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Prominent funder of right-wing groups helps bankroll new think-tank

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Troy Lanigan, former president and CEO of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, at the 2013 Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

A new "think-tank" with close connections to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation received $50,000 last year from the Donner Canadian Foundation, a prominent funder of right-wing ideological organizations in Canada.

SecondStreet.org describes itself as "a new think-tank" launching in early 2019. The organization's mission, the single-page website now says, will be "to tell stories of everyday Canadians -- from coast to coast -- and show how they're impacted by government policies."

Needless to say, it's unlikely the stories the group tells will show government or public services in a particularly good light, although that remains to be confirmed.

SecondStreet.org's stories are likely to be a lot like the stories told by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), since the links between the new organization and the self-described "tax watchdog" are numerous and tight enough it's hard for an outsider to see where the CTF ends and SecondStreet.org begins.

Just the same, it must be acknowledged that despite their many points of connection, they appear to be separate organizations. So while it can be shown where SecondStreet.org gets some of its funding, who bankrolls the secretive CTF, which is traditionally tight-lipped about its sources of financial support, must remain a mystery.

SecondStreet.org's contact person, its website says, is Colin Craig, a former spokesperson at various times for both the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Calgary-based Manning Centre, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning's eponymous training organization for right-wing politicians and causes. Recently, Craig acted as the CTF's interim Alberta director -- that is, its spokesperson and sole staffer in the province.

An email to the CTF seeking more information soon revealed, however, that the founder of SecondStreet.org is none other than Troy Lanigan, who stepped aside as CTF president late last year after nearly a decade at the helm.

The $50,000 contribution to SecondStreet.org is shown in the Donner Canadian Foundation's list of 2018 grants. Other entries on the list show funds given to the Fraser Institute, the well-known right-wing think-tank in Vancouver; the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which litigates on behalf of social conservative and market fundamentalist causes, including a legal challenge now under way to the principles on which Canadian public health care is based; and several market-fundamentalist think-tanks including the Montreal-based Institute of Liberal Studies.

The Canada Revenue Agency lists SecondStreet.org as an educational charity that operates in support of schools and education. It shows SecondStreet.org's address as 265-438 Victoria Avenue E, Regina, Saskatchewan.

The headquarters offices of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation are located at 265-438 Victoria Avenue E, Regina, Saskachewan. 

In a follow-up email, Lanigan said, "SecondStreet.org will be contracting some CTF staff as contributors to get started. The same address for example is because we are contracting the CTF's controller to help with financial reporting et. al."

He described this as "a temporary and part-time arrangement" that he expects to be severed eventually, but added that "most people involved with SecondStreet.org will have had involvement with the CTF at one time or another."

It would seem this is already the case. A listing of federal corporate information on the Government of Canada website shows Adam Daifallah, Ken Azzopardi and Walter Robinson to be members of SecondStreet.org's five-member board.

Daifallah and Azzopardi are also members of the CTF's six-member board, which as readers of this blog will recall constitutes that organization's only legal members. Daifallah is the current chair. Robinson is a former federal director of the CTF.

Another SecondStreet.org director is Adam Allouba, currently listed on the website of the Atlas Network as "a director of Atlas Network partner Institute for Liberal Studies." The Washington D.C.-based Atlas Network is a central player in the extensive international ecosystem of market-fundamentalist think-tanks and Astroturf groups. It is reported to have "partnership" links to about a third of close to 500 market-fundamentalist think-tanks in the world and has in turn received financing from the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of New York. It lists the CTF on its website as one of its 12 Canadian partners.

While Lanigan is no longer president and CEO of the CTF, he remains chair of the World Taxpayers Associations, a group whose 2014 international conference in Vancouver was organized by the CTF. He also continues to be listed in his previous job in the "Our People" section of the Atlas Network's website as someone who has "experimented with -- but never inhaled -- partisan politics on both sides of the border."

In 2017, according the Donner Canadian Foundation's report for that year, it gave $32,956 to an entity called the Cartwright Centre, which an online corporate data listing showed to be based at an address in Victoria, B.C. An online public telephone directory, in turn, showed that address to be Lanigan's.

In 2018, according to Government of Canada corporate history information, the Cartwright Centre changed its name to SecondStreet.org. The same database shows the Cartwright Centre was established in 2016.

Lanigan confirmed that they are effectively the same organization, and that he is the founder of both. He described the activities of both as those of an "educational think-tank carrying out charitable activities."

Lanigan said the Cartwright Centre was named for Richard J. Cartwright, a supporter of unrestricted free trade with the United States who was appointed minister of finance in the Liberal cabinet of Alexander Mackenzie in 1874.

In addition to right-wing causes, the Donner Canadian Foundation uncontroversially supports a variety of activities by universities, conservation organizations, arts companies, international development NGOs, and similar groups not known to have particular ideological leanings.

The Wikipedia entry on American philanthropist William Donner notes that after its establishment in 1950, the Donner Canadian Foundation's activities were uncontroversial for 43 years. "In 1993, the conservative American Donner heirs who control the foundation changed its primary focus to that of supporting conservative research," the article said. Since then, the Wikipedia entry added, the foundation's emphasis has shifted back toward its traditional activities, although "it is still one of the most generous benefactors to the right in Canada."

Lanigan said he expects SecondStreet.org to commence public operations by the beginning of March. Mainstream journalists who now treat the pronouncements of the CTF as reputable and unbiased are likely to cover commentary from SecondStreet.org in the same fashion.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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