All posts tagged Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Hockey millionaires and pharmacare tell you everything you need to know about who the Canadian Taxpayers Federation really works for

The Montreal Canadiens in 1912-13. Now the highest-taxed hockey players on the continent, they’re still the best and likely to stay that way. Below: Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions President Linda Silas; U.S. anti-public-health-care fruitloop and Canadian Taxpayers Federation ally Grover Norquist.

For a while now it’s seemed as if the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been adopting the modus operandi of the Fraser Institute – cherry-picked data, conclusions contrary to the evidence presented and dubious claims stated as facts in a frenetic stream of press releases.

Well, you can hardly blame them. The media treats each of the purported “taxpayer watchdog’s” pronouncements with a solemnity once reserved for texts thought to have been chipped into stone tablets by the Almighty.

Lately, though, they actually seem to be moving toward self-parody.

Consider the CTF’s astonishing revelation on Monday that since the least-taxed hockey stars in the NHL play for the worst teams in the league, we should all therefore, uh, cut taxes.

On this particular project, the CTF was working with Americans for Tax Reform, a group founded by notorious American fruitloop Grover Norquist, the anarchist and anti-public-health-care zealot best known for saying the U.S. government should be drowned in a bathtub.

From its calculation of state and provincial taxes, the CTF concluded that “Montréal continues to be the least financially attractive location in the NHL for players when it comes to personal income taxes.”

Um, OK. But Montreal also seems to be the most attractive location in the NHL when it comes to, erm, playing hockey.

Leastways, as the Broadbent Institute’s Press Progress cruelly pointed out yesterday, “CTF’s report ranks Edmonton and Calgary at the top of their list as the two lowest tax jurisdictions in the NHL. So were the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames among the two best teams in the NHL last year? … Careful readers will note that Edmonton and Calgary finished in the basement of the NHL’s Western Conference in 2013-14. Overall, the Edmonton Oilers were the third worst team in the league, followed by the Calgary Flames, who were fourth worst.”

Press Progress went on: “Only the Montreal Canadiens (30th) – dead last in CTF’s tax rankings – made the playoffs last year. They advanced all the way to the Conference Finals where they lost to the New York Rangers (26th). The Rangers went on to lose the Stanley Cup to the Los Angeles Kings (29th), who were the second highest taxed team in the NHL behind Montreal.

“In other words, the lowest-taxed teams in the NHL last year were the worst teams and the highest taxed teams were the best teams.”

Well, never mind that, the CTF seemed to say. NHL free agents who switch teams go more often to low-tax jurisdictions, Tweeted a CTF functionary. So maybe lower taxed teams can get better.

Not yet, though. As of yesterday, the Oilers were still last in their conference and the Canadiens were still first in the league.

So, actually, based on the facts, Press Progress concluded, taxing hockey millionaires a little more could help their teams win the Stanley Cup.

None of this stopped the CTF from quoting Mr. Norquist himself, presumably on the assumption most Canadians have no idea who the guy is and what he stands for, as saying, “higher taxes drive talent to other teams in lower tax states and provinces.”

Well, maybe it’ll all work out for the CTF some day. That said, it’s mildly encouraging that the CTF has time for any group of unionized working people – even if that privilege extends only to a tiny minority of sports millionaires.

Meanwhile, as I digested the CTF’s latest “research” bombshell yesterday, I had the privilege of listening to the passionate and articulate Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, talking about the need for a national pharmacare program.

The CFNU recently commissioned a study on what the impact would be in Canada of a national pharmacare program, meaning a publicly funded and administered national drug plan that would provide universal access to needed pharmaceutical drugs to all Canadians.

A national pharmacare plan would save Canadians $11 billion dollars every year, Ms. Silas said, quoting the research by Marc-André Gagnon, professor of public policy and administration at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

Alberta would save about $1.1 billion each year by being part of a national pharmacare program, Ms. Silas noted.

No hockey pools for Dr. Gagnon, whose research showed the savings from a national pharmacare plan could provide 80 million more daily home care visits for 220,000 more seniors, plus build 725 health centres and 10,000 more long-term care beds a year, plus hire 28,000 more nurses!

So this got me wondering where the CTF stands on pharmacare – which, from their perspective, would seem like a great opportunity to cut taxes instead of make all those improvements to health care Ms. Silas was talking about.

Still, you’d think the dedicated “tax fighters” at the CTF would see the potential.

Well, guess again. Here’s what the CTF’s B.C. director had to say about this opportunity last year: “We believe very strongly that there should never be a national pharmacare program.” (Emphasis added.)

You see, he explained, “forgive us if we don’t join the rush to create a national Pharmacare plan. We’ve seen this movie too many times before to believe that bigger is better when it comes to government. We believe the best path forward for both Pharmacare and taxpayers is to remain in the hands of the provinces – with more participation by the private sector.” (Emphasis added again.)

This scare tactic, in turn, reminded me of something else I read this week, a column in the New York Times by Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist.

U.S. conservatives, Dr. Krugman wrote, “want you to believe that while the goals of public programs on health, energy and more may be laudable, experience shows that such programs are doomed to failure. Don’t believe them. Yes, sometimes government officials, being human, get things wrong. But we’re actually surrounded by examples of government success, which they don’t want you to notice.”

Apparently it’s no different in Canada. Indeed, the CTF is now importing the ideas of one of the looniest so-called conservatives in the United States to Canada.

So there you have the real story of who the CTF represents – and it’s not ordinary Canadian taxpayers.

