All posts tagged Idle No More

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.

Tom Flanagan, neoconservative spiritual leader, consigned to utter darkness

Conservative icon Tom Flanagan’s defining moment. Below: Dr. Flanagan in happier times; the six signatories of the Alberta separatist Firewall Manifesto; Richard Nixon saying goodbye during his 1952 Checkers speech. Unlike Dr. Flanagan’s likely career trajectory, Mr. Nixon came back. 

Who could have predicted that yesterday would be the pope’s last day on the job?

I speak, of course, of Professor Tom Flanagan, spiritual leader of the neoconservative movement in Canada.

Well, Dr. Flanagan is the neocon pope no more, having uttered the astonishing opinion at a seminar the previous evening in the deep-south Alberta city of Lethbridge that child pornography is, if not exactly OK, more of a freedom of expression issue than an exploitation of children issue.

Not only that, but in response to a questioner at the University of Lethbridge seminar, Dr. Flanagan informed his audience he’d once been on the mailing list of the North American Man-Boy Love Association for two years. One can only hope this was in error, as he seemed to be implying.

I was driving the car when I heard that one, and that was the moment I spat Tim Horton’s coffee all over the dashboard and the windshield. It’s going to be a dickens of a job to clean up the mess this weekend!

Now, it’s been understood for a while that Dr. Flanagan – hitherto best known for his role as self-proclaimed godfather to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political career, signatory to the Alberta separatist Firewall Manifesto, chief strategist of Alberta’s far-right Wildrose Party and advocate of the assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – has a small problem with knowing when not to use his outside voice.

But one would have thought that he would have realized by now in the age of the tiny phone-mounted digital camera that any voice one chooses to use – even a whisper – is in effect your outside voice.

Such recent examples as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling well-heeled donors that 47 per cent of Americans were lazy parasites and Pastor Allan Hunsperger of Dr. Flanagan’s own Wildrose campaign last spring advising gays in a blog they’d better repent or their fate would be an eternal hot bath in a lake of fire should have been fresh in his mind.

Perhaps the U of L’s classroom ambience made the American-born neocon icon forget he was not back in the loving embrace of the University of Calgary, where his odious economic views have been treated as infallible and inspired by generations of students and administrators since the late 1960s?

Alas for Dr. Flanagan, he is also known for controversial and unsympathetic views about First Nations rights, which inspired Idle No More activists to attend his lecture. One of them, a young man from the nearby Blood Tribe named Levi Little Moustache, brought a digital camera and asked an unsympathetic question – although he, like many others in the room and out of it, gasped with shock when Prof. Flanagan uttered his career-ending opinion.

Within hours Dr. Flanagan discovered that even for a pal of the prime minister and comfortable senior Conservative party ideologue known as the Karl Rove of Canadian politics, there are limits to what may be said aloud without consequences – especially when it’s posted on Youtube.

In the hours after the video of Dr. Flanagan’s remarks went viral, spokesthingies for conservative groups and political parties, previously obsequious media organizations and once-sympathetic employers were practically knocking over the furniture in their haste to be the first to tack their former neoconservative idol to the wall.

The University of Calgary announced Dr. Flanagan has already promised to retire, and he wouldn’t ever be coming back, thank you very much. The CBC immediately canned him as a commentator. The prime minister’s spokeperson and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith both forcefully denied him. The Wildrose Party vowed he’d never come near one of its campaigns again. Even the Manning Centre chopped him as a featured speaker at its upcoming national conservative scheming session in Ottawa next week.

Dr. Flanagan, sounding stunned at the rapid reversal of his fortunes, issued a meek apology, but it was too late. His career was already covered in ignominy.

Only his old “Calgary School” buddy Barry Cooper stood by him, explaining to the Calgary Herald that Dr. Flanagan’s swift fall from grace was actually because Canadians are stupid – although not, Dr. Cooper hastened to add, such paragons of Canadian virtue as the Wildrose Party and the Manning Centre.

It is said here this is a defining moment in Canada’s conservative movement, if only because one of its most influential figures will no longer be around – at least where anyone can see or hear him. (Count on it that Dr. Flanagan’s strategic advice, which has been proved to be effective, will continue to be sought.)

As the late Richard Nixon said of himself, we won’t have Dr. Flanagan to kick around any more – “thank you, gentlemen, and good day.” And I, for one, will miss kicking the always-deserving Dr. Flanagan.

Indeed, it has not been a good couple of years for the six signatories of the independantiste Firewall Manifesto – former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton has been kicked out of office by angry voters, Ken Boessenkool has been removed as B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s chief of staff after a murky incident in a bar involving a woman and too much alcohol, and now Dr. Flanagan has been consigned to utter darkness for his views on child porn. Mr. Harper, of course, continues for the moment as prime minister.

