Thursday, November 4, 2010

Redefining Populism: Think Tanks, Foundations and Institutes, Oh My!

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

The Tea Party in the United States is being called a grassroots movement. The voices of the people.

But like the Reform movement, this is just another vehicle for the corporate world, who risked losing their scheduled "Bush tax cuts".

So working through the Republican Party, they have managed to shift the United States even further to the right. To a spot just right of sanity.

But while the Tea Party may be steeped in Orange Pekoe, those funding and benefiting from the clinking teaspoons, prefer champagne and caviar.

According to Linda McQuaig:
Back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan launched his campaign for a right-wing revolution in America, David Koch was a disgruntled billionaire who thought Reagan wasn’t far enough to the right. Today, Koch is still a disgruntled billionaire and still convinced the Reagan revolution hasn’t gone nearly far enough in cutting taxes on the rich, dismantling the welfare state and gutting government controls on business.

But today, as Americans vote in their mid-term elections, Koch is no longer in the political wilderness. After pumping more than $100 million into arch-conservative political organizations over the past 30 years, he (and billionaire brother Charles) now appear close to pushing U.S. politics significantly further to the right — even though the wealthy elite is already richer and more powerful today than it’s been since the 1920s. Through their Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers have micromanaged the rise of the purportedly grassroots Tea Party movement. (1)
And that's not all the Koch brothers have been behind. When an organization founded by one of Harper's MPs, John Weston, and former Stockwell Day supporter, John Carpay, launched attack ads in the US against Obama's healthcare plan, the Koch Foundation, through their Americans for Prosperity, helped to pay the bills. You can read all about it here.

These so-called grassroots movements have been called astroturf, but fake or not, the Tea Party is here to stay.

And using foundations to fund these movements is clever, because it means that while they warble against "taxes" the donations these foundations contribute is tax deductible, so those warbling taxpayers are funding their own demise.

We have the same thing in Canada. The Griffith Foundation for starters, donated $ 100,000.00 tax deductible dollars to the Fraser Institute. (2) The same Fraser Institute that helped to launch the Reform party. Jason Kenney and Rob Anders are both alumni.

And when Stephen Harper came to power he immediately changed the rules to make it even easier for these groups to benefit from our tax dollars.
Just a year after the Fraser's anniversary, Harper was prime minister and it was payback time. Buried in his first budget was a provision to exempt from capital gains tax donations of stock to charity. Adding this new exemption to the existing tax credit for donations to charities means that the donor pays only 40 percent of the dollars he donates. Taxpayers pick up the rest. (3)
In his book Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, Trevor Harrison speaks of the assorted think-tanks that helped to advance neoconservatism in Canada. When we were still allowed to call it neoconservatism.
The Fraser Institute was founded in British Columbia in November 1974 by Michael Walker, the son of a Newfoundland miner. Walker, holder of a doctorate in economics from the University of Western Ontario, started the institute with the monetary support of BC's business community, which was still reeling from the NDP's election in 1972. By 1984 the institute was operating on an annual budget of $900,000, funded by some of Canada's largest business interests, including Sam Belzberg of First City Trust, Sonja Bata of Bata Limited, A.J. de Grandpre of Bell Canada, and Lorne Lodge of IBM Canada.

The Fraser Institute also boasts impressive conservative credentials. The institute's authors include Milton Friedman [Ronald Reagan's economic adviser] and Herbert Grubel, while its editorial board includes Sir Alan Walters, former personal economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Finally, William F. Buckley Jr, brother-in-law of BC Socred bagman Austin Taylor, is a favourite guest speaker of the institute.

In short, the Fraser Institute is a conservative think-tank heavily funded by the corporate sector. Like the National Citizens' Coalition [Stephen Harper was president of the NCC when he left to run for leadership of the Alliance Party] , the Fraser Institute has steadfastly used its position to advance the neo-conservative agenda, an agenda liberally sprinkled with such Reaganite buzzwords as fiscal restraint, downsizing, and privatization. (4)
We are funding our own demise.

And these "think-tank" "astroturf" groups are growing. Dennis Gruending revealed several new ones, all with ties to Stephen Harper.

· the Manning Centre, created by Preston and his wife Sandra to train people how to succeed at conservative politics;

· the Ottawa-based Institute for Canadian Values, which has as its executive director Joseph Ben-Ami, a former political organizer for Stockwell Day.; and

· the Ottawa-based Institute for Marriage and Family, created by Dr James Dobson’s powerful US Focus on the Family (Canada), to provide socially conservative research and advice.

. the Hamilton-based Work Research Foundation (WRF), vice-president of research, Ray Pennings, was an unsuccessful Canadian Alliance candidate in the
2000 federal election.

The emergence of all these organizations might indicate that Canada is now seen as fertile territory for the think tank industry. If so, we all (and unions especially) should brace for an onslaught of “free market” propaganda. The challenge for progressive groups is provide better information and to distribute it widely within the community. (5)

And then there's the Frontier Centre, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Montreal Economic Institute (Maxime Bernier), the Civitas Society, the Canadian Constitution Foundation. The list is endless.

Yes Folks. We are funding our own demise.


1. Fortunes fertilize grassroots, By Linda McQuaig, Toronto Star, November 2, 2010

2. Behind Closed Doors: How the Rich Won Control of Canada's Tax System, By Linda McQuaig, Viking Press, 1987, ISBN: 0-670-81578-7, Pg. 57

3. Harperstein,, By Donald Gutstein, July 6, 2006

4. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By Trevor Harrison, University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, Pg. 48-49

5. Conservative think tanks multiply in Canada, By Dennis Gruending, Pulpit and Politics, November 10, 2007


  1. This article (in french) tells exactly the same kind of history. The fraser institute also assisted a new astroturf movement in Quebec : The Quebec Freedom network.

  2. Thanks for the information. I hadn't heard of that one.