A way to save $11 billion a year for taxpayers, and ensure all Canadians can have the pharmaceutical drugs they need if they are ill? A way to reinvest in health care and make a good system better? The CTF will do anything in its power to snuff it out.

Instead it proposes expensive and unequal private insurance run by big business, plus the lowest possible taxes for multi-millionaires.

Juxtapose these two stories and you’ve learned everything you need to know about who the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is really working for. It’s not you.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Business arising from the minutes: Unionized St. Albert workers sign deal; CTF Alberta director suddenly departs

Toronto’s once notorious Rochedale College, now a perfectly respectable apartment building. Below: Outgoing Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta Director Derek Fildebrandt and the King’s Noodle Restaurant (grabbed from TripAdvisor).

TORONTO

It was my intention, since I am away from Alberta on business, not to file an Alberta Diary post this evening. Truth be told, Friday night and Saturday are the week’s worst times for readership anyway, as those readers with a life tend to be off living it.

Still, my iPhone gonged portentously when I exited my Air Canada flight from Edmonton here in the Ford Bothers’ hometown tonight with two interesting and relevant developments related to stories published here over the past two days.

Apropos the question of whether or not City of St. Albert inside administrative workers and employees of the city’s public library should join a union to protect themselves from the depredations of radical Ford-style municipal politicians, the city announced today it has reached a two-year agreement with public works and transit employees represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The city’s agreement with CUPE Local 941 includes pay increases of 2.7 per cent in each of 2014 and 2015. The agreement was ratified by the union’s members on Wednesday.

Like most things unions do, collective agreements are public, so copies of this one will be available in several places, including on the city’s website and from the Alberta Labour Relations Board, for local anti-public-service zealots to work themselves into a swivet over.

Meanwhile, just after lunchtime today, Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta Director Derek Fildebrandt Tweeted: “Moving on from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation,” and provided a link to a blog post explaining the reasons for his imminent departure.

Readers will recall it was reported on Dave Cournoyer’s Daveberta.ca blog on Wednesday that Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has been “working hard” to recruit the CTF spokesperson as a candidate for the next provincial general election in the Calgary-Bow riding.

“Mr. Fildebrandt is an outspoken critic of the PC Government and has targeted Premier Jim Prentice with FOIP requests dating back to his time in Ottawa,” Mr. Cournoyer pointed out.

So, yesterday, Mr. Fildebrandt wrote in his personal blog that “the time has come for me to move on from the CTF.”

As a result, Mr. Fildebrandt wrote, “I am currently exploring opportunities in the private sector.” He promised, however, that “while I am transitioning from the CTF to the private sector, I have every intention of continuing to write and speak about issues of public policy that are important to me as an individual.”

Mr. Fildebrandt’s sudden goodbye was not crystal clear about exactly what his political intentions may now be. He wrote: “I feel the need to address speculation over the past few weeks as to if I will seek a seat in the Legislative Assembly to represent my community in Calgary. I had been approached about the prospect of doing so, and I did consider it carefully with my wife Emma. We were married just over a month ago and it is difficult to see room for such an endeavor at this time. 2016 is a long way off and while I may give future consideration if circumstances permit, I don’t see it in the cards.”

As for Toronto, I am pleased to report that the former Rochdale College – once the city’s most notorious drug den – now appears from my hotel across the street to be a completely respectable apartment building, possibly even a condominium.

And just like the 1970s when I lived nearby, one can still have a filling dinner at the King’s Noodle Restaurant at Spadina and Dundas and get change back from a $5 bill – although, at those prices, nowadays one really ought to leave a decent tip.

Said to be sought as candidate by Wildrose Party, ‘tax watchdog’ spokesperson’s intentions are for the moment unclear

CTF Alberta spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt last summer at the Legislature in Edmonton. Below: Premier Jim Prentice and political blogger Dave Cournoyer.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is “working hard” to recruit Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt as a candidate for the next provincial general election in the Calgary-Bow riding, Daveberta.ca blog author Dave Cournoyer reported yesterday.

“Mr. Fildebrandt is an outspoken critic of the PC Government and has targeted Premier Jim Prentice with FOIP requests dating back to his time in Ottawa,” Mr. Cournoyer wrote, citing “rumours” that he said have been circulating for some time.

If it is true the Wildrose leader hopes to recruit the CTF’s Alberta director as the party’s candidate in Calgary-Bow, as Mr. Cournoyer’s blog suggests, surely Mr. Fildebrandt needs to clarify what his intentions are regarding running for the party before he issues another press release.

If he plans to run as a Wildrose candidate, obviously anything he or the CTF says about any other party’s platform or policies needs to be treated with caution by media used to reporting the so called “tax watchdog’s” often-debatable pronouncements without balancing commentary as if they were divinely inspired.

But even if Mr. Fildebrandt is merely being recruited and has no intention of running, his potential Wildrose candidacy is now on the public radar and obviously deserves clarification before he pontificates further on the economic policies of any political party.

Mr. Fildebrandt has not yet responded to the email I sent him at his CTF account early yesterday afternoon seeking his comments on Mr. Cournoyer’s report and asking specifically about the nature of his discussions, if any, with the Wildrose Party.

Inevitably, if he were planning to run for the Wildrose Party, such a situation would raise questions about the CTF’s non-partisan status, frequently trumpeted on the group’s website and in press releases assailing pubic employees’ pensions, publicly funded services and other policies deemed insufficiently conservative by the CTF that blanket Canadian newsrooms with the ubiquity of winter snow.

