Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tough On Facts

I post the above cartoon, because I think it representative of public perception. The problem for Liberals, Harper has embraced a tough on crime philosophy, while concurrently arguing that others are weak. Most of the rhetoric is pure smoke and mirrors, but it relies on the exaggerated media coverage to tap into the sentiment that crime is rampant. If you ask Canadians if crime is on the rise, I suspect a clear YES, despite the facts.

The good news, statistics don't support the Tory thesis on crime. It is imperative that Liberals make the case, the Harper approach is akin to American style justice. Do we need super jails? Point to the fact that foreign delegations often visit Canada to see our penal system, our methods of rehabilitation, the way in which we house criminals. Why would other countries want to learn from Canada if the system is so flawed? Are there any Canadians impressed with the American approach to justice, has that resulted in safer communities?

Liberals lost the issue when Martin made a fool of himself during the last election. No sense of conviction, just pure calculation, to look tough on crime. What Dion needs to do is demonstrate areas where the Liberal Party genuinely supports tougher measures, while casting the Harper fixation as over the top. Call out the media, ask the questions about sensationalizing, armed with the facts? In other words make the conversation a more detailed discussion, as opposed to the simple sound bites, which Harper owns. If we challenge the media, they will be forced to respond and/or acknowledge the disparity between the Tory rhetoric and the statistics. It really is our only hope to get into the game on this issue, because essentially Harper now stands alone.


JimBobby said...

Whooee! Another good boog story, Steve. Yer right as rain that the media plays a role. Crime an' violence makes news. Feelgood stuff like womens' shelters an' foodbanks an' assistance to refugees an' crime statistics is dull an' borin' -- 'specially, when yer comparin' t' shoot-em-up crime in the streets. The media's always gonna devote a certain generous amount o' space t' crime reportin'. This is on accounta the publick has a lurid curiosity an' is always ready t' hear about some dastardly deed. Crime itself can go up an' down but crime stories in the media will stay relatively constant.

What's that mean? It means it'll be tough t' convince anybuddy that crime ain't a big issue.

Everybuddy knows of a blue-jillion cases where the bad guys got off with a slap on the wrist. Teenaged killers as old as 17 get 3 years fer premeditated murder. Karla Homulka? Statistics might say Canada's criminal justice system works an' other countries might wanna study what we do but yer gonna have a hard time convincin' a lot o' Canajuns that we're tough enough on badasses.

Canajuns is gonna keep on believin' that crime is growin' an' rampant and that our courts are too soft on convicted bad guys. An' the media's gonna give more prominence t' stabbin's than t' statistics.


KC said...

Personally I would prefer to simply see Liberals actually become more tough on violent crime.

I think most Canadians don't want to hear excuses for violent crime. They just want violent criminals out of their neighbourhood.

Frankly I think the conclusion you want to draw from statistics that say crime is stable or dropping doesn't follow. Its not the growth rate of crime or the lack thereof that makes it "rampant", it is the overall amount; and that is what people get upset about.

The fact is that as long as we Liberals insist that violent crime can be addressed with social programs and refuse to take a hardline and remove violent criminals from our society the Conservatives will reflect--what I believe to be--the majority view on this subject and we will be vulnerable to attacks.

One last criticism: as a Liberal I hate to say it but I have to chuckle when I hear our representatives say we want to be so "smart on crime". If we were so "smart" we should have legalized marijuana rather than hemming and hawing for years about a half-assed decriminalization plan that did nothing to remove that revenue source from organized crime.

Gayle said...

I posted over on BC'er in TO on this point, and I hope you will not mind if I simply reproduce the post here:

"For what it is worth, I think the liberals should be proud of their record on fighting crime, and they should take full credit for it. After all, after hitting a high point in 1991, crime fell steadily while the liberals were in power, and, in fact, was at an all time low when Harper won the election.

Although the violent crime rate has stabilized over the past 2-3 years, it is still 25% lower than it was 20 years ago. Robberies have gone up, but robberies with guns have gone down. In fact, I believe gun crime in general has gone down since the liberals strengthened the gun laws in the 1990's.

While looking at the crime rate, one must bear in mind that reporting certain crimes, such as sexual assault and spousal assault has increased over the past 20 years. So, the violent crime rate has probably gone down even more than the stats would suggest.

The liberals should call the conservatives out on this one - for treating Canadians like they are stupid. Why not ask the conservatives how the tough on crime stance will decrease crime (I notice that they are not actually claiming that it will). Why not point out that the liberal crime program not only resulted in a lower crime rate, and safer streets, but they managed to do this by spending less money - while the conservative plan will result in billions of dollars, and no results. Why not point out the reason the liberal crime program was so successful was because it tried to PREVENT crime from happening in the first place, unlike the conservative plan which simply kicks in after someone has been victimized.

If the conservatives try to argue the liberals cannot take credit for the huge reduction in crime during their tenure, then it begs the question of why they were blaming the liberals for their false assertion crime is out of control.

Anyway, that is what I would do, if I were them. Not that anyone is asking me..."

