The case for having a federal evaluator general

While I respect the opinions of Steve Montague and Frank Graves, my experience has been that the OAG does go beyond financial accountability and departmental evaluations generally provided insights on outcomes.

Whether another agent of parliament would improve the situation is unclear to me, although I understand the need for longer-term analysis of program effectiveness and outcomes as well as cross-departmental analysis of program effectiveness:

A decade ago, a group of policy wonks obsessed with gathering hard evidence for decision-making began meeting regularly over beers in Ottawa. They put together a campaign for the creation of an independent evaluation watchdog to make sure taxpayers’ money is spent on federal programs that work.

The idea hasn’t quite gotten off the ground, but the group is more convinced than ever that Canada needs an evaluator general reporting to Parliament, making sure data, evidence and evaluation drive policy and funding decisions.

“We need someone to do the deeper dives and wade into and understand at a level of some depth what policies and programs work for whom, in what conditions and why,” said Steve Montague, a member of the advocacy group and an Ottawa-based management consultant.

“An evaluator-general could act as a check in an era when government doesn’t have enough independent analysis.”

Government evaluators do a systematic examination of a program’s design, its implementation and ultimate results to understand why it worked or not. They examine the context or events that triggered the program, such as a terrorist attack, opioid crisis, economic downturn or, at a local level, an increasing number of cyclists killed on a particular route. They look at the relevance or need for the program. Was it effective? Are recipients of program assistance and/or the broader community better off?

The Ottawa group proposing the creation of an evaluator general say this new agent of Parliament would be positioned between the auditor general and the parliamentary budget officer with the three of them providing independent “advice on the propriety of government spending, the credibility of government budgets and the likelihood that programs and policies will achieve desired objectives.”

The auditor general investigates whether programs are run in compliance with accounting rules. The evaluator-general would investigate whether programs are achieving the expected results.

Management consultant Michael Obrecht, considered an architect of the proposal, said the evaluator general would collect and synthesize evaluations, gathering studies from around the world to help improve decision-making and the determine the likelihood that programs and policies will achieve desired objectives.

The proposal calls for an office with a $2-million start-up budget and a team of experts in program evaluation that could do its own evaluations as well as assess the reliability and validity of data it gathers globally.

Four decades of evaluations

The government has had an evaluation function in departments for 40 years, but the scope of evaluations is typically narrow – often focused on a specific program rather than on the big policy issues that straddle various departments and other levels of government. Treasury Board has an online database of more than 1,600 evaluations conducted by various departments and agencies over the years.

The advocacy group, however, has long argued the evaluation function is not a priority for departments and has been underutilized for years. For parliamentarians, the reports are too narrow to help them wrestle with complex national and international issues that transcend a single department.

The evaluations have also been criticized as poor and questionable in their quality because departments are evaluating their own work and deputy ministers don’t want to receive bad news that they’ll have to share with the ministers.

“It would be a naive MP who took a departmental performance report or evaluation at face value,” the evaluator general group concluded in one of its papers.

Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research Associates, is a strong supporter of the group’s proposal and argues it’s more needed today than a decade ago, when he wrote a paper calling for an evaluator general “to champion and raise public consciousness about the importance of knowing what works and what doesn’t.”

“The capacity to assemble and interpret rigorous empirical evidence to test causal hypotheses about program effectiveness atrophied badly from the mid-’90s on,” Graves said.

“Despite a [Liberal] commitment to restoring evidence-based policy and decision-making there appears to be little progress to recovering that capacity in the federal public service.”

Are evaluations being marginalized?

New digital technologies that are changing the world at an unprecedented pace are ramping up the pressure on a risk-averse public service.

The Impact and Innovation Unit within the Privy Council Office has been examining new ways to improve the delivery of government programs and to ensure their efficacy. This new focus is partly in response to the unprecedented pace of technological change, which is putting pressure on normally risk-averse federal policy-makers to keep up with Canadians’ expectations. Public servants can no longer create and map out a new policy or program over five to 10 years and assess how well they work after that.

The unit recently released a “Guide to Impact Measurement, while its sister organization within PCO, the Results and Delivery Unit, was behind the controversial “deliverology” approach to achieving results on political promises and priorities.

The Impact and Innovation Unit is also overseeing a pilot project called the “Impact Genome,” which is using meta-analysis of research studies and predictive analytics to help develop the government’s Youth Employment Strategy.

But some in the evaluation field are worried that the government is marginalizing the traditional theory-based evaluations for which Canada is still seen as a world leader.

