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The Canadian Taxpayers Federation's latest talking point revealed: They're doing it for the poor!

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Mark Connolly & David Climenhaga

So it turns out the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) is concerned about the poor and unemployed! Who knew?

Leastways, that's how CTF Prairie Director Colin Craig explained it during a brief on-air debate with your blogger on CBC Radio 1's morning drive show Friday.

You see, cutting provincial budgets across the board by nearly 10 per cent as Alberta's Progressive Conservative premier, Jim Prentice, proposes to do will help poor folks without jobs manage their minuscule family budgets because they won't have to pay for all those unionized nurses, police officers and teachers!

OK, that's me paraphrasing. Let's let the man speak for himself. Craig began by calling the premier's plan "a step in the right direction" and moved on to equate charging a fair price for the sale of our collective property (that is, resource royalty revenues) and fair taxes for the people who benefit the most from society (progressive taxation) with higher taxes for working families.

Thus, he concluded: "A lot of people have lost their jobs. They're seeing reduced pay. They're having their shifts cut back. If you start raising taxes you're going to make it harder for a lot of families to pay their mortgages, balance their own budgets. So that would not be very good."

This shows a sympathy for the plight of the workingman unexpected from an anti-union special-interest group like the CTF, don't you think? Of course, Morning Show host Mark Connolly hadn't really asked Craig about tax increases, he'd inquired about the premier's plan to cut the crap out of public spending. Nevertheless, the two issues are obviously related.

Craig stuck to the CTF’s new talking point: "It's absolutely true that if a family has just seen a breadwinner lose their job, going out and raising their taxes is going to make it even harder for that family to balance their budget," he said a little later. "If you go out and raise sales taxes or raise some other form of taxation on them, it's going to be hard for them to go to the grocery store, buy their groceries, pay their mortgage, pay their electricity bill and all of those things. That’s why raising taxes is not a good decision."

In reality, of course, what Craig and the CTF are pressing for and Premier Prentice proposes to deliver is the defunding of essential public services, which will be no less essential but will then have to be delivered at higher cost and without accountability by the private sector. In addition, as noted above, this anti-tax, anti-public-service organization includes among its official members, who currently number only six, the president of an anti-union organization. So it should surprise no one the CTF would also like Prentice to attack public sector unions, as well as public sector jobs.

So let's talk about the CTF's simplistic description of how economies work.

Craig is well spoken, and I see from his online biographical information on the CTF's website that he has a BA in economics as well as an MBA, so it seems likely he understands the probable negatives impacts of austerity during a recession.

In fact, Edmonton's chief economist, also speaking on the CBC Friday, pretty well nailed what’s wrong with Premier Prentice's scheme to fix the economy by making devastating cuts to public spending at a moment the province is slipping recession.

John Rose described Prentice's planned Ralph-Klein-style slashing as "an accident waiting to happen," which puts it very mildly. A Klientastrophe, more like!

Rose told the CBC that Prentice's vindictive planned cuts to the public sector would have a significant effect on Edmonton’s growth, because 22 per cent of the city’s employment comes from health, education and public administration.

"It's not just going to be provincial government employees losing their jobs. It's going to be health care workers, its going to be teachers, teachers' aides,' he told the CBC's interviewer. "If they cut back on things like the municipal sustainability initiative, you're going to see cutbacks in our capital spending at the city, so it would be a very messy situation."

It will also hurt consumer confidence, Rose explained. "If we see consumer confidence falter -- that would be a very negative sign…"

That’s because if consumer confidence weakens, consumer spending will decline. The impact will be felt in lower profits and weaker demand, leading in turn to lost jobs, in the private sector -- the connection the CTF either can't make, or won't.

In fact, if we slash spending now, when oil prices are down and our province’s absurdly low royalties are not even dribbling in, the whole economy will be pushed further into recession, making it deeper, and longer, than necessary.

Our high-risk, low-return Alberta economic policies will also export the recession to other Canadian provinces, now that our strong petro-Loonie has hollowed out their manufacturing core.

This is all Economics 101. It is certainly understood perfectly well by former chartered bank vice-presidents who happen to be doing a little sideline as provincial premiers. In other words, Prentice knows perfectly well the cuts he plans won’t help the province's economy. But they will help advance his agenda of knee-jerk austerity as a way to encourage more privatization and more profits for the big players in the private sector.

Meanwhile, we continue to give away the resources owned by all Albertans, bring aid and comfort to foreign corporations who care not a whit for Alberta or its residents, and tilt the tax system in favour of the richest and best connected citizens -- who also happen to be the ones that cost society the most to provide services for.

As I responded on the air to Craig, if readers will forgive me for quoting myself: "This is a policy decision. They’ve decided not to have fair taxes. They’ve decided to charge the lowest royalties in the world. And they've decided that working class Albertans are going to have to be the people who take the haircut. It's preposterous. It's bad policy. It’s going to push us into a recession… It's just crazy. They can't plan!" (Emphasis, as it were, supplied.)

If you want to check the fairness of my summary of the debate, you can listen to the entire clip yourself.

We need to remember that when spokespeople for the CTF are trotted out in the media they are not "tax watchdogs," as they describe themselves, but paid advocates for a radical market-fundamentalist transformation of our society, which will hurt many for the benefit of a few. As such, they function as active members of what has been called the Canadian Outrage Industry.

Craig complained in our brief on-air performance -- we were in different rooms in different cities -- that I was blaming the messenger by pointing out his employer's true role to listeners.

Blaming? Hardly. It was a warning, not unlike the health impact label on a package of cigarettes. But it’s interesting that inclusion of an essential fact like this in what was billed as a "debate" -- meant to be both informative and entertaining, presumably, with a certain amount of back and forth -- would shock a representative of a special-interest group grown used to being treated with kid gloves in the media.

Here's to Mark Connolly and CBC Edmonton for allowing a real debate about this important topic to take place!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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