PHOTOS: Canadian public sector employees like these workers are just too darned happy and must be made to stop smiling, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation believes. Actual Canadian public sector workers may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: CTF Federal Director Aaron Wudrick (CBC photo) and former CTF board member and anti-union activist John Mortimer.

Employees in the Canadian public sector are far too happy and the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants it to stop right now!

In revealing comments in the Globe and Mail, CTF “federal director”* Aaron Wudrick complained about the results of a recent survey by Forbes Magazine that revealed a clear majority of Canadian workers who would recommend their employer to a friend or family member are employed in the public sector.

According to the U.S. business magazine’s poll, six of the top 10 Canadian employers and 14 of the top 25 are, as the Globe and Mail described it, “taxpayer funded.”

This is cause for concern, according to Mr. Wudrick and dutifully reprinted in the Globe. “It’s very easy to make an employee happy if you’re spending money that’s not yours,” he grumped, seemingly forgetting that many of the taxpayers his employer purports to look out for are in fact public employees too.

“The reality is that it’s very easy for public sector entities to be ‘good employers’ if it means they’re paying very generously and giving very generous benefits, because that comes out of taxpayers’ pockets,” Mr. Wudrick explicated, making sure readers of Canada’s National Website would get the CTF’s message that taxpayers can only be happy if public employees are miserable, preferably miserably unemployed.

As usual with the mainstream media reports of CTF operatives’ bloviations, the Globe story is written in a fashion designed to lend credibility to the CTF’s assumptions about public employment and to reinforce the organization’s self-described role as a “tax watchdog,” which it is not.

In fact, it is not at all clear as the CTF and the Globe pretend that the reason for the generally high rates of job satisfaction among Canadian public employees is the result of pay and benefits that are supposedly higher than those of employees who do comparable work in the private sector. In his remarks to the Globe, Mr. Wudrick presents no evidence for this proposition, which is far from a foregone conclusion if you compare workers within job categories rather than simply the public sector with the entire private sector and its vast army of unskilled minimum-wage workers.

Of course, the CTF, and Mr. Wudrick as one of its presumably well-paid spokespeople, want to focus on the costs to the public of a happy public sector as opposed to the benefits. This is natural given what is quite obviously the CTF’s true role as an Astroturf group with the dual mission of attacking and weakening unions and transferring the tax load from corporations to ordinary citizens, viz., “taxpayers.”

The three observations noted in the sentence above about the true purpose of the CTF, by the way, are all fair comments based on evidence:

  1. The CTF’s actual membership structure allows only board members, not individuals who have been persuaded to click a button on a website to indicate support or get more information, to have access to key information about the organization. The CTF completely lacks transparency about its own finances. This clearly meets the definition of Astroturfing, “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.”
  2. The fact past and present members of the group’s board play prominent roles in anti-union organizations in addition to their CTF duties. Interestingly, Canadian Labour Watch Association president and tireless anti-labour campaigner John Mortimer, a long-time CTF director, is no longer listed on the group’s website as one of its actual members, of which at the moment there are only four.
  3. The CTF’s consistent assumption public sector services are more expensive and less efficient than their private sector alternatives, a position that is neither supported by the facts nor likely to result in lower cost public services.

Regardless of the level of pay and benefits in public employment – which tends to be exaggerated by corporate-financed research groups like the Fraser Institute that are ideologically allied with the CTF – it is said here this is not the real reason for the relative happiness of public sector employees with their jobs and employers.

More plausible explanations for this level of satisfaction are that public employees are more likely to be union members and thus have the advantages of fair treatment and due process in the workplace, that they enjoy more transparency and less discrimination in the workplace than are common in the private sector, and yes, that they are more likely to have permanent employment and fair benefits, including the opportunity for a secure retirement.

If they are better paid, another factor will be because they are more likely to be educated and qualified workers whose skills are in demand.

But an analysis last year by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives of public and private sector wages based on National Household Survey data showed that “wages are higher in the public sector precisely for those groups of people who experience the greatest discrimination in the private sector – because the public sector goes further in correcting those discriminatory practices.”

Importantly, the CCPA also found, “salaries are lower in the public sector for the groups least likely to experience discrimination on the basis of race and sex.”

The CCPA concluded: “If private sector compensation looked more like public sector compensation, the gender wage gap would narrow, discrimination against Aboriginal and visible minority workers would diminish, and CEOs would take a pay cut. Older workers would be less likely to retire into poverty. Fewer working parents would have to choose between a day’s wage and taking time off to look after a sick kid. Unemployment rolls would not double overnight in response to global market shifts.”

Not mentioned by the CCPA but certainly also a consideration to the CTF and organizations of its ilk, is the pressure the conditions of public sector employment put on private sector employers to treat their workers as human beings, not parts in a machine to be discarded when they are broken. As far as right-wing Astroturf groups like the CTF are concerned, this should be discouraged.

In other words, there is a price to our country and its citizens of having more Canadians in public employment, and there is a price to having fewer so employed. As the CCPA argues and its figures illustrate, only one of them is worth paying!

