On Memes

Be ye on guard against knowledge that everyone “just knows to be true.”

As regular readers know, I am something of a stickler for footnoting and citing references. In a recent post I explored the widely held belief that state prison-planning is calculated by elementary school literacy rates, a proposition that appears to be categorically unverifiable.1

On Tuesday, local economist Mike Moffatt executed a similar fact-checking exercise against the claim that the now shutdown Electro-Motive Diesel plant received a five million dollar federal tax subsidy, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a visit to the plant. Although this tax subsidization announcement has become common knowledge across the city, Moffatt’s Globe and Mail article proposes that it is merely a thing of mythology too.2 It’s a meme, and everyone just “knows” it. But where is the reference? Can anybody verify that it even happened?

This morning I picked up a copy of the local Metro daily to find a full-page, front cover ad paid for by Canada’s New Democrats. Emblazoned there is the statement: “Stephen Harper visits London to announce $5 million in tax giveaways to EMD.”3 The ad blasts the Prime Minister by accusing him — ironically enough — of lying.4

If Moffatt is correct, then the New Democrats are promoting a falsehood — due to either inexcusable ignorance or, worst, dishonest malice — in order to sway public opinion.

If the New Democrats are correct, then please consider this as an invitation to produce a verifiable source for this claim.


  1. James Shelley, Cite the Source, December 15, 2011 

  2. Mike Moffatt, The $5-million Electro-Motive subsidy that wasn’t, Globe and Mail Blog, Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 

  3. London Metro, February 10-12, 2012, front cover image, inside front cover image 

  4. In the interest of full-disclosure: I wrote a post about this labor dispute entitled Root of Democracy on January 7, 2012, in which I cited New Democrat Member of Parliament Irene Math­yssen as saying: “It was only three years ago Stephen Harper used this very plant as a back­drop to announce a $5 mil­lion fed­eral tax break for this already prof­itable com­pany.” I expound this point to note my own responsibility in spreading this falsehood, if indeed it turns out to simply be a rumor. 

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