What’s behind ‘Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation’ campaigns like its stunt calling for rollbacks in Alberta teachers’ pay?

Posted on March 05, 2016, 2:35 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: A typical Canadian Taxpayers Federation stunt, moved from place to place across Canada with the goal of undermining public services and speeding the race to the bottom. The picture at bottom right shows Alberta Wildrose Opposition Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt in his previous role as CTF Alberta spokesthingy. Below: CTF Board member and anti-union activist John Mortimer, Alberta Teachers Association spokesperson Jonathan Teghtmeyer, and CTF President and CEO Troy Lanagan.

Ho-hum. The misnamed Canadian Taxpayers Federation was getting the usual uncritical ink from mainstream media Thursday and yesterday for its mischievous claim Alberta’s public and Catholic schoolteachers should have their pay rolled back.

There’s not a lot of percentage in arguing with the CTF – which really ought to be known as the Canadian Anti-Union Federation or the Canadian Anti-Public-Services Federation, except that it’s not really a federation and we don’t actually know if it is financed by Canadians since the financial records of this big transparency advocate are secret.

MortimerAs has been said here before so many times it gets tiresome having to repeat it, the CTF is a classic “Astro-Turf” organization – that is, a group that masquerades as a representative of grassroots Canadian taxpayers but in fact supports the Big Businesses agenda in its entirety. It gets attention with stunts that are irresistible to lazy journalists.

The CTF says it has 84,000 supporters, which might be true but is completely unverifiable. It admitted a couple of years ago that its only actual members are the members of its board, which at the moment numbers five. So it is in reality a five-member organization.

It is preposterous to call this group, as the CTF claims, a “citizens’ advocacy group.”

One of its five members, Adam Daifallah, is reported to be a spokesperson for the family of Conrad Black.

One of them, Karen Selick, is the litigation director of an organization of right-wing lawyers that argues “Canada’s labour laws have no place in a free society” and calls the right to bargain collectively recognized by Canada’s courts “preposterous.”

One of them, John Mortimer, runs another organization that advises corporations on how to keep unions out. Mr. Mortimer frequently gives speeches in which he advocates Cotton-Belt-style right-to-work laws and attacks Canadian unions.

TeghtmeyerThe CTF is tightly linked through interlocking directorships to a network of other right-wing political groups that share the CTF’s general corporate agenda. By that term, as I once told CTF President and CEO Troy Lanagan when he challenged me to define “corporate agenda,” I mean advocacy of a corporate and personal tax structure that benefits corporations and not citizens, and much more as well.

When the CTF’s current Alberta spokesperson calls for a rollback on teacher salaries, it’s not unreasonable to conclude the organization’s operatives are intentionally being outrageous in hopes of goading someone in the teachers’ union into saying something inflammatory that can then be used against these public servants.

The previous CTF spokesperson in this province, Derek Fildebrandt, is now the Wildrose Party’s finance critic. This is one of many illustrations of how tight the ties are between this organization and right-wing political parties throughout Canada.

The CTF’s argument in this case, such as it is, is that Alberta teachers make more than teachers in other provinces just now, and therefore deserve to be busted back so that someone else is first. If that happened, of course, the chapter of the CTF in that province would make the same attack on teachers there, completely in line with the group’s policy of undermining public services and attacking unionized workers to encourage a race to the bottom that benefits only the tiny minority at the top.

LanaganThis is because if there’s anything the brain trust behind the CTF hates more than unions, it’s public service unions. And if there’s anything the CTF hates more than public service unions – judging from its actions, anyway – it’s NDP governments that still believe in public services.

That said, other issues taken on directly by the CTF include opposition to defined-benefit pension plans for working Canadians, opposition to money spent on firearms control and tobacco reduction programs (typically on grounds of efficiency), support for “transparency” policies that invade the privacy of individual citizens if they happen to work for groups of which the CTF disapproves, ad hominem attacks on young Canadian scholars who receive grants for research that does not have an obvious immediate application for corporations, and opposition to any spending on the arts.

I refer to this latest anti-teacher stunt as mischievous, because it allows the CTF to fulfill an obviously partisan objective of attacking the Alberta NDP and supporting conservative parties at the same time as it tries to undermine public sector unions in the minds of the public.

