Flawed analysis

Following the passing of Alberta’s Conservative party, Macleans writer Colby Cosh described a drawn-out illness that made the result inevitable. Followers of British Columbia politics will recognize symptoms also found west of the Alberta border:

Elections Alberta, despite some political and legal controversies, did important work in investigating and documenting the web of illegal kickbacks from schools, municipalities, and other provincial institutions that the Progressive Conservatives had come to take for granted in hinterland Alberta.

Political financing disclosures added to this picture, showing that the PCs have consistently relied on donations from corporate clients of government—contractors, builders, professional associations—that would make heads rotate and/or explode almost anywhere else in the continent…

…Not only did senior Alberta civil servants (working for a grateful Redford) violate rules about sole sourcing, but a $240,000 Navigator contract was almost totally undocumented, and other contracts were much more expensive than usual…

…the Tories were beginning to be perceived not only as bunglers, but crooked bunglers…

Colby Cosh is sympathetic to the most conservative of Conservatives – he’s been used as an “educator” by the Fraser Institute – and his analysis here focuses on ethical failings of Alberta’s politicians rather than policy misdirection. He largely ignores the cozy relationship between Conservatives and rich resource industry magnates. Directly and with agents, they have pumped huge sums into Conservative party coffers and hundreds of billions into their own.

Cosh disparaged royalty reform, not because government efforts were feeble but because they lacked “buy-in from the industry.” It’s fairly predictable analysis of a libertarian who values market fundamentalism, privatism and minimal government: “Our fleet was headed in the right direction but needed a better Admiral.”

Friends and contacts tell me that Albertans were enraged by almost 60 new taxes affecting individuals without even token increases to corporate taxation. They are unhappy too with an oil industry that wants to dictate rules of production and pay little or nothing for the public resource it exports. People examine Norway with its regular budget surpluses, free education and childcare, low unemployment and a per capita GDP among the highest in the world. In addition, Norway has well more than a trillion dollars invested through its oil wealth fund, savings intended to ease transition to a post-fossil-fuel economy.

Cosh says comparisons of Norway and Alberta are a suffocatingly hot trend and he asks, “Why should lottery winners born in 2050 have the benefit of the oil our agents extract now?” He could also have said, “Why should ordinary Albertans have the benefit of the oil our agents extract now? It’s wealth best left in the hands of private companies, even if those companies are owned by the government of China and, oh yeah, the people of Norway.”

Regardless of the inadequacy of Cosh’s diagnosis, the Alberta situation provides warnings to BC Liberals and hope to ethicists that social media and more effective political opposition will bring change to British Columbia in 2017. Given the hundreds of millions spent by the Liberal government on partisan communications and the tens of billions in subsidies given or planned for exploiters of BC’s natural resources, it hard to believe that an untendered $240,000 PR contract factored into the Prentice government’s downfall. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to the way public business is conducted in British Columbia.

When the soon to be unemployed bunglers of Alberta take up jobs in the BC Government, they will be thrilled to learn that politicians here don’t have to rely on crude kickbacks from scattered public institutions. No, here, contractors and government beneficiaries can write 7-figure cheques to politicians and score near-instant profits from public business. And, best of all, there are few people watching. Almost without exception, the corporate media is blind and declawed, happy to exist on lucrative government and corporate advertising.

The people who matter are comfortable and intend to stay that way. If the price is millions spent to fund propaganda machines, it is what it is. Evidence shows that paying money for the benefit of government politicians provides significant return on equity and profitability.


I included a short reference above to Colby Cosh’s relationship with the Fraser Institute. It is taken from Donald Gutstein’s book Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy. A more extensive excerpt can be found HERE but I recommend the entire book.

The student seminar has become the Fraser’s initial recruitment tool. The net is cast wide for promising candidates, with up to a dozen day-long seminars held each year in cities across Canada on the full range of libertarian topics: how the market protects the environment; how smaller government leads to greater prosperity; and why we need to privatize health care to save it. A big draw is that the seminars, including coffee and lunch, are free and held in prominent downtown hotels. Seminars are free because they are sponsored by corporate and foundation backers: Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation (B.C. seminars), W. Garfield Weston Foundation (Toronto), EnCana Corp. (Calgary and Edmonton), CanWest Global (Winnipeg). Individuals and companies can sponsor specific components: one student costs $120, lunch is $1,875, coffee break, $500, speakers’ travel and accommodation, $4,000. An entire seminar costs a tax-deductible $17,000.

The seminars mix lectures and small-group discussions, presented from a narrow ideological perspective. Discussion groups are led by staffers from the Fraser or its sister libertarian think-tanks like the Montreal Economic Institute. Lecturers are senior fellows at the institutes or executives from the National Citizens Coalition or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Featured guest speakers run the gamut from Tony Clement, then minister of health in the Mike Harris government, to National Post columnist Colby Cosh, to Brian Day, president of the private Cambie Surgery Clinic in Vancouver. In short, the range of expertise presented at the seminars runs from right to far right.

Students… whose views are approved by the institute, in contrast, are identified for further orientation…

14 replies »

  1. Cosh, a Victorian throwback supporter of laissez faire economics, where the average person be damned. This dated corporatist or fascist thinking lead to the seeds of the downfall of the 'House of conservative' in Alberta.

    When the average person, in a very conservative province, with major US “Libertarian” influence, massively votes for a NDP government, something is definitely “rotten” in the province of Alberta.

    But it will be hard to draw a line for the NDP from Alberta to BC, where the BC NDP delight in hubris about the next election. The BC NDP is run by a very selct old boys/girls club that detest change and still want to fight political battles won or lost decades ago.

