Presumably the title grabbed your eye, and yes of course I am talking about the polygraph, or as it is often misnamed the “lie detector”. I wrote a couple of blogs ago about not needing a polygraph for Commissioner Lucki, but this is in a different vein. This blog is about to propose a possible solution for a life long problem that we are and have been having with politicians. I can not take credit for this idea, since a friend of mine came up with it and and he proposed I write about it. He is a bit of a philosopher and has been stewing about this particular solution for a number of years. The simplicity of what he was suggesting, I will admit initially made me skeptical. Often times if something seems simple to me, it somehow seems less plausible.
The specific problem which we are about to try and rectify is this: we have reached a stage in this country and around the globe, where politicians universally, no matter what political stripe, are simply not trusted. That actually may be an under-statement, so let me re-state it. We have reached epidemic proportions of mistrust, exacerbated by the likes of Trump on the right and Canada’s own Justin Trudeau on the left. We simply no longer believe them when they say something and they in turn seem confounded by the public questioning of their allegiances or motivations.
The public cynicism is of course well earned, the historic record speaks loudly and clearly. Politician after politician have been caught up in lies, or what they often refer to as “misstatements”, “misdirections”, or “misinterpretations” of what they actually intended to say. In Justin’s case and to be fair in the cases of many others, it is clear many have committed outright lies. For instance some most recent examples include the statement that the police asked for the implementation of the Emergencies Act to deal with the bouncy castle convoy people? Or our dear Commissioner Lucki clearly lying about pressure put upon her by the Bill Blair crew. Do you remember Bill Clinton, Hillary dutifully by his side, turning to face the camera directly and with millions watching to say categorically : “I never had sex with that woman”.
The suggestion being proposed is this. That all politicians while running or sitting in office have to submit to a polygraph test.
Now before we go any further, this writer does fully understand the negative issues surrounding the polygraph, which the U.S. Supreme Court said was no better than “flipping a coin in the air” in the detection of deception. They are right on one significant level. If one assumes that the polygraph in fact detects lies, it does not, as there is no measurable physiological reaction to lying. The polygraph which measures blood pressure, pulse, respiration and skin conductivity has been deemed to be not a “scientifically credible test” to determine if someone is lying, and as a result it is not admissible in a criminal court of law in this country, or the United Sates. This was confirmed for Canadians by the Supreme Court of Canada in R vs. Beland.
The polygraph is flawed as a “scientific instrument”, but if employed as an interview aid it can be a more than effective tool. It has therefore been accepted as a test in the hiring of employees engaged in sensitive positions for a number of years; agencies such as the FBI, NSA, and the CIA. Canadian police recruiters are often having the polygraph as a test prior to entry. It is a $2 billion industry in the U.S., the average cost of the test being about $700.00. It has been rumoured, but so far I have not been able to confirm, that the RCMP is doing away with the polygraph test for applicants to the RCMP. It seems that the Mounties who are having trouble getting recruits and getting them through training, are doing away with the polygraph admission for the very reason that they were failing too many of their applicants. (If this turns out to be true, the ramifications of this would necessitate a more in-depth examination)
So despite a general acceptance of it as an aid in screening persons in the field of employment; there is still some mixed application of the polygraph in terms of future employees. The Ontario government for instance has banned the use of polygraphs by an employer. (One has to wonder whether this came about as a result of the Ford brothers who dabbled in a little crack cocaine while in office, but that would be a little too suspicious on my part.) The polygraph can also be prejudiced, according to scientific testing, against those that are innocent. Finally, there are clear ways to beat it. In the United States, from 1945 to the present six Americans were found guilty of having committed espionage– all six had previously passed polygraph examinations.
Regardless of the apparent flaws and leaving aside all the naysayers, here again is the proposal. What if a political party and each of its candidates, prior to election, came out and stated that all their party candidates would take the polygraph, and furthermore, it would be in an open and public forum, and they would even provide the questions that were the subject of that polygraph. Additionally they would promise to share those results with the clear assumption that the tests are done by a fully accredited and impartial body.
How many candidates would survive that polygraph test would be the first question. But assume they survive, clearly the pressure would undoubtedly then fall to the other parties and their candidates to also comply and prove their worthiness for public office.
For those not experienced in the use and application of the polygraph process. The actual test is only about fifteen minutes long, but there is a lengthy preamble between the tester and the tested. In the lead-up to the test the interviewer would review the test questions, in order to establish a control question and a probable lie test. This sets the boundaries for the tested and an agreement is reached on the testing questions and the boundaries around them. After going through this process, five or six basic questions are agreed to and formulated and the test is administered.
In this theoretical proposal, what would the basic questions look like:
a) Is everything in your campaign literature and advertisements accurate?
b) Have you ever been a member of an extreme right or extreme left organization?
c) Have you ever cheated on your taxes?
Anyways, you get the picture. It would seem at first blush to not be a bad idea. In the Middle Ages they would pour boiling water over people they suspected of lying, the thinking being that an honest person would be able to stand and take the burning. So a polygraph is at least better than that methinks.
It would be an entertaining drinking game to go down the list of all these “honest” politicians now plying their wares in government and be able to bet (or drink) on the subsequent outcome of the test. There are some politicians that simply ooze that crooked instinct and would be an easy bet with two to one odds, where others may have a fifty-fifty wager. And there are those of you out there that believe that no politician could take and pass the test. Maybe that is true, I am not so sure, it may be a little harsh.
Will any slate of candidates take on this challenge? It seems unlikely, given that it is easier to let sleeping dogs lay, no sense stirring the pot only to find yourself in a un-retractable position. In the 1950’s there was a show called Lie Detector TV which was hosted by Melvin Belli a famous defence counsel of that day. During his day Belli had won over $600 million in damages and defended Jack Ruby who had shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the killer of President Kennedy.
Maybe instead of an all candidates debate hosted by Rosie Barton lobbying softball questions, we could have the polygraph test results revealed. If the candidate failed they could get a chance to debate why they failed, or why the test came back as in-conclusive. We could find a host like the lawyer Marie Henien who could cross-exam them on their explanations. It would be binge-worthy television drama, maybe cringe-worthy would be a better description, but I think it would draw the ratings, and the CBC could finally find a replacement for “Schitt’s Creek”– we could call this “Up the Creek”.
I clearly digress, but maybe ask the question at the next all candidates meeting you attend as part of your civic duty, when each and every politician is expounding on how they are best to represent the people you say:
“Excuse me, Dear Sir or Madam, will you take a polygraph test when you say you will never raise taxes?”
I will volunteer to hook up the electrodes.
Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons and the Internet Archive Book Images – Some Rights Reserved