Journalism

Reward the wealthy, fail the needy

In 2011, Canada’s austerity driven federal government suspended, delayed or cancelled numerous Environment Canada programs, including the Action Plan on Clean Water. Stephen Harper’s administration made the choice even though adult residents of some First Nations communities had lived entire lives with water systems contaminated by bacteria and chemical poisons.

Although the Trudeau Liberals have made some progress, its response is far below adequate. A deputy director at Indigenous Services Canada refused to commit funding to one Manitoba community that lacked running water. He said, “Frankly, people should be living in other places.” 

According to Pamela Palmater of Policy Options:

[The] response is similar to those made by previous Conservative governments and seems to be wholly in line with Canada’s historic “Indian policy” in general.

For decades, the focus of the federal government has been how to best manage the “Indian problem” in light of the fact that its policy objective has always been to acquire First Nations lands and resources and reduce the financial obligations it has acquired through treaties and other agreements.

Justin Trudeau’s father tried to erase the Indian problem through the Liberals’ 1969 White Paper, where he advocated no Indian Act, no reserves, no Indians and no more treaties.

It is often said that we are unable to pay for healthcare (including dentistry and prescriptions) and other social programs. But, political leaders seldom say that business subsidies and corporate tax reductions are unaffordable.

Kinder Morgan bailout to cost north of $15 billion, Robyn Allen, National Observer, May 2018:

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced on May 29 that the Government of Canada will buy the existing Trans Mountain pipeline system from Kinder Morgan at a price of $4.5 billion.

When asked about the cost to build the expansion during his press conference, Mr. Morneau was cagey. He refused to explain that $4.5 billion simply buys Ottawa the rights to what exists today — a 65 year old pipeline serving B.C. and Washington State, storage facilities and a one-berth marine terminal that sends modest volumes of diluted bitumen to California markets.

By the time the expansion is built, the price tag for nationalizing the existing assets and building the expansion will cost Canadians upwards of $15 – $20 billion…

Oilsands companies boost Q2 net incomes by $2 billion thanks to Alberta tax cuts, CBC News, July 25, 2019:

The Alberta government’s move to cut corporate taxes from 12 to eight per cent has added more than $2 billion to second-quarter net incomes of major oilsands producers Suncor Energy Inc., Husky Energy Inc. and Cenovus Energy Inc…

Signs Point to Bad News, Alberta Union of Public Employees, June 2019:

…the government has appointed a “Blue Ribbon” panel to look at how to balance Alberta’s budget. While this sounds like a good idea, the panel has been handcuffed by a mandate that means it can only look at spending and not at revenue.

So, why do the majority of Canadians tolerate a system that rewards the wealthy and fails to serve the needy?

Partly, it is a result of steady streams of misinformation fed citizens by corporate media and its owners who view commercial activities as paramount. People dying? No big deal. Wealthy corporations facing tax bills or made responsible for polluting activities? Now, that is serious.

Corporate Control of Media:

Few people would disagree that information is pivotal for a democratic, free society. When dictators seize power one of the first things they do is seize the TV stations and close down opposition newspapers.

As is often said, a free press is essential for a free society. More broadly, the way the media and communication — newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the arts, etc. – is owned, produced and controlled has pervasive consequences for the character of public debate, the attitudes people form towards social issues and social conflicts, and ultimately the possibilities for various kinds of social change to occur in a democracy.

The problem of how the mass media is controlled, therefore, is a fundamental problem for a democratic society. At the heart of the problem of the media and democracy is the problem of the control over the production and dissemination of news.

However, other aspects of the media and communication, including movies, novels, music, theater and television entertainment, are also critical for public debate and democracy. The arts are one of the key ways that issues of public concern get articulated and made salient to democratic processes. Right after closing opposing newspapers, dictators control the arts.

Wealthy individuals, including Canada’s richest families, control most of the newspapers and almost all of the broadcast outlets. But the influence does not stop there. Financing of political parties has traditionally been dependent on large contributions and those same donors populate the board rooms of public agencies, crown corporations, universities and post-secondary institutions. Typical citizens, particularly consumers of the provided services, are sidelined.

Groups like Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canadian Federation Of Independent Business, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Resource Works and countless other industry friendly group advocate for vested interests.

