The first ever pan-Canadian social forum will be held this year in Ottawa from August 21 to 24. More than 10,000 participants from all over Canada are expected to come to the University of Ottawa to discuss ways and means of combating the austerity policies of the Harper regime and the provincial governments.
While we have been witness to often spirited resistance in many spaces and places — the Québec student strike, the indigenous Idle No More movement, and the rallies against the Enbridge and TransCanada pipelines — there has not yet been a united Canada-wide response. What are the prospects for a pan-Canadian fightback?
Québec and First Nations
The feeling in Québec is that such a unified counterattack is essential given the scale and severity of the Harper government’s attacks both on social programs (Employment Insurance) and public services (Canada Post) as well as on the right to strike in sectors under federal jurisdiction. In fact, Québec social movements, from the trade union confederations (FTQ,CSN,CSQ) to the women’s organizations (Fédération des femmes du Québec), housing (FRAPRU) and students (ASSÉ), have been spearheading plans for the forum for more than two years.
The same is true of the Indigenous communities who are seeking to broaden support for their opposition to the Tar Sands and other mining projects that are destroying their ancestral lands. It is on this basis that a dynamic Indigenous caucus has been set up bringing together activists from Idle No More, the Indigenous Environmental Network and Québec Native Women.
This Québec-First Nations nexus is what is driving the 2014 Peoples’ Forum.
Union and community support outside Québec
And where does English Canada fit in all this? For more than a year, support for the 2014 People’s Social Forum has been growing, with involvement in planning efforts by union and community activists from several regions across Canada. There’s a union caucus afoot which includes representatives from the Québec trade union confederations and delegates from cross-country unions (the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, UNIFOR) and federations outside Québec (the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, etc.).
In addition, the Ontario Common Front, a provincial coalition of over a hundred community, union and antiracism groups, is supporting the Forum. Community activists are also joining the Forum’s regional support groups in many cities across the country (Vancouver, Regina,Winnipeg, London,Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax).
There is talk of organizing caravans from Vancouver and Halifax in August to bring people to the Forum in Ottawa. The aim would be to reach out to people in communities and regions outside major cities where the struggles are less well known and rally them to the call to unite against the Right.
One of the strong points of the planning process for the pan-Canadian Forum is this convergence of social movements from Québec, the First Nations and the rest of Canada. Constant networking facilitates participation in discussions about the Forum’s objectives and program.
A propitious political climate
The Forum will benefit from the current political situation in Canada. In the last seven years the grip of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party on the federal state has tightened and a neoliberal shock program has been implemented with a never-ending succession of budget cutbacks, corporate tax breaks, and cuts to social programs and public services — in addition to the dismantling of environmental regulations in slavish deference to the interest of the oil industry.
There has been an onslaught of anti-union legislation and regulations aimed not only at federal civil servants but at everyone subject to the Canada Labour Code, people working in the telecommunications sector, in air and rail transportation, and in crown corporations. In all, nearly a million workers are affected by these anti-labour measures. Certain provincial governments, such as Alberta’s, are following suit and seeking to nullify the right to strike in their public sectors. And there have been calls in the federal Conservative Party to repeal the Rand formula, a move that threatens the financial survival of the union movement.
In face of all this, many people have come to the conclusion that partial and segmented struggles are unlikely to succeed and only a common front against Harper and the Right can mitigate the disastrous impact of neoliberal policies. The 2012 Québec student strike and the wide-ranging support it garnered are a case in point.
Fighting Harper and beyond
The gathering of forces that is the Peoples’ Forum is fuelled above all by Stephen Harper and the conservative policies he champions. But the goal of Forum goes beyond our common antipathy for the current prime minister. From the start, the target has been neoliberal and austerity policies. The 2014 People’s Social Forum has adopted the slogan "Fighting Harper and Beyond" coined by left activists in English Canada. Because behind the fearsome figure of Stephen Harper looms the smiling countenance of Justin Trudeau and the other party of the Canadian oligarchy: the Liberals.
The 2014 People’s Social Forum aims to be the launching point for building an extra-parliamentary opposition that will endure long after the month of August. It is this determination to rally social movements and activists to the long-term task of going beyond neoliberalism — whatever the 2015 federal election brings — that makes the 2014 People’s Forum a rendez-vous not to be missed.
The People’s Social Forum will take place in Ottawa on August 21-24, 2014.
• More than a hundred venues at the University of Ottawa have already been reserved for the 2014 Forum.
• Individual and group registration began at mid February, as did registration for lodging in the student residence.
• Information on the major themes of the Forum as well as on the registration process for workshops, lectures, and autonomous activities is available at:http://www.peoplessocialforum.org/
• To get involved in the work of the regional support groups of for more information about the Forum: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Follow the Forum on Facebook and Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/ForumSocialDesPeuples?fref=tswww.facebook.com/ForumSocialDesPeuples and twitter.com/forumsocial2014
Translated by Andrea Levy. This article first appeared in the March-April issue of Canadian Dimension magazine, and the original French version of this piece was published in À bâbord.