Parkland Institute studies economic, social, cultural, and political issues facing Albertans and Canadians, using the perspective of political economy. The Institute shares the results of its research widely and promotes discussion of the issues its research raises.
Parkland Institute marked its 20th anniversary in 2016. You can read a short history of the founding of Parkland Institute in Director Trevor Harrison's Parkland Institute: A Look Back at 20 Years.
Parkland Institute exists because of widespread concern about the changes within the political and economic culture of Alberta and Canada. Political discourse has shifted over the past number of decades as the language and assumptions of the marketplace have expanded corporate power and challenged the role and ethos of the public sector and the commons. The post-war consensus on providing public services to all citizens and the image of Canada as a caring and sharing society can no longer be taken for granted.
In this new intellectual and policy climate, market-oriented assumptions, arguments and policies need to be examined to determine whether or not they can be justified. This examination, touching on issues of provincial, national and international importance, requires more than partisan and self-interested participation if it is to reflect the views of Albertans and other Canadians. Through scholarly research and public education, Parkland Institute draws attention to and promotes discussion of these substantive questions that are central to political dialogue in Alberta and Canada.
Parkland Institute conducts research within the long-established intellectual approach of Canadian political economy. Parkland examines power and wealth differentials, social and class-based conflicts, and ways in which public policy and public choice shape and are shaped by these factors. Parkland seeks to provide ways to understand forces of change, forces that resist change, and conflicts of interest in our society. This understanding identifies the decisions that must be made if these forces are to be harnessed for social change and the greater good.
Political economy is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on economics, history, business, anthropology, sociology, and political science to uncover material and conceptual linkages among aspects of our society.
Three broad based themes structure the Institute's research:
1. Revitalizing Democracy and the Role of Government
Democratic participation has declined in recent years in several western countries, including Canada. Many people view government as unresponsive, bureaucratic, and inefficient. Often, they feel alienated from real decision-making.
These depictions need serious investigation. Parkland supports research into means of reinvigorating government and strengthening participatory democracy. Several important questions arise from this stance. For example, what are the current problems of democracy? Has the recent ascendancy of market ideology harmed democracy and civil society generally? If so, in what ways? What has been the impact of continentalism upon Canadian federalism? What should be the role of media in fostering democracy? How might the current instruments and processes of government be enhanced to ensure government accountability, increase meaningful citizen participation in government policy, and advance the common good? Are "direct democracy" initiatives desirable? Could proportional representation work in Alberta?
2. Building a Just and Sustainable Economy
Beginning in the 1980s, governments steadily withdrew from direct involvement in the economy. Privatization, deregulation, mergers, and free trade became buzzwords. The result has been increasing economic instability and a series of apparent contradictions with profound consequences for the economic and social well-being and security of individuals, communities, provinces, and Canada.
Parkland Institute research in this area asks such questions as: Who benefits from market liberalization, and who pays the costs? In what circumstances will markets work most effectively for the common good? How is "fiscal responsibility" defined? What should be the role of government in protecting citizens from market instabilities? How do market forces reinforce or break down class, race, gender, and other inequalities? What is the best mix and level of taxes for ensuring a fair, equitable, and sustainable economy? How might the economy be made to better serve the interests of individuals, families, and the community? Beyond taxes, are there alternative sources of government revenue? How would Alberta adjust to a change in oil and gas royalties? How should current and future government surpluses be employed?
3. Improving Quality of Life
Albertans, as people elsewhere, express growing concern over what broadly are termed "quality of life issues," such as homelessness, poverty, divorce, crime, child and spousal abuse, environmental damage, and deteriorating health care and education systems. These concerns cross ethnic and class lines.
Parkland encourages research into ways of strengthening social cohesion and the good society. This theme stresses four particular areas of research: culture, education, health care, and welfare services. Parkland therefore asks: How might the "cultural commons" – radio, television, the arts – be reinvigorated to reflect the individual identities and community interests of Albertans? How can modern technologies best be used to enhance the common good? How widespread is corporatization and privatization in Alberta schools and universities? Who are the major actors (corporations, think-tanks, etc.) pushing increased corporate control of education and health care? Why are there shortages and unsustainable workloads in Alberta's care sectors? How have recent government welfare policies impacted upon women, single-headed families, Aboriginal peoples, the poor, and children?
For an overview of Parkland Institute's activities and impact you can read our past annual reports:
As part of a review process carried out by the University of Alberta of our research, impact and effectiveness, the Parkland Institute has prepared detailed self-study analyses outlining our work, areas of success, and major accomplishments in 2008 and 2014. The studies clearly demonstrate the ability of Parkland Institute to consistently perform and deliver results far beyond what would be expected of an organization of our size and budget.