Speeches


Revised Notes for the University Of Winnipeg’s Knowles-Woodsworth Lecture October 23, 2013
“Reason, Religion and the Public Good”
By Allan R. Gregg

“A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion” – Gandhi

Last fall, I delivered a lecture at Carleton’s School of Public Affairs entitled “1984 in 2012: The Assault on Reason”.
In it, I documented some troubling trends which demonstrated our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy was declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency was on the rise.

Starting with the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census and continuing through the 2012 Budget and to this day, a clear pattern emerged that indicated a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision-making – namely, using research, science and evidence as the basis to make policy decisions. It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts and evidence to challenge government policies.

As a researcher who had dedicated a better part of my life to understanding Canadian culture and the political process, I had also come to believe that our nation’s progress has been advanced by enlightened public policy that marshals our collective resources towards a larger public good … and conversely, that that public good is threaten by regressive public policy. And in the end, it has been reason and scientific evidence that has delineated effective from ineffective policy. And this relationship exists for a very straight-forward reason – namely, that effective solutions can only be generated when they correspond to an accurate understanding of the problems they are designed to solve. Evidence, facts and reason, for me, therefore form the sine qua non of not only good policy, but good government.

So I felt I had a personal stake in the game and should speak out. But the more I researched and studied for that lecture, the more it also became clear that there were other larger reasons, beyond the personal, to remind ourselves why we value reason and why we should be very concerned when it comes under assault.
(more…)

Notes for the University Of Winnipeg’s Knowles-Woodsworth Lecture October 23, 2013
By Allan R. Gregg

“A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion” – Gandhi

Last fall, I delivered a lecture at Carleton’s School of Public Affairs entitled “1984 in 2012: The Assault on Reason”.
I had spent my entire professional life as a researcher, dedicated to understanding the relationship between cause and effect. Yet, I began to see some troubling trends. It seemed as though our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy was declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency was on the rise. And even more troubling …. Canadians seemed to be buying it.

My concern was first piqued in July 2010, when the federal cabinet announced its decision to cut the mandatory long form census and replace it with a voluntary one. The rationale for this curious decision was that asking citizens for information about things like how many bathrooms were in their homes was a needless intrusion on their privacy and liberty. One might reasonably wonder how knowledge about the number of toilets you have could enable the government to invade your privacy, but that aside, it became clear that virtually no toilet owners had ever voiced concerns that the long form census, and its toilet questions, posed this kind of threat.

Again, as someone who had used the census – both as a commercial researcher and when I worked on Parliament Hill – I knew how important these data were in identifying not just toilet counts, but shifting population trends and the changes in the quality and quantity of life of Canadians. How could you determine how many units of affordable housing were needed unless you knew the change in the number of people who qualified for affordable housing? How could you assess the appropriate costs of affordable housing unless you knew the change in the amount of disposable income available to eligible recipients?

And even creepier, why would anyone forsake these valuable insights – and the chance to make good public policy – under the pretence that rights were violated, when no one ever voiced the concern that this was happening? Was this a one-off move, however misguided? Or, the canary in the mineshaft?
And the more I looked at what was going on – in the 2012 Budget and on the legislative agenda of Parliament – the clearer it became that a pattern was emerging that demonstrated a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision-making – namely, using research, science and evidence as the basis to make policy decisions. It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts and evidence to challenge government policies.
(more…)

The Travers Debates – Ottawa October 16, 2012

Opening Statement

“Be it resolved that that the future of the United States is brighter than Canada’s”
Allan R. Gregg on the negative side of the resolution

For the better part of modern history, the facts have supported my worthy opponent’s side of the resolution.

Fueled by a revolutionary fever and personified by the most impressive generation of political leaders on record, within two Centuries, the United States literally modernized the world. Its worship of enterprise, initiative and individualism was buttressed by an unwavering belief that theirs was the “Shining City on the Hill” that would provide a beacon for the world to follow. This ethos of exceptionalism gave America an unshakable confidence and focus to pursue its destiny; and created a resilience that allowed them to weather a Civil War, the Great Depression and two World Wars – growing ever stronger with each encounter of adversity.

Canada’s beginnings were more modest. Founded in counter-revolutionary roots, our leaders tended to be more pragmatic, than idealistic or inspirational. Still, in the face of vast and inhospitable terrain, all the while living in the shadow of the most powerful and militaristic nation in civilization, we were able to build one of the most prosperous and generous countries in the world. Absent a unified founding myth or heroes, we nonetheless developed our own unique national personae; one focused not on “might and right” but on an ability and willingness to accommodate and even value differences. In strong contrast to the US, we view immigration not as a problem to be managed, but as a national asset; the NDP are not vilified as dangerous socialists but Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition; and the BQ are not branded as seditious traitors but – for good or ill – the legitimate government of the second largest region in the land. Far from signs of blandness or weakness, as we look towards the future, our ability to accommodate differentness and find compromise with otherwise opponents, now serves us well.

In contrast, I will argue tonight that the very culture that made the United States not just the most powerful, but the best country in the World, now serves them poorly.

America’s future is clouded not by the fact that they are on some kind of death spiral of decline, but – as Fareed Zakaria noted – by the rise of everyone else.

