Simon Fraser University Professor Kyle Willmott, lead author of a paper on the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s approach to Indigenous issues in the fall 2021 edition of the Canadian Review of Sociology (Photo: Kyle Willmott/used with permission).

Locating the Canadian Taxpayers Federation clearly in the ecosystem of neoliberal advocacy, a recent paper in the Canadian Review of Sociology analyzes more than 400 documents published by the CTF over 21 years to argue the organization has pushed “anti-Indigenous political rhetoric and policy.

Lead author Kyle Willmott, a professor at B.C.’s Simon Fraser University, and research assistant Alec Skillings, read almost every blog post, press release, report, or other document posted on the CTF’s website that related to Indigenous peoples and policy between 1998 to 2019. Many of the documents were intended for use by mainstream media.

Alec Skillings, researcher and co-author the paper (Photo: ResearchGate.net).

In their paper, Anti-Indigenous policy formation: Settler colonialism and neoliberal political advocacy,” published in the November 2021 edition of the Canadian Review of Sociology, they concluded the CTF has shown “demonstrable opposition to the idea of the existence of sovereign Indigenous nations and a demonstrated hostility to the exercise of Indigeneity outside the narrow confines of ‘culture.’”

Based on their analysis, Dr. Willmott and Mr. Skillings wrote, “the CTF traffics in resentment that fosters white settler backlash against Indigenous sovereignty, Indigenous forms of governance, and the legal concept of ‘Indian’ itself.”

Based on what the paper terms the CTF’s “Chief-bashing” in articles making claims of waste in Indigenous governments, the authors assert that it’s reasonable to conclude “the politics that animate the CTF cannot be assessed as merely anti-state ‘neoliberal populism,’ but as specifically anti-Indigenous.”

Moreover, the researchers argued, “the CTF has broadly resisted changes in language around how to describe Indigenous peoples, only very recently and in extremely limited circumstances using the term ‘Indigenous.’”

However, Dr. Willmott and Mr. Skillings noted, the CTF’s interest in Indigenous issues waxed and waned over the two decades they examined, and its tone has varied over time as well, since 2015 relying less on what the researchers interpreted as divisive language. Nevertheless, they argued, over time “the CTF’s antagonistic political tactics have had an outsized impact on one specific target of its campaigns: Indigenous people and nations.”

One would have expected the CTF to challenge the paper’s conclusions. However, it’s been well over a week since I emailed CTF President and CEO Scott Hennig and National Director Franco Terrazzano requesting their responses to the paper. Neither responded. 

“Across the archive of texts we collected,” Dr. Willmott and Mr. Skillings wrote, “the CTF has agitated for assimilation, called for relocating reserves, suggested that treaty rights amount to ‘race-based law,’ and downplayed the impact of residential schools.”

Canadian Taxpayers Federation President and CEO Scott Hennig in 2013 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

For example, a 2001 CTF post published on the organization’s website complained that lawsuits against the federal government stemming from abuses in residential schools could “cost taxpayers up to $10 billion.

“Another piece from 2006 denied the genocidal intent of the residential school system, and defended residential schools, saying in part, ‘residential schools were a practical way to educate Indian children for many years. As well, educational bureaucrats wanted to emulate the best schools of the era in both Canada and Britain.’”

The researchers wrote: “Our content analysis shows a variation in approach, themes, and tone, but a clear and demonstrated hostility to Indigenous nationhood that should undermine (the CTF’s) legitimacy in the civil sphere as a ‘neutral’ group of ‘concerned taxpayers.’” 

Yet the organization, they went on, remains “a ubiquitous force within the space of Canadian politics and media,” frequently and uncritically “quoted in media ranging from the National Post to CBC News as characteristic and representative of ‘the Canadian Taxpayer.’”

“Why,” reads the headline over a companion piece by Dr. Willmott published on Dec. 21 in The Conversation and later reprinted by The Tyee, “do media outlets still quote them?”

That’s a very good question.

Join the Conversation

27 Comments

  1. From its very beginnings, the CTF was designed to profit off of anger and falsehood. I remember from its origins and its early campaigns, the usual straw men were always the same: Indians steal, liberals steal, universities steal…and don’t get me started on the veiled racism that was always infused into any campaign.

    It should be noted that the CTF lives in a universe where itself, and by extension, its membership are always right. It’s the classic echo chamber. They will never attempt to rebut any criticism or contrary points of view, because they reject the premise of any all opposition to its positions as provable lies — they they never bother to prove them. They count on the ignorance and the hatreds of their audience to give them immediate credibility. And, of course, their donations.