At the centre of these concerns is that a focus on results tends to prioritize short-term targets and on what can be measured simply and easily while missing out on the bigger picture. A similar concern was flagged in a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on results-based management.

But Privy Council Office officials insists that high-quality evaluations are as important as ever, and are central to its guide to impact measurement. New measurement tools, however, enable policy-makers to gauge the likely success of a program before it is rolled out and to make tweaks and adjustments to it once implemented.

International interest in evaluations

Governments around the world are wrestling with how to determine what policies are achieving outcomes based on evidence rather than politics, ideology or gut feelings.

In fact, Obrecht said the advocacy group’s campaign for an evaluator general got new life when other countries recently called for creation of similar posts.

In Australia, the Labour Party supports the creation of an evaluator general office. The evaluator would be housed inside the Australian treasury to help assess what policy programs are working.

Last year, a parliamentary working group in France urged the creation of an autonomous Parliamentary Evaluation Agency in a bid to boost Parliament’s oversight and role in evaluating policies.

Still, it’s unclear how much appetite there is for another agent of Parliament in Canada. A recent report by Public Policy Forum on the nine existing parliamentary watchdogs concluded “fewer, stronger agents” would better serve Parliament. The report recommended a high bar for creating new agents and to consider consolidating the work of agents with similar mandates.

The group advocating for an evaluator-general agrees on the need for the job but the structure of the office has generated much debate.

Some argue that a full agent of Parliament position isn’t necessary, and the work could be done by a chief evaluation officer, similar to the chief science officer appointed by the Liberals. Others say the work could be handled by expanding the role of the auditor general or the comptroller general.

Obrecht argued an independent evaluator general is even more critical with so much more information and misinformation floating around.

“Decision-making seems to be contracted into sound bites, and the capacity to collect extensive information and digest it seem to have been weakened by instant access to easy answers.”

Source: The case for having a federal evaluator general

On racism, elections and the media: Paul Adams

Good commentary on the need for more informed media discussion of the substantive issues, and less discussion of the political aspects:

Other than climate change, which is an existential threat to all of humankind, arguably the biggest threat to Western democracies is racism. Politically, liberal democracy is built on the idea of fundamental human equality and the further it strays from that precept the less it is recognizably democratic. Sociologically, societies that are racially complex but racially divided by law or harsh custom are unhappy places where violence lurks and often explodes.

In the United States, the president is the most openly racist in at least a century. He came to political prominence as an Obama birther, launched his campaign smearing Mexicans as rapists, has separated brown mothers from their brown children as a matter of policy and is seemingly intent on winning another minority victory in 2020 by stoking the flames of racial fear among white Americans. In the United Kingdom, a Brexit referendum victory driven in part by fears of outsiders is now also threatening the historic bonds that fasten England to both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Here in Canada, you do not even have to go to the issue of racist intent to see that Quebec’s Bill 21 — which would ban the wearing of religious symbols such as the turban, the hijab and the kippah for many public servants — would be racist in its effect, hitting mainly people of colour and Jews. And in the last few days, the pollster Frank Graves has released data suggesting that opposition to the immigration of visible minorities is rising in Canada.

At one level, this might not seem very different from the other controversial issues journalists cover as a matter of routine: economic inequality, tax levels, education spending and so on. However, I think it presents unusual challenges that the media may not be entirely prepared to cope with.

It is the conceit of modern mainstream journalism that it stands outside of ideology. It is neutral, balanced, objective. If someone wants higher taxes to fund social programs and someone else wants lower taxes to stimulate the economy, reporters quote both sides of a debate, excavate some relevant data, and leave it to the readers to decide the argument. This is a powerful idea and has some merit. Many of us consume the news to inform us as citizens and not to be told what to think or do.

On the other hand, it can lead to the laziest conjuring trick in the journalist’s kit: what is sometimes called false balance. For a couple of decades, this was most obviously a problem with the coverage of climate change. Even as the evidence of human-caused climate change grew and the scientific consensus became close to complete, many journalists ran back and forth, got quotes from credible scientists, balanced them with a quotes from increasingly isolated and eccentric, often industry-backed “climate skeptics,” threw in a little data and let the readers decide. And in this way they failed the journalist’s responsibility not just to be fair, but to be rooted in evidence (as indeed scientists should be). Only very recently has this trend been significantly corrected.

