Invasion of the right wing think tanks


Last week my column landed on the bottom of our local editorial page for the first time. Oops. “Well, that’s just the luck of the draw,” I thought. Nothing untoward. But I’d been at the top of page 5 for a long time, so it got me thinking about the recent changes on our two editorial pages.

One thing was clear. Instead of an op-ed section questioning why more than one of our young parents would brutally murder their newborn infants, or the rampant prescription drug abuse in Charlotte County, New Brunswick or the inability to keep a working bank alive on Campobello Island, or the continuing decline of the East Coast fishery (lobster excepted)—we were getting something else. But what?

Well, last week, most of a full page was taken up by three columns imported from Western Canada. The three writers were representing two western think tanks, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Canada West Foundation. It turns out that these are small “c” conservative groups working with a pro-western agenda. But more on that later.

The other columnists included two big “C” Conservatives: Greg Thompson writing very appropriately about Remembrance Day, and David Alward writing about the pending sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec. There were no liberal counterpoints, nor were there any letters to the editor. Hmm. I began to sense a shift in direction. I decided to check out these new western writers and their organizations.

It turns out that there’s a lot on the Internet about the Frontier Centre. It’s often described as a “right wing think tank.” One observer, a Liberal lawyer, oil company director and former Chair of the Calgary Police Commission named Darryl Raymaker, was particularly critical of Frontier’s Mark Milke—who regularly writes on the Future of Conservatism and was our page 5 headliner last week. This is what Mr. Raymaker had to say on his blog:

“Also on the (Calgary) Herald's editorial pages you will find Mark Milke's column once a week. Whether he's paid to write it I can't say. If he is, it is an expense his bankrupt employer should surely bring to an end. Milke is a senior fellow with the Frontier Institute, a Winnipeg-based, conservative, political tub-thumper for corporate special interests masquerading as a think tank. Indeed, the Frontier Institute is quite similar to the more well-known and notorious right-wing pamphleteer, the Fraser Institute. Milke believes that global warming is a crock, favours unbridled capitalism, has no time for human rights commissions, and promotes the idea of unfettered freedom of speech.”

Well, it seems that Mr. Raymaker can be pretty unfettered in his speech, too. To be fair, I also checked out the think tanks’ websites. Here’s how the Canada West Foundation introduces itself:

“We know our history and how it influences our future. Whether it is the economy, environment, education, healthcare, taxes, energy, social services, urban issues, provincial-federal relations or any other policy area of importance to the West, we have researched it, commented on it, stimulated debate about it and recommended practical options for improving the policy response. Democracy lives.

“Canada West Foundation is known and respected for its independence. No one tells us what to say, even though we are engaged by all levels of government, all types of companies, associations and philanthropic foundations. As a nonprofit, donations ensure our research is accessible and free, so everyone can benefit.”

So democracy lives? Let’s see who their donors might be, you know, the ones who might benefit the most from the Canada West democratic mission. Well, in addition to their claim that their “Board of Directors represent the who’s who of the four western provinces,” I would add that their lead donors do, too. Here’s the top few from 2007:

Axia Netmedia Corporation
Canadian Pacific
Coril Holdings Ltd.
N. Murray Edwards
IBM Canada Ltd.
Imperial Oil Limited
Nexen Inc.
Power Corporation of Canada
SC Infrastructure Corp.
TransCanada Corporation
Western Financial Group

Okay, big corporations. But N. Murray Edwards? Never heard of him.

Well, according to Wikipedia it turns out that Mr. Edwards is—“one of the richest Canadians, according to Forbes. His net worth is said to be $1.4 billion US. Edwards has more at stake in the Canadian oil sands than possibly any other individual. His company, Canadian Natural Resources, has sketched out plans to spend $25 billion to turn the bitumen-bearing sand found in northern Alberta into barrels of crude oil.

“This media shy lawyer-turned financier also owns big stakes in Ensign Energy, Canada's second biggest oil services company, and Penn West, one of Canada's biggest energy trusts. He also owns Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, which owns Fernie Alpine Resort, Kimberley Alpine Resort, Nakiska, Stoneham Mountain Resort, and Mont-Sainte-Anne. He also owns shares of the Calgary Flames hockey team. He also owns over 30% of a management and holding company, Jovian Capital Corp. Edwards is Chairman of the Board of Magellan Aerospace Corporation.”

Now there’s an agenda. And these guys put their money where their mouths are. Again, according to their website, “Seven teams of Canada’s leading investors and investment advisors invested one million dollars each” in the foundation. And to think that it all started from the “One Prairie Province? Conference” in 1970. I think that pretty much sets up the thinking.

Which brings me back to why these guys—their writers that is—would have such a dominant presence in our little weekly paper based on the other side of the country. It’s puzzling and I really don’t have a good answer.

Maybe it’s the quality of their writing. Perhaps, last week, we Charlotte County folks needed to learn about our teachers allowing our kids to hand in late assignments. But hey, I have 4 kids in our school system and I’ve learned that our teachers make sure the assignments are in on time.

And then there’s the column on government funding for the film industry. Now that’s topical. Don’t we have a new movie crew shooting here in New Brunswick every couple of months? Oh, I forgot. It’s Alberta and BC where the movies are shot.

If that’s not enough relevant information for us, then there’s the “New era of interprovincial cooperation in Western Canada.” Now that’s something we all care about deeply at the local level.

Or we would if we were about to be included as the fifth Western province. Then again, with the Hydro-Québec announcement to take over NB Power, stranger things have happened.


  1. What is your source for the list of top donors in 2007?


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