Monday, March 30, 2009

Right-wing economist and think tank president had seat at Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s pre-budget meetings in Saint John, Saskatoon & Victoria

Controversy was quick to greet the Nov. 7, 2006, announcement by Rob Wright, Deputy Minister of Finance, that right wing economist Brian Lee Crowley had been appointed the 2006-2007 Clifford Clark Visiting Economist in the Department of Finance.

Crowley is the founding president of the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), a far right public policy think tank that supports free markets, small government and tax cuts to businesses and corporations, but has little time for trade unions, minimum wages, equalization, government pay equity programs, employment insurance (EI) and other forms of social welfare.

The post, established in 1983, honours the late Dr. Clifford Clark, who served as Deputy Minister of Finance from 1932 until his death in 1952. Occupants of the position advise the Department on emerging economic issues and take part in policy development at the highest level. They are recruited from the ranks of prominent Canadian professionals who deal with economic, financial and monetary issues in the business and academic communities, the Finance Department news release said.

Crowley’s appointment ignited concerns among opposition MPs and the head of a progressive economic policy think-tank.

In the CanWest News article Tories draft right-wing economist as finance policy adviser (CanWest News, Nov. 8, 2006) Eric Beauchesne reported NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis saying, “The appointment of a person who’s against such basic things as pay equity for women clearly shows where the Conservatives are going and what their ideological bent is, and it’s on the extreme far right.”

John McCallum, a former senior bank economist, and now Liberal MP and official Opposition finance critic, described Crowley as “intelligent but way, way out in right field.”

“He sees equalization as a welfare trap, he has no time for regional development and he’s a forceful advocate of two-tier health care,” McCallum said.

“This sends a very clear message and will be especially unsettling and worrisome, especially in Atlantic Canada,” McCallum said.

Bruce Campbell, executive director of the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, added that Crowley’s free-market solutions, as well as his advocacy of closer economic links with the U.S., are in line with views expressed by Stephen Harper before he became prime minister.

Harper, as head of the Canadian Alliance Party, charged that regional development policies encouraged economic dependency and a “defeatist ... can’t-do” attitude among Atlantic Canadians.

“There’s unfortunately a view of too many people in Atlantic Canada that it’s only through government favours that there’s going to be economic progress, or that’s what you look to,” Harper said at the time, voicing a view that has also been expressed over the years by Crowley and the Atlantic Institute.

Crowley is a part of that conservative brain trust that wants to radically change the face of Canada,” Campbell said. “With a minority government there are constraints, but can you imagine with a majority government what that would mean,” Campbell said.

On Nov. 9, 2006, the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal reported that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was “forced to defend” Crowley’s appointment in Question Period the previous day.

Reporter Rob Linke wrote that Flaherty said the appointment was made by the deputy finance minister. Flaherty characterized it as an issue of intellectual freedom.

“We have eminent intellectuals in economics, like Dr. Crowley, who are prepared to express their views on various issues,” said Flaherty. “We thank him for his service.”

Saint John MP Paul Zed, who knows Crowley, said his views are “worrying to many in the Atlantic caucus because if you subscribe to some of the end results of his research, it would have a serious negative impact on Atlantic Canada.”

Fredericton Liberal MP Andy Scott saw a threat in the timing of Crowley’s appointment, since it comes in the midst of a crucial national debate on the future of equalization. Those federal payments provide New Brunswick’s government with well over 20 per cent of its budget.

Here’s “somebody who comes from Atlantic Canada advising finance who has expressed publicly disdain for equalization,” said Scott.

Scott said he didn’t buy Flaherty’s explanation that the deputy minister made the appointment.

“It seems more than coincidental,” he said, “that Mr. Crowley holds the view that the less government, the better.

“Mr. Crowley has been saying publicly and freely what Mr. Harper would like to say but realizes it won’t give him his majority.” [Finance minister defends appointment of adviser (Telegraph Journal, Nov. 9, 2006)]

AIMS was established in 1994 through a three-year $450,000 grant from the Donner Canadian Foundation. The organization has sister think tanks in Winnipeg and Montreal which received similar funding from Donner beginning in 1997: The Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Montreal Economic Institute. [Philanthropic Foundations Canada, May 2007]

Frontier President Peter Holle was a senior policy analyst in Grant Devine’s Tory government where he was closely involved with regulatory reform and the privatization of government services and assets in Saskatchewan. [Saskatchewan Legislative Hansard, Aug. 13, 1987; FCPP]

In the Frontier Centre’s 1999 annual report Holle said Crowley “has been an unofficial mentor” to the organization “and continues to provide invaluable advice on think tank operations.”

In May 2007, the Frontier Centre opened an office in Regina.

Crowley’s Finance Department travel and hospitality expense records show that he attended pre-budget consultation meetings with the finance minister on Nov. 29-30, 2007, in Quebec City; Dec. 6-7, 2007, in Fredericton; and, Jan. 14-15, 2008, in Vancouver and Calgary.

Crowley also appears to be a steady contributor to the Conservative Party of Canada. According to party financial records filed with Elections Canada he donated at least $3,619.89 from 2004-08.

