Think tank calls for oversight on Canadian government paternalism

Posted By October 6, 2023 No Comments
tip machine

Tip machine – Courtesy Danielle Nerman/CBC

(Written by Jonathan Bradley – Originally printed here in the Western Standard, reprinted with permission)

There should be oversight of the Canadian government’s use of nudges, according to a study conducted by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI).

“At the moment, Canada has no structure in place for the oversight of the use of behavioural science by governments to direct the choices of citizens,” said MEI senior economist and study co-author Nathalie Elgrably-Levy in a press release.

“Nudges, as governance tools, must be circumscribed in order to protect the population from potential excesses and abuses.”

Nudges are defined as the uses of behavioural sciences to prompt people, without their knowledge, to make choices considered desirable by those who introduce them, without prohibiting access to other options. An example of a nudge is placing healthy foods at eye level in the grocery store and putting junk food on a lower level.

The Privy Council Office equipped itself with a unit of behavioural science experts to propose nudges to prompt the population to adopt behaviour considered desirable by the Canadian government.

The MEI said it opposes nudges because they avoid the usual legislative process, the opacity of the implementation process and ethical issues stemming from their use for political purposes.

Elgrably-Levy recommended the Canadian government restrict the use of default choices to counter the status quo bias, extend the political process to nudges, force their instigators to defend their initiatives publicly, create an independent ombudsman position to monitor the use and the legitimacy of nudges and give each nudge an expiration date so that they will be reevaluated and debated.

She said nudges “allow governments to subtly, but effectively, direct our individual choices for the better without us being fully aware of it.”

“That’s why overseeing and limiting their use is absolutely essential to preserve the integrity and the freedom of choice of individuals,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nudged people into taking COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 by requiring Canada’s 300,000 civil servants to get vaccinated.