Friday, April 05, 2013

Who is Funding the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation?

I think it's time to ask who is funding the self-styled Canadian Taxpayer's Federation, and what they are funding them to do. A little transparency here would go a long way. Certainly they do not represent taxpayers - as a taxpayer, I've never been invited to vote for my CTF representative.

I write this because the latest intervention supposedly on our behalf from the CTF is in regard to the expense undertaken by City Council to send representatives to Russia to attend the annual SportAccord convention, which as CBC notes is "a gathering of more than 2,000 representatives from international sports."

The trip does not meet the approval of Kevin Lacey, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesman. “This is too much for taxpayers,” he said. “They’re giving a lot and it’s up to the city to do their part, rather than send people on fancy conferences.”

And as CBC reported, "Coun. Daniel Bourgeois raised questions at a council meeting on Tuesday about whether the city was setting specific targets on what the officials were expected to accomplish."
It's not clear to me that these critics understand how cities create economic activity, activity which, in turn, lowers the load on individual taxpayers.

Events like the Rolling Stones and other concerts, the CFL football games, the World Track meets, and the like, bring in millions of dollars to the city directly, and attract millions more indirectly. They are part and parcel with a more broad-based but less glamorous strategy of attracting a range of businesses and industries to the city.

These industries and events employ people, both directly through hiring, and indirectly through purchases of goods and services. And they're important because, unlike government employment, they create economic activity, creating a flow of income in the city which would not otherwise be there.

But just as you can't find a job by sitting in your kitchen and waiting for someone to call you, you can't attract enterprise to the city by sitting in your office and waiting for U2 to give you a call. It doesn't work like that. You have to go out into the world, meet with people on their own home ground, demonstrate your interest, and build a relationship.

It takes time, it takes effort, and yes, it takes money to fund travel to places like Russia.
So given that all this is the case, one wonders just what Daniel Bourgeois and Kevin Lacey are hoping to accomplish with their criticisms.

Bourgeois wants "specific targets". How ridiculous. What is the 'specific target' of a conversation? What are the representatives supposed to report: "we built trust by two octaves and enhanced relationships by one degree?" No, the results are occasional and not the result of any single direct input.

We all knew that Ian Fowler got results because we could see the concerts and events on the ground, and could watch the excitement and commerce flow through the city. But it would have been ridiculous to require him to report 'specific targets' for each conversation he had, for each trip he took.
And as for Kevin Lacey, one wonders what he is thinking at all, beyond a knee-jerk response to any government spending. One wonders, indeed, why Lacey is even quoted in the CTV article. He has no particular knowledge of Moncton politics and has not demonstrated that he is an expert on economic development. So why phone him up for comment?

Somehow Lacey has made himself a favorite of CTV and also of the Roger's-owned News 91.9 talk radio show, where he is interviewed on what seems to be almost a daily basis. He (and others with similar views) are given a platform day after day to complain about this, that or the other government expense.

Here is Lacey's bio, from the CTF website: "Kevin has experience in both the public and private sector. He recently ran his own consulting business providing advice to leading politicians and corporations. He’s served in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office and was a senior advisor to Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm. Prior to this he worked as an associate with a large Atlantic based public affairs company. He’s also worked for both The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and The Fraser Institute."

So for this reason one wonders who is funding the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. They demand accountability time after time - let's see them open their own books. Ditto for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. And the rest of these very political 'think tanks' and lobby groups.

Because whatever else they're doing, their undermining our ability to develop and grow a sound economic foundation in the city. And their ongoing campaigns hurt the wider community by undercutting any good governments are willing and able to provide.

Their short-sighted calls for lower taxes and minimal government ignore the reality that prosperity in society is generated largely by government intervention and redistribution of wealth, and that austerity in a time of recession is what produces crises like the great depression.

If you're broke and unemployed, you can't hope things will get better by cutting your expenses and sitting in your bedroom. You have to invest - even if it means borrowing - and educate yourself and develop your skills and get involved in society, meeting people and earning a reputation. Just as - I'm sure - Kevin Lacey does.

Let's see some openness and transparency from the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation. Who is paying the bills, how much does Kevin Lacey get paid, how much does he spend on travel and schmoozing? This will put their missives into a much clearer light - and expose, I would suspect, the contradictions.

p.s. Here is the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation annual report
154 people donated more than $1000 to the CTF - we are not told who, though. No salaries are disclosed. Also worth noting is the CTF expenditures of almost $500,000 on 'events', $108,000 for 'travel' and an additional $684,000 for 'communications. It seems these expenses are good for the CTF, but not for governments.