Postmedia’s symbiotic relationship with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation fails to offer much illumination

Posted on March 29, 2016, 1:18 am
10 mins

PHOTOS: The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s misleading “debt clock” trailer back when Alberta’s debt wasn’t $10 billion. Now it isn’t $17 billion. Below: CTF Alberta Director Paige MacPherson, telling Okotoks Online that 44,000 teachers should all be handed a big pay cut (Okotoks Online photo); Parkland Institute Research Manager Ian Hussey and tight-fisted Alberta NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Postmedia Network Canada Corp. enjoy a cozy symbiotic relationship nowadays.

The CTF supplies Postmedia’s newspapers and their online editions, including Alberta’s four-headed Frankendaily, with reams of free editorial copy produced by the secretive organization, most of it in this province attacking the Liberal government in Ottawa and the NDP government in Edmonton.

MacPhersonIn return, Postmedia supplies the CTF with unprecedented direct access to thousands of readers, a mass readership that despite the corporation’s potentially fatal financial difficulties remains among the largest in English Canada.

In addition, in almost any story published in a Postmedia newspaper about government spending, especially where Liberal and NDP governments are involved, a call for comment goes out to one of the CTF’s many directors. (Except for the occasional vice-president, almost all CTF employees appear to be a “director” of something.)

Despite the CTF’s protestations to the contrary, based on what they publish and distribute it can be said fairly argued both parties share the highly partisan goal of obstructing and defeating Liberal and especially New Democrat governments wherever they spring up. In addition, they share an open, aggressive hostility to public sector unions.

Postmedia newspapers, it must be acknowledged, also frequently run opinion pieces produced by other groups on both the right and left, ranging from the Fraser Institute to the Alberta Federation of Labour. But the Postmedia-CTF relationship is unusual and possibly unique in its intensity.

Even a light story on a yoga instructor being hired by the Calgary Police Service warrants a critical quote from a CTF director in the pages of the Calgary Herald. Paige MacPherson, the CTF’s Alberta director, is listed as a “columnist” by the Herald on its website, a quite accurate assessment of her role with the paper even though neither she nor the CTF is paid by Postmedia for her contributions.

HusseyThe trouble is that that so much of the material published in the stream of freebies the organization ships to Postmedia and other publications is not based on solid facts. At best, it is propaganda.

Consider, as just one of a very large number of examples, Ms. MacPherson’s most recent free contribution to Postmedia, which starts from the sophomoric conclusion the economic position of Alberta in 2016 is now essentially the same as it was in 1935, in the depths of the Great Depression.

The stated purpose of this scary but misleading claim seems to be to lead readers to the belief all government debt is bad and, therefore, “now is the time … to pay down debt.”

Debt is a particular bugbear for the CTF, a convenient root of all evil with which to terrify the public in the service of the organization’s real agenda, which clearly includes undermining public sector unions and supporting low corporate taxes, broadly defined to include royalties from public-owned resources.

So Ms. MacPherson starts her argument from the claim Alberta’s debt is massive and out of control. “Our provincial debt is currently over $17 billion and our deficits are on a train without brakes,” she confidently states.

But wait… How does the CTF reach the conclusion Alberta is $17 billion in debt when the Royal Bank of Canada’s Canadian Federal and Provincial Fiscal Reference Tables, which were updated on March 22 after the federal budget was released, project the province will have no net debt for 2015-2016?

CeciDo the “directors” at the CTF know something the RBC’s economists don’t?

Well, it’s all in the way you define debt. The CTF’s explanation is found on it’s website where you can read it for yourself, but the key point is that the CTF ignores the normal measure used for corporations and governments, net debt, that is, a comparison of liabilities and debt with cash and other liquid assets.

“This is a fiscal slight of hand on their part,” explains Parkland Institute Research Manager Ian Hussey. “They are naming an amount of money allocated to build public infrastructure while ignoring our financial assets (or, in more everyday language, our public savings). The problem with the CTF’s approach is Alberta has substantial financial assets. The most obvious example is the Heritage Fund, which just happens to be about $17 billion. We also own a bank and an agricultural bank.”

Deceptive claims about galloping debt are at the heart of the CTF’s “debt clock” gimmick, and fair enough. It’s their trailer. But the question really ought to be, Should they be at the heart of Postmedia’s Alberta political and economic reporting?

It’s worth noting Alberta still has very little debt – probably less than it should have from the point of view of sound economic policy. If we have any as a result of the NDP’s current infrastructure investments, it will be very small thanks to the low interest rates available to governments in this economy.