In the case of racism the challenge is further complicated by the way in which it is being metabolized politically. Frank Graves’ most interesting finding was not that opposition to non-white immigration has recently risen. In fact, as he points out, it has sometimes been this high in his data in the past. What’s most striking is the degree to which it has become a partisan issue. Just six years ago, roughly half of Conservative supporters said too many immigrants were visible minorities; today the figure is over two-thirds. Meanwhile, among Liberal supporters, the trend has been the opposite. Six years ago about a third of Liberals were concerned about visible-minority immigration. That figure has now fallen to less than one-in-seven.

The supporters of our two main parties are polarizing around the issue of race and we are in an election year.

I don’t think even his harshest critics would claim Andrew Scheer is a Trump-style racist. In the immediate aftermath of the New Zealand massacres a few weeks ago, his first reaction (or that of his staff) was to tweet out condolences, somehow neglecting to mention that the murders took place in a mosque and the victims were Muslims. After some hours of barracking for those omissions on social media, including from some prominent conservatives, he did a very un-Trump-like thing and issued a new statement that got it right.

Scheer does not appear to be personally racist, but he needs the votes of people who are. He is not a white nationalist, but he shared the “yellow vest” platform on Parliament Hill with Faith Goldy, who was let go by The Rebel for her sympathetic coverage of the anti-Semitic and anti-black Charlottesville demonstrations, has given an interview to the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, and who was recently bounced from Facebook — not an easy thing to accomplish — for her views. Let’s just say she is not the sort of person in whose company Preston Manning would have wanted to be seen when he was a party leader.

Naturally, the Trudeau Liberals, mired in political troubles of their own making, and with a political base that may be getting more liberal on race according to Graves’ numbers, is using this as a cudgel. Trudeau has taunted Scheer to denounce white supremacists. Scheer’s reaction has been rather delicate, denouncing the sin of white supremacy but appearing reticent to name the specific sinners.

The danger in all this is that it invites journalists to rely on another bit of professional sorcery: that is, converting any matter of substance into a political issue. Instead of trying to understand the place that race and racism has in our society, our discourse, our policy and our laws, we are tempted to convert it into a political spectator sport. At best, that means running back and forth between Trudeau and Scheer chronicling jabs and counterpunches. At worst, it means that any serious discussion of race and racism with be replaced with public disgust at “smears,” “name-calling” and “negative campaigning.”

We need much more journalistic work to understand the roots of more overt racial hostility in Canada, and their connection to economic conditions, patterns of immigration and embedded cultural impulses that may have been dormant or suppressed. We need to understand the role of the internet and social media culture. We need to distinguish between overt racists, unconscious racists, and those who are not actively racist themselves but who are willing to tolerate those who are. More than anything, we need to understand the experiences and perspectives of those who are the targets of racism.

We need to understand better how our political system has allowed people like Goldy to walk onto a political (and media) stage where not long ago they would have been unwelcome. We need to be careful about unthinkingly labelling Scheer a racist, but also to understand the political dynamics that are shaping his party, its policies and its rhetoric.

We also need to pry apart the Trudeau government’s rhetoric and its policies (most notably on refugees). We need to understand better why the Liberal party’s supporters have grown so quickly so much more liberal on race, and to what extent this is real and to what extent just an artifact of partisan polarization.

And finally, those of us in journalism need to examine our own role. Journalism should not be indifferent to the health of our democracy; when journalism is done well it is a pillar of democracy as well as dependent on its liberties to thrive. We are still far from the point where we have an open racist sitting and chiming in on the “At Issue” panel with Rosie, Andrew and Chantal. But Ann Coulter, the American commentator who sees non-white immigration as a form of genocide, has often been interviewed on Canadian television. Gavin McInnes, founder of the sometimes-violent “Proud Boys,” has appeared on the CBC News Network to defend a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people in the 18th century as reasonable public policy for the time.

Racism raises complex journalistic issues that are not as simply solved as banning people from the airwaves. It may be that in the world of the internet and social media, journalists no longer have the ability they once did to police who inhabits the public square. They need to report on racism without fuelling it or giving it a platform. But with racism, as with climate change, journalists should not be confused about which side they are on.

Source: On racism, elections and the media

For tthe full Ekos report: click here

How Canadian populism is playing out in the Burnaby South byelection

Good coverage on the emerging role and tactics of the PPC along with Ekos pollster Frank Graves’ analysis of greater polarization among Canadians.