A spokesperson for the Alberta Teachers Association tried to respond with a factual argument to the CTF’s mischief, which is surely a waste of time, although I suppose the effort must be made.

“I don’t really understand why the Canadian Taxpayers Association is singling out teachers,” Jonathan Teghtmeyer told the CBC. “The fact is Albertans make more than their counterparts across the country, regardless of the line of work that they’re in.” Although he didn’t mention it, that would be because Alberta is one of the more expensive parts of the country in which to live. Of course, if low oil prices persist, the market will probably take care of this particular “Alberta advantage.”

Well, I suspect Mr. Teghtmeyer does know what the CTF is up to, and that he’s just being diplomatic. Regardless, he need not worry. The CTF isn’t really just singling out unionized teachers. They don’t like unionized nurses either, or unionized firefighters, or unionized anything else except maybe lawyers and doctors. That’s why they’re financed by … whomever it is that pays their bills.

That’s presumably also why they’re also calling on the NDP government to break its contracts with other unions – something even conservative parties won’t do.

The bottom line? The CTF is not a serious organization. Why does the media keep treating it as if it is?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

26 Comments to: What’s behind ‘Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation’ campaigns like its stunt calling for rollbacks in Alberta teachers’ pay?

  1. Kyle

    March 5th, 2016

    A primary role is to be outrageous in policy proposals – then whichever party is the most ‘fiscally conservative’ in the province looks reasonable
    by comparison to people only taking the shallowest of dives into the issue.

    Reply
  2. March 5th, 2016

    “The bottom line? The CTF is not a serious organization. Why does the media keep treating it as if it is?” ….You can add the Fraser Institute to that question. It’s a mystery which can only be solved if you can “follow the money”.

    Reply
  3. Bob Raynard

    March 5th, 2016

    Last weekend it was reported that Derek Fildebrand submitted an expense claim for a breakfast with Preston Manning. The meal was $48.30, which, with a whopping $3 tip added up to 52.30, according to our astute finance critic’s math.

    Has the CTF commented on this particular expense?

    Bob

    Reply
  4. March 5th, 2016

    It’s a head fake to keep you from thinking about the squandered BILLIONS that the former neocons wasted. Alaska has been in the news this week regarding their sovereign wealth fund investing in future industries. Most Albertans have no idea what a sovereign fund is.

    No doubt the ghost of Jim Pentice also plays a role here too. After all it was JP’s audacity to suggest it wasn’t the neo’s economic mismanagement that was leading to Alberta’s downfall, but rather all citizens of the greatest Province on earth who must bear the pain of across-the-board cuts.

    Seems though that Prentice has taken refuge in the same cave as disgraced separatist Steven Harper.

    Reply
  5. PIGL

    March 5th, 2016

    Uh, because the media are owned or controlled by entities whose interests largely coincide with those of the American agents of subversion who created and fund this so-called “Canadian” “Taxpayer’s” “Federation”. Each word in its name is an outright lie, as you rightly more-or-less pointed out.

    Reply
  6. ema

    March 5th, 2016

    Thanks for keeping CTF’s feet to the fire, in your exposure of this total sham organization, that has been misnamed as a “federation”. They are nothing more than a front for a bunch of rabid right wingers, who are instigators and agent provocateurs. Unfortunately they provide easy sound bites and outlandish quotes for the lazier reporters and media, who continue to report their words as if they were newsworthy.

    Reply
  7. Val Jobson

    March 5th, 2016

    Despite Wudrick’s kvetching, I’m glad you write about them from time to time. Today I tried to find your first post that talked about the 5 members and it seems to be missing or the link is broken or something.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 5th, 2016

      The piece can still be found on Rabble. It was published on March 13, 2013, and it has disappeared from my own archives, the product of a change of web hosting providers. Thank goodness for Rabble’s impeccable archiving.

      Looking at it now, I see I really “buried the lead,” as I sometimes do. Even so, the news the CTF had only five members came as a total revelation to almost everyone, which suggests that, if nothing else, up until that time the organization seldom bothered to correct journalists who mistakenly referred to its “supporters” as “members.”

      Speaking of CTF Federal Director Aaron Wudrick’s online kvetching, he revealed the interesting factoid that some 55,000 of the CTF’s supposed “supporters” have never made a donation. One wonders if these are real people, or what?

