Citizen Action Monitor

Harper flunks fact-checking test in first election debate

Results reinforce public perception that Harper plays fast-and-loose with the facts

No 1416 Posted by fw, August 07, 2015

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” ―Aldous HuxleyComplete Essays 2, 1926-29

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“We took a slice of last night’s debate and asked who was telling the truth. Surprise! We found some leaders were guilty of stretching the truth when vying for your votes. Last night’s federal election debate was so chock-a-block with quotable quotes, promises and ‘facts,’ it would take an 11-week campaign to verify them all”Katie Hyslop, The Tyee

Online news source The Tyee and the print/online Toronto Star fact-checked a small sample of claims made by the four leaders in last night’s first election debate. Harper flunked the test, scoring zero out of four fact-checks. The findings of both publications are presented below.

The title/subtitle of this post intentionally reflects this blogger’s anti-Harper bias, for which I offer no apologies.

Below, the Toronto Star report follows the Tyee piece.

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Let Me Be Clear: Fact Checking Leaders on Democracy by Katie Hyslop, TheTyee.ca, August 7, 2015

We took a slice of last night’s debate and asked who was telling the truth.

Surprise! We found some leaders were guilty of stretching the truth when vying for your votes.

Last night’s federal election debate was so chock-a-block with quotable quotes, promises and “facts,” it would take an 11-week campaign to verify them all.

Especially since it was hard to hear everything when leaders talked over each other (looking at you, Justin Trudeau), or to stay focused when they took too long to reach the point (*ahem*, super-enunciator Thomas Mulcair).

Instead, I’ve narrowed down a few choice statements leaders made about the whole concept behind election season: democracy. In this little section, I found some leaders were guilty of stretching the truth when vying for your votes, while others were spot on. You can decide whether their sins were big enough to cause you to cast your vote for someone else.

And if you want your own chance to yell “Nobody believes you!” during the debate, you can watch it here.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau: “[Prime Minister Stephen Harper] simply refused to sit down and talk with the premiers over the past 10 years.”

Not true. Although the pressure to meet with Canada’s premiers has been high as of late, coming not only from Trudeau but some of the premiers themselves, Harper did convene a meeting with them in early 2009 to discuss the economy.

A spokesperson for Harper told the National Post that the prime minister has had more than 300 meetings with Canadian premiers since taking office in 2006, but the Post noted he prefers meetings to be one-on-one.

Stephen Harper on the Fair Elections Act: “Ninety per cent of Canadians believe you should be able to show identification and who you are before you vote.”

Not true. Even if we assume the awkward sentence construction was a mistake and Harper meant to say “90 per cent of Canadians believe you should show ID before you vote,” it’s still not true.

The Fair Elections Act, which became law in June 2014, changed voting regulations by requiring voters to present two kinds of identification. Harper may be referencing an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for CTV News that found 23 per cent of those polled were aware of the Fair Elections Act and of them 87 per cent said they believed voters should present ID before being allowed to vote.

Except, as Green Party leader Elizabeth May pointed out, the requirement that voters show ID to prove their identity and address was introduced by another elections reform act passed seven years earlier in 2007.

New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair on the Fair Elections Act: “[Harper has] actually made it harder for whole classes of Canadians to vote.”

We won’t know this for sure until after the Oct. 19 election, because there hasn’t been a federal vote since the Fair Elections Act passed last year.

Feedback provided to Elections Canada after the first federal election since the 2007 electoral reforms, however, found that students, indigenous people, people who lived in rural areas and seniors in nursing homes “experienced greater difficulties in meeting the identification requirements, specifically proof of address,” than the rest of the electorate.

The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students attempted to get an injunction against a section of the Fair Elections Act banning the use of voter notification cards as ID. The group said the prohibition would make it harder for the aforementioned groups, as well as homeless people, to vote. But the Ontario Superior Court of Justice denied the injunction last month. The two groups are planning to appeal.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “All [elected Green Party politicians] got elected by driving up voter turnout.”

Possibly true. I don’t have the resources to contact everyone who didn’t show up to vote in previous elections to ask them why they voted during successful Green elections. But every provincial and federal seat the Green party won did coincide with a higher than previous voter turnout in their riding.

May’s 2011 election in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding brought out 4.8 per cent more eligible voters than in 2008, and B.C. MLA Andrew Weaver’s Oak Bay-Gordon Head 2013 victory saw 2.76 per cent more voters cast ballots than in 2009.

David Coon, who won the newly created Fredericton South riding in 2014, might have benefitted from the amalgamation of two other ridings with strong 2010 election turnouts. Nevertheless, his riding’s turnout was 3.81 per cent and 6.3 per cent higher than those old ridings could rustle up in New Brunswick’s 2010 provincial election.

Elections PEI doesn’t disclose voter turnout by ridings. But when Peter Bevan-Baker won the first Green seat in 2015, 522 more people cast their ballots than did in 2011.

Stephen Harper on electoral reform: “I have not found Canadians who want to make this fundamental change.”

