The 10% Delusion: Fraser Institute gins up fake facts about Alberta public sector pay

Women clerical workers, as the Fraser Institute would like to see them.

The Fraser Institute didn’t write the book “How to Lie With Statistics,” a guy named Darrell Huff did, but they might as well have!

You’ve got to have a little respect for the tireless political lobbyists at the Vancouver-based “institute” – they just never flag in their efforts to twist facts like pretzels to fit their paymasters’ ideological agenda.

The full-time political lobby group’s recent “study” purporting to demonstrate that public sector workers in Alberta earn 10 per cent more than their private sector counterparts is a typical example.

This in itself is not troubling. After all, the Fraser Institute’s “researchers” are nothing more than full-time propagandists and unregistered lobbyists, paid to produce this nonsense and pass it off as legitimate, peer-reviewed research – bankrolled in part by all of us through its charitable status while its many political activities are winked at by the Canada Revenue Agency.

To their credit, sort of, these Fraser Institute apparatchiks normally base their spurious and misleading conclusions on actual facts – giving rise, as in this case, to a species of data we have come to know as “Fraser Facts.”

What is troubling – indeed shocking – is the habitual willingness of mainstream media to reprint this baloney without even giving its opponents an opportunity to comment on it, let alone critically examining it for themselves.

Naturally, the Fraser Institute’s propagandists count on journalists to not read past the first few lines of their press releases – or in the case of particularly conscientious hacks, the executive summary. It is hard not to see something more sinister at work, however, in the media’s consistent failure to seek out balance when reporting on Fraserite findings, as every journalist is taught she must do in J-School.

In this way, Fraser Facts go down in the popular imagination as actual facts, unshakeable ideological building blocks upon which is built the foundation of our understanding of the important policy questions of the day.

And so, for example, we have the fanciful claim there’s a 10-per-cent difference between public and private sector wages in Alberta, and moreover a 14-per-cent gap in B.C. (Stand by for Fraser Institute news releases making similar claims in every Canadian province because, whatever their deficiencies as researchers may be, they make up for them with their public relations skills, which are without parallel.)

Count on it that you’ll be hearing “the 10% Delusion” trotted out at political meetings and in letters to the editor from now until the day everything is privatized and the perfect ideological nirvana is in place – and then watch out!

Don’t, by the way, expect to be collecting a pension while you’re watching out, because one of the principal goals of the Fraser Institute’s research in to deprive working Canadians of fair defined-benefit pension plans and leave us all at the mercy of the “wealth management” industry, which is no doubt among the generous and anonymous corporate donors who support the group’s work, as it scoops away our savings a percent at a time into corporate profits.

So here’s question the media could have asked, and didn’t, about this latest Fraser Institute study: Does it compare apples and apples?

Research done by an economist employed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees – which like the Fraser Institute can be said to have a dog in this fight – found the difference between Canadian public and private sector workers in 2011 to be less than 1 per cent.

Obviously there’s a difference in methodology here. So, did anyone in the media think to compare the research methods used? (Rhetorical question: The answer is clearly, “Nope!”)

The problem with the Fraser’s conclusions is that they do in fact make the proverbial comparison between apples and oranges – and it’s worse that merely comparing, say, police officers’ public sector salaries to security guards’ private sector salaries. But now that we’ve mentioned it, who would you rather have coming to your house when you think you’ve heard a burglar? Obviously, such differences in training and responsibility are pretty significant – and a good thing it is, too!

In fact, however, the methodology of the Fraser “study” is inferior to this. It doesn’t appear to compare occupations at all! This may be a convenient way to reach conclusions that fit the Fraser Fact finders’ biases, but it hardly lends confidence to their conclusions, if only anyone had bothered to check.

Do you think there might be a difference in training and responsibility between a Registered Nurse (a job typically found in the public sector) and a retail clerk (typically found in the private sector)? And who would you rather have caring for you as you cling to life in hospital? Just asking.

Should RNs be in the private sector? Well, no. But that’s another question – not the one the Fraser Institute is pretending to answer with this bogus study.

CUPE’s research last year looked at 500 different detailed occupations and found, first, that there isn’t much of a difference between public and private sector pay when the same jobs are compared honestly, and, second, that what difference exists is explained by the fact there’s a much smaller wage gap for women in the public service than the private sector.

And this, it is said here, goes to the heart of the Fraser Institute’s true objectives in publishing and publicizing this malarkey – and also why they and their paymasters hate public service unions like CUPE so.

