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Pictures worth 1,000 words: Getting to see what's behind a CTF operative's tantrum

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Colin Craig

How do we explain the strange spectacle last week of a well-heeled Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative bellowing at an Idle No More activist in the halls of a Winnipeg hotel while news cameras rolled?

Perhaps like me, you shook your head and moved on when you heard the March 28 broadcast coverage of an Idle No More protest apparently disrupting a news conference held by the federal Aboriginal Affairs minister and the follow-up clip of the CTF's Prairie director yelling at a First Nations leader.

The report I heard that afternoon on CBC radio explained only the barest outline of what was going on: Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and some of his supporters were holding a news conference in Winnipeg to announce something about the government's "First Nations Transparency Act."

The recording made it sound as if the event had been disrupted by a noisy demonstration. Later, CTF Prairie Regional Director Colin Craig similarly noisily disrupted a media scrum by Idle No More activist Pam Palmater, a lawyer who is a specialist in indigenous governance.

There was lots of sound and fury, which the media loves. After that: very little. No backstory.

You may have thought, as I did, that Craig's intervention bordered on the bizarre, and wasn't typical of the pronouncements of the usually slick CTF. But you likely didn't think much more about it when the media rapidly moved on to other stories. 

This is probably true even if, like me again, you think the First Nations Transparency Act isn't about transparency at all, but about harassing opponents of the least transparent government in Canadian history, like the Harperites' "transparency" campaigns against labour unions and environmentalists.

The CBC's coverage is probably the least biased report on this affair you’re going to find, but it too sticks pretty closely to the protesters-disrupt-news-conference formula, with predictable mayhem supposedly following.

But a video clip posted Monday by Winnipeg journalist Trevor Greyeyes puts this event in context and raises several interesting questions, both about Craig's behaviour and about the story as advanced by the media.

First, unlike the media news clips I have seen and heard, the short video segment posted to Youtube.com by Greyeyes appears not to have been professionally edited or cropped to make the demonstration seem more dramatic than it really was. More important, the camera is far from the action, so it easier to see what is actually happening.

Indeed, from the Greyeyes video, a strong case can be made there was in effect no demonstration inside the news conference. That is, there was only one guy making a lot of noise with a drum and possibly one other person chanting along with him.

The guy with the drum is making a heck of a lot of noise, I'll give you that, but other than a couple of TV camerapersons making sure they get some B-roll, it's said here that while one or two protesters may be a disruption, their action hardly amounts to a demonstration.

Parsing the video, moreover, it appears almost everyone who was there agrees. People involved in the news conference mostly seem to be tapping their fingers waiting for the drummer to stop. No one seems intimidated, or anything more than mildly annoyed. No one hurries from the room.

Eventually, according to mainstream news reports, Valcourt advised Phyllis Sutherland -- a supporter of the Harper Government who is a member of the Peguis First Nation -- not to continue with her remarks. Official news conference participants then filed out. 

Any demonstration by opponents of the legislation appears to have taken place outside the meeting room. 

So the first question, naturally, is what was the media's motivation in making this look like a major disruption by Idle No More demonstrators when in fact it involved only one or two people? 

Turning back to the official news conference participants, whom do we see but Craig, waiting calmly at the head table, adjusting his spectacles.

Yes, let me say that again, Craig clearly was an official participant in Valcourt's news conference.

Now, perhaps someone from the mainstream media reported that salient fact, but I can't say I saw it. Craig may say he was not there officially, of course, but there he was at the head table. Sure looks official to me.

So this puts Craig's anger into context, don't you think? It certainly explains his intemperate attack on Palmater in the hotel hallway outside the room where the news conference was taking place. 

After all, in response to the drummer, Valcourt had ended the news conference before Craig had an opportunity to get his news clip. 

Paid, as it is fair to say he is, to generate publicity for the CTF, Craig went out of his way to get his face and the CTF’s name into the evening's newscasts by assailing Palmater in the hallway. Of course, I don't know that’s what he was thinking, but it is certainly a reasonable supposition based on his behaviour.

This is important not only because it gives insight into why Craig verbally attacked Palmater with such vehemence and rudeness, but because it exposes one of the claims regularly made by the so-called taxpayers' federation -- to wit, that it is a "non-partisan" organization. 

"The CTF is independent of any institutional or partisan affiliations," the organization states baldly on its website.

So riddle me this, how does a senior representative of a non-partisan organization come to be officially taking part in a partisan event organized by a minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet to advance and defend a government wedge-issue campaign?

The answer, of course, is that the there is nothing remotely non-partisan about the CTF. A former CTF president occupies a senior cabinet portfolio in the Harper government and is putting his name around as a possible replacement for the prime minister, should he ever retire. The ranks of Conservative advisors, staffers and volunteers are lousy with former CTF operatives.

The CTF is embedded with this government up to its metaphorical chin, along with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the National Citizens Coalition and a host of other Astroturf groups that purport to represent ordinary Canadians but in reality work for corporate interests, the ideological market fundamentalist agenda and, more often than not, the Harper government directly.

Thus boondoggles that waste taxpayer dollars in truly spectacular amounts but are sponsored by the Harper Government -- like the multi-billion-dollar F-35 fiasco -- go unremarked by the CTF. 

"Any Canadian taxpayer committed to the CTF's mission is welcome to join," the group's webpage says, although as has been reported previously in this space, the CTF in reality has only six members, its board of directors, so what these people are "joining" is unclear. 

In reality, fund-raising from naïve taxpayers and supporting the Harper Government agenda, no matter how much tax money it wastes, seem to be the principal raisons d'être of the CTF.

And getting free publicity from the media, of course, to abet the other two goals -- which almost certainly explains Craig's peculiar behaviour.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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