As has been argued in this space before, the CTF’s role as a non-partisan commentator on tax policy depends on a nice distinction about the meaning of partisanship. The CTF is a faithful supporter of the policies of the Harper Government and its provincial auxiliaries, and its staff provides a frequent recruiting field for conservative political talent, despite the fact the organization doesn’t officially support a particular party.

But having a potential candidate for one political party commentating in a supposedly neutral fashion on the platforms and policies of three or four competing parties, if that were to happen, would take the CTF’s normal advocacy of market-fundamentalist nostrums to a whole new level of partisanship.

The CTF’s criticism of Mr. Prentice and his Progressive Conservative government undeniably took on an aggressive tone last summer.

In August, Mr. Fildebrandt released thousands of pages of Mr. Prentice’s expense records dating back to when the PC premier was the federal Conservative Government’s minister of Indian affairs and northern development.

The highly critical media statement that accompanied the 3,264 pages of documentation made reference to “at least one major irregularity” in Mr. Prentice’s federal expense accounts, and left the impression there might have been more.

However, it is said here, the assertions made in the release depended on a highly tendentious interpretation of Parliament’s expense claims rules and the documentation contained no credible evidence of actual improprieties in Mr. Prentice’s past expense claims.

In the event, the CTF commentary failed to stir up much distrust of Mr. Prentice, and it is telling that the CTF has not returned to this issue. Lately, the CTF has moved on to other issues, including heaping praise on the Harper Government’s income-splitting tax scheme and demanding that the pensions of Members of Parliament who are convicted of crimes be revoked.

Presumably the CTF would include in that demand convicted Conservative politicians like Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former Parliamentary secretary, who was convicted last week of spending too much on his 2008 election campaign and then trying to cover it up. Mr. Del Mastro resigned his Parliamentary seat yesterday, in part to protect his MP’s pension, which he will be eligible to receive in 11 years when he is 55.

The CTF also has strong connections with Canada’s powerful corporate anti-union lobby, and Mr. Fildebrandt has been aggressive in his recent attacks on the pensions of unionized public employees.

Wildrose Leader Smith was the Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a market-fundamentalist Astro-Turf group similar to the CTF in conservative ideology and modus operandi, before announcing her intention in 2009 to run for the leadership of the party then known as the Wildrose Alliance.

Soon after Ms. Smith’s plans were revealed in this blog, she gracefully left her role with the CFIB.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Ex-leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk vows to pen tell-all book on Alison Redford’s rule

Your blogger with budding author Thomas Lukaszuk, back during the former deputy premier’s campaign to lead the PC Party. Below: Former PC premier Alison Redford; current PC Premier Jim Prentice.

I’ve gotta say, I’m really looking forward to my free copy of Thomas Lukaszuk’s tell-all book about how he tried to save the Redford Government but the premier just wouldn’t let him. A great review is almost guaranteed!

Seriously, I’m assuming this literary endeavor means Mr. Lukaszuk has decided he doesn’t have much of a career in the government of Premier Jim Prentice. At any rate, it seems unlikely he will after the publication of A Burning Bridge Too Far, Mistakes Were Made, Hair Care Tips for Men, or whatever it is he decides to call his forthcoming volume.

As alert readers of this blog will recall, even those with very short memories, Mr. Lukaszuk was fired-premier Alison Redford’s deputy premier and confrontational point man on big fights with public service unions and bigger cuts to post-secondary education. He also served as MLA for the Edmonton-Castle Downs riding under premiers Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Dave Hancock.

Later, when he ran against Mr. Prentice for the leadership of what was left of the Progressive Conservative government after Ms. Redford got finished with it, he recast himself as a representative of the party’s progressive wing and suggested that the funding cuts, which hit Edmonton’s University of Alberta particularly hard, weren’t his idea.

When Mr. Prentice was sworn in as unelected premier earlier this week, he appointed challenger Ric McIver to cabinet, notwithstanding the attack ads the Calgary MLA ran in the last days of the leadership campaign, but he pointedly assigned Mr. Lukaszuk to the party’s distant back benches despite the fact he’d run a vigorous and entertaining campaign.

The Canadian Press reported this morning that Mr. Lukaszuk, who came to Canada from Poland as a child, is about to write a “behind the scenes” book on his years in the Tory Government, especially under the leadership of Ms. Redford. No publication date has been set.

“Lukaszuk says there is a lot to the Redford era people don’t know about, including the Tory politicians who tried to stand up and fight her spending scandals,” said the CP’s earnest reporter. Those people who tried to fight her scandalous behaviour, presumably, will include Mr. Lukaszuk.

The CP story also dropped hints we’ll learn more from Mr. Lukaszuk about how Ms. Redford “spent lavishly on herself, bullied subordinates and threw temper tantrums.” This is bound to be highly entertaining.

Presumably Mr. Lukaszuk will pass more lightly over the statements by civil servants’ union president Guy Smith that his confrontational approach resulted in “a huge amount of mistrust and lack of respect.” A ruling by a superior court early this year in the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ successful effort to get an injunction against Bill 46, which Mr. Lukaszuk had championed although it was technically introduced by then finance minister Doug Horner, tended to give credence to Mr. Smith’s interpretation of events.

With his political career now on the skids, Mr. Lukaszuk obviously decided a literary turn was just the thing to revive his fortunes. While he represents a northwest Edmonton riding in the Legislature, Mr. Lukaszuk resides in the bedroom suburb of St. Albert, which is represented by Independent former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber.

Mr. Rathgeber has recently written a book of his own – Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada – an effort that has received constant coverage in the local free weekly newspapers, notwithstanding a less-than-well-known publisher. So Mr. Lukaszuk would have had an example of the next step he could take showing up in his mailbox every couple of days.

