A feature of the People-Centered Development Forum
The Council of Canadians, Working Document of the Annual General Meeting, October
14 16 1994, Ottawa
Canada has changed profoundly since the Council of Canadians was formed almost
a decade ago. These changes are part of a world-wide transformation as great as
the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. The authority of the nation state
is being challenged by transnational corporations operating outside national law
and protected by global trade agreements. The so-called global economic "boom"
is fueled by deep inequities, excessive consumerism by the world’s economic
elite, and ecological crime.
Like governments everywhere, Canada’s national and provincial governments appear
powerless to defend the interests of their people in the face of the new
globalism; with varying degrees of enthusiasm or resistance, they are giving
away the few tools of democracy once held by their citizens.
They argue that they have no choice, that these changes are inevitable, and
Canada will be "left behind" if it does not fall into line. They tell
us that there is no longer any ideology, only pragmatics. Besides, they say,
look how the economy is recovering.
What they don’t say is that it is only recovering for some, that the
discrepancies between rich and poor continue to grow, that most jobs being
created are contingency jobs part time, with minimal benefits and no security
and that life is harder for many Canadians than it has been since the Great
Depression. They don’t say that the import and export growth they are touting
hardly benefits most Canadians at all because it is largely intercorporate
trading between transnationals operating in a global labour pool where companies
shift production at whim.
They don’t tell us about the corporate pressure being placed on them to reduce
our safety standards on food products, or environmental controls. They also
neglect to say that our social security review is a direct result of their
inability to capture tax revenues from big companies who now threaten to pack up
and move away if they are forced to pay their share. Corporate globalism is
bankrupting nations and Canada is no exception.
Canada is now fully immersed in the global economy and our governments are
setting out to "reinvent" themselves. The premise: the public sector
is inferior to the private and must be abandoned; we have been over-governed,
and must dramatically reduce the role of government; competition is inherently
superior to cooperation and will produce better services; citizens must have the
"choice" to opt out of the public system. The result: the remodeling
of our social systems to reflect deepening class disparities in our country and
the decline of our commitment to one another and to public life.
In light of this reality, and on the eve of our tenth anniversary, the Council
of Canadians has been doing some soul searching. We have been asking how
citizens can defend their sovereign rights when their governments have abdicated
the obligation. We have been questioning our focus on the traditional political
system and our faith in political parties alone to represent our democratic
rights. Many of us are ready to envisage a more personal and popular definition
of sovereignty and assume direct responsibility for democracy rather than simply
depending on governments. We believe that building a progressive political
culture is critical to the survival of our country.
We are, therefore, proud to present our Citizen’s Agenda for Canada. It is a
declaration of citizen rights in a global economy. It is a tool to help
individuals and groups form their own positions as they face governments or
corporations. It is an alternative set of assumptions to counter the dominant
ideology of the new economy. And it is a process calling upon people to re-think
their notions of democracy and start to build the kind of political vehicles we
need if we are to reclaim control over our lives, communities, and environment.
In this document, we strive to enlarge our understanding of "community."
To protect our rights in a borderless world is to work internationally to
protect all cultures and communities and their right to establish the conditions
under which they live. To protect our rights is to join people the world over in
creating popular sovereignty in their communities and establishing national and
global standards on the environment, human rights, and social justice.
Our ancestors knew that in order to survive as a sovereign notion situated next
to the greatest superpower in the world, we had to share to survive and adopt
interdependence as a way of life. The time has come to learn that lesson again
and share it with the world.