Neoconservative admirers of Dr. Flanagan such as his former colleague Dr. Cooper can take comfort in the knowledge that the professor, a lifelong advocate of brutal market fundamentalist nostrums and an opponent of fair treatment of public employees, will have a very nice University of Calgary pension to fall back on.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the other pope, the one who leads the planet’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, also departed from office yesterday. A successor for Pope Benedict XVI is expected to be elected within a few weeks.

It is not known when adherents of the Canadian neocon faith will elect their new spiritual leader – although it’s likely Preston Manning will be available for the job after the conservative conclave in Ottawa next week.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Sun News Network pleads with anti-choice group to back its quest for ‘right to life’ subsidy

Sun News Network commentator back in the day complaining about how media outlets want the government to solve everything. This goes for Sun News Network and its financial problems too, it turns out. Below: Anti-choice Sun News commentator Michael Coren.

As part of its full-court press to get the CRTC to approve a better spot for it on the dial and give it access to direct subsidies from Canadian cable TV users, Sun News Network is begging anti-choice groups and their supporters to write the national broadcast regulator to support the far-right vanity broadcaster’s application.

“Sun News is the strongest voice for the pro-life cause on television in Canada. Bar none,” said Sun News commentator Brian Lilley in an interview with an anti-choice website called LifeSiteNews.com as part of the so-called news network’s plea to get letters written to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on its behalf.

“No one on television in this country gives as much airtime to pro-lifers,” Mr. Lilley told the website, which seems to be opposed to all forms of female reproductive choice as well as having a clearly homophobic agenda. “We shouldn’t let that voice be silenced.”

Mr. Lilley also claimed Sun News Network is fair to the “other side of the debate,” a risible assertion given the offensive and bullying interview style routinely adopted by the broadcaster’s commentators when dealing with people whose views they oppose.

Kory Teneycke, the former senior spokesperson in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office who now serves as a vice-president of the extremist broadcaster, told the anti-choice site that “we need to demonstrate a groundswell of support for Sun News, and the readers of LifeSiteNews can help.”

The site noted that one Sun News Network commentator, Michael Coren, hosts a weekly program with leaders of the so-called Campaign Life Coalition and referred favourably to commentaries on abortion by program host Ezra Levant, who is better known for his hateful rants against groups like people of Roma origin and supporters of the Idle No More movement.

The LifeSiteNews story repeats the Sun News Network’s questionable claim its desire for a public subsidy to cover its start-up loss of $17 million this year is a life or death proposition for its operations.

The subsidy Sun News Network is seeking now would add up to about $4 a year from all cable subscribers, or about $18 million a year initially.

Sun News and corporate owner Quebecor Inc. want the CRTC to grant it “mandatory carriage,” which means you couldn’t keep it off your TV dial no matter how many times Mr. Levant insults your mother’s virtue because it would be included in basic cable coverage everywhere in Canada.

The LifeSiteNews story does contain useful information, however, advising readers who wish to make a submission to the national broadcast regulator about the Sun News Network application to send it by Feb. 20 in a letter citing reference number 2012-0687-1 to CRTC, Ottawa, Ont., K1A 0N2. The letter should start or end with either “I request to appear at the public hearing” or “I do not want to appear at the public hearing.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Idle No More protests successfully wind up Alberta solicitor general

Alberta Solicitor General and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, right, reacts to word of an Idle No More road blockade while Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell looks on. Actual Alberta politicians and commentators may not appear precisely as illustrated. Below: the real Denis the Menace before he popped a gasket and the real Dinger.

Surprising as this may seem to alert readers in other parts of the country, protest is in fact permitted out here in Alberta. However, like strikes by unionized workers, it is usually only allowed if it’s completely ineffective.

So it should be easy for us to understand the anger and bewilderment, no matter how crudely expressed, of Alberta Solicitor General and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, who was “pissed off” at Alberta’s Idle No More protesters for, quelle horreur, delaying pickup trucks for a few minutes.

After all, the Idle No More protesters actually succeeded in capturing our attention for a few minutes last Wednesday, and that means their protest worked. As Mr. Denis didn’t quite explain, that’s not supposed to happen here in Alberta!

That became a big problem for Mr. Denis, apparently, because nowadays all those PO’d guys have cell phones in their trucks!

