Who’s behind the attack on Canada’s public health system?

Where you buy your groceries, which newspaper you subscribe to, or where you do your banking may contribute to funding the attack on public health care in Canada.

The explosive growth of right-wing think tanks across Canada has been supported by some of our largest corporations to promote their own private interests. The question is, are these legitimate research institutes or business lobbyists?

While the media continually treats reports from these organizations as gospel, they seldom ask who provides the funding?

The irony is not lost on us, especially given the Montreal Economics Institute’s campaign to make unions open their books to the public while they themselves refuse to divulge who their funders are.

In one of the most pathetic excuses for non-disclosure, the MEI claims on their web site that “publishing such a list would give organizations similar to the MEI an opportunity to solicit its donors directly, which is not desirable.”

Most of these think tanks get funding from the same right-wing foundations, such as the U.S. based Donner Foundation, which gave MEI almost $40,000 in 2010. Donner also gave significant sums to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, The Fraser Institute, the Frontier Centre and the C.D. Howe Institute in the same year. The MEI does admit it receives more than half of its funding from such undisclosed foundations, and another 42 per cent from businesses.

The reports emanating from these extreme right wing institutions are frequently featured in Sun media.

Pierre Karl Peladeau, CEO of Quebecor, which owns the Sun chain, is presently on the board of the Fraser Institute. Should it surprise us then that we get such biased coverage from his media entities? In 2011, the Toronto Sun pulled out of the Ontario Press Council, complaining about the “politically correct” values of the media watch dog.

In the Toronto Sun, the MEI recently extolled the virtues of Germany’s transition to more private for-profit hospitals, suggesting Canada should follow their lead.

Like most right-wing think tanks, the MEI is trying to divert our attention away from failures in health care privatization here and south of the border. You don’t have to go as far as Germany to see market mechanisms don’t work in health care.

Both the Fraser Institute and the C.D. Howe have also recommended blowing up the Canada Health Act. The Act guarantees coverage to Canadians for medically necessary care.

The Garfield Weston Foundation funds right-wing advocacy organizations both in Canada and the UK, and is considered to be one of the largest charitable foundations in the world.

The Weston Foundation – established by the founding family behind Loblaws – is a major contributor to the Fraser Institute, one of five big right wing organizations that continually advocate for private health care, reduced public services, and lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Along with the Donner Foundation, they also support the MacDonald-Laurier Institute.

The Weston Foundation is reported to contribute about $2 million a year to the Fraser Institute to support its school awards program. In the UK, Weston funds the Centre for Policy Studies, a right wing think tank with close ties to the British Conservative Party.

The C.D. Howe Institute is less shy about disclosure, although we have no idea how much each foundation/corporation is contributing. The board of the C.D. Howe Institute is almost entirely made up of senior corporate executives and board chairs. Yet how often do you hear the term, “corporate-run” C.D. Howe Institute, although many newspapers don’t hesitate about affixing the label “left-leaning” to their occasional references to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Oh, and Don Drummond, our recent Commissioner on Public Service Reform, has associations with at least two of these organizations. Drummond writes papers for the C.D. Howe. He also sits on the advisory council of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute.

This issue is not unique to Canada.

George Monbiot, writing in the UK Guardian, sums it up well, charging “that the groups which call themselves free-market thinktanks are nothing of the kind. They are public relations agencies, secretly lobbying for the corporations and multimillionaires who finance them. If they wish to refute this claim, they should disclose their funding. Until then, whenever you hear the term free-market thinktank, think of a tank, crushing democracy, driven by big business.”


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