By Robin Mathews
The Council of Canadians – whatever else it may be – is a living and breathing declaration of the failure of the parliamentary system in Canada, and, especially, the failure of Canadian political parties in that system.
Let us say at the beginning that Maude Barlow, voluntary chair of the Council of Canadians, is an upstanding, excellent, principled, competent, dedicated, and devoted servant of the organization. Let us say, too, that the organization does work of genuine importance in Canadian life and society. Let us say – Canadian things being in the parlous state they are – that we are far better off having the Council of Canadians than not having it.
The Council of Canadians is holding a major conference in Nanaimo, B.C. from October 26 to 28, 2012, called “Making Waves: Sinking the Harper Agenda”. Clearly the purpose is a political one. Clearly the event is intended to be an occasion of Political Opposition.
The questions that follow have to be ones like: “Where is the parliamentary political opposition?” “Where is it – whether in Ottawa or in the capitals of the provinces?” “Why isn’t it holding such events?” “Why aren’t the political Opposition parties in Canada acting among and with the people of Canada in open public spheres to educate, to inform, to act, to lead, to concentrate attention on the sell-out of the country?” “Why is a political non-party necessary in Canada?” “Where has this Council of Canadians come from?”
Begin there – answering the last question – and much is answered.
The fact is that the Council of Canadians is the bastard child of several forces which were coming to realize (a) the Canadian parliamentary system was collapsing, and (b) the “Party System” in Canada was betraying both Parliament and Canadians.
Strangely, the beginning happened within a Party. In 1969, a group of (mostly young) progressives were convinced that the New Democratic Party was going to the Right, was forsaking its roots, was becoming a collaborator with the sell-out forces in Canada, and that the NDP was betraying Canadians in its parliamentary role. Those (mostly) young people created a left rump in the NDP which came to be known as “the Waffle movement in the NDP” with a slogan “Independence and Socialism”.
The Waffle had very high profile for a few years until driven out of the Party by the Lewis family, the U.S. unions, and their allies. Its importance (to this discussion) was that it focused attention on many independence issues that were not being addressed by the parliamentary Parties. It gathered real sympathy in the NDP and in both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative Parties of the time.
A few scholars have claimed that because of the Waffle’s effectiveness certain progressive Liberals felt left out, and they believed the Liberal government of the day, as well, was not addressing key political questions, was betraying Canadians in its parliamentary role. And so what might be called “the Walter Gordon group” – the nationalist wing of the Liberal Party (with some sympathetic Progressive Conservatives) - created in 1970 an “independent” organization called The Committee for an Independent Canada. It was not (as the Waffle was inside the NDP) inside the Liberal Party or any other.
That allowed people who believed in its work to be members – people who had membership in any party, or none. The fact is that the Waffle attracted people of the Left and the Committee for an Independent Canada mostly attracted Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, though there was cross-over.
That was the next step toward the Council of Canadians – making a political group that was not attached to a Party but which had, primarily, a political role – to bring about legislation, to affect political thought, and to press for various kinds of change.
All the developments were indications that our parliamentary democracy operating through political parties was failing.
The Waffle Movement in the NDP angered “the Lewis family” – David Lewis, Stephen Lewis, and their allies. In 1972 in the Orange Hall in Orillia, the great vote was held to decide if the “Waffle” could stay a part of the NDP. At the time, about 51 per cent of constituencies wanted the Waffle in. Into the Orange Hall paraded the non-elected, appointed delegates from U.S. Unions in Canada – and they provided the majority necessary to the Lewis family and their allies to drive the Waffle out of the NDP.
The Waffle slowly died. As an independent Party it couldn’t muster the force to remain afloat.
The Committee for an Independent Canada went on working. Its publicity is that it influenced major legislation, and I believe it did so. I believe the principal people in the CIC grew tired of the work. In 1981 they dissolved the Committee for an Independent Canada saying it had done the work it set out to do – which was simply not true.
The connection and the continuity of concern from then to now is dramatic. Today, resistance forces outside the House of Commons and legislatures across the country are fighting the Harper intention to sell ownership of Canadian raw (fossil fuel) resources to China (CNOOC’s $15 billion bid for Nexen Oil). They are up in arms about the secretly concluded Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act which gives China, in fact, legislating power in Canada and greater power than Canadian legislatures in the exploitation of Canadian resource wealth.
One of the major battles of the Waffle and the Committee for an Independent Canada was the battle about foreign ownership of the Canadian economy. Major leader of the Waffle Movement in the NDP, Mel Watkins, cut his teeth as head of the first government appointed major Task Force on foreign ownership. From 1967 to 1972 three major Reports were issued on the subject – the Watkins Report, The Wahn Report, and the Gray Report.
Chief founder and organizer of the Committee for an Independent Canada was Liberal ex-finance minister Walter Gordon who spent his years in parliament tenaciously fighting foreign takeover.
With the arrival of Brian Mulroney as prime minister in 1984, all knew the slight advances made to preserve Canadian independence would be scuttled. And they were….
