This may be the advertisement with which the Canadian Taxpayers Federation ran afoul of Alberta’s third-party election advertising rules (Photo: Facebook).

The $6,000 administrative penalty levied against the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for failing to register as a third-party advertiser under Alberta’s election financing law is a long-overdue official recognition of the true role the self-described “tax watchdog” plays in Canadian politics.

The CTF has been disproportionately influential in Canadian political discourse for many years, mainly because mainstream media treat its pronouncements as if they were highly credible.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation President and CEO Scott Hennig in 2013 when he was the organization’s Alberta Director (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So the $6,000 Question, as it were, is whether this development will make media more cautious about acting as if CTF claims come from an unbiased and disinterested source?

Alberta’s Office of the Election Commissioner, which is truly a non-partisan entity, published notice of the fine but did not describe the advertisement that brought the CTF to its attention.

Nor did CTF President and CEO Scott Hennig when he responded to my email about this matter yesterday morning. However, Mr. Hennig did say he will be “shopping around” a newspaper op-ed on the development tomorrow, “after it’s been vetted by our lawyers.”

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, a former president and CEO of the CTF (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

While the CTF will obviously use the op-ed to make its own case – the organization’s usual, and usually successful, modus operandi – it’s possible there will be additional information in the article to help us understand why officials on Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson’s staff reached the conclusion the CTF was doing third-party election advertising.

It may have been the billboard shown on the CTF’s Facebook page, which reads, “You can’t buy ‘social license’ when it’s not for sale,” asks readers to visit a website called, and shows the CTF logo.

This might come under the definition of election advertising by third parties in the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act: “…The transmission to the public by any means during an election advertising period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered party or the election of a registered candidate, including an advertising message that takes a position on an issue with which a registered party or registered candidate is associated. …”

The Act goes on to list a number of exceptions, such as news reports and commentaries, books, corporate communications to employees or shareholders, telephone calls to electors urging them to vote, and government advertising.

Renegade right-wing MLA Derek Fildebrandt, taken when he was Alberta director of the CTF (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Hennig did not address my question about whether the CTF plans to appeal the ruling. The OEC notice only said the fine was levied on Jan. 8 and that it has not yet been paid.

The CTF insists it is not partisan, which in a technical sense is true. It does not openly advocate for any political party by name.

Nevertheless, the CTF is as a practical matter part of the strategic infrastructure of the Conservative Party of Canada and the federal party’s increasingly closely tied provincial branches operating under a variety of names.

Alberta Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson (Photo: Office of the Election Commissioner).

Indeed, the CTF is something of a farm team for candidates and party officials of the CPC and its provincial chapters. Prominent examples in Alberta are United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and Freedom Conservative Party Leader Derek Fildebrandt.

Mr. Kenney is a former president and CEO of the organization – indeed, that position would appear to be the closest thing to what most of us would call a real job that the career politician has held.

Mr. Fildebrandt was the CTF’s Alberta director until he left suddenly in late 2014 soon after it was revealed he was considering running for the Wildrose Party. However, the actual reason for his departure was never made clear.

Regardless, by design or coincidence, the CTF plays a key role in CPC and provincial Conservative messaging by reinforcing their utopian market fundamentalist talking points, producing research that supports conservative objectives, and organizing signing ceremonies at which Conservative politicians publicly pledge to carry out policies endorsed by the organization.

Progress Alberta Director Duncan Kinney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Duncan Kinney, director of Progress Alberta, a progressive group that is registered as a third-party election advertiser, wondered in a series of Tweets yesterday if the impact of the fine by a non-parisan government agency “might be a fatal blow to the credibility of the CTF.”

Describing the CTF as “an organization that was already teetering on the edge of irrelevancy,” Mr. Kinney asked: “Will the media still call them for canned quotes on why taxes are bad?”

In another Tweet, Mr. Kinney observed that “the CTF seems almost quaint now. They’ve been overtaken by much more reactionary right wing groups and organizations. …”

One of those, of course, is the Rebel Media video blog, which faces a similar $5,500 fine from the OEC according to multiple news reports based on Rebel Media’s numerous noisy complaints. No one thinks Rebel Media is a credible source of information, however, so its howls of protest and threats of legal action that are being so heavily covered by mainstream media, which is seldom able to resist an easy story, need not be considered at length here.

Organizations that complete Elections Alberta’s simple registration process and post regular disclosures may spend up to $150,000 on advertising before the election writ is dropped and another $150,000 between the time the writ is dropped and the vote.

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  1. It seems Rebel Media has also caught the eye of Mr. Gibson, and might also be fined

    While I love the idea of Rebel Media getting any kind of comeuppance, I am sure Ezra will use the event to inflame his sheep, and will probably come out of the issue financially ahead.

    I am sure the right wing commentators will point out that Lorne Gibson is an NDP hire, and so can’t be trusted. In truth, Mr. Gibson was originally hired by the PCs in 2006 as the chief electoral officer. Gibson was then fired in 2009 by the same PCs when they realized he wasn’t willing to be a PC team player.

    I hope the government has signed him to a long term contract.

  2. The usual array of conservative suspects trying to skirt the Third Party Advertiser law is not surprising. What is surprising however, is why Postmedia and Alberta broadcast media outlets (radio & TV) still utilize some of these partisan Astro-Turfers as credible sources for comment on everything from the economy to debate on social issues?

    Funding disclosure under the law requires TPAs to disclose their donors. Could it be that these Astro-Turf groups, who are known to hide their donor lists, object to revealing their funding sources — such as the corporations and conservative political parties that donate to fund their partisan activities? Are they hiding something?

    One other area that concerns me as a voter is election/party polling. My concern is the use of pollsters who are attached to political parties that offer veiled partisan takes to the media, while serving as political operatives who may be paid to cherry-pick survey respondents and embellish skewed data. Alberta needs legislation, perhaps under the TPA, to regulate how these questionable polls are conducted, who conducts them (full transparency) and how the information is disseminated. Election polling has become so suspect in recent years — it’s time to examine this aspect of democracy as well.

  3. “No one thinks Rebel Media is a credible source of information …”

    Correction: No one *with a functioning brain* thinks Rebel Media is a credible source of information.

    Unfortunately, I have encountered people who truly do believe Rebel Media is a valid source of news and political discourse.

    1. And I’m trying to remember….what is the name of the fellow who tried to organizae a koudadah by petition shortly after the NDP won their majority, and what position does he currently hold inside the UCP? Seems I heard of his appointment to some spot recently.

  4. Yes, and sadly they vote.

    I don’t see why the Rebel people are upset about dismal success rates; it means more supporters for them.

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