Research -- with credentials?

Posted 12.14.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | "Privatize Hydro-Quebec" is a favourite idea of the Montreal Economic Institute. This think-tank argues that, to cut to the chase, hydro rates are too low in Quebec, but in corporate hands, the rates would go up and investors would earn more profit, making Quebec a more profitable place for investment.

Great logic, from this tank so generously funded by those very investors who want to save Quebec by charging us more.

Other think tanks have assured us the Vancouver Olympics would generate a profit and continue to stimulate the BC economy, that invading Afghanistan would easily pacify the country, or, at any rate, our military spending would stimulate somebody's economy. Ditto for Libya.

And now comes assurances that twenty million tax dollars from Prime Minister Harper will ease the job of the new corporate owners of Maple Leaf Gardens. And also that Canada "giving in" to climate change scientists in Durban, South Africa, last week would have doubled our energy bills.

Thanks to the Internet, as a journalist and editor, my e-mail reaches over 100 messages a day, and scattered through this barrage, every twenty e-mails or so, are one of these reports, opinion pieces, really, from the "tanks."

They seem about 90 percent slanted toward supporting corporate welfare -- like the Montreal Institute. For years I figured "think tank" meant "advertising agency for big business", but I was mistaken.

(It's embarrassing to admit that not only am I mistaken -- again! -- but my journalistic investigative skills have been so slight.)

For example, despite the 'tanks, blogs, and newsletters from the Tar Sands Industry, there is actually a level-headed think-tank that looks at the same issues, but without pre-arranged conclusions -- the Pembina Institute. Its reports fall across many parts of the political spectrum, with solid research and useful contacts.

Further investigation revealed more open-minded researchers. Not everyone considers the David Suzuki Foundation as objective, since they take environmental and climate issues with passion as well as science. But I would say, since they don't advocate radical and self-serving measures, like privatizing Hydro or the CBC, they are in this centrist category. But Suzuki may not be on everyone's good list.

However non-corporate research is almost invisible. The floodwaters of the Internet drown them out, and, without handsome corporate funding, they can't shout above the crowd or grab the media's crazily-short attention span.

Bay Street flag-bearers like The Fraser Institute serve a valuable role, feeding "facts" and "research" to the media. Even community newspapers receive a steady stream of their, in essence, propaganda. It's easy to confuse lobbyists with many of these institutes and foundations.

But we should be alert, and read their pronouncements carefully.

They have an aggressive agenda which includes privatizing big parts of our medical system, reducing public schools to favour private ones, cutting old-age pensions, and certainly to dismantle what protections there are of our food supply, meat grading, drinking water, clean air, and personal legal appeal mechanisms -- for starters. There's no grand conspiracy here, this is merely what it's like to live in a market economy where companies cut costs no matter what.

One of the best and most helpful research organizations is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, headquartered in Ottawa. The Centre produces an impressive flow of research articles and summaries, studies of other countries, investigative journalism, books, and articles. It's encouraging to see fresh and progressive sources of information still functioning.

If we don't want to be suffocated by today's rising darkness, we have to use them -- support and use them.

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/12.11