Ms. MacPherson goes on to state, as if it were fact, that Alberta had a debt problem in 1992, when Ralph Klein began to implement his destructive and short-sighted attack on health care and government services. To be charitable, this is baloney. “We had the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio that year of all the provinces,” Mr. Hussey pointed out.

“We were the only province whose ratio was less than 10 per cent,” he said. “There was no reason to gut the public service in the 90s besides ideological and profit-enabling reasons. Klein did not simply ‘do what had to be done.’ Rather, Klein created the structural deficit we are now dealing with by neglecting our infrastructure and reducing our revenue-generating potential by cutting taxes dramatically in 2000-2001.”

If we were to have used the CTF’s definition, in fact, the Klein Government’s claim the province was debt free would have had to be rejected at the time.

As for Ms. MacPherson’s assertion Alberta tops the list provinces most likely to default – in fairness to her, the tendentious report she cites was widely reported in the media – this is nonsense too.

Ontario’s debt-to-GDP ratio is now almost 40 per cent – which is about 40 per cent higher than Alberta’s. Is Ontario facing a crisis because of this? Not according to this study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which concludes, “there is no Ontario debt crisis looming on the horizon.”

Even Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan – which nowadays is Canada’s happy hunting ground for bad Conservative ideas for front groups like the CTF – is scheduled to spend more per capita on program expenses than Alberta is in 2015-2016. But then, Mr. Wall faces an election soon, doesn’t he?

Program spending? Mr. Hussey notes it’s expected to go up by more than $300 per person this year over last in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia – and by only $34, that’s thirty-four dollars, under tight-fisted NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci.

It sure is funny how we never hear anything about that in CTF press releases or elsewhere in the drivel published by Alberta’s Postmedia Frankenpaper!

Look, I could go on and on about this, but why bother?

As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democratic Party U.S. Senator for New York State, ambassador and sociologist is reputed to have observed: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

16 Comments to: Postmedia’s symbiotic relationship with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation fails to offer much illumination

  1. Ted Alden

    March 29th, 2016

    Ya well where I come from there’s term for that, which I can’t print here but it goes something like: CIR&LE J&^K!

    Reply
  2. Athabascan

    March 29th, 2016

    Dave, you might have solved Postmedia’s financial crisis. Why doesn’t the CTF with its endless supply of dark money just buy the newspaper chain? If they need help they could even consider bringing in the Fraser “Institute” along with the Manning “Institute” They could then have a one-stop shop of right-wing propaganda.

    Reply
  3. Tom in Ontario

    March 29th, 2016

    Now David, don’t mock the CTF trailer. From the look of it, the entire membership of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation could fit inside and do whatever they might like to do with one another in its dark, cozy confines.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 29th, 2016

      ROTFL!! Very good, you naughty boy!

      Reply
  4. Pogo in a bouncy castle

    March 29th, 2016

    The “Franken Fourth” estate. How fitting! Their bond holders get a tax deduction outside elections Canada purview, while their credibility is bankrupt, and we get to deal with our neighbours’ and drunk unkles! Fuck!
    These guys are making money off a bunch of dumbies agglomerated with a herd of wanna be writers. Money fer nuthin’! Nat Po lap top jerk offs! I’m lookin’ at U!!!
    I’m lookin’ at U!

    Reply
  5. Chris

    March 29th, 2016

    You have an unhealthy fixation on the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Post Media, both privately funded organizations. Shooting the messenger will not solve Canada’s and Alberta’s problems. Your friends have control of the Alberta government. They delayed for many months their first budget. They promised a jobs and prosperity plan that would start in January. Still waiting for that. They prorogued the Legislature and put off the next budget by at least a month. Don’t be surprised that critics will fill the policy vacuum and dominate public discourse.

    Reply
    • PIGL

      March 30th, 2016

      Oh gracious. So the existence of well-funded highly organised propaganda shop, one of an elaborate network of such, tightly entwined with the media conglomerates that have been suffered to monopolise the press in this country, that’s not worth talking about? But putting off the next budget by a month? Heavens. Stop the presses.

      I doubt your dudgeon about “prorogation” is sincere, or it is, it is poorly informed. The legislative calendar is available on line, and the spring session opened on March 8th, well within the prescribed limits. All you really mean is that the autumn session ended, as I suppose it does every year, but there your are, gamely trying to harness the outrage against Harper’s unprecedented use of the power to cast stones at perfectly ordinary behaviour.

