All posts tagged Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Shocker: Canadian Taxpayers Federation suffers 17-per-cent membership slump!

Riley Climenhaga, who has some duties as an actual watchdog despite being one of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation’s 70,000 “supporters,” watches suspiciously. Below: CTF Alberta mouthpiece Derek Fildebrandt and Operations VP Shannon Morrison. 

In a stunning development, membership in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has slumped close to 17 per cent – from six members, to five!

Alert readers will recall Alberta Diary’s revelation in March 2013 that the much-quoted organization, which is as pure an example of political AstroTurfing as can be found in Canada, in reality has only five members.

The self-described “citizen advocacy” group had been allowing itself to be portrayed by its many friends in media as an organization of 70,000 Canadians – including, as it happened, your blogger’s dog Riley, who, aside from his rather basic understanding of economics, is as friendly and loyal a fellow as you could wish to meet.

However, when one of those 70,000 people and non-citizen pets actually asked to see the books, a CTF official fessed up and admitted that the only actual members the CTF has are its board members.

Since many people who sign on with the CTF are operating under the misapprehension they are members of the group, Edmonton-based corporate ethics advocate and researcher Tony Clark had decided to see what would happen when he acted like a one.

With a copy of the CTF’s letters patent in hand, Mr. Clark signed up on the CTF website, then wrote the organization to explain that as a new member he wanted to see the group’s audited financial statements.

Eventually, after a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing – “according to the bylaws, I have the right to see the audited financial statements” – CTF Operations Vice-President Shannon Morrison broke the news to Mr. Clark that, no, he couldn’t see them, because, “technically the only ‘members’ are the board directors themselves.”

This resulted in Alberta Diary’s widely quoted scoop that the supposed 70,000-member group, regularly touted by the media as a “tax watchdog,” in fact had a membership that was infinitesimally smaller.

The day the post was published, however, the CTF let it be known that – ah-hah, you incompetent nincompoop! – membership was actually 17 per cent larger than I had reported, owing to the fact there were six members on the board.

Now, I’m certain, folks, that there were only five when I looked there a night or two before, but I admit that I failed in my duty to prudently take a screen shot of the site.

Now, however, I have been back, only to discover that director Erin Chutter appears to have disappeared from the CTF board, precipitating the 17 per cent drop in the membership’s organization noted above.

I mean, sorry guys, but you’re just going to have to take the good 17 per cent with the bad 17 per cent!

I sincerely hope this news doesn’t come as a surprise to Ms. Chutter, a former Conservative Party candidate, seeing as her presumably previous role with the CTF continues to be mentioned in her Bloomberg Businessweek “executive profile.”

The CTF’s entire membership list is now:

  • Michael Binion, who boasts of having established the first western company in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia
  • Karen Selick, Litigation Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a group that among other things litigates for “patient choice in health care,” code for the right of physicians to choose their patients, not actually the other way around
  • Paul Pagnuelo, a retired Bank of Montreal Executive
  • John Mortimer, president of the Canadian LabourWatch Association, a group that says it helps companies in “maintaining or achieving union-free status”
  • Ken Azzopardi, a former Mountie once on the board of the “World Taxpayers Association

As has been restated in the past, and can never be said to many times, the CTF is no more a tax watchdog than Riley is a regular watchdog.

The latter would cozy up to a burglar at the drop of a Milk Bone. The former reliably supports the policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s so-called Conservative government and its provincial branches, even when they hurt the interests of ordinary taxpayers. It is a tireless foe of such taxpayer and community benefits as fair pensions.

Indeed, it has also served as something of a farm team itself for the Conservatives, providing many candidates for public office, including such luminaries as Employment and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney.

A case can be made that the CTF does not really represent taxpayers. Moreover, it doesn’t really seem to be a federation since all its supporters do is sign up for list and, if they’re foolish, make a donation.

However, the jury is still out on whether it’s really Canadian, something that’s impossible to determine without a peek at its books – which, as has already been established by Ms. Morrison, is not allowed.

It is certainly well financed, maintaining a constant lobbying effort in favour of neoliberal economic nostrums and employing a staff of at least a dozen people in offices across Canada. Where the money comes from to do all this is not 100 per cent clear since, as noted, despite its calls for transparency in government, the CTF prefers opacity for its own operations.

How to explain the group’s sudden drop in membership? Maybe it began when the Alberta government started quoting CTF functionaries in its press releases.

Could it be that when Alberta “Accountability” Minister Don Scott’s media advisors quoted CTF Alberta mouthpiece Derek Fildebrandt in a news release touting the government’s “Sunshine List” of civil service salaries last December they started the organization on a long slide?

Or maybe it’s just a five-member organization.

Well, this time I have a screen shot.

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The Top 13 from 2013: Alberta Diary borne ever upward on wings of far-right loons

Ron Paul, the crazy uncle of the American right, surrounded by grinning acolytes at the 2013 conference of the Manning Centre for Undermining Democracy in Ottawa. Putting Dr. Paul here worked before, so maybe it’ll work again! Below: For New Year’s Eve, we show Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who says he doesn’t drink alcohol, hoisting a doublethink cocktail. Below him, Deepak Chopra, the exercise guru from Canada Post. And below him, put there as a service to the public, Deepak Chopra the New Age guru. Thanks to Alberta Diary, you now all know the difference!

The midwinter holidays equal desperate times for political bloggers.

