Derek Fildebrandt

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is “working hard” to recruit Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt as a candidate for the next provincial general election in the Calgary-Bow riding, Daveberta.ca blog author Dave Cournoyer reported yesterday.

“Mr. Fildebrandt is an outspoken critic of the PC Government and has targeted Premier Jim Prentice with FOIP requests dating back to his time in Ottawa,” Cournoyer wrote, citing “rumours” that he said have been circulating for some time.

If it is true the Wildrose leader hopes to recruit the CTF’s Alberta director as the party’s candidate in Calgary-Bow, as Cournoyer’s blog suggests, surely Fildebrandt needs to clarify what his intentions are regarding running for the party before he issues another press release.

If he plans to run as a Wildrose candidate, obviously anything he or the CTF says about any other party’s platform or policies needs to be treated with caution by media used to reporting the so called “tax watchdog’s” often-debatable pronouncements without balancing commentary as if they were divinely inspired.

But even if Fildebrandt is merely being recruited and has no intention of running, his potential Wildrose candidacy is now on the public radar and obviously deserves clarification before he pontificates further on the economic policies of any political party.

Fildebrandt has not yet responded to the email I sent him at his CTF account early yesterday afternoon seeking his comments on Cournoyer’s report and asking specifically about the nature of his discussions, if any, with the Wildrose Party.

Inevitably, if he were planning to run for the Wildrose Party, such a situation would raise questions about the CTF’s non-partisan status, frequently trumpeted on the group’s website and in press releases assailing pubic employees’ pensions, publicly funded services and other policies deemed insufficiently conservative by the CTF that blanket Canadian newsrooms with the ubiquity of winter snow.

As has been argued in this space before, the CTF’s role as a non-partisan commentator on tax policy depends on a nice distinction about the meaning of partisanship. The CTF is a faithful supporter of the policies of the Harper Government and its provincial auxiliaries, and its staff provides a frequent recruiting field for conservative political talent, despite the fact the organization doesn’t officially support a particular party.

But having a potential candidate for one political party commentating in a supposedly neutral fashion on the platforms and policies of three or four competing parties, if that were to happen, would take the CTF’s normal advocacy of market-fundamentalist nostrums to a whole new level of partisanship.

The CTF’s criticism of Prentice and his Progressive Conservative government undeniably took on an aggressive tone last summer.

In August, Fildebrandt released thousands of pages of Prentice’s expense records dating back to when the PC premier was the federal Conservative Government’s minister of Indian affairs and northern development.

The highly critical media statement that accompanied the 3,264 pages of documentation made reference to “at least one major irregularity” in Prentice’s federal expense accounts, and left the impression there might have been more.

However, it is said here, the assertions made in the release depended on a highly tendentious interpretation of Parliament’s expense claims rules and the documentation contained no credible evidence of actual improprieties in Prentice’s past expense claims.

In the event, the CTF commentary failed to stir up much distrust of Prentice, and it is telling that the CTF has not returned to this issue. Lately, the CTF has moved on to other issues, including heaping praise on the Harper Government’s income-splitting tax scheme and demanding that the pensions of Members of Parliament who are convicted of crimes be revoked.

Presumably the CTF would include in that demand convicted Conservative politicians like Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former Parliamentary secretary, who was convicted last week of spending too much on his 2008 election campaign and then trying to cover it up. Del Mastro resigned his Parliamentary seat yesterday, in part to protect his MP’s pension, which he will be eligible to receive in 11 years when he is 55.

The CTF also has strong connections with Canada’s powerful corporate anti-union lobby, and Fildebrandt has been aggressive in his recent attacks on the pensions of unionized public employees.

Wildrose Leader Smith was the Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a market-fundamentalist Astro-Turf group similar to the CTF in conservative ideology and modus operandi, before announcing her intention in 2009 to run for the leadership of the party then known as the Wildrose Alliance.

Soon after Smith’s plans were revealed in this blog, she gracefully left her role with the CFIB.

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

David J. Climenhaga

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 Globe...