Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Happy Birthday, Fraser Institute

American conventional wisdom suggests that Canadians would be Democrats, should they ever choose to become American. The implication is that there is nothing resembling the American Right up here.

Of course, that's not completely true. The Canadian Right is pretty strong in the Western part, especially Alberta (with a premier named Ralph) and B.C. We may not have anything on the scale of the National Review, but we do have (if you'll pardon the pun) Right-thinking thinkers, such as the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation and the Fraser Institute, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

One thing to remember about the Canadian right is that the focus is on economic conservatism; that is, keeping government intervention in society as small as possible. Social conservatism, while significant in the West, doesn't have the power that it does down South. With that in mind, though, the Fraser Institute has come a long way in 30 years, becoming a significant voice of the Right and a major player in economic policy.

Part of its power derived from its influenced during the years when Brian Mulroney was prime minister. The Institute was one of the prime defenders of what would become NAFTA, and it made its arguments in language that governments -- and the Canadian media -- paid attention to. Free trade was an incredibly big issue in the late 1980's and 1990's, a policy that Mulroney spent a lot of political capital convincing Canadians to sign up for. And the Fraser Institute helped Mulroney by giving him the data to boost his arguments.

Among its virtues is the media event known as Tax Freedom Day. It's the day, calculated by the Institute, when the average Canadian has worked enough to pay all his annual taxes, federal, provincial and municipal. The day varies from province to province, and usually happens in mid-June to early July. It's a useful shortcut for the media because it draws attention to the levels of high taxation that governments try to whistle past.

Some of its positions are controversial -- its call to legalize and tax marijuana sales, for example -- but in a social environment of liberal mediocrity, the Fraser Institute is a welcome voice on the right side of the Canadian political spectrum. Happy Birthday.