Not true. Considering Harper’s view of “Canadians” can be limited to 23 per cent of people responding to a poll [see the Fair Elections Act supporters quote above], perhaps he could be forgiven for seeing the failure of electoral reform to pass in four provincial referendums as reflective of the will of all Canadians to keep the current first-past-the-post electoral system.

British Columbia’s first referendum on replacing first-past-the-post with the single transferable vote system in 2005 was just 2.3 per cent of the vote shy of passing. In total, close to a million British Columbians voted in favour of changing the provincial electoral system.

By the second referendum in 2009, support for the single transferable vote system dropped to 39.09 per cent, or nearly 650,000 people.

Prince Edward Island had its own referendum on the mixed member proportional voting system in 2005. But it lost with 36.42 per cent of the vote, almost 12,000 voters, in favour.

Ontario’s referendum on the mixed member proportional system had similar results, with 36.9 per cent of voters — about 1.5 million people — in favour.

Sure, even in a country as small as Canada it isn’t possible for the head of government to meet everybody. But Harper should at least know that just because you win an election doesn’t mean every Canadian is in your corner. 

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Fact-checking 7 claims in the leaders debate by Robin Levinson King, Toronto Star, August 7, 2015

Figures were flying during the all-leaders debate Thursday night. But did they measure up?

As is to be expected, the Maclean’s leaders debate turned into a forum for slogans and statistics, as each candidate battled it out for Canadian voters.

Here’s a list of seven claims made by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, and how well they stacked up to reality.

Claim 1: Harper avoided talking about a recession, and admitted that the economy had taken a dive because of the price of oil, but said that 80 per cent of the economy was growing.

Fact: The economy shrank five months in a row beginning in January. It’s not technically a recession until there’s been six full months of economic shrinkage, but that sure looks likely.

If you break Canada’s GDP down by industry, then about 28 per cent of Canada’s economy shrank between May 2015 to May 2014.

But the economy has taken a turn for the worse. Between April and May, 80 per cent of the economy shrank.

Claim 2: Harper claims that Canada has the lowest corporate taxes in the G7, which is why it has had the strongest job growth.

Fact: In the last few years, Canada has maintained the lowest tax rate at 15 per cent (along with Germany) in the G7, according to the Tax Policy Centre, which is partially funded by the Brookings Institute. This has been true for decades, no matter which party was in charge, with few exceptions.

According to the OECD, Canada’s employment rate actually fell by 0.2 per cent between 2014 and 2013, as it did in France. Employment in every other country went up.

But that’s beside the point — Canada’s corporate tax rates have always been the lowest while its job growth has fluctuated. It doesn’t make sense to apply causality.

Claim 3: Trudeau repeatedly made the claim that wages were falling.

Fact: According to Statistics Canada, wages fell by 0.6 per cent between May and April. They’re up 1.4 per cent from the same time the year before, but that is the lowest growth since October 2013.

Claim 4: May says that since Harper rose to power, carbon emissions have been rising.

“The cold, cruel reality is that under your watch, greenhouse gases have been rising, carbon pollution has been rising. As soon as our economy began to recover in 2009 — straight up line. Straight up,” May said.

Fact: It has not been a straight line. Emissions began declining around 2007, and hit their lowest point, according to Environment Canada, in 2009 — at the height of the recession. They grew slightly, then dipped again in 2013. Since 2013, they have grown slightly, and Environment Canada predicts they will continue to grow until 2020. They won’t meet the targets outlined in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

Claim 5: Trudeau says Mulcair has two minds on Energy East: in French, he’s opposed, in English, he supports it.

Fact: In a French interview with L’Actualité, Mulcair said: “Tu ne peux pas approuver Énergie Est.” This translates to “You cannot approve Energy East.”

But in English, his views are more nuanced. In a 2014 editorial he wrote for the Star, he said that Energy East and other pipelines must undergo a rigorous environment assessment.

“Proposed pipeline projects, such as TransCanada’s Energy East or Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, simply will not obtain the social licence they require without having a rigorous review process in place to ensure environmental sustainability, community partnership and long-term prosperity of our economic development,” he wrote at the time.

Claim 6: May says Harper’s “no nominations” policy for the Senate actually is in violation of the constitution.

Fact: It’s unclear. Vancouver lawyer Aniz Alani is taking the government to Federal Court over Harper’s refusal to fill Senate vacancies.

“In my opinion, the Prime Minister can declare a moratorium on filling Senate vacancies no more validly than he can declare an end to the granting of Royal Assent to bills approved by Parliament or the use of French or English as an official language of Canada,” Alani says in a letter to Justice Department lawyers.

Claim 7: Trudeau attacked Mulcair for supporting a simple majority for Quebec secession, which would only require a 50 per cent plus one vote to trigger secession negotiations.

“What’s your number?” Mulcair asked in a heated exchange.

“My number is nine,” Trudeau responded, in reference to the nine Supreme Court judges who oversaw the Clarity Act.

Fact: The Clarity Act says that the very question of what number would be sufficient must be decided after a secession vote, not before.

According to the Clarity Act: “The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that democracy means more than simple majority rule, that a clear majority in favour of secession would be required to create an obligation to negotiate secession, and that a qualitative evaluation is required to determine whether a clear majority in favour of secession exists in the circumstances.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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