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Lame green coroplast arrows point to UCP's cozy relationship with Canadian Taxpayers Federation

PHOTOS: United Conservative Party MLA Wes Taylor, from Twitter with modifications by the author.

If Jason Kenney were to become premier of Alberta, would government MLAs and ministers of the Crown be forced to dress up in pig costumes and pretend to be characters with names like Porky the Waster Hater?

Perhaps Wes Taylor, United Conservative Party MLA for the Battle River-Wainwright riding in East Central Alberta, would be just the man to meet the challenges of such a dramatic role.

This is actually a more serious question than it first might appear to a casual reader on its round, pink, porcine face.

It's easy to make fun of Taylor. Indeed, many social media users have been doing so since New Year's Day by creating amusing variations of the MLA's social media memes attacking Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP government's carbon levy. Taylor's versions of the images feature pictures of him pointing at stuff with a large green coroplast arrow that says "Notley made this more expensive."

An increase in the carbon tax had kicked in with the start of 2018, so the stunt -- whatever its merits in nuanced policy debate -- was certainly within the bounds of fair comment.

My personal favourite unauthorized variation was done with one a shot from a grocery store's bakery section. Some wag used Photoshop to make the prop read, "Galen Weston made this more expensive," an assertion for which a stronger case can be made!

Was this just Taylor's idea? There's strong reason to suspect it was inspired by two people in the UCP who have in the past held senior positions with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

One is Kenney, the party leader, who was once the CEO of Saskatchewan-based austerity missionaries. Kenney is very proud of that connection and rarely fails to bring it up at meetings with party supporters.

The other is Derek Fildebrandt, who is technically an Independent MLA for Strathmore-Brooks but in reality is a UCP Caucus member in all but title. Despite his recent legal and political woes, Fildebrandt is expected to be formally welcomed back into the party by Kenney soon, no doubt to an influential role.

Printing lame slogans attacking government spending on large pieces of plastic and photographing paid agitators standing with them beside things the organization's unaccountable leaders don't approve of is a vintage CTF tactic.

Like the CTF's fatuous and misleading "debt clock," Porky the Waster Hater is a perennial CTF favourite. The group's unoriginally named mascot is trotted out at stunts like the fake awards given to governments for supposedly wasting taxpayers' money on projects the CTF's operatives think will be easy targets -- say, original work by young Canadian scholars with little immediate profit potential.

That's why you don't have to dig very deeply into the internet to find pictures of Fildebrandt and former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, in happier and more Wildrosy times, sitting in a bar holding up a large, red, coroplast arrow that reads "Prentice made this more expensive." The premier in question at that time was the late Jim Prentice, the last Progressive Conservative to lead the province.

Lazy journalists often call the CTF a "tax watchdog." It is not. The Regina-based group describes itself as a "not-for-profit citizen's (sic) group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government." This description, however, is also largely spin. Despite reporting more than 100,000 "supporters" -- presumably mostly individuals who have donated small sums to the group -- the CTF legally has only six members, its board. If you think you're a member and you want to know how much of a pro-accountability citizens' group it is, just ask it to let you see its books.

It's fair to label the CTF a classic Astro-Turf operation.

Board members change occasionally, but the board generally includes some members with an anti-union agenda. The group consistently supports positions taken by market-fundamentalist, conservative political parties as well as what most Canadians understand to be a corporate agenda.

But after many years being handled with kid gloves by mainstream media, the group is extremely sensitive about such criticism. Its president, Troy Lanigan, accuses people who characterize it as serving the corporate agenda of being "far-left bomb throwers." Seriously.

In September last year, Kenney and other candidates for the leadership of the now-defunct PC Party, which has since been merged into the UCP, trooped obediently to a CTF press conference to sign the group's "taxpayer protection pledge" to take "immediate action" to repeal the carbon levy and eliminate the provincial deficit within one term if they form government.

The group's Alberta director boasted it uses such signatures "to pressure politicians" to maintain their fealty to the CTF's agenda. "Politicians know that if they break these promises, the images of them signing the pledges could haunt their political careers," warned Colin Craig in a news release.

The CTF has not always found so much love among Alberta's Conservatives. The late Ralph Klein, whom the UCP leader purports to admire, in 1993 accused Kenney of spreading falsehoods about his government's spending and accused the CTF of "robbing" senior citizens with its aggressive fund-raising campaigns.

According to a Maclean's account of Klein's "remarkable exchange" with Kenney in the halls of the Alberta Legislature Building, Kenney "threatened to sue the premier for slander."

It seems unlikely the CTF needs to worry about anything like that happening with Kenney now. The UCP leader is so close to the CTF one wonders if the UCP has simply become its Alberta franchise.

Are CTF apparatchiks the "experts" a UCP government would rely on to draft and set provincial policy, even law? What role does the group play in drafting UCP policy now? These are legitimate questions Kenney should be asked.

As for the lame stunts deeply ingrained in the CTF's political DNA, it's a given they will increasingly become a part of political life in Alberta with Kenney at the Opposition's helm.

There was a day when you might disagree with Alberta Conservatives, but you could count on them to behave with disdainful dignity when it came to acknowledging their political foes. That, however, was before they found themselves in opposition.

The UCP has more in common with the Wildrose Party and even the Social Credit League than the poor old PCs, who seemed like they would last forever but suffered one setback and immediately gave up the ghost.

So it's almost a given that, sooner or later, some member of the UCP caucus is going to be told to dress up as Porky the Waster Hater, at least until they have the opportunity to generate some porky waste of their own.

Surely this is something lesser UCP lights like Taylor should worry about.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

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