On Feb. 27, the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest public advocacy group held its first ever tele-town hall. The goal was to engage its 50,000+ members in an intimate forum on a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon with the Council’s chair, Maude Barlow. By all accounts, the event was a huge success with over 20,000 Canadians joining in the call. Callers had a chance to learn about the Council’s political campaigns, ask live questions and vote in two live polls.

In addition to celebrating its 25th anniversary last October, Barlow highlighted two big wins for the Council of Canadians, which included the adoption of the UN’s Resolution on the Right to Water and the halting of Schedule 2, a new federal bill that allows mining companies to dump toxic waste into pristine lakes.

The Council along with the Tsilhqot’in Nation fought to protect Fish Lake from Taseko Mines in British Columbia. A federal assessment panel recommended against the Fish Lake project due to adverse environmental effects, but the Council continues to oppose a similar project in Newfoundland, where Brazilian mining giant, Vale Inco plans to use Sandy Pond as a dump site for tailings from its hydromet processing plant in Long Harbour.

“When it comes to water, we have a myth of abundance in Canada, but our federal government is not taking care of our water.” said Barlow.

Barlow is embarking on a new campaign to protect the Great Lakes. Her long-term vision is to work with Canadians, Americans and First Nations to have the Great Lakes designated a Commons, a public trust and a protected bioregion. Barlow will release her new report, “Our Great Lakes Commons: Protecting the Great Lakes Forever” on March 22 (World Water Day)

The Council continues to advocate on the climate justice front, fighting the Harper government’s proposed five-fold increase in Alberta’s tar sands.

“Canada is the only country that ratified Kyoto and then backed out. The tar sands are becoming the largest source of greenhouse gases in the world and we have a proposed pipeline taking raw bitumen down to the Gulf for processing,” said Barlow.

The Councll advocates for a solution that is not market-based such as carbon credits or cap-and-trade,  but encourages people to live within their means.

Trade Thrives After 25 Years
The Council of Canadians was at the forefront of the NAFTA negoatiations and was the first group to sound the alarm on the new Canada-EU trade agreement called CETA: the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Once again, no public consultation or parliamentary debate. Déjà vu from 25 years ago when the Council of Canadians was fighting the NAFTA deal under the Mulroney government.

What makes CETA different than other trade agreements? If signed it wil be the first trade agreement  to allow corporations to access government procurement at all three levels, and will affect hospitals, schools, water, etc. Like NAFTA, CETA has a Chapter 11 provision and allows corporations to challenge local rules if they impede their profits. Watch for the Council’s CETA tour, coming to a neighbourhood near you this spring.

The Council remains on guard and continues to fight the security perimeter deal between Canada and the United States. As Maude told the callers, “This new agreement is actually an American security perimeter around Canada, with all the laws being written in Washington.”

If these agreements are so great, why are they always signed in secrecy as if we’re too stupid to understand what’s being negotiated?

Members ask Live Questions
Callers had the opportunity to ask Maude Barlow questions live.  Concerns ranged from the protection of groundwater, bottled water licences, expansion of the tar sands to the export of Canada’s water.

“NAFTA turned Canada’s energy supply into North America’s energy supply. Essentially, Canada has become America’s gas tank, leading to one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Cancer clusters are now showing up in children in the First Nations town of Fort Chipewyan,” said Barlow.

Hydraulic fracking (or fracking) has become a hot issue right across the country. Fracking is a new mining technique, where water is pumped into shale rock seams to release the natural gas stored beneath. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Dick Cheney’s firm, Halliburton (from the Iraq war fame) is involved in creating the chemical cocktails used to break the seams apart.

Fracking uses clean water and leaves behind toxic-filled lagoons. Barlow explained that fracking is not better than coal extraction, if it comes at the expense of water.

“We can’t pit air against water.”

Already, Atlantic Canada has placed a moratorium on fracking and the Council is calling for a moratorium on new oil drilling in the Arctic.

Other callers asked about the implications of the government’s recent announcement to allow nuclear shipments to be transported through the Great Lakes to Europe. An absurd concept and a recipe for disaster.

When asked how to engage more Canadians in the election process, Barlow expressed her concerns that an increasing number of young people are choosing not to vote. If a federal election is called in the coming months, Council members are encouraged to attend the All-Candidates meetings and ask those tough questions important to them.

A caller from Williams Lake, B.C. asked what can be done to ensure that revisions to BC’s Water Modernization Act won’t open up the province’s water to water markets, following in Alberta’s footsteps. Barlow explained that the B.C. government is looking to modernize the existing Water Act to allow corporations and wealthy owners to trade and/or hoard water licenses for the future. Helps explain why the Campbell government issued so many water licences under the guise of Independent Power Projects (IPPs). Once a province or territory allows for the export of water, it then becomes a tradable commodity.

The tele-town hall was a great way to simultaneously connect with thousands of other Canadians.  I just wish our elected officials would adopt an open door policy and stop negotiating important deals behind closed doors.

Further Resources:
Film (2010): Water on the Table
Film (2010) Gasland (Hydraulic fracking)


Pina Belperio

Welcome to Word of the Rings, a new blog that aims to serve as a one-stop examination at what’s happening behind the scenes in the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Pina...