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Canadian politicians are not on the whole a philosophical lot. You’ll seldom hear the words of Burke or Mill or (yikes) Marx tossed around the House of Commons. There are a few aficionados of Ayn Rand but they don’t drop her name much.
Still, ideas do influence our elected officials. At a minimum they have broad opinions about the relative importance of economics and the environment, personal responsibility and societal obligations, getting tough on crime versus harm reduction and social reform.
But, speaking frankly if sweepingly, ideology makes bad policy. This is roughly what we mean when we say policy should be evidence-based. The broad and hotly contested realm of political and social theory must be tempered by a careful observation and assessment of outcomes. This is the sphere of policy experts with subject matter expertise, such as a professional public service.
We live in a time when a myriad of voices in social media, some of them very sophisticated, put forward social analysis with demands that it be translated immediately into action. But the line between the world of big ideas and public policy should seldom be too short. It is the job of politicians to weigh competing values and interests. And it is the job of public servants to advise on the consequences of proposals, intended or otherwise, and to provide options for achieving the outcomes that elected officials hope to see.
So in these tempestuous times, thank you to our professional public service for its expertise. Bring on the evidence!
Aurele Theriault, Chair of the Board of Directors of theLearn More
With contribution from IOG Fellow Dr. Sara Filbee. This articleLearn More
With contribution from IOG Fellow Dr. Sara Filbee. We areLearn More