I mean, where’s Stephen Harper when you really need him? Hiding out at 24 Sussex, presumably, with the blinds pulled down and the Mounties on high alert, trying to figure out a way to offer zero help or encouragement to the people of Toronto without offending any voters in the 905 Belt or the few remaining Ford Nation loyalists. Either that, or he’s hunkered down in Bragg Creek or some such Alberta redoubt figuring out how to make an election slogan out of “Yo, seniors! Your retirement’s a great time for fiscal discipline!” 

Nobody else much worth commentating on is around either. Unless you count Deepak Chopra, that is – not the New Age guru but the exercise guru of the same name from Canada Post who’s trying to make all us fragile senior citizens get out and walk to a postal box in the middle of winter, when we bought the flippin’ house because it had home mail delivery!

Well, for lack of anything better to do, here were the 13 best-read Alberta Diary stories of 2013, plus the number of people who read them, which must tell us something about this blog’s readership, or at least the days on which they had time on their hands. There’s Big Data in here somewhere to be mined, I’ll bet ya, and we could all get rich if we could just figure out what it was.

If nothing else, these results prove that this blogger needs the Sun News Network, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Manning Centre and other collections of far-right loons and liars, not to mention Messrs. Ford and Harper, even if the rest of you would be better off without them!

It surprised me mildly that no post about Mr. Ford made it on to the Top 13 list – though mention of his name was always a guarantee of a healthy readership. Maybe that only happens on, the other place these posts appear. Rabble numbers are not included in these totals. Since I try to file every day, the vast majority of the visits recorded happen on the first day of publication.

My commentary, by the way, on once and future Conservative-Wildrose strategist Tom Flanagan’s bizarre depiction of child pornography as principally a freedom-of-expression issue, which resulted in his quick although now obviously temporary banishment from conservative organizations and news organizations, was edged out of the No. 13 spot by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unsavoury political misuse of Remembrance Day.

But the No. 1 spot … well, we’ll talk about that when we get to it.

No. 13: Hoist with their own petard, Harper Tories face veterans’ Remembrance Day protest, Nov. 11, 1,254 readers.

No. 12: Hell freezes over in Alberta: Right-wing Wildrose Party sides with unions, sort of, over unconstitutional Tory bills, Dec. 3, 1,301.

No. 11: The government blinked: defiant Alberta jail guards have every right to declare victory, May 1, 1,403.

No. 10: Alberta Tories respond to protests by disabled Albertans with instinctive diversionary attack, June 2, 1,409.

No. 9: Sorry for anti-Roma rant? As It Happens interviewer demolishes Sun News VP, March 26, 1,734.

No. 8: With no market for hate and right-wing drivel, Sun News comes cap in hand for public subsidy, Jan. 22, 1,913.

No. 7: Craziness in Alberta jails continues – and may get worse today, April 29, 2,027.

No. 6: Is it time to take our pots and pans into Alberta’s freezing streets? Nov. 29, 2,438.

No. 5: Four-day school scheme shows Tories view Fort McMurray as not much more than a work camp, Jan. 14, 3,139.

No. 4: Redford Government set to impose wage freeze on public employees, blowing winning coalition to smithereens, Nov. 27, 3,186.

No. 3: Minuscule Canadian Taxpayers Federation in running for ‘Turfy Award’, March 13, 3,687.

No. 2: A serious question for Albertans: Is the Redford Government out of control? Nov. 28, 6,676.

No. 1: Is the right-wing Manning Centre plotting ‘Manchurian Municipal Candidates’? March 12…

Mostly over a day and a half, an astonishing 12,888 people visited the blog about the Manning Centre to read the No. 1 post of the year, almost all of them from the United States.

This can only be explained, I think, by the presence of a photo I took of Ron Paul during my infiltration of last spring’s Manning Centre conference in Ottawa. Dr. Paul is the crazy uncle of the American right and a man with more than 1.2 million followers on his Facebook page. Someone posted a link, apparently. Thanks Ron, even if you are nuts!

Still, whatever the cause, it’s no bad thing to have an opportunity to inform the wider world of the perfidy of the Manning Centre – even if I’d have preferred more people just read and did my crossword puzzle.

Alberta’s 13 most under-reported political news stories of 2013

Another aircraft takes off from Fort McMurray International Aerodrome loaded with CO2 captured from Alberta’s Athabasca bitumen sands. The gas will be stored in the basements of Russian buildings as part of a deal worked out through the province’s $2-billion “carbon capture” program. Actual Alberta carbon capture boondoggles may not operate exactly as described. Below: A Lethbridge student continues studying as hydraulic fracking operations take place next to her school; why is this doctor smiling? Hint: He runs a Family Care Clinic.

Soon it’ll be 2014 and the mainstream media can get back to doing what it does best: panicking the populace with lurid crime coverage and making excuses for Stephen Harper and Alison Redford.

For the time being, though, journalists everywhere are compiling lists of the 10, 12 or, this year, 13 biggest news stories of the past 12 months – which we all pretty much knew anyway.

But dozens, perhaps hundreds, of important news stories, often with of great significance to large numbers of people, go all but unreported because covering them properly is too much work for a short-staffed news industry in decline or doesn’t suit the agenda of our highly ideological right-wing media bosses.

As is well known, mainstream media also suffers from a profound case of pack mentality – and short staffing, shrinking advertising revenues and readers inclined to find their own news on the Internet, thanks very much, only makes this worse.

