Sherlock Holmes explains the curious incident of the dog that didn’t bark in the night-time to Dr. Watson (Illustration: Sidney Paget, Public Domain).

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is missing in action!

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, a former registered lobbyist for the controversial RStar scheme, now in the process of implementing it (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

The CTF calls itself a “citizen’s group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government.”

Yet with potentially the largest daylight robbery in Canadian history unfolding in Alberta with the enthusiastic co-operation of the province’s United Conservative Party Government, what have we heard from Canada’s supposed “tax watchdog”?


I speak, of course, of the “RStar” scam, now officially designated the “Liability Management Incentive Program,” a term clearly intended to put potential critics to sleep before they rush to their keyboards to criticize this outrageous scheme to give multi-billion-dollar oil and gas corporations a huge royalty holiday as an incentive to clean up messes they’re already legally obligated to pay to clean up. 

Naturally, this brazen scheme to rob Alberta taxpayers was dreamed up by an industry group.

Before she was premier, Danielle Smith acted as a registered lobbyist for RStar.

Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Now that she holds the province’s top political job, she has authorized a $100-million RStar pilot program. 

But if the “pilot” becomes a permanent program – surely a certainty if the UCP is re-elected – it will go from a mere $100-million lost forever to a massive $20-billion boondoggle.

Before she became leader, Ms. Smith lobbied then energy minister Sonya Savage to adopt RStar. Ms. Savage, an energy industry insider who is no enemy of the oilpatch, nevertheless told lobbyist Smith to pump something other than oil. Now Ms. Smith is premier and Ms. Savage has been demoted to environment minister.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt has described this idea as “corruption,” which is both succinct and accurate. 

Speaking to the Globe and Mail, University of Calgary law professor Martin Z. Olszynski asked, “Why would any operator spend any kind of money on cleanup right now to deal with any of the reclamation liabilities if they can just hope that they might be incentivized to eventually clean these up? The moral hazard here is just astounding.”

Former Alberta energy minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ms. Smith’s explanations for what she’s up to have been misleading and misinformed, said Mark Dorin of the Polluter Pay Federation, a group that’s been trying for months to get this story onto the province’s political radar. 

“A lot said by the fast-talking premier – the vast majority of her comments are very inaccurate in fact and/or at law,” Mr. Dorin explained in a tweet.

Even Scotiabank, hardly a hotbed of “Green Marxists,” as Mr. Kenney used to like to call his critics, assailed the program as an affront to the principles of capitalism. “The program goes against the core capitalist principle that private companies should take full responsibility for the liabilities they willingly accept,” a recent report published by the bank tut-tutted.

This all does rather undermine the narrative about Alberta’s “ethical oil.”

So you’d think this was an issue just made for an organization that likes to be portrayed as a “tax watchdog.” 

The lack of barking, though, is curious. 

University of Calgary law professor Martin Z. Olszynski (Photo: University of Calgary).

Well, we probably shouldn’t been shocked by this, given the fact the CTF has acted for years as a farm team for provincial and federal conservative political politicians.

As a result, it has punched above its weight in influencing governments and mainstream media, which eats out of its hand. Its biggest success in this regard was the elevation of its former CEO, Jason Kenney, to the federal cabinet and then the premiership of Alberta. 

On the “About” page of its website, the CTF says that “any Canadian taxpayer committed to the CTF’s mission is welcome to join at no cost.” 

If you decide to act on this, though, it’s important to remember that when you “join” the CTF are not becoming a member

As was first reported in this space a decade ago and has been widely covered by mainstream media since, only the members of the CTF’s board are legally members of the organization entitled to see the group’s financial statements. 

Usually that means the CTF has only five members, although the size of the board goes up and down from time to time. Right now it has six members.

Mark Dorin of the Polluter Pay Federation (Photo: Twitter/Mark Dorin).

Another page on the CTF website gives a more accurate explanation of the organization’s structure. “As correctly pointed out, our board members are our ‘members.’ … Any Canadian who supports the CTF’s mission can become a ‘supporter.’”

It shouldn’t require Sherlock Holmes, then, to figure out why the tax watchdog hasn’t barked. 

In case you missed it, though, here’s what the legendary detective had to say in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, The Adventure of Silver Blaze:

Scotland Yard Detective: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Sherlock Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” 

Scotland Yard Detective: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Sherlock Holmes: “That was the curious incident.” 

The CTF is unlikely to do or say anything that might diminish the chances of a conservative party, no matter how irresponsible with taxpayers’ money, facing a potentially tight election in a few weeks.

