The Council of Canadians’ vision statement highlights that unregulated capitalism and corporate globalization have divided the world into rich and poor, while also putting at risk the ability of the planet to sustain life itself. Most governments support this economic system that puts unlimited growth above the needs of people and nature, so we are part of a global civil society movement that seeks transformative change. We believe in humility, not arrogance; stewardship, not exploitation; and social solidarity, not competition. We promote trade justice, public health care, the right to water, climate justice, democracy, and Indigenous rights.
Our campaigns reflect this vision.
Rather than corporate-rights agreements framed as free trade, we believe in fair trade, healthy economies, public ownership and sustainable employment. We were founded in March 1985 to challenge the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, and we have engaged in campaigns over the years to stop the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the World Trade Organization (we were at the ‘Battle in Seattle’ in November 1999), the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (we protested the April 2001 summit in Quebec City), among other corporate-rights agreements and neo-liberal institutions.
Presently our focus is to defeat the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in particular their so-called investment protection provisions (that allow transnational corporations to sue governments in special courts), regulatory harmonization that undermine food safety standards, and patent provisions that mean higher drugs costs for people and excessive profits for pharmaceutical corporations. We began opposing CETA in October 2008 and the European Parliament could vote on its ratification by January 2017. The 12-country TPP has a ratification deadline of November 2017.
Public health care
Our work on this issue amplified when the federal government established the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada in April 2001. By October 2003, Maude Barlow had released her book, Profit Is Not the Cure: A Citizen’s Guide to Saving Medicare. In September 2004, we criticized the first Canada Health Accord for not prohibiting privatization of our public system. We believe in pharmacare, that federal funding to the provinces for health care spending should increase at a minimum of 6 per cent per year, that the federal funding of health care costs should reach a minimum of 25 per cent by 2025, and that a new Canada Health Accord is needed.
Our current campaign focuses on winning a comprehensive national pharmacare program that is universal and provides first dollar coverage, preventing further privatization of the health care system, and continuing the call for a new 10-year Canada Health Accord that would reflect health care as a right. Presently, under the Harper funding formula, annual increases linked to GDP growth would result in up to $43.5 billion of health care spending being cut by 2023. The Trudeau government has endorsed CETA (despite its patent provisions costing up to $1.65 billion a year), while deferring on pharmacare (which could save Canadians and their governments up to $14 billion a year).
Human right to water
Barlow first identified the looming water crisis in a special report titled ‘Blue Gold’ in 1999, founded the Blue Planet Project in March 2000, then co-wrote the groundbreaking book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water, which was first published in 2002. We argue that water is a human right, a public trust, and a part of the commons. We were present at the United Nations General Assembly in July 2010 when it first recognized the human right to water and sanitation. We have since campaigned for those rights to be implemented both around the world and in Canada.
Our national campaign is presently focused on ensuring that “every lake, every river” is protected from pipelines, mines, hydro-electric dams, and more broadly from pollution and over-extraction. We believe that the right to water should be reflected in federal water protection legislation. Our international campaign is supporting the formation of blue communities that pledge to uphold the human right to water, ban bottled water, and support the public ownership of water and wastewater systems. It also serves to help build and strengthen the global water justice movement. It has been projected that by 2030 the unsustainable use and management of water as well as climate change could mean that 3.9 billion people will be living in areas affected by severe water stress.
In 1985, we first raised concerns about the pro-oil development bias of the National Energy Board (when then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney moved its head office from Ottawa to Calgary), in 1991-92 we raised concerns about the energy provisions in NAFTA that would lock Canada into exporting oil and gas to the United States, in October 2008 we highlighted the damage caused by tar sands development when we visited northern Alberta, by December 2009 we were in Copenhagen linking the issues of climate change, water destruction, free trade agreements, Indigenous rights and migration, and in September 2015 we endorsed the 15-demands of the Leap Manifesto.
Our current energy and climate justice campaign is focused on stopping the 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline (which the federal government will decide on in June 2018 and could be operational by 2020), as well as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (which could be approved this December), and supporting the Leap Manifesto, respect for free, prior and informed consent on major energy projects, the incompatibility of approving pipelines and major energy projects with the imperative of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the call for a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050.
Democratic governance, holding any political party in power accountable to the public good, and challenging corporate power have been fundamental principles of The Council of Canadians since it was founded in March 1985. In February 2008 we reaffirmed our long-standing support for proportional representation as an important aspect of electoral reform. In March 2012, we began to gather information, mobilize and then eventually launch a historic legal challenge against voter suppression and fraud in the previous year’s federal election.
Our present focus is to have proportional representation implemented by the time of the next federal election on October 21, 2019. The federal government intends to introduce electoral reform legislation by May 2017.
We have long supported Indigenous rights and a nation-to-nation relationship to address Canada’s colonial legacy. In September 2007, we called on Canada to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in October 2012 we first supported the call for an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, in November 2013 we supported the precedent-setting Tsilhqot’in Title challenge at the Supreme Court of Canada, in December 2013 Barlow signed the Save the Fraser Declaration and stated that we recognize the right of First Nations to ban tar sands pipelines from their territories, and in June 2015 we called on the federal government to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Presently, we are demanding that the Trudeau government respect free, prior and informed consent (and recognize that numerous First Nations have rejected the Energy East and Trans Mountain pipelines on their territories), and highlighted that the Alton Gas Storage Project, the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal (which is scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2019), and the Site C dam (which could be operational by 2024), are all violations of Indigenous rights.
We hope that you join us in this work. For more on how you can do that, please click here.