Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jason Kenney and the Canadian Taxpayers' Foundation

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

In 1987 Jason Kenney dropped out of St. Ignatius and returned to Wilcox, Saskatchewan, filled with neoconservative ideology and a self righteous omnipotence, ready to transform Canadian politics and tear down the welfare state.

His first job was with a Member of the Saskatchewan legislature, the only Liberal in the House, Ralph Goodale. Goodale was also from Wilcox, and he offered Kenny a position as his legislative assistant. However, it would be short lived, since he lost the election in 1988, and took a five year sabbatical from politics.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Meanwhile, another Saskatchewan resident, Kevin Avram, had just left his position with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, and decided he would like to start “an organization that would be an agent of change and that would educate and mobilize people.” (against the GST) He had attended a conference in Austin, Texas where he met a representative of the “Association of Concerned Texas Taxpayers” and decided that he would form a similar group back home. “As soon as I saw that name, I knew it was a sweetheart” and so became the Association of Saskatchewan Taxpayers (AST) incorporated May 1, 1989." Kenney would soon join AST as an "agent for change."(1)

They would eventually team up with another tax fighting group, Resolution One in Alberta, and the Canadian Taxpayer Federation was born.

Like the hundreds of similar "no tax, freedom" groups, that have sprung up in the past three decades or so, this was part of the infrastructure of the Reform-Conservative movement, with a mandate to tear down Canada's social safety net.

The irony of course is that they all claim to be non-partisan and all claim to be looking out for the interest of the average Canadian. Yet all of their events are at posh hotels or some other elegant venue, while they claim to be non-profit. And their members move in and out of the Reform-Conservative party, while bilking the average Canadian of necessary tax dollars. It's quite a racket.

Author Brook Jeffrey explains:

"A few years later, the same tactic [as the National Citizens Coalition] was used to create another agent for the corporate elite, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. According to the CTF's mission statement, it's threefold purpose is to 'act as a watchdog on government spending, promote responsible fiscal and democratic reforms and mobilize taxpayers to exercise their democratic responsibilities.' Although this may sound reasonably innocuous in theory, the actual activities of the CTF have been anything but passive. Originally formed as a protest group in Saskatchewan in 1990 to combat Brian Mulroney's despised GST ... the original Resolution One Association had become the CTF and had allegedly grown from 2000 to 85,000 members. "

"The connection with the business elite in this second so-called grassroots citizens' movement is both as strong and as obscure as in the NCC. The CTF's own documents go out of their way to insist that it is 'not a lobby group.' Nor is it a special interest. 'Our role is to address government policy on the basis of efficiency and cost' .. 'What we are is a common interest group working for the benefit of taxpayers.' Obviously it has not occurred to CTF members that taxpayers themselves constitute a special interest. According to Andrew Hilton of The Lobby Monitor, the CTF avoids referring to itself as a lobby group specifically because it fears that this 'delegitimizes their desired status as a grassroots movement'.

"The similarities with the NCC in terms of organization, decision making and memberships are striking. Like the NCC, the CTF in reality is neither a grassroots movement nor a democratically run organization. One critic has actually described it as 'more of a pyramid sales group than a bottom-up grassroots movement,' and an examination of CTF recruiting tactics explains why.

"Incredibly, the entire operation of the CTF depends on the recruitment of new members by some sixty-five salespeople operating on commissions .... In 1991 the Consumers' Association of Canada issued a warning about the CTF, noting that approximately 59.5 per cent of membership fees went to the CTF sales force, field managers and 'consultant' Kevin Avram, the Saskatchewan businessman who first organized the Resolution One Association ...

"Like the members of the NCC, the CTF's business members are able to write off their contributions as a business expense. (2)

So while they claimed to be helping taxpayers, they were actually cheating taxpayers out of revenue from wealthy corporate donors. And their function was?
Jason Kenney's response to criticism of this situation was typical. 'I don't accept that a tax expenditure is the same as a subsidy' ... 'To do so would be to accept that the government has a legitimate right to every dollar that's out there.'

Like the NCC's, the CTF's members never attend general meetings or vote on any activities of the organization either. Instead the self-appointed executives make all the decisions in secret. "Before the 1995 Budget was brought down .... the CTF sponsored no fewer than eighteen protest rallies across the country whose theme was 'No New Taxes.' These rallies were also deliberately coordinated with others sponsored by the Reform Party and the National Citizens Coalition for maximum affect. "... any casual observer of the CTF's literature cannot fail to note the groups neo-conservative approach to the role of government in general. As well-known tax expert Neil Brooks has stated, the CTF's 'anti-tax rhetoric disguises a view that government should play a minimal role' ... David Perry of the Canadian Tax Foundation ... notes that much of the group's anti-tax sentiment is based on ignorance of the actual situation in Canada .... a perception of reality, rather than reality' .... "Many other tax experts ... have also pointed out that the benefits received from government in exchange for taxes have to be taken into account ... Kenney's response to this, however is instructive. 'We only look at taxes, not benefits'... leading Brooks and many other critics to conclude that the CTF agenda is simply lower taxes, not fairer taxes." (2)

So the Canadian Taxpayer Federation is basically a pyramid scheme, backed up by the corporate elite, pursuing a neo-conservative, hard-right agenda.