Now, it’s actually a little too bold, as was suggested in the headline above, to say this list comprises the 13 most under-reported political news stories in Alberta in 2013. After all, there’s sure to be something lurking out there so far under a log that everyone has overlooked it, and plenty more this blogger has failed to see.

Let’s just say this list, in no particular order, is made up of 13 significant Alberta political stories that in 2013 were either ignored outright, or given short shrift by the mainstream media’s overworked minions.

  1. Pipeline failure: If the Keystone XL Pipeline plan flops, as is quite possible since U.S. President Barack Obama doesn’t owe any favours to its backers, and the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline founders too, thanks to its sponsor company’s lousy environmental record and determined political opposition in British Columbia, what is the Harper and Redford governments’ Plan B to market Alberta bitumen? Hint: No Plan! No Plan!
  2. The Rising Wildrose Tide: How serious a threat does the Wildrose Party pose to the 42-year-old Progressive Conservative dynasty now led by Alison Redford? Half-hearted coverage of this story may just be a matter of timing, as professional journalists slip back into the lazy habit of thinking and acting as if nothing can ever change in Alberta. When they get a look at some of the polls coming down the pike soon they may smarten up. It’s said here that, like it or not, the next premier of Alberta will be Danielle Smith. Supplemental question: How dirty will the Tory campaign to hang onto power be?
  3. Opposition to COOL: Why are both the Alberta Government and most Alberta beef producers opposing the U.S. Government’s Country of Origin Law (COOL) when it will help Alberta beef farmers? We have the healthiest beef herd in the word, raised in the cleanest environment by some of the best farmers, and the Alberta government rejects this marketing bonanza! The reason is because it will cost the huge international companies we have allowed to dominate our cattle industry – and in Alberta, what industry wants, industry gets. No wonder everyone’s in a dither because A&W is marketing hormone-free patties, another sign of things to come.
  4. Climate change refugees: How long will Canada’s first refugee camp for climate change victims remain open? I was going to say North America’s first such facility, but I guess you could make the case that was the Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. So how many people are still living in the temporary trailers lined up in the so-called Saddlebrook neighbourhood of High River, site of the worst of the flooding in June 2013? Saddlebrook may be a luxury refugee camp, complete with a recreation centre, but it’s a refugee camp just the same.
  5. Family Care Clinics: What the heck’s a Family Care Clinic and how much will it cost to run? Nobody is asking this question, and the Redford Government isn’t providing any answers. The idea for FCCs, whatever they are, was dreamed up buy someone on Premier Redford’s leadership campaign team back in 2011. Now they’re being set up, and there’s still no clear explanation of their cost or function. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find the government’s supposed pay-freeze deal with Alberta’s physicians is no such thing. Thanks to FCCs, docs will see plenty more pay without the embarrassment of an official pay raise. This helps justify attacks on the people Alberta Tories really hate – low-level public employees.
  6. Regulation Privatization: The Alberta government is surrendering almost all environmental, water and public land regulation to a privatized entity funded entirely by industry. Fish cops, foresters, biologists and rangers are racing to join the new corporate “regulator” because it pays better than the government pays unbiased public employees. The Edmonton Journal did a good job of covering this story, although only after the damage had been done. It required a Freedom of Information request to get any information, so we can be confident the secretive Redford Government will work hard to squelch this story.
  7. AHS Leadership: Who’s really running Alberta Health Services? The giant public health care provider, which on many days appears close to collapse, may be advertising for a new permanent president and CEO, but anyone who pays attention knows the president and CEO doesn’t actually run AHS. Top executives seem just to be lightning rods, compensated to the tune of more than half a million dollars a year, to keep the heat off the real CEO. That, of course, is Health Minister Fred Horne, who now directly runs the organization, firing or driving out boards and senior managers who dare to defy him. Smart mid-level managers are racing for the exits.
  8. Fraser Institute Sins: Well, we can’t say no one covers the stream of press releases issued by the so-called Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based advertising agency for far-right nostrums, not to mention similar AstroTurf publicity groups like the six-member Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses and the National Citizens Coalition, each one of which deserves to have its name placed inside quotation marks. But when is the media going to look into those organizations themselves – the links and movement among their small group of propagandists, their secretive funding sources and the holes in their research so big you could drive a Coors beer truck through them?
  9. Bill 45: Why hasn’t Bill 45, the Redford Government’s attack on the free speech rights of all Albertans, which makes it illegal for baseball umpires to call anything except balls, been proclaimed into law? Its companion bill, Bill 46, which robs Alberta civil servants of the right to impartial compulsory arbitration in compensation for the fact they can’t legally strike, was given Royal Assent on Dec. 11 and proclaimed into law the same day. Bill 45 has been given Royal Assent, but has not been proclaimed. Here’s a theory: The government knows perfectly well this amateurish law can’t withstand a court challenge. Lacking the courage and principle to use Section 33 of the Charter to override Albertans’ free speech rights, they’ve left it sitting there, a big hammer, un-proclaimed. That way, the threat is real, but the courts can’t overturn it. Dave Hancock, the bill’s sponsor, who knows this, should be ashamed.
  10. Pension Plan Danger: Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner has launched a major attack on Alberta public employees’ pension plans, aided and abetted by pro-privatization AstroTurf groups like the six-member CTF. The media’s covered the story, but played it as a he-said-she-said dispute between the government and public service unions. The new plan the minister intends to impose after a period of sham consultation is so bad, though, many public employees who have the option – part-timers, for example – will opt out. If enough of them do, Mr. Horner’s bland assurance current pensioners will not be affected will be rendered meaningless and the plans could be in deep trouble. Who pays when thousands of pensioners see their retirement savings start to evaporate?
  11. Fracking Inside City Limits: A Calgary-based outfit called Goldenkey Oil Inc. wants to use fracking technology to drill four gas wells inside Lethbridge city limits. Folks living on the west side of the Southern Alberta city, where the company wants to drill, are worried about environmental impact and safety. After all, where there are gas wells, there may be deadly hydrogen sulfide gas. It would be fair to say hydrogen sulfide and homes and schools don’t mix very well. A University of Alberta study suggests having a gas well within four kilometres will reduce your urban property’s value between 4 and 16 per cent. Will residents of other Alberta cities soon face the same thing?
  12. U.S. Auto Efficiency Standards: In the summer of 2012, President Obama issued new auto efficiency standards that mandate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per U.S. gallon for cars sold in the United States by the 2025 model year. The allowable average was about 29 miles per gallon when the new standards were enacted. They are supposed to reach 35.5 MPG by 2016. When President Jimmy Carter did something similar in 1979, the price of oil fell steadily. What happens to the Redford Conservatives’ budget projections if the same thing happens this time?
  13. Carbon Capture: Everybody with an ounce of sense suspects the Alberta government’s investment of $2-billion of taxpayers’ money to so-called carbon capture technology is a huge boondoggle. It’s sort of like trying to find a way to bottle farts when everyone knows the problem is we’re eating too much cabbage! As of now, there’s virtually no CO2 in the ground and the companies initially interested are quietly distancing themselves from an idea they seem to have concluded will never work. So what happened to our $2 billion?