Readers should ask themselves: Just what kind of a “taxpayer watchdog” consistently takes the positions advocated by the CTF, and why? The answers are pretty obvious and it’s not because the CTF is interested in the wellbeing of ordinary taxpaying Canadians or the small business owners who do business with them in their own communities.

This post also appears on *Almost everyone employed by the CTF has the title “director.”

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  1. Going postal
    “Going postal, in American English slang, means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment.
    The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1986 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public in acts of mass murder. Between 1986 and 1997, more than 40 people were gunned down by current or former employees in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage.”

    1. The vandalism of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were a Canadian example of ‘going postal’ with the targets being Canada’s environment, social institutions like the Courts, and Canadians in general.

      The same Conservative filth are still in the House of Commons.

  2. Are Canadian Taxpayers Federation directors paid their salary from monies garnered from tax deductible donations?

    1. I don’t think they are paid a salary, although they are certain to be compensated for expenses. Donations to the CTF, while foolish, are not tax deductible, although they may receive donations from charitable foundations. We’ll never know because it’s a secret.

  3. People, like those in the CTF, who push for this idea that salaries in the public sector should be more in line with those in the private sector, are usually blowing smoke in people’s eyes, and it’s easy to test this; just ask them if they are advocating an increase in annual salaries to the executive ranks by about a factor of 10. That would be somewhere nearer to the base salary of the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, the closest private sector analogue to a Deputy Minister who is, after all, helping to run a country. We all know what the answer would be (but then we all know this private sector salary equivalence nonsense is just that, made to distract people about real issues).

  4. Hi David,

    Another great article. Thanks for writing it. I am another person whose blood pressure goes up as soon as I hear the words ‘Canadian Taxpayers Federation’. There is a small, independent lumberyard near my house that I have thought I should patronize, especially now that Lowe’s has bought Rona. I can’t bring myself to do so, however, solely because of the CTF sticker on his window.

    Another factor in the public sector happiness discussion has to be job satisfaction. I am a retired teacher. My salary kept me comfortable, but I knew it would never make me rich. With the financial comfort I had, I was able to just enjoy the satisfaction of watching kids learn, and seeing them appreciate that I was making a difficult topic manageable for them. This gave me a lot more happiness than the CEO who made many times my salary managing a widget factory. There is no doubt that many others in the ‘people helping business’ medical, social services etc would say the same thing.

    If the CTF people are jealous of teacher’s happiness, maybe they should change their careers.


    1. I have a lumberyard story too.

      More than 20 years ago, I was at a small specialty supplier of cedar lumber in my town. I had just bought $1000 of lumber for a home project and was settling up at the front counter. The owner was calculating my bill, and started to curse about the gummint as he worked out the tax on my order.

      So I quietly explained that I worked for the Forest Service, and those taxes paid my salary so that I could afford to come into his store and drop a grand for some boards.

      He got a lot more polite, although I suspect that he still didn’t have a clue.

      I can’t recall if this place had a CTF (or CFIB, for that matter) sticker on its window; I too try to avoid patronizing such businesses when I have a choice. While this is the right thing to do, it doesn’t provide the necessary feedback, which I admit can be time-consuming and tiring.

  5. Clearly, Mr. Wudrick will not rest until the entire country is as miserable and conflicted as he is. I’m sure he takes advantage of as many taxpayer-funded services as other people in the country but will still insist that he is being ripped off by having to contribute to their organization and staffing. Heaven forfend that he contribute to the happiness and well-being of some of his fellow citizens as well.

    And why any organization would put the bumpf that the CTF spews out on their networks or websites as if it contains conclusions derived from fact-based research is beyond me. There was something on CTV yesterday about the CTF “refunding” tax on gasoline in the Ottawa area. I’m sure all the CTFers were overjoyed that their contributions were going to fund this particularly bone-headed initiative.

  6. I was so sad to learn that the CTF has lost 20% of its members (was 5 now just 4). What is becoming of the right wingnuts?

    They are a creation of the right wing of Canadian politics and serve only to advance extreme right wing ideas. Sadly our Canadian news organizations are all owned by the extreme right so the CTF gets lots of space for an organization of only 4 members.

    Their existence is only because big money is paying them to say what it wants to have said.

    They don’t represent taxpayers. Canadians for Tax Fairness represents working Canadian Taxpayers.

  7. The CTF is the modern equivalent of a medicine show. I’ve read a lot of their material and it follows a simple formula. Cite a few examples of government waste and then conclude all government is bad.

  8. The CTF is a joke and a neo-con front organization.

    Don’t the four members want their nurses and doctors to be happy? I’d rather be treated by happy medical staff than miserable ones.

    Would they prefer miserable teachers instruct their kids?

    Perhaps, none of the four members have children. Perhaps, none of these same four members think they will ever get old, get sick, and eventually need medical care. I suspect they will eventually come around to a more enlightened view when they need the help of public employees.

    Selfish idiots is what they are.

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