Who’s behind the Canadian Think Tank Pushing for Sanctions against China and Iran?

The “independent” think tank, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute recently called for China and Iran to be severely punished for allegedly covering up the original outbreak and failing to respond to COVID-19 in time.

This was done in ignorance of both Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump’s failure to listen to military intelligence warning of the dangers of COVID-19 in early January. This includes the failure to maintain a strong early warning system, his implementation of limited neo-liberal measures months too late, only due to intense pressure from the NDP, while refusing to implement a rent freeze, and having EI and CERB fail to cover one-third of Canada’s population.

So the question is, who is this think tank pushing for sanctions which could unnecessarily draw Canada into further disputes with China and Iran?

Founding years and Leading Figures in league with the Conservatives

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute was founded in 2010, claiming to be a “non-partisan Ottawa think tank.” However, its first report revealed that the board of directors were filled to the brim with past and present CEOs, CFOs and wealthy millionaires, including Rob Wildeboer, Chairman of Martin-rea International Inc. and Rick Peterson, the President of Peterson Capital. The Managing Director of MLI, Brian Crowley had close ties to the PM in 2010, Stephen Harper.

Brian Crowley was the founding President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a conservative, free-market think tank incorporated in 1995. AIMS received the majority of its funding from “several anonymous donors” (millionaires and billionaires who don’t want their donations publicly known) and pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Merck Frosst. They were at the forefront of the battle against public health care in Canada for years, until it merged with the Fraser Institute in November 2019.

Sourcewatch revealed that as of 2010, Crowley was also a member of the influential right-wing Civitas Society, founded by Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan, campaign manager for and advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In 2006, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty appointed Crowley as the 2006-2007 Clifford Clark Visiting Economist of the department. Four months later, Crowley began to develop the MLI while giving policy advice to the Harper government. In 2009, Minister Flaherty hosted a private fundraising dinner at Toronto’s Albany Club for the MLI. In a letter, he urged Bay Street elites to come and support the fledging right-wing think tank stating that he was “giving it my personal backing”. Soon afterwards, the Aurea Foundation, funded by Peter Munk, gave $100,000 to assist in starting up the think-tank, as revealed on page 13 of their 2010 annual report.

Rob Wildeboer, the chairman of the MLI Board of Directors until 2018 and current member of its Advisory Council, is a wealthy evangelical and the chief backer of the ECP Centre. The ECP centre “attacks human rights commissions as instruments of Christian persecution,” explained Donald Gutstein. The ECP believes that “the very notion of legally protected individual rights is an unthinkable heresy, a repudiation of God’s sovereign law,” according to The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada.

Within the first year of existence, the Institute’s notable corporate funders included: CTV, Labatt Breweries, TD Bank Financial Group, Merck, BMO Financial Group – Corporate, RBC Financial Group and Pfizer International, which continued their tradition of supporting think-tanks run by Crowley.

Foundations supporting the Institute at the start were funded by a who’s who of Canadian oligarchs and elites: The John Dobson Foundation, Aurea Foundation, The Garfield Weston Foundation, Lotte & John Hecht Foundation, Donner Canadian Foundation and Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

The Institute soon began publishing a series of papers by Janet Ajzenstat, which served to glorify the genocidal colonialist leaders of Canada, called “Canada’s founding ideas”. It claimed to “paint the picture of Founders far more steeped in a concern with liberty, than academic and popular tradition suggests”. By minimizing the genocide committed against Indigenous nations, it provided credence to Harper’s contempt for Indigenous Nations during his first four years as Prime Minister.

Within a year of its founding, the think tank soon pushed a “non-partisan” politically valuable policy paper, written by Scott Newark in 2011, which alleged that Statistics Canada was systematically undercounting crime statistics.

Unsurprisingly, Newark was also connected to the conservatives. During the period of 2006 to 2008, Stockwell Day was the public safety minister under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. During that time Newark worked as a special advisor to Day. Newark then went on to work as project manager overseeing a $300,000-plus contract from his former ministry.

This policy paper provided important cover for the Harper government’s “tough-on-crime” policies. The pro-corporate welfare Harper government was facing elections, only a few months later, which they ended up winning.

In this year, the MLI gained new donors such as Google Inc., Johnson & Johnson, the company exposed for failing to pull its products despite knowing they caused cancer, and John Irving, the Canadian oil baron.

The MLI took credit for: the Harper government’s refusal to expand the Canadian Pension Plan and their decision to cap the Canada Health Transfer, worsening healthcare in Canada and taking finances away from the CPP, in favour of giving money to private sector pensions.

The MLI begins its pro-military putsch

The Institute began its pro-militarism putsch this year, pushing for more military spending and supporting an interventionist foreign policy, under the guise of “debating whether Canada should make war or keep the peace.” In this same year, under the Harper government, the a short summary needed here Canadian military was actively involved in the NATO and AFRICOM led coup against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The coup ended in Gaddafi’s death and the collapse of the Libyan state, which led to open slave markets, and warring warlords within the next five years.