It is no accident that a year after Brian Mulroney became prime minister of Canada, a meeting was held in Toronto in 1985 of many, many of the activists involved in the struggle for Canadian independence – meeting to revive a non-political-party resistance. Mel Hurtig was one of the chief organizers of the meeting which was addressed by Walter Gordon who rose from his sick bed to speak to and encourage the group. All of the people at the meeting were aware that Canadian independence was being destroyed with the assistance of the parliamentary parties … and that something needed to be done. The Council of Canadians was formed.
Mel Hurtig led the Council of Canadians in the beginning. At that time, the Council held a national meeting of members every two years who acclaimed the Chair or voted in another. With time, apparently, that practice seemed too cumbersome and elections of the Chair ended. Search as I might, I can’t find a simple history of the foundation and early years of the Council of Canadians. Having been at the founding Toronto meeting, having been on the first National Board, I see gaping holes in “the story”.
Observing with dismay after 1975 that opposition to sell-out by the politicians in the federal and provincial legislatures was weakening, two National Party of Canada parties were formed, one after the other. The first was formed in 1979 in hopes of bringing together the divided forces – old Waffle Movement people and other independentist groups – to concentrate on the real political needs in the country. That National Party lasted about five years, ran a few candidates in two federal elections, in Ontario only (though it was a national Party wanting to offer candidates nationally), and then it faded. It couldn’t manage to bring the real opposition forces into alliance.
In the early 1990s Mel Hurtig (chief founder of the second National Party of Canada) phoned the leader of the former Party of that name to ask if the Party being newly created could have the name. The former leader of the first National Party of Canada gave the name and his blessing to the Hurtig challenge. That Party ran in the 1993 election with considerable success, and had the real possibility of becoming a force in Canadian politics.
But a fierce battle over financial accounts in the second National Party of Canada burst into view and was loudly conducted for a few years. Case after case was taken to court, and the Party was split into fragments; and finally was de-listed by Elections Canada. As an observer, I still cannot decide if the wrecking of the second National Party of Canada came about because of its obvious success and potential future or because there were real, demonstrable failures of accountability in the Party.
Clearly, the founders of the first National Party of Canada and the founders of the second one believed Canada needed a political force as a political party in Parliament to address the needs of Canadians. The first National Party of Canada was winding down as the Council of Canadians was being formed. The second National Party of Canada came into existence eight years after the formation of the Council of Canadians, believing, obviously, in the need for a political party in parliament to do the kind of work the Council was trying to do outside of the political structures of the country.
The failure of the parties forming the political opposition in Canada’s national parliament and in provincial legislatures to shape the kind of work the Council of Canadians does is a disgrace. Those opposition parties fail to hold major democratic conferences, public rallies, and public actions, They fail nationally and from constituency to constituency to resist sell-out and to inform and educate Canadians. Their failure condemns them to all the disapproval that Canadians can muster.
The opposition parties act as silent partners of sell-out. The work of the Council of Canadians throws into highlight the huge failure of the political opposition parties in Canada, both in provincial legislatures and in the national Parliament … and outside of them.
Wise observers have stated, over and over, that no “movement” organization, like the Council of Canadians, can ever transform itself into a political party. The reasons are very many … and they are very convincing.
One can only hope, however, that the example of the Council of Canadians inspires Canadians – young and old – to reject all the Mainstream Parties as they present themselves today. One can only hope that Canadians, young and old, found a new party to save Canada from the exploiters holding political power in Canada today, and from the fat parasites, called the Opposition parties, doing very little for Canada and living off the almost totally corrupted system. We think of that system as The Guardian of Canadian Freedom – our parliamentary system based upon conflicting and competing political parties possessing different visions of the best ways to serve the Canadian people.
To the degree that the Council of Canadians fills the need of Canadians to feel that a meaningful resistance to the destruction of Canada exists – to that degree the Council of Canadians is a negative force. For it can never become more than a movement looking in at the forces shaping Canada’s future – the forces we call the political parties in the national Parliament and in the legislatures of the provinces of Canada.
To the degree that the Council of Canadians alerts Canadians to the terrible failure of political parties in Canada and shows the desperate need for a new, people-empowered, responsible, and responsive Party – and helps to have such a new Party come about – to that degree the Council of Canadians is and will be a heroic part of Canadian history.
The Council of Canadians is, strangely, a living statement that real concern for the future of Canada is forbidden in the national Parliament and in the provincial legislatures of the country. It must also be the forerunner of new, militant, dedicated groups who form the Party or Parties required to overthrow the corrupt Parties of the day, to rebuild a destroyed Parliament, and to replace the old, cynical, time-serving, morally corrupt, self-indulgent Parties with a Party or Parties determined to serve Canada and Canadians and to save the future of the country for the generations to follow us.
If that doesn’t happen, then the chances for the formation of what may be called “revolutionary resistance” groups will grow. What shape they will take cannot be guessed at now. But real, in the streets, physical resistance to the destruction of Canadian democracy seems almost fated unless a new kind of democratic political party appears determined that Canada will be independent and will survive as a democracy.
The Straight Goods
Cheers Eyes Wide Open