WHEREAS the Council of Canadians is commited to the protection and enhancement
of Canadian political, economic, environmental, and cultural sovereignty and to
the promotion of the democratic rights of Canadians and peoples around the
WHEREAS Canada’s national and provincial governments are abandoning their
authority and historic role to protect the political, economic, environmental,
and cultural sovereignty rights of their citizens and ceding them to
transnational business and international trade agreements designed to remove
WHEREAS these governments are therefore abdicating their responsibility to
deliver public services, thus remodeling our social systems to reflect the
deepening class disparities in our country and hastening the decline of our
commitment to one another and to public life, and therefore to Canada;
THEREFORE be it resolved that the Council of Canadians adopt a process to
develop a Citizens’ Agenda in order to help Canadians:
- Declare our democratic and sovereign rights in a global economy;
- Assert these rights in a more direct and personal manner;
- Develop our own negotiating positions in facing governments
- Counter the dominant ideology of the new economy;
- Build the kind of extra-Parliamentary vehicles we need to reclaim these
- Develop a progressive alternative vision for Canada as a sovereign and
RECLAIMING OUR SOVEREIGNTY
A Platform for Action in the New Global Economy
It is now almost ten years since the Council of Canadians burst forth on the
national stage. Over the past decade, the Council has fought many battles on
behalf of national sovereignty and Canadian independence. Some will remember,
the first Council policy papers on such topics as Canadian culture, foreign
investment, and natural resources. No sooner had the Council been launched, when
the call came for a nation wide fight to stop the U.S. Canada Free-Trade
Agreement. Throughout that historic battle, the Council was the constant voice
on national sovereignty. The FTA fight, in turn, was followed by a series of
Council campaigns on the deregulation of the energy industry, the privatization
of the CBC and the abrogation of the FTA. And then, of course, there was the
battle against NAFTA where we broadened our vision and our alliances on an
On each of these fronts, the Council proudly carried the banner of Canadian
sovereignty. But we now realize the world we live in has been radically changed
by the relentless forces of globalization. The FTA and NAFTA, as well as the new
GATT deal, have completely changed the rules of the game in which nation states
like Canada are allowed to operate. So too has the global debt crisis, spurred
on by the international movement of capital by transnational corporations and
the roles played by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Living
as we do in this new global economy, we have to question many of our basic
assumptions about national sovereignty, and for that matter democracy itself, as
a common basis for action.
Questioning Our Beliefs about National Sovereignty
In the new world order of global competitiveness, nation states like Canada and
democratically elected governments have surrendered much of their sovereign
power and the strategic tools required to develop a positive economic, social
and environmental future for their own peoples. Through the processes of
globalization we are seeing a massive transfer of sovereign power out of the
hands of nation states and into the hands of transnational corporation and
banks. This power grab has been carried out over the past decade or so through a
series of economic initiatives promoted by big business and adopted by
governments: the free trade deals and the recent GATT agreement; the growing
debt and deficit crises of most nation states provoked in large part by the
international movement of capital; the weakening of national controls over
monetary policy; diminished public revenues from corporate taxes; the
privatization of what were once publicly delivered services; and the
deregulation of national economies.
As a result, citizen’s movements such as the Council have little choice but to
question many of our assumptions about national sovereignty. Globalization is
systematically stripping states and governments of the powers and tools of
sovereignty. The powers determining our future now reside, for the most part, in
the hands of the transnational conglomerates that dominate the new global order.
Out of the top 100 economies in the world, 47 are transnational corporations. At
the same time, the roles and responsibility of democratically elected
governments are being reshaped. Their prime role is to provide a favourable
climate for profitable transnational investment and competition. It is not only
national sovereignty but democracy itself that is seriously threatened by the
new world of global competitiveness.
The challenge for us today is to rethink and redefine "sovereignty" as
our common basis for action. The old definition of nationalism doesn’t work in
an age of global interdependence. We need to begin redefining and rebuilding our
understanding of sovereignty from the ground up. We need to go beyond the narrow
definitions of national sovereignty to embrace a broader notion of sovereignty
as a common base for action. We propose the Council adopt the notion of popular
sovereignty, reflecting the dreams and aspirations of people who live in a
political community. As citizens of a political community, we determine our
economic, social, and ecological future, focussing attention on popular
sovereignty as a basis of action. However, this does not mean turning our backs
on national sovereignty. On the contrary, it is through this kind of citizen
action that we can rebuild our nation state to operate on the basis of
sovereignty and democracy within the new global economy.
Our Focus on Popular Sovereignty
In a democratic society, the grounds for popular sovereignty are situated in
basic rights. Here in Canada, it has been generally recognized that all citizens
have certain fundamental rights: adequate food, clothing and shelter;
employment, education and health care; a clean environment; income security; and
basic public and social services. Central to these rights is a fundamental
democratic principle, namely, the right and ability to effectively participate
in decisions affecting these rights. We are not talking about rights in
individualistic terms, as the Reform party does, but rather the communal rights
that all people are entitled to by living in a democratic community. Citizen
rights reflect the needs of a community and individuals secure these rights
through the community, locally, nationally and internationally. The state in our
parliamentary system of democracy, in turn, has a moral and political obligation
not only to carry out its electoral mandate, but also to ensure that these basic
rights are realized through government policies and programs. In the new global
economy, however, these fundamental rights have been largely stolen or hijacked
by the operations of TNCs. Therefore, when citizen movements fight for the
recognition and realization of these basic rights through demands for government
action, they are claiming popular sovereignty in a democratic society.