Ti-Guy said...

The media remains key when it comes to perceptions on crime however, and no amount of talking sense is going to convince free enterprise to stop indulging in the sensationalism that makes it money.

Isn't there some way of suing the media for collective emotional trauma? There should be...

Gayle said...

ti-guy - I realize the media have a lot to gain by promoting this perspective that crime is rampant - they are, after all, the reason for the hysteria. That said, during the last election, while Harper and Layton were crassly holding media conferences on the site young Miss Creba was shot, the liberals were not contradicting their assertions with facts. Why parrot the popular - we will get tough too - line, when they can simply point out that their policies are working, and Canadians can expect them to keep on working. How long does it take to point out that gun crimes have decreased since the liberals got tough on guns.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

KC said "I hate to say it but I have to chuckle when I hear our representatives say we want to be so "smart on crime". If we were so "smart" we should have legalized marijuana rather than hemming and hawing for years about a half-assed decriminalization plan that did nothing to remove that revenue source from organized crime."

I agree completely KC. Will the Cons shut down the medical cannabis clubs across Canada if they win a majority? I am betting they will try if they do. After all they gotta fill the new jails they are building.

Mushroom said...

Being tough on crime is a perception. In the 1990s, even Chretien was considered tough on crime when he created the gun registry.

Incumbents always have the challenge on this issue. This is why Michael Bryant needs the law and order issue to overcome John Tory in October.

Steve V said...

I agree, that the media will continue to sensationalize, but it is important to argue for balance, as opposed to hysterics. That doesn't mean Liberals don't argue for tougher measures, on things such as sexual assault or pedophilia(which isn't treatable). As Gayle states, the Liberal record isn't a void, there are accomplishments that can be pointed too. I think there is an argument to made in comparing the Harper approach with American attitudes. As I said before, one of the main lines of attacks should be the superjail concept, which is an objective failure. Why is Canada moving towards a failed system?

Can we win the issue? Probably not, but make the case and at least put the media to task.

Mushroom said...


"Prisons work because it creates work." The most effective pork barrel in Canadian politics. Placing superprisons in Canada is an effective way for Harper to get the vote out. It is a tactic that I subscribe more to incumbancy and fearmongering.

For Dion, I worry about taking a post-modern stance. "Prisons don't work, poverty is the root cause of crime" would seem a bizarre slogan fighting an election campaign. Expect Willie Horton ads to appear with Dion letting criminals out of a revolving door.

Steve V said...


I think Dion can argue about socioeconomic conditions as a long term approach without sacrificing the now.

Mushroom said...

"I think Dion can argue about socioeconomic conditions as a long term approach without sacrificing the now."

This will allow for the building of superprisons and hope that the criminals will rehabilitate themselves there. Personally, I DON'T buy this approach. I will even take on a sociological approach and argue that criminals become even more hardened once they are sent to prison. Can Dion create an 8 second soundbite that support my previous statement and defeat Harper in the next election? I need to be convinced.

That said Dion needs to hit a home run on this issue. He needs to go out and tell voters that if he becomes Prime Minister, he will EXPAND prescription heroin distribution in the major urban centres. By placing addicts on prescription heroin, they can maintain productive lives through work instead of crime. Dion should use the Pickton trial and the problems in Vancouver Eastside to justify that the distribution of prescription heroin is the most effective alternative to overcoming the prostitution problem. Harper will hit back hard on this issue, but if Dion holds his ground and makes sure that he will not back down, he will undoubtedly score some points.

Steve V said...

No, he can't offer an 8 second soundbite to counter Harper. On this issue, the best Dion can do is make it a draw, eliminate it as a "weakness". Law and order, tough on crime, is a natural Conservative constituent, we don't have to own the issue, just negate it somewhat.

One of the best ways to do that, point to some of the past Liberal measures, speak to the penal system as a whole, and point out the disconnect between perceptions and facts. Our arguments may be more complicated, and by extension less effective, but at least get it out there forcefully. What's the alternative, try to match Harper? Liberalism loses if it plays that game.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

We will be very sorry if we take the hard law and order road of the US. It's one of the main reasons I dislike Harper's agenda so much because I can see all the other social areas in Canada that will pay dearly as a result of his focus on police, jails and military.

The US prison population is huge and they pay through the nose for it with little accountability (private prisons) for taxdollars. Lots of that money could be going towards prevention (e.g.addiction treatment, mental health, literacy, early learning, education, family support) but they prefer to spend it on jailing people...mostly black people. I did some research once on the percentage of inmate population of the US in comparison to Canada and other OECD countries. The US was at the top and way off the charts ( I mean in a scary way) and they paid a fortune for it. No wonder they don't have universal health care ...i will try to find it.

Steve V said...


This is a good link, that shows amount of people imprisoned per 100 000. Canada isn't included, although all the other major countries are, another source puts Canada at 116. Another point in this debate, despite the high imprisonment rate, violent crime rates are still much higher than other countries, which shows the entire system is a failure.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

Great link! Thanks Steve I will use the info in a future post.