During the 2006 federal election Crowley donated $500.00 to Halifax Liberal candidate Martin MacKinnon. This appears to have been a strategic move given that the riding was held by the NDP’s Alexa McDonough. The Conservative candidate, Andrew House, had little chance of competing. McDonough won the riding with 46.88% of the vote. MacKinnon received 30.9% and House 18.0%.

Crowley’s secondment ended last spring. A Mar. 20, 2008, AIMS news release announced his return to the think tank. It said, “During his time in Ottawa, Crowley worked on a broad range of policy files and redesigned the pre-budget consultation process.”

It appears Crowley’s work with the Harper government didn’t end there.

According to records obtained from Finance Canada under freedom of information legislation, Crowley played a role in the most recent pre-budget consultation process.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty conducted five closed-door invitation only pre-budget roundtable discussions in Saint John (Dec. 12), Saskatoon (Dec. 18), Montreal (Jan. 6), Thornhill (Jan. 9) and Victoria (Jan. 12). The agendas indicate that Crowley was the moderator at the Saint John, Saskatoon and Victoria meetings.

Paul Rochon, the assistant deputy minister of finance, moderated the Montreal meeting while Ted Menzies, the Finance Department’s parliamentary secretary, handled the one in Thornhill.

The agendas show that deputy finance minister Rob Wright gave a presentation at each meeting followed by remarks from the finance minister.

Participants at each meeting received a letter from Flaherty thanking them for accepting his invitation to attend.

“This roundtable is part of a new approach in the way I consult on the federal budget, which was developed last year. Across the country, I will be chairing five roundtables over the course of the next month. Each roundtable will focus on two questions: one related to stimulus and one general question on a long term issue,” the letter states.

This all but confirms that the pre-budget consultation process used for the Jan. 27, 2009, budget was the one developed by Crowley. The questions are, who invited Crowley, who paid for his expenses, and what other work, if any, has he been doing for the government?

On Mar. 26 and 27 emails were sent to finance officials in the access to information and privacy division, consultations and media relations, and consultations and communications branch asking who paid for Crowley’s trips and how he came to be involved in the consultations. There have been no responses.

During the pre-budget consultation period, which began Dec. 11, 2008, the Harper government told Canadians it was open to any suggestions. Flaherty’s letter to roundtable participants, however, does not seem to support that.

Flaherty asked participants to rank and give suggestions on the following areas in terms of priority for the government providing a stimulus:

1. Access to Credit
2. Investing in the Housing Market
3. Accelerating Infrastructure Spending
4. Strong sustainable labour markets and training incentives
5. Traditional and emerging industrial sectors

Flaherty then wanted to know what steps the government should take to ensure that the Canadian economy remains internationally competitive and continue to attract investment and create jobs.

The first problem is that participants were limited to offering suggestions on five areas the government considered a priority. The second and fatal flaw is that invitees were given copies of the government’s 2008 Economic Statement and of Advantage Canada: Building a Strong Economy for Canadians and were told that they would “form the framework around which budget decisions will be made and articulated.”

At this point one has to assume that any suggestions outside these parameters weren’t welcome. Therefore, the government really wasn’t open to all ideas.

The records released by the Finance Department shine a bit more light on who the government invited to the roundtable discussions. Unfortunately, the majority of the names listed were blacked out.

Saint John Meeting:

Karen Michell, Canadian Bankers Association
Pierre Blouin, MTS Allstream
Warren Jestin, Scotiabank
Jim Irving, J.D. Irving Limited

Saskatoon Meeting:

Josef Hormes, Canadian Light Source Inc.
Lionel LaBelle, Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership
Peter MacKinnon, University of Saskatchewan
Marlo Raynolds, Pembina Institute
Marta Morgan, Forest Products Association
Pamela C. Fralick, Canadian Healthcare Association
Steve McLellan, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce

Montreal Meeting:

Monique Leroux, Desjardins Group
Pierre Karl Peladeau, Quebecor
Michael Atkinson, Canadian Construction Association
Dino Dello Sbarba, Saputo Inc.
Dawn Graham, Merck Frosst Canada
Paul Levesque, Pfizer Canada
Katherine Giroux-Bougard, Canadian Federation of Students

Thornhill Meeting:

Catherine Swift, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Manabu Nishimae, Honda Canada (assisted by Jerry Chenkin)
James Knight, Association of Canadian Community Colleges
Perrin Beatty, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Victoria Meeting:

Sean Durfy, WestJet
Peter Kruselnicki, TransCanada
Robert Ouellet, Canadian Medical Association
Brock Carlton, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
Rick Culbert, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.
John Allan, Council of Forest Industries
Darcy Reznac, The Vancouver Board of Trade
David H. Turpin, University of Victoria

Completely forgotten on Flaherty’s pre-budget tour were the Canadian people. During his stop in Saskatoon the finance minister said at a press conference he was planning to meet with Canadians across the country in town hall meetings, and looked forward to “hearing directly and in person what their concerns are and what their advice is.” [Flaherty appoints economic advisory council (CBC News, Dec. 18, 2008)]

The public ultimately got shafted as only two town hall meetings were conducted: one in the safe confines of Flaherty’s home riding of Whitby-Oshawa on Jan. 8 and the other on Jan. 12 in the riding held by Conservative MP John Weston (West VancouverSunshine Coast – Sea to Sky Country). Do we have Brian Lee Crowley to blame for this travesty?


Post a Comment

<< Home