News from the Fraser Institute: Just say no

The Fraser Institute's recent study on BC and Yukon schools was released this month, and as usual Yukon high schools fared badly.

The Fraser Institute’s recent study on BC and Yukon schools was released this month, and as usual Yukon high schools fared badly. In fact, publicly funded schools did badly across the board when compared to private schools, a predictable enough result: Fraser Institute studies all begin with the premise that public funding is bad.

The Fraser Institute describes itself as “an independent non-profit research and educational organization.” A more objective observer might describe it as an industry-dependant right-wing propaganda machine. The institute was founded in 1974 with the financial support of forestry giant MacMillan Bloedell, and has faithfully campaigned against stumpage fees, regulation, and public ownership of BC’s forests ever since.

The Fraser went on to shill for the tobacco industry, taking funding from Rothmans and Philip Morris and sponsoring two conferences in 1999, titled, Junk Science, Junk Policy? Managing Risk and Regulation and Should government butt out? The pros and cons of tobacco regulation. At these conferences, tobacco industry “scientists” presented papers they could never have published in peer-reviewed journals, which Fraser propagandists packaged for the media.

Later, backed by donations from Exxon Mobil, the Fraser turned its attention to global warming. In this case the think-tank hired physicists Willie Soon and Sallie L. Baliunas to craft a report “debunking” climate-change science. Soon and Baliunas were well qualified for the job, being already in the pay of the American coal industry. Not surprisingly, they concluded that “There is no clear evidence, nor unique attribution, of the global effects of anthropogenic CO2 on climate.”

This is not to suggest that the Fraser can be bought and sold like a used car. On the contrary, the institute exists for purely ideological reasons. As their web-page states, “The Fraser Institute measures and studies the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on individuals and society,”

and it invariably finds that the impact of competitive markets is good, and that of government intervention is bad. If you want to buy a study showing that pollutants from Fort McMurray are causing cancers in downstream First Nations communities, look elsewhere. If you want one proving the opposite, the Fraser Institute can arrange it for you.

Stephen Harper was one of the founding members of the Fraser, and you may rest assured that he will look to its work to legitimize much of what he does with his newfound majority. So be it. Whatever you might think of our current electoral system, it is the one under which we went to the polls, and it selected a right-wing government. They will use right-wing think tanks to instruct and to justify their actions. But that doesn’t mean that the media has to follow suit.

There are three ways that the media can deal with Fraser Institute canned news stories. They can run them as if they represented genuine research. This is the cheapest and easiest way to proceed, and will be the one favoured by Sun Media, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail, who share the Fraser’s general outlook on politics. Anybody reading those papers or watching that news ought to be aware of their pro-corporate bias, and take it into account.

But a problem arises when the Fraser’s blatant propaganda is taken up as news by media outlets whose bias is less clear. Why does the CBC still do sole-sourced, uncritical reports based on Fraser Institute studies? Why does the Yukon News not simply ignore rubbish like the “report card” on schools, or at least amend those reports by saying that the results of any and all Fraser Institute studies are deliberately and absurdly skewed in favour of anything done by the “private sector” and against anything achieved by government.

Sadly for honest political discourse in Canada, the Fraser Institute is not going to go away. It will continue to be the mouthpiece of big business, accepting blood money and spreading misinformation to prove the unprovable, that corporate greed serves the interests of the country, and not simply of the greedy corporations. One thing that could change, and it wouldn’t be hard, is that those media outlets which are not financed by the same greedy cabal that funds the Fraser could put a little more effort into challenging its right-wing bunk.

Or, if it’s too much trouble to critique the Fraser’s work, to follow the money and the lies that it buys, there’s one other solution when those press releases land on your desk, outlining yet another so-called study that proves once again how much good unregulated greed does for the world, ignore it. It won’t go away, but at least one editor, one radio producer, one TV host, will have refused to legitimize a corporate mouthpiece as a “news source.” It’s simple: when the Fraser Institute comes to call, don’t encourage them. They already have enough power and influence. Just say, no.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.