Ethic media is also picking up on the apparent attraction of some Chinese Canadians to the PPC (see the latest Diversity Votes — February By-elections: Matching Census Data with Ethnic Media Coverage (17-23 February 2019, last pre-election report):

Twenty minutes before the first Burnaby South byelection debate, a sudden influx of People’s Party of Canada supporters with shiny signs and newly minted pins filled all the remaining chairs in the room.

And they were ready to be heard, not just seen.

The following two debates — attended by roughly 100 people, on average — were dominated by this group’s grievances. They were louder and rowdier and far outnumbered the supporters of any other national party in the House of Commons.

The third debate descended into chaos when the topic of immigration arose, leading to finger-pointing and shrieking in the audience.

“Canadians first,” yelled several in the crowd, donning PPC pins. Roars from the crowd drowned out the candidates as others shouted “racist” and “fascist” in response.

This is one face of an increasingly visible populist movement in Canada. And experts say it’s not going anywhere any time soon. More and more, there is less common ground in what we consider to be Canadian values, and experts say the nation’s shift toward populism heralds a new chapter in Canada’s life. Political discourse is only expected to become more entrenched and vitriolic ahead of October’s general election.

Frank Graves is the president of Ottawa-based EKOS Research Associates. He’s been tracking what he calls “ordered populism” or what economists refer to as drawbridge-up thinking.

While populism can operate either on the left, right or even centre of the political spectrum, Graves said that is not what is emerging in Canada. Instead, it’s ordered populism which is bubbling up in the values of the right and far-right.

Its members are largely religious, have reservations about diversity, are deeply pessimistic about their economic future, are disdainful of media and government and are convinced that climate change matters far less than their own survival.

“What unifies populism is a dispute between the so-called pure people and the corrupt elite. And that is definitely what Trump, Brexit, Ford and the PPC is going after,” he told Star Vancouver.

Maxime Bernier, the leader of the PPC, is speaking a “far more authentic” version of what those in the ordered populist camp want to hear, Graves added.

“One of the big question marks for me (is) will that actually convert into impact in the next election?”

After a messy split with the Conservative Party last year following his loss in the leadership race, Bernier — an MP from Beauce, Que. and a former cabinet minister in the Stephen Harper era — announced the launch of the People’s Party of Canada, made official with Elections Canada this January. He’s since been touring the country.

Burnaby South’s Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson — a former Christian radio host, anti-abortion activist and vocal opponent to British Columbia’s student education plan on sexual orientation and gender fluidity — was one of his first picks to run as a candidate. Her support could be an early indicator of the PPC’s chances in the upcoming general election.

Tyler Thompson will face off against federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh — vying for his first seat in the House of Commons — Liberal Richard Lee, Conservative Jay Shin and independents Valentine Wu and Terry Grimwood on Monday in Burnaby South.

Byelections will also be held that day in York—Simcoe, Ont., a seat previously held by former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Van Loan, and in Outremont, Que. The latter riding was home to former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

Each time Tyler Thompson said “Canadians first,” — which occurred multiple times at every debate — the crowd would swell into visceral cheers. Thompson directly appealed to prevalent anxieties in the riding about public safety as she repeatedly brought up the case of Marissa Shen, a 13-year-old Burnaby South girl who was murdered in the region. A Syrian refugee, who was employed in Canada and had family here, is the accused. Allegations are still being tested in court.

Despite common assumptions that the populist movement camp is dominated by disaffected white males, Thompson’s supporters in Burnaby South are composed of a majority of Chinese-Canadians. She told the Star that’s because of her strong roots in some of the community’s churches.

In an interview with the Star on Thursday, Bernier said his party is indeed populist — but a “smart populist party.”

“Usually when you are a populist politician, you appeal to the emotion of people. I’m not playing with their emotion. I’m playing with their intelligence,” he explained, claiming the PPC is the only party with solid policy platforms. “We are the People’s Party working for the people … and I am proud of that.”

People are finding less and less common ground when it comes to Canadian values — and that is certainly going to matter in the upcoming election, Graves said.

While politics are often fickle and ever-changing, values change at a glacially slow pace. For instance, at the turn of the century Canadians were more “open” when it came to ideological orientation — which Graves said is a terrific predictor of values — 50 per cent of Canadians agreed that they were neither to the right or the left.

But now, Graves said that number has dwindled down to 10 per cent.

“Everybody has picked a side,” Graves said. “You live in two incommensurable Canadas, just as there’s two incommensurable Americas. And U.K. And Ontario. And that’s a daunting challenge.”