To those who suggest that Mr. Lukaszuk’s writing style – which so far as we know up to now has been restricted to frequent and often cantankerous Tweets – may leave something to be desired, I say nonsense. At any rate, he has a trained journalist, likely a capable ghostwriter and editor, in his own household.

Readers are invited to submit suggested titles for Mr. Lukaszuk’s future doorstopper to Alberta Diary.

+ + +

Ordinary Albertans deserve the credit for killing Bills 9 and 10

The neoliberal attack on fair pensions is guaranteed to continue, but working people in Alberta can nevertheless celebrate a victory with the Prentice Government’s decision today to  climb down from the Redford Government’s unwarranted attack on both public and private sector pensions.

Have no doubt, this change happened because of determined political action by affected citizens – workers with modest pensions and their family members – who ensured their MLAs knew what they thought of the attack on their retirement savings and what the likely consequences would be in the next general election.

In normal times, this might not have had much impact in Alberta. But these are not normal times, and the consequences were potentially quite severe for MLAs in Premier Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Party who won narrowly in 2012 in many ridings throughout the province.

The fact a steady stream of working people had been visiting their constituency offices to express their anger and dismay at Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, was a major contributing factor in the unprecedented decision of the PC caucus to fire premier Alison Redford in March.

There is no doubt as well that it played a big part in Mr. Prentice’s decision to cashier former finance minister Doug Horner from cabinet after the central role he played in the push to turn public sector pensions from defined benefit to “target benefit” plans, and allow private corporations to convert pension plans at will into “defined contribution” plans in which retired employees must bear all the risks.

A terse press release from the government yesterday morning noted that Bills 9 and 10 would die on the order paper when the current sitting of the Legislature was prorogued. The release noted that a new session will begin with a Throne Speech on Nov. 17.

Most observers were pretty certain that would happen anyway. What was really interesting was that the news release also promised “Bills 9 and 10 will not be introduced under the Prentice Government.”

Count on it that certain self-styled commentators on tax issues – some of whom may have an interest in running for other conservative political parties – to respond with a certain amount of anger, even hysteria, to this announcement.

Assume as well that the corporate-financed organized right will continue its campaign against secure retirements for all working people. I expect we can stand by for announcements and “studies” from the likes of the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation momentarily.

In the mean time, though, ordinary Albertans can congratulate themselves on a job well done. And small business people in the communities where they live – if they’re actually paying attention – should be grateful that the money will continue to be spent locally, instead of shipped offshore to corporate tax shelters.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Opponents beyond PC ranks start to take aim at Alberta Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice

Alberta Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice, invisible, as everybody and their non-partisan friends pile on. Actual scenes from Alberta politics may not take place exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Prentice, in his lucky campaign shirt; Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta Director Derek Fildebrandt.

VICTORIA, B.C.

Jim Prentice, you’re in the crosshairs now (metaphorically speaking).

And if you manage to win the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party next Saturday – which everyone except this blogger thinks is exactly what’s going to happen – in the crosshairs is where you’re going to stay.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation fired a shot at Mr. Prentice on Friday evening, releasing more than 3,000 pages of his expense records from back when the front-running Tory leadership candidate held the federal Conservative Government’s Indian Affairs and Northern Development portfolio.

Derek Fildebrandt, whose official title is Alberta director of the CTF, informed the National Post he received the extensive records some months after he was told they had been accidentally destroyed. Later, he said, he was informed by the federal government they had merely been mislabeled and later recovered.

The CTF said in its own news release that it filed Freedom of Information requests for the past expense claims of all three PC leadership candidates as part of an effort to ensure “Albertans would have as much information as possible in determining if the next premier’s record of expense claims were above board or not.”

To those who might wonder if this is a fairly partisan approach to be taken by a self-described non-partisan “tax watchdog,” presumably Mr. Fildebrandt and the CTF will review the records of influential Opposition members – at least those who were once members of a governing party and have therefore left a paper trail behind them – with similar vigour.

Regardless, there didn’t seem to be all that much in the thousands of pages of documents for Mr. Fildebrandt to work himself into his trademark high dudgeon about.

He did discover that as minister Mr. Prentice once took a chartered plane to cover a distance he could have driven over in a couple of hours and on another occasion rode a helicopter to a U.K. air show where he was representing the Canadian government instead of hitchhiking from London or something.

Since Mr. Prentice was legitimately working as a federal cabinet minister on both occasions, this is hardly seems to me like a scoop of earth-shattering proportions. However, the Post implied there is bound to be more, noting that Mr. Fildebrandt had only done a “cursory analysis” when he made these discoveries.

Well, we’re sure to hear about it if he does discover more. The Post story, meanwhile, also quoted Mr. Fildebrandt saying he had “very serious concerns about the completeness of the records released and the potential for political interference in the process.”

Thanks to the catastrophic premiership of the high-flying Alison Redford, which ended only in March, such is the distrust of the Alberta PCs in late 2014 that a press release mentioning airplane travel and expense filings carries considerable potential to persuade voters yet another high Tory official can’t be trusted.

Anyone who reaches this conclusion, however, is forgetting that the events Mr. Fildebrandt is complaining about in the pages of the Post took place while Mr. Prentice was a minister in the supposedly squeaky clean and intensively supervised federal cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The CTF claimed in its release that Mr. Prentice’s trip aboard the charter aircraft was “in clear contravention” of Parliament’s travel rules for MPs. My “cursory analysis” of Parliament’s guidelines, however, suggests it is not at all clear Mr. Prentice broke any rules – leastways, if he can argue that the charter was the “most practical” means of transportation.

