Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Checking the Facts

(The details of this post may leave you glassy-eyed, but I trust that anyone can grasp the overall point.)

Within approximately 12 hours, I came across these two apparently contradictory images (below) on good ole FB. The first is anti-Trudeau, our present prime minster, while the second is not exactly complimentary about our past pm, Harper. These two images  reveal very  opposite points of view.  Is either correct? Can they both be correct?

On FB to comply with my new resolve to disengage, I left the first post alone entirely, but I did make an affirmative comment on the second. I ignored the first post at the time because I didn't want to argue about it. I made a reinforcing comment on the second because about 3 minutes of internet searching and reading, indicated that it was substantially correct. I'd rather make agreeable comments than disagreeable ones.

So, what's the story? The factual story, I mean. I found information on this CBC site. You know, actual numbers. (I am not going to re-post their graph and table now, but they are easy to interpret if you click here.)

To determine if Harper balanced the budget, we need to first examine the financial situation that his government inherited. We need to know the reality before Harper's reign from 2006 to 2015? What I discovered was that, after inheriting significant debt and deficits, the previous Liberal government had run surpluses for about 10 years from 1996 to 2006. In other words the budget was already balanced.

The same data shows that the Harper government also maintained a surplus in its first 2 years of governance before running deficits for 6 years until 2014. In the final fiscal year, 2014-2015, they returned to a very small surplus situation..

Regarding the the first post/image then, did Harper balance the budget? It's a bit of a stretch to claim that when 6 of 9 years ran a deficit. It is rather misleading to imply that his government had to clean up the previous government's financial mess, for that is extremely far from the case. But people will read the post/image and then happily re-post it if it supports their confirmation bias.

What about the second image? Did the Harper government actually run deficits for 7 consecutive years and leave the economy in smoldering ruins? Well, we have already discovered that that government ran a deficit  for 6 fiscal years, which probably can be interpreted as 7 calendar years. We can, therefore, conclude that the claim is substantially correct.

Next, we need to determine if that government added $160bln to Canada's debt. From the table, I was able to add up the adjusted dollar figures to $156 billion, which is  $4 billion off the claim. They may have rounded off or had slightly different figures, but I can determine that the claim is substantially accurate. But then you also must factor in Harper's surplus years which when subtracted from the deficit years means that the overall Harper deficit must be reduced from $160bln to $127bln. That's still a lot of billions, but it is still $30+ billion less than claimed. I conclude that the information is essentially correct but that the claim is somewhat overblown.

Finally, we must address the claim that he left "Canada's books in smoldering ruins." That's really a value judgment at this point, but it seems to be a pretty big stretch.

I will conclude that my 3-5 minutes of digging reveals the first poster to be essentially false and the second to be essentially true if a little exaggerated.

It really didn't take long to find the site, and the graph and table were pretty easy and quick to read. Anyone who is in doubt can check the site for themselves and let me know if I misinterpreted something. But I don't think I did.

To repeat a refrain that I have banged on about before, we live in an era of unprecedented access to factual information which is literally at our fingertips. But human nature being what it is, almost everyone prefers to pass on willy nilly whatever fits their biases and prejudices because it sounds and feels good to them. To say the least, I think this is most unfortunate. We both can and should do better. All you have to do is take a few minutes to check the facts.


William Kendall said...

We are given to default to our general bias.

I find the truth generally stands somewhere between two opposite points of view.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

And this is why I am not on any other social media, other than blogging. Too many contradictions, but then it's much the same in hearing the news too.

Red said...

You make a good point. there's very little reason for someone not to come up with correct figures.

Christina said...

Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to look up the facts, or to even notice that there are discrepancies.... As a scientist, I am only too familiar with misleading to downright wrong science reporting. I am less familiar with political issues but I try to inform myself, and at the very least (if I don't have tie) don't spread false claims! Good for you to make an effort to find out what is fact and what is myth.

Marie Smith said...

It is easy to check things out today. Some people don’t want the truth however.

Jenn Jilks said...

I so agree. I cannot believe what people believe!

troutbirder said...

exactly. Facebook and it ilk help perpetuate and increase the lies and misconceptions no festering in Canada and especially the U.S.