Values exist in the cultural realm and provide “moral goalposts” on what people prefer society to look like. Unlike discussions of policy issues, debates on values are emotionally engaging which is why Graves estimates the “narrative” of the right is beginning to dominate.

And on the left, the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, there has yet to emerge a populist movement with an equally emotive narrative. While the right begins to have its own conversations about values, Graves said the “open values” of the centre and left remain consistent between Liberals, NDP, and Greens.

Members of this “open society” outlook favour diversity, immigration, trade and globalization, are optimistic about the future, guided by evidence-based policy and believe that climate change is of high priority.

And the gaps between the two groups could not be larger, Graves said.

Source: How Canadian populism is playing out in the Burnaby South byelection

In Canada, the term ‘nationalism’ doesn’t seem to have a bad rap. Here’s why

Interesting and relevant changes to how Canadians perceive attachment and belonging (Ekos more reliable than Leger’s web panel):

On a historic Remembrance Day, a century after the end of the First World War, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Paris crowd that decaying trust in public institutions will lead citizens to look for easy answers “in populism, in nationalism, in closing borders, in shutting down trade, in xenophobia.”

The implication was clear: if nations turn in on themselves and treat outsiders as threats, we might again find ourselves in a bloody conflict with fronts all over the world.

But a series of surveys suggest the idea of being a nationalist, and nationalism in general, are viewed fairly positively by most Canadians.

What the data suggest is that Canadians don’t see the concept of nationalism the way people do in the United States, where the term is often linked with white-nationalist groups, and then with white supremacy and racism.

Rather, Canadians appear to have constructed their view of nationalism on the idea of feeling connected to our country and ensuring that others feel connected as well — even as we watch the term pilloried globally.

“It is used in different ways — when people are talking about the Trump nationalism, they would say (it’s) bad. But in Canada, they accept it because it is equated with certain communities and they see it as a way it’s helping vulnerable populations find their place in Canada,” said Kathy Brock, a political studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“Canadians have just acclimatized to this dual view of nationalism.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, Canadians often reported feeling greater attachments to their particular communities or ethnic groups than they did to the country. In the intervening years, connection to country has strengthened while connection to community has faded, said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates, a polling and market-research firm. The opposite has happened in Europe, he said.

Research also suggests Canadians’ attachments to their ethnic groups have weakened over the last 20 years in favour of an attachment to country, Graves said, even as census data shows the country’s population is becoming ever more diverse.

“We don’t have a common ethno-linguistic homogeneity that produces a definition of ‘the people.’ It’s more civic nationalism,” Graves said.

“In Canada, national identity has been created through a dialogue between citizens and the state and the public institutions — medicare, the Mounties, Parliament Hill. It isn’t as much steeped in history or common race and identity, which probably inoculates it from some of the more disturbing expressions of nationalism.”

Newly released survey data from the Association of Canadian Studies says that 60 per cent of respondents hold a somewhat or very positive view of nationalism, compared with about 45 per cent in the United States. The results were similar in both English and French Canada.

There also appears to be an association between Canadians’ views on nationalism and their views on multiculturalism.

“In contrast to the European idea of nationalism, having that ethnic component to it, most Canadians don’t see nationalism as ethnically driven. They see it more as a form of patriotism,” said Jack Jedwab, the association’s president. “It doesn’t intersect as much as it does in the European context with anti-immigrant sentiment, or a sentiment against diversity.”

The Leger Marketing survey of 1,519 Canadians on a web panel was conducted for the association the week of Nov. 12. Online surveys traditionally are not given a margin of error because they are not random and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.

A day after his Nov. 11 comments, Trudeau was asked how he defined nationalism and where he saw it in Canada.

“In Canada, we’ve demonstrated many times that identities are complimentary,” he said. “I’m an extremely proud Quebecer, I’m an extremely proud Canadian and like most Canadians, they don’t see a contradiction in that.”

Experts say the more negative forms of nationalism are nevertheless simmering in Canada. Jedwab’s survey data suggest that respondents who have positive views of nationalism are somewhat more worried about immigration and security along the U.S. border than those who have negative views of nationalism.

Part of what fuelled U.S. President Donald Trump’s political rise, and his populist rhetoric, was financial worry — or what Graves described as the idea of the everyman versus the corrupt elites. Brock said Canada has thus far avoided similar concerns about class and finances, particularly coming out of the recession a decade ago, and a similar rise of nationalist rhetoric.

