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Brian Lee Crowley: Pierre Poilievre needs to be more than a rhetorical ally to those opposing gender ideology

Commentary

The premiers of New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have courageously put themselves on the line to protect the interests of children and parents in the face of attacks by the woke exponents of gender ideology. In response to questioning, federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has said he supports the premiers and opposes much of the woke agenda but opines that, really, it’s mostly in the hands of the provinces and municipalities. That there is little he could do as prime minister.

He is wrong. Now that he has made himself at least a rhetorical ally of those pushing back against this ideology, he needs to get up to speed on at least three ways in which a potential Conservative government in Ottawa will actually be called on to respond to woke culture’s attacks on the rights of women and children.

But first, what exactly does gender ideology (GI) demand in terms of public policy? GI’s adherents believe people’s feelings trump objective facts. If you are born male but “feel” that you are nevertheless a woman (or “self-identify” as one) everyone else must acquiesce in your feeling, no matter what the practical consequences or how fleeting your “feeling” is. What are just some of those consequences?

Sport

Male-bodied athletes, who enjoy significant physical advantages over athletes born female, must nevertheless be permitted to compete in women’s sport. The result? Women’s sport is increasingly colonized by mediocre male athletes who can nevertheless become dominant figures in their sport overnight; stealing training, competitive berths, prizes, and scholarships intended for genuine female athletes.

Prisons

Prison inmates who were born male may, with remarkably few restrictions, self-identify as women and serve out their sentence in a women’s prison. The result? A number of male-bodied prisoners, including sex offenders, can and have self-identified their way into female facilities where their aggression and physical strength permit them to terrorize female prisoners who cannot escape them.

Gender confusion in the young

If sex is not real, but just a matter of whatever you feel yourself to be, the feelings of children and youth about what their “real” gender is should not be questioned but only “affirmed.” And when feelings reign supreme over physical facts, if a child born, say, male “feels” like a girl, then that child was “born in the wrong body.” 

That in turn makes such a child’s gender identity a medical condition that calls for immediate “affirmative care” to bring their body into accordance with their feelings. This can include puberty blockers and even surgery, both of which can and do have permanent life-altering consequences. Yet, as with many medical conditions, patients often experience spontaneous changes. In the case of gender dysphoric children there have been many cases where, in the absence of medical intervention, their gender identity has converged on their biological sex.

Sadly, no intervention can actually turn a body from one sex into another; as a dimorphic species, our body’s sex is indelibly imprinted right down to the cellular level. Therefore there are inherent limits to what, if anything, “gender affirming” care can accomplish, and the doubtful benefits are accompanied by serious documented risks

What a Conservative government could do

On all three of these issues, a future Conservative government in Ottawa would have major work to do. 

To begin, the new government could repudiate all attempts by the bureaucracy to transform the definition of “woman” from one of objective fact (a woman is an adult human female) to a subjective feeling. The federal Department of Justice, for example, currently defines women as “All people who identify as women.”

On the sport file, a new government would need to start with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), an independent, national, not-for-profit that receives the majority of its funding from the federal government. 

Many administrative sporting bodies in Canada followed the recommendation of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport that athletes should be able to self-identify into the sex category of their choice. This was well outside the original mandate of the CCES, which was to police anti-doping rules. 

Having been captured by gender ideologues, its recommendations on self-identification in sport were based on a laughably bad and unscientific argument devastatingly mocked internationally.

A new government in Ottawa would help to put things right by refusing to fund the CCES or by demanding it return to its anti-doping mandate. Then Ottawa must, under ministerial authority, release revised recommendations that protect the integrity of women’s sport and the safety of female athletes. Those recommendations should include the creation of an open sport category in which trans athletes would be free to compete.

Ottawa also gives money and other support to many national and regional sports organizations. Such support should be limited to those sporting groups that follow these new recommendations. Canada’s representatives in international sporting bodies should be expected to support rule-making by these bodies that only biological women may compete in women’s sport.

Finally, human rights legislation such as Bill C-16 should be amended to make it clear that recognizing the right of trans people to live lives of dignity free of discrimination is perfectly compatible with the continued existence of sex-based sport categories. 

Protestors gather at the legislature during a rally for Trans rights in Edmonton, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press.

While they are at it, they should also amend that same legislation to make it clear that shelters intended to provide refuge for female victims of male violence, such as rape crisis centres, are entitled to limit their clientele to women. Those women should also be able to demand that shelter services, including counselling, be provided by women.

Unbelievably, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter seems to be the last major women’s shelter still operating on such rules in the entire country. For their uncompromising courage they have lost municipal funding for their rape shelter and programming, to ensure their clientele is not traumatized a second time by being forced to deal with male-bodied front-line staff. Organizations like Vancouver Rape Relief are increasingly ineligible for funding by Ottawa and most provinces for their rape crisis services because they want to offer their services exclusively to biological females, and funding for women’s community programs is filtered through a 2SLGBTQI+ activist lens.

With respect to prisons, it is important to note that the current policy supporting gender self-identification was not the result of a reasoned policy adopted by an open process after a thoughtful examination of the evidence. Rather it was done under the radar as the result of a commitment Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made on the fly in response to a question he received on the topic at a public event.

The rules allowing male prisoners to self-identify into women’s prisons are embodied in an administrative policy and can easily be revoked and replaced with ones that protect both the safety and dignity of female prisoners. No legislation is required. 

