Last week, I wrote that the Munk School of Global Affairs received $9 million in federal research grants, and hinted about a possible conflict of interest this funding may have on the federal leaders debate, and with the leader selection processes for these debates. The Munk School of Global Affairs responded to that blog. Munk School Director Steven Toope released this statement (emphasis added):
To be clear, we at the Munk School are neither hosting nor running the foreign policy election debate. The semi-annual Munk Debates are a project of the Aurea Foundation; a federally registered charity dedicated to public policy research and discussion. Our only potential role is to give advice on questions that might be posed, but as part of an independent national advisory committee. We have nothing to do with the decision about who can participate.
Essentially what this says is that the Munk School of Global Affairs is a separate organization from the Munk Debates. A fact that the school seems to be rather intent in correcting since numerous news agencies recently have been tying the Munk School to the Munk debates. Sick of Munks yet? Wait there’s more.
It is important to note that Janice Stein who is the founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs sits on the advisory board of the Munk Debates. I raised concerns regarding Ms. Steins role on the advisory committee at the Munk Debates being a potential conflict of interest, along with the fact that the Munk School of Global Affairs is advising a committee on questions that might be posed to the leaders. Questions posed could be tailored in a way that could very well lean towards the Conservatives to give them the upper hand in answering them.
Questions I posed to Toope on his statement were the following:
1) Is it ethical or even considered independent that the Munk School would have any potential role in asking leaders questions while in receipt of $9 million in public funds?
2) Your founding director sits on the advisory committee for the Munk Debates. Is that not a conflict of interest?
Munk School of Global Affairs spokesperson Kelley Teahen e-mailed the following on the conflict of interest questions on Stein and the Munk School’s position on the advisory committee regarding leader questions:
You brought up the fact the school recently was awarded a research grant from a federal ministry to support the Digital Public Square project.
Professor Toope explains that the Munk School, like all Canadian post-secondary institutions involved in conducting research, receives many grants from the federal government, and other governments, related to supporting research. These are awarded through competitive processes, or agreed to after processes in and due diligence with the departments involved. They are not awarded politically.
Why is the Munk School of Global Affairs advising a committee on potential leadership debate questions, when those questions should be coming from the voters to begin with? Why are the Munk Debates still refusing to let all leaders participate in these debates?
In a recent article Munk Debates Chairman Rudyard Griffiths was recently questioned on Green Leader Elizabeth May`s exclusion from the Munk Debates:
The chairman of Munk Debates, Rudyard Griffiths, said back in May that inviting all six parties with MPs “would unduly limit our ability to hold a substantive debate.” Now he says he “really struggled” with this decision.
The academic community doesn’t seem to quite fully understand the public’s perception of conflict of interest, nor do they seem they care that these debates belong to the Canadian public, so do the funds they are receiving from the federal government.