With Prime Minister Paul Martin scheduled to meet U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives pushing what it calls “deep integration” with the United States, Maude Barlow says she “couldn’t have picked a better time” to launch a speaking tour in opposition to the initiative. Barlow, the long time volunteer chair of the Council of Canadians, is promoting the Council’s new report, The Canada We Want, which counters the arguments advanced by the advocates of deep integration.

Commenting on Martin’s trip to Washington, Barlow suggests that “he’s going to be very careful because he knows that the Canadian people don’t want Canada to have any kind of subservient relationship with the United States. We want to be good neighbours to the U.S., but we want to remain Canadian and maintain our differences.”

What concerns Barlow more than what Martin says publicly during his visit to Washington is “what’s going on behind the scenes that we won’t hear about.” She cites ongoing work being done on Canada’s participation in the American missile defence initiative, the harmonization of security operations, and the so-called “smart border.” The coming federal election will give Canadians the opportunity to assert their values and put the brakes on the federal government’s plan to achieve deep integration by stealth.

The Council of Canadians recently released the results of a poll which backs up Barlow’s assertions about where Canadians stand. Conducted by Ipsos-Reid and released on March 31, the poll found that:

  • 69 per cent of respondents disagree that “Canada should actively support the Bush administration’s missile defence system even if it may require dedicating military spending to the program or allowing U.S. missile launchers in Canada;”
  • 77 per cent think “Canada’s limited military spending should be used to enhance our abilities in peacekeeping and conflict resolution rather than trying to maintain multi-purpose forces intended for heavy combat alongside U.S. military forces;”
  • 90 per cent believe “Canada should establish an energy policy that provides reliable supplies of oil, gas and electricity at stable prices and on protection of the environment, even if this means placing restrictions on exports and foreign ownership of Canadian supplies;” and
  • 91 per cent agree that “Canada should maintain the ability to set its own independent environmental health and safety standards and regulations, even if this might reduce cross-border trade opportunities with the United States.”

“This poll is a wake-up call to all politicians to listen to the values of Canadians and to reject the growing corporate lobby push for deeper integration with the U.S.,” said Barlow at the time of its release. “In that sense, the next federal election will be a real test for democracy.”

Barlow credits Vancouver writer Murray Dobbin with the observation that “our values as Canadians haven’t changed over 20 years, but our expectations have. We’ve come to be resigned to the notion that governments will simply ignore our wishes.”

With an election call expected as soon as next month, the Council expects to play a major role. While many critics on the political right criticize the Council as being a thinly-disguised front for the NDP (and the NDP is frustrated that it is not supportive enough), Barlow is adamant about the need for the Council to maintain its strict non-partisan status. “We want the right to criticize any government, including any NDP government.”

The Council of Canadians will again be publishing (and web posting) a voters’ guide, holding strategy meetings and public events across the country, and holding all-candidates meetings on deep integration. “We’ll give Canadians some key questions to ask candidates and some ideas on the answers they should be looking for,” says Barlow.

Barlow recently wrote an opinion piece for The Toronto Star in which she drew attention to some of Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s more controversial views. She points out that many Canadians “didn’t really notice” Harper before he became leader of the merged Conservative Party and don’t know his background as President of the far-right National Citizens’ Coalition. She objects to “his attempt to rebrand himself as some kind of moderate alternative” to the Liberals. “People have good reason to be weary of the Liberals, but jumping to these guys in no answer. It’s important that people know who this man is,” says Barlow.

To Barlow, giving Harper a chance to govern would be “a terrible mistakeâe¦ No matter how much Harper tries to rebrand himself with a new party and a more moderate image, the fact is that he hails from the far right and the values he holds are not shared by most Canadians.” She highlights his oft-stated views in favour of private-sector health care, his “cavalier attitude toward a united Canada,” his “stridently pro-American” foreign policy, and his advocacy of “a continental strategy” for energy and “to a range of other natural resources.”

Barlow writes that “Harper is not alone in ignoring the deeply rooted and amazingly consistent values that Canadians have held over time. For 20 years, successive provincial and federal governments have adopted policies that are shredding the country’s social fabric; for this they should be held accountable. But Harper and his NCC friends hold views shared by very few Canadians. It is essential these views come to light before Canadians go to the ballot box.”

As for the future of the Council of Canadians, and Barlow’s own future, she remains optimistic. The Council will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2005, and has grown to more than 100,000 members. “We’re much less of a nationalist body now. We’re more involved in issues of popular sovereignty and global democracy.”

In addition to her work with the Council, Barlow is a director with the International Forum on Globalization, a San Francisco-based research and educational institution opposed to economic globalization, and co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, an international civil society movement to stop the commodification of water. She has written or co-written 14 books, including Straight Through the Heart, Class Warfare and her most recent book, Profit Is Not the Cure: A Citizen’s Guide to Saving Medicare.

In many ways, Barlow has come to personify the Council of Canadians. Indeed, Liberal MP Julian Reed once derisively referred to the organization as “the council of Barlow.” One wonders how much longer she can sustain the level of involvement that she has had for nearly 20 years. Barlow says that she is trying to be firmer on scheduling, and find more balance in her life. “We have a terrific staff and some wonderful young activists to do the work of the Council. I work together with them, and try to pass on as many invitations or media opportunities as I can. I’m conscious of the fact that the organization needs to be able to carry on without me. I’m not going anywhere, but we are starting to think about transition.”

But in the short term, Barlow intends to keep writing and to keep promoting the issues that have motivated her for so long.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for rabble.ca. He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...