Sunday, September 08, 2013

Canada's Far Right Next Attack On Nenshi

It's no big secret that the Conservative power base in Calgary was profoundly pissed off when Naheed Nenshi won the Mayoral race in 2010.  The amount of vitriol seen in the Sun's pages after election day was astonishing, and since then, they have taken every opportunity to snipe at Nenshi.

This is no surprise.  They were also suspiciously silent when it came out that Cal Wenzel and a bunch of his pals had ponied up over a million dollars to the Manning Centre to build a slate of candidates that would be "friendly" to their interests in the next city council.

Their most recent attack on Nenshi began this week, with the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation publishing an "expos√©" of how the City of Calgary had spent money with the Pembina Institute.  According to the CTF, the City spent somewhere on the order of $113,552  (which, frankly, is barely one professional consultant salary) annually with the Pembina Institute.  Apparently, this is a big bad thing.  I will note that CTF says nothing of whether the city has spent money with other "think tank" consultancy organizations or not, but they are certainly vocal about complaining that money was spent with the Pembina Institute.

The funny part about the whole thing is that CTF tips their hand in their interview with the CBC:
But Fildebrandt said it’s hard to imagine the city hiring the right-leaning Fraser Institute to consult on something such as property tax reform.
In short, whether Fildebrandt admits it or not, he's really complaining because he doesn't like the political stripe of the Pembina Institute's positions.

A closer look at the documents that the CTF recovered from the city reveals something much more significant about the spending with Pembina that calls into question the CTF's complaint:

1)  The documents retrieved show spending with the Pembina Institute starting in 2007 through 2012.

2)  Over half of the spending took place before the October 2010 civic election put Nenshi into the Mayor's chair ... which means that the process started under developer darling Dave Bronconnier's tenure as Mayor.

Take a close look at the following summary of invoices from CTF's FOIP documents:

YearTotal Invoices

If we take a raw average across the full five years, the annual average spend with Pembina was $60,003.59; If we chop off 2007 and 2012 as the outlier times the average spend jumps to $87,182.34.

Going a step or two further, prior to Mayor Nenshi being elected in 2010, the city spent $212,998.53 with the Pembina Institute, and $147,022.98 since.  

While Ezra Levant and the rest of the Sun Media crowd has dutifully jumped all over this faux issue, the reality is that very little, if any, of the spending was initiated under Nenshi.  More to the point, there is no evidence presented that there is any wrongdoing taking place.  

The CTF is busy trying to politicize a non-issue that they likely wouldn't be complaining about if the recipient of this spend was the Fraser Institute or other group that they found to be "ideologically acceptable".  

One can just imagine the outcry if the City of Calgary paid the Fraser Institute to write a report on building a competitive business environment or property tax reform. The contents of the report might contain excellent data and recommendations, but that is to miss the point. Groups engaged in political debate – even the non-partisan – should never receive a penny of taxpayer’s cash.

As we all know, these organizations can structure themselves in such a way that it never appears that the "lobbying part of things" intersects directly with the "consulting" division.  It is no secret that the "Manning Centre for Building Democracy" is built up of at least two divisions:
The Manning Centre is a non-profit corporation that focuses on political, conservative-oriented activities. As such, it is not a registered charity and donations are not eligible for tax receipts. Activities such as research and education, which are classified as charitable, are undertaken by the Manning Foundation – a registered charity.
Note the division of responsibilities?  So, if the City was to hire the Manning Centre for some kind of consultancy would ultimately be hiring what is obviously a partisan organization.  They could create a division called "Manning Competitive Institute" to engage in economic competitive consultation.  On the surface, it would appear to be independent of the other parts of the Manning Centre, but it still ends up as a division of the same organization.

The CTF moaning about the Pembina institute and trying to cover their partisan bias by saying that "no think tank" should get public funds is a very flimsy fig leaf cover.

I might have more respect for the CTF if they had done a survey of how much money is being spent on think tanks in general, instead of attempting to go on a partisan muck-raking expedition and then lying and distorting the results.  

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