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Munk School of Global Affairs reveals much about the state of Canadian foreign policy

Photo: Ali Eminov/flickr

Next week the Fraser Institute's newly established Peter Munk Centre for Free Enterprise will offer a daylong "Introduction to Economic Reasoning" seminar for Grade 10-12 students in Scarborough. Launched in June with $5 million from the founder of Barrick Gold, the Centre for Free Enterprise cements Munk's position as leading contributor to right-wing ideas. But, the ideologue's biggest contribution has been to a venerable public institution.

The Munk School of Global Affairs reveals much about the state of foreign-policy debate in this country. Among 35 million Canadians, the University of Toronto would be hard pressed to find a less credible source of support for the study of international affairs.

Peter Munk is a right-wing ideologue and mining magnate with an important personal stake in a particular foreign policy. The Munk founded Barrick Gold has benefited from Canadian diplomatic support, export financing and development aid.

With its projects spurring ecological devastation, communal conflict and dozens of deaths on six continents, the Toronto company has led the charge against moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. After An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries was narrowly defeated in 2010 Munk wrote a letter in the Toronto Star "celebrating those MPs who had the courage" to side with Canada's massive mining industry lobby and vote against bill C-300.

Munk espouses far-right political views. In 1997 he praised dictator Augusto Pinochet for "transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world" while two years later the Canadian Jewish News reported on a donation Munk made to an Israeli university and a speech in which he "suggested that Israel's survival is dependent on maintaining its technological superiority over the Arabs." In 2007 he compared Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to Hitler and later dismissed criticism of Barrick's security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming "gang rape is a cultural habit" in that country. He responded to a 2014 Economist question about whether "Indigenous groups appear to have a lot more say and power in resource development these days" by saying "globally it's a real problem. It's a major, major problem."

An initial $6.4-million contract to rename the International Studies Department the Munk Centre for International Studies stipulated the Centre would receive advice from Barrick's international advisory board, which included U.S. President George Bush and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. (When asked why he appointed Mulroney to Barrick's board, Munk told Peter C. Newman: "He has great contacts. He knows every dictator in the world on a first-name basis.") The 1997 agreement empowered Munk to stop payments if dissatisfied with the Centre. Happy with its direction, Munk contributed $5 million more in 2006 and $35 million to launch the Munk School of Global Affairs in 2010. That deal committed the U of T to pony up $39 million from its endowment while the Ontario and federal governments chipped in $50 million (as well as a $16-million tax credit to Peter Munk for his $35-million donation).

Flush with resources, the School is highly influential. It co-sponsors an award for the world's best non-fiction book on foreign affairs, Canadian Forces College workshops, annual lecture with Washington's National Endowment for Democracy and Toronto International Film Festival speakers series. The School also co-sponsors the Munk Debates, which held the first-ever Canadian foreign policy leaders' debate during the 2015 federal election.

The School's Munk Fellowship in Global Journalism awards 20 fellowships for a year-long program run in partnership with the Globe and Mail, CBC News, Toronto Star, Postmedia and Thomson Reuters. The School has significant ties to the Globe and Mail with former editors-in-chief John Stackhouse and William Thorsell both senior fellows at the School.

While executive director at the Munk Centre in 2007, Marketa Evans helped spawn the Devonshire Initiative, a project for NGOs and mining companies to discuss corporate social responsibility and development issues. Named after the street where the School is located, the Devonshire Initiative undermined a government–civil society Roundtable that called for withholding government financial and political support to resource companies found responsible for major abuses abroad. Evans would later be appointed Canada's inaugural Corporate Social Responsibility counselor, a post the Harper Conservatives set up to alleviate pressure to restrict government support for companies found responsible for international abuses.

The School supported the Harper Conservatives' low-level war against Iran. After severing diplomatic ties and designating Iran a state sponsor of terrorism in 2012, Foreign Affairs ploughed $250,000 into the Munk School's Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran. The aim of the initiative was to foment opposition to the regime and help connect dissidents inside and outside Iran. Expanding the Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran, Foreign Affairs gave the Munk School $9 million in 2015 to establish the Digital Public Square project to undermine online censorship within enemy states.

Canada's most influential global studies program is the brainchild of a mining magnet with a significant personal stake in a particular foreign policy. And the school has been shaped in his hard-right image.

Photo: Ali Eminov/flickr

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