The Fraser Institute, a right wing think tank with a 27-year history of influencing public policy decisions, held a series of free student seminars last Saturday that sparked reaction ranging from inspired to disgusted.

“The purpose of the seminars was to help students educate themselves about the roles of markets, economics and public policy,” says Vanessa Schneider, a Fraser Institute representative.

“It’s very discussion based…I think it really gives the students a good chance to get into the issues among themselves and carry on with what they have heard from the presentations.”

The Institute, funded by Dow Chemical, Dupont, Imperial Oil, Proctor and Gamble and other large corporations, prides itself on providing “market solutions.”

A good dose of healthy dissent sparked debate amongst attendees. The Toronto High School Student Flying Squad, a group that travels to support local picket lines, handed out leaflets during the lunch break and voiced alternative views in discussion groups. They criticized the Fraser Institute specifically for its corporate ties and described the seminar series itself as an example of propaganda programs to indoctrinate youth.

As part of a “luncheon lecture” on terrorism and trade, Economics professor Steven Landsburg joked that a 16 dollar an hour American worker who loses his job to a 3 dollar an hour Mexican worker should be subject to a tax for charging 16 dollars an hour for a job that should have only cost 3 dollars.

Victoria College student Stephen Hay, one of 55 U of T students in attendance, said he found the seminars very entertaining. “Even though [Landsburg] made some points that were so absurd that they made me laugh, they were thought provoking,” he said.

In a seminar entitled “Poverty: What does it really mean?” Institute writer Chris Sarlo presented his controversial view that too many people are classified as poor in Canada, and only those in absolute need should be considered poor.

Claudia Hepburn presented her own research showing that private schools can serve the poor better than public schools, while speakers National Post reporter Paul Wells and Lydia Miljan addressed media issues.

Other U of T students in attendance, like second year Trinity student Joshua Somer, were supportive of what the Fraser Institute lecturers had to say.

After a lecture and open discussion on the seminar “Hidden Agendas: How the Media Influences the News,” Somer commented that “balance shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of freedom and choice. That can be achieved pretty well just in a capitalist society. My real concern is government controlled media[…] If government is funding it, if government is regulating it, I think they’re obviously going to have some say in setting the agenda.”

Four lectures and a luncheon presentation were held. Each was followed by a question and answer period and separate 40-minute group discussions in Sheraton Hotel suites.

Stay up to date. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required