Why are Concordia Departments Spreading Fraser Institute Events?

The Fraser Institute is Bad, and You Should Feel Bad for Promoting Them

Graphic Paulina Dominguez

A friend, who’s also majoring in journalism, sent me a message on Facebook.

“Hey, did you hear about this conference? I got an email about it from the journalism department. Maybe we could go?”

So I opened the link. It was an event called “economics for journalists,” and it looked really professional. It was a multi-day seminar, and it was free. Attendees were going to learn about how to report on economics, read markets, understand government budgets, and all that. And not only was the event itself free, but the organizers would actually pay for your travel and lodging costs! What’s not to love, right?

If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. The event that the journalism department was uncritically advertising was being held by the Fraser Institute. And it wasn’t only the journalism department, either—one of the other emails I had deleted was from my other major, the School of Community and Public Affairs, promoting a separate Fraser event about studying public policy.

The Fraser Institute is a hyper-partisan, small-c conservative “think tank” that advocates for a whole host of really bad things. It’s been around since the mid-1970’s, and has consistently promoted junk science in the time since, as a way of muddying the water of public debate. If there’s a public policy decision that threatens corporate profits, you can be sure that the Fraser Institute will be nearby, courageously defending the interests of the richest and most powerful, facts be damned. It’s an organization that receives millions of dollars in dark money from powerful industries and individuals trying to control public discourse.

As recently as 1999, the Fraser Institute was publishing studies questioning the links between cigarette smoke and cancer—despite the broad scientific consensus linking the two. It would be wrong to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, they said, because we don’t even know whether second-hand smoke is dangerous! In what is surely a pure coincidence, the Fraser Institute has also received a whole lot of funding from the tobacco industry.

The Institute also receives a ton of funding from the oil industry. Again, it’s probably a coincidence, but the good folks down at Fraser have also been some of the most vocal skeptics of climate science. Funny how that works, huh?

In fact, the Fraser Institute has been described as one of the two most prominent climate change denial organizations in Canada. They publish studies outright denying human impact on the climate. Anyways, even if climate change is real and being caused by humans, that’s no excuse for government action. Let the free market decide whether we should careen rapidly toward ecological collapse! The invisible hand will save us, baby!

In one particularly bizarre post, someone over at Fraser said that the devastating hurricanes of last summer shouldn’t have us questioning how to respond to climate change, because we can’t even say with certainty whether the disasters were worsened by climate change. The real problem, actually, is “the conspicuous desire of people to live in the path of the storms.” That’s right folks, the problem with increasing natural disasters is actually the fact that we haven’t yet fled to the mountains. You heard it here first.

Surprisingly, the Fraser Institute is also in favor of the slow privatization of health care. According to their totally objective reports, the fact that we have long wait-times for health care in Canada isn’t because of decades of budget cuts. Oh no, it’s because there there isn’t enough profit for large companies to extract out of sick people! Sorry, I mean “market competition.” Obviously, this perspective has absolutely nothing to do with the funding they receive from the pharmaceutical industry, so stop asking, okay? This is all pure, objective economics here.

The Fraser Institute also argues against gun control, for some reason. And for union-busting. And they’re against minimum wage increases. They think tuition should be increased. They think rich people should pay much lower taxes, same for corporations.

Some of the the Fraser Institute’s most high-profile funding comes from the Koch brothers—the comic book villain oil magnates who were the primary funders behind the Tea Party in the US. You know, the same Tea Party that basically called Barack Obama a Muslim communist spawn of Satan despite Obama basically being a neoconservative. Obviously, the Kochs care deeply about public discourse and simply want us to fairly debate the specific ideas which would profit them immensely. Like pipelines. We should build all the pipelines. Because economics.

The Fraser Institute is most definitely not filled with a bunch of mercenary academic hacks who don’t even believe the bullshit that they’re spewing but continue to do so because they’re being paid to do corporate public relations masked as non-partisan analysis. That would be absurd!

The events the Fraser Institute holds for students are, obviously, not just cynical attempts to present a bunch of junk science economics to young journalists and policy students, as part of a long-term plan to poison public discourse in the country. Who would do such a thing? Certainly not the Fraser Institute.

If that were to be the case, then it would have been seriously problematic for departments at a university to be sharing information with students about an event being held by the Fraser Institute—especially if the departments didn’t even bother clarifying that the Fraser Institute is a corporate disinformation tool.

I mean, in an institution of higher learning, we’re supposed to be able to sniff out nonsense like that and reject it. Both journalism students and policy majors are taught to identify and reject the obvious garbage that the powerful put out to serve their own interests. We would hope that the schools where we learn can identify the same thing, and wouldn’t be duped into sharing climate change deniers uncritically.

Good thing that’s not the case, right?