Odds & Ends
by Norbert Cunningham

Good Morning again folks! And this is the last of the columns here for a little while, as I noted earlier. Yesterday I looked at bit at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) and gave it a nod for its 10th anniversary. But I didn’t quite have room to finish, so here’s the rest.

Fostering discussion
In the end, that is what AIMS has been doing is fostering intelligent discussion of some very important issues. And it has had some significant successes, in particular its annual survey and rating of schools in the region. The establishment greeted the first one with howls of anger and outrage, yet every single province has acted positively to address some of the serious issues raised. It’s not a bad thing to have somebody or some organization stand up and challenge the status quo! Just doing so is a useful and positive exercise.

Mutual respect
Founder and president Brian Lee Crowley and AIMS must be doing something right. For they’ve not only grown and prospered, they have earned a growing respect, if not always full agreement, from a wide range of society. It was AIMS that first stood up and noted that much of what was done in Ireland to turn its depressed economy into the European Tiger might well be applicable or adaptable to the Atlantic Canadian situation. And while it has not always been given credit, many a politician has raised the matter themselves and pursued it, including former Moncton mayor Brian Murphy and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, neither of whom can credibly be called right-wing, unthinking ideologues. Mr. Crowley tells me that much-respected l’Universite de Moncton researcher Donald Savoie was “not supportive” of AIMS at all in the early going, but now the two “have an amicable relationship” based on mutual respect even if they frequently don’t always agree in their conclusions. And they don’t. Yet it is good to hear! It means the kind of positive discourse that helps keep moving societies ahead is actually occurring and out of it will come progress.

Proudly Atlantic
Was. . . or is. . . AIMS really needed? I think so. Atlantic Canada has always had plenty of its own experts in academia, and certainly politicians standing up for it, but it never had a think tank devoted purely to studying issues from our perspective and focussed on getting debate going and keeping it going on crucial issues. Yet it is a region, as Mr. Crowley says, that very much needs to “tread our own path.” It is why AIMS works hard to maintain its independence. “To have credibility,” he says, “we must be from here and share the consequences of our ideas we live here too.” In other words, this is an Atlantic Canadian institution, composed of Atlantic Canadians who love and appreciate the region every bit as much as any Atlantic Canadian. Not one of them would advocate something they thought for a minute would harm the region. There is room for legitimate debate and disagreement, to be sure, but the motives of AIMS are beyond reproach. And Mr. Crowley is correct, I dare say from personal experience – every time I have ever talked to him in depth, on the phone or face-to-face, he has managed to surprise me with something or other. And he’s never less than well-informed and capable of offering a fascinating perspective on issues. Not once have I ever thought him an ideologue. In fact, one of the most striking things about him is his eagerness to hear what the person he is talking to thinks, and why – an eagerness that is accompanied by a willingness to just listen and hear you out, always with respect. I wish I could say the same of many politicians. More often than not, when I meet politicians, they’ll cut you off before you’ve even finished stating your case, then promptly tell you in so many words why you are wrong and they are right. This has happened to me even by politicians who had bluntly told me (and others at the newspaper) that they were merely visiting to find out what Maritimers were thinking. As soon as they began to hear, they shut it down and left without a clue as to what Maritimers were thinking. . . at least this one! And what I was thinking was not out of line with what many are thinking. That’s considered “consultation” among politicians; it’s not, of course, by any reasonable definition of the word. AIMS and Mr. Crowley, however, do consult and they listen very closely indeed. That, more than anything else, earns my respect. I may not always agree with AIMS conclusions, but I do respect them and know they are born of a lot of hard work, honest research, and careful thought. It’s hard to ask for anything more.

Deserving award
Perhaps that is why, on this 10th anniversary, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies found itself the recipient of a real feather for its cap. It was awarded the Templeton Freedom Prize for Institute Excellence, chosen from among 200 such think tanks from all around the world. Now that’s an achievement. And one well deserved! Given annually by the John Templeton Foundation, the prize is intended to recognize “innovative research, teaching, and public outreach programs illuminating processes of wealth creation that offer real practical solutions to poor people everywhere.” In other words, think tanks offering practical solutions to problems of economic under-development which are producing valuable work are in the running. Mr. Crowley is proud of having won this honour, which came as a bit of a surprise to him. I’d say it was justified and may the next 10 years be as good, productive and successful as the first 10!

The Last Word
Here is Hannah Arendt:

“Opinions are formed in a process of open discussion and public debate, and where no opportunity for the forming of opinions exists, there may be moods – moods of the masses and moods of individuals, the latter no less fickle and unreliable than the former – but no opinion.”

Odds & Ends is compiled by editorial page editor Norbert Cunningham. It appears on this page every Monday to Friday.