Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN)

Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN)

What Happened

Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) closed its doors in 2009 due to a loss of long-term funding commitments. The problem began in 2006, when the Harper government decided to end its funding.

CPRN published work in the areas of social innovation, health, citizenship, diversity and Canadian values, productivity and skills. It was best known for championing public engagement through deliberative dialogues and consultations with Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

During its 15 years of existence the CPRN produced more than 700 influential publications on a wide variety of issues. They were made available free of charge on the CPRN web site which recorded more than 10 million downloads (these publications are still available at www.cprn.org). The most popular CPRN studies included work on housing as good social policy, people the education system leaves behind, the ageing labour force, and innovations in frontline health care.

CPRN founder, Judith Maxwell, helped mobilize critical attitude shifts by coining the term “social deficit” and establishing the economic importance of child care and cities.

Among other accomplishments, CPRN conducted the community consultations for the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, headed by ex-Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. “We are losing a much needed voice. In the landscape of public policy we need think tanks that have a different approach from the perceived conventional wisdom of the day,” Romanow has said.

In 2005, Human Resources Canada evaluated the impact of federal grants to the CPRN. The evaluation concluded that such grants have “strengthened the CPRN while supporting its neutrality and independence,” and that “CPRN has been successful in meeting its objective of informing the development of social and economic policy.”

Leaders of the CPRN have noted that the cuts to CPRN are in line with a decreasing role of the federal government in collaborative public policy research initiatives. This decreased government role in policy research, and the government’s general lack of interest in evidence-based analysis and diversity of opinion, has put many other think tanks and civil society organizations under stress.

The disinterest in research and evidence-based analysis also means that the government will be weaker when it comes to deciding on the best policies for everyone in the country. It will be stuck with analyses that fail to reflect a clear understanding of diverse viewpoints. Thus, in closing down the CPRN, its leaders said that "one more brick was removed from the foundations of democracy in Canada."

The disinterest in discovering which policies are best for all Canadians also affects democracy in that election campaigns become less about big ideas for our collective future, and more about playing local politics. As CPRN researchers noted, politicians now “have intensified their use of polling results to script and narrow-cast their campaigns and speeches to target segments of the population with tailored messages.”

Relevant Dates

  • 1994: Canadian Policy Research Networks is created by Judith Maxwell following the demise of the Economic Council of Canada. Federal grants of $16.7 million over the next 12 years were a catalyst to allow the CPRN to lever an additional $42 million in donations as well as in research grants from provinces and federal agencies.
  • Sept. 25, 2006: The Conservative government cancelled a multi-year sustaining grant agreement that it had signed just five months earlier.
  • December 23, 2009: Lacking federal grants and hit hard by the 2008 recession, CPRN closes its doors.

Role or Position

A non-profit, non-partisan organization, the CPRN was Canada’s most influential think tank providing socioeconomic policy research and public engagement.

Implications and Consequences

  • Free Speech: The loss of CPRN and its independent policy research has narrowed the scope and space for civil and rational public policy discourse in Canada, and has helped to stifle the capacity of the public service to develop profitable partnerships with outside actors and to invest in useful research.
  • Democracy: Further evidence has emerged of the federal government’s very limited appetite for independent, evidence-based research, encouraged by public ignorance and apathy towards government attacks on knowledge.
  • Transparency: Policy decisions are increasingly dependent on the research of corporate-funded think tanks, though even private actors, including individuals and corporations, are now less willing to fund public policy research unless it reflects the views of the Prime Minister and governing party ideology.