In recent weeks, members of the opposition (including the Liberal Party) have critiqued the Conservative Government's penal policies on the grounds that they will be ineffective at enhancing safety in our communities and will cost Canadians an arm-and-a-leg in the process.
In his speech today to the Canadian Police Association (read here), Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff provided his so-called 'alternative' approach to addressing 'crime'.
Ignatieff began his talk by thanking the police for all their hard work that helps to prevent 'crime' and signalled that a Liberal Government would provide police forces with additional resources to this end such as supporting the hiring of mental health officers and drug treatment officers.
Following this, Ignatieff noted that the Conservatives believe that the only solution to address 'crime' is to put more people in prison and to spend millions of dollars on building new penal institutions. He stated that Canadians know that this approach will not work and then pointed to the example of the United States where "They have almost two-and-a-half million Americans behind bars". He added that "If they [prisoners] were all in one place, that would make Prison City, USA the fourth largest city in America". Ignatieff continued his attack on the Conservative prison expansion agenda noting that "California is about to spend more on its prisons than its public universities" and that according to "every indicator, especially violent crime... the American crime rate is much, much higher than ours".
So what does his critique translate into?
Perhaps affraid to be labelled 'soft on crime', Ignatieff too, like many others in the 'political class', stated (despite the evidence) that his "party has supported tougher sentences - in government and in opposition". This statement is in-keeping with the view that "longer sentences and stricter sentencing", are "part of the solution". It also reflects a willingness amongst the 'political class' to sacrifice the facts and human lives (to greater or lesser degrees) for the purposes of electoral gain.
The question is, how does one critique prison expansion and then supports longer sentences in the same breath? Apparently, Ignatieff is suffering cognitive dissonance by failing to connect the fact that supporting longer sentences will lead to prison expansion. While Ignatieff went on to explain how he wanted to address the causes of 'crime', particularly those committed by youth by providing them with education, discipline and positive opportunities in the future, he then stated that young Canadians need to know that if they break the law they will be punished.
After uttering these words, Ignatieff claimed that "There's a clear difference between our approach and the Conservatives'". However, based on what the Liberal Leader has said today I fail to see what that difference is. Is it that Conservatives believe that a greater use of imprisonment prevents 'crime', while the Liberals believe that a greater use of imprisonment and prevention efforts prevents 'crime'?
In my book this is not so much a difference in policy direction, but simply more of the same couched in various shades of populist language. What Ignatieff, an 'intellectual', needs to answer is why he has adopted an approach where imprisonment is said to be a necessary pillar to addressing conflict and harm in our communities despite the evidence, the economic costs and the availability of more effective alternatives.