media and think-tank researcher

Donald Gutstein

24 Feb '11

Kevin Falcon — The Fraser Institute’s Candidate?

There’s reason to think so. Start with his ‘heroes’ Bill Bennett, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

If Kevin Falcon wins the BC Liberal leadership contest on Feb. 26 and becomes premier, will the Fraser Institute help him craft his first budget?

There’s plenty of precedent for such a scenario. Take 1983, for instance. Three weeks after Social Credit Premier Bill Bennett won the election, Bennett’s new cabinet met with Fraser Institute executive director Michael Walker at a posh lakeside resort in the Okanagan Valley for a crucial strategy session. Walker was a featured speaker at the 1982 Social Credit convention in Vancouver and had already met with the premier and members of his cabinet about half a dozen times.

Walker recommended a strategy for cutting government spending and programs based on selecting a level of service it had provided in a previous year when the population was smaller and the dollar worth more, so that cuts would be automatic.

Six weeks later, Bennett’s government introduced a torrent of legislation proposing to centralize power, slash spending on social and health services and education, lay off thousands of public sector workers and reduce the bargaining rights of those who remained, abolish rent controls and the Human Rights Commission, and introduce many other initiatives whose cumulative goal was to roll back the province’s social and economic gains. Directed by Walker, the Socreds undertook the task of making British Columbia ground zero for libertarian ideology in Canada.

As Province reporter Barbara McLintock noted at the time, Bill Bennett was “setting out to be Canada’s cross between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.” Bennett was “moving his government as far as possible away from the welfare state and back to a purer era of free-enterprise capitalism.”

Falcon’s heroes

Bill Bennett, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher — these are Kevin Falcon’s lifetime heroes, as he disclosed in a BC Business profile in 2009.

“The underlying attribute that all three of those leaders had that I admire more than anything else in public life is courage — the courage to do what they believe is right, even if it’s unpopular,” Falcon told journalist Frances Bula.

But unpopular only with vast swaths of the public. What all three leaders did was very popular with big business and the wealthy.

Almost immediately after the legislation was introduced, a coalition of unions, human rights’, tenants’, women’s and other groups formed the Solidarity Coalition to fight the legislation.

When the Socreds held their annual convention in the Hotel Vancouver that fall, 60,000 protestors surrounded the hotel.

The 20-year-old Falcon was inside with the Socreds. Then an insurance broker and Junior Chamber of Commerce vice-president, Falcon was inspired by what Bennett did.

“Mission accomplished”

Falcon was also inspired by Reagan and Thatcher, who, we must not forget, got their anti-union, anti-social justice ideas from libertarian think tanks associated with the Fraser Institute — the Heritage Foundation for Reagan and the Institute of Economic Affairs and Centre for Policy Studies for Thatcher.

Fast-forward 18 years. The inspired Falcon had by then become the newly minted minister of deregulation in the Gordon Campbell government. His mission: to slash health, safety and environmental protections by a third.

Several years later Falcon was claiming “mission accomplished.” He was turning out to be as courageous as his heroes. Along the way he found time to share his experiences with the next generation of conservatives at Fraser Institute student seminars in Victoria and Vancouver.

We don’t know if Michael Walker advised the Campbell government the way he did Bill Bennett.

But there are close connections between the two.

In 2005, Walker invited U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to go fishing and duck hunting in Alberta. He also hosted a dinner for Cheney, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and Campbell.

In 2009, Campbell was named honorary chairman at the institute’s 35th anniversary gala celebration at Vancouver’s Hyatt Regency. The event honoured Cannacord Capital chairman Peter Brown, a long-time Fraser Institute benefactor and trustee and a major contributor to Campbell and the BC Liberals. Falcon must have been there.

The Falcon succession

In 2010 the Fraser Institute ranked Campbell as the best provincial premier “at managing key aspects of fiscal policy,” which is code for cutting government spending and debt and slashing taxes, especially on the wealthy.

It strongly urged B.C.’s next premier to follow in Campbell’s footsteps.

Kevin Falcon must be listening. The wealthy, led by developer and long-time Falcon friend Ryan Beedie, lined up to support his leadership bid. Peter Brown’s name was on a list of Falcon endorsers.

And Beedie is a recent addition to the Fraser Institute’s board of directors.

The Fraser Institute-Falcon partnership is in place, and Falcon’s heroes must be watching.

Time for that next budget.

First published in The Tyee

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Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his think tank colleagues have transformed Canada

harperism cover

Margaret Thatcher transformed British political life forever. So did Ronald Reagan in the United States. Now Canada has experienced a similar, dramatic shift to a new kind of politics, which author Donald Gutstein terms Harperism. Among its key tenets:

  • A weakened labour movement – and preferably the disappearance of unions – will contribute to Canada’s economic prosperity
  • Cutting back government scientific research and data collection will improve public policy-making

The success of Harperism is no accident. Donald Gutstein documents the links between the politicians, think tanks, journalists, academics, and researchers who nurture and promote each other’s neo-liberal ideas.