Does Justin Trudeau want to be the Data Prime Minister? -

Does Justin Trudeau want to be the Data Prime Minister?

The Liberal leader quizzes the Governor of Maryland


Justin Trudeau

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore and a man who might be the next president of the United States, was in Ottawa yesterday to address an audience at the Chateau Laurier. After his prepared remarks, the governor was joined on stage by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for one of those friendly chats that are de rigueur at these sorts of things.

O’Malley had twice used the phrase “data-driven” during his short speech, and the use of data to drive and direct government policy is a trademark of his time as governor and mayor. Trudeau’s first question for O’Malley was about that.

Here’s the full exchange that ensued. (At a couple small points, my recorder failed to pick up the sound well enough to transcribe.)

Trudeau: When we first met, a year ago, at the Center for American Progress conference in Washington, D.C., we both geeked out a little bit on data. And I’d love to hear a little bit more about CitiStat and StateStat. We have a real need, and one of the centres of the platform that I’ve been pulling together to govern this country better, possibly, in the future, is very much on evidence-based policy, on science, on data. We have a government that, unfortunately, has cut the long-form census, which gives us information about how government services are . . . communities, has gone after scientists and evidence-based policy in general. How important is data and what are the tools that you developed and can they be scaled up to a nationwide vision, not just city or state?

O’Malley: Great question. I was very fortunate when I was elected mayor of Baltimore, and that I had been watching our city struggle with what had become the biggest violent-crime problem of any city in America, and that I saw in New York City what they were doing with performance-measured policing and this new way of leadership called CompStat: timely, accurate information shared by all . . . affecting tactics and strategies and the relentless follow-up that allows you to determine whether what you’re doing is working or not working—in this case, to reduce violent crime.

And so we took that approach and we made that our enterprise-wide approach to all of city government. And we weren’t doing it to be clever or to win awards, though we did win the innovations in government award from the Kennedy School at Harvard. And let me tell you what the crux of the innovation was. Usually, governments, until that time, even municipal governments, to the extent they measured anything, they measured only inputs. And they measured them annually, in something called a budget. And Mark Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans, once said to me, “Kid, if you ever want to hide something, make sure you put it in the city charter or the city budget, because nobody ever reads either one.”

So our big innovation was that we started measuring outputs and we started measuring those outputs, not once a year, but every day. And then, every two weeks, we would gather around . . . the common platform that is GIS technology that allows all those formerly separate silos of endeavour to land on the same map. And, instead of playing scramble, we started running plays.

And, man, it’s amazing, when you create a compelling scoreboard that everyone in your organization can see, when you itemize the leading actions that we’re pursuing together to move to the big goal—in this case, violent crime reduction—and the leader, the modern leader, insists upon a cadence of accountability, where people get together regularly, it’s amazing how much progress smart people can figure out, not in a prescriptive way, not in an orders-from-on-high way, but in a collaborative, questioning way.

And so that’s what we did across all city government. It wasn’t an accident, in the United States, that the top three cities with the biggest reductions in violent crime over the last 15 years have been Los Angeles, New York and Baltimore, because all three cities embrace this. And, as I’ve travelled around the country over this last year, I’ve found that, in stark contrast to people’s opinions about our Congress and how it functions, or does not, people are feeling a lot better about how their cities are run.

O’Malley had brought some slides with him and proceeded here to go over a series of charts, graphs and maps. “An essential part of this is also setting strategic goals: the modern leader being willing to make him or herself vulnerable for achieving those goals by telling the public: This is what we want to achieve, by a date,” he said. “The difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline. We’ve set up a number of dashboards so citizens can see whether we’re on track or not.”

So is Trudeau interested in following O’Malley’s lead? Here is the official word to me from Trudeau’s office:

Governor O’Malley’s insights into the importance of data-driven and evidence-based policy in governance have huge implications here in Canada. Mr. Trudeau believes in many of the same principles of setting targets and measuring progress in order to get the best public policy results.

There’s something here, I think, in the current challenge for progressives who want to win the public’s support for a more activist government, but, more generally, this speaks to the principles of open data and the burgeoning desire to see the work of government better analyzed (including the Moneyball for Government initiative).

