ACOA, KPMG and how they used CBC

A story posted yesterday by CBC Prince Edward Island starts:

An international accounting firm has ranked Charlottetown the second best city in the G7 countries to set up a business.

Later in the story, we read:

Officials at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, who plan to take the study on the road to trade shows and business conferences, are affirmed that they have been right all along.

Wow!” you might think: reading that lead, and the rest of the story, you might think, quite reasonably, that Charlottetown is “the second best city in the G7 countries to set up a business.”

And you would be wrong.

Here’s why.

First, the study, “Competitive Alternatives,” (which you can read here) was actually partially sponsored by ACOA (here’s the list of sponsors), so their enthusiasm is to be expected. The CBC story never reveals that ACOA was a sponsor. Of course neither does the ACOA news release.

If you dig through ACOA’s website, though, you come across this, in their Parliamentary Report, 1998-2003, referencing earlier versions of the same KPMG study:

The Agency participated as a sponsor in both the 1999 and 2001 studies in an effort to ensure the inclusion of Atlantic Canadian communities.

So ACOA basically bought its way into the study. That’s important, and the CBC should have picked up on that.

Second, the study only covered the 121 cities in the G7 countries that were willing to pay (or “sponsor”). That’s a very small slice of the G7. For example, in the “New England/Atlantic” area, the study only compares Burlington, Lewiston, St. John’s, Halifax, Moncton, Charlottetown, Hartford, Providence and Boston. It’s quite possible, as a result, that Fredericton, Brantford, Regina, or any of the hundreds of other cities in the G7 they didn’t survey, would rank better than Charlottetown.

Third, the study compares only “the after-tax cost of startup and operation for representative business operations in 12 industries, over a 10-year time horizon.” That might mean that Charlottetown is a cheap place to do business; it certainly doesn’t prove that Charlottetown is the best place to do business: the study didn’t look at environment, lifestyle, health care, labour standards, work force or any of the myriad other measures that might go into making for a successful business. KPMG makes that clear in their study; the CBC glossed over this in their story.

Indeed, given that the study says that labour “represents 56 to 72 percent of location-sensitive costs for manufacturing operations, and 75 to 85 percent for non-manufacturing operations,” what the study really reveals, perhaps, is that Charlottetown employers don’t pay their employees very well. The CBC story might very well have been titled “Study reveals Charlottetown workers second worst paid in G7.” But of course that’s not what the news release said.

Finally, the study itself cautions about interpretation of the results:

While care has been taken in developing these findings, the results are necessarily of a general nature and should not be interpreted as a definitive opinion on the merits of locating any specific facility in one jurisdiction as compared to another.

In light of this proviso, the CBC’s headline, “Set up shop in Charlottetown: report” reflects a misinterpretation of the study.

I expect the CBC to do more than republish KPMG and ACOA’s propaganda: by doing so, the CBC serves only to reinforce the reputation of the study. This is a disservice to we taxpayers who paid for the study, a disservice to potential businesses who rely on the results of the study and, ultimately, a disservice to ACOA, which is freed from the responsibility that deeper media oversight would engender.


Ian MacDonald's picture
Ian MacDonald on February 21, 2004 - 22:48 Permalink

Well Peter, you have definitely put more analysis into your blog than CBC does on a given day. If you happen to take a look at press releases that are distributed to the public and then read the local paper or listen/watch CBC you will hear them word for work, with very little analysis. You may have also recognized that over the past several years that the provincial government has hired a number of “reporters” (repeaters) from the local office to work as PR staff for different provincial departments. So am I surprised…No. Am I concerned…Yes.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on February 22, 2004 - 17:20 Permalink

Sounds to me like the CBC hires editors that attended the same schools (sloppy)as those attended by BBC editors. And, the government in the U.K. is rumored to be considering breaking up that Corporation.

I would have thought this alarming issue would have generated a larger response. This issue should have “legs”, as they say in the industry.

oliver b's picture
oliver b on February 22, 2004 - 19:44 Permalink

It would have legs in Toronto or some other place where seeming vanity, naievete and corruption in the maritimes offers a great opportunity for some bad spirited fun. Then after the Sun or some other sleazy CBC competitor picks it up and that story spreads, then perhaps a more serious paper would see the more serious angle and milk that, and if people aren’t exhausted or cynical by then, a few might actually be outraged by the media manipulation and disinformation that occurs.

Ken's picture
Ken on February 23, 2004 - 04:24 Permalink

There’s so little good news to begin with, to hear it is a lie really corrodes my electrodes..

The bad news stinks, the good news stinks, the news stinks.

Remember when Chretien was PM, Canada was number one UN country. Now I doubt that.

Whoever pays calls the tune, CBC Charlottetown is ACOA’s player piano.

Leo C.'s picture
Leo C. on February 23, 2004 - 17:44 Permalink

The study says come to PEI and pay your workers as
little as you can -we are basically racing to the bottom -we have highly skilled jobs created in aerospace industry that may as little (maybe even less!) as $12/13 for supervisors and very few if any benefits —while they pocket lots of tax breaks — this is crazy and Islanders who remain the poorest working poor in the country are paying the price for such progress.

Leo C.'s picture
Leo C. on February 23, 2004 - 17:55 Permalink

I do think that the emphasis on the CBC to the exclusion of all the other media who also ran with the same story is
singling out that media institution more than the others
—I think it is clear CBC should do more analysis but I also know that due to cutbacks in personnel they are doing less than what they could do if funded at past levels
-the two national newspapers are even more right wing and less critical re news stories at least CBC disclosure and
CBC reporters like Bob Carty are still doing some great
investigative journalism
as does the Eastern Graphic on some issues
-Despite the hard work and integrity of the news staff of the local dailies and private radio stations-they are limited by lack of resources to do the type of journalism sometimes needed and that is why the weblogs and other means of getting messages out are vitally important including working with the local media through analysis, feedback and letters to the editor-the bottomlines of their management is to , as Adbusters would attest, deliver consumers to the product.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 23, 2004 - 18:07 Permalink

I singled out the CBC because they were the only local media outlet that ran the story on the web, which makes it part of the “canon.”

I recognize that the CBC operates with increasingly fewer resources, and that the story ran on a day where the staff was taxed to their limits by the blizzard.

But I refuse to buy either as an argument for doing sub-par journalism.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on February 23, 2004 - 22:26 Permalink

I had always considered CBC workers hardworking. And trustworthy to not cave in to the sexing of stories, or spinning them in a way to misrepresent the facts. I still consider them hardworking, and able to deliver quality work(and miss them on weekends). However, the CBC no longer, has my blind trust. They appear to be just too busy to be trusted.

Would Walter Cronkite say…”It is not insignificant story!”? No way.