30 Apr 2013

Network formed to take on Harper
not living up to its potential

Ever since Stephen Harper took over in Ottawa seven years ago, Canada has needed a strong and powerful social/political movement to stop, or at least slow down, the many destructive measures being carried out by the Conservatives.

Finally, in September, 2012, Common Causes, a loosely-knit network of more than 50 groups from the non-governmental sector (NGO), labour and the Native community, was born.

The idea was to have dozens of groups come together under one communications umbrella where they could work together on common-interest projects to oppose the Harper regime.

The creation of Common Causes gave me hope. I have long felt that we desperately need a hard-nosed civil society movement that will challenge the Conservatives with massive campaigns drawing on the resources of hundreds of groups.

A strong citizens' movement that will stand up against the tyrannical Harper is important to all Canadians. Earlier last year I was involved in setting up a campaigning group, the Campaign to Build 'One Big Campaign' , which had similar goals, and our organization took part in the Common Causes founding meeting in Ottawa.

Common Causes was developed under the leadership of the Council of Canadians (CoC). When officially launched in January, it sounded like what we needed. CoC National Chairperson Maude Barlow wrote:
"Common Causes will work cross-sectorally . . . to create an extended network for solidarity, resistance, action and change. Through this coordination, we will shape priorities for common action and maximum impact." 
Network should have developed strong campaigns
I had hoped last fall that the network would quickly pick an area where Harper is vulnerable and develop a major campaign involving hundreds of groups and thousands of people.

But now, even though the movement is officially only a few months old, organizers have made it clear that the full force of the movement will not be brought together in big campaigns.

The movement is taking a low key, long-term approach to its work. Staff said priority attention is being given to discussions about how to organize more strategically in areas such as democracy building, environmental protection, and the defence of human rights. Hopefully, it will be pro-active in some of its work so we're not always reacting to Harper.

Common Causes' may be able to build an effective forum and voice for Canada's liberal-minded, progressive community but, as we have been in Quebec, this can take years. So far, because the network is taking such a low-key approach with its activities, it has barely been mentioned in the national media and remains unknown by the public.

Last week Common Causes rolled out a series of actions across the country and, unfortunately, all but one turned out to be very low key. Protests led by one partner group, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) were held at the offices of a handful of Conservative MPs in English Canada over the Harper government's disastrous cutbacks to Employment Insurance (EI).

The turnout in communities such as Weyburn, Sask and Simcoe, Ont., were very small - with from 10 to 40 people taking part. In most places, hardly anyone noticed what was going on. There was some local media coverage.

Only in Montreal, was there a huge parade and protest - one source said tens-of-thousands people took part. However, this event was organized by Quebec's coalition against employment insurance reform. The protest received some local and national media coverage.

Small protests don't count for much
I don`t see how protests of 30 or 40 people are of any help to those who have lost their Employment Insurance. Small turnouts surely reassure Harper that the country is not on the brink of revolution. The only thing accomplished is that a few protesters feel good about taking part in an event.

Common Causes says it will not bring together the full force of the movement in anti-Harper campaigns, but, hopefully, those in charge will eventually change their minds.

It was a great accomplishment when the network brought together non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Canada's most progressive unions under one campaigning mechanism.

By combining the forces of the NGOs and unions, the movement has awesome, unrealized power. The hundreds - potentially thousands - of NGOs could provide access to millions of members who can take part in campaigning.

The unions could loan staff to the network in the same way they loan workers to the NDP during elections and, more importantly, if they wanted to, they could provide Common Causes with as much as $1-million a year.

Are we serious about challenging Harper?
However, I think organizers need to decide if they are really serious about taking on Harper. In the NGO sector, many groups are more concerned about protecting their own vested interests rather than taking real action that might benefit the general public. And in the labour movement, too often union protests are for show only - to give the impression that the leadership is doing its job.

To have some impact on the Harper regime, the movement would need to be creative and "think outside the box", instead of carrying out time-worn, routine activities such as holding demonstrations, marches and sending petitions to Ottawa.

So, when it gets right down to it, are the people who head our NGOs and unions too timid?

In my opinion, we must not be afraid to use the strongest possible tactics as long as they are legal. For instance, we should campaign on key issues such as income inequality and austerity by disrupting some government activities, holding flash mobs, carrying out sit-ins, and disrupting government communications systems, etc. until the Conservatives respond.