    As for why to media outlets continue to quote the CTF’s falsehoods? Many media outlets are owned by Postmedia or other right-leaning interests. It’s the same reason why the Fraser Institute or the Kato Institute still gets copy.

    1. Journalists don’t help. Due to short staffing, crazy deadlines or orders from above, it’s easier to pull stuff and nonsense off the wire to fill empty space in the publication. The fact that the big money has the Postmedias and Globes to spout their propaganda without analysis makes the practice easy.

  2. The Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation is just a mouthpiece for these pretend conservatives and Reformers, as well as being a prime choice for filler material in Postmedia newspapers, especially The Sun. They lack any credibility, and even moreso with their misinformation on First Nations issues.

  3. One glaring issue that was mentioned in a book I read recently, “The Inconvenient Indian. A curious account of native people in North America,” by Thomas King, in one word, “Land.” He mentions how North American societies see ‘land’ as a commodity, as opposed to the indigenous deep relationship with ‘land.’ He also mentions how even the Canadian government(s) want/wanted, the “Legal Indians” gone, along with their rights and privileges. One can imagine a populist neo-liberal view of the financial cost of these; land settlements; resource control and settlements……

  4. I am not surprised with this at all. In fact 21 years ago who was in favour of indigenous people in any way at all?
    I think this assumes that only the CTF was working on brainwashing.
    Jason Kenney was part of this group in Alberta and it was a disgrace in my opinion. Not surprising of course.
    We have been pointing our fingers towards this kind of reactionary attitudes especially in the case of South Africa and apartheid but we really never did any better except the difference is that the natives here are the minority but not in the case of other countries like South Africa and so the natives prevailed.
    Had Canada been in the same disproportionate situation and the history would have been very different.

  5. Dougald Lamont: “Canadian Taxpayers Federation has 5 members — why should we care what they think?” (CBC, Oct 16, 2016)
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/canadian-taxpayer-federation-opinion-lamont-1.3802441
    “This might come as a surprise, but the CTF is not now, nor has it ever been, a grassroots, member-based organization where anyone can pay $10 to sign up (or sign up free) and have a say in how the organization is run.
    “Instead, it has supporters — about 90,000 of them, who, like followers on Facebook, can like, comment, answer surveys and make donations, but they have no actual say in how the organization is run.
    “While the CTF’s mandate is to hold elected officials to account, who holds the CTF’s five members to account? Each other. Who decides who else can become a member? They do. It should be no surprise that the CTF has, as a result, faced accusations of being an Astroturf organization — a fake grassroots organization.
    “… As a non-profit, the CTF has no obligation to disclose its donors — and it doesn’t.
    “… Since the 1980s, there has been a deliberate effort to reframe citizens as ‘taxpayers’ and public spending as ‘taxpayers’ money,’ as if taxpayers are shareholders.
    “Journalists and politicians in every political party routinely use these terms without considering that this framing is anti-democratic. That is because politicians are elected by citizens, not just taxpayers.
    “The word ‘taxpayer’ is not in the constitution; the word ‘citizen’ is. All citizens are equal. Taxpayers are not.
    “It is self-evident that you can contribute to the economy and society without paying taxes.
    “Many citizens don’t pay income taxes, notably children, the working poor and a few millionaires and billionaires.
    “Defining taxpayers as the only people who matter has real and serious consequences for policy.
    “It is not a politically neutral position: it is a fairly radical right-wing ideology that drives inequality by making the rich richer while neglecting the poor.
    “That is why the CTF’s real membership of five people matters, as does its ideology. We don’t have to care what they think, but we should be clear on just where they are coming from.”
    *
    The Canadian Taxpayers Federation “claimed 30,517 donors and 215,009 supporters in 2018–19. Voting membership, however, is restricted to the board of directors. According to its by-laws, the board “can have as few as three and as many as 20″ members. In 2017, it reportedly had a voting membership of six board members, and in 2020 it had four.”

    Back up to six again. (2022)

  6. The CTF claims partial credit for “killing Kyoto”. One of the”success stories” featured prominently on CTF’s website in 2022:
    “The ludicrousness of the targets coupled with a cooling toward global warming hysteria triggered a turn in public opinion.”
    https://www.taxpayer.com/about/success-stories/killing-kyoto

    The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. PM Harper withdrew Canada from Kyoto in 2011. Canada was the only nation to repudiate the Kyoto Accord. A decade later, the CTF is still crowing about it.

  7. It’s curious, this: “…since 2015 relying less on what the researchers interpreted as divisive language.” What happened in 2015 to make the language less divisive? Is there some sort of hive mind that makes the CTF attune itself to political purposes?