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Shining you on: Alison Redford calls for a little selective sunshine on civil service salaries

The scene in February 2014: CBC investigative journalist Charles Rusnell pores through a list of senior Alberta civil service salaries as horrified deputy ministers and university professors look on. Actual Alberta public employees may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Associate Minister of Accountability, Transparency and Transformation Don Scott, left, with some guy his party would just as soon you forgot about. (Image grabbed from the Internet from I wonder what the yellow gloves are for?

Have the calls Alberta’s Progressive Conservative MLAs are getting from modestly paid unionized civil servants, furious about having their salaries frozen by unconstitutional legislation and their pensions diminished, rattled the Redford Government?

PC MLAs should be rattled – seeing as a lot of those modestly paid low- and mid-level public employees live in ridings that Ms. Redford’s PC Party hung onto by extremely narrow margins in the face of the Wildrose Party tide in the April 2012 general election.

So the announcement yesterday by Don Scott, Alberta’s “associate minister of accountability, transparency and transformation,” that the Redford Government has plans to shine a little highly selective sunshine on senior public service salaries suggests they may indeed be worried.

At any rate, an Alberta government news release stating “compensation, including salary, benefit and severance amounts for government employees with base salaries above $100,000 will now be publicly disclosed,” sounds an awful lot like an effort to make a dubious case to the public that province’s public service is too fat and sassy and needs to be brought down a notch or two.

It just might work with some members of the public, the large and inattentive cohort of citizens who can’t tell the difference between civil service union members and their well-paid managers – the latter being the people who will make up the bulk of the names on the new Mike-Harris-inspired “sunshine list” that’s supposed to be published online at the end of January.

But will publication of the list win Ms. Redford any votes in 2016?

Don’t count on that. The people most likely to take the bait offered in what’s being billed the “public service compensation disclosure policy” are the same ones who have already decided to vote Wildrose, or who can’t be bothered getting out to vote at all.

On the other hand, you can count on civil service managers to be outraged by what they are certain to see as an invasion of their personal privacy.

It’s said here these traditional Tory voters are now much more likely to vote against Ms. Redford’s party, as are the rank-and-file government employees they supervise, who for their part are unhappy about the PCs imposition of a legislated freeze on their wages and cuts to their pension plans.

I ask you, how much would you like it if your snoopy right-wing brother-in-law could find out that you were making $100,000.01 in base salary on a government website accessible to everyone in the world? Well, if you’re a civil service manager in Alberta, he’ll be able to just that, using your name, in just 43 days!

Just how this is going to work with Alberta’s privacy legislation is unclear – and not surprisingly largely unexplored in yesterday’s news release.

On the face if it, Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act would seem to prohibit the release of such employee information without consent, at least unless “it is reasonable to disclose the information for the particular purpose for which it is being disclosed.” That law also suggests employees are owed “reasonable notice.”

What do you want to bet some affected government employees won’t think this is reasonable, and that 40 days and 40 nights doesn’t constitute reasonable notice – even if the government can dredge up some regulation somewhere to override those provisions of the act.

Oh well, contradicting its own legislation is nothing new for the Redford Government – just ask the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

There’s certainly a case to be made such information does belong in the public domain. And if voters are paying attention – which the premier’s Queen’s Park-trained political staff clearly hopes they are not – the information won’t do much to make the case Alberta’s civil service is overindulged.

After all, the vast majority of Alberta civil servants don’t make anything like $100,000 in base salary – and if you don’t believe me, just look up AUPE’s contract with the government on the union’s website and see for yourself how modestly paid its members are.

If Ontario is any guide, only about 6 per cent of all tax filers make more than $100,000.