After all, we are being destroyed by a fascist-like government, the likes of which we have never before seen in Canada.
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  1. Nick

    This is an important observation. We at RODC have been supporting Common Causes in the hope that the group of organizations would create a mass action that we could participate in. But the organizers are very tentative.

    On our own initiative, we are working on some publicity material for them as we speak so that groups across Canada and reach out.

  2. I agree, to get lots of media attention, dramatic, unusual and even controversial demonstrations are needed. Every group has creative thinkers so I don't see this as a problem, it's a calling!

  3. Yes, please, please get busy. Do something big Common Causes.

  4. Nick, in addition to working together, Common Causes must identify media spokespeople who are experts in their field and agressively promote them to media organizations to get them in print or on the air. I agree there should be at least one public mass action. Why not Reclaim Canada Day on July 1st with joyful flash mobs, round dances and sit ins in major cities across the country. www.harperwatch.wordpress.com


  5. Received via email:

    I signed on - am part of Council of Canadians - I fear the enemy is not Harper but those above him who would also control the Liberals - Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Bilderbergs, New World Order.

    I believe both Cons and Libs have received their marching orders from these groups for decades now.

    Average citizen knows little about any of the top down control.

    Kathryn Langley

  6. Received via email: (Edited for length so it can be posted.)

    Common Causes is exactly the right idea -- having these many NGOs join in the common cause of bringing Canada back on the track of social democratic kind of governance, which seeks social and economic well-being for all Canadians.

    I started out on that track when I first discovered the CCF Youth student group at the University of Saskatchewan. I actually introduced Tommy Douglas once to a CCF Youth convention in Saskatoon. A big moment !

    What is missing in Common Causes is a failure, by every NGO, Union, and Native group, a failure to address the fact that Canada is now a legal subordinate partner, a satellite of the US regime and US international corporations.

    Every NGO and Union ignores the consequences of the FTA, NAFTA, MAI legal reality, plus several follow-up international neo-liberal globalization agreements designed for international corporations to prosper at our expense. National sovereignty or independence is now passe.

    Unless we all recognize that corporate globalization and its consequent wars and ever greater resources exploitation, with indifference to well-being of populations and individual rights to health, personal and ethnic culture, and democratic governance, --- I say unless we all recognize this and see our common cause as individual, local, and national well-being, we will not overcome Harper's neo-cons, not even with the election of an idealistic New Democratic Party government.

    I hope we do elect them, but even they show every sign of accepting the international neo-liberal hegemony, which was already well advanced, especially in Alberta, when the FTA won the day for Mulroney.

    Even the NDP and the Chretien Liberals completely accepted NAFTA after John Turner and Broadbent lost the election against Mulroney. Both parties now accept NAFTA and the related neo-liberal corporate globalization promoted by the prosperous 10 percent in Western capitalist countries. These corporate "free trade" investment agreements are now holy writ, never to be abrogated.

    Our only Canadian realistic response is to return to maximization of localized sustainable industry and commerce, and promotion of that principle among all nations. Wars prevent all good things. Canada and all nations must make peace and then cooperate to recover sustainable local economies in cooperation with the natural world, striving for a return to a sustainable balance of nature.

    A revitalized UN General Assembly, over-ruling the Security Council, may help to achieve this. Some people are promoting an elected world parliament attached to the United Nations.

    All the specific causes which distinctive NGOs identify and seek to achieve are indeed worth promoting. I warrant that the individual groups are all politically politically, and that their leaders and members view national and world issues from very similar perspectives.

    For this reason, the COMMON CAUSES initiative is exactly the right approach to achieve most of our individual goals plus the greater common goals of peace, economic fairness, social well-being, rich cultures, and a sustainable ecology.

    I add this: We were warned about all this long ago. First by John A. Macdonald and George Etienne Cartier when they insisted on an independent Canada linked from sea to sea. Later George Grant lamented Canada's loss of exuberant independence. Then the Committee for an Independent Canada with Mel Hurtig, and Walter Gordon, then David Orchard 's book The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism, and his long campaigns against the US and corporate invasion of Canada with the FTA and NAFTA, then Paul Hellyer's Canadian Action Party, his books and also Mel Hurtig's several books.

    The NGOs, including the Council of Canadians, at that time failed to support those meaningful causes relating to Canada's independent development of economic and social democracy.

