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In memoriam: Mel Watkins

The Council of Canadians is saddened to learn of the passing of one of our founding members, Mel Watkins.

A professor emeritus of economics and political science at the University of Toronto and a passionate advocate for social justice, he shared his ideas broadly through teaching, writing and activism.

He led the federal government’s Task Force on Foreign Ownership and the Structure of Canadian Investment, which investigated the impact of growing American control of the Canadian economy. Issued in 1968, the “Watkins Report,” as it was widely known, recommended strict regulation of foreign investment in Canada, particularly foreign ownership of Canadian businesses and resources.

The issue of Canada’s economic independence resonates even more poignantly today as decades of neoliberal policies and globalization are brought into sharper focus as the world struggles with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With James Laxer, he was the founder of “the Waffle,” a left-wing political grouping within the New Democratic Party that advocated for increased public ownership of the economy as a means of securing Canadian independence, particularly in relation to the United States.

An article on Rabble.ca notes that Mel “gained instant recognition among a generation of students and activists deeply concerned with the growing degree of foreign control over the Canadian economy and the inadequate response to the issue by the mainstream political parties of the day. Through his subsequent involvement with the Berger Commission in the 1970s and his passionate opposition to the Free Trade Agreement and the NAFTA in the 1980s and 1990s, political activism was, and remains, a central part of Mel’s contribution to Canadian society and politics.”

Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, fondly remembers his contributions to our organization. “Mel was an early founder and member of the Council of Canadians and a steady leader in helping to shape policies and direction for our organization and so many other social justice groups,” she said. “Mel deeply understood how modern trade agreements undermine the foundations of democracy and tie the hands of governments in protecting their citizens and environment from corporate domination. He was a passionate Canadian and internationalist at the same time, showing us all that we can be both. Mel will be deeply missed.”

The Council of Canadians shares our sincere condolences with Mel’s family and friends.