Of course, Canada’s more than 100 “research” and policy institutes are adept at getting their messages heard. So too are a large number of foundations and business associations—e.g., CAPP—that find it profitable to influence public opinion.

In my earlier working days, I typically paid for subscriptions to three newspapers and various business journals. In addition, I listened to radio and television news that originated in my community. Today, the internet marketplace of ideas is limited or contaminated and largely controlled thousands of kilometres from our homes.

Can the tide of disinformation be altered?

I doubt it. Corporate media is backed by billionaires. Alternative media is dependent on voluntary support of ordinary citizens who don’t profit directly from their contributions.

Incredibly good work is produced by non-profit journalism projects like The Tyee and The Narwhal, but they are severely limited by lack of financial resources. Living hand to mouth, they have to turn away worthwhile assignments and do less than possible on active files.

Supporting independents that focus on public interest stories not usually told in traditional media is how we can make a small difference. Today, most of us pay far more to internet service providers than we do to content providers.

It is time for that to change.

Categories: Journalism

7 replies »

    • Yes, progress is being made but, by the government’s count, 58 indigenous communities still have boil-water advisories and that does not include all areas suffering other environmental degradation. This is not a new problem and addressing it remains a less of a priority than fossil fuel subsidies.

      Liberals are better than Conservatives, but not by much.

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  1. I think that news media should become Crown corporations. Their defining documents must state that no political interference is allowed to influence reporting in any way.

    Or, the Competition Bureau should break up all of the media mega-corporations – Postmedia, Black Press, and the like. Legislation must be brought in limiting the number of properties/concerns owned by one person/corporation/trust, etc. The US used to have a similar policy and it worked well for them.

    But I don’t think that this will ever happen. The people who own this country would hate it and like things the way they are (those same people own the politicians). As George Carlin said, in a slightly different context and speaking about the US: “The owners of this country don’t want that [critically thinking citizens]. They want obedient workers.”

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  2. With the AB tax rate going from 12 to 8%, is the $2B just the oil corp benefits? What are the total corp. benefits? Here come the social services cuts!
    About 20 years ago in SK the energy corps. got a royalty free holiday on new wells. The good businessmen proceeded to produce as much as possible which resulted ion many wells being wrecked. Smart? Profitable?

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  3. We should all be deeply concerned about our democratic voice and freedoms knowing what the worlds corporate politicical elites, robber baron rulers and dictators are taking in at the secretive Bilderberg love in’s and higher learning for the ruling class and various questionable types and villians. Hey wasn’t that Bill Morneau seen going and evading questions by reporters. Ex astronaut Chris Hatfield turned politician too. Whoa. That’s interesting. The list of our very own Canadian high and mighty and perfect that have attended is astonishing in itself.

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  4. Leaving aside the think tanks attached to universities, and those funded by the Munk and Weston families (who could ever guess the political slant of those families?), the first five have a common theme:

    Fraser Institute:
    “The Fraser Institute is an independent non-partisan research and educational organization based in Canada.”

    “To protect our independence, we accept no government funding or contracts for research.”

    Atlantic Institute for Market Studies:
    “…AIMS maintains its intellectual independence and is staunchly non-partisan.”

    “AIMS does not accept targeted funds to commission specific papers, nor does it accept government funding…”

    The Frontier Centre for Public Policy:
    “As an organization, we do not subscribe to any political ideology.”

    “In order to protect our independence, and our reputation as a research group, the Frontier Centre neither seeks nor accepts any government funding whatsoever.”

    The Montreal Economic Institute:
    “The MEI is an independent public policy think tank.”

    “It neither solicits nor accepts any government funding.”

    The MacDonald-Laurier Institute:
    “MLI is rigorously independent and non-partisan, as symbolized by its name.”

    “We are grateful for financial support from a variety of foundations, corporations and individuals.”

    Now, anyone looking at the founders and current directors of these outfits, let alone their output, will quickly determine whether they are non-partisan. But in any event all, in their quest to plead their independence go out of their way to assure us that accepting government funding would be a sure sign that they could not be viewed as impartial. Biting the hand that feeds and all that.

    What then are we to think about corporate media’s acceptance of $600 million from the government?

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