Yesterday Postmedia sent an interesting article across the country, purporting to show that “Unions, Environmental Groups Have Layton’s Ear.” The gist of the article is that Jack Layton has been lobbied mostly by labour and green groups, while Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff have a higher percentage of contacts with industry. The actual article is a much more balanced piece than its title and its first two paragraphs suggest, which makes me wonder whether this was initially intended as a politically motivated anti-NDP hit piece. After all, the “lobbying records” which are breathlessly revealed here are a matter of public record. You can perform the same “analysis” yourself over at the Lobbying Commissioner’s website.
And so I did. But before I get to that, I want to point out something else first. There are, as Mark Twain memorably put it, “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I don’t rightly know the difference between a lie and a damned lie, but I know a statistic when I see one. And the presentation of even basic stats here in Postmedia’s analysis of NDP lobbying records is poor. I’ll take them apart first, and then I’ll rewrite the story the way it should have been written, pointing out some significant facts that Postmedia inexplicably overlooks, like the fact that Layton met with business reps as often as environmental reps and that Harper wasn’t interested in meeting healthcare groups, either.
The gist of the article is that Layton gets disproportionately lobbied by leftist organizations. But Postmedia uses percentages to draw the comparison. This isn’t false — almost no published stats are ever false — but it is only a partial truth. For instance, Layton was lobbied by unions 26% of the time — meaning a total of eight visits. In contrast, Postmedia says Harper was only lobbied by unions 7% of the time — which still works out to 7 visits. So the “big news” in this story is that unions visited Layton one time more often than Harper. Wow!
The environmental stats aren’t brought up until the very end of the article, mostly because of some other big problems with them. Postmedia says that environmentalists met with Layton five times, but with Harper only once. This difference really is significant, but I’m not sure it’s so much about lobbyists controlling Layton (5 visits “have his ear”? Really?) so much as Harper not giving a damn about the environment (1 green meeting in 3 years? Really?). By the way, the Harper number is mistaken, because there it doesn’t include multiple meetings with unregistered “climate change” (actually oil sector) lobbyist Bruce Carson. And maybe even higher — they don’t count University of Calgary’s meeting with him last fall on “science and technology,” though I’d wager the substance of that meeting involved energy and environment research or something very similar. So I should point out, cheekily, that Harper’s visit count is just as high, and illegal to boot.
All cheekiness aside, let’s be realistic here. Five meetings over three years equates to about 1 meeting every 220 days. So the people who “have Layton’s ear” see him less than twice a year. I wouldn’t exactly call that a close and intimate relationship. Interestingly, Layton met with business groups as often as environmental ones. Oddly enough Postmedia doesn’t seem to think that this means business groups have Layton’s ear. That would be silly. Right?
But, let’s return to the real numbers, not Postmedia’s amateurish presentation of them. First of all, the real story is not who Layton meets with, it’s who Harper doesn’t meet with. In the last three years, Harper has personally attended 89 meetings with lobbyists. That includes 55 with business groups, 11 with universities, 3 with healthcare groups, 1 with an environmental group, and none with First Nations.
In contrast, Ignatieff held a total of 37 meetings, including 10 with business groups, 9 with universities, 8 with healthcare groups, 5 with labour, 2 with environmental groups, and 1 with Aboriginal groups. So Liberal relationships with lobbyists tend to be more balanced than the Tories, although still with a low priority for meetings with green groups. Note that despite not being Prime Minister and despite holding less than half as many meetings, Ignatieff did manage to meet with healthcare groups more than twice as often as Harper.
Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe both held much fewer meetings with lobbyists — just 25 and 23, respectively. Both tended to meet with environmentalists and unions, although it’s important to point out that only one in four Layton meetings involved unions — exactly the same as meetings with business groups. In contrast, 62% of Harper’s meetings were with business groups. And overall, corporate lobbyists account for 43% of all meetings on the Hill. So may I respectfully suggest to Postmedia that the real story here should have been “Corporations Have Ear of Almost All Politicians”?
|Aboriginal Groups||0||0||1 (1%)||0||1|
|Arts and Theatre||0||0||1 (1%)||0||1|
|Business Groups||55 (62%)||4 (16%)||10 (27%)||6 (26%)||75|
|Charities and Nonprofits||6 (7%)||3 (12%)||1 (1%)||1 (4%)||11|
|Environmentalists||1 (1%)||4 (16%)||2 (1%)||5 (22%)||12|
|Healthcare||3 (3%)||3 (12%)||8 (22%)||2 (9%)||16|
|Municipalities||1 (1%)||2 (8%)||0||0||3|
|Labour Groups||6 (7%)||7 (28%)||5 (14%)||4 (17%)||22|
|Social Conservatives||2 (2%)||0||0||4 (17%)||6|
|Universities and Colleges||11 (12%)||2 (8%)||9 (24%)||1 (4%)||23|
If you read carefully, you’ll note that my table stats don’t match up with Postmedia’s numbers. That’s because Postmedia’s reporter was in a hurry and double-counted some meetings. Measure twice, cut once, Postmedia.Tweet