Politics and the “Truth”


Ironically, the value most thoroughly abused in an election is honesty.

Ironic because honesty is the most important virtue we have when we’re called to decide our leaders. Not that politicians are liars necessarily – it’s just that, as The Simpsons character Lionel Hutz so eloquently put it, there’s “the truth” (he shakes his head and frowns) and “the truth!” (he smiles hugely).

To illustrate, let’s look at one of my pet topics: minimum wage. This is one of my favourite debates because it is one of our society’s most tenacious. Does it help the poor? Hurt the poor? Kill small businesses? Hobble employment growth? Save our souls? Pick an answer, stick it into Google Scholar (my favourite nerdy search tool) and you’re sure to find impressive academic evidence to back you up.

Of course, if you’re a Liberal, why go through such random Googlery when you have the Fraser Institute? And yet, it isn’t quite enough for the Liberals to have their own backyard right-wing think tank to bolster their policies – they also feel the need to cherry pick the numbers.

The Liberal fact sheet says, “Only the NDP would think adding $450 million in new costs on small business, destroying over 50,000 jobs and introducing polices that will have a ‘profoundly negative effect on employment’ would somehow ‘stimulate B.C.’s economy.'”

The report from the Institute that the Liberals are citing says, “Thus, the overall range of employment loss expected from increasing British Columbia’s minimum wage to $10 per hour is 10,898 to 52,200 jobs.”

See how an estimated 11,000 to 52,000 lost jobs becomes “destroying over 50,000”? A classic case of the “truth!”

The NDP have a different, equally interesting tactic in their truth-smithing. Their website has a competing fact sheet about minimum wage, and instead of arguing the numbers, they compare the frozen wage with the raises public servants have recently enjoyed under the Liberal government.

Now, B.C.’s minimum-wage earners aren’t actually affected by MLA wages as far as I can tell by the literature on the subject. But I suppose it does look bad. And besides, arguments based on righteous outrage brewed from a meaningless comparison are certainly safer than those based on numbers. Why debate with pesky facts when there are juicy emotions to exploit?

Depressed yet? Me too, dear friends. Me too.