Pictures worth 1,000 words: getting to see what’s behind a CTF operative’s tantrum

Canadian Taxpayers Federation Prairie Regional Director Colin Craig assails Idle No More activist Pam Palmater Match 28 in Winnipeg, shown in this Winnipeg Sun photo grabbed from the Internet. Below: Winnipeg journalist Trevor Greyeyes, Mr. Craig in his official CTF portrait with a nice Astroturf background added.

How do we explain the strange spectacle last week of a well-heeled Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative bellowing at an Idle No More activist in the halls of a Winnipeg hotel while news cameras rolled?

Perhaps like me, you shook your head and moved on when you heard the March 28 broadcast coverage of an Idle No More protest apparently disrupting a news conference held by the federal Aboriginal Affairs minister and the follow-up clip of the CTF’s Prairie director yelling at a First Nations leader.

The report I heard that afternoon on CBC radio explained only the barest outline of what was going on: Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and some of his supporters were holding a news conference in Winnipeg to announce something about the government’s “First Nations Transparency Act.”

The recording made it sound as if the event had been disrupted by a noisy demonstration. Later, CTF Prairie Regional Director Colin Craig similarly noisily disrupted a media scrum by Idle No More activist Pam Palmater, a lawyer who is a specialist in indigenous governance.

There was lots of sound and fury, which the media loves. After that: very little. No backstory.

You may have thought, as I did, that Mr. Craig’s intervention bordered on the bizarre, and wasn’t typical of the pronouncements of the usually slick CTF. But you likely didn’t think much more about it when the media rapidly moved on to other stories.

This is probably true even if, like me again, you think the First Nations Transparency Act isn’t about transparency at all, but about harassing opponents of the least transparent government in Canadian history, like the Harperites’ “transparency” campaigns against labour unions and environmentalists.

The CBC’s coverage is probably the least biased report on this affair you’re going to find, but it too sticks pretty closely to the protesters-disrupt-news-conference formula, with predictable mayhem supposedly following.

But a video clip posted Monday by Winnipeg journalist Trevor Greyeyes puts this event in context and raises several interesting questions, both about Mr. Craig’s behaviour and about the story as advanced by the media.

First, unlike the media news clips I have seen and heard, the short video segment posted to Youtube.com by Mr. Greyeyes appears not to have been professionally edited or cropped to make the demonstration seem more dramatic than it really was. More important, the camera is far from the action, so it easier to see what is actually happening.

Indeed, from the Greyeyes video, a strong case can be made there was in effect no demonstration inside the news conference. That is, there was only one guy making a lot of noise with a drum and possibly one other person chanting along with him.

The guy with the drum is making a heck of a lot of noise, I’ll give you that, but other than a couple of TV camerapersons making sure they get some B-roll, it’s said here that while one or two protesters may be a disruption, their action hardly amounts to a demonstration.

Parsing the video, moreover, it appears almost everyone who was there agrees. People involved in the news conference mostly seem to be tapping their fingers waiting for the drummer to stop. No one seems intimidated, or anything more than mildly annoyed. No one hurries from the room.

Eventually, according to mainstream news reports, Mr. Valcourt advised Phyllis Sutherland – a supporter of the Harper Government who is a member of the Peguis First Nation – not to continue with her remarks. Official news conference participants then filed out.

Any demonstration by opponents of the legislation appears to have taken place outside the meeting room.

So the first question, naturally, is what was the media’s motivation in making this look like a major disruption by Idle No More demonstrators when in fact it involved only one or two people?

Turning back to the official news conference participants, whom do we see but Mr. Craig, waiting calmly at the head table, adjusting his spectacles.

Yes, let me say that again, Mr. Craig clearly was an official participant in Mr. Valcourt’s news conference.

Now, perhaps someone from the mainstream media reported that salient fact, but I can’t say I saw it. Mr. Craig may say he was not there officially, of course, but there he was at the head table. Sure looks official to me.

So this puts Mr. Craig’s anger into context, don’t you think? It certainly explains his intemperate attack on Ms. Palmater in the hotel hallway outside the room where the news conference was taking place.

After all, in response to the drummer, Mr. Valcourt had ended the news conference before Mr. Craig had an opportunity to get his news clip.

Paid, as it is fair to say he is, to generate publicity for the CTF, Mr. Craig went out of his way to get his face and the CTF’s name into the evening’s newscasts by assailing Ms. Palmater in the hallway. Of course, I don’t know that’s what he was thinking, but it is certainly a reasonable supposition based on his behaviour.

This is important not only because it gives insight into why Mr. Craig verbally attacked Ms. Palmater with such vehemence and rudeness, but because it exposes one of the claims regularly made by the so-called taxpayers’ federation – to wit, that it is a “non-paritisan” organization.

“The CTF is independent of any institutional or partisan affiliations,” the organization states baldly on its website.

So riddle me this, how does a senior representative of a non-partisan organization come to be officially taking part in a partisan event organized by a minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet to advance and defend a government wedge-issue campaign?

