C.D Howe Institute
C.D. Howe Institute Offices, WikiMedia.org

The C.D. Howe Institute is a free-market-oriented think tank based in Toronto, and one of Canada’s oldest research institutes. Its predecessor, the Private Planning Association of Canada, was established in 1958 to study public economic policy, a mission that C.D. Howe has continued from its formal inception in 1973. The institute’s policy agenda now covers an array of topics, including tax policy, international economics, health care and energy.12

Why the top 50?

As an advocate for free-market competition and an economy that continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels, C.D. Howe makes the Top 50 because it is an outspoken legitimator of the carbon-extractive industries in Canada.

Key Stats

Head office: Toronto, Ontario

Employees: 3613

In Depth

Like many other Canadian think tanks, C.D. Howe operates as a non-profit organization, receiving substantial private support from a variety of sources. In 2017 contributions and subscriptions topped $4.7 million.1 Notable individual donors included Aaron Regent, founder of Magris Resources ($500,000), and Hélène Desmarais, whose family controls Power Corporation of Canada. Corporate donors included the ATCO Group (a large diversified energy company based in Alberta), the Power Corporation of Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Donner Canadian Foundation.2 The institute also received contributions from nine different foundations in 2017.3

C.D. Howe also raises funds through the sale of exclusive memberships, available by invitation only. A long list of carbon-extractive firms “pay to play” with C.D. Howe in this way, including many of industry’s biggest players, like Enbridge, Encana, Husky and Shell Canada.4


C.D. Howe promotes its vision of prosperity in three ways—by hosting corporate policy councils, publishing research and organizing public-facing policy events.

Policy councils

C.D. Howe draws on its extensive and diverse membership from research, academic and corporate communities to form policy councils that advise on topics related to its research themes.

The Energy Policy Council is of interest here, as it demonstrates the degree to which carbon-extractive firms are involved in the research being conducted at C.D. Howe. The council hosts members from numerous leading extractive firms, such as Cenovus Energy Inc, Encana  Corporation, Imperial Oil and TransAlta; powerful industry groups, such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Gas Association; and government energy bodies, such as the Alberta Energy Regulator and the British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.5 Together they apply “the latest thinking in public finance and resource policy to assess how governments can improve the global competitiveness of the energy sector, improve the understanding of the need for energy market access, foster the innovation that will create the energy sector of the future, and help policymakers collaborate locally, nationally and globally.”6

Of note, C.D. Howe’s roster of policy councils focuses primarily on economic growth and does not include any groups with a targeted environmental focus.


The C.D. Howe Institute maintains a diverse research program, with 14 policy areas and numerous sub-areas.

Fiscally conservative themes of decreasing public spending and growing private wealth feature prominently throughout, including in the institute’s analyses of energy policy in Canada. Recent publications on this topic suggest that policy-makers should support private investment in public energy utilities to increase their financial performance; otherwise, public utilities should be sold outright to the private sector.7 Other publications emphasize the role of natural gas to act as a “climate solution” when shipped to international markets as liquified natural gas (LNG).

In a 2016 report titled Clearing the Air: How Canadian LNG Exports Could Help Meet World Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals, the authors argue that Canadian LNG “will likely lower global greenhouse gas emissions” if it displaces the use of coal, but that “it is impractical for regulators to assess how individual LNG export facilities will affect overseas greenhouse gas emissions because of uncertainty in markets.”8 Given the report’s claim that the tangible climate impacts of LNG development cannot be ascertained, the authors suggest that governments focus on diplomatic engagement with importing countries to promote decreased coal use. In so doing, the report offers a blueprint for governments to approve new LNG projects on the pretext that diplomacy will yield tangible results. Such a policy framework legitimates the widely disputed claim that LNG (most of it issuing from fracked gas) offers climate solutions. For more on this issue, see, for example, A Clear Look at BC LNG: Energy Security, Environmental Implications and Economic Potential by earth scientist David Hughes.9

Policy events

C.D. Howe promotes its members’ interests through members-only, “off-the-record”10 events that provide paying members with opportunities to shape policy agendas through elite networks of corporate and government actors. The institute holds over 60 events every year in Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Many events receive substantial corporate funding—often from the carbon-extractive sector and the institutions that profit from it. In one example, an event discussing Canada–US relations was sponsored by CIBC and Enbridge.11 At the time, Enbridge was still waiting for national approvals for its transborder “Line 3” pipeline. CIBC holds a substantial share of Enbridge stock. One might imagine that the two companies’ interests in facilitating the pipeline’s approval might have been aided by footing the bill for an event frequented by elite policy-makers in Canada and the US.

Network Map

Learn more about CD Howe Institute at LittleSis.org

About the database

The intent of the Corporate Mapping Project database is to engage Canadians in a conversation about the role of the fossil fuel sector in our democracy, by “mapping” how power and influence play out in the oil, gas and coal industries of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Learn More Create & Contribute

  1. C.D. Howe Institute, Lifting Living Standards One Donation at a Time: Report on Giving 2017, https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/attachments/annual_reports/pdf/2017_Report%20on%20Giving_final_WEB_0.pdf.
  2. C.D. Howe Institute, Lifting Living Standards.
  3. C.D. Howe Institute, Lifting Living Standards.
  4. C.D. Howe Institute, Building a Better Canada: Your Philanthropy at Work, Annual Report 2016, https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/2016%20AR_English_web_0.pdf.
  5. “Energy Policy Council,” C.D. Howe Institute, accessed March 29th, 2019, https://www.cdhowe.org/council/energy-policy-council.
  6. Energy Policy Council,” C.D. Howe Institute.
  7. Steven Robins, Surge Capacity: Selling City-Owned Electricity Distributors to Meet Broader Municipal Infrastructure Needs, April 29, 2017, https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/attachments/research_papers/mixed/e-brief_257.pdf.
  8. James W. Coleman and Sarah Marie Jordaan, Clearing the Air: How Canadian LNG Exports Could Help Meet World Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals, August 24, 2016, 1,https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/attachments/research_papers/mixed/e-brief_244.pdf.
  9. David Hughes, A Clear Look at BC LNG: Energy Security, Environmental Implications and Economic Potential, May 26, 2015, https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/clear-look-bc-lng.
  10. “Policy Events,” C.D. Howe Institute, accessed March 29th 2018,  https://www.cdhowe.org/policy-events-0
  11. C.D. Howe Institute, Building a Better Canada.
  12. “History,” C.D. Howe Institute, accessed March 29th, 2018, https://www.cdhowe.org/history.
  13. C.D. Howe Institute, Annual Report 2017, https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/2017%20AR_English_Final_web.pdf.