Moreover, in Thomas Friedman’s flattened world where everyone has access to same educational curriculum, information and invention, values and culture matter more than ever. Futures are formed by what you do with this knowledge, rather than in the past where fortunes were determined by whether you possessed, and could make others pay for it.

Being the alpha dog, winning every race and leading the World is in America’s DNA. Now as the world is starting to catch up, there are increasing signs that the United States is suffering from post-Hegemonic Stress Syndrome.

The most obvious manifestation of this is how core values that once unified and set the course for the United States now set them apart and leaves them rudderless. The sacred pursuit of individualism now makes America one of the most inequitable nations in the world. Disparities between rich and poor, divisions along ideological and religious lines have lead to the demise of political compromise and the erosion of what has been called “the vital center”. As a consequence, what was once the most vibrant political system in the World is now virtually paralyzed; and the most dynamic enterprise on the planet is now functionally ungovernable.

In the same way, America’s blind faith that it is destined to lead, now makes it nearly impossible for them to fit in or to follow. This sense of exceptionalism justifies unilateralism and leaves them increasingly isolated in an ever-more connected world. This same fear also makes it impossible for their leaders to disengage from almost a trillion dollars in military commitments, choking off expenditures that otherwise might be applied for much needed social programs and infrastructure or making more friends in the world.

Even the ingenuity and innovation that marked American enterprise is now being perverted by their inability to grapple with the prospects of decline. While still a relative powerhouse in patent filings, as a proportion of GDP, the United is now only ranked 5th – behind New Zealand. As a percent of total R&D spending they rank 10th – behind the likes of Poland and Ukraine. In fact, protecting copyright appears to be more important than creating it; as much vaunted examples of US ingenuity – such as Apple – now spend more on litigation than research and development. Instead of creating a $2,000 car – such as the Tata in India – the best and the brightest seemed to be more consumed with developing more derivative products that generate individual fortunes but no national wealth.

It isn’t by chance that Canada has fared better in the post-meltdown period of 2007-8. In the same way that we have no qualms about – and there is no protest against – things such as limits on election expenses, our more collectivist impulse lead us to regulate our financial service sector. In fact, the very absence of an unassailable national ideology means that compromise is not only possible, it is also still highly valued in Canada. Could you image a leading Conservative leader in the United States deliberating avoiding a divisive dust up over an issue such as abortion, because it would be a diversion away from more pressing national matters?

And as a middle power, we have always known that co-operation – rather than conflict – serves our interests on the international stage. Consequently, Canada fits more easily into our interconnected, flatten world and has the potential to be a friend to all nations. And because of the value we place on our multicultural make-up, we are now positioned to harness our ethnic Diaspora as ambassadors to expand trade between their new and former homelands.

No one disputes that there are forces shaping and changing the patterns of power in the world, and few would dismiss the great threats that these changes pose to the status quo. What is at issue now, is how well equipped nations are to adapt to adversity and how resilient their culture is when it is time to rise up to those changes. Compared to the United States, I have to say, Canada’s future looks very bright.

Closing Statement

Canada never has been – nor has ever sought to be – a world military or even an economic leader. But as a nation, we do see ourselves as moral leaders. And this is more than just vanity or hubris.

This is how the world can see us as well.

A welcoming home to the displaced and those seeking a better life; a stable country whose policies are rooted in common sense rather than the cult of personality or ideological zeal; and if not a world leader, certainly a nation with the potential to lead by example.

This isn’t a portrait that generates much chest thumping; but it also is one that requires no saber rattling.

We have flourished in the shadow of the most powerful nation the world has ever known. And while we share a continent, we have steadfastly stood an independent ground and reveled in our differences.

It is difficult and nearly impossible for America to learn from others because – as a world leader – they believe no one has anything to teach them. We have looked into the mirror of America, learned from their mistakes and adapted accordingly. And at the end of the day it is that resilience – and humility – that will propel Canada forward … and hold America back.

Thank you

Notes for Remarks to Carleton University – September 5, 2012
By Allan R. Gregg

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire

In his novel 1984, George Orwell paints a portrait of a nightmarish future where rights that we now take for granted – the freedom of assembly, speech and to trial – have all been suspended. Acceptance of this totalitarian state is justified by the interests of stability and order, and by the needs a perpetual war. But what makes 1984 endure where other dystopian novels have been forgotten is that Orwell removed one more right that is even more unimaginable in a modern context – the right to think.

Instead of reason and rational discourse, Oceania is ruled by doublethink – “to know and not to know. To be conscious of complete truthfulness, while telling carefully construed lies … to use logic against logic: to repudiate morality while laying claim to it”. As Orwell summarizes…. “In Oceania the heresy of heresy was common sense”.

Emblematic of the regime is Big Brother’s slogan, repeated constantly as a means of thought control….

