The Manning Centre for Building Democracy is currently holding its annual networking conference. Among their guest speakers is Ron Paul, a Texas congressman who made a high profile, though unsuccessful bid for the Republican Party presidential nomination in the last election cycle. Paul, a self-described “constitutional conservative” is a polarizing figure. He is staunchly anti-war, and favours drug legalization on constitutional grounds. This endears him to some people who traditionally identified with the political “left.” But this, combined with his desire to end the federal welfare state makes him more appealing to a large subset of conservatives and libertarians — though many conservatives and libertarians disagree vehemently with Congressman Paul on many issues (as a libertarian-leaning moderate, I’ve got some pretty substantial disagreements with the Congressman). Paul’s appearance was certainly calculated to stir up vigorous intellectual debates among the attendees. That is precisely what one would hope for when signing up to attend a gathering of policy and political professionals.
Unfortunately, the Broadbent Institute, which styles itself as the social democratic equivalent of the Manning Centre, has decided to launch a campaign ridiculing the Manning Centre for inviting Congressman Paul. They created a quiz with an accompanying video, entitled “Ron Paul’s Big Ideas for Canada” in which they display dopey looking animations of Paul stating his most unflattering statements, and asks if the reader agrees. Each question is clearly framed to elicit a response favourable to the Broadbent Institute’s perspective. If you answer the questions as intended, you receive the following message: “Fine then. You are not at all Ron Paul! Congratulations, you have a lot in common with your fellow Canadians.” The messages for those who answer otherwise are meant to belittle the user.
I’m concerned with this attitude. The Broadbent Institute is not a think tank, but they do publish research papers. Serious research requires an ability to engage with people with whom you disagree. This latest publicity stunt doesn’t seem to be coming from an organization that is particularly open to such engagement. That is unfortunate. We all lose when intellectual pursuits become politicized. Think tanks, and other organizations that are in the idea business exists to educate the public in a way that politicians seeking election cannot. If people at the Broadbent Institute truly believe their ideas stand up to rigorous examination, they should be lining up to debate with people of different policy persuasions, rather than hiding behind mockery. Canadians deserve to hear the best arguments from people of all perspectives so that they can make up their own minds. The Broadbent Institute does not define Canadian values. All Canadians do.