The tax watchdog, of course, is encouraged to bark and prove me wrong immediately. 

Join the Conversation


  1. The CTF does portray itself as a watch dog and has been less than clear about its membership which is not grassroots, but a comfortable cozy group.

    I suppose it has been a watch dog at times, but at other times like this has been curiously silent.

    Its opinion of what is waste at times has aldo often been ideologically subjective. It has often not been keen on government spending on arts, minority groups or spending in other parts of the country.

    It was created in sync with the Reform Party, so was not always cozy with the PC’s who they suspected were too urban and liberal for their tastes. However, they seem more comfortable with the UCP and Federal Conservatives, particularly around election time.

    Maybe half a watch dog is better than none, but at least they need to be more honest about it. So I propose they rename themselves the Conservative Taxpayers Federation. It is more accurate, but also allows them to keep the acronym CTF.

    I have a feeling they may not go for this, so perhaps others will have to start calling them that first.

  2. Instead of more hot air, the CTF should resurrect its custom made Mike Duffy inflatable balloon. With a bit of tweaking and wardrobe updates their creative minds could replace the rotund ex-senator with a likeness of Ms. Smith floating high above the Alberta Legislature to remind Albertans that the premier falls short of what the “tax watchdogs” claim they stand for.

  3. While “Big Oil” and the seedy relations between oil lobbyists and big government have long had the spotlight turned on them (deservedly so), Big Pharma has gotten a free pass. The oil companies and their profits have long been a favourite whipping boy of self-proclaimed progressives forever while the drug companies have been put up on a pedestal and worshipped because, you know, they do “sciency stuff” and the science must not be questioned. Nobody questions the revolving door relationship between the pharmas and various regulatory agencies. In the recent pandemic laws were passed requiring you to take their products -in this case experimental vaccines that had no long term testing but were deemed “safe and effective” so you had no recourse.

    1. LOL at you trotting out your hobby horse right on time. I love that you make a half concession to oil and gas being a terrible industry, something I am sure you don’t believe, so you can change the channel to talk about vaccines, YET AGAIN. There was no legal requirement in Canada to take any of the (3) different covid vaccines, you’re lying. Secondly, big pharma has been taking a bit of a kicking over the whole overdose crisis ? Not sure if you’ve read any of the thousands of stories that have been published. In alberta specifically one of the first things DS did was a giveaway of hundreds of Millions to a pharmaceutical company chaired by Dr. Oz’ mom, and was widely called out in the press for doing so. Lie and try to change the channel all you want you’re only duping yourself and I am embarrassed for you.

    2. “Sciency stuff”? ronmac, please look up the definition of “red herring.”

      Pharmaceutical companies the world over were slapped down hard in the ‘90s, when it became undeniable that “approved” drugs had unpublished side-effects and less efficacy than advertised. Big Pharma was routinely falsifying reports of clinical trials, ignoring poor results and exaggerating less-than-good results. Several large companies were sued, as I recall—and lost.

      Since then, Big Pharma has been much more circumspect and less dishonest. The same cannot yet be said of Big Oil. Lots and lots of talk, mostly bitching the guv’mints ain’t givin’ ‘em enuff money—and very little concrete action.

      As for the revolving door, it’s common knowledge that practice continues around the world. It would take a more honest and far braver government than any today to stop it. Big Oil benefits enormously from the cozy relationship with so-called “regulatory” agencies. Analyses after the Deepwater Horizon disaster (remember that? Gulf of Mexico? BP drilling platform burned to the waterline?) showed the US government was utterly captured by the oil industry. Now, can you say “Alberta Energy Regulator”?

      Danielle Smith is an extreme case. A registered oil lobbyist, a.k.a. paid shill for Big Oil, has become premier. She promptly makes her very own lobbying pitch into government policy. Why doesn’t CTF object?

      I’ll repeat: WHY DOESN’T CTF OBJECT? Could it be the CTF is yet another nest of paid shills who answer to Big Oil? Naaah, that’s the job of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Propagandists.

    3. “Waaaaaah, someone offered me some free medicine that could save my life and other people’s, waaaaaah. I refused to take it because I claim to believe it will kill me, then I chose to take it so I could travel somewhere/attend a concert/whatever. I have chosen to “do my own research” in spite of the fact that I am manifestly unqualified to do so on account of how I can’t tell my own *ss from a hole in the ground, let alone evaluate complex arguments at an adult level. Now any time anyone talks about anything I have the same tantrum all over again, and no one ever punishes me for my behaviour. I’M SO OPPRESSED! Waaaaaaaaaah!”

