The spirit of City Caucus lives on!

Its purpose was never to do real research; it was always a propaganda arm of the movement. But it was supposed to create a plausible illusion of intellectual rigor, good enough to take in gullible journalists.

Paul Krugman

As they seem to do ever year, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released a report last week on “ballooning” municipal spending. Yawn. B.C. municipalities pushed back a little harder this time, pointing out the downloading of costs onto them from senior levels of government (amongst other things). None of this is new.

But I get the sense, as judged by the talk on the Twitter, that the CFIB’s repetitious and easily disputable anti-government message is wearing out it’s welcome in many places.

Thus bring on the pushback on the pushback, starring the two founders of the former City Caucus – whose philosophy has always been why exaggerate a little…when you can exaggerate a lot!

For example, Mr. Mike Klassen (now employed by the CFIB) on the matter of senior government downloading:

Which I’ll give marks for brazenness, given that the CFIB’s Executive Vice President Laura Jones participated in the Ministry of Finance commissioned Expert Panel on Business Taxation whose final report released last September contained the following passage:

Recently municipal costs have been growing faster than the combined rate of inflation and population increase. In many cases, these costs are driven by decisions that are outside the direct control of a municipality and require some form of collaborative action with other governments.

And she signed her name to it and everything. Mr Klassen occasionally makes the mistake of forgetting we have Google. And memories.

And there was Mr. Klassen’s op-ed in the Vancouver Sun in which he attempted to dismiss criticism of the CFIB’s report as “name-calling”.

In their efforts to debunk the Big City Spenders report issued by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, local politicians and their representatives resorted to name-calling instead of engaging in a conversation.

Now name-calling in debate is actually a thing: The ad hominem fallacy. However this is usually meant to describe the attempted dismissal of an argument by attacking the character of the arguer. For example: The report is garbage because the CFIB are a bunch of idiots [end rebuttal]. 

This is not considered an acceptable response in debate.

To whit, Mr. Klassen notes:

Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver called the report “bogus” with “no basis in reality” and labelled the idea that cities are overspending as “hysterical.” Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie labelled CFIB’s findings as “lazy sensationalism,” while Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan blasted CFIB’s researchers as “simpletons.”

Now it should be noted it’s perfectly acceptable to describe a report as “bogus”, “hysterical” and “lazy sensationalism”….because a report can be bogus, hysterical and lazy. As long as you explain why. And of course Mr. Klassen, in true City Caucusian style focused on the adjectives while eliding over the explanations for the adjectives.

Ex.

Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie, a vice-president of the FCM, said he appreciates the CFIB’s message that governments need to be careful about how they spend their money. But he called the study “lazy sensationalism” that doesn’t reflect the realities local governments face, from constant downloading of federal and provincial services to costly replacement of infrastructure and increases in utility fees.

Louie said in Vancouver’s case, the city has already adopted many changes that have saved taxpayers millions of dollars and is constantly sharpening its budget pencils to whittle away more. Council began a core review of services in 2009 that identified duplicated services, combined departments and cut off marginal programs. One very small example, he said, was consolidating a separate park garbage pickup service with the general neighbourhood pickup.

“What we’ve done, for example, is the Vancouver service review where we went through every department looking for efficiencies. We turned over every stone and we intend to do it again,” he said. “We’ve got to move away from the misleading numbers they are putting out there and look at the actual hard numbers instead of this lazy sensationalism that is coming out of the CFIB.”

Louie said some of the largest increases in wages are a result of adding police and firefighters to meet basic protective service demands. Water and sewer upgrades and utility rates set by Metro Vancouver have also driven costs the city can’t control.

Klassen focused in on two words of the above and ignored the rest. Which is unfortunately typical of the gentleman.

Not to outdone, the other City Caucus founder Daniel Fontaine pens this today in 24hrs Vancouver. I noted the following:

Ten years ago, my monthly property tax installments were pegged at $324. Last week I was advised by city hall I now have to pay $515 each month. That works out to an eye-popping increase of 59% during the last decade. By comparison, the annual rate of inflation in the last several years has hovered around 2%.

Did the amount of services my family received from the city increase by 59% during the same period? The simple answer is no.

Now if New Westminster taxpayers were being charged a flat rate per household, this would indeed be outrageous. But even the most somnolent observer might note that’s not how property tax works.  You are charged a percentage of the value your property is assessed at. And if your property value goes up then so does your tax bill. That Mr. Fontaine goes without mentioning tax rates or property values and attempts to pass off the 59% increase to his property tax bill as solely the result of increased municipal spending is ridiculous to the point of comical. And also unfortunately typical of the gentleman.

(New Westminster housing prices have risen dramatically. According to the City of NW  “detached homes increased by 113%, attached homes by 92%, and apartments by 122%” for 2001-2007. Yes they declined in the recession, but only 7.5% of their high-water mark in 2008).

Mr. Krugman above was describing the Heritage Foundation. But he could just as easily be describing the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Or the Fraser Institute.

Given the quality of output from said groups lately, you’d have to be extremely gullible to be fooled by any of this anymore.

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