Mr. Prentice’s current spokesperson argued the expenses in question were fully disclosed years ago and ruffled no feathers, the CTF’s or otherwise, at the time. Given this, it’s said here Bill Anderson would have been entitled to wonder aloud about if the CTF is now pursuing an apparently partisan agenda in Alberta politics.

Instead, he worked up a fairly high degree of dudgeon of his own, huffing to the Post, “this is clearly a witch hunt! We’re disappointed that people would stoop to this level of politics.”

Well, Mr. Prentice and his aides need to get used to it, if he is indeed going to emerge as the winner next Saturday, or on Sept. 20 if the leadership contest fails to produce a clear majority on Saturday and goes to a second vote.

Since the local press has already declared candidate Ric McIver a politically dead man walking, and with Thomas Lukaszuk’s leadership efforts breaking up on the rocks of his cellular telephone bills, this must be what is going to happen on Saturday.

If Mr. Prentice becomes PC leader and premier, the attacks and implications from political operators of all sorts with all sorts of agendas won’t stop until he has either won or lost the next general election.

Instead of whining, then, Mr. Prentice’s camp might be smarter to do some witch hunting of their own!

This actually is politics, after all, a game played with the elbows up. Other parties and interests are bound to play hard to win the next election, just as Mr. Prentice, presumably, is going to try to do.

Note to readers: I have been called away to the West Coast on a matter of urgent family business. Alas, this means I will miss the opportunity to be at the PC vote on Sept. 6 in Edmonton. I take comfort from my belief – which is apparently mine alone – that the probability of a second vote on Sept. 20 is high. If I am right, I will be there. In the mean time, for those of you who want a first-hand account of the goings on at the EXPO Centre on Saturday night, I recommend Dave Cournoyer’s excellent Daveberta.ca blog. I intend, of course, to commentate on the developments in Edmonton from one province away. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Canada’s anti-union lobby is at the heart of the deceptive campaign for more Temporary Foreign Workers – why’s that, d’ya think?

Canadians need not apply? Actual Canadian store displays may not appear exactly as illustrated. But the intent of the AstroTurf TFW lobby is to bust unions and weaken the bargaining power of Canadian workers. Below: Employment Minister and former Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative Jason Kenney; former Canadian Federation of Independent Business president and current “Working Canadians” spokesperson Catherine Swift; and CTF board member and Canadian Labour Watch Association President John Mortimer.

Judging from what they read and hear in the news, Canadians can be forgiven for concluding a large number of organizations representing a broad range of opinions are lobbying public-spiritedly for more access to Temporary Foreign Workers by Canadian businesses.

But while many individual business owners would no doubt love to have a direct pipeline to the huge international pool of compliant, vulnerable and easy-to-exploit foreign workers instead of yielding to market pressure to pay Canadians a living wage, the seeming multitude of public voices calling for more access to TFWs originates mainly with a small group of individuals and well-financed interlocking organizations.

It turns out that this network involves many of the same people sitting on the boards of each other’s groups. What’s more, these groups are repeating the same key messages and skillfully feeding press releases to Canada’s dysfunctional mainstream media to generate sound and fury against the modest restrictions on Ottawa’s TFW Program.

As readers will recall, those restrictions were put in place by Employment Minister Jason Kenney last spring. The minister was responding to public revulsion at the program’s apparent goals of exploiting vulnerable foreign workers and suppressing Canadian wages.

So it cannot be mere coincidence that in almost every case the main groups calling for more TFWs turn out to have a long history of anti-union advocacy. In some cases, before the TFW issue came along, their sole purpose was attacking the right of working people to bargain collectively.

This web of anti-union advocacy groups includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Restaurants Canada, the Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada, the Merit Contractors Association, “Working Canadians,” and the Canadian Labour Watch Association.

Even the mysterious National Citizens Coalition, the granddaddy of all Canadian far-right AstroTurf groups, once headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, puts in a cameo appearance in this convoluted tale!

Each of these groups is not forthcoming about its finances and, it is reasonable to conclude given their purported mandates to represent to represent a different segment of the Canadian economy from “taxpayers,” to restaurant owners, to ordinary working stiffs who just want a little “freedom” in their workplace, is deceptive about its true objectives.

So it should surprise no one that this same web of organizations has emerged as the leading advocate for the exploitation of vulnerable and poorly paid foreign workers to replace uppity Canadian young people in low-wage, low-skill Canadian workplaces, or, in the case of the CTF, to use the purported need for foreign workers as a way to attack unemployment insurance for working Canadians.

Perhaps the best way to understand the revelation that the TFW lobby has many heads but is only one beast is to look at what little we know about the secretive Canadian Labour Watch Association, founded by several of the other groups in 2000.

While the CLWA describes itself as an organization that “advances employee rights in labour relations,” it is fair to say after a review of its materials that its principal goal is to advance the goals of employers who are opposed to unions in their workplaces. In other words: union busting.

According to Canadians for Responsible Advocacy, the “industry organizations” that founded the CLWA in 2000 included Restaurants Canada (formerly the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Retail Council of Canada and the Merit Contractors Association of Alberta, which represents a group of non-union contractors.

The CLWA does not disclose financial statements, identify major contributors, indicate its membership policy or criteria, list its bylaws or identify its connections to other right-wing advocacy organizations, the CFRA reports. However, we do know about its members and board of directors, a list that tells an interesting story.

