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best-known “think tank” — one of hundreds of publicpolicy centres that have sprouted like dandelions across North America. Think tanks originated in the early 1900s, when industrialists created institutions dedicated to social and economic research, in the belief that science could improve government decision-making. (In 1921, a think tank convinced the United States to adopt a national budget system.) More appeared during the Cold War to analyze nuclear-weapons strategy. But in the 1970s, right-wing “advocacy” think tanks arose mainly to critique the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Pierre Trudeau and Dave Barrett, and big-government policies like the ALR. Since then, the Fraser Institute has become a BC phenomenon, with offices across the country, a staff of nearly 100 and more than 7,000 media citations a year worldwide. At its recent 35th-anniversary gala ($350 a ticket), the honorary chair was Gordon Campbell. To some, such growth is sinister. In a new book, Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy, Simon Fraser University lecturer Donald Gutstein argues that think tanks have steadily eroded public confidence in government, and driven North American politics to the right. “The whole system is media-driven,” says Gutstein, who identifies a continental network of libertarian policy centres (Diane Katz came to BC from a think tank in Michigan) that groom and train armies of speakers, flooding the airwaves with reports touting private education, unfettered free trade and environmental self-regulation. “If a real-estate board says, ‘We need to get rid of the ALR,’ everyone says, ‘We know why you want to do that,’ ” observes Gutstein. “But if the Fraser Institute says it, and has a study with numbers, we’re more likely to believe it.” Such studies are funded out of the institute’s annual budget of $14-million, mainly derived from tax-deductible donations; its board of directors includes developers, oil and mining executives and health-care merchants. Sometimes the benefactors are controversial: as Gutstein learned from U.S. tobacco-lawsuit documents, when Victoria imposed North America’s first total no-smoking bylaw in 2000 and other cities followed, the institute solicited cash from British American Tobacco, citing previous donations from Rothmans and Philip Morris and trumpeting its research denying links between second-hand smoke and cancer. Even today, I note, the institute insists that smoking has declined thanks to people freely embracing healthier lifestyles — because it doesn’t want anyone thinking Victoria’s bylaw achieved a public good. Well, so what? As Gutstein admits in his book, despite decades of Fraser Institute bumf, surveyed Canadians remain keen on preserving peace, order, and good government

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Life’s brighter under the sun © Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, 2009. Mutual funds offered by Sun Life Financial Investment Services (Canada) Inc.

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Profile for Boulevard Magazine

Boulevard Magazine - January/February 2010 Issue  

BOULEVARD MAGAZINE is designed to capture the personality, culture and vitality that is Victoria by focusing on the Arts, People, Trends, Fo...

Boulevard Magazine - January/February 2010 Issue  

BOULEVARD MAGAZINE is designed to capture the personality, culture and vitality that is Victoria by focusing on the Arts, People, Trends, Fo...

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