Monday, 29 September 2014

A Disturbing Development

If you love to fill out surveys, then you'll want to check out CBC's Vote Compass to see who you should vote for in Toronto's mayoral election.

I like to take surveys but generally I find that the way they put questions together make me skeptical of the results. Take this statement, for example:
Toronto should build more subways rather than light-rail transit (LRT) even if it costs more.

If you have the entire context of the debate over public transit in Toronto for the last four years you'll know exactly what this question is asking. Rob Ford and many of his supporters - including Doug Ford - have argued that subways are the only solution to public transit is subways and that surface transit should be avoided because it will add to traffic congestion. This statement could instead read, "I agree with the Fords about subways."

But if you take the statement on it's face I need a "Well, that's just a dumb thing to say that completely frames the problem incorrectly" button to go with Strongly Disagree and Strongly Agree. How could we begin to address the complexity of predicting the effect of surface transit on traffic and then weighing that effect against the addition cost of subways in a statement that I could agree or disagree with? Even if we take this as a question about whether we prioritize cost or effect on traffic higher, I still need to know "higher than what?" If I assume the baseline is what Rob Ford did in his term, then I would pick "Strongly Disagree." If I assume the baseline is what was worked out in the Transit City deal that Rob Ford was so opposed to, then I would probably say that was about right, or at least that I don't know.

Of course I know what they mean, so I picked "Somewhat Disagree" because I don't think traffic considerations shouldn't play a very strong role in deciding on public transit plans - traffic is going to be very bad no matter what we do - but I recognize that picking "Strongly Disagree" on this question signals that I don't think there should be any consideration given at all to how surface transit would affect traffic, which I think would be a silly position to take.

A survey where I am picking my response based on how I know it will be taken instead of answering the question is never going to be giving a more accurate reflection of my position than I can come up with myself by just thinking about it. It will not be offering me insight.

But the survey did offer me some insight. First of all, it illuminated how many of the issues in this election I don't know or don't care about. Should we tear down the Gardiner? I don't know, what did the people studying the problem say? Should we require that companies hire young people to give them city contracts? I don't know, is that an effective policy? It doesn't seem like it would be to me, but has anyone else tried it? How well did it work for them?

More importantly, for me, though, here was another one of the statements for me to evaluate:

Toronto police should be allowed to stop, question and record information about anyone who they consider suspicious.

Wow! Is that an issue in this election? First of all, I don't really see how it could be. This doesn't seem to fall within municipal jurisdiction at all. I suppose the municipality could be putting pressure on other levels of government to change things, but this probably butts up against the constitution, so there is a lot to this that is way out the control of Toronto.

But secondly, and more importantly, are we unfathomably stupid? Did New York's stop and frisk policy do such a good job of targeting minorities that we want to import that racism here? After looking at Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown's death, are we left saying to ourselves, "What we really need is more powerful police"?

Another question is about equipping police with Tasers. Because those helped the RCMP so much in the Robert DziekaƄski incident. Someone arguing in favour of this will point out that had the officer who killed Sammy Yatim had a Taser maybe Yatim would be alive today, but really, Yatim is dead because that officer decided to kill him. With a Taser he might have decided only to torture him instead, I'll grant you, but without the video the Taser that was applied to Yatim after he was shot repeatedly on the ground would have likely been used to cover up the shooting.

But then in the same category of "Law and Order" there is a question of whether Toronto should ban all handguns. That is definitely way outside of municipal powers. Even if it wasn't, banning handguns will go about as well as banning drugs. People want them, other people can make a lot of money by selling them. It's a war that cannot be won and that would create yet another class of socially harmless people who will fund dangerous criminal organizations instead of business run by other socially harmless people. I don't like guns a lot more than I don't like drugs, but banning them is just not workable.

So I'm with Chow on not giving police the right to stomp on the constitution and harass minorities, with Tory and Ford on not creating a new war on [thing] regarding handguns, and off in the wilderness on not giving cops Tasers. So the candidate who doesn't think police should be able to stop and search people for guns if they are suspicious thinks guns should be outlawed and that candidates who don't think guns should be outlawed want to have a policy where police can stop people and ask them for information beyond what is currently allowed - presumably just not information about guns.

"Law and Order" is a codeword for "completely irrational." I knew that, but I didn't know it was an issue in this election. If it weren't for idiocy like this I would have a lot easier time stomaching "right-wing" politicians.

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