The CLWA’s president and only listed employee is John Mortimer, a prominent member of the board of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Member associations include the CFIB, Merit Contractors associations in several provinces, the Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada and the National Citizens Coalition.

The CLWA’s board, according to its website, includes representatives of the CFIB, the Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada, the Merit Contractors, the Canadian Taxpayers Association (although this relationship is not declared) and the Conseil du Patronat du Québec (the Quebec Business Council), another consistent opponent of unionization.

Restaurants Canada, by the way, was founded in 1944 as the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association to fight against the Mackenzie King Government’s food rationing and menu price-control policies when the war against Nazi Germany, to which many Canadians were sacrificing their lives, started to cut into profits.

Whether there is a formal connection between the CLWA and its associated groups with the so-called “Working Canadians” AstroTurf organization and the “Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada” can only be speculated upon because all these groups are very economical with information about their operations.

Working Canadians may be little more than a website and an advertising budget provided by someone with deep pockets. It appears to have been set up to counter the Working Families Coalition created in Ontario by 15 unions, which openly declared their involvement on the Working Families website.

Working Canadians, by contrast, provides no information about its funding and purports to be a “volunteer organization” that is “concerned that union leaders have too much influence over government.”

But it is evocative that Working Canadians’ only known volunteer is Catherine Swift, president of the CFIB in 2000 when the CLWA was founded and well known for her opinion that “what would be ideal is getting rid of public-sector unions entirely.” So it is hard to imagine that the mysterious principals behind both Working Canadians and the CLWA, and the network that supports them, are not well known to one another.

As for the WDIC, its way into the web of TFW Program advocates comes via the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, through CTF board member Karen Selick and a CTF staffer, Atlantic Canada Communications Director Kevin Lacey.

There are probably many other such groups, because the corporate-financed right prolifically cooks up fake AstroTurf organizations with positive-sounding mandates, inclusive-sounding names and disguised agendas.

The links among this well-established network of anti-union agitators have been obvious for many years.

That the same players who hold the most virulently anti-union views and the most offensive opinions about the supposed shortcomings of Canadian workers should turn out to be the loudest advocates, and in some places the only advocates, for the TFW Program suggests the true agenda behind the vociferous TFW lobby.

It is quite apparent the goals of the Canadian Taxpayers Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, and the various trade associations involved are to weaken the bargaining power of Canadian families (including many of their own naïve members), keep wages low, keep all workers vulnerable and re-elect the Harper Government.

If the Harper Government is re-elected, of course, even today’s modest restrictions on the TFW Program are sure to soon disappear, snipped away as so much “red tape.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Whatever the ‘Canadian Taxpayers Federation’ is, it’s certainly not a ‘tax watchdog’ – let’s stop calling it one!

“Canadian Taxpayers Federation” Alberta Communications Director Derek Fildebrandt dressed up for a typical CTF stunt, which the media falls for every time. Below: Mr. Fildebrandt back in the days he was part of the Reagan-Goldwater Society at Carleton University; CTF board members Karen Selick, Adam Daifallah and John Mortimer. (Thumbnail photos grabbed from CTF’s website.)

While the Canadian Taxpayers Federation claims to be a “tax watchdog” that opposes waste and advocates transparency in government, evidence suggests its principal purposes are to provide partisan support for the Harper Government, fulfill the corporate agenda and undermine the rights of working people.

The July 2 Alberta Diary post on the CTF’s disgracefully misogynistic and personal attack on a group of promising young Canadian scholars for the crime of being awarded scholarships provides an example of the former.

Today let’s take a look at the evidence of the CTF’s strong anti-worker, anti-union bias, as well as the group’s lack of transparency about its own supporters and objectives.

A recent report on the CTF by a group called Canadians For Responsible Advocacy, highlights connections between some members of the CTF board of directors and various anti-union groups in both Canada and the United States

As has been previously reported, the CTF’s seven current board members are the group’s only members, despite the media’s repeated claims it has tens of thousands of members – a reference to the group’s “supporters,” people who have clicked on a web button to find out more about the CTF.

Board member Karen Selick, the CFRA reports, is also a board member of a group called the “Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada,” an organization that argues on its website “Canada’s economy and the lives of a majority of Canadians are negatively affected by the impact of union leaders.”

Ms. Selick, a lawyer, is also the litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a registered charity that takes legal action to undermine Canada’s public health care system and gun registration laws, as well advocating on behalf of as other far-right causes.

Ms. Selick’s 43-word biography on the CTF website does not disclose her connection the WDIC although it mentions her connection to the Constitution Foundation.

John Mortimer, another CTF board member, is president of the Canadian Labour Watch Association, a virulently anti-union group that provides employers with resources to assist with union-busting activities.

The CLWA is also actively touted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which like the CTF is another AstroTurf group that purports to represent the interests of small business owners but in fact works against middle-class Canadians, whether they are employees or small-business operators.

Mr. Mortimer, the CFRA noted, is also a member of the board of directors of CUE, a U.S. group that works to keep its member companies union-free. CUE advocates keeping unions out by maintaining positive work environments, but also offers services and links related to more traditional union-busting activities.

CTF board chair Michael Binnion, by the way, is president of one multi-million-dollar energy sector company and has connections to others. Until last month, after it was put under pressure by the CFRA, the CTF did not disclose these connections by its president to the energy industry.

Erin Chutter, who appears to be a former CTF board member, is a former political staffer to Preston Manning, when he was leader of the Reform Party Opposition in Ottawa, the CFRA reports.

Since the CFRA report, the CTF has added two members to its board, Vancouver lawyer David Hunter and lawyer, public affairs advisor and commentator Adam Daifallah.

