An instructive case in populist point

I don’t spend a lot of time responding to everyone who comments on my blog here or elsewhere but there was a comment to my blog on populism over here at the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick site that really makes my case.

It is tempting to use populist rhetoric because it feels so good to say it.  It comes off the tongue and it’s like candy to the ears of those who want to hear.

“Never let facts get in the way of good populist rhetoric” Nicely said.
“Good Intentions vs Reality”. While populist rhetoric doesn’t fall anywhere’s near good intentions, maybe a better understanding of the “reality” of the situation would be more effective. Unless of course, you are trying to whip up emotional support from the electorate, and you don’t exactly want to point out the facts that brought us to our current reality. Paying an international call centre 5 million tax dollars in forgiveable loans so they can employ a small percentage of the population for a contractual time period, for instance. (not the highest paying jobs, but it pays) Nice idea, until the contract expires and the company leaves, because it was a money-losing project to begin with. So, what we are left with is a number of people now trained in working in call centres, but no call centre to work in. But there are plenty of call centres to work in, not necessarily in the locale where they were trained, but in various locations around NB, and mostly outside the province. If some of the call centre business gets outsourced to areas in foreign countries, then what does our newly trained population do? “The government has a fundamental role of protection. Protection of the rule of law, protection of property rights, protection of the people against those (people or companies or governments) that would seek to do harm against others in society” Bribing companies to setup in NB for short term projects wins immediate favor, (regardless of cost to Nb Tax-payers) until those people leave to take their skills elsewhere, for any reason. Eroding the tax base, or staying here on EI, welfare, if you can qualify, (more tax money gone) Is there a process being used to examine if there is a “real” net benefit to NB, or is it closer to really expensive rhetoric and buying votes for the short term?


This reads like great insight and if you don’t know any better you would pump your fist in the air but the truth is that whoever posted this is selling you the soap.

Most call centres in New Brunswick – the vast majority – are not doing ‘contract’ call centre work (outsourcing work from other companies).  Royal Bank, TD, UPS, CAMCO, Fairmont, ExxonMobil, on and on – are doing their own, internal customer service work. 

So his bit about the “company leaves, because it was a money-losing project” is just plain an exaggeration.  There have been a few close their doors (ironically most of the NB-based ones) but as a percentage of the total – it is a small fraction.  All industries have turnover (companies entering and those exiting) and it is remarkable that so many call centre jobs are still here after 20 years.  

He is talking about a very small part of the industry.  And I love this language of bribing companies to “setup in NB for short term projects “  again a huge distortion of fact but using words like bribe, extort, corruption, etc. are so inflammatory that people read them and are more likely to ignore the actual point of the narrative.  

I can’t think of a single customer contact centre that hasn’t more than pay back any government incentive through increased tax revenue.  This guy wouldn’t bother to do any real research on that because it would defeat his point.

Finally, what really saddens me is that guys like this will then go out and demand the government give more money to ‘small business’ and help New Brunswick business first and all the related rhetoric even though the failure rate of new business in New Brunswick is around 80% within five years and the money given to small business on a per employee basis is far greater than any given to a call centre.

But, again, populism is about pushing buttons not about good policy.   Bashing international firms and “putting New Brunswickers first” resonates with the public (unless of course those New Brunswickers being put first happen to have built large companies in New Brunswick then they are also bashed). 

I love good debate and I don’t think I have a monopoly on good ideas.  In fact, I have become less strident in my positions on this stuff as I get older but I eschew this populist rhetoric and I will continue to do so because I don’t think it will ever help New Brunswick move ahead.

2 thoughts on “An instructive case in populist point

  1. Hmmm. Here’s the problem, at what point does the next critic, say, me, call YOUR criticism ‘populist rhetoric’. For any readers, its easy to spot rhetoric when a writer says things like “guys like this will then go on to say…”

    THAT is not criticism, and its as unfair as the numerous commentors who post here and claim the blog is simply a tool of multinational firms because it says the province needs more investment. As soon as you say “people like this will say…” then you are getting out of criticism and into rhetoric or propaganda. Bad form.

    Next, its beyond criticism when you go beyond what a person says and ‘assume’ you know what he means. Can you honestly say that bribery never brings an ‘international call centre’ to New Brunswick?? What, exactly, do you think brings them to NB? Is Exxon Mobil saying “wow, what a great find, I can’t believe everybody else doesn’t have call centres in NB, the people there are superhuman!”

    I can’t believe anybody is that naive. In the end, it comes down to what numerous commentors have claimed before-make GOOD investments with good companies that have a track record and even a guarantee. Do that, and I doubt you will see that many complaints.

    Now, if you want to hear REAL populist rhetoric, take a gander at Sean Graham making claims of how many thousands of jobs he plans on creating ‘IF’ he’s elected.

  2. > his bit about the “company leaves, because it was a money-losing project” is just plain an exaggeration. There have been a few close their doors (ironically most of the NB-based ones) but as a percentage of the total – it is a small fraction.

    It would be interesting to have a link here to actual statistics and not have to take either side’s word for this.

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