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The Fraser Institute is a propaganda machine for corporations.

It got its start with money from Big Tobacco to refute the science linking smoking cigarettes with disease. It has taken money from a network of American right-wing funders, including the billionaire Koch brothers and Exxon-Mobil who wanted the Institute to promote junk science that denies humans are the authors climate change. It supports huge tax cuts for the rich, but it vilifies raising the minimum wage beyond the pittance it is. Indeed, the Institute’s topic for their annual high school essay contest this year is: why minimum wage is a bad idea.

Their methodology on the reports I’ve read is suspect and their analyses shallow. And yet, they and their reports are trotted out every once in a while by main stream columnists as though they were gospel and the Institute anything but a corporate shill.

Recently the Institute released a report comparing private sector and public sector wages. It says that government workers in all three orders of government earn 10.6% more for doing the same job as workers in the private sector.

Let’s assume their methodology is sound and their conclusions correct. That’s a big assumption, but let’s make it for the sake of their argument – that public sector employees are paid too much.

You could take the Institute’s own numbers and argue that private sector workers are making too little. And it would make more sense when you look at what’s going on.

Workers have not made many gains over the past few decades. In fact their real income is stuck somewhere in the 1970s. Meanwhile the income of the top Canadian earners – their bosses – has gone up around 90% since 1998.

The Conference Board of Canada – hardly a raving left-wing think tank – points out that working-age (18-65) poverty in Canada is the 3rd highest among 17 peer countries – only slightly better than the US and Japan. Not surprisingly, our income inequality is also the 3rd worst.

What are workers in Canada’s private sector doing to keep their heads above water? They’re borrowing like there’s no tomorrow. For every dollar earned, they’re borrowing $1.68. That’s the highest rate in the world. Over half of us are about $200 away from insolvency.

There are a lot of reasons for this: the decline of union membership in the private sector, the rise of precarious employment, employers who take advantage of workers’ inability to protect themselves (or even to organize to protect themselves), a tax system that puts the burden on middle and lower income earners, corporations that hide their incomes in off-shore accounts. There’s no shortage of reasons, but one thing that doesn’t contribute to the plight of private sector workers is the wages of public servants.

The Ontario Liberal’s Bill 148 (Fairer Workplaces, Better Jobs Act) was a small, hesitant step toward a level playing field. But the new government’s Bill 47 will take away the planned raise in the minimum wage and, among other things, it will remove the obligation of employers to pay their precarious workers the same rate they pay full time employees for doing the same job. So much for pay equity.

So, the next time you’re asked to swallow a Fraser Institute report remember, there’s likely a lot of baloney in their sandwich.

David McLaren


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