Citizen movements such as the Council have the moral and political
- Fight for the recognition and realization of the fundamental economic,
social, and environmental rights in this country;
- Establish priorities, conditions, and standards that must be met in order
to ensure these rights are realized through economic policies and projects;
demand TNCs meet these basic economic, social, and environmental priorities and
- Insist governments at all levels introduce and enact the regulatory (or
reregulatory) measures necessary to ensure TNCs meet these conditions and
standards before being allowed to operate; and
- Take whatever forms of action are needed to see that basic economic,
social, and environmental rights are upheld.
As a common base for action, popular sovereignty requires citizens movements to
develop strategies aimed at taking greater democratic control over the economy
itself. In the new global order, where TNCs have assumed much of the sovereign
powers of nation states and democratically elected governments, it is imperative
that citizen movements exercise their popular sovereignty by taking greater
democratic control over their own economies. This calls for a two- part strategy
on the part of citizens movements: (1) resistance actions aimed at stopping or
preventing further power grabs by TNCs and (2) alternative measures designed to
ensure more democratic control over the operations of TNCs. To be effective,
these strategies need to be carried out simultaneously at three levels: locally,
nationally and internationally. Through this two- pronged strategy for
increasing democratic control, citizen movements can begin the process of
redefining and rebuilding sovereignty at all three levels.
Developing Action Strategies based on Popular Sovereignty
On the local level, the Council has a key role to play in developing action
strategies designed to regain democratic control over our regional economies.
Community action includes rural, urban, metropolitan, and provincial settings.
Local action strategies could take several forms e.g. organizing public support
for workers who have occupied their plant in an effort to prevent closing and
relocation to the southern U.S.; forming community action teams to challenge the
onslaught of Walmart establishments in key centres across the country; building
community support for groups attempting to stop the rape of our environment;
mobilizing public opposition to hospital closings in communities; supporting
citizen projects designed to provide viable community based economic
alternatives. In these and many other situations, we are giving expression to
popular sovereignty by asserting our rights to take greater democratic control
over our regional economies.
On the national level, the Council is already involved in a range of activities
designed to increase democratic control over economic and social policy. The
focus of action is generally the federal government and its agencies. These
national action strategies include : campaigns to defend the principle of
universality; ongoing efforts to both monitor and challenge the impact of NAFTA
on our economy and the harmonization of our social and environmental standards;
and developing new ways of regaining a measure of control over our monetary
policy and re- regulating foreign investment in this country. By asserting
popular sovereignty on these and related issues, the Council will help to effect
the rebuilding of Canada’s capacity for national sovereignty in the new global
On the international level, the Council has a unique opportunity to work with
citizens movements in other countries for the common goal of gaining democratic
control over the global economy. The groundwork for this kind of international
work was the campaign against NAFTA and our work with movements in the U.S. and
Mexico. Today, there is an urgent need to go beyond these initiatives to develop
international action strategies that can more effectively challenge the
increasing power and control of the TNCs. The Council, along with broad based
coalitions like the Action Canada Network, must work together with like-minded
movements in other countries. This work could include : developing common
priorities and strategies for dealing with the expansion of NAFTA throughout the
Southern hemisphere; organizing international campaigns designed to challenge
the operations of particular TNCs; building public awareness around issues like
intellectual property rights and the harmonization of standards for health care,
social programs, and environmental protection under the new free trade regimes;
designing new mechanisms for building an effective counterweight to the new
powers of the World Trade Organization under the GATT. When we have movements
from various countries working together around common strategies for democratic
control on global economic issues, the stage can be set for developing new
mechanisms for pooling sovereignty at the international level to checkmate the
expansive powers of the TNCs.
The time has come to begin the process of redefining and rebuilding our
capacities for sovereignty and democracy in the new global economy. That’s
precisely what we are doing when we become actively engaged in an agenda based
on popular sovereignty.
SETTING THE CITIZENS’ AGENDA…
Setting the citizens’ agenda allows us to understand the problems we face well
enough to propose real alternative measures. Each of the issues examined in this
document begins by identifying a right that citizens in a democratic society
should have. The second step is to look closely at how that right is now
threatened by the transfer of power from Governments to transnational
corporations. The next stage is proposing, real alternatives designed to secure
the threatened right for Canadians. The final step is taking action.
[Ed. Note: The Remaining portion of the document sets forth specific sectoral agendas. The following is a sampling of these agendas.]
