If you’re a government wanting the public to look away while the environment gets ravaged by controversial projects such as Alberta’s tar sands and major oil pipeline projects, what do you do?
Apparently, you try to shift the gaze. Instead of keeping the lens focused on this…
…you hire a marketing firm. You do a series of focus groups with Canadians. You show them pretty pictures of the country’s most majestic natural habitats. You talk about “restoring developed lands”. You overlay some inspirational music.
And when your marketing firm tests it with focus groups, you discover people don’t feel badly anymore. They feel a sense of national pride. Because who doesn’t love Canada’s natural beauty? You reframe environmental degradation as “responsible resource development”.
Kind of like what this ad does …
Now consider this news story entitled Light on facts, heavy on patriotism, focus groups help hone NRCan advertising. It exposes the mechanics behind ads like this.
Quoting directly from the Canadian Press story:
“Focus-group testing on what the Harper government calls its Responsible Resource Development campaign found the advertising to be light on facts but uplifting and patriotic, according to a government-commissioned study.
“The fruits of that taxpayer-funded labour will again be on display this spring as a second wave of ads — designed to persuade Canadians of “the importance and impact of Canada’s energy sector” — hits the air.
“Natural Resources Canada has budgeted $9 million in the current 2012-13 fiscal year for ads that show a cross-section of resource industries in a job-friendly and environmentally sensitive light.
“It’s a carefully calibrated exercise.”
Now, try to look away.
Over the past several years, if you have been to a public speaking engagement by my soul mate and partner Trish Hennessy, you might have seen me lurking in the shadows, usually wearing all black.
I help the love of my life in every way I can, using everything I have, and whenever possible. She invited me to post my thoughts on the secret to improving presentation skills here, and I am happy to oblige.
I’ll talk about some technical bits at first, but in a second post I’ll get to the truly interesting part of a presentation: its rhythm.
My background is in the technical production of theatre. I came to Toronto to train in this field at Ryerson University. I’ve studied other things and worked elsewhere, but I’ve always been drawn to the excitement and clarity of live performance, and work in the industry to this day. It’s a bug as they say, and you don’t need to be on stage to get infected; those backstage are vulnerable too.
When Trish made the decision to move from the backstage of strategic communications support to assume a more public role that would include public speaking, I jumped at the chance to employ skills I’d learned from my own work in theatre to support her during the transition. Below are some things we figured out together.
Tax havens: wrong term.
It’s tax evasion.
Tax havens make tax evasion sound like a temporary holiday, whereas for many of the world’s wealthy, it’s a permanent strategy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes in the country in which they live.
It’s not tax havens, it’s tax evasion. And it robs public coffers of a lot of money.
This Toronto Star story cites an economist who estimates: “Approximately $12 trillion of unreported, private financial wealth from the developed world — including Europe, Canada and the United States — is held in about 80 tax havens. … If the $12 trillion earned a modest 3 per cent annual return and was taxed at 30 per cent it would generate $150 billion to $200 billion a year — more than enough to pay for Europe’s budget deficits.”
I was reading this story about the devastating shooting rampage that left 26 dead in a Connecticut school. And I noticed a pattern.
“A custodian ran around, warning people there was someone with a gun,” the story said.
And I thought: In Canada, that would likely be a CUPE worker.
“A teacher went out to check on the noise, came back in, locked the door and had the children huddle in the corner until police arrive,” a story said.
Police, first respondents, and other medical and trauma support staff would represent a range of other unionized members.
And we keep electing public officials who vilify public servants and union members.
Who say ‘let’s outsource’, which is another way of saying ‘let’s pay them less’.
Who try to remove workers’ protection by suggesting the end of the Rand Formula.
Who go after workers’ sick pay, pensions, and job security.
Who try to remove collective bargaining rights long ago secured as a human right.
It’s an effective tactic when unions are presented as omnipotent inhuman entities.
It’s quite another matter once we see the human face of union workers. Connecticut reminds us of that human face.
There are always ‘teachable moments’ in any tragedy or crisis. The obvious is that gun control makes a difference in society.
Less obvious: The people in who are there for us in the midst of crisis; otherwise known as our labour movement.
By Trish Hennessy
It can be easy to forget that taxes, while paid grudgingly, were never quite so vilified as they are today.
When my mother was born on the dusty Prairies in the heart of the Great Depression in 1935, Canadians didn’t know what a healthy, widespread middle class was like because it hadn’t yet been established.
They didn’t know income supports such as Employment Insurance or public pensions, because those didn’t exist yet either.
They didn’t know higher learning, because universities were then the domain of the very privileged few.
And they didn’t know a universal public health care system would one day become synonymous with what it means to be Canadian.
These, and many other cherished public services, didn’t exist the year my mother was born. But in a single lifetime, the world changed. By the time my mother was raising a young family, incomes in Canada were growing, jobs were aplenty, income inequality was narrowing, the physical infrastructure needed to support burgeoning cities had been laid down, and public programs that improved our quality of life had become part of the social fabric.
These were made possible not by the generosity of a few wealthy sponsors. Rather, we as Canadian citizens pooled our resources to fund this better life together. For ourselves, for our children, and for each other. We were taxpayers but, first and foremost, we were social citizens investing in one another and in our future.
There was pride in that investment. While we knew we couldn’t yet compare with more equal advanced societies such as Sweden and Norway, we saw that we were more equal and sharing in our prosperity than were our neighbours to the south, the United States.
We believed not just in the theory that one could go from rags to riches in a single lifetime; we also believed that our children and grandchildren would do better than their parents. That was the social bargain we had entered into with our governments, who were tasked with creating and protecting social programs and income supports that made Canada an enviable place to live.
Then, in the 1990s with a recession to contend with, Canadians were asked to share in the sacrifice of dealing with our governments’ fiscal deficits. There would be cuts to public programs in the short term. That was the ‘belt-tightening’ effort required to protect what we cherished. Things went downhill from there.
By the mid- to late-1990s, as the economy slowly recovered, a new era of politics took root in Canada: One that put the needs of the market ahead of the needs of the people; one that reduced governments to mere cash dispensers, promising tax cuts at every opportunity in hopes of buying a vote.
In focus group research, I’ve noticed with interest that most Canadians cannot put a price tag on the amount of tax cuts we’ve received. They would likely be surprised to know that, based on OECD data, the amount of revenue as a percentage of GDP has dropped from 36% in 1995 to 33%, the equivalent of nearly $50 billion annual loss in tax revenues that once paid for infrastructure, income supports, public services, education and health care.
Nearly $50 billion a year lost in the ether.
$41,000. That’s average amount middle-income Canadian families enjoy in public services that their taxes fund. It’s worth about 63% of their income.
You know what I find even more surprising? When Environics Research asked Canadians what they do that makes them feel like a good citizen, the most popular answer was ‘volunteer’, the second most popular response was ‘be kind/generous to others’, and the third answer? Pay taxes.