      Have you considered holding your breath and stomping your feet?

      1. Sorry Ronmac, my first reply to you was more mocking than I like. I think it’s important to be civil when discussing politics, and this was below the standard I strive for. To be clear, you aren’t getting an apology because you deserve it, I’m making one because I did not act according to my values. I should be using my words like an adult, so I will:

        I find your behaviour childish, trollish, contemptible and repulsive, specifically the way you show up claiming to believe nonsense, ignore all arguments to the contrary while occasionally responding to weaker sub-arguments, and then show up the next day still claiming to believe the same easily falsifiable absurdities, but I ought to say that using civil language and without mockery or obscenity. I don’t believe you come here to speak in good faith, and if I had the option to not read your posts I would have taken it weeks ago*. I’m aware that my apology is at least as scathing as the original post was, but there’s no irony – I’m not upset with myself for not being nice to you, I’m upset at myself for mocking you while talking about politics. I ought to know better.

        If you really believe the things you claim to, consider working in health care. Everyone is hiring for every position. If there is a conspiracy, you’ll be in a great position to expose it. If there is no conspiracy, you’ll have gotten paid to help people. In either case, you’ll be doing something worthwhile with your time.

        *Dave, that’s not a request for a block function, you deserve some leisure time and people (myself included) need to keep conversing with others who don’t inhabit the same information silos, especially when it’s difficult.

  4. It’s typical of the CTF to scream at the Liberals’ excesses but not a peep when it’s the CONs’ excesses. Though they did try to make hay of Jason Kenney’s enormous MP’s pension when it comes due, they pretty much shut up about it when Kenney showed interest in the PMO and then the Alberta premier’s office. Why bite the hand that feeds them, right?

    Right-wing pundits and official whiners rail endlessly again the evils of government, but can’t wait for their own lengthy turn at the public trough. I mean that’s why everyone’s in politics, right?

  5. The Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation used to be critical of very pricey shenanigans, but now they are just a mouthpiece for the conservatives. I even remember when they slammed the Alberta PCs for their costly blunders, like West Edmonton Mall. Not anymore. This issue is Ralph Klein’s fault, for starters. Unlike Peter Lougheed, and Don Getty, Ralph Klein never ensured that oil companies clean up any messes they were making. We have to pay $260 billion to resolve this. Now, Danielle Smith wants to hand these oil companies $20 billion to deal with an issue that they were responsible for creating. Haven’t Albertans had enough of these pretend connservatives and Reformers treating them like fools? Peter Lougheed wasn’t like this at all.

  6. Generally and sadly it seems to be the case that certain human behaviors have the appearance of being historically and cross culturally consistent, that is,

    “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. . . . when the laws undertake . . . to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society the farmers, mechanics and laborers who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses.”–President Jacksons Bank Veto, 1832

    Whereby, in the current iteration,

    “There is a widely held belief that many of our economic woes are due to the intrusion of the government into the private sector. As Lewis correctly points out, however, these woes are often the result of private interests intruding into government policy making. When facing crises or competition, businesses implore the government for handouts or for protection from the competitive forces that have made the free-enterprise system so productive. Economists refer to this activity as rent seeking. Such behavior does not make the economy bigger; rather, it reallocates the pie by making some richer at the expense of society at large.”

    Or more plainly,

    In this specific instance [R-star] see the following for some interesting additional background and information,

    “Premier Danielle Smith’s R-Star “scam” explained”:
    “Markham interviews Regan Boychuk of Polluter Pays Federation about a scheme Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promoted as a private citizen, only a few months ago, that would see oil companies receive huge subsidies to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells.”

    Finally, as Ms. Smith, should have stated, if she was even remotely honest and not intent on fulfilling a wealth transfer scheme based on deliberate sleight of hand and misdirection:

    “The problem this has now created is that certain individuals [acting as economic free riders] think someone else should pay for the clean up and remediation resulting from the negative externalities that they have created. That “someone else” is assumed to be the Federal and Provincial Governments. That is the simple truth. Taxpayers do not want to throw more money at an inefficient system. [Because it is hopefully assumed that] Albertans cannot forgive the mania of making the same mistake over, and over, and over, and over again.”