If necessary, a third category of prison arrangement could be created for trans-identifying prisoners, although once the incentive to self-identification is removed one might expect the number of such claims to fall dramatically.

Finally, on the subject of so-called gender-affirming care, Ottawa must amend Bill C-4, the conversion therapy bill. MPs were warned at the time of the bill’s adoption that, while there was wide agreement with its main purpose (to rightly outlaw conversion therapy for gay people), the bill’s terms were too broadly drawn.

In particular, the medical community is of the view that any treatment that might suggest, say, waiting to see if gender dysphoric children grow out of their gender dysphoria, or sending a child for counselling to understand the origins and meaning of their feeling of being in the wrong body, or even considering another diagnosis such as depression or anxiety, constitutes conversion therapy. Ditto for parents who oppose rushed affirmative care on the grounds that their child is too young to understand the life-long ramifications of hormone treatment or surgery. 

In these circumstances a poorly designed law is preventing medical professionals and parents from exercising their professional and moral responsibility to act in the best interests of these children. Ottawa caused this problem; only Ottawa can fix it.

Three premiers have now put their political futures on the line to speak up about the damage gender ideology is wreaking. In so doing these premiers have Canadians behind them. Overwhelming majorities oppose these extreme and poorly thought-out policies often adopted by stealth. Pierre Poilievre needs to do more than say that he agrees but cannot do much to help. He can do a lot. The question is will he?

Patrick Luciani: How austerity saved Greece

Commentary

In the latest Hub book review, Patrick Luciani dives into two books on the topic of austerity, examining their theses in light of a relevant, real-world example of these policies in action: the case study of Greece embracing austerity to kickstart its current economic resurgence. The two books are The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism by Clara E. Mattei (The University of Chicago Press, 2022) and Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn’t, by Alberto Alesina, Carlo Favero, and Francesco Giavazzi (Princeton University Press, 2019).

It’s remarkable to witness Greece’s economic resurgence in Europe. From being on the verge of being kicked out of the Eurozone, Greece’s economy is now growing faster than the European average, unemployment has been halved, and its debt has transitioned from junk to investment grade, attracting more foreign investment.

After the financial collapse of 2008, government spending spiralled out of control, pushing the national debt to a staggering 180 percent of GDP, while trombone players and pastry chefs got to retire at 50 on government pensions. Unions also ran amok in state-owned and heavily regulated industries where employees at Olympic Airlines and their families enjoyed free global travel. A staggering 80 percent of the budget in the defence ministry went to administration. Tax evasion had become a national sport, particularly among the wealthy, where doctors and professionals got paid under the table in envelopes stuffed with cash. 

In early 2015, in the midst of Greece’s third international bailout, the newly elected anti-austerity party, Syriza, decided to take a bold step. They appointed the swashbuckling Yanis Varufakis, a Marxist economist, as finance minister to negotiate for better terms with the Troika, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. The negotiations didn’t go well as Varufakis insisted on educating the Troika on how they were exploiting Greece. The Germans, who were paying the bills, would have none of it. 

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras finally faced reality. After only five months in office, he fired his arrogant finance minister and agreed to strict austerity measures for Greece’s third bailout. A deep recession quickly followed, but the economy started to turn around. 

According to the anti-austerity crowd, this wasn’t supposed to happen. They put their faith in more spending, not less. Many on the Left claim that austerity is a conspiracy to save capitalism from itself by protecting corporate profits through the exploitation of the working classes. Clara E. Mattei makes this argument in her new book The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism. Its subtitle pretty much gives away her position. Even John Maynard Keynes comes in for a scolding in salvaging capitalism.

Mattei, who teaches at the New School for Social Research, argues that austerity undermines workers to rescue profits and capitalism. She goes back to the First World War, showing how economists in Britain and Italy deceived their people into believing that austerity was good for society. She starts with the thesis that socialism is better than capitalism but that it is never really given a chance to flourish; after all, in a 2015 referendum in Greece, a majority opposed austerity. No surprise there since people would rather have others pay for their benefits. She forgets to mention that in the same year, the Greeks themselves re-elected Tsipras and his Syriza party.  

Whether austerity programs work or not is essentially an empirical question. For that, we turn to another book, Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn’t, by Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his co-authors at Bocconi University in Milan, Carlo Favero and Francesco Giavazzi. Rather than speculate from a pre-determined political position as Mattei does, Alesina et al. ask if cutting government spending is more effective than higher taxes in forgone output and employment. For an answer, the authors analyze the data from 16 advanced countries and their experience with austerity programs. 

The authors conclude that austerity measures are effective when governments face financial crises. Substantial cuts in spending (expenditure-based austerity) tend to impose lower costs than programs that increase taxes. This was demonstrated in the U.K. and Ireland after 2008, where their economies outperformed other European countries.

In Canada, the austerity programs in the 1990s under both Conservatives and Liberals showed growth rates above 3 percent while debt over GDP also started to decrease. Italy, a potential candidate for austerity measures, has never tried it, and its economy hasn’t grown for the last two decades. Austerity also shows that politicians who pursue vital austerity programs don’t always suffer the political consequences. The book gets high praise for its scholarship and will “serve as a touchstone for future studies.”

Albert Alessina, who passed away in 2022 at the age of 63, reminded us that austerity programs are only necessary when governments make economic policy mistakes that can no longer be ignored. When this happens, the evidence suggests that austerity is more effective at maintaining or increasing growth than tax increases alone. Greece was saved by following that formula rather than the progressive program of more spending.