Photo of the Council of Canadians march, by Brent Patterson

Nine highlights of my AGM experience in Nanaimo

2012 November 16, by Sherwin Arnott

I’ve been a fan of the Council of Canadians for a number of years. As a fairly recent joiner of the local Chapter board, it was my honour to attend the AGM in Snuneymuxw territory this year. There were many people, with many stories. There were workshops and speeches and many formal and informal conversations. We talked, we marched. I found it invigorating. It is simply not possible for me to relate everything about my weekend in Nanaimo, but here’s a few highlights.

Some speakers at the Council of Canadians AGM, 2012

1. Chief Douglas White: the Conservatives are undoing decades of environmental protections

There were close to a thousand people present on the first night of the annual general meeting. Meeting in Nanaimo, it was awesome to hear from Chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation. He spoke about the challenge faced by coastal Indigenous communities in resisting the pipelines and tankers. He spoke about the risks posed to coastal waters and coastal communities. Chief White also spoke about the federal omnibus bill and the erasure of decades of environmental protections including the Navigable Waters Act. Hard to hear, but important.

2. Bill McKibben: climate change activism is not just for white, middle class folks

I have never before heard Bill McKibben speak. I had read various articles by him. And I had watched this powerful video inspired by his editorial. But listening to him live was inspiring, in part, because he acknowledged his own privilege and also because he acknowledged the activism of people committed to mitigating climate change in many, many places around the world: “It turns out, that environmentalism is not just for white, middle class folks.”

3. Irene Lanzinger: understanding labour in BC

Lanzinger spoke on a Saturday morning, and being the Treasurer of the BC Teachers Federation, she gave us a brief history of the struggle that teachers and other workers have faced in BC. It strikes me as very important to hear labour stories first hand, in part because, in my opinion, the mainstream media does a mediocre job representing the views of the working class.

3. Garry Neil: Voter suppression in the 2011 election was widespread

It was awesome to hear directly from the executive director of the Council of Canadians. The EKOS research was reviewed by Munir Sheikh, former Chief Statistician of Canada, who found it to be cautious and valid. The phone calls were targeted and significant. There are many varieties of voter suppression, and the voter suppression phone calls that occurred could well be harbinger of more to come. I encourage everyone to review the EKOS report. I’ll be watching the Federal election court cases supported by the Council of Canadians very closely.

4. John Hilary: ‘Austerity’ is the problem, not the solution

Hilary is the executive director of the War on Want. His talk was largely a brief overview of the history of economic policy in the European political landscape. Hilary claimed that the nations with the most debt had the least progressive taxation regimes, and the least amount of national taxation put towards health and education. That’s a powerful insight and one that we will be well advised to understand here in North America. I was also struck by his support for a financial transactions tax, aka Tobin Tax, aka Robin Hood Tax. This idea has received popular support for decades.

5. Maude Barlow, Lois Frank, Marilyn Baptiste

I can’t say it better than Maude Barlow:

Two events… stand out. At the Saturday evening AGM dinner, we presented the ‘Activist of the Year’ award to two First Nation women leaders, Tsilhqot’in Chief Marilyn Baptiste who is leading the fight against the Taseko mine proposed for her territory in the BC Interior and Lois Frank, who is leading the fight against fracking on her Blood Reserve in southern Alberta. Lois was arrested by band police for standing in front of heavy vehicles used for fracking. Both gave passionate speeches of defiance to a carbon corridor future for their people and received long and loving applause from our many members attending this dinner. – Maude Barlow

6. Locally sourced chicken and wild salmon for dinner

Paul Manly took some time to arrange for local organic foods to be served to us. In my experience, when it comes to organizing events and conferences, it can be very difficult to pay attention to details like this. The organizers of this AGM did, and I very much appreciated that. It also bears mentioning that Paul Manly was elected to the Council of Canadians board as our regional representative.

7. Bought a signed copy of The Trouble With Billionaires

Its rare that I start my obligatory winter solstice shopping so early in the year. But it was great to get a chance to chat with Linda McQuaig and get her to personalize a copy of her latest book for someone dear to me.

 8. Marched on the streets of Nanaimo with Garry John

The sun came out for just long enough to fill the streets. I’ve never had to the chance to march with Maude Barlow. It felt good to walk with so many new friends and talk politics and try to deepen my understanding of imposed investor rights deals that constrain the bounds of our democratic rights. Just prior to the march I had the good fortune of meeting Garry John who has been on the board of the Council of Canadians for twelve years. He is Shalalth First Nation and our brief, open ended conversation about what it means to be an activist for “sovereignty” stayed with me for the rest of the weekend.

9. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip

The stories that Chief Phillip told of resistance and collaboration (or the lack there of) were humorous  informative and moving. He also offered some advice that will stay with me. “It is the duty of all of us,” he said, “to learn how to inspire others.” I’ve never really heard it put this way before. He also took time to say that those of us working as activists and allies, especially men, need to do some personal work, check our egos, and learn to listen more. He then pointed out that he is hopeful about the growing understanding in the labour movement and among environmentalists of Indigenous land rights issues and colonialism. He closed by saying that the Council of Canadians has done good work learning to be supportive of First Nations concerns and that he had recently joined. Maude Barlow told us later that she was very moved by this. So was I.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs gave a rousing speech about the need to work together, thanked the Council of Canadians for being a “candle” in the darkness, and announced that he and his wife Joan had both just become members. I admit to tears at that moment. – Maude Barlow

Photo of the Council of Canadians march, by Brent Patterson

Photo by Brent Patterson, Council of Canadians

For a few more photos of our time in Nanaimo, see our photos page.