      It astonishes me that the CTF’s “directors” spend so much time on social media aggressively attacking people who criticize the organization. It does not, in my view, portray them as a legitimate or responsible organization, but perhaps it’s something their supporters, however many of them there may be, demand. Certainly, if you’re going to dish it out, as I do, you ought to be able to take it, as Mr. Wudrick and his colleagues apparently aren’t.

      To give credit where credit it due, with Mr. Wudrick at the helm in Ottawa, the CTF was more balanced this year in its sophomoric annual stunt attacking specific spending decisions by various governments made in the previous year. It eschewed the nasty and bullying ad hominem attacks on promising young Canadian scholars who received grants for their work from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as it did in 2014.

      Mr. Wudrick joined CTF in 2014, so I am assuming he had nothing to do with the group’s embarrassing attack on one young academic’s research aimed at understanding and preventing sexual assault, which the organization dismissed as “wacky,” a characterization that appears to have been based on the title of the paper alone. I am going to take some credit for this improvement in the CTF’s behaviour. I doubt they would have changed their ways had their really offensive tactics not been noted and commented on in a public forum. This is why I write pieces responding to this group’s more preposterous claims and arguments from time to time. DJC

      Reply
      • Val Jobson

        March 6th, 2016

        He seems a little more grown-up than some.

        Reply
      • Val Jobson

        March 13th, 2016

        The mind is a pattern maker, which is why the first time I read your reply, I totally missed your mockery of my missing i’s, wise guy. Good for a laugh today, however. My i key does not work well, and sometimes I forget to go back and edit before posting.

        Reply
        • Val Jobson

          March 13th, 2016

          OK, I’m sure I included the i’s this time?

          Reply
          • Val Jobson

            March 13th, 2016

            OK, all the comments here have lost their small i’s, but not the original post, so maybe my computer is getting weird?

          • Val Jobson

            March 17th, 2016

            Computer must have been messing with my head. The missing small i’s were back the next day but I could not reply on this post. Now all is back to normal.

  8. Farmer B

    March 5th, 2016

    Alberta spends approx. 2000 dollars more per capita providing government services than any other province. So the question is what causes this disparity? I know a friend of mine who is a teacher moved to BC and took a 25000 dollar a year pay cut. With government revenues taking a hit and many Albertans receiving pay cuts, lay offs and reduced hours of work is the suggestion of a wage rollback a stunt? The reason ATPF picked teachers is I believe this is the first contract coming up to be negotiated.

    Personally I would again suggest we need a sales tax, every 1 percent of sales tax would raise approx. 1 billion dollars. If we implemented a 5% sales tax and then put all resource revenues into the heritage fund within 5-10 years our income from the heritage fund would grow substantially and we would have a much more stable provincial revenue picture. I am sure many will say raise personal and corporate income tax, that has already been done and revenues are still down substantially. Everyone wants to be like Norway but no one is willing to pay the price to get there. They have a 25% VAT, if we had a 5% prov. sales tax our total harmonized tax would be 10%, much lower than Norway. Have a good day:-)

    Reply
    • Cindy

      March 7th, 2016

      The problem is that sales tax money goes into general revenue, and then every organization starts lining up for a piece of the pie. If we had the money to just sock away into the Heritage Trust Fund, we wouldn’t need a sales tax. When you look at the cost of living in Alberta, the utility rates are set like mill rates by the city, the deregulated utility costs, the “transportation” costs added to all of our groceries, deposit and “environmental fees” added to just about everything you can name, Alberta is an extremely expensive jurisdiction to live in. Rents and housing prices are many times other jurisdictions except for cities like the Greater Toronto area and the Greater Vancouver area. We are also a net loser in the equalization race, so a lot of money is leaving the province.