“Now, we’re facing some really serious economic challenges and if they come to pass, then we could see a different manifestation of this,” she said. “So I don’t think those (polling) figures are necessarily set in stone.”

Source: In Canada, the term ‘nationalism’ doesn’t seem to have a bad rap. Here’s why

Canada is a tinderbox for populism. The 2019 election could spark it.

Frank Graves and Michael Valpy focus on the shifting views of millennial men, visible minorities as well as not visible minority, towards populism and the right. The 2019 election will provide a test of their thesis but certainly the Conservatives seem to mining this resentment in much of their messaging:

As Canadians, we sit atop the continent, watching as our neighbours slide into cultural civil war. It has become easy to just be appalled as America becomes riven, with social media and antagonistic rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum erasing the middle ground. There are two Americas, incommensurably separated on the fundamental issues of the day: climate change, the economy, social issues like health and education, employment, the media, immigration in particular, and globalization and free trade.

We’ve learned more and more about the populism that has fuelled this complicated moment as the fracture in America races like wildfire throughout Western democracies. It is the biggest force reshaping democracy, our economies and public institutions. It is the product of economic despair, inequality, and yes, racism and xenophobia. It is an institutional blind spot, largely denied or ridiculed by the media, and by the more comfortable and educated portions of society.

It is very much alive in Canada. In fact, our populist explosion has already had its first bangs and is likely to have a major impact on next year’s federal election.

The shifts in the democratic world order over the last decade have increasingly prompted social scientists to discard the left-right political spectrum in favour of an “open-ordered axis,” or what The Economist calls drawbridge-down vs drawbridge-up thinking. The former are cosmopolitan-minded people, in favour of diversity, immigration, trade, and globalization, and who are optimistic about the future; they’re guided by reason and evidence-based policy, and believe that climate change is a dominant priority. Drawbridge-up people, with an “ordered” worldview, are largely parochial, and they have reservations about diversity, are deeply pessimistic about the economic future, believe more in moral certainty than reason and evidence, are disdainful of media, government and of scientific expertise, and are convinced that climate change is trumped by the economy and their own survival. It’s ordered thinking that is metastasizing in Western societies, including Canada’s, especially among the political right. EKOS research from 2017 suggests about 30 to 40 per cent of adult Canadians are drawn to it.

Meanwhile, research over the last 10 years has found that Canada, like the United States, is turning into a society fissured along fault lines of education, class and gender. These are social chasms defined by the concentration of wealth at the top of society and, for everyone else, by economic pessimism and stagnation; by a comfortable feeling on one end of the societal teeter-totter, and a fear on the other end that a subscription to the middle-class dream might no longer be available.

Although there has been a recent uptick for the first time in 15 years, the portion of Canadians who self-identify as middle class since the turn of the century has declined from 70 per cent to 45 per cent, a stark number that mirrors America’s—signalling that Canadians have a deeply pessimistic view of their personal economic outlook. Only one in eight Canadians thinks they’re better off than a year ago. Only one in eight thinks the next generation will enjoy a better life. And EKOS finds that, by a margin of two to one, Canadians believe that if present trends with inequality continue, the country — this country! — will see violent class conflicts.

Ordered populism has already become an illusive, misunderstood theme in provincial elections in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario. Indeed, Doug Ford and his Ontario Progressive Conservatives won thanks to a preponderance of working-class, male electoral support—but a closer examination of the vote shows that male millennials, against expectation, supported Ford in significant numbers and had a high turnout. Millennial women, meanwhile, preferred the New Democratic Party by a margin of 25 points, and the millennial women who didn’t vote NDP largely stayed home. Millennial men split their votes between the NDP and Progressive Conservatives, and they led females millennials by 10 points in turning out to cast ballots.

Survey evidence strongly suggests that these are young men angered by the economic realities they face, and they are hit the hardest by what is happening in Ontario’s economy. A joint study by United Way Toronto and York Region and Hamilton’s McMaster University on poverty and employment precarity in southern Ontario reports that only 44 per cent of millennials in the region — the heartbeat of Canada’s economy — have full-time, permanent jobs, that the majority have not found work that provides extended health benefits, pension plans, or employer-funded training, and that formerly high-paying blue-collar jobs there are rapidly vanishing. The lack of good jobs, coupled with the social catastrophe of affordable housing and the resulting need to delay family formation, is resulting in anxiety and depression that disproportionately affects millennial men—making them ideal targets for the appeals of ordered populism.