Mr. Daifallah was once a member of the National Post editorial board and researcher for former newspaper owner and author Conrad Black. He is the author of the 2005 tome Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution.

Mr. Daifallah’s personal online biography – although not his CTF bio – states that he was active in party politics “at the local, provincial and national levels for several years.” This included stints as president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association and policy director of the Progressive Conservative Youth Federation of Canada. He is a “fellow” of the Montreal Economics Institute, another far-right ideological “think tank” clone of the Fraser Institute.

Ms. Chutter and Mr. Daifallah are two more of the many examples of the role played by CTF operatives in partisan Reform-Alliance-Conservative Party activities. The group’s most famous, success story, of course, was that of Employment Minister Jason Kenney – who according to his Wikipedia biography was CEO of the CTF in the 1990s.

Lest you think the CFA’s anti-worker leanings are restricted to encouraging union-busting, its Internet web page currently features an attack on unemployment insurance benefits in the Maritime provinces, claiming Ottawa’s so-called Employment Insurance programs are a drain on the region’s economy.

The real reason for this campaign, it is suggested here, is an objective by the CTF to weaken the Canadian middle class and make jobs and communities less secure – and therefore more vulnerable to the corporate agenda the web of far-right groups that includes the CTF is financed to advocate – as well as to support the Conservative Party in its long-term goal to cut unemployment supports and regional equalization programs.

Regardless, some paid CTF operatives are open in their anti-union advocacy.

Derek Fildebrant, the group’s “Alberta Communications Director,” and as such a familiar name to those who follow Alberta media, published a blog post on the CTF site on June 23 in which he called a rowdy crowd that heckled his presentation demanding public sector pensions be gutted at meeting of a legislative committee “union thugs” and “screaming unionistas.”

Canada’s still a free country, so Mr. Fildebrandt can term a little heckling union thuggery if he likes – although he probably should have told his readers that he was blowing kisses at the crowd in an apparent effort to stir them up, bait to which they imprudently rose.

The Calgary Herald, which regularly serves as the happily wagging tail of the CTF’s barking chain, repeated Mr. Fildebrant’s claims in an editorial and used his inflammatory language, although it doesn’t appear to have had a reporter at the meeting. If that is indeed the case – I have not been able to confirm with this with the Herald, although a senior editor promised several days ago to get back to me about it but never did – it was relying on Mr. Fildebrandt to do its reporting for it.

Since I wasn’t at the meeting, I sent two emails to Mr. Fildebrandt seeking clarification about some of the allegations he made, which were repeated by the Herald, including the claim he was shoved by a “union boss.”

Mr. Fildebrandt has not replied, so I’ll have to continue to rely on the observations of the half-dozen witnesses, including an MLA on the committee, with whom I spoke.

While Mr. Fildebrandt’s CTF biography does not mention it, he was reported by the Victoria Times Colonist to have worked for the Harper Conservatives on Parliament Hill and by the Edmonton Journal to have been a Conservative staffer as recently as 2008.

While a student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Mr. Fildebrandt was also the president of a group calling itself the Reagan-Goldwater Society. Ronald Reagan, of course, was the U.S. President whose 1981 tax cuts for the rich set the stage for today’s huge income disparities and began the erosion of the U.S. middle class. Barry Goldwater was the Republican Party’s nominee in the 1964 presidential election, a key inspiration to young Republicans opposed to the reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933-1936 New Deal and an advocate of dropping atomic bombs on North Vietnam.

As the CFRA report indicates, the CTF does not live up to its own standards of transparency, failing to report many evocative connections of its board on its website, refusing to provide audited financial statements, and neglecting to report the names of corporate or individual donors who have contributed more than $5,000 to the organization’s annual budget of close to $4 million.

Whatever the CTF is, it is clearly not a “tax watchdog,” and it is time for the media and government groups – not to mention the rest of us – to stop treating it as if it were, let alone relying on it to report the news.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

CTF bullying and misinformation: just what’s ‘wacky’ about rape prevention research?

Canadian Taxpayers Association Federal Director Gregory Thomas dressed up as a professor, with a man dressed as a pig, at a CTF news conference trashing government support for academic research. A cameraman can be seen at left obligingly filming. Below: Dr. Melanie Beres, unfairly ridiculed by the CTF for her 2006 thesis; Mr. Thomas when he’s dressed as a grownup.

According to the comedians at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a $17,500 grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to a promising young Alberta-trained sociologist whose research looks for ways to improve rape-prevention education is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

If you ask me, the CTF’s sophomoric “tongue-in-cheek, cap-and-gown ceremony on Parliament Hill to shine the spotlight on some of the most wacky grants handed out by the federal government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for university research over the past few years” misses the mark both as comedy and commentary.

Leastways, even if CTF Federal Director Gregory Thomas’s news release and insulting video performance suggest otherwise, surely most of us think there’s nothing “wacky” about sexual violence. I personally would be pleased to see more of my tax dollars spent on research that seeks ways to reduce it.

But the CTF’s frat-boy humour in the service of neoliberal economics and its apparent view that any topic sensitive to women’s rights is inappropriate for government support reveals both sloppy research and a nasty bullying streak on the part of the organization, whose field operatives singled out the work of individual young academics for ridicule and public contempt.

It is no coincidence, it is said here, that six of the seven academic works named by the CTF for attack were authored by women.

But I guess if you’re a young scholar who manages to get a government grant for academic work in a field the CTF doesn’t approve of – which would presumably cover pretty well everything outside petroleum engineering and conservative advocacy – you can count on being at risk of public derision by this AstroTurf group.

