Get up on the soapbox and make a change. That was the message brought to about 300 students last week by Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, a 100,000-member human rights and environmental advocacy group.
One of Canada's most visible whistle-blowers, Barlow and her group spearheaded a campaign last spring that helped thwart the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), a far-reaching, 20-year deal that had been in the works since 1995.
The MAI would replace some 1,600 treaties between members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which represents 29 industrialized countries. Large corporations from OECD nations, especially in the U.S., have long argued that a set of rules, similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement, are needed to govern global investment.
The Council of Canadians charged that the MAI gave corporations too much power over everything from environmental laws to health care. "The MAI confers nation-state status on corporations," Barlow said. "Under this agreement, they can't be [held to account]."
While the first draft of the deal
is dead, Barlow said a new version will be proposed to the OECD, and she promised to fight this second draft, too.
The globalization of the marketplace has become a virus that affects us all; if one country's economy is sick, we all get the flu. In leading trade missions to Asia and South America, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was "acting like a pimp for Canadian companies," she said, as her audience roared with laughter.