Monday, September 23, 2019



 By Robin Mathews/September 2019.

Like a Phoenix Infrequent The Council of Canadians is, sort of in the news again, with a new Executive Director and new Chairperson. Named by whom? (People think of Maude Barlow when they think of the COCO.  More about that later.) From my recollection, the list of founding members of the COC as named in Wikipedia is as fine a romantic, fantasy list as might be available!! The Council seems to attract fabulation. As one of those who was on the ground floor back in 1985 at the founding and was on the first National Board I will tell all.

Just where the new officers come from I cannot tell you.  From being envisaged as a wonderfully democratic organization back in those heady days of the 1980s, the two new officers may have appeared from under a large mushroom. Although I live in a tiny village in B.C. called Vancouver, COC managed to find me, it seems, so it could announce the changes, and ask for money: over and over and over.

Reviewing the past, the recent message from The Centre does NOT SAY the Council of Canadians (begun, in fact, by Mel Hurtig and Walter Gordon: Wikipedia gets much wrong) was created as an actively anti-imperialist organization (nor, or course, does Wikipedia).  The Big Fact at the time was U.S.-loving-Brian Mulroney, full of Blarney and uncertain truth taking Canada into a questionable Free Trade Agreement with the USA. (That was a present symptom: more integration was at stake.) The writers of the recent message skirt the foundational fact about the COC its anti-imperialist roots. Who, in public life in Canada today, would be so crude, so bad-mannered, so boldly forthright as to tell the truth about the formation of the Council of Canadians!

The truth is borne out by the fact that Walter Gordon (important Liberal Party organizer, brief Liberal Finance Minister, and on-going fighter for Canadian independence) began in the early 1960s writing books about foreign (read U.S.) takeover of the Canadian Economy.  He was a key builder of the revived Liberal Party and was made Finance Minister in the government of Lester B. Pearson. As minister he introduced (in 1963) a takeover tax to slow, especially, takeover of the Canadian economy by the imperializing U.S.A.

Lester B. Pearson was attacked by all the powers of Finance in Canada, roiling in fury at Gordon's initiative. Courageous Lester Pearson did not defend his minister. He asked for Gordon's resignation. Gordon agreed to go on condition Pearson would permit the creation of a Task Force to investigate Foreign Ownership in Canada.  Pearson agreed.

To be brief the Task Force (made up of a number of economists, not all progressive ones) reported in 1968 and advocated measures to control investment from outside Canada. 

That takes us one more step towards the formation of the Council of Canadians.

The Watkins Report, issued in 1968 (a year after the widely celebrated Centennial of Canada celebrations) was a major National Event. And it is connected, of course to Walter Gordon, and both are connected to the creation of the 1969 Movement (Mel Watkins, Jim Laxer, Bob Laxer) in the NDP for a swing to the Left and to increased national ownership of the economy. The movement called The Waffle Movement, attracted many, and it fought to take the NDP in a Left-wards direction. Indeed, Liberals Walter Gordon, Peter Newman, and Abraham Rotstein fell together, as a result, to form in the next year The (Liberalish) Committee for an Independent Canada which - on its slightly less militant part - advocated action on the ownership of the Canadian economy and much more.

Just as Walter Gordon and the Watkins Report had much to do with the creation of the Waffle Movement in the NDP [Go Left], they also contributed greatly to foundation of The Committee for an Independent Canada. The Far Right operators of the New Democratic Party at the time were, really, David Lewis and his son Stephen with U.S. Unions-in-Canada providing some of the financial basis of the Party.  And so in 1974, in the Orange Hall in Orillia, Ontario the NDP had a Night Of The Long Knives and drove OUT OF THE PARTY its first progressive, reform movement since its founding in 1960.  The bosses of the New Democratic Party wanted no movement to the Left that the Waffle Movement represented as has been clear ever since which is why the NDP is not characterized as the Canadian Parliamentary Left but as Liberals In A Hurry (and not much of a hurry).

Time passed  The Waffle Movement in the NDP was crushed. The Committee for an Independent Canada folded its tents. Brian Mulroney took power the Trudeau Era was over and Big Negotiations were on for a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.A. Many saw that (with Brian Mulroney fronting the action) as, very probably, a danger to Canadian independence.

Walter Gordon was aging and, in addition, ill. So Mel Hurtig was front and centre in the call to a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel on Bloor Street in Toronto in 1985.  When I walked into the meeting, I found myself in the company of the people I knew in all the fights for Canadian Independence over the previous twenty years.  And from his sick-bed Walter Gordon came for a brief few minutes to the meeting to give the new departure his blessing.

(A side piece of information of a disturbing nature: talking not long after the meeting to Mel Hurtig, he informed me that while the meeting was going on downstairs, his room in the hotel was entered, ransacked, and all his belongings and papers were messed with and scattered around the room ... in evident disarray. I was alarmed and puzzled. Who?  Mel smiled: the RCMP leaving its calling card he opined.)

Out of the meeting came The Council of Canadians. It was to be a democratic organization meeting every two years in a major Canadian centre where policy would be shaped and officers democratically selected.  As I remember it, Mel Hurtig was the first (naturally) head of the Council, and was re-voted in at the next meeting (was it Winnipeg?). Remember? Mel Hurtig flew over the U.S. ship travelling through the Canadian Northwest Passage (without permission) and dropped a Canadian flag on its deck to remind it, (Canadian government being too reticent to do so!!)

A little later, Maude Barlow became the energetic and effective leader of the Council. From then on there were no more bi-annual meetings to shape policy and to elect the leader. Because two-year periods repeatedly passed without meetings, Ms. Barlow was not, obviously, the elected Chair and so for some years she signed communications as Voluntary Chair of the COC.  Members of the Council of Canadians have not met … have not jointly made policy and have not voted for top officers for at least 25 years.

The fight for Canadian independence has been erased until the Council is now well What is it now??

There may not, in fact even be members anymore maybe just contributors.  Who elected the two named as Chair and Executive Director in the recent communication?  And so who is the Council in the phrase The Council of Canadians and who made Maude Barlow Honorary Chair of the Council of Canadians? (Not you.  Not me.)

Behind all the history considered here a larger question seems to loom. Canadians (beneath the surface) seem to want a Canadian independence party one that rejects, for instance, the me-too / U.S.-ordered hatred of Russia, of Venezuela, of Iran, of Middle East countries, of now Cuba ALL OF WHICH Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Me-too! Us-too! Foreign Affairs minister embraces as if she were, herself, a born-again citizen of the U.S.A.

No wonder the urge for something different, for an independent Canadian path surfaces over and over until maybe one day Canada will create a winning and triumphant Party of Canadian Independence and Decency.  Obviously The Council of Canadians created to urge forward that purpose, has chickened out ....  And so ... the field (ladies and gentlemen) is open again.

Contact: Robin Mathews

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