“Evidence-based policy” seems both an obvious idea and an easy talking point for the Harper government’s critics and rivals, but the execution of such an agenda is complicated by several factors. There is the matter of adapting an approach that has been used at the city and state level to the federal level, the federal government being less responsible for direct service delivery. There is the question of political will: a prime minister and government having to be willing to deal with what the data show. There is, as David Eaves has written, the potential for the politicization of data.

And it’s not so easy as imagining that data will provide definitive answers that bring policy debates to tidy conclusions. There will be debates over different measures and data that are dismissed. But we might at least hope that there is some basis for the debates that are had. We could, at the very least, imagine that the government would estimate how jobs might be created by a $550-million job-creation initiative.

All of this would probably start with restoring some kind of long-form census.

The degree to which Trudeau is tipping his hand, or what this will amount to in a Liberal platform, remains to be seen. But, as politics and policy, this is potentially intriguing stuff.


Does Justin Trudeau want to be the Data Prime Minister?

  1. OMG….science, facts, data…..! Wadda concept!

    Anytime now….please!

  2. Actual data-driven government and true evidence based policy is what our government is in desperate need of—above all other needs. There is a catch however. The two words “actual” and “true.”

    Though he seems to keep talking about it, to date, I’ve been given no reason to believe Trudeau knows what data-driven government and evidence based policy really mean. At least what they mean when done correctly. All policy—even the worst policy—is crafted on evidence. Just usually bad evidence. Or selective evidence. Or insufficient evidence.

    Thomas Mulcair seems incurious about the “actual” and “true” components and only interested in the traditional definition of evidence based policy: selectively choosing the evidence that supports your predetermined beliefs.

    The Harper conservatives on the other hand, haven’t necessarily displayed a lesser or greater understanding of what evidenced based policy means, but what they have unambiguously flouted is an utter disdain for whatever it might mean. At least if it stands in the way of a) their ideology or b) (and more importantly) Stephen Harper’s grip on power.

    Adhering to true evidence based policy requires an understanding that evidence doesn’t always lead you to what you expect. Or want. Or believe. And true evidence based policy means that when that happens, YOU change your beliefs. You adopt only policies that support the evidence. Not adopt only the evidence that supports your beliefs.

    This requires a commitment and investment to getting good data (like the long form census and world-class research). It requires transparency–not the buzz word, but the reality. It requires the appropriate processes of collecting, interpreting and analyzing that data and research. And it requires checks and balances on all of it, particularly the implementation of policy.

    • Very well said!

  3. Oh for Pete’s Sake. The long form census has not been abolished. It just isn’t mandatory anymore. Does Trudeau even know that or is he deliberately misinforming the public? As for evidence based policies – it is Shazam policy making. Let’s pull some stats out of the hat to prove we need to enact this policy. As Anne Glover the Scientific Adviser to the EU discovered ““Let’s imagine a Commissioner over the weekend thinks, ‘Let’s ban the use of credit cards in the EU because credit cards lead to personal debt’. So that commissioner will come in on Monday morning and say to his or her Director General, ‘Find me the evidence that demonstrates that this is the case.’”The Commissioner’s staff might resist the idea but in the end, she says, “they will do exactly what they’re asked” and “find the evidence” to show that credit card use leads to personal debt, even though this may not be the case in reality.” (EUractive). Needless to say, she no longer has her job.

    • Heh. That’s how it’s worked in both government and the private sector forever. Most experts aren’t paid to discover the truth. They’re paid to support some version of the truth, with “data” and “evidence”. If a CEO orders you to find evidence to support his favoured decision, and you come back with iron clad evidence to refute his chosen action, guess who loses his job? (HINT: not the CEO.)

      In the late 90s, a former colleague of mine got hired as an economist with one of the big rail companies. They tasked her with revamping their revenue projection model, which she spent months doing. She presented her findings, and her boss said “No good. We’ve got a board meeting next week and they’re expecting 3.5% growth next year. Your model will need to show at least that.”

    • Well in fact it has, since making it voluntary also makes it irrelevant.

      But I think you know this, and are just being disingenuous.

  4. Is the irony of proclaiming a devotion to “evidence based policy” and turfing an MP before finding out the encounter he was turfing him over involved the victim handing a condom to him in response to his request for sex escaping everyone?

