26 June 2013

Will he bring more than guesses? #nlpoli

Corporate research Associates president Don Mills is in St. John’s on Wednesday to speak to the Board of Trade.  He’s already teased up his visit with a news release on Tuesday. 

On top of that he gave James McLeod of the Telegram an interview that will appear in Wednesday morning’s edition.  James teased it up via Twitter but after looking at the release, here’s hoping that the head of a market research firm will offer more than unfounded opinion and pure guesses to his audience.

The release gives the responses for a single question:

All things considered, would you consider Newfoundland and Labrador to be now a ‘have’ or a ‘have not’ province?

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said it was a “have” province, 34% said it was a “have not” province, and eight percent didn’t know or had no opinion.  The release included some breakdowns for areas labeled St. John’s/Avalon, East, and West.

And right away here’s where you start getting really hinky about the release.

The CRA release doesn’t give any indication of how many respondents were in the survey sub-regions, how those sub-regions were defined, how they weighted the sample, the margins of error for the sub-regions, or any other information that would be considered useful for people who want to understand what the numbers mean. 

CRA’s release covers the bare minimum required by the polling industry association in its standards, although the lack of information on sub-regions arguably violates even that.  Other Canadian pollsters release routinely more information on these public polls.

Even if all that were not true, notice that we have the responses to one question.

Just one.

CRA could have asked a bunch on this crucial question in order to better understand public opinion.  Instead, they asked – apparently – just one.

And even that one question doesn’t give us a definition of “have” province.  Does it mean the provincial government and its Equalization status or does it mean something else?  That distinction is crucial to understanding the responses.  After all, we already know from experience over the past 10 years that lots of people think it means different things and no two agree very frequently.

You can tell this is a crucial issue because in the release, Don Mills is quoted as telling us not what the responses mean but what they “likely” mean. 

That is a code word for “guess”.

The next sentence in the quote is a penetrating insight into the obvious:  “The more citizens feel that Newfoundland and Labrador is a ‘have’ province, the more confidence they are likely to have in the future of the province.”

Then there’s the next sentence in the quote:  “At the same time, there are also likely to be higher expectations of the government to share the province’s improving prosperity.”

That’s loaded with more guesses or assumptions than any sentence should have to bear.

Most significantly, it mixes up the province as a whole with the provincial government.  People in Newfoundland and Labrador will supposedly have “higher expectations” that the “government” will have to do something in order to share the “province’s … prosperity.”


Mills doesn’t even try to explain his assumptions.

In other provinces like Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, or Alberta, the sort of economic prosperity that makes those provinces “have” ones is happening everywhere in the province.  It is happening in the private sector.  The provincial government’s role isn’t to be the centre of the prosperity and to distribute it to others. 

That’s not just the public attitude;  it’s the reality of how things get done. People flock to those places because the economy there is booming and has been for a long time.  Unemployment is lower – much lower – in those provinces than in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Sure it varies across the province, but generally people not only perceive the provinces as prosperous, they generally are places of general wealth.

But in Newfoundland and Labrador, people (should) expect the provincial government to not only control the “prosperity’ but to distribute it around.

And they’d do that in response to their sense of confidence that the provincial economy was strong, i.e. that this was a “have” province.

You can see why asking a few questions besides the one CRA did pose might be a useful idea.  Otherwise, someone could pass off all sorts of assumptions as if they were founded on concrete evidence, on research.

Let’s hope that Mills gives his Board of Trade audience something more substantive than his assumptions and guesses.  After all, they are going to pay good money to hear what he has to say.