Before you get to the question of yes or no on the referendum to increase sales tax for the proposed transit plan, you may want to ask yourself another question: Who or what is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation? And why are they getting so much air time these days.
As you may know, a most awkward coalition is now forming in support of this proposition. Strange bedfellows include business, labour, students, environmentalists and mayors, with the most notable, predictable exception of the chronically curmudgeonly contrarian mayor of Burnaby, Derek Corrigan.
So far the formal opposition will be led by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an increasingly ubiquitous although somewhat enigmatic presence on our political landscape.
Its principal goal seems to be to convince us that taxes are evil and governments are neither as effective nor efficient as the private sector.
So to try and answer the who and what and why: For starters Jordan Bateman is its B.C. director, one of seven across the country all of whom appear from the organization’s website to be white. Only one is female. Last year it got donations of just over $4 million and claims over 84,000 supporters.
Bateman is Bible-belt minister from Langley, a one-time columnist with the Langley Advance who spent two terms as a township councillor and was president of Liberal MLA Rich Coleman’s riding association.
The creation and evolution of the organization is documented in the 2009 book Not a Conspiracy Theory: How business propaganda hijacks democracy by SFU academic Donald Gutstein.
The genesis of this phenomenon begins with the Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank which you may recall first appeared in Vancouver in the days when Dave Barrett’s NDP government had capitalists freaked out. It was an organization funded by business dedicated to advance the values of free-enterprise.
And then, Gutstein notes: “The Fraser Institute launched a program in 1988 that would have far-reaching impact on advancing the corporate agenda. This program, aimed at students, is actually a half-dozen initiatives through which the institute ‘is cultivating a network of thousands of young people who are informed and passionate about free-market ideas and who are actively engaging in the country’s policy debate,’ as the organization’s publication Frontline puts it.”
Bateman recalls taking in a Fraser Institute webinar he found “interesting.” He was apparently one of some 17,000 young people the institute claims it influenced.
As Gutstein quotes the institute, this “is one important way that the Fraser Institute is working towards changing the climate of opinion in Canada.” And he observes “graduates have spread into politics, academia, other think-tanks and the media.”
Most notable of late would be Danielle Smith, who went on to become the leader of the Alberta Wild Rose Party.
That network of like-minded folks includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, where Jason Kenney was the first CEO and went on to become an MP with the Reform Party and carried on as it evolved into the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative Party and could well become the party’s next leader.
Mark Milke was a B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation and is now a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute.
Erin Chutter, among other things, was on the board of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and was brought on to assist the NPA and Kirk LaPointe with their messaging during the last municipal election.
But the point of all this is to confirm just how successful this movement has become in changing the conversation in this country around the role of governments and the benefits of taxation for the public good.
Bateman and his fellow travellers regularly make news by picking the low-hanging fruit of public sector abuses: gold-plate pensions, excessive bonuses, outrageous expense claims. Or in the case of the upcoming referendum, he is on about the burden of increasing sales tax and that money being turned over to a basket case of an organization like TransLink.
In this rare case however, even his organization’s traditional allies, the Vancouver Board of Trade, the provincial Liberals and the NPA, seem to be turning their backs on him.
And while it is by no means a slam dunk, perhaps this time the public good will win out. Next week, Bateman says, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation will be rolling out its campaign in an attempt to thwart that possibility.