What is happening challenges the conventional view that the youngest adults of Canadian society—the millennials, now Canada’s largest electoral demographic—operate with roughly similar, progressive views and values.

Another assumption in need of challenging is the idea that Canada’s ordered populism, like its American counterpart, is a besieged white citadel. In fact, our northern brand is as much the choice of multicultural new Canadians as of white native-born Canada. A significant chunk of new Canadians, many of them non-white, indicate they will vote Conservative in next year’s federal election — even though 65 per cent of Conservative supporters told EKOS this year that Canada admits too many non-white immigrants. And while a majority of Canadians are open to immigration, the intensity of the opposition is red-hot, including in other parties: 20 per cent of New Democratic Party supporters and 13 per cent of Liberal supporters also believe too many non-white immigrants are entering the country..

There are two possible explanations for this: First, new Canadians may bring with them into the country strains of social conservatism that make them hostile to issues like same-sex marriage and what they see as immoral, too-liberal sex education, an inflammatory issue in Ontario over the past couple of years. Thus, what they see as an assault on their values may be more important than a party trying to appeal to voters who want fewer of them in the country.

Second, where neighbourhoods are ethnically homogeneous as many are around the core of Canadian cities—white, brown or otherwise—populism holds appeal. Where there’s more diversity, it doesn’t. As social scientists have discovered, communities which have the least contact with with minority groups are the most hostile to them.

The looming federal election could be a spark for all the populist tinder largely being ignored in Canada. In the 2015 federal election, voting differences by gender for all age groups were flat. Now the federal Conservatives hold a 17-point advantage among men from all age groups other than seniors —a huge change in three years. Federal Conservatives also hold an advantage over Liberals and New Democrats with voters who self-identify as working class, and the party has overwhelming support from non-university-educated Canadians, the group most likely to feel left behind by the disappearance of blue-collar industries.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper led a party supported by the economically comfortable. His successor, Andrew Scheer, leads a party of the economically unhappy, of the new economy’s losers, a base increasingly comfortable with raising the drawbridge even as the Liberal government announces Canada will admit an additional 40,000 immigrants by 2021, bringing the annual number of new, mostly non-white arrivals to 350,000. Any campaign rhetoric that confuses this new support with its old party will only exacerbate the anger—and for the angry to find comfort in populism’s temptations.

What we do know is that Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, with its populist strains and its vague campaign promises, is what many angry young men voted for. Maybe they didn’t vote for its policies; maybe, in their anger, they just voted to burn the house down, even if the history of populist movements show they’ve rarely worked out.

We can try to understand why it’s happening. We can insist that governments tackle inequality and affordable housing. We can build a future that preserves progress for all of us but addresses the real injuries of those who have embraced populism, while also refusing to bend to their fear, anger and ignorance. But letting populism burn the house down benefits nobody—and we can’t just ignore the smell of gasoline in the air.

Source: Canada is a tinderbox for populism. The 2019 election could spark it.

ICYMI: Pollsters starting to see uptick in government work

Back to “committing sociology:”

The Trudeau government is reinvesting in public opinion research after it was virtually abandoned in the final years of the last Conservative government, though spending remains far below historical averages, according to veteran pollster Frank Graves.

“They’ve committed to doing more and more work…but it’s certainly nowhere near the levels it was historically both with the early stages of the Conservative government, certainly the Liberal government before that, and the Mulroney government before that,” he told The Hill Times.

Mr. Graves, founder and president of Ekos Research, said in an interview that the federal government has contracted more public opinion research work from his company since the election last fall. He linked this to the Liberals’ push to what they see as a return to evidence-based decision-making.

It pales in comparison, however, to what was seen in even the early stages of the Conservative government, he said.

The Harper government spent $31.2 million polling Canadians in the 2006-07 fiscal year before cutting back to $4.9-million in 2013-14, The Hill Times reported.

This stretch of scarce funding represented a “very unusual period,” Mr. Graves said, with the government conducting “virtually no research” of any significance during this span.

A 2003 auditor general’s report clocks in federal spending on public opinion research in 2002-03, under a previous Liberal government, at $23.7 million and $26.2 million the year before.

Mr. Graves partly attributed lagging “rust” in the bureaucratic channels in preventing the Liberals from revving up polling efforts back to previous levels.

“[It’s] going to take awhile for the bureaucracy to catch up and for the resource envelope [to expand] to do this in levels which would be more commensurate with the need and demand and express priority provided to this approach,” Mr. Graves said, noting that civil servants would also need to catch up with technological advancements in the field.

