Media cheerlead for government cuts

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The CBC's Greg Weston

The mainstream media seem to be working themselves into a full-blown tizzy over whether the Harper government will fulfill its pledge to eliminate the federal deficit by 2014-15. The Conservatives are promising to balance the books by unnecessarily slashing billions in public spending while eliminating thousands of public service jobs. The mainstream media are, of course, urging the government on just as they did in the mid-1990s when their hero Paul Martin slashed social transfer payments to the provinces.

For example, in an online column headlined “Budget balance hard to find,” the CBC’s Greg Weston questioned the government’s commitment to balancing the budget. After castigating the Conservatives for increasing their spending on government operations by a “whopping 45 per cent” over the past five years, Weston lamented that even before the financial crash of 2008, they “ran amok with the public chequebook, driving up the cost of basic government programs and services by 22 per cent in three years.” (Weston’s cheerleading for federal cuts seems especially ironic given that the Harperites will almost certainly use the quest for a balanced budget to justify eviscerating the CBC.)

Meantime, in today’s Globe and Mail,  reporter Bill Curry frets that slower-than-expected economic growth could derail the government plan to balance the books. “Tory budget plans set askew by slow growth projections,” the Globe’s headline warns ominously. Curry makes it clear that the slow-growth projection comes courtesy of the TD Bank.

Questions journalists never ask

So, why do we suddenly need to balance the budget a year earlier than originally planned? That’s one of several pointed questions labour economist Jim Stanford asked in a column last week. He pointed out that by the government’s own projections, the deficit will be only $300 million by then. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really just pocket change — only about one-tenth-of-one-percent of government revenues.

Stanford asked another question: Why do we need to come up with government savings that will eventually reach $4 billion a year to eliminate an “infinitesimal” $0.3 billion deficit?

“I am sure there is method to the Conservatives’ madness here,” he wrote “and the fact that the debate is zeroing in on what is going to be cut (as opposed to whether to cut at all) is assisting their spin strategy mightily.”

Alternatives journalists never consider

Alternative Budget 2011

Even if the budget deficit were the crushing burden that mainstream journalists make it out to be, the government could easily raise more than enough money to balance its books without hurting anyone. In fact, the CCPA’s Alternative Budget 2011 shows the Harperites how they could raise more than $84 billion over the next three years with relatively modest tax increases on wealthy Canadians, banks, oil companies, other big corporations and carbon taxes on polluters.

Larry Gordon, co-ordinator of Canadians for Tax Fairness, outlined in a June 3rd column how those billions could be spent, for example, on national childcare and pharamacare programs, safe drinking water on aboriginal reserves, poverty reduction measures, university tuition relief — the list goes on and on.

Ah yes, I can hear a chorus of mainstream journalists scoffing at such “pie-in-the-sky” proposals. And no wonder. Their reporting and analysis are usually framed by economists at the big banks, apparatchiks from conservative think tanks or right-wing profs at university business schools. Journalists claim to speak for beleaguered taxpayers, but their messages are crafted by the rich and powerful.

Things journalists rarely say

But not always. To my astonishment, Globe business columnist Eric Reguly opened his column on September 28, 2006 with these stirring words:

“If you had to guess the tax burden split between individuals and corporations, you might guess that corporations pay the most. That’s because Corporate Canada is always whining about its tax load, which it claims is uncompetitive and sends jobs overseas.

“You’d be wrong. The chump is you, not the corporations. The public accounts show that the total corporate tax revenue is about 30 per cent of the total personal tax revenue. In the early 1960s, it was 60 per cent. The tax burden on the individual has, relatively speaking, doubled since your parents’ generation. Now you know why your parents could afford a house on one salary and you have trouble paying the mortgage on two.”

Reguly went on to quote Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who said that people are overtaxed. His column ends with this conclusion:

“If Mr. Flaherty really thinks the average Canadian is “overtaxed” he would restore the balance between individual and corporate tax payments. Don’t count on it. Corporations have lobbyists and PR people. You don’t.”

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
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