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Maude Barlow Cautions Canada   by Penni Mitchell
Maude Barlow Cautions Canada

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. administration under George Bush has defined security in the narrowest of possible terms. In her provocative book, Too Close for Comfort: Canada’s Future within Fortress North America, Council of Canadians Chairperson Maude Barlow documents how Canada is slowly being brought into lockstep with U.S. foreign defence and trade policies though a series of behind-closed-doors international agreements.

Too Close for Comfort argues that policies such as the proportional energy-sharing agreement of NAFTA put Canada’s interests at further risk. According to Barlow, Canadians must stand on guard to protect not only the country’s water and natural resources, but our sovereignty, too.

In doing so, she argues, Canada can heed the call for a global civil society.

Herizons: What is the greatest threat that deep integration with the U.S. poses to Canada’s sovereignty?

Maude Barlow: The big danger is that it’s happening across the board—harmonizing Canada’s military, immigration, refugee and foreign policies with George Bush’s War on Terror mandate, with all that we know about its threat to human and civil rights. We’re placing our natural resources further at risk, and eventually moving to the harmonization of social programs, which would be hard to leave intact if we continued on the path of deep integration with the United States.

Does the election of Stephen Harper as prime minister entrench the deep integration of Canadian public policies, regulation, trade and immigration?

Maude Barlow: Yes, although I think it’s important to say that the move toward deep integration did start under the Liberals. However, the Conservatives represent an added danger in that Harper and this group of Conservatives fit the socially conservative Bush mould. We can expect to see new threats to rights-based groups in Canada. This could roll back many of the freedoms that women have fought for over the years, especially reproductive freedom. The closer that Canada moves to the Bush social agenda, the bigger the threat to women’s rights in our country. Also, Harper’s more of a hawk than the Liberals were.

If he had been in power in 2003, the Conservatives would have taken us into the war in Iraq. Canada would have said yes to ballistic missile defence. The Liberals got us into Afghanistan, but the Conservatives are continuing with a bigger fervour. We have a lot to worry about.

How is the Conservative Party of Canada and its leader, Stephen Harper, more closely aligned with the views George Bush administration?

Maude Barlow: The religious right is moving into Canada. Much of the funding for the new evangelical groups that have recently set up shop on Parliament Hill is coming from big U.S.-based religious groups like Focus on the Family. These organizations might not have been involved in the drafting of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, but they are providing direction, money and energy to the religious right in Canada.

We should brace ourselves for many future debates about the separation of church and state. These evangelical groups are pushing to have more of an influence over Canadian political decisions, and all equality-seeking groups should be concerned.

You say that “Canadians continue to cherish and fight for the social legacy that was the triumphant achievement of a generation shaped by the Depression and war.” How could that be taken away without Parliament voting on it?

Maude Barlow: Well, a lot of it got taken away in the 1995 budget. That was the end of the Canada Assistance Plan that guaranteed a federal funding formula for housing and post-secondary education. Paul Martin (finance minister at the time) gutted Canada’s health-care system by repealing the established program financing legislation that forced provinces to spend the money on targeted areas. He replaced it with the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST)—a lump sum the provinces can spend as they please.

So our federal government did vote for the destruction of Canada’s social programs, which was pretty outrageous. When you vote on a budget, you don’t say, “I’m going to destroy social programs today,” but that’s the impact when you vote for massive budget cuts—it undermines Canada’s social infrastructure Since the signing of the Security and Prosperity Partnership in March 2005, the federal government has established cross-border working groups that are seeking out ways to further integrate Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Significant decisions are being made behind closed doors, without consulting Parliament or the public. The North American security perimeter you discuss in your book—common immigration policies, a common passport, even—seem pretty far-fetched.

What evidence is there that these things are being seriously discussed behind closed doors?

Maude Barlow: Well, these issues were all discussed as a part of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives Task Force on the Future of North America in 2003. While some of these proposals might be progressing incrementally, the Council of Chief Executives’ Task Force is openly promoting the idea of a North American passport. And they tend to get their way.

When the original free-trade agreement was first being negotiated, politicians swore that it didn’t include provisions allowing corporations to sue governments. Sure enough, the corporate sector got its way with Chapter 11.

It’s important to know what the Canadian Council of Chief Executives’ Task Force has in mind, because their agenda is what governments pick up over time.

Do we have a hope in hell of stopping George Bush’s ballistic missile defence plan if Stephen Harper wins a majority in the next election?

Maude Barlow: No, that’s why it’s terribly important not to let Harper win a majority. We will see ourselves pulled into the U.S. military agenda so fast…. Nothing would make George Bush happier.