PHOTOS: Your blogger, David Climenhaga, with CBC Edmonton morning drive show host Mark Connolly in the network’s downtown studio. Below: Canadian Taxpayers Federation Prairie Director Colin Craig frozen in a video screenshot and City of Edmonton Chief Economist John Rose (CBC photo).

So it turns out the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is concerned about the poor and unemployed! Who knew?

Leastways, that’s how CTF Prairie Director Colin Craig explained it during a brief on-air debate with your blogger on CBC Radio 1’s morning drive show Friday.

You see, cutting provincial budgets across the board by nearly 10 per cent as Alberta’s Progressive Conservative premier, Jim Prentice, proposes to do will help poor folks without jobs manage their minuscule family budgets because they won’t have to pay for all those unionized nurses, police officers and teachers!

OK, that’s me paraphrasing. Let’s let the man speak for himself. Mr. Craig began by calling the premier’s plan “a step in the right direction” and moved on to equate charging a fair price for the sale of our collective property (that is, resource royalty revenues) and fair taxes for the people who benefit the most from society (progressive taxation) with higher taxes for working families.

Thus, he concluded: “A lot of people have lost their jobs. They’re seeing reduced pay. They’re having their shifts cut back. If you start raising taxes you’re going to make it harder for a lot of families to pay their mortgages, balance their own budgets. So that would not be very good.”

This shows a sympathy for the plight of the workingman unexpected from an anti-union special-interest group like the CTF, don’t you think? Of course, Morning Show host Mark Connolly hadn’t really asked Mr. Craig about tax increases, he’d inquired about the premier’s plan to cut the crap out of public spending. Nevertheless, the two issues are obviously related.

Mr. Craig stuck to the CTF’s new talking point: “It’s absolutely true that if a family has just seen a breadwinner lose their job, going out and raising their taxes is going to make it even harder for that family to balance their budget,” he said a little later. “If you go out and raise sales taxes or raise some other form of taxation on them, it’s going to be hard for them to go to the grocery store, buy their groceries, pay their mortgage, pay their electricity bill and all of those things. That’s why raising taxes is not a good decision.”

In reality, of course, what Mr. Craig and the CTF are pressing for and Premier Prentice proposes to deliver is the defunding of essential public services, which will be no less essential but will then have to be delivered at higher cost and without accountability by the private sector. In addition, as noted above, this anti-tax, anti-public-service organization includes among its official members, who currently number only six, the president of an anti-union organization. So it should surprise no one the CTF would also like Mr. Prentice to attack public sector unions, as well as public sector jobs.

So let’s talk about the CTF’s simplistic description of how economies work.

Mr. Craig is well spoken, and I see from his on-line biographical information on the CTF’s website that he has a BA in economics as well as an MBA, so it seems likely he understands the probable negatives impacts of austerity during a recession.

In fact, Edmonton’s chief economist, also speaking on the CBC Friday, pretty well nailed what’s wrong with Premier Prentice’s scheme to fix the economy by making devastating cuts to public spending at a moment the province is slipping recession.

John Rose described Mr. Prentice’s planned Ralph-Klein-style slashing as “an accident waiting to happen,” which puts it very mildly. A Klientastrophe, more like!

Mr. Rose told the CBC that Mr. Prentice’s vindictive planned cuts to the public sector would have a significant effect on Edmonton’s growth, because 22 per cent of the city’s employment comes from health, education and public administration.

“It’s not just going to be provincial government employees losing their jobs. It’s going to be health care workers, its going to be teachers, teachers’ aides,” he told the CBC’s interviewer. “If they cut back on things like the municipal sustainability initiative, you’re going to see cutbacks in our capital spending at the city, so it would be a very messy situation.”

It will also hurt consumer confidence, Mr. Rose explained. “If we see consumer confidence falter – that would be a very negative sign. …”

That’s because if consumer confidence weakens, consumer spending will decline. The impact will be felt in lower profits and weaker demand, leading in turn to lost jobs, in the private sector – the connection the CTF either can’t make, or won’t.

In fact, if we slash spending now, when oil prices are down and our province’s absurdly low royalties are not even dribbling in, the whole economy will be pushed further into recession, making it deeper, and longer, than necessary.

