The Montreal-based think tank Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) has recently been in the news for publishing a study which, in the media’s collective eye, purports to disprove NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s comments about “Dutch disease” — basically, blaming the decline in Canadian manufacturing on the rise of the Albertan tarsands sector because the latter boosts the Canadian dollar. Instead, the IRPP finds that manufacturing is declining because of a rising dollar, but the dollar isn’t rising because of the tarsands.
This conclusion is at odds with a peer-reviewed study about to be published in Resource and Energy Economics, which received Industry Canada funding several years ago but has now been renounced by the government. Views that might have been politically acceptable three years ago are now evidence of treason instigated by the NDP.
IRPP’s study may well be the accurate one, even if it’s not the peer-reviewed one. Unfortunately, recent events have called IRPP’s political neutrality into question, and to be perfectly honest, that makes studies like this one, which appear to support government policy and are released at a time when government policy is in urgent need of just such a study, highly questionable indeed.
For once, I agree with the Fraser Institute. They have a firm policy that they will never accept government funding, because doing so would compromise their political neutrality. (Oddly, they don’t appear to feel the same way about accepting money from, say, the tobacco industry.) In IRPP’s case, it’s not funding I’m questioning, though. Here the linkages are much more direct, even bordering on partisan. And that’s why studies like this one have to be questioned — not just the studies, but the timing.
First, several months ago it was reported by La Presse that the IRPP had been granted a nearly $16,000 contract by the Privy Council Office to conduct what was essentially partisan pro-Conservative “research” on Quebec politics, on the causes of the “political agitation” of early 2011 — read: sudden surge in NDP popularity — which the report found was caused by disgust with the Bloc and the collapse of the sovereignty movement. At the time I actually drafted a post saying both the PCO and the think tank were violating their positions by dabbling in what appeared to be partisan politics. I didn’t publish it because on reflection it seemed like it might look like a bit of a tempest in a teapot.
Second, the editor of the think tank’s magazine Policy Options, former Mulroney speechwriter L. Ian MacDonald, recently authored this incredibly fawning and unbalanced portrait of foreign minister John Baird. The column is supposedly a reasoned assessment of Baird’s contributions to Canadian foreign policy, but it feels like it was written by the minister’s own PR staff. I’ve developed a pretty strong stomach for nonsense from the nation’s punditry, but this one took the cake.
And now, this study appears, magically timed to support the government’s position at a time when it desperately needs a study to debunk Mulcair. Now, I’m not saying that the Canadian government simply ordered up a study from IRPP. They presumably were preparing to publish it before the present scandal even began. But think tanks must avoid the appearance of political partisanship to remain credible, and in this case, IRPP’s recent performance doesn’t help.
Which brings us to the study itself. Interestingly, the lead author, Mohammad Shakeri, is an economist at Agriculture Canada. It’s been frequently reported that the Harper regime does not allow its in-house scientists to make public comments without them being carefully vetted in advance by the prime minister’s staff. If that’s still true then presumably, at the very least, agriculture minister Gerry Ritz had to sign off on this work being published.
Shakeri’s co-authors are IRPP director Jeremy Leonard and Shakeri’s PhD supervisor at the University of Saskatchewan, Richard Gray. His expertise relates to agriculture, not manufacturing.Tweet