War is Peace

Freedom is Slavery

Ignorance is Strength

Even by the standards of the time in which he was writing, the juxtaposition of these concepts is so ludicrous, many believe that Orwell was using satire to wage his war against authoritarianism and the assault on reason. Anyone who has been to war knows it is anything but peaceful. Anyone who has been enslaved is more than aware that they are not free. But what about those who are ignorant? Do they feel weak … or strong?
(more…)

The 2011 Gordon Osbaldeston Lecture
by Allan R. Gregg

“That above all – to thine own self be true; And it must follow as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man”

Polonius’ advice to his son, Laertes in Hamlet

A Short History of the Erosion of Trust

Even someone with only a passing interest in current affairs would know our political leaders are in big trouble.

A few years ago, Seth Meyers of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live developed a routine where he lampooned politicians by simply asking “Really!” …. no narrative; not even a snappy punch-line; simply a run a clip of a politician followed by an incredulous “Really!” Jon Stewart has taken this vein of comedy one step further where the joke doesn’t even require speech … just show the politician speaking; pause for a moment; and arch an eye brow. Both routines are invariably followed by gales of laughter. Not only is the joke on our elected leaders, it seems they are the only ones left on the planet who don’t get it.

And you also would not have to be a student of Canadian history to know that this condition is very different from the Canadian political culture of the past.
(more…)

A few years ago, as part of my TV Ontario program, I interviewed Naomi Klein and I asked her how it could be that her contemporaries and generation, who were so obviously connected to the world they lived in, showed no interest – in fact actively eschewed –politics, parties and parliament. Her answer rocked me on my heels. She replied that in her entire adult life, she could not think of one, single initiative that had emanated from government for which she was proud.

My generation associated government with grand initiatives of national enterprise — adopting Medicare, introducing pension and income security reform, repatriating the constitution and enshrining a Charter of Rights and Freedoms or debating the possibilities of guaranteed annual income or using tri-partism to vitalize democracy.

I realized that her generation had no such touchstones and therefore no frame of reference to consider government as our central agent of societal advancement. And they had no such frame of reference not because they were disinterested, anomic slackers, but because there weren’t any.

Right there and then, it dawned on me that public cynicism towards politics and politicians may actually be rational.…that the population has been persuaded that government is bad because for a generation we have been receiving bad government. That by lowering their performance to correspond to the public’s cynical expectations, we have offered ample and concrete evidence that governments are unable (or, as I will argue later, unwilling) to be productive agents of the public good.

(more…)

NOTES FOR REMARKS TO THE PUBLIC AFFAIRS ASSOCIATION LUNCH – OCTOBER 24, 2006

….NOW, IF I WAS THE ONLY PUBLIC AFFAIRS PRACTITIONER EVER TO APPEAR ON TELEVISION, IT MIGHT BE BECAUSE IT WAS ME WHO WAS TRULY EXCEPTIONAL – OR PERHAPS EVEN DISTINGUISHED.

BUT THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THAT, TODAY, THERE ARE LEGIONS OF COMMENTATORS, ANALYSTS, PANELISTS AND SPOKESPEOPLE FROM THE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DISCIPLINE WHO COME, UNINVITED, INTO THE PUBLIC’S LIVING ROOM WITH GREAT REGULARITY.

AND LET’S NOT DELUDE OURSELVES, THIS OCCURS NOT BECAUSE WE ARE SO MUCH MORE TALENTED OR GIFTED THAN INDIVIDUALS IN OTHER PROFESSIONS. IT IS BECAUSE OUR VERY PROFESSION MAKES US INHERENTLY MORE NEWSWORTHY. WE SHOULD ALSO APPRECIATE THAT THE EXULTED POSITION OF OUR PROFESSION IS A RELATIVELY RECENT PHENOMENON.
(more…)

Notes for Remarks to the ADM Forum
Ottawa, May 11, 2005
By Allan R. Gregg

Over the course of the next few hours, we will undoubtedly hear a lot of talk about section 93 and 94 of the Constitution, “Orphans of Confederation”, fiscal imbalances and probably even the dreaded “asymmetrical federalism”.

Before we settle comfortably in, deciding what form of federalism best fits modern-day Canada, it may be wise to take a step further back and begin by re-examining why we even have a central government.

It starts, of course, with a tacit recognition that we are better served acting as citizens than as individuals – that our goals are better pursued as a group, than alone, in isolation. As part of that tacit recognition, we also freely give up some of our unbridled freedom for stability and order. We erect a stop sign, knowing it delays our arrival to our destination, in exchange for the comfort of knowing we are reducing the risk of head-on collisions. Group activity is also more efficient – we can do things together than we cannot do alone. Less recognized but no less important, we come to appreciate that membership in a group has a ennobling effect on the individual – our adherence to the rules necessary to function as part of a group forms the foundation of citizenship.
(more…)

A SPEECH BY ALLAN R. GREGG TO THE CANADIAN CLUB – MAY 20, 2003; TORONTO, ONTARIO

We live in a time of moral relativism. Every idea, behaviour and habit carries a weight, worthy of equal consideration, and is supposed to be as acceptable as any other. Indeed, many consider this the hallmark of an enlightened, pluralistic, open-minded society.

When you look at our public opinion data however, there is one area where unequivocal judgementalism seems to be not only accepted, but the norm.

Today, regardless of socio-economic status or ideological perspective, the electorate appears to be uniformly disdainful of politicians, governments and state activity.
(more…)