in Articles, Canada, Canadian Corporations, Capitalism, Corporations, Corruption, Free Trade, Neoliberalism, North America, Privatization, Unemployment, Unions, Wealth Redistribution, Workers

The Top Ten Agents of the Corporate Agenda in Canada

By Asad Ismi

1. The Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters of Canada (AMEC) 

The Canadian Manufacturers’ Association merged last year with the Canadian Exporters’ Association to form this Alliance. AMEC now represents some 3,000 manufacturers, service companies and exporters. President Stephen Van Houten acts as their main spokesperson, with the aid of a $6.5 million operating budget. Like its predecessor, the CMA, AMEC strongly promotes free trade and favours lower wages and reduced social benefits for Canadian workers in order to make their products “more competitive” in world markets.

2. The Business Council on National Issues (BCNI)

The BCNI was formed in 1976 by corporate leaders seeking to exert more influence over a state they felt had become too large and interventionist. The CEOs of 150 transnational corporations joined to set up the BCNI as a vehicle for them “to contribute personally to the development of public policy and the shaping of national priorities.”  

The fact that these huge corporations have assets of over $1.2 trillion, earn annual revenues of $400 billion, and (despite mass layoffs) still employ about 1,300,000 Canadians helps explain why the BCNI has become the most powerful and influential interest group in the country. Represented by its president, Tom d’Aquino, and guided by its goal of reducing the size and role of the state, the BCNI has led the fight to cut government spending, keep inflation down, and boost corporate profits. 

3. The Canadian Bankers’ Association (CBA) 

The CBA was established more than a century ago to promote the interests of Canada’s chartered banks. Typical of most such industry associations, it provides information, advocacy and operational support services to its members. One of its chief functions is to try to justify ever-rising bank profits. Its current president is Raymond Protti. 

4. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC)

Established in 1925, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is the country’s largest business organization with 170,000 members, including 500 local chambers of commerce and boards of trade, over 95 trade and professional associations, and several thousand corporations. While the size and diversity of its membership enhances its claim to speak for the Canadian business community, it also sometimes makes it difficult for the CCC to reach a consensus. Nevertheless, when its position coincides with those of the BCNI and AMEC (which it does most of the time), the policy demands of this “Big Three” effectively dictate the corporate agenda in Canada. 

5. The C.D. Howe Institute (CDHI) 

This institute is named after the prominent Canadian industrialist who became “Minister of Everything” in post-war Ottawa, and was most noted for using American investment to develop Canadian industry. Although it claims to be an independent think-tank, the C.D. Howe Institute consistently represents the view of the elite. It is funded almost exclusively from Bay Street, and its board of directors is drawn from Canada’s largest corporations, including Noranda, Alcan and Sun Life Assurance. 

The institute’s main focus is on economic issues, but it has also recently led the attack on Canada’s social programs. It also played a major role in fuelling the hysteria over the deficit by claiming the problem was caused by government “overspending” rather than high unemployment and high interest rates. The institute’s president and CEO is Tom Kierans, who commands an annual budget of nearly $2 million – and a lot of respect at the Globe and Mail and the Financial Post.

6. The Canadian Tax payers’ Federation (CTF) 

The CTF claims to promote the responsible and efficient use of our tax dollars by acting as a watchdog over government and providing taxpayers with information about “wasteful spending and high taxation.” The federation identifies “special interests” as being responsible for “runaway spending” which led to “continuous annual deficits” and “job-killing public debt” that hurt “the silent majority” (taxpayers). 

The CTF’s proposed solution is to control government spending through legislation that would force governments to balance their budgets. It counts among its achievements several “Tax Alert Rallies” it has organized across Canada, its exposure of “lucrative pension plans” for provincial politicians, and the balanced budget and taxpayer protection laws passed in Alberta and Manitoba. 

7. The Fraser Institute 

For many years after the Fraser Institute was established in Vancouver in 1974, it was considered to be a radically right-wing think-tank on the fringes of the policy community. However, since the political terrain has shifted so far to the right, the Fraser Institute, led by its founder and prominent spokesperson, Michael Walker, has gained more acceptance and credibility, and has become much more prominent in public policy debates. 

The Fraser Institute publishes books and news-letters, and is particularly effective in disseminating its views among high school and university students and involving them in its market economics programs. Besides its own staff of 22, the institute hires academics to develop right-wing positions on free trade, taxation, government spending, health care, and other major economic and social issues. Supported by tax-deductible donations from more than 2,500 individuals, corporations and charitable foundations, the institute has an annual operating budget of $2,350,000. 

8. The Investment Dealers’ Association of Canada (IDA) 

As the Canadian investment industry’s national trade association, the IDA represents about 120 member firms employing more than 24,000 people. It is responsible for regulating the industry and policing the activities of its member firms. The IDA’s stated mission is to foster “efficient capital markets” by encouraging participation in the savings and investment process, and by ensuring the integrity of financial markets. 

9. The National Citizens’ Coalition (NCC) 

The NCC claims to have more than 40,000 supporters, but has no fixed membership. It advocates individual freedom and responsibility under limited government and a strong national defence, but has no democratic internal structures. Independent of all political parties, the NCC neither seeks nor accepts government handouts, preferring to obtain its funding from wealthy business people.

The NCC promotes privatization and contracting-out, citizen-initiated referenda, the reform of pensions for MPs and federal public employees, free trade, government spending cuts, Senate reform, and the use of market forces in health, education and welfare. It also opposes “forced unionism” and pay equity, calling them violations of civil liberties. 

10. The Public Policy Forum (PPF)

This Ottawa-based organization was formed in 1987 to promote private sector participation in public policy development, an “efficient” public service, and mutual understanding among leaders from government, business, labour and the academic community. When the Forum talks about increasing cooperation and greater consensus in public service reform, it means infusing government with the values, needs and priorities of the big corporations. 

About 70 percent of the Forum’s funding comes from business, which it uses to organize conferences, seminars, and an annual awards dinner where it honours journalists, bureaucrats, academics, and others who have most effectively, in the Forum’s view, advocated and supported the corporate agenda. 


Published in:

Canadian Perspectives, Autumn 1996

Briarpatch, June 1997

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, May 1997

The Newsletter, November/December 1997