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article imageInterview: Leadnow mobilizes widespread support for FIPA appeal Special

By Grace C. Visconti     Oct 2, 2013 in Environment
Vancouver - Leadnow mobilizes widespread support for the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA or FIPPA). If ratified, Canada would be bound to this agreement for 31 years, undermining democratic control of our natural resources.
Interview with Matthew Carroll, Leadnow, Campaigns Director, - À l'Action
GCV: Can you give a brief history of Leadnow and why this independent advocacy organization that brings generations of Canadians together to achieve progress through democracy is an important alliance at this time in Canadian history?
MC: Leadnow launched in 2011, with the goal of bringing Canadians together across party lines to hold decision-makers accountable, deepen our democracy and achieve progress on the major challenges of our times. We built upon a model of responsive multi-issue online organizing that’s been very successful in other countries, and we’re trying to customize that model for Canada by emphasizing democratic participation and on-the-ground organizing.
GCV: What are the short-term and long-term goals of Leadnow and what are some of the most important causes you are fighting for right now?
MC: We know from surveying and face-to-face gatherings that our community cares about a wide range of issues. In the short-term, much of our work is on holding governments accountable and making a difference through our “rapid response” campaigns. In the medium-term, there are three main things that come up again and again: protecting the environment (especially taking bold action on climate change); reducing inequality; and fixing our broken democracy through a range of reforms - especially upgrading our archaic voting system that currently lets governments with 39% of the vote hold 100% of the power. We know we’ll need to change the current government to achieve progress on those goals, so we plan to organize on the ground in the next federal election in a serious way.
GCV: How has your organization grown since its inception? Do you work with other groups, organizations, environmental activists, and First Nations people?
MC: In the last two years, our community has grown from a few thousand, to over 300,000 Canadians today - literally from coast to coast to coast (take a look a this map, it really inspires us. Every time we start a new campaign, we’ll send it out to some or all of our existing community. People take action, then they share it, and that’s how we grow.
Through our campaigns we try to work with other organizations as much as possible, especially where those organizations have issue expertise relevant to a campaign. We also always try to organize in ways that strengthen the groups that do focus on one issue, so we can leave the community working on that issue stronger than it was before.
GCV: How do you resolve differences or does Leadnow work very closely by focusing on the most important goals for our democratic survival as a whole society?
MC: Leadnow works on a range of issues - everything from environmental campaigns, to protecting women’s rights for equal pay, to stopping bad investor deals like FIPA to reducing inequality. We survey our community regularly to find out what they care about and most want us to work on. We try to strike a balance between providing leadership and letting our community know about important issues they may not have heard, and taking the lead from Canadians. After all, our campaigns only work if Canadians are willing to step up and take action.
GCV: Currently, Leadnow is assisting the Hupacasath First Nation of B.C. with their legal fees through crowdfunding and encouraging nationwide support to stop the ratification of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA or FIPPA) by the federal government. Why is this an important cause to all Canadians and First Nations people and how will FIPA if ratified, affect our land, water, and human rights?
MC: The Canada-China FIPA is a secretive and extreme agreement that would undermine our democratic control of our natural resources, and restrict our ability to make laws that protect our environment and our families from harm.
How does it do that? The FIPA would allow China’s companies to sue Canadian governments in secretive tribunals outside of the Canadian legal system if they believe that a new law or regulation limits their expectation of profit. We’re seeing this happen right now with NAFTA. Lone Pine Resources, an American company, is suing Canada for $250 million because the Quebec government placed a moratorium on fracking to study the health and environmental impacts of the controversial practice. If FIPA is ratified, we’re locked in for 31 years.
(For more information on FIPA, check out the website Canada-China FIPA: The Facts).
GCV: Leadnow is up against some very powerful interests and alliances so how do you intend on carrying on after the first defeat of the Hupacasath First Nation on behalf of all of us? What is needed to make the appeal process successful?
MC: First and foremost, we need to raise enough money to make sure we can see the appeal through. The response has been amazing (10 days in, we’ve raised over $150,000 from 4,691 Canadians) but we’re still only half way towards fully funding the appeal as well as making sure we have a contingency in the bank to cover the draconian $110,000 costs award the government is demanding in case the Hupacasath are forced to pay that. We know that not everyone can donate, but we’re really encouraging anyone who can to head to and make a donation. We’ve had donations ranging from $3 to $1,000 online, with the average being around $30, and every dollar helps.
Second, we know that the more Canadians hear about the Canada-China FIPA the more outraged they feel. This issue unites Canadians from across the political spectrum, including many people who voted for the Harper Conservatives in the last election. We’re going to keep working with a wide range of partners to get the word out and turn up the pressure on this government.
GCV: Were you surprised at how Canadians and First Nations rallied in defense of this FIPA cause? Would you say that more people are becoming aware of what the FIPA deal entails for the future of Canada?
MC: When we first became aware of FIPA and started our campaign in September 2012, very few people had heard of it, because Prime Minister Harper tried to sneak it through without a single vote or debate in Parliament. What we found though was that as soon as people heard about FIPA, they were absolutely outraged.
Once we’d launched the campaign, it took off like wildfire, and we’ve now had over 100,000 Canadians take action through the campaign. I think a big part of why the government tried to keep FIPA secret is that they knew that once Canadians learned the truth about FIPA, they would fight to stop it.
GCV: Is there any hope for environmental integrity if FIPA gets ratified?
MC: At this stage we're focusing on doing everything we can to oppose FIPA and stop it from getting ratified. If FIPA is ratified, it would be deeply troubling, and our hope would be to use Provincial powers, public pressure, and possibly further legal efforts to contain the worst of the damage, until we can organize Canadians to get the current government out and take our country in a better direction.