    Well, you know, Sir John A. Macdonald is an “imperfect man, but was still a great leader,” etc., and please don’t consider the whole residential school issue and stop pulling down statues, or all of history will have to be cancelled, etc., etc.

    1. I wonder if any of our present elected officials will try to reframe their time in office by telling us that actions do not speak louder than words. Perhaps they will tell us that actions do not reflect a person’s character. As for me, I believe what I see.

  8. I hope those researchers don’t find out what academics on the prairies have already experienced when they do not follow The Party line. If you tweak the nose of supporters of our authoritarian single party state, you end up “sitting by a window” if you are tenured. If you are not, your chances of obtaining employment vanish. I could name many, but my favorite example is a prominent tenured economist who was vocal about how the Canadian Wheat Board provided grain farmers with better returns than the private sector. After Harper killed the Wheat Board, that same academic has spent the last ten years singing the praises of the private grain trade and how good it is for “the industry.”

  9. I still remember Ralph Klein accusing Jason Kenney of spreading lies and stealing from seniors when he was involved the CTF. At the time I thought your a good one to talk now I think Kenney is even worse than Klein ever was. I knew Klein so well that I knew every time he lied by the smile he gave. Other people have told me they knew it by that also.

  10. I think if the truth were known, the backers of the CTF, the Fraser Institute, and all its shifty little friends had indigenous land rights in their sites from go, when organisation were launched, like plague rats over the castle walls, back the 1980s. I believe that these criminally subversive entities (the Kochs and others) correctly identified native land claims and treaties as the only things that could stand in their way, and that undermining these claims and rights was one of their primary goals all along. You can see this in some of their less-presentable shadow orgs, like the fraudulent “grass roots” gun rights organisations sprouting up in southern Alberta. What they are really about is shooting Indians…this is stated in almost so many words. The appearance of the Reform Party, the destruction of the PCs federally, and recent developments in Alberta and Saskatchewan should be seen through this lens.

  11. Death and Gravity, you have it bang on as does the first commenter.

    Having heard various people from the CTF, its, omg how can these people be so stupid and why are they on air. Well, those who own/run the media like organizations like the CTF, Fraser Institute. They’re there to promote the interest of the wealthy. Taxes are one thing corporations and most wealthy people don’t want to pay. By rattling on about the waste of tax dollars, they are hoping to detract attention from themselves, who pay little to no tax, all the while acting as if they have the interests of the average working person at heart. I’m sure the CTF and Fraser Institute would remove every social program we have in this country if they could..

    Attacking Indigenous people is a “tradition” in this country. There are many who want access to the land the Indigenous people have control over. There is money to be made and the only thing standing between those corportions and the money, are the Indigenous people. Harper was the last one to try to break up reservations. Thankfully he didn’t get far.

    We can expect to see more of the CTF and Fraser Institute’s talking heads on the evening news and newspapers. Reminds me of that old line, if you tell a big enough lie, long enough………

  12. It’s not news that CTF gins anti-indigenous sentiment among its readers. It’s good that this research paper has compiled instances of CTF’s anti-indigenous bent and analyzed it. However, the phrase “Settler colonialism” in the study’s title is inappropriate and one of those things which feed the beast of racial reaction.

    Slogan—“war-cry” in Gaelic—is antithetical to reconciliation between indigenous nations and Canadian governments. Virtually all uses of terms related to colonialism (like “decolonize”, &c) are just that. Slogans are generally used in partisan politics and election campaigns to render policy proposals into their shortest, most base iteration for easy, thoughtless consumption by the great uninformed, unsober and unwashed. Unfortunately, that distillation also makes slogans handy for firing back in reaction, such as we’ve seen in response to other sloganized terms like “consent”.

    “Consent” was taken out of the text of United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and made into a slogan—a “war-cry” written on placards and screamed into news media cameras as protestors grapple with opponents of reconciliation and governments slow in implementing recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation commission. But “consent” was fired back by racist reactionaries as their own counter-slogan: “Indian Veto”. Neither slogan is based in reality: No sovereign Canadian government requires consent to do anything (although compensation for government expropriation of property “for the public good” is required by Common Law); with respect a FN without treaty, protocols under the heading “meaningful consultation” have been instructed by the SCoC. The Wet’suwet’en stand-off in BC, for example, is not about “consent”, despite that slogan being bandied about there: it’s about the fact that the Crown did not consult meaningfully —or at all—with that FN before pushing ahead with a pipeline in “unceded” Wet’suwet’en territory.

