By Trevor Greyeyes
The Canadian Taxpayer's Federation (CTF) has emerged as a powerful citizen watchdog with the ability to sway public opinion and force politicians to pass measures to accomplish their goals of “lower taxes, less waste and accountable government.”
Among its victories listed on its web site, is the CTF campaign for the adoption of Bill C-27, the First Nations Transparency Act, which passed royal assent on March 28, 2013. CTF says it is a non-partisan organization that is doing good work for all Canadians including reserve communities and Indians.
The question has to be asked of the CTF that by campaigning for greater accountability and transparency of First Nations is the CTF really helping Indians or are they merely engaging in hyperbole and doublespeak to diffuse their real role as a mouthpiece for the right wing ideologues who govern this country?
Let's start with a quote from Colin Craig, Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) prairie director, from his statement as a witness to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on October 22, 2012:
“Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today on behalf of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and our 79,000 supporters nationwide. I'm also pleased to speak here on behalf of the dozens of whistleblowers from aboriginal reserves across Canada who have sought help from our offices over the years and who support this legislation.”
The federal government under Stephen Harper and his Conservative party apparently pays heed to dozens of First Nations people represented by the CTF while ignoring the thousands (upon thousands literally) of First Nations people participating in Idle No More events with questions about legislation passed by the federal government.
Here is Craig's quote taken directly from the news release given out to the media in Winnipeg on March 28, 2013:
"We pushed for this new law for over three year so we're ecstatic it has passed. We commend the government for acting on the concerns raised by taxpayers and whistleblowers living on reserves," said Colin Craig, Prairie Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Just a heads up, what follows are questions for Colin Craig followed by the context as to why I am asking the question.
Just what is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation?
I was on the same news panel a few years ago with Craig and I know the CTF's old line.
Some words mentioning how it's a grassroots organization with 84,000 (CTF current website claim) supporters.
Last week, I spoke to David Climenhaga, former journalist and journalism instructor, who told me in an interview called the CTF an "Astroturf" organization.
Basically, eHow defines "Astroturf lobbying refers to political organizations or campaigns that appear to be made up of grassroots activists but are actually organized and run by corporate interests seeking to further their own agendas. Such groups are often typified by innocent-sounding names that have been chosen specifically to disguise the group's true backers."
How can the CTF prove, as of the latest numbers posted on your website, it has 84,000 supporters?
The CTF provides no evidence that it really has the numbers of supporters it claims.
For example, I have found out conclusively the CTF can only claim it has 83,999 human supporters.
Climenhaga said, "Some people just sign up (as supporters) just to get their newsletter. Or in my case, because I didn't want to sign up, I signed up my dog."
Kind of makes you wonder how many other dogs are supporters too.
Now, I have no problem with the CTF making outrageous membership claims when speaking to the media.
I must ask though shouldn't the bar be set higher if an organization making such claims is going to appear as a witness before a parliamentary committee.
And on a moral level, if said organization is campaigning on behalf of a government to get legislation passed then shouldn't it be up front about its supporters.
Is the CTF accountable and transparent to its supporters?
Now, let's be perfectly clear.
The CTF has only six members who sit on the board.
The large number the CTF reports is what it terms as "supporters."
You can be a supporter by making a donation, like I have done (see below), or by simply signing up.
For example, the CTF website offers up that in 2012 it took in $3.6 million from 21,527 donations.
Sure, a financial highlights page (https://taxpayer.com/media/CTF2012-Disclosure2.pdf) is offered but that is hardly adequate.
For example, just how does the CTF justify spending $740,291 on communications to its many contributing supporters.
So, for an organization that talks a great deal about transparency and accountability, I am afraid that it would be screaming bloody murder if a First Nation administration tried posting their version of a financial highlights on the web.
Let me tell you, that I would like to partner with the CTF on a campaign for legislation that would make it mandatory for any non-profit soliciting donations from the public to post the donors name with amount of the donation and make their audited financial statements open to the public.
Let's take it one step further and have it as a requirement that those statements must be posted online including all donations, donators identities and where those donations come from.
How effective will the "First Nations Transparency Act" be in effecting change in First Nation administrations?
Glenn Hudson, the Peguis First Nation chief whose salary served as the impetus for much of the furor over chief's compensation has survived not one but two elections.
Not only that but the First Nation face for the CTF and the government, Phyllis Sutherland, failed to get elected when she ran as a councilor in the March 2013 Peguis chief and council election.
That to me seems to be the strongest repudiation by grassroots people of the recently passed transparency act.
Do you think using Phyllis Sutherland as the First Nations representative for the accountability and transparency question was a wise move?
I remember Sutherland when she used to sit on the Peguis School Board after being appointed by former Peguis Chief Louis Stevenson back in 2002.
As a metaphor, having Sutherland talk about accountability and transparency is like having a fox who used raid the henhouse talk about the need to stop foxes from raiding the henhouse.
Or, as one Peguis band member expressed in an email:
The history of Phyllis Sutherland/Manningway while she was a school board member. Back then it was easy to swindle from the band if one was a Louis supporter. However, there is now stringent guidelines @ accountable practices in place to stop what she & others have done.
Now, I know people can change and there is forgiveness but people have to admit there was a problem in the first place.
Sutherland was appointed to the Peguis School Board in 2002 and sat on it until 2010 when Glenn Hudson dissolved the school board to hold elections instead of appointing people.
For example, in the month indicated above Sutherland received $11,043 for travel alone (there are other expenses listed as well).
There has to be an explanation for receiving $1,200.00 on July 1 for travel followed quite quickly with an additional $3,011.06 on July 4 and then an additional $2,764.98 on July 6.
Colin Craig has questions to ask about travel on the CTF website (http://www.taxpayer.com/blog/some-thoughts-on-exorbitant-chief-and-council-pay) but he shouldn't he be asking those same questions to Sutherland.
And further, here is her salary (straight value with nothing adjusted if she were paying taxes) during Sutherland's tenure on the board.
Her total during that time is $721,400 over nine years as an appointee to the Peguis School Board.
And let's borrow a page from Craig's playbook by comparing, let's say, that against what someone sitting on the nearby Province Interlake School Division and Fisher River Cree Nation school board.
Someone sitting on the Province Interlake SD member (current) makes $9,000 a year and someone sitting on the Fisher River Cree Nation board receives $3,600 in annual honoraria.
Not really about Questions for Craig
Now the preceding questions weren't really for Craig because, quite frankly, I've spent more than 15 minutes detailing the shortcomings of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation prairie director.
The legislation has passed. The milk has already been spilled. There's no point asking at this time "who let the dog's out?"
I didn't have to wait in an underground parking garage for some whistleblower named after a 70's porn flick to find out this information.
The process took time from just looking for infornation on the Internet and asking for information from my band council.
In fact, soon the same audited statements I used will be posted to the Peguis First Nation website so you can check those figures out for yourself if you don't believe me.
And that should be a warning to all those journalists out there when you talk to anyone making a claim: all statements offered as facts should be checked.