    • So you want it covered up as usual in these cases, right?

    • There is no correlation, since one is about policy to govern a country and the other, well, isn’t.

      In any event, it is clear many Canadians need to be educated on the criminal law in Canada. With or without the condom, the MP alleged she was raped. The law on sexual assault in this country is either there is consent or there is no consent. There is no such thing as implied consent. And it is both parties’ obligation to ensure consent is there.

      The MP is saying she did not consent. The fact she provided him the condom does not change that. It is not for Trudeau, at this stage of the inquiry, to make the judgment call on her credibility. Nor is it for Trudeau to do nothing, because if his MP is actually guilty of sexually assaulting others and Trudeau does nothing, well I think you know what that means.

      • It is clear that the irony is, in fact, escaping many. The point in referencing the current Parliamentary sex farce was not to divert this discussion thread. Rather, it was to quaere how seriously to take a pledge to base policy on “evidence” when the most recent high-profile policy decision made by the pledger was in the complete absence of “evidence”. Or is an exception from “evidence-based policy”-making for matters that actually require “evidence”, like punishing someone for committing a criminal act, part of the sheer genius of the scheme?

        As for the need for many Canadians to be educated on the criminal law in Canada, rather than debate the point, I’ll respond with more delicious irony!:

        “Trudeau famously defended the decriminalization of homosexual acts segment of the bill by telling reporters that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”, adding that “what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code”.

        • I don’t think you understand irony. What does decriminalization of homosexual acts have to do with data based policy?

          For that matter, what does Trudeau’s suspension of 2 MP’s pending further investigation have to do with government policy?

          Oh, that’s right. Nothing. Nothing at all.

          • Decriminalization of homosexual acts was merely the context – the “state out of the bedroom” and “private acts between adults not concerning the Criminal Code” produce the irony. It’s unfortunate you didn’t grasp this. I’ll aim lower next time.

            This whole data thing has got me stoked for the Liberals, though – there’s a lot of Gen X’ers out there who are huge fans of this guy:


            Kinda looks like the Dauphin to boot.

          • Oh don’t get me wrong. I get what you were trying to do. It was just a big fat fail.

          • If you “get what I was trying to do”, it cannot have been a “fail”. It is “ironic” by any definition of the word for a person to make a decision in the absence of evidence, then a few days later proclaim basing government policy on evidence is important to him.

            The inability of the leader you fervently hope to be the next prime minister to demonstrate even a small degree of coherence in his actions clearly discomforts you, but you must resist the impulse to hurl vitriol at people who point this out, as I fear you’ll be doing a lot of hurling in the coming months.

          • Not that I am conceding your dubious point that suspending a member of his party correlates at all with creating policy for governing a country, but what makes you think he made any decision in the absence of evidence?

            I mean, I guess he could have waiting for a criminal trial and conviction, but then he is, of course, taking the risk that the MP’s in question are rapists, and could possibly rape someone else on the Hill. And of course if that happened and people discovered he knew this, but felt there was no “evidence” and therefore did nothing, that would not be a problem at all, right? I mean, he has absolutely zero responsibility to act unless you think the evidence meets your standard?

            Or, you know, you can keep on digging yourself in deeper. Your call.

        • Well, he’s not a lawyer, so the fundamental principal of criminal justice that one is innocent until proven guilty that would have buttressed a decision to “do nothing” until the criminal trial and conviction (which I assure you is not going to occur, as any Crown prosecutor presented with the details revealed in the press would not care to jeopardize her career by taking THAT one to trial) undoubtedly didn’t occur to him (or you, apparently)

          It’s time for some more irony! I actually am quite pleased with how T2 handled the whole thing and fervently hope you and your ilk continue to defend his handling of it – it kills two birds with one stone, i.e. it reminds the public both of the ineptitude of the leader and blind, delusional support of his cult.

          • Cool. Hey, did you know that in the criminal justice system, even though people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, they still may face certain sanctions while waiting for that trial? You know, like being remanded in custody, or released on conditions that restrict where they go and who they speak to, and even what time they have to be home?

            Kind of like suspending someone from caucus pending a further investigation.