      Public service has also taken a hit. There have been hiring moratoriums, so people who quit, or retire are not being replaced. So with departments down 3 or 4 staff, this means that everyone has to step up and do extra to cover the workload. It is not a stunt, I agree, it is an outright attack on Public Service workers. The intent is to pit people against public sector workers and try to blame us for the financial woes of the government. Unions are being painted as the reason why the deficit is growing, forgetting that as our province grows so does our need for services. When Alberta was booming we had an influx of people into the province which stretched the existing infrastructure to the bursting point. We have also added many Newcomer services from English as a second language programs, housing, job training, and apprenticeships. We had a government that believed in the trickle down economic theory, on the one had believing in Supply and Demand will balance salaries, while on the other bringing in TFW’s to keep salaries low. So it isn’t that Public Service Unions are so well paid, it is that at a time when the economy is overheated and costs are running rampant, everyone except a few minority groups are falling behind. Some servers are making more in tips then managers are making in Salary.

      Reply
  9. ronmac

    March 6th, 2016

    IMHO we should pause a moment and be grateful we’re still living in a peaceful nation. Think about it. In many other places around the world, CTF-style groups are busy inciting ethnic hatred and religious violence. Here all they have managed so far is to issue calls for a rollback in teachers salaries.

    Reply
    • ema

      March 6th, 2016

      In no small way I give thanks for this blog, in particular, for raising the bar and exposing CTF for the sham organization that it actually is!!! 🙂

      Reply
  10. Brad Kent

    March 6th, 2016

    This is one time I think that Anonymous should go to work and expose this sham organization for what it really is . The corporate masters puppet .

    Reply
  11. Mike

    March 6th, 2016

    Posting a critique of a right-wing lobby group on a left-wing blog is akin to HuffPo criticizing Drudge or Breitbart. This story would gain more traction in traditional media.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      March 6th, 2016

      Yeah, right. By traditional media you mean the Conservative dominated Post Media, Global, or CTV news?

      David’s blog has more integrity and balanced news than any propaganda from so-called traditional media, which by the way is also referred to as corporate media.

      Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      March 6th, 2016

      re: ‘This story would gain more traction in traditional media’

      A) The ‘traditional media’ only infrequently run columns by bloggers with views that are centre-left. They do publish the Centre, Centre-Right, and Right, and Hard Right. Overton Window governs their choices. And the Overton Window has been determined/set/pulled to the right with the active participation of the ‘traditonal media’ for 40 years now.

      B) following from A, the ‘traditional media’ e.g. Postmedia newspapers op-ed pages have been free space for CTF and their ilk for so long now, and they have cited CTF a key ‘non-partisan’ (lol)source in reporting for so many decades, to now expect them to run critiques of CTF or Fraser Institute with regard to the accuracy of their claims, would in effect, be calling themselves out for being stenographers rather than journalists.

      So…when pigs fly…is when you’ll see critique of CTF in ‘traditional media’.

      Reply
  12. Expat Albertan

    March 6th, 2016

    It’s interesting, David, that you raise the idea of unions for lawyers and doctors. I can’t say much about lawyers, but the medical profession in North America has had a government protected oligopoly since the early 20th century, culminating with the Flexner Report (before that, anyone and their Aunt Fanny could open a medial school and graduate physicians). Not that it is necessarily a bad thing; it does keep the quality of our doctors high and, as such, is a needed form of public service. However, and this is why all arguments for public vs private health care are red herrings, we either treat medicine as a public service (government protects individual doctors from competition, but also enforces rules of conduct) OR we treat medicine as a publicly traded commodity, in which case anybody and their Aunt Fanny (there she is again) can put up a shingle and the market selects the good from that bad. The point is that we should never forget this point when the right argues for privatized health care.

    Sorry for the tangential post but, as always, you got me thinking.

    Reply
    • PJP

      March 6th, 2016

      I’ve made the same case for teachers….if the right-wingnuts want to break teachers unions, they better be prepared to go full private education. Of course that means that rural and northern boards will be screwed (remember how hard it was to ‘force’ doctors to set up practice outside of the big cities? )
      And the highest quality teachers, say math or physics specialists, will be able to command premium wages.
      Heck, schools will set fees to whatever the market will bear, (cash out your ok and gas bonuses to pay for tuition Calgarians)
      and markets that are not cost effective (too few students, too much special needs) will not be serviced: parents of ESL and advanced placement kids are SOL if they can’t pay up.

      Ultimately we’d get the ‘tooth and claw’ horror of Friedman educational vouchers (look up at your own risk NSFSP- not suitable for sane people)

      Then won’t the right wing be pleased.????

      Reply

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