One thing the emphasis on fairness in public service has done is bring male and female wage rates much closer together.

Since the private sector employs large numbers of women, and since its objective is to pay everyone less, this presents a major problem for those who are determined to take advantage of the effects of large workplace pink-collar ghettos to lower everyone’s wages. To put this in its most basic way, treating women fairly costs corporations money, and they don’t like it one bit.

So the point of the statistics cooked by the Fraser Institute can be seen as an attack on the public sector’s habit of treating women more fairly than the private sector does.

Indeed, CUPE’s research indicates that when you compare just men, the private sector on average pays men 5.3 per cent more than the public sector. Almost certainly, the difference is quite a bit larger here in Alberta. Of course, that’s not the kind of number that helps the Fraser Institute’s case, so it doesn’t get mentioned in their “research.”

Women in the private sector, according to CUPE’s research, got paid an average 4.5 per cent less, which I guess from the Fraser Institute’s perspective is OK.

It’s not reasonable to expect the Fraser Institute to stop perpetrating these fantasies. It’s their job.

We should be able to expect the media – understaffed as it is nowadays – to do its job and stop acting as if this nonsense was carved on stone tablets and brought down from Mount Sinai.

At they very least they could start referring to these Fraser Institute “studies” as what they really are – to wit: “press releases.”

As for the Fraser Institute, I’m sure they’d prefer it if you didn’t read Mr. Huff’s book.

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15 Comments on "The 10% Delusion: Fraser Institute gins up fake facts about Alberta public sector pay"

  1. Holly Stick says:

    I don’t know if this is new but it appears to be anti-immigrant, and has several Fraser Instituters on its Boards:

  2. Fraser Fan says:

    And we’re supposed to take Big Labor’s numbers as gospel?
    You’re not a trade union communicator, you’re a polemicist.
    And to be giving lectures about what journalists learn in “J” School about there being two sides to every story.
    Cripes, look in the mirror.

    • Sam Gunsch says:

      Fraser fanboy,

      Please take a moment and mull over the entire post.

      Perhaps Climenhaga’s most important point is that it would helpful and would be consistent with best journalistic practices if the MSM would actually look at the methodology of the studies underlying the claims. And share with their readers the fruits of their acts of journalism.

      And I see no Climenhaga statement that you or MSM should uncritically publish Big Labor’s numbers. In fact, isn’t it obvious he has set out the methods of analysis taken by Labor… and done a rough contrast with Fraser’s. A rough contrast that any MSM reporter could have done in a few Google minutes.

      Can you see how he might just be asking for something beyond stenography journalism on the part of MSM reporters? i.e. that they give a little critical thought to how Fraser arrives at its alleged conclusions… and compare them, perhaps!! to at least one other approach that doesn’t find the same numbers…

      And maybe then, the reporters could explain to their readers the why’s and how’s of this in terms of best practices of research.

      As in, again, is it too much to ask that MSM actually not resign themselves to being stenographers?

      Sam Gunsch

    • Bruce A says:

      So the Fraser Insititute is gospel?

      A day or two ago on the CBC morning show business guy was reporting on corporate taxes and told the audience that you have to take the Canadian Labour Union report with a grain of salt. OK. That, however, is something I have never heard said about the Fraser Insititute. Not once. Not a single time. The business community has gotten a free ride when it comes to commentary from the mainstream media.

      Business is the scared cow and don’t dare question anything they say, claim or demand.

      Jeez, why should anybody believe the Fraser Bunch. Why shouldn’t they be challenged? Sorry to be so uppity but I am just not accepting what they say as gospel

  3. Fraser Fan says:

    I stand by my assertion.
    Climenhaga deploys unsupportable invective against Fraser Inst.
    Then he trots out the Big Labor wage methodology, which we’ll have to assume he’s interpreted correctly, even though I don’t recall Climenhaga having a background in statistics.
    But he doesn’t actually examine the Fraser Inst.’s methodology except for one assertion that Fraser compared RNs with secretaries. No link to the actual study he’s claiming to debunk.
    Just a lot of baseless carping from a Big Labor polemicist that’ll get eaten up and re-posted by equally gullible and innumerate 99ers eager to have some ammo against Ee-Vuhl KOr-Per-Ay-Shunz.
    Climenhaga’s in no position to be lecturing on “both sides of the story.” He wouldn’t recognize both sides of the story if the proverbial penny landed and froze on its edge.

