THE CITIZENS' AGENDA FOR CANADA
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 world;
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 nation-state power;
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 andcorporations;
- Counter the dominant ideology of the new economy;
- Build the kind of extra-Parliamentary vehicles we need to reclaim these rights; and
- Develop a progressive alternative vision for Canada as a sovereign and democratic nation-state.
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 international scale.
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 responsibility to:
- 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 conditions;
- 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 economy.
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 sustainable future.
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 communities.
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 villages.
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 environment.
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 standards.
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 our goals.
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 lending institutions;
- 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 social services;
- 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 alternatives.
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 around us.
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 export water.
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 infrastructures.
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 institutions.
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 principles.