Fraser Institute

Fraser Institute. Who are they anyway?

Following is an update and revision of an article first published in September 2009:

OED definition of charity:
“An organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.”

The Fraser Institute, a Canadian charity, has been advocating neoliberal doctrine since 1974, emphasizing what Nobel laureate Paul Krugman described as a belief “that markets always work and that only markets work.” That principle was later blended into Thatcherism and Reaganomics.

The Vancouver based charity was funded initially by MacMillan Bloedel, then British Columbia’s largest forest company. The province’s elites were frightened by NDP Premier Dave Barrett’s social democratic government and keen to focus political influence and opposition. But, this new organization was only part of a movement that was starting, with assistance of corporate media, to dominate media reports about economic theory and global enterprise management.

In his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, social theorist and CUNY professor David Harvey offered this definition:

…an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defence, police, and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture.

British writer and activist George Monbiot comments on the underlying philosophy:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

According to Monbiot, the politico-economic theory of neoliberalism appealed to very wealthy citizens who saw it as “opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax.”

Of course, the Fraser Institute is not ideologically pure. They want individuals competing for jobs, for healthcare, for education and other social services; they are little interested in competition among business oligopolies. The institute wants less spending by government but makes no issue of billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies. In fact, many of their directors and financial supporters are corporate welfare bums, actively involved in oil and gas operations that pay little for produced resources and receive massive public supports.

From the beginning, the Fraser Institute has called itself a non-profit, apolitical research organization. However, it is instead a marketer of neoliberalism. The charity pays handsomely but only for research that reinforces notions and schemes serving  its self-interested constituents. In the past, with  tobacco industry funding, its researchers “proved” second-hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer.

Jeffrey Sachs, conservative economist and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, has a viewpoint different than devotees of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek:

In strong and vibrant democracies, a generous social-welfare state is not a road to serfdom but rather to fairness, economic equality and international competitiveness.

According to T3010 Information Returns to Canada Revenue Agency for 2014, the most recent available, The Fraser Institute and Fraser Institute Foundation had $16 million in revenues during the year, including $1.3 million from outside Canada, and $18.4 million in retained assets.

Fifty individuals are shown as directors of The Fraser Institute and eight as directors of Fraser Institute Foundation. Of those 58 positions, eight are filled by females. Appointment of women as directors is relatively recent and rare; the lengths of board service by females add to about 5% of the total.

Directors are tasked with procuring and providing financial resources. If one aspires to the prestige of a Fraser Institute directorship, best have generous hands holding cheque books.

In The Fraser Institute’s Message Machine, Geoff Turner writes the think tank “consistently punches above its weight” by distributing ready-made media content. He might underestimate the institute’s financial weight, which holds wealth not enjoyed at public and private news properties crippled by disappearing resources. Corporate and personal assets associated with the Fraser Institute directors, though not publicly reported, can be calculated at more than a trillion dollars.

Fraser Institute charities ask for donations from organizations that support or benefit from their “impartial” research. (The charities have reported holding more than $17 million in assets NOT used for charitable purposes or administration.) Of course, donors support reduced government oversight and regulation, private schools and private healthcare, industry deregulation (except to preserve monopolies and oligopolies), free trade (except for maintenance of “country pricing” by discouraging individuals from saving money by importing consumer goods), American style gun control, voluntary environmental standards, elimination of tobacco restrictions, etc.

I believe the Fraser Institute’s contributions should be welcome in the universe of ideas. However, corporate media typically grants immediate and uncritical amplification of their output, with little regard for balance or dialogue involving different perspectives.

People ought to be aware that, lobbying for the benefit of uber-wealthy benefactors, neoliberal think tanks generally are guided by a cold, inflexible philosophy. Fraser Institute directors include representatives of private healthcare organizations that lust for elimination of universal public medicine. Others serve pharmaceutical companies, which might explain why there is little talk about how enhanced competition and reduced patent periods could bring down extravagant drugs costs. Most strongly represented though are financial services and petroleum industries. Regulations and taxation are like kryptonite to these operators so we don’t wonder why they generously support free market anti-government opinion makers.

For this article, I reviewed Fraser Institute reports to Canada Revenue Agency but the listing of directors is taken from the organization’s website in July 2016. Where possible, short biographies of individuals are included from public sources. I welcome any additions or corrections that readers can submit through comments.

