What the PM Meant to Say

The Prime Minister needs a real-time fact checker, journalists need to learn something about how things are made and paid for, and we all need to stop talking rubbish. It’s rotting our brains.

“What is she on about now?” you wonder. Thanks for asking.

The cost of the coronavirus vaccine
will be covered by the federal government
and will be free for all Canadians,
the prime minister announced Thursday.
Global News, Dec 10, 6:06 PM

The truth is more like this:

The cost of the coronavirus vaccine
will be covered collectively through our taxes
and will be paid-for by Canadians
this year and for years to come.

Here’s another example:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau …
repeated his government’s assertion
that 80 per cent of the money going toward
COVID-19 emergency spending
is coming from Ottawa.
Globe & Mail, Dec 1

The truth is more like this:

100 per cent of the money going toward
COVID-19 emergency spending
is coming from Canadian taxpayers,
current and future.

Should we pay for the coronavirus vaccine collectively? Is the value of a presumed increase in access worth the cost we incur by routing our money through the Canada Revenue Agency and back to the provinces before using it for a productive purpose? Or should we buy vaccines individually, expecting/encouraging philanthropists to pick up some of the slack, and use our tax dollars to buy doses only for those who still can’t afford them? I don’t know. No one asked.

I swear, part of the reason no one thinks to ask and we don’t expect to *be* asked is that we’ve come to accept silly phrases like “federal funds” just as if they meant something. Just as if *any* government had *any* money that it didn’t tax from individuals and businesses owned by individuals, or that was transferred to it from another level of government that had taxed it from individuals and businesses owned by individuals.

Maybe we’ve come to believe that the government can give us things for free. After all, they keep saying that’s what they’re doing, and almost no one reports negatively on it or even seems to notice it. Maybe we should ask President Trump to say something in a similar vein. That would get a swift, strong, and predictable reaction.

“The President repeated his baseless claims
of providing government services for free.”

The government has our backs? Please. We have each other’s backs. Let’s start talking like it.


Synchronicity strikes again. It’s the morning after the night I wrote this, and I see this bit in an editorial about CBC Tandem, which is something called branded content which sounds a lot like advertising. This swipe about CBC Gem is a drive-by smack, not the focus of the attack.

And if you’re tired of Netflix, there is always CBC Gem. Its basic content is free, or you can upgrade to “premium” for $4.99 per month. Of course, this is what might be called “government-free,” not “free-free.” Only government could call something that costs $1.3 billion per year “free.”

Yes. Only government. And journalists. And us, most days.

Wow. There’s clearly something in the air and I don’t mean coronavirus aerosolized droplets. Here’s an excerpt from a John Robson piece today on health care spending. The context is Premier Ford asking for the federal government to up its share of health care spending by sending more money to Ontario. Which request I swear I did not see coming.

It’s not obvious what the premier or his scribe thinks “Ontario” is. If it’s the Ontario government he could be half-right. But in case nobody ever told him, “Ontario” as a large and wealthy province actually supplies, or rather its citizens supply, much of the revenue that flows into federal coffers each year. So if “Ontario” means the people who live there, the proposal is to take their money, send it to Trudeau and have him send it back to Ford as though it were created from thin air.

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10 Responses to What the PM Meant to Say

  1. Ken from Kenora says:

    And yet one continually hears from their lips, blithe fully activated…..’there is only one taxpayer’. My breath is bated, waiting for one of them to actually mean it and act.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    It seems to me that economics — like legislation — occurs after the fact. First, things happen; second, we invent theories to explain them or laws to authenticate them. Keynes invented his variant of economics to explain the Great Depression; Friedman invented his to explain the Post-War boom.

    Today, every government in the world (possibly an exaggeration) is rushing headlong into debt as if there’s no tomorrow. According to yesterday’s economic theory, it’s disaster. But already I see some economists putting out theories to justify pulling money out of thin air. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) seems to be one of those. David Graeber also comes to mind.

    You can tell they’re on to *something* because the more traditional economists think them as anathema.

    JIm T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I think I know smart folks who think that wealth can come by printing money. Maybe that will be tomorrow’s orthodoxy. I’m not buying it yet.

  3. Tom Watson says:

    Seems to me that no matter what there’s nothing governments can do to make us satisfied. If they spend nothing to shore things up, the cry is that they should. If they spend in an attempt to help, the cry is that we’ll be paying for this for years. What would it take?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – What annoys me is the language around *Who* is doing whatever we end up doing. I heard the Prime Minister say (in these exact words) that the government is taking on this debt so that Canadians don’t have to. I hope he doesn’t think that makes any sense.

  4. Tom Watson says:

    Underneath what I’m saying is that I’d hate to be making these decisions at the best of times, and certainly not in a time that’s complicated many-fold by a pandemic.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – It’s tough, no question. But I don’t think there are just two options: do nothing or actually increase average household income (which is what they/we have done with pandemic supports). The (non-disputed, as far as I know) figures in the press state that government payments put in twice as much money into the economy as was lost in the slowdown. Tough to get it exactly right? No doubt. I’d hope for better than that.

  5. I am not an economist, although my dad wrote a manuscript of economic theory, most of which I read at the time, that one or two publishers considered seriously. As did a university professor or two. My understanding of the new school of economic thinking is that it is not monetarily based in taxes, as has been the thinking of most folks heretofore. Money, like words, is a metaphor or expression for something else, in this case for the worth of the nation that produces and deals in that currency. The value of a nation, especially of the developed nations, is incalculably greater than the amount of money they have including the fraction they take back in taxes. The “federal government” can turn some of those vast assets into money as the need arises. The kind of “piggy bank” thinking my dad instilled in me, as I would learn for myself when I was grown up and on my own, is not the best way of thinking about the meeting of needs and offering of resources. And neither is the concept of noblesse oblige philanthropy, which is not to cast aspersions on philanthropy or any other form of generosity.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Well, I guess we’ll see how it all works out. They’re not paying any attention to what I think. I get the noblesse-oblige point and would add that I don’t think it’s much healthier for people to expect the guvmint (meaning their neighbours, at one remove) to look after them. It would be nice to have these discussions absent an emergency, but we don’t seem to be wired that way.

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