In 2013, the Institute began to push nationalistic anti-China trade policies, urging the Canadian government to block investment from Chinese state-connected businesses in Canada’s mineral and energy resources. They also cast any business done by these businesses with “official enemies of the Canadian stateTM” such as Venezuela, Iran and Syria as a decision which “should concern the Canadian economic and security community.”

Even after the utter disaster in Libya, the MLI continued to push for the same pro-war policies, limiting discussions around the military to how the Canadian government could more efficiently purchase new instruments of death (updated military equipment).

In 2015, the Institute complained about the inability of the Canadian military to procure updated military equipment, while totally ignoring how the tens of billions which is poured into the Canadian military could be used to better the lives of ordinary Canadians.

In 2016, Munk Senior Fellow Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former senior aide in the Stephen Harper government, joined the MLI. He began a campaign of calling for increased sanctions against Iran that year. It had been only one year after the JCPOA was signed, which ended some of the economy crushing sanctions leveled by the EU and America against Iran. After Trump violated the JCPOA, and repeatedly instituted sanctions against Iran beginning in 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that the sanctions had a devastating effect on the health of ordinary Iranians.

Majumdar also followed the Washington consensus of supporting the jihadist Syrian rebels, who are still fighting to overthrow the secular Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, describing them as “moderate rebels” in a Huffington Post op-ed.

In 2017, even the most imperialist nations looked to have their militaries leave Iraq, the country which the US invaded on the fictitious claim of Saddam Hussein possessing WMDs. The MLI urged Trudeau to stay in Iraq and touted the benefits of the mission. In the present day, there are still 500 Canadian troops in the country, with missions continuing to the present day.

During the same year, the Institute urged the Trudeau government to join with the US to deploy its military in the South China Sea and Pacific region, to “protect the region from China.”

In 2018, the MLI continued its calls for reducing trade with China, and focused on persuading the Trudeau government to avoid choosing Huawei to develop Canada’s 5G networks. The main reason pushed was that Huawei would be forced to hand over data that flows through its networks to the Chinese government, ignoring that major American and Canadian telecommunications companies are regularly forced to hand over data to their respective governments. As a result of this pressure campaign, Nokia and Ericcson were chosen to develop Canada’s 5G networks. Both networks are both forced to retain all data for six months, which is accessible to the Finnish and Swedish police forces.

In January 2019, the MLI called for the Canadian government to invest billions in military arms and planes, to allow its imperialist foreign policy to continue interrupted. Bianca Mugyenyi brilliantly explained why this call for more funds to the military, which already receives $22 billion a year in funding as of 2019, is absolutely out of touch with the needs of ordinary Canadians, in an op-ed which appeared on The Canada Files two days ago.

The MLI also made Nathan Law, co-founder of the separatist Demosistō party and “pro-democracy” movement leader, a MLI fellow during that same year. In doing this, they supported the American push to re-colonize Hong Kong, in which the US gave millions to activist groups and “grassroots organizations” each year, while turning a blind eye to the millions more given to these groups by nationalist HK billionaire Jimmy Lai. They ignored Demosistō’s close relationship with the National Endowment for Democracy’s National Democratic Institute, and the former NED Acting Director Allen Weinstein’s 1991 admission that, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

On September 12, 2019, the organization held a special panel on “Russian disinformation”, specifically scheduled on Black Ribbon Day, which falsely equates Communism to be an equivalent evil to Nazism. The panel featured Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who actively supports Canadian-Ukrainian groups which glorify Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, former Liberal Party leader Bob Rae, and others.

In December 2019, the Institute published a media release describing Chinese President Xi Jinping as the “top Canadian policy-maker of the year.” It featured an image of Xi Jinping as a spider standing over Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is wrapped up in a cocoon.

It goes on to push a xenophobic narrative of an “evil China” which has “significant influence” over Canadian policy, citing a study by Australian scholar Clive Hamilton. The release even criticizes the Canadian government for the rare cases where it declined to stoke unnecessary conflict with the Chinese government.

According to Corporate Mapping, as of 2019, the MLI is funded by massive oil corporations, mining corporations, the Charles Koch Foundation and the same foundations funded by Canadian oligarchs, which backed it from the start. It is also a member of the Atlas Network. A paragraph from Corporate Mapping explains that “Atlas provides an opportunity for the fossil fuel industry to fund organizations aligned with their interests.”

When a group is funded by imperialists, its policy direction and proposals will follow the interests of its funders: those of rampant imperialism across the world.

So, it is of little surprise that the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a right-wing think tank led by Christian nationalists and Conservative Party connected insiders, would push the most useful narrative for the Conservatives.

That narrative being that only China and Iran should be punished for the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in total ignorance of the failure of PM Trudeau’s failure to properly respond to military intelligence warning of the COVID pandemic back in January and resistance to measures necessary to fight the pandemic.

Canadians should not take this ludicrous claim seriously, and should instead roundly condemn the MLI, consigning it to the dustbin of history.

Aidan Jonah is the Editor-in-Chief of The Canada Files, a socialist, anti-imperialist news site founded in 2019. He has written about Canadian imperialism, federal politics, and left-wing resistance to colonialism across the world. He is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at Ryerson University, who was the Head of Communications and Community Engagement for Etobicoke North NDP Candidate Naiima Farah in the 2019 Federal Election. Read other articles by Aidan.