As one commenter at The Tyee wrote:

These guys don’t just speak FOR Business, they ARE Business. (Yes again, with a capital B.)

Fraser Institute’s tax-exempt status makes mockery of its recent report, Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun, March 31, 2013:

I laughed out loud when I read Barbara Yaffe’s column this past Wednesday about the Fraser Institute’s report on the risk posed to civil democratic societies by the growing numbers of tax-exempt workers.

…what punched the funny bone was the irony of the Fraser Institute, which is registered as a tax-exempt organization, wagging its finger over too many, um, tax-exemptions.

…a culture of special breaks, concessions and tax exemptions for the well-heeled is deeply entrenched with Canada’s political and financial elites. The sense of entitlement ranges from wealthy owners of sports franchises demanding tax breaks on facilities to elected officials at the very top of the income scale.

Tax exemptions for the well-heeled is a first order of business for government and, it seems, for everybody else who professes to be an enemy of special interests, death on subsidies and all the other hollow rubrics of free market cant and conservative dogma. They want them gone for everybody else, not themselves.

…The Fraser Institute is a registered charitable organization, which means that under federal tax rules it is exempt from paying tax on its income and can issue tax receipts for the gifts that it receives, which means that its donors get a tax reduction, too.

In 2011, the most recent year for which Fraser Institute financials are listed on the Canada Revenue Agency website for registered charity information returns, it handed out tax receipts on $3.2 million in donations [$5.4 million in 2014], and its revenue report records $3.7 million in gifts from other charities [Also $3.7 million in 2014).

The Fraser Institute has 51 full-time employees [40 plus 12 part-time in 2014], and paid a total of $5.6 million in compensation [$5.5 million in 2014]. Twenty per cent of its full-time staff members earned salaries that put them in the top 10 per cent of all Canadian income earners. About 10 per cent earned incomes in the top one per cent.

So here we have charitable organizations which are exempt from paying taxes on their revenue paying themselves generous salary scales while giving each other tax-exempt gifts so they can produce reports complaining that too many single moms and minimum-wage dads don’t pay sufficient taxes and are a threat to our democratic way of life.

Who wrote this script? The ghost of Jack Benny?

See also: Influence beyond reason

And:  When Regulators do not believe in regulation

The Fraser Institute – Board of Directors


Peter Brown (1995) – British Columbia – founder of Canaccord Genuity Group, an investment dealer that advertises more than $31 billion assets under management. Brown is an associate of Deans Knight Capital Management, Chairman of Mogo Finance, Director of Keg Restaurants and other corporations. He served as chairman of the Vancouver Stock Exchange, BC Place Corporation and BC Enterprise Corporation

Vice Chairmen

Mark W. Mitchell (1992) – British Columbia – President, Reliant Capital Ltd., Vancouver, BC, private lender.

Rod Senft (2010) – British Columbia – founding partner in three private equity firms: Tricor Pacific Capital, Tricor Pacific Founders Capital Inc. and Pender West Capital Partners Inc. Assets under management: $1+ billion. Senft was a Vancouver lawyer and before that was Secretary and General Counsel for Cargill (Canada) Inc.


Salem Ben Nasser Al Ismaily (2008) – Oman – Executive president of the Omani Center for Investment Promotion and Export Development, representative and confidant of the Omani Sultan.

Kathy Assayag (2011) – Quebec – ‎Executive Director, Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal

Joni Avram (2012) – Alberta – Cause and Effect Marketing. Former communications director of Reform Party of Canada

Ryan Beedie (2010) – British Columbia – President of The Beedie Group, an industrial property developer with over $1 billion in assets that was founded by his father.

Edward S. Belzberg (1998) – British Columbia – Jayberg Enterprises Ltd., investments including real estate.

Brad Bennett (2010) – British Columbia – President McIntosh Properties, Chair of BC Hydro and close friend of Christy Clark.

Joseph C. Canavan (2008), Ontario – Canavan Capital, former Chairman and CEO of Assante Wealth Management ($32 billion assets managed) and United Financial Corporation.

Alex A. Chaufen (1992) – USA – President of Atlas Network, an incubator of neoliberal think tanks.