    And there is no such thing as an “Indian Veto”—it is a slogan intended to be offensive (in terminology) to indigenous people and to gin fear and animosity towards reconciliation, treaty rights, compensations, and treaty negotiations, including interim. It was invented in direct response to the slogan “consent”.

    UNDRIP, adopted as a guideline for Canadian governments, is neither part of the Constitution nor been tested in Canadian law. “Consent”, the UNDRIP concept, cannot replace SCoC’s interpretation of Canadian law which rather finds that, on traditional indigenous territories without treaties, the two sovereign claimants sovereignty (the Crown and the particular First Nation) must have “meaningful consultations” as to the disposition of natural resources interim to treaty settlement. That would include things like royalty-sharing and compensation for depletion of resources before a treaty is settled. Both claimants are obliged to consult meaningfully, neither needing the “consent” of the other nor allowed to ‘withhold’ consent that isn’t needed.

    Since the SCoC overturned the BC courts’ position that FNs’ sovereign claims were extinguished by confederation in 1997, the Crown and resource sector which operates largely on leased Crown land have been very concerned. Even though protocols for negotiating resource agreements interim to treaties are not in the political realm (obligation for claimants to consult meaningfully, with respect the Constitution and legal precedent, has already been interpreted by the SCoC, the final arbiter), partisan positions on the right, like the CTF’s, have resorted to anti-indigenous dispersions, rhetoric and misinformation as if it was. No doubt certain private interests wish it was in the political forum because then they would use their money to influence government in their favour or get friendly right-wing parties elected to power. But, as a matter of rear-guard retreat it behooves these interests to gin the electorate, especially on the partisan right, that it is a matter of democracy that citizens have a “right” to vote on decisions the SCoC has already made (that is, hypocritically “veto” Aboriginal Rights by some sort of tyrannical populism, precisely the kind the judiciary and the Constitution are designed to prevent). Hence the neo-right is only too happy to lob slogans back and forth: it might not derail reconciliation but, encouraged by Canada’s 253-year negligence in completing its obligation to treat with FNs, they hope reconciliation can be likewise delayed by slogans, paeans, malicious media mis-info and distraction.

    The derivative terms of colonialism are similarly bandied about without regard to truth or appropriateness and, as a result, also provoke—with a little help from anti-reconciliation factions in media and government—reaction.

    The bad habit is, as we see more and more these days, to acquiesce to sloganeering from sides low-info citizens almost automatically agree or disagree with. Neither side is correct, but while two “enemies” recruited by falsehoods butt heads, true reconciliation is impeded or foiled for ulterior purposes.

    There is no colonialism in Canada. Canada cannot be “decolonized”. When reactionaries’ attention is directed to this kind of sloganeering, they’re encouraged to interpret it as proof of a ploy to take away their property. Even if they don’t really believe it, they’re ready enough to spread enmity against indigenous nations and reconciliation. In fact, there’s no First Nation (including those whose members shout the slogan “land back!”) which advocates taking fee simple land title away from anybody. Subtract the slogans and the reality becomes apparent: the vast geographical majority of Canada is not held in fee simple anyway. I live in the largest block of alienated Crown land in BC, the E&N Grant which covers most of southeastern of Van Isle; but, otherwise, something over 90% of BC is Crown land: no BC property owner is threatened by treaties or reconciliation. None. Nevertheless, land settlements—I mean between indigenous nations and the Crown, not ‘settler colonials’—have been successfully negotiated, even in the biggest, densest fee simple region in BC (the E&N land grant), and no fee simple land was expropriated for the purpose. “Decolonization” is a slogan which backfires by provoking reaction from the partisan right and bigots. It just shouldn’t be used.

    Anyway, why do we need a euphemism like that for Crown negligence and malfeasance against indigenous nations? Why not just call it what it is?

    None of these slogans would ever be admissible in a court of law or a negotiating table.

    The use of the term “Settler colonialism” is likewise inadvisable—like any slogan from any ‘side’ with respect reconciliation. In this case it risks detracting from the content because it looks like the authors are trying to be “politically correct” instead of journalistically informative.

    Enough, already! Just stop it!

  13. From 1982 to 2020 I wrote 2 letters to the editor of the Starpphoenix in Saskatoon and even though my letters were opposed to the position of the Starphoenix, every one was published in the paper.

    Then in April of 2020 I wrote a letter saying that it was unfair of the Federal Government to arbitrarily force the closing of small businesses as a means to limiting the spread of Covid-19. That letter was also published, but no more letters from me are being printed in the paper unless they are supportive of the pandemic narrative. I can’t and won’t support that position because it does not make sense to force the closing of small businesses while allowing big box store to continue selling those same goods just because they also sell food.

