Friday, September 2, 2011

"Tough on Crime" Stumping is the Socialism of Fools

When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher met Conrad Black for the first time, he chewed her ear off about crime, with typical "hang 'em high" rhetoric. She knew she had to be nice, because Black then owned a large share of the British media, but when he walked away she remarked to those around her, "compared to that guy, I'm a liberal"

Now Conrad Black is coming out publicly criticizing tough on crime legislation, that puts the emphasis on penance. Costly crime bills and "build it they will come" prisons, are relics of a by-gone era.

Modern society has learned from the past, that rehabilitation goes further than retaliation. As the popular Gandhi quote goes: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".

However, this is not really about eye and teeth exchanges, but rather the new conservatism, that feeds off people's fears and insecurities. They create a crisis and then suggest that only they can save us from it.

Tim Hudak is the new hombre determined to clean up Dodge City, not only with populist rhetoric, but visible "chain gangs", which will not be so much a deterrent, as a reminder of the divisions in society.

Among those he plans to get "tough" with, are people who commit "welfare fraud", remnants of Mike Harris, who encouraged citizens to report anyone they believed was abusing the system. It was clever, linking welfare to fraud. Making criminals of poor people, by suggesting that it was an epidemic.

When federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty, was in the Harris government, he suggested throwing homeless people in jail, thus making poverty a crime in the literal sense. An obvious attempt to change our empathy to contempt.

Hudak's chain gang musings have provided fodder for his opponents, but they have to be careful. NDP leader Andrea Horwath is right when she says that this will take jobs away at a time when they are so badly needed.

However, Hudak can paint this as a stand-off with unions, and indeed he already has.

Big bad unions. Poor people who are only poor because they are lazy. Anathema to the populist crowd that could reap dividends at the ballot box.

The Liberals may also be making a mistake by overplaying it, suggesting that sex offenders and dangerous criminals would be out in the open. In fairness to Hudak, it's highly unlikely that they would be included in the program.

Instead they should ask citizens, what kind of province they want to live in. One with chain gangs and Gestapo style raids in low income neighbourhoods, or one that promotes fairness and justice for all.

Strengthened social programs to help eliminate the real crime of poverty, and one that promotes trust, not suspicion.

In the last Ontario election campaign, on the day that Conservative leader John Tory was announcing tough on crime policies in a high crime district, Dalton McGuinty announced his "Family Day".  A stat holiday providing time to spend with family.

This was not only smart electioneering, but revealed our priorities. Both the Liberals and NDP need to focus on that.

But if Hudak wins and gets his chain gangs, I think we should lighten the mood by forcing those in chains, to keep us entertained with a little "Hoo! Hah! Hooh! Hah!


  1. Thanks, Emily, I really needed this. Sam Cooke, I mean. He had many hit songs when I was in high school, and I still love his voice.
    I haven't been feeling well, and today my head aches so much it couldn't hold a political opinion if it tried, but those last few words of the song really tell what a chain gang is..."give me water, I'm thirsty."
    Canada doesn't do things like chain gangs any more. At least, I sure hope it doesn't. Say it isn't so.

  2. Emily wrote: "Instead [the Liberals] should ask citizens, what kind of province they want to live in. One with chain gangs and Gestapo style raids in low income neighbourhoods, or one that promotes fairness and justice for all."

    This makes sense to me, but not everyone who trumpets your blog agrees. Here's a comment by Ben Burd from an email:

    "I prefer to think that public opinion can be chaged by contrasting the goverments views with the oppositions views and highlighting the differences with arguments based on money issues, because you sure aren't going to win any votes these days based on social issues. One has to frame the issues in costs. For example just how much will it cost the economy if we evict rioters from social housing? - Plenty in increased police costs, insurance hikes etc all caused by increased crime committed by an enlarged and emboldened underclass."