Derwood Chase Jr. (2008) – USA – Founder of Chase Investment Counsel Corporation, which manages funds for high-net-worth clients. Mr. Chase is a trustee of neoliberal think tanks, including Reason Foundation and Mont Pelerin Society.

Tracie Crook (2012) – Ontario – Chief Operating Officer for McCarthy Tétrault, a large Canadian business law firm. Formerly CEO of ResMor Trust Company, which was acquired by Royal Bank.

James W. Davidson (2005) – Alberta – Chairman & CEO, FirstEnergy Capital Corp., an investment dealer focused on Canada’s energy sector.

Roman Dubczak (2015)  – Ontario – Managing Director and Head, Global Investment Banking, CIBC Capital Markets.

W. Robert Farquharson (2013) – Ontario – Director and Vice-Chairman of AGF Management Limited and Chairman of AGF Asset Management Asia Ltd.

David Filmon (2011) – Manitoba – Partner of the law firm Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson, LLP and director of Industrial Growth Income Corp., Sidetrack Technologies and other corporations. Son of former Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon.

Greg C. Fleck (1992) – British Columbia – A former computer peripheral distributor.

Shaun Francis (2004) – Ontario – CEO of Medcan Health Management Inc., a private healthcare management company founded by his father.

Ned Goodman (2008) – Ontario – Billionaire founder of Dundee Corporation, which has wealth management, real estate and resources holdings and $5.1 billion under management.

Peter Grosskopf (2014) – Ontario – CEO of Sprott Inc, a financial services company managing more than $10 billion in assets.

Claudia Hepburn (2013) – Ontario – A member of Canada’s second wealthiest family, she is a director of the W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

Paul J. Hill (1983) – Saskatchewan – President & CEO of The Hill Companies & Harvard Developments Inc. Involved in real estate, insurance, broadcasting, insurance, finance, oil & gas and other natural resources.

Stephen A. Hynes (1987) – British Columbia – Real estate development

Kent Jespersen (2010) – Alberta – Chairman of Seven Generations Energy Ltd., a natural gas producer, CEO of La Jolla Resources Ltd and former chair of Orvana Minerals.

Andrew Judson (2010) – Alberta – Managing Director at Camcor Capital, Inc., private equity fund manager involved in oil and gas.

Brian Kenning (2015) – British Columbia – MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., BC Ferries, UBC Investment Management, Adventus REIT, Royal Oak Ventures Incorporated and for five years after sale of its operating assets, BC Rail.

Hassan Khosrowshahi (2012) – British Columbia,  educated in Iran and England, Persis Group, Inwest Investments Ltd. (Westbild, Westwood Plateau, founder of Future Shop (sold to Best Buy). Estimated wealth $1.1 billion.

Craig Langdon (2014) – British Columbia – Deans Knight Capital Management Limited, investment management for high net worth individuals and families.

Pierre Lessard (2014) – Quebec – Former Chair of Metro Inc., a large food distributor in Ontario and Quebec, and a director of SNC-Lavalin until management changes that followed company’s bribery scandals.

Brandt Louie (1999) – British Columbia – President and CEO of H.Y. Louie Co. Limited, and Chairman and CEO of London Drugs Limited. Estimated wealth (2014): $2.5 billion.

David R. Mackenzie (2000) – Alberta – Fano Energy, Lincoln Group, Tamarack Valley Energy.

James L. McGovern (2003) – Ontario – Founder and CEO of Arrow Hedge Partners Inc., an investment management company with more than a billion dollars under management.

Tracey L. McVicar (2014) – British Columbia – Managing partner, CAI Capital Management Co., an investment management company with more than a billion dollars under management.

George Melville (2010) – British Columbia – A partner of Jim Treliving in Boston Pizza, Mr. Lube and other businesses.

Gwyn Morgan (1999) – British Columbia – Founder of EnCana Corporation and former director of Alcan, HSBC and others. Was Chair of SNC-Lavalin until management changes that followed company’s bribery scandals. Mentor of Premier Christy Clark.

Eleanor Nicholls (2008) – Quebec – Manages a private investment firm and is a former director of Montreal Economic Institute, another neoliberal think tank.

John O’Neill (2013) – British Columbia – O’Neill Hotels & Resorts, One Hospitality, American Hotel Income Properties REIT.

Sue Paish (2014) – British Columbia & Ontario – CEO of LifeLabs Medical Laboratory.