    Best Wishes for Common Causes,
    Jacob Rempel, Vancouver

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  13. To Jacob Rempel: "The NGOs, including the Council of Canadians, at that time failed to support those meaningful causes relating to Canada's independent development of economic and social democracy." You are quite mistaken as far as the Council of Canadians is concerned. The organization was founded (in 1985 -- Mel Hurtig was a founder member)) in order to fight against what became the NAFTA, and has campaigned vigorously against free trade agreements ever since. The website will give you some indication of the extraordinary amount of detailed work the Council of Canadians has been doing against the CETA, for example, and now, against the TPP. Moreover, the CoC was a leader in the successful campaign against the MAI.

  14. Jacob, the Council of Canadians was founded (in 1985 -- Mel Hurtig was one of the founder members) precisely in order to fight against what morphed into the NAFTA. It has waged vigorous campaigns against other free trade deals every since, as well as against the Security and Prosperity Partnership. It was a leader in the successful campaign against the MAI. Check the CoC's website for an indication of its detailed and informed campaign against the CETA -- CoC Trade Campaigner Stuart Trew brings regular updates on the battle from both sides of the Atlantic. The Council of Canadians is now campaigning hard against the TPP. Although the CoC campaigns on other major issues, such as water and the tar sands, free trade and Canadian sovereignty were and are its raison d'etre.

  15. Posted on behalf of Frank Bedek

    I very much liked your blogpost where you described the shortcomings of the "Common Causes" network's actions so far.

    I myself have frustrated, as year after year, decade after decade, the leadership of the Canadian left seems incapable of anything more than the same strategy of one-day protests, meaningless marches and useless petitions. All the while, we "fight" defensive, losing battles against neo-liberal austerity and imperialism.

    This lack of imagination has allowed the welfare state to shrivel, convincing more and more Canadians that they get nothing for their tax dollars. Lack of accountability breeds arrogance and corruption, which feed cynicism and apathy. Corporate propaganda assists in making Canadians contemptuous of government and, of democracy. This all contributes to a downward spiral of weakening democracy and increased elite corruption and control.

    I would like to believe that the Harper Conservatives have overreached in their cynicism and contempt of Parliament however. I believe there is a groundswell of citizens disgusted and angered by Harper's abuses, who would join a mass movement that had a clear strategy for victory. I also believe that enough ordinary citizens could be mobilized against the Harper government if they were truly educated about the dangers of acquiescence to his methods.

    I believe that Harper has given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-ignite the democratic spirit in Canada, if only we have the presence of mind to take it.
    I have, for months now, been trying to promote a campaign called "Redeeming Canadian Democracy."

    Very briefly, the campaign consists of a period of building a core of activists to be educated on the issue of the dangers to democracy of Harper's actions and to then send these activists out into communities in door-to-door campaigns to inform Canadians of the issue and to establish levels of support for the second phase of the campaign.

    The second phase of the campaign is to involve permanent nation-wide occupations of Conservative Party property (such as MP's offices), escalating to federal government offices, and, perhaps, a general strike by the federal public service and an occupation of Parliament itself. The campaign of occupations is intended to force the government to resign and to fight an election based upon their anti-democratic record. Like the "Campaign to Build One Big Campaign" I believe the Conservatives should face a united opposition.

  16. Part 2 from Frank Bedek:

    The NDP, the Liberals and the Greens must recognize that Harper is a different opponent from their other rivals. He is a menace to democracy. I believe that this is justified because however arrogant and underhanded the Liberals (and the NDP at provincial levels) ever were, they have never behaved in such a blatantly anti-Parliamentary fashion.

    I realize that it sounds insane for a non-entity such as myself to propose a campaign of that magnitude. In my defence, I believe the cause of Canadian democracy is worth it. As you yourself put it: "After all, we are being destroyed by a fascist-like government, the likes of which we have never before seen in Canada."

    Also in my defence, I don't know of anyone else proposing any such comprehensive strategy. Furthermore, I don't expect to do this alone. That's why I'm reaching out to people like you. This needs to be big because the forces that compel Harper to act as he has are big.

    At the very least the campaign against him has to be big because he leads the government and all its resources.

    I believe that Canadians need to be told to take their democracy seriously. If they think it is flawed, they should attempt to fix it and not shrug their shoulders in what they imagine is world-weary cynicism.

    Politics isn't going to stop happening just because Canadians think democracy is a sham. I believe that the times we are living in offer us the best opportunity to teach this lesson.

    I would very much like to meet you personally in order to discuss this matter further. In conversation I could quickly answer any questions you might have. I'm living in Toronto and can arrange things at your convenience.


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