Mr. Denis, a coruscating legalist from Calgary before his election as MLA for Calgary-Acadia and subsequent elevation to cabinet, was quite offended that local law enforcers worked with the Aboriginal protesters and their supporters last week to keep the peace and ensure public safety during the two brief protest blockades in the Edmonton area.

The man the Calgary Sun risibly refers to as Alberta’s “top cop” – he’s no more a cop than I am, regardless of whom comes under his cabinet portfolio – seems to think the police ought to have been in there swinging truncheons and putting the boots to the peaceful protesters.

Because, you know, just the thought of someone getting between a pissed off person in a pickup truck and an open road he (or she, as it happened) is anxious to speed down is almost enough to give a fellow palpitations! God help us if Mr. Denis himself had come upon the 15-minute smudge ceremony on St. Albert Trail or the two-hour slowdown on Highway 2 just south of town. Given a provocation like that, he might have been tempted to ram an RCMP cruiser himself!

Well, I’ll admit to feeling a certain empathy for Mr. Denis – as my unhappy passengers will attest, I spend my days behind the wheel directing abuse at trucks and buses that move too slowly, swearing at trains that have the temerity to use level crossings I’m planning to cross, grumbling at pedestrians, cyclists and other cars for their very presence in my path, cursing potholes and the municipalities that don’t fix ’em fast enough, and so on.

So I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the notion that anything that keeps a fellow from his appointed rounds via his preferred route is a legitimate cause for some serious griping – although I’m not about to risk a fine and violate Alberta’s new distracted-driving law by phoning Mr. Denis up about it.

It’s only when you operate your mouth in public without engaging your brain that this kind of thing can be a problem. This is especially so if the local right-wing news network is hanging on your every word and making you think that just because you have something to say means you’re smrt.

So, Mr. Denis told Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell, not only is he “pissed off” at the protesters (his words, so don’t blame me!), but so are nine out of 10 of the people who call him. Well, duh! Would a reasonable person bother to call about this? (The answer to that is no. A reasonable person would be listening to the traffic report on the radio and would have taken another route home, as I did, as a matter of fact.)

“I’m prepared to face this issue head on with the police when I meet them on Monday,” Mr. Denis told Mr. Bell, who is known as The Dinger after the noise a bell makes, but who in my opinion ought to be called The Clapper, after the part of the bell that does the dinging as well as for the way he encourages right-wing politicians to agree with him. Just saying…

“Oh crap, I wonder if I can phone in sick,” senior police officers all over the city must have mumbled to their spouses when they heard about The Dinger’s column.

“People’s patience is wearing thin,” Mr. Denis rambled on – what? After one day of protest? “They respect the right of individuals to peacefully protest in a democracy but when you start blockading a roadway, it’s going too far. There is a right to peaceful assembly but there are limits.” (Emphasis added for humourous effect.)

Yeah, yeah… In Alberta, as previously noted, there’s been a longstanding limit on doing things that are effective, that can’t be easily ignored, that actually get people’s attention – like making them slow down for a few minutes and think about a problem.

So I’ve got a bulletin for Mr. Denis: Sometimes you have to inconvenience people to get anything fixed around here. And with a bunch of Albertans running the show in Ottawa, that goes for the rest of the country too. From the perspective of the Idle No More protesters, the last couple of hundred years of being polite don’t seem to have been terribly effective.

Indeed, you could make a case that the last time First Nations people negotiated a deal to which they could hold Canadians – the very treaties the government of Stephen Harper is now trying to gut through legislative sleight of hand – was the last time they were in a position to inconvenience the colonial authorities.

So we signed a deal in perpetuity – the deal, for all its imperfections, that Mr. Harper would now like to sidestep.

As former prime minister Brian Mulroney told the same news network soon after Mr. Denis was blowing off steam, it’s not all that surprising Aboriginal Canadians are protesting these attacks on their treaty rights, especially in light of Canada’s dismal record to date in its dealings with its First Nations.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to understand from the Sun’s “exclusive” story just what Mr. Mulroney proposes ought to be done – which at least raises the possibility that it’s not the same as Mr. Harper’s neoconservative agenda, which the Sun News Network exists to promote.

That wasn’t the problem with Mr. Bell’s account of Mr. Denis’s opinions, however, which seemed perfectly clear.

Fortunately, as Mr. Denis himself appeared to realize, since he’s not really the top cop, or even the top deputy, he can make suggestions like the rest of us, but he can’t actually tell the police what to do.

So my suggestion for the Mounties, Edmonton Police Service and Alberta Sheriffs who have to protect public safety when there are public demonstrations – effective or otherwise – is that they simply ignore Mr. Denis.

If he calms down and thinks about it, he might even thank them. Then again, this is Alberta…

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.