How governments fund their very own lobby groups

When governments fund lobby groups, it gives the public the mistaken sense that more Canadians support the views of such groups than might actually be the case.
Published on December 14, 2002

Undoubtedly, some money goes to worthy environmental projects worth doing by someone, but much taxpayer cash also goes to groups busy promoting one view of the issues of the day, such as the Kyoto Protocol. For example, the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, critical of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein for his Kyoto stance, received at least $291,371 in 2000 and 2001 from Ottawa to push the federal government’s view of Kyoto. How it received the money is no surprise; it is on friendly terms with Environment Minister David Anderson with whom it once held a very public black tie dinner.

Naturally, while such lobby groups receive government funds, it is of course easy for them to oppose and kill off development and the accompanying jobs in the country’s mines, forests, and at the figs. But if forced to live in the real world and raise support there, many groups would wither up and die and lose their jobs Instead of being able to put others out of work. When governments fund lobby groups, it gives the public the mistaken sense that more Canadians support the views of such groups than might actually be the case. That is helpful to governments who may hold unpopular views or are themselves unpopular.

A provincial example of this occurred in British Columbia. Through out the 1990s, the New Democratic government funded the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), an organization with offices across the country who, not coincidentally, constantly press for higher taxes and more spending.

To say that a fair majority of Canadians would disagree with the Centre’s heavily redistributionist policies is an understatement. The CCPA, which has tax-deductible status, is solidly in favour of higher taxes and more government intervention in the economy including, oddly, corporate welfare. (Curiously, its call for higher taxes, if implemented, would negatively affect high-income workers on the auto assembly line who are probably unaware their labour bosses at the Canadian Autoworkers Union also fund the group.)

In British Columbia, the New Democrat government in power between 1991 and 2001 funded the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives over the last decade to the tune of at least $410,231.10 And $200,000 of that was doled out in the last three months of the NDP’s mandate in 2001. Freedom of Information requests to government reveal that in some cases the CCPA gave 25 copies of each study they produced to government ministries or Crowns in exchange for funding.

This enabled the Centre to argue that it performed contract work or sold goods and services to the government. What it did do, in fact, was charge several hundred dollars per report for 20-page opinion pieces produced by the Centre that were available free on its website.

In essence, the Centre charged for reports that other organizations from every end of the political spectrum regularly give to governments for free; i.e., their advice in the form of studies and pre-budget submissions. It was a covert way for the then-NDP government to subsidize a lobby group that would routinely call for higher taxes and more spending, something that government thought useful to have an ally on.

And by granting $200,000 to the CCPA in the last three months of office in 2001 when it knew it faced certain defeat at the polls, New Democrats supported-at taxpayer expense-an ideologically similar lobby group guaranteed to be critical of the expected (and eventual) new B.C. Liberal government. One “contract” given to the group by the NDP government was for studies to be conducted through to 2005 which, not coincidentally, is the time frame up to the next election. It was political advocacy paid for by taxpayers, many of whom were no doubt unaware that their tax dollars were used to fund views and positions with which they might disagree.

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