    Now as I sometimes go to a local mall which has a food court, I see many empty store spaces including many chain stores closed as soon as their leases are up. That mall is owned by a big corporation that will soon be belly up as it loses tenant after tenant. And it will be the same if the Conservatives were to be the government. Probably also if the NDP were to ever form the government.

    And David Climenhaga, I did not previously say what the above comment says.

  14. David, you are about to lose a supporter who occasionally has financially supported your blog if you allow others to repeatedly say the same thing over and over, but don’t allow me to expand on a previous post with a new take on the subject.

    I thought this was a forum for those who read your articles to comment on. If it is going to be your way or the highway, goodbye.

    1. Dave: Since I started writing this blog 15 years ago, I have almost always seemed to have one or two pro-UCP trolls who constantly repeat the same points, often abusively, plus a couple of seemingly supportive commenters who make the same points over and over again. They come and go, but there always seems to be someone inclined to do that. I too find this tiresome, especially as I feel an obligation to moderate all comments, but I try to err on the side of free expression and respect for readers, even cranky ones. Indeed, even for those who too faithfully repeat the mantra of fake Conservatives, if you know what I mean, which is true but tiresome nevertheless. I am grateful your support, but I feel I need to continue to do that. As for my moderation, you would be surprised at how many I delete – especially for abuse, irrelevance or scammery. The commenter in question, I should add, is a nusiance whose irrelevant observations are often discarded. I have been trying of late to only allow him to respond to people who have criticized his previous comments, and I may have erred in this case. I think he will likely go away if readers stop responding to him. And, who knows, he may disappear completely for other reasons. That too, though, is not necessarily a solution, as anyone may comment on the WordPress platform with a made-up email address, even one that doesn’t exist. That said, I will continue to have a fairly relaxed comments policy on this blog. DJC

        1. Little Bird: Writing comments longer than the blog is probably not a good strategy for getting read, but at least two regular contributors of “long-form comments” to this blog are entertaining writers with worthwhile things to say. I often think they should probably start their own blogs. I’d read them! DJC

  15. I don’t agree with the CTF. but the constant paying out of billions of dollars to indigenous peoples with no resolution in sight or improvement in their lives seems like a waste of money. Lets see some results from all this spending.

  16. I recalled someone telling me back in 2016 (seems like a very long time ago) that in Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, etc. authoritarian governments frequently used so-called “academic institutes” to ply their compliant media with fodder for the media outlets.
    As for these media outlets, many owed their broadcast licenses to various government ministries — licenses which could be pulled at the mere whiff of non-compliance with the official narrative.

    Right now, in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro’s regime fights the resistance against its murderous policies by padding friendly media outlets news programs with propaganda and government talking points. These media outlets are popular because their cater mainly to entertainment programing — telenovelas, game shows, and dramatic TV series loaded with social taboos and soft-core porn. It’s a simple tactic as old as the distraction tactics of Augusto Pinochet’s regime, no doubt well supported by the C.I.A.

    What is being seen in North America is no different. Postmedia and the Mop & Pail selling coercive infotainment to their readership, distracting them from any really informed engagement over the issues. Years ago, I had a similar row with two colleagues over this issue, where they “educated” me on the “truth” found in the pages of the National Post. These side-of-the-mouth talking troglodytes, slurring every other word, as they expounded on the evil of Quebec’s “communism” and the Lieberials China-back take over of Canada. They went on with their foaming at the mouth litany of Alberta-awesomeness until I put the hammer down and forever banned them from my presence. An effective 20ft neutral zone — cross over it and it’s war! Did I get into trouble over it? Of course, I did. But I put the hammer down on management, informing them that they were running a clustf*ck operation with these two-mouth breathers. And I didn’t care if they were drinking buddies. (Yes, it’s always the drinking buddies.) The Head office was in Montreal and they did not take kindly to Alberta’s special brand of idiocy, as it was noted for being legendary.

    Ah, the Alberta Experience.

  17. I had a letter in the Cochrane Eagle today responding to another one of these ignorant seniors who just doesn’t understand it. He continues to believe every lie these fake conservatives feed them and some how that makes him a lot smarter than the rest of us, even though Kenney is going down the toilet.

    I received a call from an economist who had read my letter and liked what he read. He is like me he can’t believe the stupid comments we are hearing from stupid seniors that we would think would be a lot smarter, but they aren’t.

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