that despite aspiring to be the party of science, the Liberals and their leader likewise go noticeably out of their way to avoid being seen as “cold” and “hard.” Is it any wonder then that recently unemployed folks in Edmonton and Saskatchewan in particular – erstwhile deemed mathematically beyond the fold of compassionate EI extensions – now feel devalued by the Liberals?

Even well after winning October’s federal election, the ruling Liberals have repeatedly made the argument to Canadians that their predecessors in government were at once “heartless” and “anti-science.” The Conservatives, it is claimed, failed to create policy on the value of compassion and on certain demonstrable facts. Whatever the case, politics and partisanship remain the decisive factors in the decision-making of all parties, as the cherry picking of science and values continues.

The alleged increase in transparency, data and evidence we are experiencing has by no means made the effort of citizenship any easier. One is tempted to conclude that checking facts and evaluating values in the utterances of public officials demands we each be something of a political scientist.

Troy Media Columnist Trevor Shelley completed his PhD in political science at Louisiana State University. His book, “Liberalism and Globalization,” will be published in 2016 with St. Augustine Press. Trevor is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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