The Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) is a right-wing think tank based in Ottawa. Founded in 2010, MLI is one of Canada’s youngest think tanks. MLI claims to be “the only non-partisan, independent public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.”13 Its political ties and the materials it produces suggest MLI is a key source of conservative ideas.
MLI produces research and works to shape public opinion in support of policies to cut government spending in favour of private wealth generation. Research on the merits of Canada’s fossil fuel industries is prioritized, while climate change is rarely addressed. This earns MLI recognition as a legitimator of Canada’s growing carbon footprint.
Head office: Ottawa, Ontario
Revenue: C$2.1 million14 MLI, Shaping the National Conversation.[/enf_note]
MLI holds registered charitable status in Canada and the United States. Revenues come from individual and corporate donations, and from foundation contributions and event sponsorship.2
MLI is also a member of the Atlas Network—a network of neoliberal think tanks dedicated to promoting free-market ideology across the globe. MLI receives funding from Atlas through its membership affiliation.3 Atlas’s own funders include oil interests such as ExxonMobil and oil and gas billionaires the Koch Brothers.4 Atlas provides an opportunity for the fossil fuel industry to fund organizations aligned with their interests. Other Atlas groups in our Top 50 include the Fraser Institute and the Manning Centre.
MLI was founded in 2010 by Brian Crowley, founder and former executive director of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, another right-wing think tank.5 In the year preceding MLI’s founding, Crowley advised Stephen Harper’s federal government while serving as the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist in the Department of Finance. Months later, then finance minister Jim Flaherty invited his colleagues and business contacts to attend the institute’s inauguration, saying that “this important national initiative deserves to succeed.”6
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute provides recommendations and commentary in a range of public policy areas. These include extractive resource development, national security, state–Indigenous relations and health care, among others.
MLI aims to “shape the national conversation” and advances conservative policy ideas in the public sphere. In 2017, it published 136 op-eds in media outlets like the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Wall Street Journal.7 Through this dissemination, MLI promotes fossil fuel development in Canada (among other goals) but largely neglects climate implications. Despite the gravity of the climate crisis, a recent MLI editorial urges Canada to “leverage its energy advantage” by doubling down on policies that support the energy sector. [efn-note]Shuvaloy Majumdar, “It’s Time to Leverage Canada’s Energy Advantage into a Geopolitical One, Too,” Maclean’s, September 7, 2018, https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/its-time-to-leverage-canadas-energy-advantage-into-a-geopolitical-one-too.[/efn_note] MLI echoes the arguments of far-right media personality Ezra Levant, who insists that Canadian oil is more “ethical” than oil from other sources.8 For example, MLI’s Shuvaloy Majumdar suggests: “We should fearlessly pursue our economic interests by making Canadian energy resources and technologies accessible to those who want them, offsetting allied dependence on worse alternatives.” This means that environmental concerns take a back seat, or as Majumdar puts it, “environmental goals must be set in the context of these economic objectives, not the other way around.”9
In 2013, MLI initiated a research stream on state–Indigenous relations in the context of Canada’s resource development industry. Called the “Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy” project, it seeks to “attract the attention of policy makers” and others to “some of the policy challenges that must be overcome if Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, are to realize the full value of the potential of the natural resource economy.”10 Topics include how to avoid further oil and gas pipeline disputes between Indigenous communities and the government by offering “a sufficiently large equity share to ensure long-term management and board participation in the project.” 11 They further suggest that Indigenous communities should not have a “veto” to say no to resource development projects proposed for their traditional territories.12
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.
One example of this funding relationship can be found on Atlas’s website: “2017 Templeton Freedom Award Winner,” accessed April, 8th 2019,, https://www.atlasnetwork.org/grants-awards/awards/the-2017-templeton-freedom-award.
Brian Lee Crowley and Ken Coates, The Way Out: New Thinking about Aboriginal Engagement and Energy Infrastructure to the West Coast, MLI, May 2013, 9, https://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/files/pdf/2013.05.30-MLI-3NorthernGateway-WebReady-vFinal.pdf.