As Armine Yalnizyan of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told the CBC last spring when Ontario published its annual list, maybe it’s time to expand the list to “shine a light on the private sector.”

It’s a thought – and a potential new group for Ms. Redford’s political brain trust to alienate.

Meanwhile, the government did get the endorsement of the Alberta director of the six-member Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which its communications brainiacs obviously chalk up as a plus, seeing as they quoted it in their press release.

And the announcement probably distracted voters from the fact the former Tory MLA from Wood Buffalo-Fort McMurray pleaded guilty the day before to a reduced charge in Minnesota after being swept up last summer in a “john sweep” of the seedy underside of St. Paul, the Sin City of the Gopher State.

Back here in the Gopher Province, look for the phone company to do a land-office trade in new unlisted numbers.

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‘Conservative activist’ seeks Brent Rathgeber’s Edmonton-St. Albert Parliamentary seat

Michael Cooper, left, celebrates after a fashion the May 2, 2011, federal election victory of Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, as Mr. Rathgeber celebrates it in a more traditional and energetic way. (St. Albert Gazette photo.) Below: Mr. Cooper’s official campaign website photo; Mr. Rathgeber not long after his break with the Conservative caucus.

St. Albert, Alberta

When you hear the term “Conservative activist,” watch out! You might even want to run screaming from the room.

So it was not exactly reassuring to learn Wednesday that Michael Cooper, “lawyer and Conservative activist,” has announced his intention to seek the Conservative nomination for the Parliamentary seat soon to be vacated, willingly or not, by Brent Rathgeber.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to declare a sort of interest here. You see, I am a resident of the Edmonton-St. Albert riding that is now represented by Mr. Rathgeber. So it is certainly in my interest to ensure we replace him with a Member of Parliament who can competently represent the riding, soon to be renamed St. Albert-Edmonton.

As is well known, Mr. Rathgeber created a great brouhaha in June of this year when he unexpectedly Tweeted out that he was quitting the Parliamentary caucus of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s party of opacity, supposedly on a question of high principle about government transparency.

Mr. Rathgeber was much lauded for his stand at the time by the national media – which was then approaching the news-free dog days of summer. This would have occurred even if his decision was in fact motivated by a fit of pique because his private member’s bill to eviscerate now-suitably-cooperative CBC had itself in turn been eviscerated by his fellow Conservatives in committee.

Regardless, after his unexpected announcement, Mr. Rathgeber – best known for hilariously asking Parliament, “Did the CBC hold an open tender for a political satire show for the Mercer Report or was the contract untendered?” – adopted a heroic pose and published a post on his Parliamentary blog stating “I Stand Alone.”

He has since dropped a few hints suggesting he is thinking of running again as an independent conservative.

Well, if he does, now that media interest in his rebellion has evanesced, he will learn just how alone he stands.

Which brings us back to the matter of Mr. Cooper, 29, who has now officially entered the production, stage right.

You won’t get much of a sense of whom Mr. Cooper really is from his website. Indeed, from the long list of local Conservative and Progressive Conservative grandees endorsing his candidacy, many of whom ought to know better and several of whom most certainly do, you might even conclude he was a mainstream candidate.

Despite his recent sensibly low profile, however, you would be mistaken if you thought this.

Beyond noting that he’s a lawyer with “deep roots in the St. Albert community, and years of political and community involvement,” Mr. Cooper’s news release and campaign site do not have much concrete to say about his past activities. These include joining the Conservative Party at 14 and running a generously self-financed campaign for St. Albert City Council at the age of 19. The latter was not successful – a circumstance with which this blogger can feel a certain sympathy just now.

However, a researcher who is prepared to spend some painful time digging through the turgid prose of the loony right, where Mr. Cooper remains an occasional debater on at least one website, can peel back enough layers to provide a glimpse of the real man.

Here he is, for example, excoriating such a well-known leftist as former Conservative prime minister Joe Clark in 2002: “Joe Clark’s idea on the government’s role in the economy is that if something moves tax it, if it still moves regulate it and if it stops subsidize it,” the 18-year-old Mr. Cooper huffed in his role as a national councillor of the Canadian Alliance, one of several names by which Mr. Harper’s party was known not so long ago.

Mr. Cooper’s current nomination campaign is managed by a vice-president of the virulently anti-labour Merit Contractors Association.

Until recently, Mr. Cooper was raising money for a run at the nomination in the nearby new Edmonton-Griesbach riding. However, Mr. Rathgeber’s injudicious departure has created an opportunity one can hardly blame Mr. Cooper for clutching at.

Among the enthusiastic endorsements on his website are those from such notorious right-wing public figures as John Carpay, former Alberta director of the six-member Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and Pierre Poilievre, the prime minister’s Calgary-born minister of state for “democratic reform.” Messrs. Cooper and Poilievre, like yon Cassius, have a lean and hungry look.

By now, readers should have an impression of where this all is heading.

The Edmonton-St. Albert riding, conveniently gerrymandered to ensure a Conservative victory in any circumstance, notwithstanding the liberal leanings of many voters in St. Albert, is obviously a prize worth having for any member of Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party.

In the absence of the arrival on scene of a more sensible and appealing Tory candidate – such people do exist, in fact – we St. Albertans could well be stuck with another national embarrassment as our MP for heaven knows how long.

Indeed, Mr. Cooper could be around long enough to be a nuisance not just to Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, but to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well! Heaven forfend!

