The Mother at Risk In Canada: A Call to Engaged Citizenship
by Jennifer Chesnut
“With the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, the mother-load is at stake.” Maude Barlow (Chair of The Council of Canadians and Former UN advisor on the protection of the world’s water) speaking in London, Ontario in October 2011.
What is the Mother?
The Mother is the feminine from which all life flows. She is the source of deep compassion. The Mother has many names: she is Kwan Yin, the mother of Buddha, she is Sophia, the energy of all-knowing wisdom, she is Brighid, Celtic goddess of home and protection. She belongs to no one, neither gender nor race but is an attitude, a presence that can be called upon to enable right living. In the many traditions of feminist spirituality, we ask, where is the mother present in our lives? When absent, how can we connect with her?
Since my thirtieth birthday, I have been noticing when her presence rises in me and when she is absent. This is my daily commitment to living from the heart. I use the symbol of the Mother in my professional life as a teacher of children, my writing life as poet, novelist and researcher, and in my personal relationships. And now, I find myself called to fulfill another aspect – my political self. And in this exploration, I have noticed it is less clear to me how to speak from the energy of the Mother when standing up to injustice and creating social change.
However, she is, in this realm, most deeply required. Oh great Mother, what wisdom do you offer here? How can I embody more of your generous spirit to do the work that I know is needed, to face the conflict that comes when protecting human rights and rights of the earth?
What is the Mother in the collective?
Mother energy is not only personally important but also to be channeled into culture. How does the Mother express herself in our communities, our cities, our countries? Remembering the Mother as nurturer and protector of all living things, how does she show up in the public sphere? Can we catch a glimpse of her in our workplaces and institutions, in public space and in our traditions?
In Canada, we have a socio-political structure that is shaped by the spirit of the Mother, an ethos of care. Our system is called the “well-fare” (welfare) state and we have one of the last working models of this in the world. Our design is one of shared economic responsibility and is based on public ownership of natural, cultural and social resources. The well-fare state intends that human rights are met regardless of class. For example, in Canada, people get the medicine and surgery they need when ill. Regardless of whether they have money to pay for it, they just get it. The opposite model, which has been fast on the rise over the last few decades, is one of the privatized state. In this reality, if you can’t afford medical care, you don’t get it or risk debt, even bankruptcy. This is an expression of an ethos of the survival of the fittest. We see this trend proliferating around the world from Europe to South America. We sense its critique in the Occupy Movement in North America and beyond.
The well-fare state is an expression of the Mother in the collective. She is The Commons — all that is held in public trust. The Commons includes both the services of nature (air, water, land, etc.) and the services of people (health care, education, municipal services, public broadcasting, etc.). These are things that are freely shared between citizens so that all members of our country can have some sort of opportunity to have their basic needs met. In a well-fare state, the raison d’etre of government is to take care of the needs of the people. This seems like an obvious point but as we have been witnessing, this way of governance is disappearing. In this design, the economy serves the public infrastructure and not vice versa.
The well-fare state is not perfect by any means. People fall through the cracks. This happens more and more as the well-fare state breaks down and social programs are cut. But if you look to other countries that don’t have publically-owned infrastructure, we remember how valuable ours still is. In some South African towns, for example, citizens must pay for their water each time they take some from the pump. If they don’t have money, they don’t get it. With the Canadian Welfare state, people need to worry less over their daily survival, and so, our country is more peaceful than ones without a social safety net.
How is “the mother-load” at risk?
Globally, public infrastructure is being dismantled by the forces of the free market, unchecked and aggressive capitalism. The free market allows corporations to go into countries and buy up local businesses and then control the cost and quality that they sell in services back to the people. This is enacted through a “Free Trade Agreement”. Essentially, a free trade agreement transfers power from citizens to corporations. Further, a free trade agreement reinvents the law by rendering existing laws powerless to protect citizens and nature. In clauses like NAFTA’s chapter 11, corporations are enabled to sue governments for enforcing laws that stop their flow of trade – even if these laws are put in place to protect citizens. In the worst circumstances, corporations purchase public infrastructure that socially and personally services citizens like news stations, hospitals and education.
At home in Canada, our whole public commons is at risk through one such aggressive trade agreement called the “Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement” or CETA for short.
With CETA, there will be a great ripping of the social fabric that our ancestors have built—a breaking apart of The Commons if it is not stopped. Our water, public health care, public education, CBC, Canada Post and more is in danger. Multinational corporations will be able to purchase, own, control and then sell back privately these parts of our country that belong to us. The descriptors “free” and “agreement” make this sound like a good idea — connect with other countries to trade your goods but items like water and health care should not be bought and sold. They are not commodities. They are human rights.
CETA has been constructed by the Stephen Harper government in negotiation with interests in the European Union since May 2009. Only select Conservative members of parliament have been allowed into the negotiations. The rest of the parties have had no input into the agreement. In early October 2011, just before the ninth (and nearly final) round of its negotiation, the NDP and Liberal s and Greens such as Elizabeth May started speaking out about being kept in the dark about it. The media has barely taken up the story and why is that? We must demand a public dialogue.
Now citizens are beginning to write emails, call their representatives at city hall and demand that CETA become public knowledge so it can be stopped.
This is a much more aggressive trade agreement than Canada has ever seen. Its ramifications to our way of life are beyond the Canadian imagination. And as such, the mother as expressed through The Commons is at great risk. Without her milk, we will be offering our children very little. It is time to learn about this trade agreement which will become law in our country as early as January 2012, if we don’t speak up. This is a seminal moment, a great call to engaged citizenship. This is a time to use our voices for what we value before it is too late.
What you can do to protect The Mother as expressed through The Canadian Commons:
Get informed at www.tradejustice.ca
Share this information with the people in your circles.
Keep a photo of your favourite kids in your pocket from now until January 1st, the date that has been set to close the deal. May their beautiful faces inspire us to speak.
Come to a local meeting of concerned citizens to protect the commons by reaching us at: firstname.lastname@example.org