    1. Further additional insight and opinion regarding possible motive(s) for the Premier/lobbyist, her possible benefactors/supporters, and the likely [As in Ockham’s razor likely; where, “the most likely solution is the simplest one.”]
      back scratching that is quid pro quo:

      “Markham interviews Duane Bratt, professor of political science, Mount Royal University, about the Liability Management Incentive Program, announced last week and previously known as RStar, that will see Alberta oil and gas companies receive $100 million to clean up wells they are already legally obliged to remediate. The program could ultimately cost $5 billion to $20 billion.”

      1. All these years, I’ve been blaming “oil guys” in Calgary for Alberta’s problems. Prof. Bratt has set the record straight. They’re not just in Calgary, and the Calgary crowd aren’t the noisiest.

        Prof. Bratt points out these guys, the “oil juniors,” had a really rough time the last few years; many are barely hanging on. Small companies based in rural areas, these are the folks Danielle Smith and the old Wildrose Party truly represent. That’s why Smith’s “incentive program” is going to cost us all millions, maybe billions, in tax-funded bailouts. Smith is helping her friends and neighbours.

        I have no sympathy. The owners knew the risks, they knew they could go bankrupt. They should have sold out while they had something worth buying. If they didn’t know the risks, they shouldn’t have jumped in.

        As for the employees—this is why you need a just transition program. Better hope it gets going before your boss fires you and declares bankruptcy.

  7. Many years ago, Jason Kenney just popped-up out of seemingly nowhere and begged the question what is this all about. A while ago the CTF published a note of how the deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers in the Kenny government were being paid at least 25% more than their counterparts anywhere else in Canada. I brought that forward to the NDP thinking of course they could embarrass Kenney during question period about this, given Kenney’s complaint how all Government staff in Alberta where way overpaid compared to other provinces. Sadly the NDP did not jump on this and replied to my request saying these folks already took a 5% cut. I’m sure Kenney did not want to upset those officials who would be responsible for implementing the stupid ideas of the UCP. As for CTF, maybe they flew too close to the sun and their wings melted?

    1. Old Albertan: I suspect that the reason Alberta bureaucrats were “overpaid” was, as usual, Ralph Klein’s fault. His excessively-successful attempt to spur bitumen production caused hyperinflation during the early 2000’s, specifically 2004 to 2008. I call this period the Crazy Years.

      So yes, Alberta’s top bureaucrats were paid way more than their colleagues in other provinces. So were Alberta’s engineers, real-estate agents, electricians, new-truck salesmen, welders, burger-flippers (I’m not kidding), etc. As were Alberta’s MLAs and Premier Ralph, Hisself. Remember when the Old Tories gave themselves 30% raises?

      Everybody forgets that the last Old Tory government, led by Jim Prentice, was facing a recession, and an estimated $7 billion deficit. That’s when Prentice jumped the gun and called an early election. Prentice lost and, to her credit, Notley refused to make the recession of 2014-15 worse. She resisted the inevitable screeching for austerity cuts. Instead, Notley froze government salaries for four years. There were no mass layoffs. Instead, Notley froze government hiring, unless you could make a damn good case that you needed to hire right NOW.

      Jason Kenney brought back austerity with a vengeance (we all know about his war on doctors). A 5% pay cut doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to make some folks seriously consider switching to the private sector. Chase away too many experienced managers, and bureaucracies tend to collapse. (Watch for that to happen to Alberta Health Services when Danielle Smith’s “reviews,” a.k.a. witch hunts, get started.)

      As for the CTF, why would they complain? Oil executives are their main clients and meal ticket. Danielle Smith is a fellow traveller.

  8. In my opinion, the RStar scheme is the biggest train robbery in Canadian history. There’s never been a bigger theft of public tax dollars.

    Meanwhile, social programs are being cut, including Health and Education. It’s absolutely unconscionable, not to mention corrupt.

    Remember, none of that would have happened under Rachel Notley’s watch.

  9. How someone who works for a living pays taxes:
    1)Gov’t garnishes your cheques. If you still owe money,
    2)Gov’t garnishes your cheques and/or hassles you in many other ways.

    How people who collect money without ever having to work for it pay taxes:
    1)hire a bunch of lobbyists and accountants to lower your taxes using illegal, extralegal and legal means, while also getting subsidies from the government.

    2)If, at the end of this process, you still owe something to the government, arrange for a meeting with an MP and tell them that you’ll have to shut down X factory or re-allocate investment capital to another country if these “job-killing” taxes persist.

    3)Sit on your yacht sipping martinis made with orphan tears and complain with your peers that no one wants to work for a living anymore, and workers are so entitled nowadays, and no one works hard anymore, and society doesn’t have enough gratitude to the “captains of industry” who “create jobs” etc etc etc.

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