Pubdate: Wed, 17 May 2017
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Gordon Clark
Page: 19


A term we hear with increasing frequency is the claim that we need
"evidence-based policy" on this or that public issue. With the
possible new importance of the B.C. Green party - we'll know more
after the final election count on May 24 - you'll be hearing the
phrase a lot more as the Greens love the term like yogis love mantras.

"Evidence-based policy" started out as a medical term. Doctors wanted
evidence on the effectiveness of a treatment before using it. It is
the empirical method in action. Constant research examines how
patients fare after various procedures, surgeries or drug treatments
so doctors can know which treatments are best.

Evidence-based policies are also often cited in how doctors treat drug
addicts and in how governments draft drug policies, deal with climate
change, make transportation infrastructure decisions, and during
political debates over things like taxing or banning sugary drinks or
similar attempts at changing public behaviour.

This is where the use of evidence-based policy becomes suspect. And
you'd not be wrong in noting that the issues where "evidence-based"
opinions are most often cited tend to be the pet projects of the left.
Evidence-based policies make sense when there is a clear objective, as
in medicine. They don't work as well with complex political decisions
where there are competing views about what those objectives should

"Evidence is rarely unambiguous," noted Philip Cross, the former chief
economic analyst at Statistics Canada, in a Financial Post column in
August. "Evidence can rule out bad ideas, but usually is unclear about
affirming the correct answer."

"Insisting on evidence-based policy-making transfers power to those
able to assemble and analyze data, effectively excluding the public
from decision-making," he warned, adding: "Evidence does not answer
moral and metaphysical policy questions."

Those on the left pushing "evidence-based" policies can be arrogant
because they essentially claim that their political objectives are the
only ones that are worthy, with the not-subtle implication that those
who prefer different outcomes are not only wrong but stupid. As a
result, a lot of this evidence-based opinion is undemocratic, verging
on fascist when it stifles debate.

Take drug addiction. While I understand that doctors working with
addicts view the issue from the singular objective of keeping their
patient alive, the evidence-based policies flowing from that objective
- - free needle exchanges, "safe" injection sites, giving out heroin and
legal marijuana - give little consideration to the objectives of
normal citizens.

We've been following "evidence-based" drug policy in Vancouver for
more than two decades and what do we have? The highest levels of
homelessness and overdose deaths ever, not to mention thousands of
wasted lives thanks to liberal drug policies that claim "prohibition
doesn't work". That's nonsense. It took decades for alcohol
consumption to return to pre-Prohibition levels after booze was
legalized. Many didn't like the policy, but it cut alcohol consumption
in half and cirrhosis death rates by about two-thirds, according to
U.S. data.

Climate change is another issue where evidence-based policy is abused.
While there is little debate that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that
climate change is real, we have the right as citizens to debate what
to do about it.

Yet climate activists are now trying to claim that there can be no
debate over their solutions.

The Green party, led by mathematician Andrew Weaver, says all its
policies are evidence-based, which is a concern. As the Greens become
more mainstream and run headlong into the concrete wall of public
opinion, they will learn that precious, erudite opinions that seem
whiz-bang within the echo chamber of a minor political party, aren't
an easy sell in the real world. Progressives need to be reminded that
we live in a democracy, not a technocracy where scientists dictate

* If you write a column two or three times a week for long enough,
it's probably inevitable you'll make a mistake. I had a clanger on
Monday when I noted in a piece on the rural-urban political divide in
B.C. that the Green party received zero votes in four northern
ridings, taking the information from an Elections B.C. website. In
fact, the Greens didn't run candidates in those ridings. As one reader
quite fairly pointed out: "Doh!" My apologies, especially to the Greens.
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MAP posted-by: Matt