Time to scrap the summits, build alternatives

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Massey Hall, the scene for Shout Out for Global Justice! on June 25. Photo: Carleen Pickard/Council of Canadians

In 25 years of struggle against the global corporate agenda, I can't remember summits that were so thoroughly ridiculed by the people and the press beforehand. I'd like to think that progressive groups such as the Council of Canadians have had something to do with that, but really, could the media possibly have resisted mocking the billion dollar boondoggle of the G8 and G20 summits?

By now we are all familiar with the stories of these summits' ever increasing costs and outrageous excesses. Canadians have always prided themselves on being progressive and respectful on the global stage. As the world watches, summit organizers have instead set new lows for waste, paranoia, and exclusion. Whether it's a fake lake, or RCMP and police on every street corner, you do not need to look far to find examples.

But as much as there is a need to speak out against summit costs, rubber bullets, and security fences, these are not the only reasons civil society will be going to Toronto this weekend. Whether Stephen Harper's government spent $1 billion or only $1, G8 and G20 leaders were never going to hold an open or constructive discussion on the crucial issues facing the world today.

While leaders meet this weekend, BP's oil will continue to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, but rest assured, oil executives and other business elites will have a chance to directly lobby political leaders at the summits. Although President Obama's failed attempt to impose a moratorium on offshore oil exploration offers some hope of political will, the Harper government's move to relax offshore drilling regulations after the Gulf oil spill shows just how out of touch the Canadian government really is.

If the Canadian government, part of both the G8 and G20, won't say no to offshore drilling, can we really expect them to take desperately needed action to address climate change?

Inaction will only worsen the impacts of climate change on the world's poor. Forty years after pledging to dedicate 0.7 per cent of gross national income to foreign aid, the G8 nations have yet to live up to that promise. People on this planet face systematic food and water shortages. G20 nations, corporations, and emissions have all exacerbated this crisis -- yet our foreign aid and economic policies continue to fail. Canada's government leads this pathetic charge, campaigning against business taxes designed to protect our banking system, and blocking the recognition of water as a human right at the United Nations.

Sadly, there has never been any threat of real progress or bold vision at these summits. The declarations have already been drafted, the media lines on failures already spun. That's why it is so important that civil society come together now to show our leaders that not only is a better, fairer, more inclusive world possible, the people of the world stand prepared to take action if our leaders won't.

This weekend, civil society won't spend millions to build a fake lake. Instead, we will work tirelessly to save many. Civil society won't build a security fence. Instead, we will bridge divides. Civil society won't hide its head in the tar sands. Instead we will take on big oil companies and those who would trade away our health, our environment and our future and say, "People First!"

Desperate to spin something positive, summit supporters will try to overlook what their own polls are telling them: Canadians don't believe in these summits. The summits are undemocratic, unwieldy and unproductive. The place for national leaders to meet is in the General Assembly at the United Nations. People across this country and around the world are adding their voices to a growing call to scrap the summits!

Tomorrow I'll be speaking at Massey Hall at the Council of Canadians' Shout Out for Global Justice! I'll be joined by prominent social and environmental justice leaders from around the world, and a packed hall of people who refuse to be sidelined. If you're in Toronto, I hope you'll join us and add your voice too.

We may be on the verge of the most ridiculed summits in recent memory, but I promise you, this weekend in downtown Toronto, we will see vision, compassion, and progress. We'll see it in the people just outside the fence.

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

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