            The only reason this will not go to trial is because the victim does not want to lay a complaint with the police. And why would she, when people like you have demonstrated, yet again, their misogynistic attitude towards sexual assault and their erroneous belief that somehow it is up to the victim to prevent it and that her failure to do so means the assault was her fault.

            See, this woman is saying this man raped her. The law in Canada is that both people have to ensure consent. No one is entitled to assume it based on the actions of the other person. So handing over the condom is completely irrelevant if he took no steps to ensure she was consenting. The condom is not evidence of consent. The only evidence of consent comes from her. All he had to do is ask, and if she is telling the truth he did not ask, and is therefore guilty.

            So basically you are saying that notwithstanding the law in Canada, she is not entitled to rely on it. According to you, women are not allowed to believe the law will protect them, or that people will conduct themselves lawfully. And when they don’t conduct themselves lawfully, it is the woman’s fault.

            I have seen a lot of shameful and disgusting editorial opinions and public comments on those opinions that fail to acknowledge what the law in Canada actually says. You would be wise to educate yourself on it before you make further comments on the issue.

            (Hint – start with the SCC decision in Ewanchuck. It will teach you something).

          • Hey, did you know that the sanctions people face within the criminal justice system while waiting for trial require they actually be before the criminal justice system at the time? Unlike the suspended MPs? Perhaps in Gayle-world, sanctioning people who haven’t even been charged, nor are likely ever to be, is an important principle of justice. Thankfully, it isn’t anywhere else.

            The only reason this will not go to trial is that, based on the account the NDP MP gave to numerous media outlets, no crime was committed. The leader of her party has forgotten more about criminal law than most lawyers will ever learn and clearly came to this conclusion. This is undoubtedly why he chose to politicize the whole sordid mess, as he knew there was no criminal case and he probably thought Trudeau would botch the whole thing, which he promptly did.

            As for “misogynistic” attitudes contributing to victims thinking an assault is their fault, a far more dangerous evil is convincing someone who isn’t a victim that s/he is and then destroying someone else’s life in the course of perpetuating that lie.

            And before you further lecture me or anyone on Canadian criminal law, here’s a hint: learn a little about it yourself. It is most certainly not as you state it is.

          • Sigh. You make is SO easy to demonstrate how little you know. Here is a quote from the headnote in the SCC decision in Ewanchuck:

            “The trier of fact may only come to one of two conclusions: the complainant either consented or did not. There is no third option. If the trier of fact accepts the complainant’s testimony that she did not consent, no matter how strongly her conduct may contradict that claim, the absence of consent is established and the third component of the actus reus of sexual assault is proven. No defence of implied consent to sexual assault exists in Canadian law. Here, the trial judge accepted the complainant’s testimony that she did not want the accused to touch her, but then treated her conduct as raising a reasonable doubt about consent, described by him as “implied consent”. This conclusion was an error.”

            She alleged she did not consent to sexual intercourse. Now maybe this is hard for you to understand, but having sex with someone who is not consenting is a crime.

            Maybe you don’t have a job, and it seems quite certain that if you do you are not a supervisor or manager. Those of us who are know that if our employees are alleged to have victimized someone they have contacted through the course of their employment, we don’t get to sit back and wait for a criminal complaint to be made to the police before acting.

          • Did you miss that part where I pointed out an experienced criminal lawyer with far more knowledge about the actual facts than anyone else and an understanding of the actual law did not counsel his MP to prosecute? Perhaps this is because Mr. Mulcair understands a quote from the headnote of a 15 year old decision isn’t an accurate depiction of the current criminal law. On the other hand, if you practice law somewhere and base your legal opinions on 15 year old headnotes, a self-report to your law society is probably in order.

            You final comment about supervisor/managerial obligations would be more compelling if Mr. Trudeau employed the two MPs he turfed. He, of course, does not. If we want to pretend for the moment that actually is the case, he’d then be well advised to compile just a tad more evidence than unsubstantiated hearsay from a competitor before sacking someone unless he’s indifferent to wrongful dismissal actions. Or is there some decades old SCC headnote that would thwart such an action?

          • Look at you, making up facts and stuff.

