[During the National Posts first year of publication,
it claimed that Canadas supposedly exorbitant taxes were causing
great damage to the economy and had produced a form of "tax
rage" among the middle class. In contrast, sociologist Larry
Patriquin suggests that the papers writers were engaged in
a dubious form of "reasoning" in order to promote an ideology
that mostly benefits the wealthy. In advancing its case, the Post
published a stunning collection of factual and logical errors, which
were incessantly repeated in editorials and columns. In 2000, the
federal Liberal Party surrendered completely to the bogus "tax
rage" promulgated by the Post, and the Liberals
fiscal policy became tied to right-wing campaigns. Larry Patriquin
explains how the Post succeeded.]
For a propagandist, the sole objective is to influence the public;
hence, being right or wrong doesnt matter. The purpose of
the misinformation is not to seek the "truth" or to engage
in an exercise of intellectual rigour, one where logic will triumph
when all is said and done. There is something else going on here,
something most candidly noted by Post columnist Diane Francis.
This seems to be the objective of the exercise: to deprive the
institution of government of any respect.
According to her, governments "never have enough of our money
to spend. They refuse to live within OUR means." As a consequence,
she concluded, governments "must be deprived of revenue, support,
and respect whenever possible." (17 April 1999: E12). This
is a rare example of the ideological fig leaf falling off.
This seems to be the whole objective of the exercise: To deprive
the institution of government of any respect, to make it appear
as if government is a crushing burden on our freedom and our pocketbooks,
and that our lives would be so much better if only government would
disappear (except, that is, for laws protecting private property
rights and the enforcement of contracts, funds for the police to
beat back those annoying anti-globalization protestors, Crown attorneys
to prosecute panhandlers and so on).
One would never guess from reading the Post that it is societies
with strong governments, with governments that collect a large percentage
of their nations product in the form of taxes, where people
have the longest life spans, the lowest infant mortality rates,
among the highest levels of economic growth and productivity and
the lowest levels of poverty and inequality.
The Post manifested not only failures of logic but fundamentally
An editorial in the Post highlighted another goal of the
tax cut drive. It argued, with reference to proposals in the US,
that "it is important that the tax cut be large enough to constrain
federal spending and preserve the momentum toward smaller government."
(7 August 1999: B9). The cuts need to be so deep that they are almost
irreversible politically. Whether that neo-liberal dream can be
attained is another matter.
The goal, at least, is to harm government as an institution, to
make it difficult for government to do its job, to kick it hard
enough that it will have difficulty standing up again. The reasoning
behind this is that, according to Diane Francis, our "taxes
are too high because our democracy is flawed."(2 March 1999:
C3). Ordinary people get to vote, the theory goes, and they tend
to vote for generally higher taxes. What an "unflawed"
democracy would look like was not explained by Francis in her column.
On the whole, the Post manifested not only failures of logic
but fundamentally anti-democratic values, despite their copious
use of terms such as "choice" and "freedom."
The basic aspiration is to neutralize government as an effective
force in society, especially its role as redistributors of income
In its first three years of operation, the Post reportedly
lost $200 million. However, this was a shrewd investment, compared
to a return of roughly $150 billion in federal tax cuts over the
period 1997 - 2005. The National Post was a stroke of brilliance
on the part of the Canadian Right, an act of hubris perhaps unequaled
in the Western world over the past few decades.
To reach their goals, right-wingers must see to it that the vast
majority of people are fooled into believing something that is untrue.
The timing was perfect, just as the federal government was emerging
from the era of huge deficits into one of gargantuan surpluses.
The newspaper became a virtual in-house organ for the Reform Party/Canadian
Alliance, yet another flank in the tax cut army. If anything, the
creation of the Post demonstrated that the existence of a
"free market" does not necessarily mean that the intellectual
cream will rise to the top. Rather, it allows those with extremely
deep pockets to start a daily newspaper. They then hire a group
of individuals to rant in support of the end goal of, in this case,
lower taxes, with little regard for evidence, research or logical
forms of argumentation.
Here, I can do no better than quote Link Byfield (2001: A13), editor
and publisher of the ultra-conservative Report magazine,
who made the following observation: "If libertarian think tanks
like the Fraser [Institute] and CD Howe [Institute] had not spent
the past three decades tirelessly researching and propagating faith
in economic freedom, does anyone think for a second that we would
today see the Liberal Party implementing even modest tax cuts and
contemplating the breaking up of the state medical monopoly? Certainly
not. Major shifts in public attitudes take millions of dollars of
investment and years of diligent effort to bring about."
