A CD Focus on Sovereignty in Canada

Canadian Dimension, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

A CD Focus on Sovereignty in Canada


Introduction

Over the past few years, the U.S. role as an economic giant with the entire globe in its sights has become visible to all, along with its intent to take whatever steps it deems necessary to expand and police its imperial system. The initial response to this growing imperial presence was the spawning of a massive, worldwide protest movement, the coming-out party of which was celebrated in Seattle, Washington in 1999. Since those heady days, however, it has become evident that the concept of "anti-globalization" has reached the limits of its effectiveness as a framework for mobilizing and inspiring this protest.

As the American economic empire has begun to rely increasingly on military intervention to bolster its fortunes, this movement of protest, too, has begun to evolve in a more radical direction. If in its earliest stages, the protest was largely a negative one highlighting the malignant effects of increased "globalization," the movement increasingly sees the necessity of a sharper critique of the limits of global capitalism, one which emphasizes the necessity of being both pro-democracy and anti-imperialist. Specifically, in our view, this involves building a multi-national movement of popular sovereignty that unites various non-elite groups across ethnic, racial and regional boundaries. The goal is nor to defend the Canadian state -- which is so thoroughly integrated into the American imperial project but to confront it; and to challenge the rule of transnational capital by demanding new institutions for popular democratic control of the economy, resource development and social expenditures.

We realize that our proposal is controversial and we fully anticipate and welcome a vigorous response, Our plan is to solicit opinions and further discussion from a wide variety of groups and individuals. Let the debate begin!

Popular Sovereignty in Question

Over the past 15 years or so the concept of sovereignty in Canada has suffered an almost total eclipse. This fact can be explained as the upshot of three intertwined but partially contradictory factors. The major factor serving to explain the eclipse of the concept of sovereignty is, of course, the despair occasioned by the passage of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. In the wake of this Agreement, opponents of free trade found it extremely difficult to respond effectively to the barrage of legislation and privatizations designed to deplete Canada of much of its distinctive historic infrastructure. Intimately linked to this local failure to defend national integrity and sovereignty, however, was a virtually global sense of despair at the massive, worldwide assault on cultural, social and human rights in the name of neoliberalism. This pervasive sense of a lack of alternatives is summed up in the widespread but mistaken acceptance of the view that globalization had rendered the nation state largely irrele vant. The widely quoted dictum "think globally, act locally" is only the most well known expression of this rejection of the nation as an important terrain of contestation.

There is, however, an important counter-weight to this explanation of the disappearance of the concept of sovereignty, at least within Canada itself. What is more, it is this that makes it possible to believe that the eclipse of sovereignty as a framework for democratic discussion may be temporary. The counter-weight is this: in the very period when the issue of Canadian sovereignty has gone into eclipse, the issue of the multiple sovereignties within the Canadian state has emerged as a live and increasingly contentious issue. To put it simply, many more Canadians now recognize as a significant aspect of their nation's ultimate political horizons the issue of the multiple sovereignty claims that exist within the Canadian state. This does not mean that a majority of Canadians support these rights: it simply means that there is a more widespread feeling that the demands of First Nations peoples for a sovereignty of their own and of the persistent desire of the Quebecois for some form of nationhood are not abou t to disappear. …

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