Brian Lee Crowley

Ottawa Citizen/Postmedia columns

  • Response my Ottawa Citizen column on the economic impact of CBC’s $1.1 billion budget June 29, 2011

    One reader responded to my recent column about the study the CBC released about the economic impact of the corporation’s $1.1 billion budget. Followers of this blog who did not read the piece may wish to know that I pointed out in that article that you get roughly the same economic impact from throwing $1.1 billion from a helicopter over the cities of Canada. This image inspired the reader to suggest “Ten moral advantages of throwing money from an aircraft instead of giving it to the CBC”:

    1. It would not favour those who would think of spending money extracted from taxpayers  to curry favour with politicians elected by taxpayers

    2. It would do more for the CBC’s climate change agenda than the CBC itself by discriminating in favour of those who walk to work instead of driving

    3. It would favour those committed to healthy habits such as jogging or cycling

    4. It would save healthcare dollars by encouraging people to spend less time in their chairs

    5. Its multiplier effect would be all the greater because the money would be tax-free

    6. It would save money on bureaucracy–just think of the CBC’s large bureaucratic costs

    7. It would encourage Canadians to see the country first hand, scurrying around the country looking for money from the sky, instead of relying on secondhand reports from the CBC.

    8. With Canadians seeing the country for themselves, there would be less need for local programming and the CBC would be sheltered from the unfriendly comments of “Friends” of Canadian Broadcasting about the Corporation’s cuts to local stations

    9. It would bring unity to Canada because, unlike broadcasting, money from the skies creates no barriers between language groups

    10. It would end CBC-style union strife because who would want to go on strike at the risk of missing out on free money coming out of the blue

    The only downside I can think of is that some people, seeing manna from heaven, might confuse Harper with God.

    On the other hand, if they confused the Governor of the Bank of Canada with the Almighty, that might not be so bad.



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  • A rare misplay by Quebec May 21, 2011

    May 20, 2011 – In my regular column for The Ottawa Citizen, I discuss the history of Quebec’s voting strategy in order to comment on how Quebec’s recent election outcome has weakened rather than strengthened Quebec within Confederation. Just how weak their position is we will only discover if the Parti QuĂ©bĂ©cois is returned to power in the provincial election in 2012 or 2013. An excerpt below:

    Now it is Jack Layton’s turn. But here’s the rub: In handing Jack’s New Democrats the lion’s share of Quebec’s seats they have conjured up their old  nightmare; a majority government that owes nothing to Quebec. Now when the PQ  comes to power and begins disingenuously to denounce the evils of federalism,  they will face a different kind of federal government than they have ever known.  Moreover Stephen Harper knows there will be 30 new seats west of the Ottawa  River and none in Quebec in the next federal election. His base has no appetite  for concessions to the sovereigntists. And if the NDP wants to grow, it has to be outside Quebec.

    Read more below:
    “A rare misplay by Quebec”


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  • We have a duty to defend our values May 7, 2011

    In my new regular column for the Ottawa Citizen, I welcome the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden and question why some commentators seem to feel that the west is always wrong when it defends its values, while radical Islamists and others are too frequently given a free pass when they attack the west. An excerpt from the article:

    The fact is, when given a chance, the world’s poor and dispossessed flock to western societies. If Canada and the United States were to open our borders to the world, our countries would look like Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning. We are the great alternative to the totalitarian and authoritarian enthusiasms to which much of the world is prey. And that means that the light we shine on the world is a threat to those dark designs, a constant reminder that freedom and human dignity are the alternative to George Orwell’s boot stamping on the face of humanity.

    Read more:
    “We have a duty to defend our values”

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  • Counting crimes February 28, 2011

    I have an article in the National Post this morning about the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s recent study on Canadian crime statistics.

    Just how bad is crime in Canada… and how can we tell? Since our institute published Scott Newark’s paper on Canadian crime statistics, many critics, including John Moore (“Having fun with Numbers”, Feb. 23) have indignantly argued that there is a single objective reality about crime and it is adequately captured by Statistics Canada’s annual Juristat report. But neither proposition is correct. And StatsCan agrees.

    StatsCan acknowledges that there are many legitimate ways of reporting crime, and whichever you choose will affect the outcome. According to its handbook on justice statistics: “There are a number of ways of measuring the incidence of crime and each method will yield a different result.”

    So the choice is not between a “correct” method, and all others. Every method, including StatsCan’s, affects the resulting picture about crime. StatsCan’s analysts accept this, and they have not simply chosen to defend their practices. On the contrary, despite some disagreements, they have acknowledged that there is merit in a number of the questions that Newark has raised, and they have invited him to work with them to improve crime statistics reporting.

    Of course StatsCan’s imperfect way of measuring crime might still be better than the other options. Here are just some of the reasons Newark disagrees, and why the official picture of crime obscures as much as it reveals.

    The 2009 StatsCan Juristat report, to pick just a few examples, tallies incidents of “causing a disturbance” but does not provide this information on much more important crimes like first-or second-degree murder. Similarly, one has to consult a much lower profile government publication to learn that in 2009, “There were 78 youth aged 12 to 17 accused of committing homicide in 2009, 23 more than the previous year. This represents the second-highest rate per 100,000 population reported in over 30 years.” We think that StatsCan’s flagship publication on crime in Canada needs to provide more accurate, thorough and relevant information to Canadians. Newark’s paper helps show the way.

    Moore and others have complained that the Newark paper focuses more on crime volumes than rates. Volume refers to the total number of crimes committed overall; crime rates looks at the number of crimes per 100,000 people.