The National Post could be added to Byfields list
of organizations that have been spreading the "faith."
This relentless propagandizing began with the Rights successful
scuttling, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, of the generally progressive
recommendations contained in the 1967 report of the Royal Commission
on Taxation. This "propagating," as Byfield called it,
continues to this day.
Is it any wonder that in this environment many people hold the
contradictory views of wanting both lower taxes and more public
As part of their "diligent effort" in bringing about
"major shifts in public attitudes," right-wingers must
see to it that the vast majority of people are fooled into believing
something that is untrue. This necessitates the construction of
an ideology. If one were to put together a list of tasks to be implemented
by media and "think tanks" in order to convince ordinary
people that their taxes are too high and need to be dramatically
cut, and that they would benefit enormously from such a cut, it
would probably [include these points]:
# Pretend that democracy does not exist and that our elected governments
are totalitarian oligarchs who steal money from us
Roman emperors. Make frequent reference to Jean-Baptiste Colberts
# Depict the highest income earners, those close to the top 1 percent,
as "middle class".
# Exaggerate the level of taxes paid by Canadians. Always use terms
like "half" or "more than half", even though
most Canadians pay something closer to one-third, and for those
in the bottom half of the income chart, very little of this is income
# Make the "taxes as a percentage of GDP" scale sound
like its a dangerous fever. At 40 percent we get the chills. At
45 percent we are hospitalized. At more than 50 percent, our heads
# Suggest that tax deductions such as those for capital gains and
RRSPs are used by "everyone" instead of mostly upper-income
# Point out what an "average" family will receive in
tax cuts. This makes it sound better, given that the vast majority
of families will not receive anything close to this amount.
# Substitute the word "all" for "some" - as
in, "All would benefit
# Portray income tax cuts as being a major supplement to ordinary,
"struggling" working families instead of the insignificant
"drop in the bucket" they turn out to be.
# Never acknowledge that an increase in private expenditures (tuition
fees, user fees, licensing fees, highway tolls) will be the inevitable
result of a tax cut. Convince people that tax cuts represent a "bonus
and that this "additional" money will be used, not for
the above-noted private expenditures, but rather for "saving
# Imply that our tax dollars go to "bureaucrats and politicians".
Never mention programs and services like pensions, Medicare, employment
insurance and so on.
# Create an aura of panic. Keep hammering away at the idea that
there "is a growing sense of urgency that we need immediate
action" (17 April 1999: E8). People are less likely to engage
in reasoned debate when there is a stampede going on around them.
These forms of misinformation, characteristic of the Post,
work by not telling the other side of the story. This is unlike
a courtroom trial, where both the prosecution and the defence make
the best case possible in a detailed examination of the evidence
and where, in theory at least, no stone either for or against the
accused is left unturned. Perhaps this is why juries typically make
wise decisions and voters typically do not, because voters often
receive a skewed view of crucial public policy issues and - with
little alternative information - cast their ballots accordingly.
Is it any wonder that in this environment many people hold the contradictory
views of wanting both lower taxes and more public services?
The misinformation propagated by the Post was no doubt a
major influence in the federal Liberals about-face, their
metamorphosis into something that made a mockery of the partys
liberal heritage. This comes out clearly in the research of Jim
Stanford (2000: B1-3), who calculated where the "fiscal dividend"
was allocated over the period 1997 - 2001.
In his study, social reinvestment was defined as any program spending
above inflation and population growth. Taxes as a percentage of
GDP below the 1997 rate were counted as a tax cut. The rest went
to debt reduction. He found that of the total fiscal dividend of
$76 billion over this period, a mere $2 billion went into social
reinvestment. $26 billion went for tax cuts, with by far the largest
amount, $48 billion, going to debt repayment. The projected fiscal
dividend for 2001 - 2005 is $70 billion, with $35 billion expected
to go to debt reduction, $34 billion for tax cuts and just $1 billion
for social reinvestment.
Larry Patriquin is an assistant professor in the Department of
Sociology, Social Welfare and Criminal Justice at Nipissing University.
His research has been published in the Journal of Sociology
and Social Welfare and Review of Radical Political Economics.
This essay is excerpted from Inventing Tax Rage: Misinformation
in the National Post, by Larry Patriquin, Fernwood Publishing,
2004, ISBN 1-55266-146-6, CDN$ 24.95