Our high-risk, low-return Alberta economic policies will also export the recession to other Canadian provinces, now that our strong petro-Loonie has hollowed out their manufacturing core.

This is all Economics 101. It is certainly understood perfectly well by former chartered bank vice-presidents who happen to be doing a little sideline as provincial premiers. In other words, Mr. Prentice knows perfectly well the cuts he plans won’t help the province’s economy. But they will help advance his agenda of knee-jerk austerity as a way to encourage more privatization and more profits for the big players in the private sector.

Meanwhile, we continue to give away the resources owned by all Albertans, bring aid and comfort to foreign corporations who care not a whit for Alberta or its residents, and tilt the tax system in favour of the richest and best connected citizens – who also happen to be the ones that cost society the most to provide services for.

As I responded on the air to Mr. Craig, if readers will forgive me for quoting myself: “This is a policy decision. They’ve decided not to have fair taxes. They’ve decided to charge the lowest royalties in the world. And they’ve decided that working class Albertans are going to have to be the people who take the haircut. It’s preposterous. It’s bad policy. It’s going to push us into a recession. … It’s just crazy. They can’t plan!” (Emphasis, as it were, supplied.)

If you want to check the fairness of my summary of the debate, you can listen to the entire clip yourself.

We need to remember that when spokespeople for the CTF are trotted out in the media they are not “tax watchdogs,” as they describe themselves, but paid advocates for a radical market-fundamentalist transformation of our society, which will hurt many for the benefit of a few. As such, they function as active members of what has been called the Canadian Outrage Industry.

Mr. Craig complained in our brief on-air performance – we were in different rooms in different cities – that I was blaming the messenger by pointing out his employer’s true role to listeners.

Blaming? Hardly. It was a warning, not unlike the health impact label on a package of cigarettes. But it’s interesting that inclusion of an essential fact like this in what was billed as a “debate” – meant to be both informative and entertaining, presumably, with a certain amount of back and forth – would shock a representative of a special-interest group grown used to being treated with kid gloves in the media.

Here’s to Mr. Connolly and CBC Edmonton for allowing a real debate about this important topic to take place!

This post also appears on

Join the Conversation


  1. Nobody sells what’s good for me is good for me. Nobody! The CTF, a front for conservatives and Conservatives, has only one goal – selling what’s good for the rich and powerful is good for the rest of it. It isn’t true of course, but that’s why they exist. They are funded by rich people to help make them even richer and keep the rest of us happily struggling with less. A 9% reduction in government spending will result in reduced services for you and me, less money in the local economy, and a public sector wage reduction will put downward pressure on private sector wages meaning even less government revenue. Meanwhile Alberta’s 1% will not suffer at all. Good job CTF!

  2. What a sickening bunch CTF are, along with their close counterparts, the Fraser Institute, who yet again have another half page of their diatribe in today’s Edmonton Journal. (It’s only been a few weeks since their last similar sized ‘commentary/message’.)

    It was good to hear CBC Edmonton radio allowing a modest debate on the issue, rather than EJ’s method of giving up a large space to FI, to spew their right wing doctrine which cannot be countered until some future date.

    On days like today, I feel like canceling my newspaper subscription.

  3. Donald Gutstein, has done a lot of work documenting the conservative corporate media’s role in Canada in the of selling CTF/Fraser market-fundamentalist propranda on behalf of the rich and the dominant corporate sectors.

    excerpt: SFU communications professor Donald Gutstein discusses his book Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy (Key Porter, 2009), with Joseph Planta; highlighting some of the notable think tanks in Canada and their relationships with big business, and just how they in turn influence what’s reported in the media.


    Also Gutstein has explained Harper’s role:

    excerpt: For Gutstein, Harper’s rise marks a culminating point in the successful bid of neoliberal think tanks and right-wing media personalities to define the conventional wisdom in Canada.


    Gutstein may have enough material for an AB study of propaganda methods and MSM complicity after a few years under Prentice’s PC+WRP coalition,

    Prentice and sidekick WRP/Danielle Smith make quite the propagandizing team given her history.

    alumni association – Fraser Institute…/Alumni-Association.aspx

    Danielle Smith – Alumni. “I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t done that Fraser Institute internship … it really changed the course of my life.”.

