It was interesting, though hardly surprising, to hear Richard Alexander of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council on CBC Radio’s “On The Go” minimize the dreadful impact of Muskrat Falls on the provincial economy.
Muskrat is only one of three major problems besetting the N.L. economy, he quickly asserted in response to Ted Blade’s pointed question (the other two being out-of-control public spending and unfunded public sector pension liability) and then, as quickly, he moved on to other matters. Mr. Alexander seemed reluctant to acknowledge, amidst his call for reductions to jobs and services in the public sector, that Muskrat Falls is itself one massive public expenditure. And the immediate beneficiaries of this massive expenditure belong to the business and corporate sector which writes the songbook against public spending from which Mr. Alexander consistently sings. You can’t have it both ways.
Richard Alexander is a paid lobbyist for the NL Employers’ Council. The provincial government’s Registry of Lobbyists describes his organization as one which provides “...advocacy, communication, and training services for employers on matters that affect the employment relationship.” Presumably, Mr. Alexander is serving this mandate when he rails publicly against minimum wage increases, promotes tax cuts and opposes public (versus private) services. That’s what he does; that’s who he is. What he is not — and this is the problem since he is often presented as such in the media — is an independent expert on the N.L. economy. Clearly, Mr. Alexander is neither independent nor an expert.
A further problem arises when Mr. Alexander is allowed to promote his ideas unopposed, as he was on that occasion, or when they gain such currency on the public broadcaster that a “Here and Now” news anchor can breezily introduce a segment with the words, “Everyone agrees that Newfoundland and Labrador has a spending problem...” The fact is, not everyone agrees. Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic hardships stem from a plethora of causes, some related to spending, others to revenue generation, still others, to bad governance and a serious democratic deficit.
And there are other songbooks to sing from. A diversity of views and supporting research exist on the matter of a fair living wage, for example. Other provinces, like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have high per capita public expenditures because they must also service large rural jurisdictions. Indeed, it looks like those who espouse low wages and tax cuts and promote austerity as the cure for our economic ills are increasingly finding themselves on the wrong side of history. We live in a world where unprecedented economic disparity and global trends like automation point to solutions, such as a guaranteed annual income, that can only come from the left or, as I prefer to call them, the progressive elements of our society. One thinks of the New Yorker cartoon which shows a man in a tattered business suit sitting beside a wood fire in a cave. Three small children cluster fearfully around the flames as the man explains: yes, the planet got destroyed, but for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders. That man could well be Richard Alexander.
The CBC, and all other media outlets, could take greater care to point out the nature of Mr. Alexander’s role as a paid lobbyist for a powerful special interest group instead of holding him out as some sort of independent expert on the economy.
Paul Rowe, citizen