Saturday, July 04, 2009

On institutional bias

Oddly enough, this story about Jim Flaherty's effort to use both his name and his office to promote a right-wing think tank seems to have gone largely unnoticed other than in Linda McQuaig's recent column. But while the news may have escaped much attention in the midst of the latest confidence showdown, it's worth pointing out now as another example of how public resources are being misused by a Con government which apparently believes that the public sector exists only to further its political ends:
Tomorrow night, the country's Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, will host a private dinner at the Albany Club in Toronto to raise support for a new, non-partisan, private sector think tank. Called the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and designed to be national in scope but based in Ottawa, it is the creation of Brian Lee Crowley, currently president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Halifax.

Mr. Flaherty is "giving it my personal backing," he says in a letter inviting well-heeled Bay Street types to the event "and I hope that you will consider doing the same."

Having spent several years in the capital, the minister says "I can speak with some authority when I say that driving change within Ottawa is not easy. There are powerful actors in Ottawa, within the civil service, Parliament, the media and in many non-governmental organizations, that actively resist progress. ... Although I have always felt very well supported by friends and colleagues, I have clearly felt the need for independent research, support and promotion of these ideals," which he enumerates as smaller government, lower taxes and greater personal responsibility.
The minister concludes his pitch to potential backers of the new think tank by saying: "I'd like to see him return with a strong, independent and well-financed organization behind him to help transform Ottawa for the better, regardless of who is in power. This important national initiative deserves to succeed. Please join me in ensuring that it does. My office will follow up with you."
Now, the first message worth taking away from Flaherty's statement is that the Cons are still pushing the paranoid style of politics when it comes to dealing with the civil service among other actors. And it can't escape notice that the sitting Finance Minister is trying to use the prestige associated with his office to whine about "powerful actors" who have the nerve to point out that public policy shouldn't be measured solely by how much wealth it transfers upward.

Needless to say, the inclusion of the civil service in the list looks all the more ridiculous in light of Flaherty's stated intention to put "his office" to use in twisting arms for Crowley, including by ensuring that the latest propaganda machine is "well-financed". And I'd have to wonder how that could make for anything but a glaring misuse of the public resources at Flaherty's disposal.

Which means that there's a definite need for followup as to just how much public time has been dedicated to Flaherty's private support for Crowley's group. And hopefully if the truth comes out, it'll go a long way toward ensuring removing Flaherty from any position where he's able to do anything similar in the future.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

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