When reached, the Treasury Board Secretariat said it did not have up-to-date figures on spending on public opinion research or consultations specifically.

….Pollsters optimistic after lean decade

Stephen Kiar, CEO and founder of Ottawa-based public opinion and market research firm Phoenix SPI, said his company has also started to see an increase in public opinion research work in the last month or so.

After the election, the Liberals proceeded “cautiously and deliberately,” as new ministers learned their departments, relevant issues, mandates, and staff, among other considerations, he said.

As a result, Phoenix didn’t see any increase in work before the government’s fiscal year ended on March 31, though things picked up afterwards, Mr. Kiar said, as departments began putting together their research plans for the coming year, and seeking the necessary approvals.

“It appears that many departments have finished that planning process and are starting to engage research firms like ours for their projects,” he explained.

Mr. Kiar said it’s too early to compare spending to the previous Conservative government, which he argued “savaged” the public opinion research budget, while dramatically increasing the media monitoring budget.

Under the Trudeau Liberals, mandate letters to cabinet ministers noted a need for Canadians to see the government’s “willingness to listen” and for the government’s work to “be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians.”

Mr. Graves framed the period under the Conservatives that saw a “real paucity” of public opinion research as an “anomaly,” and partly blamed the scarcity of polling on what he saw as the government’s indifferent, sometimes “hostile” approach to empirical research.

Critics accused the Harper government of gutting funding for research and muzzling federal scientists. The Conservatives axed the mandatory long-form census in 2011, drawing strong criticism from a wide range of groups worried about the consequences the decision would have on the reliability on the vital data gleaned from the sweeping survey of Canadians.

The Liberals reinstated the long-form census as mandatory shortly after assuming office last November.

Kara Mitchelmore, CEO of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, an industry advocacy group, says numbers on polling activity for 2016 won’t be known until the end of the year, though she cited the re-establishment of the mandatory long-form census as leading to an increase in work.

“I can say anecdotally that with the re-instalment of the long form census, which MRIA strongly supports, there is an obvious noticeable increase in data collection roles,” she said in an emailed statement, noting that this will “trickle down” into more analyst roles, which is “great news” for the industry.

Mr. Graves said he expects funding for polling to eventually be restored to previous heights, though predicted it would only reach a quarter of the historic average this year.

That’s still “a lot better” than what we saw in the late stages of the previous government, he noted.

Source: The Hill Times

Harper’s ‘old-stock Canadians’ line is part deliberate strategy: pollster (Ekos)

More on the intent behind ‘old-stock Canadians:’

Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s line about “old-stock Canadians” during  the Thursday leaders’ debate was a deliberate move to energize the Conservative base on an emotional topic, a pollster says.

Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research, says that kind of divisional tactic has been used successfully in the past.

“It’s part of the deliberate strategy to sort Harper’s constituency from the rest of the electorate,” Graves told CBC Montreal’s Daybreak. “It creates a sense of us versus others.”

Graves describes Harper’s comment as a “dog whistle”: something meant to be heard by a target audience, but misheard or ignored by the rest.

Harper made the comment while addressing health care for immigrants and refugees.

Source: Harper’s ‘old-stock Canadians’ line is part deliberate strategy: pollster – Montreal – CBC News

The contrary view is expressed by Andrew Coyne (Andrew Coyne: Harper’s ‘old stock’ faux pas was little more than that) and Lysiane Gagnon (In Quebec, old stock is just a fact of life) who maintain that it simply used in a descriptive sense. But words matter, and are chosen for both explicit and implicit messaging, with ‘old-stock’ having an implicit message in the political context.

The EKOS poll: Fear fades — values endure

Ekos - Law Enforcement and TerrorismFrank Graves of Ekos on public opinion regarding the threat of terrorism:

  • Virtually all responses made by Western governments to the threat of terrorism in the 21st century have been deemed failures in hindsight. Almost universally, the public sees these past interventions as having yielded nothing but a more dangerous world.
  • Overwhelmingly, Canadians want to see their leaders re-think their reliance on military and security-oriented approaches to the terrorist threat, in favour of approaches more in keeping with our core values as a nation.
  • Canadians have lost faith in the security agenda which says the problem can solved by restricting civil liberties even further, and want to see our leaders place more emphasis on the traditional tools of diplomacy and development.

The EKOS poll: Fear fades — values endure (pay wall)