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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 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.

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Close enough for government work: Alberta Tories manage to hold their centre-right turf

Finance Minister Doug Horner preps Albertans for yesterday’s budget. Actual Alberta finance ministers may not appear exactly as illustrated – but that’s the trick, isn’t it? Below: The real Doug Horner.

All in all, I guess, you could make a good case this was a pretty lousy budget.

It’s deeply confusing, as without any doubt the Alberta government intended, and there are a couple of real disasters lurking in its pages – got kids in post-secondary education, anyone?

But in the aftermath of the Alberta Budget Speech read this afternoon by Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Doug Horner, who was wearing his new flip-flops at the time, you have to admit it was a pretty slick example of expectation management.

The usual suspects on the left and the right quickly attacked Mr. Horner’s budget with the usual feigned ardour, as they are expected to do, and from either perspective they probably got it right. But so what? You’ve got to know plenty of their supporters were breathing a sigh of relief and reckoning they’d just dodged another bullet.

NDP Leader Brian Mason, sounding a bit like a broken record, called it a “broken promise budget.” Undoubtedly he’s correct – the question is, will Alberta voters buy Mr. Horner’s and Premier Alison Redford’s explanation that things have really changed? The answer: Probably.

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman called it a “bankrupt budget” – he meant, morally, presumably, because you can’t call any entity with the kind of cash flow Alberta has bankrupt, exactly, even when you’re feeling the uncomfortable pressure of a bitumen bubble passing through.

So are they morally bankrupt for running a cynical but effective campaign, then changing everything? Almost certainly! But will Alberta voters care in three years’ time? Unless something big changes, almost certainly not.

Opposition Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith called it the “back-in-debt budget,” trotting out the standard hard-right line that we’re spending beyond our means, a position that may not get a lot of support here, but that admittedly has a certain constituency in this province.

So are we back in debt? Sure. Will anybody care? Well, the Wildrose brain trust can try to make Albertans care and, who knows, maybe some of them eventually will. Or not.

Many more of the usual suspects, from a couple of well-known unions to right-wing Astroturf groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, rolled out some fairly predictable cris de coeur. The Edmonton Journal even sounded a bit like the official arm of the Wildrose Party, trotting out portentous phrases like “opaque, obscure and cynical.” Well, yeah!

But there’s no escaping the sense the Redford Tories cynically but deftly stage-managed the whole thing by rolling out a number of terrifyingly dire hints and rumours in advance – tough decisions, sharp break with the past, significant restraint, yadda-yadda – then announcing actual budget details that seem on their face considerably less drastic.

Of course, we don’t really know yet. Maybe ever.

But faced with a hard-right obsessive about debt and spending, a centre-left ready to view any cuts in health care or social programming as a major betrayal, and influential groups walk away from any exercises in coalition building, Mr. Horner managed to leave both sides’ supporters feeling as if they might have just been had, but disinclined to start rushing to the barricades.

There’s still some potential for mischief there – the government’s fight with Alberta’s physicians could still cause them some grief, but they’re sure acting like it works for them. It might not be smart to bet against them on that one!

No one’s conducted an opinion poll just yet – Janet Brown! Tony Coulson! C’mon down! – but it’s said here that in their opaque, obscure and cynical way, the strategic brains behind Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party managed to hold their centre-right ground a little longer.

And the centre right, if you haven’t happened to notice, is territory quite a lot of Albertans will vote for.

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Preston Manning’s well-funded ideological hobbyhorse takes aim at civic progressives

Calgary City Hall: The next target for former Reform Party leader Preston Manning’s not-very-merry band of far-right ideologues? Below: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and neoconservative ideological guru Manning back in the day.

Is the so-called Manning Centre for Building Democracy preparing to target Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other progressive city councillors for a corporate-backed reprise of the far right’s domination of federal and provincial politics in recent decades across Canada?

So it would seem.

Indeed, it would be fair to say the benevolent sounding Trojan Horse founded by Preston Manning, the former Reform Party leader and unflinching market ideologue, has its sights set on finding ways for the ideological right to take over municipal councils all across Canada. Calgary is just to be the first conquest in its ideological blitzkrieg.

The Manning Centre bills itself as an effort to “build Canada’s conservative movement,” which is fair enough as long as we understand that there’s very little that’s conservative in the true sense of the word with the destructive neoliberal strain of market fundamentalism advocated by Mr. Manning and his well-funded hobbyhorse.

In addition to the boilerplate commitment to “free markets, freedom of choice, and limited government” characteristic of these kinds of organizations, if you take the time to examine and decode the Manning Centre’s general goals you will find plenty that’s interesting. What, for example, does “living within our means … ecologically” mean? What does the Manning Centre really have in mind when it speaks of encouraging “strong families” or “respecting Canada’s cultural, religious, and democratic traditions”?

It’s not hard to guess, as long as we remember to wear our neocon decoder rings!

According to the National Post, the Manning Centre recently set up “training hub for the next cadre of small-c conservatives who seek to become campaign managers, co-ordinators, communications staff, policy makers and candidates” at a heritage building in downtown Calgary. The facility comes complete with a wall portrait of Louis Riel – more appropriate than you might first think if you consider neoconservative icon and firewall fantasist Stephen Harper’s past Alberta independentiste leanings.