When the CTF boys picked on Dr. Melanie Beres, who received her PhD in sociology at the University of Alberta and now teaches at the University of Otago in New Zealand, they obviously didn’t bother to read her thesis with much care.

For, while it uses colloquial language and a colourful title – which is obviously what caught the attention of the CTF’s “researcher” – even at a casual glance by an old newshound like me, largely unschooled in academic sociology, it is quickly apparent it is an example of legitimate scholarly research.

That did not, however, deter the CTF from pulling a few lines out of context from Dr. Beres’ thesis – entitled Sexual Consent to Heterosexual Casual Sex Among Young Adults Living in Jasper – in order to attack the fact she was awarded a $17,500 SSHRC grant for her work.

If they trashed the quality of Dr. Beres’ research or hurt her personally by singling her out, they presumably felt this was legitimate collateral damage in their effort to work with the Harper Government to justify its attack on science and social science research that fails to reach the conclusions the government desires.

“My thesis is not so much about casual sex, but more about sexual consent,” Dr. Beres observed in an email to me. “The goal of the thesis was to learn how young people consent to sex in order to improve rape prevention education. The context (Jasper) was chosen because of the high rates of casual sex and drinking. I wanted to choose a potentially contentious environment to examine issues of consent.”

Interestingly, the CTF “researchers” seem to be obsessed with sex and sexual issues in the academic papers they singled out for attack. This reflects their sly understanding of the news judgment of lazy journalists, who have been socialized to believe the notion that “sex equals news.”

Moreover, writing newspaper articles mocking scholars for their work is among the oldest and laziest tricks in the journalistic playbook. The CTF’s operatives, at least one of whom typically dresses up as a pig for these events, merely exploited a couple of the most obvious failings of modern journalism and were rewarded with a few cheap headlines that reinforce their ideological goals.

The CTF obviously had to dig pretty deep to find topics that met its criteria for scorn. Dr. Beres’ PhD thesis, for example, was submitted in 2006, marked as 2007 by the CTF’s crack research team in its background paper.

“I could have titled my thesis Foucauldian negotiations: Discursive constructions of everyday intimacies,” Dr. Beres observed dryly. “It would be more or less accurate and would likely have slipped past the CTF member who was looking for ‘wacky’ research.”

“But this would also make my research less accessible,” she explained. “I want people to be able to read it and to engage with it. As a former rape prevention educator it is paramount to me that my research speaks beyond the ivory tower.”

“The fact that CTF picked out my research demonstrates that it is accessible to those not particularly used to engaging in scholarly endeavours. To some extent, this means my writing has been successful,” she added generously.

As is well known, the CTF gives the impression it’s a large membership-based organization, but in fact has only five or six members – its board of directors – at any given time. Similarly, the CTF purports to be non-partisan, but in reality acts in partisan support of the goals of the Harper Conservatives and their counterparts in the provinces.

The CTF’s anti-SSHRC histrionics – which the group tastelessly calls “Screwed U” – is part of its “Generation Screwed Movement,” an effort to propagandize college students in the Conservative Party’s neoliberal worldview and encourage intergenerational strife to further tax gains for the wealthy.

CTF operatives and publicists have also proven to be an able talent pool for the federal Conservatives’ political ranks.

Occasionally, it must be noted, the CTF protests Conservative policies – such as the continued availability of SSHRC grants for young researchers – but usually only in the furtherance of long-term Conservative policy goals.

Knowing this is important to understand the motivation of the CTF’s attacks on Dr. Beres and her colleagues. They support a likely Conservative goal of reducing funding for all social science research, because too often it doesn’t support party policy. This is the same instinct that motivates attacks on the traditional sciences when they demonstrate politically unpalatable truths – such as, for example, the fact Earth’s atmosphere is growing hotter.

Social science research findings, Dr. Beres observed, “often shed light on inequalities and injustices in the social world. This is the case for research on poverty, families, work, sexuality or any other social topic.”

“Those who have a lot of privilege and don’t care to address these inequalities sometimes try to discredit research that exposes inequalities,” she noted. “They do so because they feel threatened by the findings or fear the potential loss of their privilege if action is taken to address these inequalities.”

Dr. Beres’ research points to the way male and female desires are treated and valued differently in our society – and how that can lead to sexual violence. That the CTF didn’t bother to mention her conclusions, she noted, suggests they may not have wanted to hear them. “It is sometimes much easier for people to dismiss findings they don’t like rather than to take a look at themselves and their social world and see things that need to change.”

I’d say that’s a given. Consider what Mr. Thomas, who presumably didn’t actually read the paper himself, had to say when he trashed it: “Now that it’s public knowledge that the federal government will pay you $17,500 to hang out in a ski resort for a couple of months and investigate casual sex, we expect every frat boy in the country to be lining up for a research grant to replicate this study – in Whistler, Banff, Tremblant, you name it.”

Well who would know frat boys like the frat boys at the CTF? Look to the Harper Conservative Government for the priorities and worldview of the CTF. They are the same.

As for Dr. Beres’ 2006 thesis research, it has already achieved the goals she set out for it. “It has been used to inform and shape sexual violence prevention programming in Canada and in New Zealand,” she told me. “I am currently on an advisory board to support the development of a national rape prevention program for New Zealand high schools.”

I call that extremely good value for a very modest tax investment that all Canadians can be proud of – we could fund almost 35,000 research projects like Dr. Beres’ for the cost of one F-35 warplane!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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 Rabble.ca, 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.