Think tank rankings prove to be controversial

A lot of thought went into this list

There are rankings for universities, safest cities, college sports teams, healthiest countries and nicest places to visit. Now, policy thinkers have their own rankings. And like almost all of the other lists, it’s proving to be controversial.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Society Program recently released a ranking of the leading policy organizations from among the 6,500 think tanks worldwide. While U.S. think tanks dominate the list—the Washington-based Brookings Institution tops the rankings—it has some significant Canadian representation. Ranked 25th in the world and first among Canadian think tanks is the free-market-oriented Fraser Institute. A notable showing was also earned by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, based in Waterloo, Ont., and backed by Research in Motion’s Jim Balsillie, which came 32nd on a separate list that excluded U.S. think tanks.

But there are some equally significant Canadian omissions. Toronto’s C.D. Howe Institute is generally recognized as the preferred outlet for research by Canada’s top academics and boasts an impressive record, particularly in monetary policy, taxation and free trade. And yet, it isn’t anywhere on the lists. “We weren’t aware of this survey,” says William Robson, C.D. Howe’s president and CEO. “But I think we can make a pretty good case for being influential.” Also missing is the Conference Board of Canada, the country’s largest think tank, and the widely cited, left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. James McGann, director of the ranking project, admits that the list—which is determined by a panel of experts who sift through nominations—is still a work in progress, and is planning to tweak it next year in ways that could result in greater Canadian representation.

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