Los Altos think tank hosts conference in Valemount

by Andru McCracken


Stuart Parker believes the left in the province of BC needs more open discussion, more rigour and less superficial discussion. / ANDRU MCCRACKEN

The Surrey-based Los Altos Institute is hosting a summer institute—a cross between a course and a conference—in Valemount this week.

The self-described leftist think tank will be discussing Dependency Theory.

“It is a way of looking at economies that export raw materials, why it happens and how to come out of it,”  said Stuart Parker, the founder of the Los Altos Institute, who has taught the history of the West and dependency theory at UBC and the University of Toronto. “Valemount is the perfect place to discuss all that.”

He said the reason the location is well-suited is because the community used to have a large mill and now raw logs are shipped out of the community.

Parker said he started Los Altos because he realized there was a niche to fill in participating in the intellectual life of this province.

“I got together with a lot of the people I worked with in the 1990s to create an institute that is unapologetically left wing,” he said.

They choose an important subject of interest to academics, activists and people in politics. Dependency theory fits that bill.

“Generally when you have a local economic elite, they view the creation of a local manufacturing sector as hostile to their economic interests,” said Parker.

For Parker, the elite are people who currently own major businesses, smelting and mining and the like.

He said new manufacturing makes this elite less secure.

“These are relationships between fairly small numbers of people and corporations. We often buy that all the firms are just profit-seeking corporations that don’t have political agendas,” he said.

He believes they do.

According to Parker, the elites maintain BC as a place that keeps commodity prices down and ensures supplies of raw materials are abundant.

“If you start consuming materials it threatens the distribution,” he said.

Parker said the Fast Ferries built under Glen Clark’s NDP government were an example of a project that threatened the supply chain.

“The elites want to move resources to where labour is cheap. It is the central hustle of our current global economic system. If you mess with that hustle, people will come down on you,” he said.

Parker said that the idea is to create an egalitarian space where people are able to discuss sophisticated ideas and deep challenges.

“It’s the opposite direction I’ve seen people going,” he said.

Parker said most of the community engagement he sees are built around superficial discussion.

“It’s about not hurting people’s feelings,” he said. “We’re interested in deeper discussions that are emotionally challenging. Liberal politics is of grievance and safe space, it’s actually inhibiting our ability to get together and think out loud.”

Parker said a similar programme was proposed by the Broadbent Institute called the Progress Summit. Parker is not a fan.

“It’s an endless cocktail party with fake discussions. It’s the opposite of a thinking exercise.”

Parkers’ inspiration for the left wing summer institute came straight out of the right wing.

“I became a good friend with a guy who ran a right wing defense policy institute called Civitas.

“They go to some small town and have a no holds barred deep discussions over a weekend. He would come back energized with deep thoughts,” said Parker.

“The left needs a Civitas. A place where new ideas can well up.”

Parker said that the left of late has an ugly aesthetic to it, and he intends to change that, so the food will be prepared by a professional chef in an Argentine style Italian food with BC ingredients.

“I want to make sure everybody who shows up has a full belly and a nice beverage,” said Parker.

The five day event gets underway on August 29 and will be held at the Valemount College.

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