    Failed political leaders, such as Carole James and Adrian Dix, do not fade away but still infect the party. Compare Alberta's 'fresh faces' with the tired crones of the NDP, which the public have rejected years ago. Nothing like a failed political leader running again to remind the voter how inept he/she was.

    Not only should her Majesty's Official Opposition oppose, they should be in the forefront of new and innovative ideas.

    The NDP bungles the transit referendum to such an extent, that it has become laughable, especially when NDP pundits were espousing NDP policy to Horgan the leader, to such an extent that the average person did not know whether the likes of Teilman or Meggs were the actual party leaders and not John Horgan!

    Sadly for BC, the NDP also have not so nice skeletons in the closet and they timidly tip toe around for fear they stir up ghosts from the past.

    I'm sorry, but Alberta has few lessons for BC, unless the BC NDP clean house and operate like a 21st century political party.


  2. Colby Cash: “…showing that the PCs have consistently relied on donations from corporate clients of government—contractors, builders, professional associations—that would make heads rotate and/or explode almost anywhere else in the continent…”

    Yeah, anywhere else but B.C.


  3. Who would have thought that Alberta would lead themselves and possibly Canada out of the political darkness of government maleficence, incompetence, cronyism and entitlement?
    It appears Prentice brought the Harper rot with him from Ottawa and the stench was too much for even Alberta.
    Having operated a business in Alberta until last year one could not imagine an NDP government would be voted in. Most Albertans were conditioned something like Pavlov's dogs to vote for the Cons. One native Albertan told me they would vote for a hay bale if it was conservative.
    I think Albertans were hit between the eyes real hard when the last budget came down and finally realised that they were getting screwed over on their share of the oil revenue especially after the Norwegian oil deal sunk in.

    The BC Liberals are stealing as much as they can because they know the jigs up. They will leave a huge mess to clean up much like Alberta.

    It will be really interesting to see how the closet hiding sleazy Harper will spin this.



  4. Our election is in 2017…..and if the voters of Alberta prove themselves to be more intelligent and have a higher moral standard than us, well, then….I guess pigs can fly.


  5. If the NDP had 34 Million dollars of taxpayer money to spend on advertising…… the outcome could have been different.

    Guy in Victoria


  6. Flawed analysis to be sure; but most of the Cosh article is a history lesson on the decline of the Alberta Conservative Party. As he says, it didn’t happen overnight.

    So why wasn’t it published a week before the election, rather than afterwards?


  7. From CRA Charity reports, one finds the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation has more than $20 million a year in revenue from real estate holdings (Hechts owned Equitable Real Estate in Vancouver) and it reports spending 30% on “Free Market” education. That provides millions to the Fraser Institute and like-minded political organizations.

    The W. Garfield Weston Foundation (Super Store, Loblaws, Provigo, T&T, Shoppers Drug, Holt Renfrew etc.) has about $30 million a year to spend and it directs “funds to specific causes that reflect the overall values of the Foundation.” The London Drugs Foundation reports almost nothing about the $2 million it spends annually but we know the Louie family owners have long supported Fraser Institute work.

    Some people may wonder why CRA targets long established environmental organizations for audit scrutiny but takes little interest in the heavy hitters who pump millions of dollars into political education the Harper Government supports.


  8. I guess you're suggesting that we shouldn't wait for Colby Cosh to write a revealing expose of how the Fraser Institute benefits from a double standard at CRA or how the Harper government is, like Richard Nixon in the USA, using the tax agency to attack political opponents. It's just the market working as it should: the rich and powerful survive, the weaklings are crushed.


  9. I have to disagree with this point. Throwing more money at the present form of NDP in BC would be similar to voting YES on the transit campaign.

    Rewarding the tired and predictable administration with more funds to serve up the same old home cooking just isn’t going to cut it any longer…..

    That and this nonsense about affirmative action regarding the Kwan replacement.

    “The NDP has a gender policy where the candidate must be female in any election for a constituency that the party already holds, so from the outset it was clear the candidate to replace Kwan would be a woman.”

    Horgan was asked about this;

    “Asked if the process was being manipulated to favour a particular candidate, he said: “I don't think so”

    So which is it? Definitely a particular kind of blindness.

    As long as Horgan continues to listen to Tieleman and Meggs and has Sihota involved the NDP will go nowhere in BC.

    Out of 53 seats in Alberta how many are rookie MP’s?

    What does this reveal to us? New memberships, new faces and voices, new ideas, will bring about change.

    More of the same will result in more of the same results.


  10. I'm having a difficult time squaring up the difference between providing gifts i.e. bribes (in whatever form) to politicians and providing donations to a political party. Either way there are mutual benefits – no?


  11. Do you mean through Davey Barrett? Or President (of Jimmy Patterson's Empire) Clarke?
    I must admit that I was a strong supporter of the Socreds and of the Liberals. This, in spite of the triumvirate of Ginter, Gaglardi and God (at the time I had delusions of benefiting from that group). But with the benefit of 60+ years of retrospect I have to admit I was delusional. Its time for a party with morals and scruples. Let's hope it is so with Rachel Notley!


  12. I have said it again and again (even on The Tyee until they banned me) Horgan would be a GREAT premier but he MUST clean house and get rid of the ideologues and 'professional second placers' that infest the BC NDP from top to bottom. Horgan's only chance is a MASSIVE house cleaning.
    We all know it wont happen.
    How much Christy can one populace take?


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