All posts tagged Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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.

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?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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 country933.com.) 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.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

‘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!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.