It’s also interesting to take a look at the cast of characters planning to turn up at the next Manning Centre event: Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant, health care privatization advocate Dr. Brian Day, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers President David Collyer, Immigration Minister and anti-choice activist Jason Kenney, former Liberal and neoliberal Australian prime minister John Howard and Treasury Board President and epic-spending constituency MP Tony Clement, just to name a few.

In addition, representatives of far-right AstroTurf groups and think tanks abound, including the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Montreal Economic Institute, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

But if you want to find out how the Manning Centre plans to translate all this bloviation into specific action, you’ll need to dig a little deeper – perhaps into some apparently unlinked corners of the ideological hothouse’s website.

Which brings us back to the centre’s plans for Calgary, and eventually other Canadian municipalities.

Consider the Manning Centre’s “Municipal Governance Project,” which, we are told, is dedicated to “improving local government through free markets” and “applying free-market principles to local government.”

What will this project actually do? Why, it will “develop market-oriented policies that can be applied at the municipal level – starting in Calgary, then throughout Canada.” (Emphasis added.)

It will also “provide research and education resources to market-oriented participants in municipal political processes.” Bet on it that those education resources will include the names and phone numbers of generous donors to municipal candidates far enough to the right to be approved by the Manning Centre.

Indeed, the Manning Centre is “inviting like-minded people from the entire cross-section of Calgary society to contribute to the discussion and the pursuit of the above objectives.”

So Mr. Nenshi and other progressive local politicians in Calgary should beware: the Manning Centre and its insiders have turned their baleful eyes on you, and they’ll be hoping to bring the same failed policies to your municipal government that have done so much damage at senior levels of government across Canada.

A key moment in this march of conquest, of course, was the hostile reverse takeover of the honourable old Progressive Conservative Party of Canada by Mr. Manning’s radical Reform Party in 2003.

The good news is that nowhere will these neocons be easier to identify and challenge than at the municipal level.

Forewarned is forearmed!

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With no market for hate and right-wing drivel, Sun News comes cap in hand for public subsidy

More gruel, sir? The face of Sun News Network that Sun News Network would like you to see as they beg for public subsidies. Below: The real face of Sun News Network.

Sun News Network, that fearless foe of state subsidies for the CBC, wants you, Dear Television Viewer, to directly subsidize it to the tune of $18 million a year.

Have no doubt, that’s just the beginning, but it would nicely cover losses the company says now amount to a modest $17 million a year – hardly a corporate killer, one would think, but apparently enough to get Sun News queuing up at the public trough.

It turns out, as others have discovered before them (Ted Byfield, c’mon down!) that there’s not much of a market in Canada for the kind of market fundamentalist pap Sun News peddles – at least when consumers have the choice not to pay for it.

There’s even less of a market, by the sound of it, for the filthy language and outright hate-mongering indulged in by some of the network’s so-called commentators.

Given the opportunity to choose to watch Sun TV, viewers run away in droves. And who can blame them with boring drivel like Ezra Levant’s regular venomous rants about the Roma, Idle No More protesters, Hispanic business executives, environmentalists and anyone else who provokes his ill-managed anger to fill the seemingly interminable 24-hour broadcast day?

Now the so-called news channel, which disseminates anything but news, has gone with its grubby cap in hand to one of Mr. Levant’s targets, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to beg for the right to inject its poison directly into almost every Canadian home because it desperately needs the wholesale revenue that would then automatically flow back into its coffers.

To put this in broadcast-speak, Sun News and its separatist bosses at Quebecor Inc. want the CRTC to grant it “mandatory carriage,” which means you can’t keep it off your TV dial because it would be included in basic cable coverage everywhere in Canada. That way, I guess, it’ll be easier for them to campaign against opposition parties led by committed federalists from Quebec, of which there will soon be two.

In the normal course of events, a broadcast regulatory agency like the CRTC is the sort of group that would provoke one of Mr. Levant’s trademark jeremiads, complete with accusations it is staffed by civil servants itching to help out “union bosses” by “censoring” his harangues.

But for the moment, Mr. Levant and the chorus of right-wing hysterics employed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s semi-official and ideologically approved state broadcaster are silent on the topic of the CRTC while they direct their supplications to it for a flow of public subsidies to be directed their way.

You see, Sun News Network is going deeper into the hole every day, with erstwhile Harper Government spokesthingy Kory Teneycke, now a vice-president of his former boss’s favourite network, pleading that opening the money tap “is live or die for us.”

For its part, the company claims it has market research that shows viewers would watch its programs if only they knew where to find them. But this is highly suspect, since cable companies push packages that include the network and viewers aren’t biting.

The fact is, if you wish, you can get a well-run focus group to endorse a ham sandwich for prime minister – which, come to think of it, is pretty much what Sun News Network spends its days doing right now to the minuscule audience of angry white gun-owning males and zitty-faced Internet trolls it has managed to attract so far.

The subsidy Sun News Network is seeking now would add up to about $4 a year from all cable subscribers to directly subsidize hate and propaganda, but you can count on it that, in the manner of all their ilk, the corporation will soon be back at the well for more.

So tell me, with Sun News imploring a federal agency for a quick infusion of cash from hard-pressed taxpayers, granted in the form of a bogus “user fee,” where’s the always noisy Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation? They’re like the proverbial cop, I guess, never around when you actually need them.

Regardless, according to the Globe and Mail, Sun News faces “stiff odds” in this effort, seeing as there are lots of other more credible and creditable broadcasters vying for the 10 channels that must be carried by all cable companies.

