rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

The 10 per cent delusion: Fraser Institute gins up fake facts about Alberta public sector pay

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 Huff's book.

This post also appears on David CLimenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.