    But if these critics actually read his report, they would know that Newark recognizes the difference and agrees crime rates matter. By contrast, his critics ignore the fact that crime volumes also matter. If you walk every day on a downtown street in Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver, and you know that last year there were four gunshot deaths there and this year there have been six, you might not be terribly moved by officials telling you that there were also more people on the street this year, and so crime is obviously “down.” There is now measurably more crime that worries you in your immediate surroundings.

    It is perfectly fine to have a discussion about the relative merits of crime rates vs. volumes in forming a picture of crime; it is not fine to attack people for having the temerity to take the available data and ask whether we can do a better job measuring and analyzing crime.

    The critics also claim that Newark’s report supports an indiscriminate “tough on crime” agenda. They should actually read the report. The author repudiates such an approach, pleading for a better analysis and reporting on crime so that we can focus enforcement on the small number of people committing most of the crimes that really matter to Canadians. As he writes in the report: “. instead of being ‘tough’ on crime, it’s better to be honest about crime so as to be smart about crime.”

    Finally, Newark’s critics leave the impression that the Juristat report indisputably shows crime declining in Canada. But what does the report itself tell us about crimes that Canadians are likely to think are directly relevant to their own safety and that of their family? Among other things, that from 2008 to 2009:

    – kidnapping/unlawful confinement increased by 76 incidents

    – homicide and attempted murder increased by 84 incidents

    -child pornography increased by 205 incidents

    – using/pointing/discharging a firearm increased by 237 incidents

    – trafficking of drugs other than cocaine and marijuana increased by 582 incidents

    – sex assaults against children increased by 1,185 incidents

    The vehemence of the reaction by the academic crime policy establishment to Newark’s report is totally disproportionate to the substance of their criticism, which is mostly based on what they wish he had said rather than what he actually said. We will continue to work with researchers and StatsCan to create as accurate and informative a picture as possible of crime in Canada so that we can truly be smart about crime.

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  • Before you form a coalition, you need a reason June 8, 2010

    I was invited by Jonathan Kay, opinion page editor at the National Post, to give my reaction to the idea being so widely mooted these days of a coalition of the Liberals, the NDP and possibly the Bloc. Here is what I wrote:

    As the recent match-up of Britain’s Tories and Liberal-Democrats demonstrated, coalitions are sometimes necessary — even in countries with little in the way of a coalition tradition.

    In Britain, which faces a crisis of public spending and deficits, no party emerged from the recent election with a majority. But the country needed the tough decisions that minority governments are often incapable of making. In this case, a coalition was a reasonable response.

    So the question for Canadians is not “is a coalition possible,” but rather, “what important public purpose would it serve today?” Proponents of coalition have signally failed to give a satisfactory answer. “Because we hate the Tories” hardly qualifies.

    The attempts at justification to date have been pretty feeble. A majority of Canadians oppose the Tories, but a much larger majority oppose the Grits, to say nothing of the NDP. And it is not at all clear that the support levels for each party can simply be added together as if one were mixing red and orange paint to produce a lovely tangerine. It can instead resemble mixing half a cup of coffee with an equal amount of tea to get a drink unpalatable to lovers of either.

    The Liberal Party alone is riven with internal disputes, and is home to many different political views that co-exist uneasily in the absence of the glue of power and patronage. Remember that it is the Liberal Party of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin that helped shrink the size of the state from 53% of GDP in 1993 to barely 40% 15 years later. Liberals might well have denounced this move to smaller smarter government as the work of the devil if it had been accomplished by the Tories. But a large minority within the party is proud of the achievement and has no interest in handing over the keys to 24 Sussex to a newly merged party dominated by left-wing Liberals and NDPers who want to turn back the clock — especially since their coalition could take power in the current parliament only by being entirely beholden to Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Québécois for every winning parliamentary vote, a position that would cause Pierre Trudeau to whirl so fast in his grave that he would stand a good chance of tearing a hole in the space-time continuum.

    Then there is the argument that a coalition gives voters a “coherent” choice. My question is: Coherent by whose standards? The classic Euro-Marxist view is that all politics are really about class interests. In this view, if your politics don’t boil down to two opposing forces, one defending the interests of the ruling class, the other the interests of the working class and the defenceless poor, you are insufficiently “evolved.”

    Hogwash. Plenty of other lively divisions in society have proven remarkably resilient and call out for political representation — from language, religion and culture to regional or environmental concerns. That all such differences must be subsumed within just two parties — one representing, say, the expansive state and metrosexual social views; and another, a philosophy of smaller government and traditional mores — flies in the face of modern political experience.

    The most telling argument against a coalition of convenience, however, is the cynicism that would result among the electorate.

    What more eloquent proof could there be of politicians’ opportunistic power-hunger than their willingness to cast aside decades of building their own party identities to seize a fleeting advantage over their political opponents?

    When the Canadian Alliance and the PCs merged, it was merely two halves of a previously existing party remarrying. But the NDP is no fragment of the Liberal Party. It has long opposed both the allegedly indistinguishable “old line” parties, and is a unique mixture of prairie populism, American progressivism, social gospelers, trade union apparatchiks and British Fabians. What has that to do with the Bay Street bankers, Roman Catholics, slick patronage dispensers and consumers, welfare-state clients and the dizzying array of disparate immigrant groups that constitute the Liberal base?

    How would voters react to the announcement of such a cynical maneuver? With the disgust that always greets parties that campaign for all they’re worth against policies they blithely embrace once in office.

    Canada has somehow limped along with several parties for many years. We now find ourselves in the admittedly awkward situation where none command enough popular support to win an election outright. The solution is simply to wait until voters decide one of them has come up with a team and a platform that deserves a majority.

    The Liberal Party, as the natural alternative to the Tories, is most likely to do so. When they have, they will enjoy the justly-earned fruits of office. Not before.

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Brian Lee Crowley
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