Tag Archives: Stephen Taylor

Who is driving the conservative agenda in Canada?

In America’s Forbes Magazine this weekAlejandro Chafuen praised the leadership of the conservative policy think-tanks that helped set the stage for the election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government in 2011 and the success of conservative politicians across the country.

This apparatus of conservative special interest groups, think-tanks and news media has contributed to shifting Canada’s political narrative toward the political right. Who are these groups? It only takes a quick look to discover how connected and small this network actually is.

If you even pay casual attention to political news in Canada, you will undoubtedly hear clips from spokespeople representing the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens Coalition, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business or the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. These are just a few of the groups that are pushing the conservative agenda in this country.

Together, these groups have been very adept at advancing an anti-public services, anti-taxation, anti-labour union, and pro free-market agenda nationally and provincially. For many of them, these goals are the sole purposes for existing.

While most of these groups will frequently call for increased transparency in government, some refuse to make public their own financial backers. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which refuses to release the names of his own financial bankrollers, was found to actually have a only handful of members. Not much of a “federation,” though this revelation does not seem to have hurt the group’s ability to earn the attention of the mainstream media. It is hard not to give points to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation operatives for their relentless and entertaining media stunts.

These groups even have their own media platform – the Sun News Network – which is applying to the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission to charge Canadians a mandatory  fee for a spot as regular cable and satellite channel. Launched in 2011, Sun News Network describes itself as “unapologetically patriotic” and “less politically correct” than other TV networks. Fox News North’s distinctly Tea Party flavour has led to no shortage of controversy since it launched.

Another group that refuses to release the names of its financial donors is the National Citizens Coalition. Drawing connections between this group and Fox News North, a former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, Gerry Nichollsquestioned why his former organization has focused on “shilling” for Sun News Network.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that the NCC has dramatically changed since my time. It’s the nature of any organization to evolve. And the NCC has clearly evolved into a kind of organizational zombie,” Mr. Nicholls wrote on iPolitics.ca. “It still staggers along from issue to issue and reacts from time to time, but it no longer has a soul.”

The National Citizens Coalition is directed by former Conservative nomination candidate and prolific tweeter Stephen Taylor. While the organization’s president its denies ties to the Conservative Party, the lines are blurred.

These organizations have also served as a training ground for career political operatives who later jump into political office. The connections between these organizations and today’s conservative political establishment run deep and demonstrate a significant record of success in helping raise conservative politicians.

Prime Minister  Harper was the President of the National Citizens Coalition before returning to parliament in 2002. Senior cabinet minister Jason Kenney was the president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation before he was elected to parliament in 1997. New Brunswick  Southwest Conservative MP John Williamson was a national director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Looking at the provincial level, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was the Alberta director of Canadian Federation of Independent Business and an intern with the Fraser Institute. Kevin Lacey, Atlantic Director for Canadian Taxpayers Federation worked for the Fraser Institute and in the Prime Ministers Office. Even Sun News caricature Ezra Levant once attempted to run for political office.

Founded by a godfather of Canada’s conservative movement, Preston Manning, the Manning Centre for Building Democracy is training a new generation of conservative candidates and activists how to win elections.

Last year, a leaked video revealed that wealthy Calgary developers – the “sprawl cabal” – were shovelling money into the Manning Centre’s municipal governance initiative with plans to block uber-popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s plans to implement smarter urban planning rules in the city. The project is run by Dimitri Pantazopoulos, who has worked as a Conservative Party pollster and strategist.

Looking toward the future, the Manning Centre is also fostering creative ideas that could help forward their movement. Mr. Manning’s group has awarded $10,000 annually to a project that will advance the conservative movement in Canada. Last year, BlueCrowd.ca, a crowd-funding project received the award.

It is somewhat ironic that one of the strongest roots of the modern conservative movement in Canada stems from a small group of tenured professors teaching at a publicly funded post-secondary institution. Conservative academics Tom Flanagan, Barry Cooper, Ranier Knopff, David Bercuson, and former Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton at the “Calgary School” in the University of Calgary Political Science department long ago made it their mission to drive the Conservative agenda in Canada. They have done this through academic research, their own political activity and commentary, and involvement in election campaign strategy.

