Expertise is expertise: we don’t have to specify where we get it from.
OTTAWA, CANADA — The Trudeau government came into office like a breath of fresh air, at least according to some. He was young, suave, ‘sexy’, and everything that the previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was perceived as not.
JT, as he is fondly known, also promised the moon. Better relations with First Nations. Less income inequality. A gender parity cabinet. Kittens for all. The reality has been slightly different.
Konrad Yakabuski wrote in last weekend’s Globe and Mail:
One of the great ironies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is that it has proved so ineffective in the one area where it so emphatically promised to outdo its predecessors.Konrad Yakabuski
That area? “Results and measurement” or, as some call it, “deliverology”. The Liberals even brought in UK consultant Sir Michael Barber, the “deliverology” guru to cabinet retreats at resorts in New Brunswick, Alberta and Ontario, and paid him $200,000 for his efforts.
And now? Crickets. As Mr. Yakabuski describes it, the “deliverology” unit has been quietly disbanded and the head of it, Matthew Mendelsohn, has gone back to academe. The reaction: nary a whimper.
Is the same fate inevitable for this government’s GBA+ program?
For the uninitiated, GBA+ stands for “Gender-Based Analysis Plus,” a program drafted by Status of Women Canada to analyse the “gendered” implications of government policy. In other words, all Government of Canada initiatives have to be measured against this rubric. In his 2018 budget speech, finance minister Bill Morneau proudly noted that every single budget decision was vetted through GBA+.
The bottom line is that governments throughout the Western world have been dominated since time began by old white male dudes like me. So, any effort to expand inputs to other groups of people (female, etc.) has to be a good thing. I am uncertain what GBA+ analysis entails but I am willing to give proponents the benefit of the doubt – for now. If data and evidence support the advantages of doing government this way, then great, let’s keep doing what works. If not, it may join ‘deliverology’ on the ash-heap of failed government ideas.
So what about terrorism?
Last week I attended (very briefly: I had another event to go to) a mini-conference organised by Public Safety Canada and TSAS – the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society – on why national security analysis needs GBA+. The seminar was entitled Addressing Unconscious Bias, Diversity, and Inclusion in National Security. Again, I did not stick around so I cannot comment on what was said and whether it was of interest or use.
For me the bottom line is simple: if we want to have the best understanding of terrorism and other national security issues we need a combination of the best data and the best analysts. With regards to the former, the best repository of data has long been security intelligence and law enforcement agencies, although academe is rapidly getting better (yay!). With regards to the latter, good analysts are good analysts. Good analysis stems from multiple sources, corroboration, determination of bias, elimination of self-fulfilling prophecies, etc.
A good terrorism analyst is someone who does all of the above. Is a GBA+ approach necessary to ensure that the best product is available for decision makers? Not to my mind it is not. If agencies have the best people drawn from all walks of society in the first place and ensure that all views are considered – but crucially those views NOT based on solid data are rejected – then GBA+ is irrelevant.
A good terrorism analyst is someone who does all of the above. Is a GBA+ approach necessary to ensure that the best product is available for decision makers? Not to my mind it is not.
Call me an old white guy, but I cannot help but think that GBA+ is a ‘fad’ that is not required. Just collect good data and do good analysts. That is sufficient.
PS Before I get the inevitable hate mail allow me to state that I am a fan of TSAS. I am particularly keen to see and get to know all the young scholars and practitioners as I for one will at some point down tools in this sphere and new blood is always required. Everyone who has a solid contribution to make in our collective understanding of terrorism should be at the table. Alas, not every contribution is solid and we cannot accord them primacy of place just because they happen to come from certain ‘groups’ of society.