Herbert C. Pinder Jr. (1990) – Saskatchewan – Formerly managed a family business, which included Pinders Drugs. Currently the President of the Goal Group providing corporate  management services in the energy sector. He is currently involved with Huron Energy, Arc Resources, and Viterra Inc.

Ron Poelzer (2014) – Alberta – Involved with Bonavista Energy & Nuvista Energy and Rolling Hills Energy.

H. Sandford Riley (2012) – Manitoba Richardson Financial Group which has over $30 billion under management.

Frank Rochon (2014) – Alberta – Vice Chair, Deloitte Canada, which provides audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services.

Bill Siebens (2010) – Alberta – Freehold Royalty Trust, a Calgary oil and gas company.

Anna Stylianides (2010) – British Columbia – Executive Chair of Eco Oro Minerals, formerly an executive in private healthcare.

Ian Telfer (2015) – British Columbia – Chairman and Director of Goldcorp Inc, a mining company with more than $20 billion in assets.

Arni C. Thorsteinson (2010) – Manitoba – President of Shelter Canadian Properties Limited, a real estate development and management company.

Michael A. Walker – British Columbia –, one of the founders of the Fraser Institute and former Executive Director of the Fraser Institute. He holds a PHD in Economics and has written or edited countless books and articles.

Jonathan Wener (2010) – Quebec – Chairman of The Canderel Group which is one of Montreal’s largest real estate investors.

12 replies »

  1. Reading through the list of the “who's who” above should remind all of us to take every word that comes from their gilded mouths with a grain of salt. Totally worthless to anyone living in the “real” world.


  2. Anon 2 indirectly raises the broader issue of the lack of independent policy analyst groups or think tanks. Even those who consider themselves non-partisan are seen by many of the people who read their reports as aligned with a particular party or constituency. (Which means they are mostly read by people who agree with their approach.)
    Some B.C. professors fill that role, at least to some extent.
    But a policy analysis group funded with a broad-based board would be useful, if enough funding could be found.
    Paul Willcocks


  3. Thanx, Norm. I recall seeing Walker explain in a lengthy TV interview that air—the stuff we breathe—should be sold by the cubic inch. Everything could and should be monetized and commodified, he said.


    • Do you think Scotty that you could monetize the time you spend waiting when the Denman Island cable ferry goes out of service?

      Could I monetize the three weeks I’ve spent, along with hours wasted on automated “information” telephone services designed by August Möbius, trying to find out why a 70 y.o. woman’s Old Age Security application has been sitting untouched at Service Canada for nine months?


  4. Terrific work.

    Wonder if this crew has any tied to off-shore tax havens?

    Wouldn’t that be a terrific side price to expose the hypocrisy bare.


    • According to the group Canadians for Tax Fairness, which reported on 2014, Canadian corporations held $71 billion in assets in Barbados. They had another $36 billion in the Cayman Islands and a total of $199 billion in the world’s top tax havens. In fact, there is no certain number since the federal government under Harper reduced CRA resources so dramatically that a simple question from a taxpayer can take more than a year for acknowledgement. The CRA has had very little ability to examine foreign business activities. Nor under Harper, did they want to make examinations.

      “More than half of the money is channeled abroad by Canadian banks and financial institutions who play a key role in facilitating tax avoidance,” the Taxpayers Federation says. Many of the Fraser Institute directors are involved in sophisticated schemes to maximize financial returns of investors they serve. It would surprise exactly no one to learn these schemes involved tax evasion and avoidance.


  5. The most frustrating thing about the Fraser Institute is the way it’s treated in the press. The CCPA is usually introduced as “labour-oriented” or “left-wing” while the Fraser Institute is treated as ageless and impartial like the Catholic Church. All of the heavy lifting, in terms of Fraser’s credibility, is done by the media.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. “that group” got charitable status? My god, its time we abolish all charitable status in Canada unless you actually are a charity which gives away at least 80% of the money raised for things we normally classify as “charity”.

    Think tanks ought not to be considered Charities. They aren’t. Doesn’t matter what group they are, who they represent.

    There are those who believe no organization should have “charity” status. That if you give to charity you ought to do it because that is what you believe in. When people get tax breaks for charity donations, the government doesn’t get the taxes, which means others have to make up the difference. It comes down to, why do I have to make up the taxes for something I don’t believe in?


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