Notable students of the conservative Calgary School have included Prime Minister Harper, Mr. Levant, Ms. Smith, Conservative cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre, conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool, Fraser Institute senior fellow and former Taxpayers Federation director Mark Milke, and former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Ian Brodie among others.

While their are different brands of conservatism emanating from the school, from social to economic, one observer of the Calgary School reflected on its almost cultish following of libertarian economists Ludwig Von Mises and Milton Friedman.

According to Forbes Magazine, “the history of Canadian free-market think tanks and their contribution to Canadian reforms continues to be written. The leaders, supporters, and staff of the groups mentioned above deserve much credit for changing the economic face of Canada and of North America.”

Whether or not these groups accept credit for all the consequences of “changing the economic face of Canada” their opponents on the political left and centre can learn many lessons from how effective the political right machine has become in Canada.

why early opposition attacks on alison redford will backfire.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose No Plan

Left: No Plan ads from 2008 election. Right: Wildrose attack ads in 2011.

Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party has launched a series of negative television ads against soon-to-be Premier Alison Redford, who will be sworn-in as Premier tomorrow in Edmonton. The television ads bear an eerie resemblance to the negative ads used by Nancy MacBeth‘s Alberta Liberals in the 2001 election and the “No Plan” ads aired by the ‘Albertans for Change‘ coalition in the 2008 election.

The Wildrosers early attack ads are a page out of the federal Conservative Party election campaign textbook, which should not come as a surprise considering that Ms. Smith has surrounded herself with federal Tory activists, including Vitor Marciano, William McBeath, Ryan Hastman, and Steven Dollansky.

The most obvious differences between Ms. Redford and successful targets of federal Conservative smear campaigns are that:

1) she is not a Liberal, she is a Conservative
2) the PCs have a massive majority government in the Assembly and are still the best-organized and most well-funded political organization in the province, and
3) I believe that Albertans have generally been impressed with what they have seen of her so far.

Is it too early for the opposition parties to be lobbing grenades at the yet to be sworn-in Premier Redford? Ms. Redford was selected as leader at around 1:30am on October 2 and at 4:45pm, Wildrose attack dog Rob Anderson had already sent out a media release criticizing her. Always a gentleman, Mr. Anderson later tweeted that he would take a break from attacking Ms. Redford on Wednesday so that she could attend her mother’s funeral. How compassionate of Mr. Anderson.

Rob Anderson Twitter MLA Wildrose

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson's October 5 tweet.

With the next general election expected within six months, the Wildrosers have decided to strike a negative tone, starting with attack ads and releasing a list of forty mistakes they say that the PCs have made during their forty years in government. The PCs have made many mistakes, but Albertans will reject the negative tone of the Wildrosers just as they have rejected the negative tone of the other opposition parties year after year. It is not enough to just remind Albertans that the Tories have become a monument to institutional mediocrity after forty years in government. Albertans know that because they voted for the PCs. Opposition parties need to take an extra step to give Albertans compelling and positive reasons to support them at the polls, something the Wildrosers have failed to do.

Not to be outdone by the Wildrose attacks against Ms. Redford, the NDP joined the fray. On Monday morning, NDP leader Brian Mason attacked Ms. Redford for delaying the fall sitting of the legislature, which was scheduled to begin on October 25, and the appointment of Alberta Health Services chairman Ken Hughes to her transition team. While both criticisms were valid, they were never meant to be “constructive” as Mr. Mason claimed on his blog the next day.

Unlike the opposition parties, who rely heavily on the daily Question Period to get their media hits during the legislative session, I believe that it was perfectly reasonable for Ms. Redford to want more than 15 days to prepare a legitimate legislative agenda. Regardless of what I may believe, Ms. Redford took the opposition advice, and to Mr. Mason’s surprise, announced that there will be a fall sitting.

Meanwhile, Ontario conservative blogger Stephen Taylor spun the Wildrose talking points this week claiming that Ms. Redford is the product of a labour union conspiracy, because of the support she received from front-line education and health care workers during the campaign. Maybe the view from Ottawa is blurred, but Mr. Taylor’s argument is silly when you take into account that most of these front-line workers probably regularly vote for the PC Party anyway.

Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson pointed out early this week that Ms. Redford’s ‘honeymoon,’ a period that is traditionally given to new political leaders to allow them to settle into their new job, has been cut short by the opposition attacks. I predict these early aggressive tactics will only backfire on the opposition.

Every Albertan knows what is is like to start a new job and how bad it feels to get criticized before you even have a chance to started. No one likes the jerk who criticizes them before they have a chance to get familiar with the job. Hardline supporters of the opposition parties will rise to support their leaders attacks, but as the Wildrosers ads say, Albertans support integrity and democracy, but they also support fairness and don’t like jerks.

alberta politics notes 1/28/2011.

What’s next?

The sudden Tuesday morning announcement by Premier Ed Stelmach that he will resign before the next election caught many people by surprise, but beyond the broad statement there was little detail about when he would actually resign and when he would be replaced. At a press conference in Calgary yesterday, Premier Stelmach gave a little more detail saying that he would continue in his role until at least the end of the Spring Session of the Legislature.

Dr. Ted Morton after presenting the 2010 Provincial Budget.

Morton’s savvy move

Yesterday’s departure of Finance Minister Ted Moron from the provincial cabinet is an unsurprising move by the conservative former University professor. Dr. Morton’s resignation as Finance Minister will allow him to concentrate on his leadership bid and more importantly distances himself from a 2011 budget which is expected to include a substantial deficit, which would hurt his credibility among his conservative supporters.

Not having to stand up on the Legislative Assembly floor and present a deficit budget in 2011 will not give the Wildrose Alliance the pleasure of attacking his credentials as a fiscal hawk (or fiscal mallard). The battle over whether to accept a deficit or balance the budget (resulting in serious budget cuts) was a fight that is suspected to have contributed heavily on Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement earlier this week.

New Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove flipping pancakes at the 2010 Premier's Breakfast in Edmonton.

Lloyd from Lloydminster

Mr. Morton’s departure from cabinet made way for Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove‘s appointment as Minister of Finance. Minister Snelgrove was first elected as the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster in 2001, replacing former Finance Minister Steve West (who was known as Dr. Death for the part he played in the government cuts of the 1990). Minister Snelgrove was one of the nine  MLAs who supported Premier Stelmach’s bid for the PC leadership in 2006 and has been a key member of the Premier’s inner circle since.

Video interviews with Danielle Smith and Jonathan Denis

Ontario Conservative political blogger Stephen Taylor has posted two video interviews this week with Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith and Housing Minister Jonathan Denis in reaction to Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement.

Alberta Party acting leader Sue Huff and the first Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor.

The Economist weighs in.

The Economist published a review of Alberta’s current political situation titled “Prairie fire” that gives a good synopsis of the PC leadership strife, the rise of the Wildrose Alliance, and the growth of the new Alberta Party with its first MLA Dave Taylor.

Another Liberal departure

Media Coordinator Tanara McLean is leaving the Liberal Caucus to take a position with SunTV reporter starting next month. This will be the second departure from the Liberal Communications Office in 2011. Communications Director Neil Mackie left in early January.

MLA Dr. Raj Sherman announced that he will continue to sit as an Independent MLA in the upcoming Spring Sitting of the Legislature.

Raj Sherman Media Conference

Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman held a media conference yesterday to announce that he will be entering the Spring Session of the Legislature as an Independent MLA. He also reminded the media of his upcoming townhall tour with the Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen.

Nomination contests

A few new additions to the list of declared candidates seeking party nominations for the next provincial election. In Calgary-Varsity, previously declared Kevin Dick is now facing Justin Anderson for the Wildrose Alliance nomination. Other newly declared seeking Wildrose candidate nominations are Tim Dyck in Calgary-Bow and Cory Morgan in Calgary-North Hill (soon to be Calgary-Klein). Mr. Morgan was the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mountain View in the 2008 election and some people may remember him as the leader of the Alberta Independence Party in 2001.

In Edmonton-Decore, Zack Siezmagraff is seeking the Liberal Party nomination to reclaim the constituency from PC MLA Janice Sarich. This riding under its current and previous names was represented by Liberal MLAs Bill Bonko, Bill Bonner, and its namesake Laurence Decore from 1989 to 2008.

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.