            Do you have a source for your suggestion that Mulcair counseled her not to prosecute because this is not sexual assault?

            As for your complete and utter lack of understanding of the legal system, well I can’t help you when you clearly miss the most basic legal concepts.

            This 15 year old decision is from the SCC, and to date has not been over ruled, nor has Parliament legislated the decision away.

            In other words, it is still the law. SCC decisions don’t come with a time limit.

            Nice try though.

          • Where does Trudeau get his authority to suspend the MP’s, if he is not in a position akin to an employment relationship with them?

          • Look at you, standing in a hole and yelling for a shovel.

            The source for Mulcair counseling his MP not to prosecute is the absence in the dozens of press accounts that he did so. Do you think if Mulcair thought the act was criminal, he would have gone to Trudeau, instead of to the police? When if he thought the act was criminal, he’d potentially be facing an obstruction charge himself, in addition to all the political fallout?

            As lacking as my knowledge of the law may be, I am familiar with a concept called “noting up a case”. When one does that, one finds out that 15 year old SCC cases get referenced in a lot of other judgments. This referencing tends to refine and add nuance to legal principles set out in those cases. Then again, you don’t seem that big on “nuance”.

            If you insist that Ewanshuk is sacrosanct in 2014, it might benefit you to look beyond the headnote and read what else the SCC had to say to. For example, at para. 29 , we find this:

            “While the complainant’s testimony is the only source of direct evidence as to her state of mind, credibility must still be assessed by the trial judge, or jury, in light of all the evidence. It is open to the accused to claim that the complainant’s words and actions, before and during the incident, raise a reasonable doubt against her assertion that she, in her mind, did not want the sexual touching to take place.”

            You see that reference to it being open to the accused to claim words and actions raise a “reasonable doubt against her assertion”? Confused by it? I’ll explain. If a man meets a woman in a bar and invites her to his hotel room and she goes willingly, then asks her if she wants sex and she says nothing, but takes off her clothes and hands him a condom, the man is quite likely to succeed in raising “a reasonable doubt against her assertion”. “Reasonable doubt”, as I’m sure an expert in Canadian criminal law such as yourself understands, is an important part of the whole “guilty” thing.

            Trudeau’s authority to suspend the MPs is in no way, shape or form akin to the authority an employer has to fire an employee, but I grow weary of beating my head against the wall trying to explain things to you, so I will say farewell and give you the anticipated last (undoubtedly hostile and scornful) word.

          • I will happily take the last word.

            I see you have no evidence Mulcair counseled her not to lay charges. It would be better to just admit that rather than try to cobble together some theory that relies on your belief one has to report criminal offence or face charges of obstruction (there is no duty to report a crime, just so you know).

            Cases are indeed noted up. That is different from overturning them. Ewanchuck has not been overturned, and the portion I quoted remains good law.

            The portion you quote refers to assessing the complainant’s credibility, and does not detract from the statement of law I quoted. I have said that what she is alleging is rape. I have said this depends on her credibility. You have not contradicted my point.

            Further, your entire position seems to rest on your misunderstanding of the difference between “evidence” and “proof”. Her allegation is evidence, and this means that Trudeau acted on evidence.

  5. Nassim Taleb has been warning for years that data is not the same thing as knowledge, and that more data does not always lead to better understanding. I see his warnings have been falling on deaf ears.

    • They are two different things.

      • Exactly my point. Data does not equal knowledge.

    • And neither are the same as wisdom. We have gained data and knowledge at prodigious rates, but wisdom seems to be shrinking.

      • Precisely what Taleb has been arguing.

        • Well since everyone knows that there seems little point playing ‘definitions’

          • Since we’re talking about politicians yammering away about “data-driven policy”, the distinctions become very important.

  6. Well now that’s settled… what we are talking about is a govt run on knowledge and scientific information as opposed to emotion, ideology, religion and general clap-trap.

    • Yes.

  7. So Justin wants to mine personal data just like Air Miles! Well that is not very comforting. It also shows how insecure he is in his own leadership. He is like the host on Family Feud – ” And the survey says…!” Good grief.

    I also noticed a bunch of lob-ball questions thrown back and forth between two aspiring (?!?) leaders. Pretty lame.