The Council of Canadians at 20

Canadian Dimension, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

The Council of Canadians at 20


In March, 2005, the Council of Canadians will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. To mark the occasion, Canadian Dimension has chosen the Council as its Pathbreaker Towards a New Society. This interview with Maude Barlow, a founder and national president of the Council, was conducted for CD by Brent Patterson, the Council's publications officer.

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Canadian Dimension: What comes to mind when you think back to the early days of the Council of Canadians in 1985?

Maude Barlow: I was fortunate enough to be involved from the very beginning. Mel Hurtig called me and said that I should come to a meeting in Toronto. I went and everyone I admired in the world was there: Bob White, Christine McCall, Stephen Clarkson, David Suzuki, just a wonderful group of people. My memory is of a frenetic round of meetings that ended in the launching of this new organization called the Council of Canadians. There was the excitement of knowing so clearly who we were and what we were about. Those were heady exciting tumultuous passionate early days.

CD: What do you see as the Council's contribution to the last twenty years of political life?

MB: We've had some tremendous wins. We stopped a big pension grab, we stopped the bovine growth hormone and we stopped the bank mergers. I can point to being deeply part of both Seattle and Cancun, where twice we stopped the World Trade Organization. I look at wins like stopping genetically engineered wheat and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. I think that we've helped keep health care in public hands. These are big powerful wins that we accomplished with others. We've certainly lost a lot--we haven't stopped the neoliberal agenda. But I defy anybody to think about what Canada would look like without the Council of Canadians.

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But sometimes you don't go by what you stopped, but how well you helped to build a movement. The Council has grown and we have become a very stable part of Canadian life. We have also helped build an international movement around trade and water. I don't look at winning and losing simply as the outcomes of particular campaigns, but rather as building a movement that's sustainable and strong enough to take on the next task. I can't tell you how many times people say to me that if it weren't for us they would give up hope. So, I think a lot of our role is just providing that kind of hope through tough times. I often say that in speeches--just think how much farther this agenda would have gone without our resistance. We have to be proud of that.

CD: In 1984, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said, "Give us 20 years and you will not recognize this country." Do you recognize Canada today?

MB: It's tremendously different, but it's not as different as it would have been had they got everything they wanted. Conrad Black left Canada because this revolution wasn't happening fast enough. But we've lost many of our social programs. We've lost family allowance. We've lost our unemployment insurance. Our pensions have been robbed. Canada has had the highest rise in child poverty in the industrialized world. There has been an assault on schools in Canada to make education conform to the global economy. Environmental responsibilities, particularly to fresh water, have been let go. These are very negative changes. At the same time, we have stopped many terrible things. Yes, the country has gone through its "cold shower of competition," as Mulroney put it, but I think that our essential values didn't change in the way he wanted them to. And there's a deep and abiding resistance to this agenda in our country.

CD: What excites you about the Council today?

MB: I think that we're still on the leading edge of the major issues in our country and in the world. We felt the need to set up something around factory farms. We can't be talking about health, water and food and not be dealing with factory farming. …

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