Lack of think tanks mind-boggling

Innovative policy needed to foster a stronger discussion for provincial prosperity

Manitoba is often criticized by analysts for its lack of innovative economic policy.

Perhaps this lack of creativity comes from the lack of think tanks, or policy organizations. These types of organizations foster the ideas needed to spur governments in the right direction.

And we have precious few of them.

TheFreeDictionary.com defines a think tank as “a group or an institution organized for intensive research and solving of problems, especially in the areas of technology, social or political strategy, or armament.”

These organizations have some of the best and brightest, who put their skills to work in order to advocate for issues in areas such as technology and economics.

Examples of prominent think tanks include Alberta’s Pembina Institute, which focuses on issues of green energy and climate change, and the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, which focuses on social issues.

Think tanks can also be more politically charged rather than issue-based, like the right-leaning Fraser Institute, or the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

All of these organizations have one major goal: to influence government policy. Without that goal, think tanks would not be what they are. 

While other provinces, such as Alberta and Ontario, have plenty of different think tanks, Manitoba has no shortage of political ones. For example, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP) has its main headquarters in Winnipeg, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has provincial headquarters here.

Perhaps Manitoba could use a Pembina Institute to promote unique clean energy policies, or a high-tech think tank promoting unique financing for the poor to create high-tech small businesses.

These two think tanks often undermine each other.

For example, one advocates for the privatization of health care, while the other advocates to keep it public.

It is polarization like this that hampers innovative thinking, thinking that could provide solutions to problems like the health care question, or environmental issues such as Bipole III. On these issues the FCPP and CCPA have opposite viewpoints, and no viable solutions are produced by arguing.

This province needs more issue-based think tanks and fewer politically polarizing ones.

We need policy think tanks to bring forward issues that will spur economic growth, issues like technological innovation, and microfinance to promote financial opportunities for the poor. Policy think tanks can serve this purpose in Manitoba, where governments largely do not have the know-how or knowledge about the issues.

Think tanks also create jobs for policy analysts that allow them to gain experience in developing and promoting policies, while advocating for issues in the media. It gives them media experience, allowing them to gain exposure for their own portfolio of skills, while staying in their home province.

While think tanks have been criticized by some who say that they are run by wealthy individuals and have agendas, these organizations have a valuable purpose in raising the stakes of the discussion by putting forward policy ideas government analysts lack the vision or courage to propose.

Perhaps Manitoba could use a Pembina Institute to promote unique clean energy policies, or a high-tech think tank promoting unique financing for the poor to create high-tech small businesses.

It would be a much better alternative to continuing to have the bland and boring economic policies that this province is often known for.

Adam Johnston recently finished his B.A in Economics and Rhetoric, Writing & Communications at the University of Winnipeg. He has a blog that focuses on policy matters relating to the environment, technology and poverty at http://moderneconomicstechnologyenvironment.wordpress.com.

Published in Volume 66, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2011)

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