CITIZENS’ AGENDA FOR SECURE AND SAFE FOOD SUPPLIES
All citizens have a right to secure and safe food supplies. Food producers have
a right to a fair return for their labour. Rural communities have a right to a
Farming and Sovereignty
Essential to a nation’s independence is its ability to supply its own basic
needs, particularly food. Critical in an interdependent world is the continued
viability of Canada’s successful economic sectors, such as agriculture. We must
ensure the survival of our agricultural producers and rural communities. Crucial
to the survival of our distinctive culture is nurturing the values of
compassion, cooperation and stewardship which come from our roots in rural
The Corporate Agenda is creating a wasteland
A handful of agribusiness giants operating in Canada see an average annual
return on capital of 17 percent a year, while farmers suffer a negative return
on their investment:
- Even as consumers pay rising prices for products, 4,500 farm families are
forced off the land every year by bankruptcy and voluntary liquidation.
- Between 1986 and 1991, Canada lost 26.4 percent of its family farms. Since
1969, two- thirds of farm families have left the land.
- From 1986 to 1994, the federal government closed 1500 rural post offices
and privatized the rest. In 1990 the Conservatives cut trains to 177 communities
and reduced service by as much as 60 percent to 233 smaller cities, towns and
The demands of agribusiness corporations are changing the food industry.
Ever-cheaper supplies of crops and livestock pit producers within and across
national borders against each other. The vicious circle of raising production
levels to make up for reduced earnings, creating oversupply and even lower
prices, creates pressures to sacrifice environmentally sustainable practices.
The final result, if the corporate agenda is not challenged and reversed, will
be further rural de- population, urban hunger, and the degradation of the
A vision for Canada
The Citizens’ Agenda for farming communities defends our right to a secure, safe
supply of quality food at reasonable prices by calling for international trade
agreements based on principles of fairness and reciprocity. Agreements must take
into account the real needs of farmers and consumers, and of nations, for food
security. We must strive to create and support coalitions across national
borders with our allies against the corporate agenda.
Promoting farmers’ rights to affordable land, credit and production inputs, as
well as public support for economic and community infrastructure.
Supporting producer marketing boards to counterbalance the economic power of
private corporations. Agencies such as the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian
Dairy Commission insure consumers adequate supplies and fair prices while
guaranteeing producers a fair return through cooperative market sharing. The
mandates of these agencies and marketing boards must be protected and extended.
They can be a model for other sectors threatened by corporate greed and
globalization encouraging government regulation of quality and environmental
Canada’s international reputation for quality produce is an important part of
our success and a guarantee to consumers. Only government regulation can reverse
the pressures of competitive markets.
The dismantling of rural Canada is not a sign of economic efficiency–it is a
warning to the rest of society. If current patterns continue, Canada will give
up its sovereignty over its citizens’ most basic right: access to a secure and
safe food supply. In a global free trade system, transportation over great
distances must also be factored into the cost.
There are alternatives to a global market economy ruled by a small number of
giant corporations. Drawing on the dreams and accomplishments of past
generations within the farm movement, we can discern the broad framework of a
more just, equal and sustainable society. Poverty and hunger are not technical
problems, but are rooted in political and social structures. Farmers and
consumers share common concerns and objectives. Working together we can achieve
CITIZENS’ AGENDA FOR TAXATION AND SOVEREIGNTY
All Citizens have a right to public services and social programs supported by a
fair and equitable tax system. Adequate revenue collection is central to a
nation’s ability to provide and supply municipal, provincial and federal
programs and infrastructure.
In a democratic and sovereign nation, people consent to being taxed. But consent
depends on people believing the tax system is fair and equitable.
The Corporate Agenda is taxing Canada Over the past few decades, Canada’s tax
system has been increasingly Americanized. Tax expert Neil Brooks says:
The Canadian tax system directly reflects and furthers the corporate agenda and
the policies of greed. It is a tax system which flows from the American vision
of a society in which self- interest and unfettered private enterprise are the
guiding principles. In such a society it is considered right and proper that a
privileged minority should own most of the wealth, even if that condemns
millions of people to poverty and generates enormous social problems.
Canadians are told we have a "deficit" because of too many services
the government cannot afford to provide. Governments say they don’t want to
increase taxes and therefore must cut programs. This is a myth.
