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Reflections on the eve of Canada 150

Rawson Lake

Dear friends,

As Canada approaches its 150th birthday, I wanted to share with you my personal thoughts and reflections for the future of our organization and the country.

First of all, of course, is the need to be grateful for all we have, the bounty and beauty of this great land. Few nations on earth can claim so many natural wonders and bountiful resources and for this we should be deeply thankful.

As well, compared to many around the world, we Canadians live in relative prosperity and in a stable democracy whose elections produce a peaceful transfer of power free of violence.

Successive generations have fought very hard to give us universal pensions, family benefits and publicly funded health care and to them we owe much.

Working people and their unions have fought hard to give us fair wages and working conditions, family leave and regulated work weeks. To them, we owe much as well.

However, as many celebrate with fireworks, parties and music, it is crucial to remember that not all have shared in these riches equally.

For First Nations people, this is not a time for celebration, but a reminder and memory of 150 years of colonization, displacement, isolation, land and resources theft, residential schools, the “sixties scoop,” and violence. Calling 2017 Canada’s 150th “birthday” is to ignore that Indigenous peoples have been on this land for millennia and that, for them, 1867 signalled the attempted end of their culture.

As well, some ethnic and religious minority groups in Canada are experiencing open racism and violence, partially spurred by an environment here and in the U.S., where racist statements and acts are increasingly tolerated and even encouraged. Hate crimes against some religious minorities in Canada have grown in recent years.

And poverty continues to be a scourge on our society as families flock to food banks in unprecedented numbers. With one in five children poor, Canada has, to our shame, one of the highest poverty rates in the OECD. Working together to address inequality, fight racism and foster social justice would give all Canadians real pride in Canada.

But in addition to these blemishes to our legacy at this juncture, there are other, very real challenges ahead.

The deep thirst among Canadians for more robust democratic institutions has been betrayed by the Trudeau government decision to break its promise of electoral reform.

Further, the same government that will not undo the corporate tax cuts initiated by the Harper government has announced a $62.3 billion increase in military spending, much of it for advanced weapons. What will this do to Canada’s historic role as a global peacemaker?

As well, the Trudeau government is the world’s foremost booster of corporate-friendly free trade agreements such as NAFTA and CETA (the trade deal with Europe) and TiSA – the new trade in services agreement that threatens our public services.

It is even proposing a permanent court for transnational corporations to take their “disputes” with governments over rules and laws they don’t like.

Free trade and other economic globalization policies continue to hollow out our manufacturing sector and drive down wages for working people while reaping massive profits for a small minority.

The danger here is that Trudeau is linking his “progressive” polices such as his support for women and diversity and his welcoming of migrants and refugees, with free trade, as proof that globalization is good for all.

The government is also establishing an “infrastructure bank” that will seek capital from global investment funds, encourage foreign ownership, and promote public-private partnerships for major projects such a public transit and highways (and perhaps water services) that will mean higher user fees and lower public revenues.

And our great environmental heritage is at risk. While the Trudeau government takes a very good stated policy position on fighting climate change, it supports the building of new pipelines – here in Canada and to the U.S. – that would dramatically increase our greenhouse gas emissions.

Promises to re-instate the crucial water laws gutted by the Harper government have not been realized and 99% of all our lakes and rivers are still totally unprotected by federal law.

This is a time for Canada to show true leadership on climate change. Let’s hold Prime Minister Trudeau’s feet to the fire. Let’s not just expose the contradiction between the government’s rhetoric and actions, but challenge it to show real international leadership.

As Canada marks the anniversary of Confederation, can we make this our moment? These and many other challenges face us now. We are caught in a very important political moment.

We have seen in recent elections around the world a rejection of elites and a rising of the commons. Senator Bernie Sanders recently remarked that Trump did not win the White House; rather, the Democratic Party lost it – and the Senate and Congress and most of the Governors’ chairs – with policies cloaked in the rhetoric of “family friendly,” but that really only benefit the 1%.

It is very important that we clearly distinguish between those who reject the current economic and social system but who blame “the other,” who incite racism and division, who build walls to keep people out and who look for a “strongman” leader to protect them, and those of us whose very founding narrative is one of inclusion, diversity and justice for all.

The Council of Canadians has been fighting for social and environmental justice here in Canada and around the world for over 30 years and I deeply believe that, with other like minded groups, we have made a true difference in the quality of people’s lives.

There is a strong and urgent desire among Canadians, especially young Canadians, for real change, the kind many thought the Trudeau government might deliver. While Trudeau did reject the social conservatism of the Harper government, he has taken up most of Harper’s pro-corporate economic policies, reflecting the class interests of the coalition that brought his Liberals to power.

It now appears evident it will not be the Trudeau Liberals who will deliver the leadership of this new movement for equality and justice.

It falls to progressive voices of civil society to fill this gap and give voice and organization to it.

Now, together with our allies in justice and equality-seeking groups, Labour, environmentalists, First Nations and others, the Council will face the future with hope, realizing that this is a moment – and opportunity – for true change.

We have never been more needed than we are now and I send my personal thanks to each and every one of you for sharing this vision of justice for people and the planet.

This vision and the hope it engenders is worth celebrating on July 1.

Read more: The Council of Canadians endorses Idle No More’s call to action for Indigenous rights