Of course taxes aren't the only thing they try to mislead us about. In an email to CTF by a concerned citizen over their promotion for an end to the gas tax, they made it clear how they felt about climate change. Director Kevin Gaudet wrote:
"Thank you for your note. Of course, the CTF disagrees. The Gas Tax Honesty Campaign has been in place for ten years and is anything but a ‘knee-jerk’ response, unlike the poorly-researched, ill-guided knee-jerk carbon tax movement of today in the name of fighting ‘global-warming’, I mean ‘climate change’, I mean cleaning the earth, I mean any new way to raise tax revenues." (3)
And while they claim not to be political, they are simply backup for the Reformers:

"Despite their equally vigorous assertion that it has no other political agenda, the long list of other activities on which the CTF engages .... 'The Taxpayer' routinely calls for balanced budget legislation; privatization and deregulation of government programs and services and the end of 'wasteful government spending on programs such as job training, multiculturalism* and official bilingualism. ... "

According to Kenney, 'with the exception of special interest groups who feed voraciously at the public trough, public opinion is unanimous,' that there can be no more increases in taxes, period.' "Among the groups that the CTF over time has identified as special interest are the Canadian Aids Society, human rights and literacy groups, and the National Poverty Association. By contrast the Canadian Manufacturers Association or the Canadian Federation of Independent Business are, to paraphrase the CTF's own words, common interest groups that defend the rights of all businesses... "This one-sided view of the world is also applied to the CTF's interpretation of political activities ... it's official documents stress that no officials of its group are allowed to have any partisan affiliations, and that the organization itself is strictly non-partisan.

Yet in reality its past and current presidents have close links to the federal Reform ... Public-Service union president Darryl Bean has called the CTF 'a front for the Reform Party,' and it is not difficult to understand the source of his accusations. Preston Manning has often been asked to address its anti-tax rallies. At one such event in Pickering Ontario in 1995, media accounts routinely reported some 3,500 Reform Party supporters in attendance, and Manning received a standing ovation. "... the large number of similarities between the Reform Party platform on direct democracy initiatives and those of the CTF ... including referendums, recall, a triple-E senate and the elimination of MPs pensions. "

Other interesting connections can easily be found as well. CTF board member Norm Baker has also been a highly visible member of the NCC ... Another board member Andy Crooks, ran unsuccessfully for a Reform nomination in a Calgary riding in 1992, and Jason Kenney became a Reform MP in 1997.

'As we have seen these connections were part of a larger picture of interaction between the various right-wing lobby groups and neo-conservative politicians. While Reformer Stephen Harper was taking the helm at the NCC in 1997, Rob Anders of the NCC and Jason Kenney of the CTF both took their place in the Reform caucus .... Anders and Kenney meanwhile, continued to be members of the Fraser institute, where former intern Ezra Levant cut his teeth on neoconservative dogma, before making the same trek to the nation's capital to become Preston Manning's chief policy advisor." (4)


*Jason Kenney is now the minister for multiculturalism, something he lobbied against.


1. Kevin Avram, By Troy Lannigan, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

2. Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 416-417

3. CTF Website

4. Jeffreys, 1999, Pg. 420

1 comment:

  1. So let's ask ourselves just who or what the CTF represents. Here's a hint: not taxpayers.

    Now, the CTF describes itself as "a not-for-profit citizens' group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government," and claims to have "over 70,000 supporters nationwide."

    The group has a grandly titled factotum in each region of the country who seems to spend a lot of time hanging out at events where media congregate, giving gravely concerned interviews to respectful reporters. An opening of Alberta's Legislature or a Budget Speech rarely passes without being graced by the lean and well-spoken Hennig.

    In addition to its five "regional directors," the CTF employs a president and CEO, a vice-president of operations, a director of online campaigns, a financial manager, a webmaster-publisher and a national research director.

    So how does this "citizens' advocacy group" pay for a nationwide staff with unlimited time to lollygag around government buildings, produce fancy publications and regular "action updates," plus manage its slick labour intensive web and social media presence?

    Well, that's not entirely clear, seeing as its "supporters" (not members, note) are "welcome to join at no cost," and indeed it is remarkably easy to do so using the CTF's efficient on-line form.

    Now, no doubt, some naïve taxpayers make donations to the CTF in the belief it is working for them against the interests of, to quote the well-heeled group's website, "big unions, big corporations and government-funded special interest groups."

    However, since virtually all of the CTF's positions are boilerplate reflections of the corporate low-tax, anti-worker, high-privatization, anti-democratic agenda, the organization carries with it a strong whiff of the chemical odour of AstroTurf.

    "AstroTurfing," colloquially speaking, is the establishment of groups that really represent commercial or political special interests while pretending to represent "grassroots" citizens. This activity is named for the brand of synthetic carpeting that is designed to look, from a distance, like real grass.

    As a result, notwithstanding the interests of real taxpayers, the CTF is a particular and dedicated foe of all public services, defined-benefit pension plans, fair election financing laws, the long-form census questionnaire, measures to reduce the effects of climate change and even the life-saving Canadian Firearms Registry. On the other hand, it is strangely silent about such spectacularly expensive taxpayer-supported boondoggles as the F-35 fighter jet or multi-billion-dollar federal prison-building schemes.

    While the CTF claims not to be affiliated with any political party, it has also served as a talent agency for the Harper government in Ottawa, the Harris government in Ontario and sundry Conservative Party offshoots elsewhere. For example, Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration minister and censor in chief, used the CTF as his springboard to politics. Hennig himself worked as a speechwriter for the Alberta Conservative caucus and it seems quite likely based on his activities that he has political ambitions of his own.