But Harper cronies and sympathizers are now deeply embedded in key positions at the CRTC and it has a proven track record of backing down and running away from confrontation with Sun News, as when the broadcast regulator hastily dropped its investigation of Mr. Levant’s on-air obscenities last fall after the network issued a vague and insincere apology.

Given all that, I don’t think we can count on the CRTC not to agree to put the Tory back into regulatory.

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Expense account outrages? Only in government, you say? Puleeze!

Executives of Covenant Health enjoy a bottle of 2001 Il Piggione over lunch at Edmonton’s Characters Restaurant. Catholic health care executives may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Liberalbertaliberal Leader Raj Sherman.

Alberta’s health care gong show continued to wheeze along yesterday with another revelation by the CBC that a couple of senior execs at a publicly funded Catholic care provider bought expensive bottles of wine at lunchtime and billed them to their taxpayer-financed expense accounts.

Since the original founder of the Catholic Church is said to have made pretty good wine but also to have spoken disparagingly about extravagance, one could easily be conflicted about the $110 bottle of Il Piggione 2001 purchased by Covenant Health VP Jeffery Robinson in 2008.

But me, I have to admit I’m having trouble getting my knickers in a twist about this particular episode of the CBC’s long-running expense accounts series. Perhaps expense claims fatigue syndrome is setting in. Leastways, I felt that way until I heard Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman’s bloviations on the topic.

Dr. Sherman has been pretty quiet for the past few days while the Wildrose Party on the right and the New Democrats on the left did the heavy opposition lifting on this issue. (Government members got their exercise by running … away!)

So Dr. Sherman must’ve felt it was time for him and his Albertaliberals, Liberalbertans or whatever it is they’re calling themselves nowadays to step back into the ongoing brouhaha. He’s a medical man, don’tcha know, and therefore uniquely qualified to prescribe instant cures for all the Alberta health system’s many ailments.

“Here we have a religious organization – good people, God’s people – spending money on alcohol,” Dr. Sherman told the CBC. (So far, so good; with my previous caveat about God and alcohol in mind.)

He went on: “You tell me, which employer will allow their employees to start drinking on the job and ask the employer to pay for it? I only find this in government. It’s ridiculous and ludicrous.”

OK. Ridiculous and ludicrous it is, I guess. But Dr. Sherman only finds this in government? Excuse me? He must have lived a sheltered life. Sheltered in particular from the routine practices of the so-called business community, where making shareholders pay for a glass or two of high-priced booze at lunch is not exactly unheard of.

The difference, of course, between the expense account practices of the public and the private sectors is that everything in the private sector is a total secret. Shareholders and customers pay, and we never find out. The extravagances are much worse, but no one knows about them because (a) it’s a secret, and (b) we’ve been thoroughly propagandized into believing businessmen can do what they want with “their” money. And it’s still “their” money, in this view, even when it comes indirectly from taxpayers’ pockets via contracts with public agencies.

If there’s a reason expense account abuses are becoming more prevalent in the public sector, its said here, it’s because for the past 30 years or so we’ve been buying into this barrage of palpably false right-wing propaganda about how business does everything better.

So if we have to hire half-million-dollar-a-year executives instead of career public servants to run our public enterprises, they’re bound to bring their questionable private sector perks with them. And that includes, I’d suggest, $100-plus bottles of wine with lunch.

Indeed, now the rot is seeping more deeply into the public service where we feel compelled to pay outrageous private-sector salaries to get “the best people” and end up instead with some who are, let’s say, not the best.

The idea of public service – which was what built our great national public institutions, including our universities and public health care – has gone out the window, to the great detriment of our society.

Is it only me, or is it powerfully ironic that we hired these characters from the world of business to run our public services (and in many cases, where right-wing governments are in the driver’s seat, to intentionally run them into the ground to justify their privatization) and now we’re complaining that the managerial malpractices they brought with them are typical of the public sector?

Or, as Dr. Sherman outrageously misstates the facts, “I only find this in government”? Please!

We’d do better to consciously try to recreate the public service model of the not-so-distant past than pay attention to the anti-public-service blatherings of Dr. Sherman, a former Tory health apparatchik himself.

While we’re speaking of Alberta’s doctors, as predicted last time in this space, Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne now appears willing to restart negotiations with the Alberta Medical Association after he unilaterally ended them.

According to the Globe and Mail, Mr. Horne now says he’s willing to reopen talks with the docs – but not about money. However, with the physicians’ powerful union threatening job action – while promising to do nothing to harm their patients – you can expect the government to crater soon on that commitment too.

This is not necessarily bad news for any group that faces negotiations with the Alberta government in the next couple of years, and the political consequences for the government are probably less severe than those of a full-blown physicians’ uprising as the next general election in 2016 grows closer.

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I’ve been ranting here for months about how there’s only one true word in the title Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and that’s Canadian. And for all we know, even that might not be true.

It’s certainly not a federation and it surely doesn’t represent the interests of taxpayers. It’s another far-right AstroTurf group set up to advance the neoconservative agenda of “austerity,” anti-unionism and corporate tax breaks.

So what a delight it was to read of the CTF in Thomas Walkom’s column in the Toronto Star yesterday morning that this group “is an interest group, not a federation of taxpayers.” Thank you, Mr. Walkom, for stating this obvious and necessary truth. I believe this is a first for mainstream media.

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