    • The link to the actual Fraser Institute “study” is in Paragraph 12, where it always was. Perhaps Fraser Fan didn’t read that far. The article does not make the claim that “Big Labour”s” methodology is correct, only that the Fraser Institute’s, which has a history of being used to make dubious ideological claims, should not be accepted without examination and that the existence of competing models is evidence that something may be amiss. Perhaps someone with a background in statistics – which Mr. Fan correctly asserts I do not have – can enlighten us about which study uses the best methodology, and whose conclusions are best supported by the numbers. But to dismiss my carping as baseless is, well, baseless. And who is the anonymous Mr. Fan, I wonder, and why does he love the Fraser so? Just asking…

    • Peterk says:

      “Research done by an economist employed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees – which like the Fraser Institute can be said to have a dog in this fight ” <— An acknowledgment that the CUPE's study could be as biased as the Fraser Institute's. They're both full of biased statistics, you should understand that. Neither is the infallible champion of the Canadian people, both have their agendas.

      Also, you don't need to get snarky. You lose credibility when you do and you aren't winning anyone over to your side of the argument.

  4. While the corporate-financed Fraser Institute’s employees are more propagandists that researchers, they are undoubtedly competent, so it is very hard to believe that the omissions and misinterpretations in their report and press release were mere accidents.

    Rather, they fall into a category of information that might be generously called “Fraser Facts” — not quite true, but truthy enough to persuade a casual reader the group’s market-fundamentalist nostrums might hold water.

    Typical news coverage of the multi-million-dollar propaganda house’s latest “research” credulously repeated the Fraser Institute’s claim, and gave no indication of the organization’s obvious market-fundamentalist bias, its history of shoddy ideologically motivated research or its cozy ties to private health care corporations or the federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.


    The Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading right-wing think tank / CON echo chamber, received over $4.3 million in the last decade from eight major American foundations including the most powerful players in oil and pharmaceuticals. Funding from foreign special interest groups undermine Canada.

    “The Fraser Institute gets taxpayer’s money as a write-off and they do nothing but influence public policy,” Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell told The Vancouver Observer.


    And using foundations to fund these movements is clever, because it means while they warble against “taxes” the donations these foundations contribute is tax deductible, so those warbling taxpayers are funding their own demise.

    We have the same thing in Canada. The Griffith Foundation for starters, donated $100,000.00 tax deductible dollars to the Fraser Institute. The same Fraser Institute that helped to launch the Reform party. Jason Kenney and Rob Anders are both alumni.

    And when Steve Harper came to power he immediately changed the rules to make it even easier for these groups to benefit from our tax dollars.

    Just a year after the Fraser’s anniversary, Harper was prime minister and it was payback time. Buried in his first budget was a provision to exempt from capital gains tax donations of stock to charity. Adding this new exemption to the existing tax credit for donations to charities means that the donor pays only 40 percent of the dollars he donates.

    Taxpayers pick up the rest.


    According to the Canadian government’s charity registry, Andrew Coyne has been a director for at least the last six years in a group called the Aurea Foundation. The Aurea Foundation was founded by Peter Munk, the head of Barrick Gold, and is a major funder of a small but influential network of free-market think tanks in Canada, including: The Fraser Institute, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Frontier Center for Public Policy, the Montreal Economic Institute and the MacDonald Laurier Institute.

    Making this complicated for Coyne is that the fact that some of these Canadian think tanks have been used as sources of information for Coyne’s articles and op-ed pieces without the disclosure by Coyne that he sits on the board of Aurea.
    Desmogblog (

  5. p.s. Great article. Shared 3 places

  6. Prove It says:

    My history of reading the Fraser Institute articles is exactly as Climenhaga suggests
    ‘How to Lie with Statitsics’ and I am pleased that they are being called out on it. Why is there no link in the article to the support the Fraser Facts? Why can’t I find detailed support to the Fraser Facts in my research, so that I can evaluate the validity of this spew? If it is not a lie – Please post the supporting facts.
    This is an important topic in Alberta right now and we all need to see the facts (not lies and propoganda). If we have a problem we need to know, and if there is no problem (as I suspect) then we need to put a stop to groups like the Fraser Institute. It looks like our politicians are using Fraser Facts to support the trouncing of their own front line workers (perhaps the Fraser Facts are a distrotion created by the inclusion of politician and management salaries, and not a line worker salary problem at all?)

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