GCV: How has the Union of B.C. Chiefs supported Leadnow in their cause to help the Hupacasath First Nation? Is the Hupacasath First Nation getting help from any other groups or First Nations to stop FIPA?
MC: A whole range of groups helped raise money for the initial legal challenge and the appeal: The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Chiefs of Ontario, Idle No More, Council of Canadians,, Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice, and Unifor have all been supporting the Hupacasath. What’s most inspiring for me though has been the 8,000+ individuals who’ve donated to the cause personally. It’s amazing what we can achieve when we work together.
GCV: Why do you believe the judge discounted the testimony of internationally renowned Canadian professor and lawyer Gus Van Harten during the first court case as biased testimony, especially since Van Harten dissected the FIPA agreement as a lawyer and was alarmed at its implications?
MC: It’s hard to say why. Obviously I disagree with the judge’s decision, and only time will tell if his position holds up to scrutiny in the Court of Appeal. I find it outrageous that the judge chose to take the word of the government’s highly-paid “expert” witness who is an international investor-state arbitrator over the testimony of professor Gus Van Harten, who wasn’t paid a cent to testify. Investor-state arbitration is the mechanism by which China’s companies could sue Canada for unlimited damages in secret courts outside our legal system if FIPA passes, so it would appear to me that an international arbitrator would have much more of a personal interest in the outcome of the case than an academic.
GCV: If FIPA is ratified, do you think that Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline will be approved regardless of British Columbia’s rejection of it following the extensive hearing process?
MC: One of the biggest problems of FIPA is that it opens Canada up to being sued if we pass common-sense laws or make decisions that protect our environment or communities. Imagine if B.C. refuses to allow the Enbridge pipeline to be built. China’s companies with investments in the tar sands could then turn around and sue because they expected to be able to make more profits by shipping diluted bitumen through B.C. and on to tankers. That kind of pressure is likely to make our governments (local, provincial, and federal) think twice before making a decision that could result in us being sued - it takes away our democratic rights as Canadians to decide.
Whether that means Enbridge Northern Gateway would definitely be approved I’m not sure, but what I do know is that there’s wall to wall opposition to tankers and pipelines up and down the coast, and British Columbians will fight tirelessly to make sure the pipeline is never built (whatever the provincial or federal governments do).
GCV: In order of priority, what are the top three causes you are standing up for right now? Since emerging on the Canadian scene, has Leadnow succeeded by influencing the decision making process of specific causes?
MC: Right now, FIPA is high up the list. Given that everyone thought it would be approved almost a year ago, on November 1st 2012, I think we’ve had a huge influence in terms of delaying it. We’re also going to be doing some work on climate this fall, as well as keeping our eyes open for new “rapid response” campaigns.
There have been some other amazing highlights since we launched - organizing rallies outside MP offices across the country against the omnibus budget bills; bringing Canadians together to reimagine the CBC; helping organize the Defend Our Coast rallies up and down BC against tankers and pipelines; fighting back against a cruel crime bill that would make Canada meaner, not safer, and so much more.
GCV: How important is it that Leadnow garners the support of all people to protect our democratic rights?
MC: We try to reach out across the political spectrum wherever possible, while at the same time sticking to our values. We know that Canadians care about issues first and foremost, so we try to meet them there, and give them easy ways to take action.
GCV: How has Leadnow changed since its inception as an independent advocacy organization and how has the use of technology mobilized support for your causes?
MC: Well we’ve grown - from a few thousand to over 300,000 Canadians, and from two full-time staff to 15. The main change in the last year is an increasing focus on the ground organizing in the run up to the next election, that we’re building along side our online campaigning. Technology is key to everything we do - our online campaigns especially - although really it all comes down to people and relationships.
People take action on our campaigns because we’re Canadian and focused here, and they trust our judgement. They get involved in local organizing because they’ve seen what we can do online, and want to be part of more long-term and structural shifts.
GCV: Where do you see Leadnow positioned in the future, as a democratic force to be reckoned with for all Canadians and First Nations people?
MC: I’d love to see us reach a million Canadians before the next federal election, with 10,000 highly engaged (donating, volunteering, and organizing on the ground). We know that changing the government won’t be enough to really make a difference on the challenges of our times though, so I’d like to see us continue building after the election, and organizing Canadians to really create the kind of country we know is possible - one where we take care of each other, protect the environment, and truly honour our promises to First Nations as a society.
GCV: If people want to help support the Hupacasath First Nation’s legal challenge regarding FIPA, how can they get involved?
MC: They either donate online at or by phone at 1-855-LEADN0W (1-855-532-3609) extension 2, or they can send a cheque payable to “Leadnow” with a note that it’s for the legal challenge to:
PO Box 2091, Stn Terminal
, Vancouver, BC
V6B 3T2
There are a couple of other ways to donate such as Interac e-transfer, and all the details are at the bottom of that page.
As well as donating, please urge your friends and family to sign on to the campaign to stop FIPA at the website.
Toll-Free: 1.855.LEADN0W Ext 22 (1.855.532.3609)  |  |twitter  @leadnowca
Bio: Gus Van Harten, Osgoode Law School
Bio: J. Christopher Thomas, National University of Singapore
Judge's decision, Hupacasath First Nation v the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General of Canada.
Hupacasath Disappointed with Federal Judicial Review of Canada-China FIPA
More about Leadnow, Hupacasath First Nation of BC, Union of BC Chiefs, Federal Government, FIPA
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