      The CTF are not messengers. They’re a one-note campaign of lies.

      Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      March 30th, 2016

      “Solve Alberta’s problems”? Like 44 years of PC rule, with inadequate public revenues and a budget patched together with volatile revenues from an economic sector completely beyond the control of any Canadian government? A long history of priming the pump when it’s already overheated, and cutting spending when people are losing jobs left and right? An inability to get our government off the oil price roller-coaster? Actually, the NDP government is committed to fixing these problems, but it can’t be done overnight, and they had the enormous misfortune to be elected just in time for the price of oil to stop circling the drain and head down into it.

      As for Postmedia and the CTF, David’s blog is about the only place I see where this relationship is being challenged. The mainstream media, both Postmedia itself and other outlets like the allegedly left-wing CBC (this is a laughable characterization, by the way…have you ever listened to Andrew Coyne or Rex Murphy? Left-wing? Not bloody likely), routinely take CTF propaganda at face value, uncritically; they do the same with the Fraser Institute’s output of bovine excrement.

      As for the budget, why wouldn’t it make sense to wait for the federal budget; in the current downtown, we needed to see how much support we’d get from Ottawa. It also makes sense to see if the dollar and oil prices would stabilize a bit, which they seem to be doing.

      There is no policy vacuum; just a vacuum of balanced, responsible, non-partisan coverage. Did you see the Postmedia hagiography of Brian Jean just the other day? Nauseating in its lickspittle admiration. Pah!

      Reply
      • MAGGIE

        March 31st, 2016

        I read that time wasting puff piece too. The last paragraph was rather telling – Jean & Company Inc. view Albertans not as citizens but mere consumers. One has to have some sympathy for Ms. Ibrahim though, she wants to remain employed.

        Reply
  6. anon

    March 30th, 2016

    The Alberta NDP has forgotten, or never learned, the purpose of power is to exercise it. They have left the Conservatives holding the levers of power while listening to their friends from other provinces who ran the NDP into the ground.

    The stakes are so high and the NDP look to be “one and done.” Wildrose/Cons will then burn everything down even more completely than Harper did federally.

    Reply
  7. Farmer B

    March 30th, 2016

    Dave, the CTF came into existence for one reason to fight what they view as unecessary taxes and or increases and to encourage fiscal responsibility in government. Your apparent fixation with the CTF is a little overblown. Just the other day Paige MacPherson was taking the Wildrose to task over the lack of a shadow budget. I do think they are non partisan but opposition to tax increases places them right of center. I do think extreme views one way or the other benefit no one.

    Reply
    • Rod Feland

      April 4th, 2016

      If you are going to make such a statement, I think you better first research the facts. The CTF did not spring into existence to challenge wasteful spending. It is mainly (and completely) a partisan organisation. It cherry picks what “facts” it wishes to use, simply to support the partisan position they were created to uphold. It is not a “Federation”, for if you chose to join the CTF, you would find that you have no voice, no vote and no say in its operations or business practices. In fact, good luck trying to discover what those practices are.

      The repeated posting of facts, opinions or news stories from such an unbalanced source should give every citizen pause for concern. Whoever controls the message, controls the masses.

      Reply
  8. Mark Shore

    March 30th, 2016

    “…reams of free editorial copy produced by the secretive organization
    …a call for comment goes out to one of the CTF’s many directors”

    Naming more individuals would be good. Right now it can be hard to pin down who’s actually associated with the CTF because of that same secrecy. Not to mention the fact that it (generally successfully) presents itself as a grass-roots organization even though it is anything but…

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 31st, 2016

      Here is a link to a list of the CTF’s nine spokespeople. You will note that eight of them are directors, although what if anything they direct is not clear. I am sure the CTF has some admin support staff, although in many provinces they don’t seem to list offices, leading me to suspect (but not to know for certain) that many of its directors do their directing out of their own homes. And here is a link to a list of the CTF’s five staff people – a president, two VPs, a webmaster and one more director. Finally, here is the link to the list of the CTF’s five board members, interesting because according to the organization they are in reality the CTF’s only actual members. So, no, if you sign up and think you’re a member, you’re still not allowed to see their books. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  9. Tom in Ontario

    March 31st, 2016

    “Finally, here is the link to the list of the CTF’s five board members, interesting because according to the organization they are in realty the CTF’s only actual members.”

    I followed the link. Very intelligent looking group, especially the guy who wants to help workers make informed choices about union membership.

    Their satisfied smiles indicate they may have just emerged from an all members meeting in the CTF trailer.

    Reply

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