Tuesday, January 05, 2010

CUPE Ads a Good Deal (Of Goods)

Few Canadians watching any amount of TV right now can escape the Canadian Union of Public Employee's "Good Deal For Canadians" ads, in which an interviewer (read: actor) asks an assortment of people-on-the-street (read: worse actors) whether or not they think Canada's public services are a "good deal for Canadians".

Unsurprisingly, all of the actors in the ad agree that Canada's public services are a good deal for Canadians.

For the most part, they're right. But the CUPE ads themselves are selling Canadians a deal of goods. (This is a painfully mixed metaphor, but there's a point to be made.)

Many of the services the ads allude to: water treatment, sanitation, libraries and health care, are indeed necessary and valuable services for Canadians.

But not all of Canada's Public Employees provide valuable services for Canadians.

Many of the "services" offered by Canada's Public Employees are little more than the appendages of the embedded state, and that state's embedded ideology. "Services" like the funding of advocacy (read: activism) by groups funded by the Status of Women, for example, provided very little in terms of service to Canadians -- unless they shared the state's embedded ideology.

Predictably, CUPE itself opposed changing the Status of Women's mandate from "advocating equality" to providing actual services of value for Canadians.

"Services" like the Status of Women's advocacy certainly had very little value for Canadians who are indifferent to, or opposed to, what had become the state's embedded ideology. It was difficult to support services like that on a logical basis.

But where CUPE can't appeal to logic, it chooses to appeal to emotion and vanity. The first CUPE ad closes with a subtle bit of branding, when the "interviewee" declares Canadians who support Canada's public services to be "awesome".

If this had come up with a legitimate person-on-the-street interview, that would be one thing. But in an ad that is scripted -- and scripted badly -- it's simply contrived.

In the second ad, CUPE touts the economic value of Canada's public services. Indeed, some of them have a tremendous economic value. The economic value of health care, for example, is obvious. Employers in Canada are compelled to spend far less on health insurance for their employees than employers in the United States.

Libraries help our youth advance their education, and encourage literacy later in life -- both of which are of inestimable economic value.

But then, there is what Brian Lee Crowley deems to be "pseudo-work". In his book Fearful Symmetry, Crowley recounts how the baby boom compelled the government to set up entire social programs in order to absorb baby boomers entering the job market -- worried that the free market would be unable to accomodate them -- and how needs that would otherwise be satisfied by part-time work were expanded into full-time jobs, or how needs that required full-time work were expanded to require an extra multitude of full-time workers.

These public services -- found in crown corporations like CN, Via Rail and HydroQuebec -- aren't merely of limited economic value. They're actually of negative economic value. Not only do they suck the funds necessary to pay these employees out of the economy, but they also suck the skills of these employees out of the free market, where they could be applied much more efficiently.

In the third ad, the interviewer talks to a woman who simply has to be the worst actor in all of these ads, who gushes about Canada's health care.

Canadian public health care is indeed a good deal for Canadians. But not nearly as good as this woman insists as it is.

The woman recounts a (fictional) story about her daughter breaking her ankle at a local arena. The arena staff call 911 (unlikely for a broken ankle) who then sends an ambulance (also unlikely for a broken ankle).

But a visit to a Canadian emergency room would quickly dissuade anyone from believing this woman's story. Seven hour waits don't tend to inspire Canadians with absolute confidence in health care.

Of course, this is not the fault of the employees working in the emergency room. They make do with the resources they are given.

However, a great deal of the resources pumped into Canadian health care are sucked up by a surplus of middle management. Whenever a provincial government in Canada makes a move to divert more resources to front-line services by laying off middle managers, CUPE or one of its provincial equivalents fires up a panicked campaign accusing that government of "attacking health care".

Moreover, some of the limits the unions themselves place upon their employees prevent them from working extra hours in order to serve Canadians. The impact of this on Canadian health care becomes most pronounced when one looks at diagnostic medicine.

Ironically, diagnostic health care in Canada would be of better quality without the unions. But CUPE won't tell you that.

In the final ad, the interviewer talks to an unemployed worker, who appreciates the support unemployment insurance offers to struggling Canadians -- particularly at a time of global recession.

No argument is necessary to this particular ad. Unemployment insurance has a tremendous value to the Canadian economy, particularly local economies. It prevents workers -- who often possess extremely valuable skills -- from leaving local communities, provinces, or even the country to seek work elsewhere, by providing them with aid to get them through tough times.

But aside from this, the CUPE ads go to great lengths to conceal the fact that many of the "services" -- appendages of the embedded state's embedded ideology and pseudo-work -- the ad is intended to defend either provide little value to Canadians, or are actually encumbered by the union itself.

To envoke a far less tortured metaphor, the CUPE ads are trying to sell Canadians a bill of goods. Canadians should continue to buy the ones that offer value, and reject the ones that do not.

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