INDEPTH: FRASER INSTITUTE|
The Fraser Institute at 30
CBC News Online | October 12, 2004
The Fraser Institute was founded in 1974 by a group of academics and business executives who were concerned that government was getting too big, and that debate on the best way of meeting the economic and social aspirations of Canadians centred on heavy government involvement.
There are those who say the organization's birth was not completely benign; they charge that Michael Walker, an economist from the University of Western Ontario, helped set up the institute after he received financial backing from forestry giant MacMillan-Bloedel, largely to counter B.C.'s NDP government.
To counter charges that it had an agenda, the Fraser Institute said that:
The Fraser Institute is clear about its focus. Its website and all its major publications state:
- Its research priorities would be determined by its staff, not its funders.
- Its research would be based on sound methodology and facts. To ensure this, an Editorial Advisory Board would be established.
- No institute staff would engage in political activity, and the institute's conclusions would not be modified to favour any political or economic group.
The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian economic and social research and educational organization. It has as its objective the redirection of public attention to the role of competitive markets in providing for the well-being of Canadians. Where markets work, the Institute's interest lies in trying to discover prospects for improvement.
Where markets do not work, its interest lies in finding the reasons. Where competitive markets have been replaced by government control, the interest of the Institute lies in documenting objectively the nature of the improvement or deterioration resulting from government intervention.
The institute which came to be known as a "right-wing think tank" didn't attract much attention nationally in the early years, mainly because the prevailing notion in most of the western world was that government had a large role to play in improving the social and economic conditions of citizens.
High interest rates, soaring government deficits and public debt began to change some minds by the late 1970s. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher swept into office with a promise of getting the country's finances in order and the government off people's backs. In the U.S., Ronald Reagan's promises of tax cuts and a return to prosperity through smaller government also led to a big win.
In Canada, the Fraser Institute began to attract a lot of attention in the second half of the 1980s, as the debate about free trade with the United States heated up partially because of the reports it was releasing and partially because of the people who were attracted to the organization. Among them was Conrad Black, who controlled the Southam newspaper group.
Ontario Premier Mike Harris describes the success of his government to members of the Fraser Institute at a luncheon in Vancouver in 1997. (CP Photo)
The Fraser Institute identified hot button issues early and got into the debate. Some of the reports it published include:
The Fraser Institute has called for changes such as a flatter tax system, private involvement in health care, and allowing parents more choice in their children's education (vouchers that can be used to help pay the cost of a private school education).
- Caring For Profit: Economic Dimensions of Canada's Health Care Industry (1987)
- Privatization: Tactics and Techniques (1988)
- Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada series (1990-present)
- Economics and the Environment: A Reconciliation (1990)
One issue the Fraser Institute has paid considerable attention to is taxation. It has consistently called for tax relief for corporations and individuals, to bring taxes more in line with those of the United States, Canada's largest trading partner.
For years, the institute's researchers have determined which day of the year you would have to work until to meet all your tax obligations to all levels of government. The Fraser Institute's Tax Freedom Day is generally towards the end of June, although the day varies depending on which province you live in. The institute has been very successful in attracting media attention to the annual announcement.
The Fraser Institute has come under harsh criticism from several groups. Trade unions have lambasted the organization for its recommendations to abolish minimum wage regulations and to end rules that force workers covered by a union agreement to pay union dues.
In 1999, the Fraser Institute raised the ire of scientists and health professionals when it sponsored two conferences on the tobacco industry. They were titled "Junk Science, Junk Policy? Managing Risk and Regulation" and "Should government butt out? The pros and cons of tobacco regulation." The institute was accused of putting its credibility on the line by allying itself with the tobacco industry's efforts to undermine credible scientific research.
The institute has also come out with some surprising recommendations: it declared the war on drugs to be lost and called for the decriminalization of marijuana. Its researchers argued that illegal pot meant a boost for organized crime, as otherwise-law-abiding people went underground to make their purchases.
The Fraser Institute has a history of attracting high-profile people. Michael Walker remains at the head of the organization. Former Ontario premier Mike Harris and Reform party founder Preston Manning are both senior fellows with the institute.
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The Fraser Institute