Roundup: Cozy think tank takedowns

Over on Maclean’s yesterday was a longread “exposé” of Canada 2020 as an arm of the federal Liberal party which is exerting all manner of influence, and how potentially inappropriate that may be. But after reading the piece, I found it less a convincing exploration of the think tank than it was simply a recitation of names with “links” to the Liberals, followed by Duff Conacher’s railing about how awful it all is.

Pro tip: If your story relies on Duff Conacher’s analysis of government misdeeds, then it’s probably not worth reading. Conacher is a noted crank who has a history of distorting issues and losing court battles, and who has a number of particularly harmful ideological agendas that involve the destruction of the Canadian Crown, the Westminster system, making all prerogatives justiciable, and one supposes the installation of a Parliamentary Thought Police with himself at the head. (Note: I have had to quote Conacher for stories in the past, but have limited those interactions to narrow questions of ethics legislation rather than the breadth of topics that other rely on his analysis for, just as Anne Kingston does here). In other words, it’s the laziest possible journalist trick in Canada if you want to write a story that makes any government look bad, and you won’t get any meaningful analysis of the issue.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t questions that can be raised about Canada 2020’s cozy relationship with the Liberal Party – but I would say that it’s in all likelihood no more nefarious than the kinds of ideological alignment between something like the Fraser Institute and the Conservative Party, and it’s no more incestuous than the Broadbent Institute is with the NDP (to the point where Broadbent’s PressProgress “news” service is simply a branch of the party’s opposition research bureau).

Part of the problem is that political parties in Canada have looked south with this particular kind of envy about the think tank networks in Washington as something that should be emulated, without necessarily realizing that the American think tank network is intrinsically linked to the fact that their civil service is far more partisan than Canada’s, and that the usual cycle is for parties who aren’t in power to send their senior staffers to bide their time in said think tanks, and when they return to power, they fill their upper civil service ranks from those think tanks, while those who’ve lost power fill their own think tank ranks, and on it goes. That’s not how things work in Canada, and the need for said think tanks is not the same. There has also been talk from some partisans about how they need these think tanks to help them develop policies, as thought that wasn’t the job of the parties’ grassroots membership. So I do think we need to rethink the whole “think tank” system in Canada writ-large and what parties are expecting of them – especially when it comes to policy development – but I’m not sure that this story is doing that job.

Good reads:

  • While in Mexico City, Justin Trudeau tried to keep optimistic about NAFTA renegotiations.
  • The European Union is looking to Canada as a kind of “early warning system” when it comes to relations with the United States.
  • The government has temporarily appointed the former president of the Canadian Space Agency to head up the RCMP’s watchdog.
  • The Supreme Court heard the case about how inmate assessments tend to be racist and sexist, leading to longer, harsher jail-terms especially for Indigenous inmates.
  • Apparently Donald Trump is going to make it easier for Canadians to buy Predator drones…in order to benefit his Buy American agenda.
  • There are questions as to why a company under investigation for theft of millions in health care funding for First Nations was still getting contracts renewed.
  • There’s another government-public service union battle brewing over the idea of scrapping bilingual bonuses for better training.
  • There are calls to make classroom-based harassment training mandatory for everyone on the Hill, and that current online training isn’t enough.
  • The Auditor General’s look at the Public Accounts included some scathing observations about how broken the Phoenix pay system is.
  • Saskatchewan’s Access to Information woes also include people being told who has requested information, which is in violation of the rules.
  • Here’s some more information about those sonic attacks against diplomats in Cuba.
  • Colby Cosh looks at StatsCan’s data on commodity prices as a history of Canada.
  • Robert Hiltz gives the government a good whacking over their inability to sell the Netflix deal, let alone anything else.

Odds and ends:

Maclean’s takes a look at Gerald Butts’ network of rich and powerful contacts.

One of the final Canada 150 items will be a skating rink on Parliament Hill for a variety of events up until New Year’s Eve.