The recent NB Power/Hydro-Quebec saga was a stark reminder to me of the importance of making evidence-based decisions. There were people with almost no knowledge of the industry and even less knowledge of energy asset valuation, long term market trend analysis, etc. posturing as credible experts and getting away with it. They were widely cited – along with their wacky theories such as NB Power being worth $42 billion – in the mainstream press – print and radio/TV. At the same time, many of the credible, impartial voices were drowned out.
That exercise taught me some valuable lessons. I don’t have a problem with people being against something because it just doesn’t feel right or because it sets off their crap-o-meter. Sometimes intuition is a good tool -sometimes the only tool – we have (think Gladwell’s Blink). But I can’t stomach the idea of basing a decision – of serious magnitude on quack science because it validates intuition.
Another valuable lesson for me was the importance of not posturing as some kind of expert in areas where I have little expertise. I can render an opinion – and I do so on an hourly basis – but I am now more sensitive to position this as just an opinion – based on my limited knowledge of the subject matter.
Which brings me back around to Statistics Canada. I was surprised that the agency was letting Minister Clement get away with his comment that voluntary would generate the same results as mandatory regarding the filling out of the long form. Now the chief statistician has resigned – and he has cited this strange assertion as just plain wrong.
There must be something else going on here. All of the Minister’s reasons for scrapping the long form are very thin and just about every ‘expert’ has come out against it. The privacy argument is bogus. The Canada Revenue Agency can conduct a full body cavity search to make sure you are paying your fair share of taxes. I have a friend who just finished a three year ordeal with CRA where he had to share just about every possible piece of private banking and legal document. Governments can and do intrude into our privacy on a regular basis. The long form Census is one of the least intrusive ways.
Like John Ibbitson in the G&M today, I hope the Tories backtrack on this – set up some kind of commission to study it or something.