Studies by Statistics Canada and the Ministry of Finance show that 94% of the
debt since 1981 was caused by tax breaks to the wealthy and a counterproductive
policy of high interest rates. Even much of the deficit around social programs
resulted from high UIC and social welfare costs during recessions caused by
these same high interest rates choking the economy.
Many politicians are using the "deficit scare" to convince Canadians
they pay too much in taxes and the only solution is to cut programs and
services. It is no coincidence this follows calls by big business groups for "smaller
government," beginning long before there was any debt or deficit "crisis."
Canadians would never agree with this corporate American-style model of society
voluntarily. Policies were implemented to deliberately create a fiscal crisis
designed to force changes Canadians would not otherwise support.
A Vision for Canada
The Citizens’ Agenda stands for a taxation system to meet the needs of Canadians
with fairness and equity. Not everyone is being taxed fairly. Taxes on the
wealthiest Canadians and very large corporations have gone down steadily since
1975. In the 1950s, tax revenues raised from individuals and corporations were
equal. Today individuals pay over 80% of the total money collected, while
corporations pay less than 20%.
The biggest cause of this huge shift is the special tax rules for companies.
These rules allow thousands of profitable corporations to pay no taxes at all.
In 1987, 93,000 profitable corporations earning $27 billion paid no income tax.
The Conservative government’s own task force found the government was losing $25
billion a year through tax breaks to large corporations and wealthy individuals.
A fair tax program will:
- Make the income tax system progressive" by having higher tax brackets
for the wealthiest 10 or 15 per cent;
- Repeal tax breaks and loopholes that benefit only the rich;
- Introduce an inheritance tax and net wealth tax and stop the use of trust
funds to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes;
- Demand a stricter limit be put on the proportion of Canadian pension funds
invested outside our country. Until recently that limit was 10%, but the
Conservative government raised it to 20%, opening the door for billions of
Canadian dollars to go abroad;
- Re-regulate the banks and review the high interest rates being charged by
- Abolish the GST. This type of consumption tax is a burden on those least
able to afford it. A fair tax system would replace all the revenue now raised
through the GST;
- Demand a full employment policy. People who work pay taxes and use fewer
- Create and promote "Canadian Development Bonds" to support the
manufacture of Canadian products the creation of Canadian jobs;
- Tighten up regulation of finance and commodity markets. Get rid of tax
breaks for unproductive merger deals. Regulate the international transfer of
large amounts of money to encourage useful investments in Canada; and
- Invest in socially needed production though government and non-profit
organizations. A third of the economy is what has been referred to as the "social
economy" government, cooperatives, credit unions and all kinds of
non-profit service associations. Political power and our social priorities are
set by a small part of society–the corporate world. We must work with
coalitions and organizations to promote equitable and workable economic
Canadian Sovereignty is worth the price
Providing for our basic needs as a community, rather than at the whims of the
market, is part of what makes Canada different from the U.S. The nation we
forged from sea to sea to sea was only made possible through a federal
government supported by our tax dollars. As the economy becomes more global, we
need more solidarity, not less. A fair and effective tax system will be decisive
to Canada’s survival.
CITIZENS’ AGENDA FOR SAFE AND ADEQUATE WATER SUPPLIES
Citizens have the right to a safe and adequate water supply. But water is not
simply, or primarily a resource for personal or industrial consumption. Water is
the essential condition for all life, the linchpin of the environment, indeed
the entire biosphere. Citizens have not only the right, but the obligation, to
protect and preserve the fresh water within Canada and the seas and oceans
The Corporate Agenda Threatens this Stewardship
The economic model of unlimited economic development and expansion of human
settlement puts intolerable strains on our water resources. In particular, the
unsustainable growth of urban centres and irrigated corporate farming in the
arid south-west of the United States justifies fears of pressure on Canada to
The inclusion of water, defined as a commercial good, in the 1988 Free Trade
Agreement and in NAFTA makes the concerns around water exports more pressing.
Acid rain and other air- borne pollutants, to a large extent from the United
States, continue to erode the quality and safety of Canada’s fresh water. A
deadly mixture of toxic chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive residues is
being deposited in our northern lakes directly and, through air currents, from
as far away as southeast Asia and South America. The degradation of our water by
sewage demands significant spending on municipal water treatment plants, yet
corporations have eroded governments’ ability to finance such essential
The excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers which infiltrate
surface and ground waters is another result of corporate dominance of
agricultural markets, financial resources and research and education
A Vision for Canada
The Citizens’ Agenda for water will safeguard our water resources and natural
heritage by calling for a "National Water Policy" based on these