Phony grassroots groups peddle Conservative propaganda

Canadians for Afghanistan and Friends of Science have connections to Harper's political agenda

 

Stephen Harper - Accountability Act - National Citizens CoalitionOttawa (28 Feb. 2008) - Before he became prime minister, Stephen Harper headed the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a pioneering wolf-in-sheep's-clothing outfit that championed conservative causes while posing as a grassroots organization.

The NCC was founded more than 40 years ago by the late Colin Brown, a cranky insurance millionaire who sensed populism could be faked and milked for political impact. He'd approve of the tactics Harper is using in Ottawa today.

Over its many years, the NCC has poured millions of murky dollars into billboard campaigns, national newspaper ads and Supreme Court challenges on behalf of right-wing causes, never once identifying the "citizens" it speaks for or allowing anyone to view its list of donors. The suspicion has always been that corporations fund the lion's share of its activities.

The NCC is a model that right-wing groups have used repeatedly and, with a federal election again looming, the concept is being put to use once again by the Harperites.

Two suspect groups

Two recent examples of groups sporting a phony independence while pushing causes in line with the Harper re-election campaign are Canadians for Afghanistan (CFA) and Friends of Science (FOS).

CFA is supporting the Conservative plan to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan to 2011 while FOS is dedicated to debunking global warming and thus shoring up weak Conservative environmental policies.

While claiming independence, both groups include, or are influenced by, partisan associates or former operatives of the Harper Conservatives.

Canadians for Afghanistan describes itself as a coalition of students and young people. However, the Ottawa Citizen reports that one of the key operatives behind the recently-unveiled group is Josh McJannet.

While others did the talking, as the group introduced itself to parliamentary media, McJannet sat out of sight, a few metres away in a briefing room. He later admitted to being on the group's "steering committee" but declined to answer questions about his role.

Until last September, McJannet was a Conservative staff member in the office of Conservative Whip Jay Hill. Before that he worked for Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer. When he left the hill, he became a lobbyist with Summa Strategies, a firm that counts defence contractors such as the Boeing aerospace giant among its clients.

Swiss cheese law

McJannet was able to move with ease into the lobbying world because of a Swiss cheese loophole inserted by the Conservatives into their much touted Federal Accountability Act.

Instead of preventing Parliament Hill staffers from cashing in on political connections, as its name suggests, and as Harper promised, the law exempts "parliamentary" aides from any cooling off period at all, allowing them to move directly to the lobbying jobs.

Meanwhile, CanWest News reports that Morten Paulsen, a volunteer member of the Conservative's 2006 election team, was on the payroll as a communications consultant to FOS, an Alberta-based lobby group formed several years to oppose Canada's participation in the Kyoto agreement.

Paulsen is a long-time conservative organizer with roots in the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, the political predecessors of the current Conservative party. He served as a volunteer spokesman for the Conservatives at the same time he was being paid by the lobby group.

As a result, a complaint has been filed with Elections Canada because the group bought ads in five key Ontario markets during the 2006 federal election campaign without registering as a third party. The party and group deny any official connection between them but it is a claim that critics call absurd.

In 2006, Paulsen was registered as a lobbyist for the group and for two oil and gas companies. He is now a senior vice-president with Fleishman-Hillard Canada, a company that on its website makes yet another Conservative connection involving Paulsen. He co-chaired the 2006 Alberta provincial Conservative convention.

Accountability

Saying one thing and doing another has always been a part of politics. But the Harper Conservatives have taken it to new levels. In Harper's Ottawa, accountability is for his opponents. For Conservatives it's mostly a talking point.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring that our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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