Financial elite back in the saddle

TheStar.com – Comment – Financial elite back in the saddle
Published On Tue Nov 17 2009.   By Linda McQuaig Columnist

The good news is that there are still some tickets left for the Fraser Institute’s 35th anniversary gala dinner next Monday night in Vancouver. The bad news is that the tickets – including tables for 10 at $7,000 – will probably all eventually be sold.

And that means yet more money flowing into the amply filled coffers of an organization that for 3 1/2 decades has worked tirelessly to cut taxes for the rich, undermine public health care, destroy confidence in public education and prevent Canada from joining the global climate change battle.

Amazingly, the rich executives attending the Vancouver gala will all get tax receipts for their tickets, allowing them to further reduce their taxes below the already low levels the Fraser Institute has been instrumental in winning for them.

(The effective tax rate on the richest .01 per cent of Canadians – a group that will be out in force at the gala – has fallen by 26 per cent in the past decade and a half, according to Statistics Canada data.)

The Fraser crowd will be revelling in the growing power of business in Canada – a significant change from the more egalitarian 1970s, when the institute started up with help from U.S. conservatives like billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and the John M. Olin Foundation, notes Donald Gutstein in his new book Not a Conspiracy Theory.

The crowd next Monday will no doubt be especially thrilled to have dodged a bullet.

This time last year, in the wake of the Wall Street collapse, financial elites everywhere seemed under siege.

In Canada, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government almost fell after it signalled it wasn’t planning any economic stimulus – only to be saved when Harper talked the Governor General into allowing his minority to survive, even though it had lost the support of Parliament.

A year later, financial elites are safely back in the saddle, enjoying a virtual stranglehold over key public policies.

Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, argued in The Atlantic last May that in recent decades the U.S. financial elite has essentially captured control of the U.S. government, in much the same way financial oligarchies capture control of Third World “banana republics.”

The muscle of Canada’s own elite is evident in the way it has blocked meaningful action on climate change – even though a massive injection of government funds could convert Canada to a green economy while restoring the 400,000 jobs lost in the past year.

But that’s not on the Fraser Institute’s agenda. Fronting for Big Oil, it’s been pumping out climate change misinformation for years, generating enough public confusion to allow the Harper government to get away with doing nothing.

At a conference in Barcelona earlier this month, some 400 environmental organizations declared Canada the world’s most obstructionist country in global efforts on climate change.

The Fraser Institute describes itself as an “independent non-profit research and educational organization.” Sounds like any struggling charity, except that the tax receipts go to ensure that the glittering gala crowd continues to keep the country on a tight leash.

Five years ago, then opposition leader Stephen Harper lavished praise on the institute in a video clip shown at its 30th anniversary gala in Calgary.

This time, with Harper carefully cultivating a more moderate image, he may not be on the jumbotron. But members of Canada’s financial elite won’t be worried; they’ll know their man’s on the job.

Linda McQuaig’s column appears every other week. lmcquaig@sympatico.ca

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