  4. Obviously the shills at the CTF have the interests of Albertans at heart. But I’m disappointed by the efforts of their “research team.” Just today Premier Prentice’s former employer, the renowned CIBC, released a report co-authored by Mr. Avery Shenfeld, Chief Economist at CIBC World Markets.

    “We forecast Alberta to post the biggest budgetary shortfall, but it still remains the best positioned to weather the storm.

    “Alberta appears headed for a mild and short lived recession with at least two quarters of negative growth.

    “Mild and short lived.” No mention of imminent societal or economic collapse. No suggesting the government gut Alberta social services or force the lowest paid workers in public hospitals to restrict their dietary intake to suet and water.

    1. Mild and short lived. You know, this reminds me of a time when I attended a meeting of the Canadian Association of Business Economists in Ottawa in late 2007/early 2008. There was an economist there from a high-power Washington consulting firm talking about the then coming economic storm clouds. I remember distinctly that he called for a “soft landing” for the U.S. economy. Instead, we got a near full collapse of the entire world economic system which, as we know now, would have spelled the end of capitalism as we know it were it not for a taxpayer bailout. Those who don’t learn from history…

  5. re the communication success of ‘paid advocates for a radical market-fundamentalist transformation of our society, which will hurt many for the benefit of a few. ‘

    e.g. Today’s Globe and Mail headline:

    Balanced B.C. budget features higher user fees, little tax relief


    So, despite a balanced budget, B.C. gov’t is somehow still failing because ‘little tax relief’.

    CTF, Fraser Inst, Harper, now Prentice+WRP coalition dominate political discourse in media like a modern Leviathan.

    The words almost on a banned list in media/punditry coverage of AB politics are: progressive tax.

    George Lakoff explains how the right-wing market-fundamentalist language, e.g. tax relief, has come to be unquestioned common sense that dominate politics and is largely accepted by main stream media.

    Politics as done by Prentice, Smith/WRP, CanTaxFed, Fraser, et al.

    Framing Basics | The Little Blue Blog
    Many of these neural circuits have the form of “frames,” which structure our … The word “relief” activates this frame, and when “tax” is added, we get the metaphor …

    excerpt: ‘words used in politics are not neutral. They evoke frames that define your brand of political common sense. For example, consider “tax relief.” The Relief Frame contains an affliction, an afflicted party harmed by the affliction, a reliever who can take the affliction away, and an intervener who may try to stop the reliever. The word “relief” activates this frame, and when “tax” is added, we get the metaphor that taxation is an affliction, with the inference that eliminating taxes brings relief from harm and continuing or imposing taxes continues or imposes a harmful affliction. Since relief is always positive and afflictions are always negative, there is no way to see taxes in a positive light in this frame. In short, “tax relief” is conservative language that evokes the conservative moral system. And every time you hear it or use it, it strengthens the circuitry for that moral system in your brain.’

  6. The poor suffered the most from the Klein cuts, and they will suffer the most from the Prentice cuts. But the Right knows very well that the best way to persuade the poor not to vote or to mobilize is to convince them that folks just one step ahead of them on the economic rung are gaining at their expense. That way the filthy rich who soak up the lion’s share of income, but who are pretty much invisible to most of us in their off-the-beaten-path mansions and especially invisible to those who live at the bottom of society, get off the hook. It’s the poor and the near-poor who suffer most when daycare subsidies, public financing of extended care residences, disability payments, and supervision of occupational safety and minimum wage laws are cut. When class sizes in public schools rise, middle-class and upper-class folks hire tutors or put their kids in private schools; the poor cannot afford to do anything as their kids fail. When public medical services are rationed, those with means make use of the private market (I did this during the Klein cuts; I’m not proud of it, but when the public services have been emaciated, and you’ve got the do-re-mi, you do what you feel the system has forced you to do); the poor simply suffer. As for paying their electrical bills, Mr. Craig, the poor and indeed almost everyone who doesn’t invest in utilities would be far better off if the former full public regulatory system was reinstated (we pay more in Alberta for electricity than anyone else in Canada). And, as for rent, pre-Klein there was some building of public housing, which housed the poorest and held down other rents. Everytime there are cuts, the building of social housing stops and the poor either accept being gouged or they become homeless.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.