Opinion

What Does the Canadian Taxpayers Federation Get From Its Right-Wing US Partner?

Atlas Network ‘has reshaped political power in country after country,’ report says.

By David Climenhaga 5 Jul 2018 | TheTyee.ca

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca, where this column first appeared. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a self-described non-partisan tax watchdog and taxpayer advocacy group once headed by Alberta Opposition leader Jason Kenney, has always been tight-lipped about the sources of its own funding and support.

This may be mildly ironic, given its vocal demands for transparency in government policy, but as a private organization that aggressively fundraises for small donations — it claims to receive about 30,000 individual donations yearly – it is certainly within its legal rights to do so.

However, given the CTF’s tight ties to conservative Canadian political parties and its vocal advocacy of policies those parties support — often co-ordinated with conservative candidates through public policy pledges — it is troubling that mainstream media never seems to press the organization on this issue, and continues to treat it as if it were a non-partisan authority on tax policy.

I have asked CTF operatives on more than one occasion if they have foreign donors and have always been informed the group’s policy is not to publish its donors’ names, addresses, or the amount or nature of their support.

You can read the CTF’s description of its privacy policy, wherein it claims to be protecting donors from being targeted by “government officials, petty politicians, agitated union activists and various other stalwarts of the entitlement state.”

As an aside, the CTF also has a page on its website devoted to defending the fact, which I first reported on AlbertaPolitics.ca in 2013, that while it claims to be a large organization with more than 100,000 adherents, its only actual members entitled to see its financial reports are the people who sit on its board, usually five.

No one is asking the CTF to give up names of individual donors, of course. Most of them are doubtless sincere individuals of limited means who have been persuaded to part with a few dollars by the organization’s tireless fund-raising. However, the possibility an organization that plays an influential role in Canadian democracy is getting support from abroad is another matter.

So it was interesting while researching a recent post on the so-called Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based organization that specializes in litigation supporting social conservative causes headed by former CTF Alberta director John Carpay, to learn the CTF has a relationship described as a “partnership” with the Arlington, Virginia-based Atlas Network.

The Atlas Network — previously known as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation — was founded in 1981 by Antony Fisher. The wealthy far-right Briton bankrolled market-fundamentalist think tanks in several countries, including the Fraser Institute in Canada. Knighted by Margaret Thatcher’s government a month before his death in 1988, Sir Antony was one of the most influential figures in the establishment of the libertarian Internationale that now dominates conservative parties around the world.

From its headquarters in the Washington suburb, the Atlas Network is an international conduit for right-wing cash and other forms of assistance, supporting 485 market-fundamentalist and social-conservative “partners” in 95 countries, according to its website. Atlas “partners” include a dozen entities in Canada.

Checking a reference that the JCCF was on the group’s list of Canadian partners, lo and behold, there was the CTF as well.

Of course, we don’t know exactly what the CTF receives from the Atlas Network, or whether it receives support from other foreign sources, but we can now say with confidence the CTF is supported by an influential right-wing U.S. organization that boasts it “inspires and incentivizes” like-minded groups in 29 countries. Atlas says on its website, in a page devoted to what it calls philanthropic effects to reduce poverty, that in the past two and a half years it has “has invested $1,975,000 in reforms expanding economic choices” in those countries.

As for its partners, the Atlas Network says there are no costs to them, but “you will have access to apply for training, grants and award opportunities.”

When asked directly if the CTF has received grants, training, awards or other support from Atlas, CTF President and CEO Troy Lanigan said, for the record, that he does not “share donor confidentiality.” Those who wish to deduce from this that Atlas is confirmed as a donor are, presumably, free to do so.

Since we are nowadays in a lather about the threat of Russian interference in North American and Western European democracy through the use of social media and domestic fifth columnists, not to mention the efforts of foreign environmentalists, perhaps we should also be looking at the pernicious influence on Canadian democracy of well-financed right-wing ideological support networks from other countries such as the Atlas Network.

According to a report last year in The Intercept, the Atlas Network “has reshaped political power in country after country,” and “has also operated as a quiet extension of U.S. foreign policy.”

The report by journalist Lee Fang, notes that the Atlas Network is financed, in turn, partly by foundations run by the notorious Koch Brothers. The Intercept journalist said think tanks in Latin America associated with Atlas have received “quiet funding from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a critical arm of American soft power.”

Atlas is said to have distributed about $5 million US to groups it supports worldwide in 2016, Fang wrote.

According to the Atlas website, it has accepted a dozen Canadian organizations as partners — half of them market-fundamentalist think tanks including the Fraser Institute, whose never-ending stream of press releases attacking public policy by Liberal and NDP governments seems to show up in uncritical mainstream news coverage virtually daily.

Two more are litigation groups specializing in right wing causes — both of which have appropriated the initials CCF. Another appears to be a society devoted to proselytizing the nutty cult-like beliefs of the so-called “Austrian School” of economics.

The final three are Preston Manning’s eponymous Calgary training centre for right-wing activists (whose former communications advisor now acts as the CTF’s Alberta director), the CTF itself, and an international organization of similar Astro-Turf groups that appears to be run out of the CTF’s offices in Regina and be headed by Lanigan.

Most of the Canadian entities supported by the Atlas Network have been granted charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency.

As for Atlas, in Greek mythology, he was the Titan condemned to hold up the sky for eternity, although often portrayed holding up the Earth. His figure is a favourite of extreme market-fundamentalists, used in the title of the daffy far-right “philosopher” Ayn Rand’s unreadable novel, Atlas Shrugged.

It’s time for the left to take back the noble figure of Atlas, condemned by an unjust pantheon of the celestial one per cent to bear the weight of the entire world while they use it as their playground.  [Tyee]

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