The answer, of course, is that the there is nothing remotely non-partisan about the CTF. A former CTF president occupies a senior cabinet portfolio in the Harper government and is putting his name around as a possible replacement for the prime minister, should he ever retire. The ranks of Conservative advisors, staffers and volunteers are lousy with former CTF operatives.

The CTF is embedded with this government up to its metaphorical chin, along with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the National Citizens Coalition and a host of other Astroturf groups that purport to represent ordinary Canadians but in reality work for corporate interests, the ideological market fundamentalist agenda and, more often than not, the Harper government directly.

Thus boondoggles that waste taxpayer dollars in truly spectacular amounts but are sponsored by the Harper Government – like the multi-billion-dollar F-35 fiasco – go unremarked by the CTF.

“Any Canadian taxpayer committed to the CTF’s mission is welcome to join,” the group’s webpage says, although as has been reported previously in this space, the CTF in reality has only six members, its board of directors, so what these people are “joining” is unclear.

In reality, fund-raising from naïve taxpayers and supporting the Harper Government agenda, no matter how much tax money it wastes, seem to be the principal raisons d’etre of the CTF.

And getting free publicity from the media, of course, to abet the other two goals – which almost certainly explains Mr. Craig’s peculiar behaviour.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

5 Comments on "Pictures worth 1,000 words: getting to see what’s behind a CTF operative’s tantrum"

  1. Attached is a link to the news release issued by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation on April 3rd, 2012, relating to the F-35 fiasco. The CTF’s criticism of the government’s handling of the F-35 file has appeared on our web site continuously since the news release was issued. Typing “F-35″ in the search box on the web site will get you to the page.

    http://www.taxpayer.com/news-releases/ag-report-on-f-35-underlines-need-for-fully-independent-parliamentary-budget-officer

  2. The six members discussed in this blog post are members of the board of directors. Self-appointing boards of directors are very common in the Canadian not-for-profit sector. Not-for-profits with a wide range of philisophical persusions across the political spectrum employ this governance structure, which has served the CTF well over its 22-year history.

    The CTF is independent of any institutional or partisan affiliations. All CTF staff, board and representatives are prohibited from holding a membership in any political party. In 2012 the CTF raised $3.6-million on the strength of 21,527 donations. Donations to the CTF are not deductible as a charitable contribution.

  3. I stand corrected by Gregory Thomas. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation did in fact post a mild news release one year ago that references the F-35 fiasco and calls for the government to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer a permanent position. As for the rest, the statement that the six board members are the CTF’s only members comes right out of the mouth of the organization’s Operations VP Shannon Morrison. As for the CTF’s non-partisan status, the organization functions as an arm of Canada’s radical conservative parties, including the Conservative Party of Canada. It is independent of institutional and partisan affiliations only in a technical sense, as a fig leaf. If the CTF is non-partisan, what was its regional director doing taking part in a partisan event?

  4. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is an advocacy organization. As such, our staff have met with hundreds of elected officials of every political stripe over the course of our 23-year history, from all political parties. In the current session of Parliament in Ottawa, appearing at committee hearings, I’ve spoken with Conservatives, NDPers, Liberals, Bloc Quebecois members, and the leader of the Green Party, each on multiple occasions. The same is true in Alberta, where our staff regularly interact with elected officials from every parrty.

    The news conference described in this piece as a partisan event was in fact organized by the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, on the day that a bill originally proposed by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation received royal assent and became law. The new law was originally suggested by our organization.

    The idea was first presented to Parliament as a private members bill, subsequently amended to reflect suggestions we had placed before a parliamentary committee, and finally passed as a government bill after the 2011 election. It is entirely appropriate that we would appear at a government news conference on the day that the government passed an initiative we proposed into law. This event was no more partisan than the committee hearings of the House of Commons and the Senate where we appeared to advocate for the reforms contained in the new law.

    Our staff have previously appeared at public events with provincial premiers, such as Ontario Liberal Dalton McGuinty, and British Columbia Liberal Premier Christy Clark. A photograph of our federal spokesman shaking hands with a federal Liberal finance minister, Paul Martin, appeared on the cover of our national magazine.

    People may take issue with the ideas we support. That is to be expected. But it is not correct to state that we are affiliated with any political party. We criticize politicians of every political stripe, and our web site is full of examples where we criticze ministers of the current federal government, including the Prime Minister, in very specific terms, by name. We are not afraid to tackle politicians when we believe they’re making mistakes and not acting in the public interest. Recently the Alberta Finance Minister went after one of our staff on the floor of the Alberta legislature, responding to our criticism of the most recent Alberta budget.

    It is true that individuals have gone on to work in government or seek election, after leaving the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The CTF has no more control over the career choices of former employees than any other former employer has. To the extent that these people subsequently find their way into senior government roles or win election and re-election to Parliament, it suggests that others see the same qualities that led the CTF to hire them.

    Whether one agrees with our positions on lower taxes, more accountability, and less waste in government, or disagrees, it is simply not correct to suggest that we are a branch, an arm, or an affiliate of any political party.

  5. Will Williamson says:

    An interview with Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. In the last 10 minutes of the interview he talks about Pam Palmater and the Idle No More movement and he doesn’t have anything nice to say about them.

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