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Social Justice Reader’s Corner: Books for the new decade

Arthur Manuel was an amazing leader who every Canadian should know more about. Four years ago he wrote a powerful book that records his own experiences and his family’s part in struggles for Indigenous rights. The title of the book is by itself a teachable moment – Unsettling Canada. For those of us who have grown up with traditional teaching of history, it is a truly unsettling journey to see how deeply the “doctrine of discovery” has informed the development of our society.

Manuel and his father, George Manuel, were key strategists in connecting the efforts of First Nations in Canada to the global network of Indigenous peoples. They saw the limits of trying to negotiate with a federal government intent on denying every possible claim to land and water and found that international action was crucial in confronting the legacy of colonization across the Americas. That work helped set the stage for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Despite many rulings upholding the Constitutional rights of First Nations, successive governments – spurred on by resource companies – have continued to subvert those rights.

Manuel is not shy about describing the internal difficulties within the movement as well, and the need for a principled approach to negotiating while being unafraid to explore options for economic empowerment. He describes the patient and hard work that moved issues forward over many years, and talks about key allies, including the Council of Canadians. The Supreme Court has now acknowledged that Aboriginal title gives people the right to determine the uses to which the land is put and to enjoy its economic fruits. At the end of his book, Manuel gives a message: “to Canadians who may fear the changes this could bring, I can only say to them there is no downside to justice.”

Challenging the logic of corporate rule

Award-winning author and journalist Linda McQuaig keeps shining a light on those who do believe there is a downside to justice. From her brilliant exposé of the ideology of austerity in Shooting the Hippo to her latest offering, McQuaig’s razor sharp wit combines with solid research to challenge the logic of corporate rule. The title, The Sport and Prey of Capitalists, is a 1905 quote from Ontario Premier James Whitney who was determined to build a public hydro-electric system in the face of immense pressure from private U.S. and Canadian owners. She goes on to describe how Ontario Hydro, CN Rail, and Connaught Laboratories once provided impressive examples of public enterprise that could be replicated today, if only our politicians had the courage.

McQuaig is not just a searing critic of injustice and greed, she offers up concrete examples of how Canada could embrace a future based on the public good and defence of the Commons.

In between, her book ranges from the new Federal Infrastructure Bank (a Trojan horse for privatization) to a union proposal to resurrect Postal Banking in order to serve smaller communities and anchor a green revolution in parcel and mail delivery. There is the glaring contrast of how Norway has put aside over a trillion dollars from its oil wealth, compared to the Alberta Conservative approach of giving Big Oil everything it wants and squandering what little is left.

That and other cautionary tales remind us that there are choices to be made in how this country will be run. McQuaig is not just a searing critic of injustice and greed, she offers up concrete examples of how Canada could embrace a future based on the public good and defence of the Commons. Hers is the kind of language we should all have the courage to use as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century.