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Campaign to hold MPs accountable on the MAI

By Terry Cottam, the MAI-Not! Project, OPIRG-Carleton (613) 520-2757; home (613) 236-6433, di238@freenet.carleton.ca in cooperation with the Alliance for Public Accountability (contact Henry McCandless, 235-5954, hemccand@magi.com) Updated 19 Oct 1997

This will be refined with feedback from the public. It has three elements, flagged after each action below as implementing the practice of "holding to account" (HA), backed up by public awareness (PA) and lobbying pressure (LP). This is posted on our website http://www.flora.org/mai-not. Please watch this page for updates.

First of all, since we elected our Members of Parliament, we remember that they are public servants who work for us. So rather than the usual practice of asking or demanding this or urging that, we simply state our expectations respectfully as their constituents, then ask them whether the expectations are reasonable (HA).

1a) We will send a letter to our local MP (see samples in the MAI resource kit in our website), and state our expectation that he or she "inform yourself on the MAI so that you can call for parliamentary debate and decide whether to recommend that Canada accept, alter or reject the proposed treaty." We state our belief that this is part of their duty as elected representatives (HA).

1b) We also state our expectation that the government will hold public hearings across the country on the MAI. We ask if they agree with these expectations, and if so what action they will take (HA).

1c) We will ask at least ten people in each riding to write similar letters (LP). Use this letter to help develop this idea of the duty principle, i.e. elected representatives reasonably informing themselves on the MAI and reporting to their constituents in their regular "householders" the implications as they see them. This letter will help spread this principle across Canada. (PA)

2. We will request a subsequent meeting with our MP, to see what she or he has learned and can report. We'll have a short list of key questions that MPs should be able to answer if they have reasonably informed themselves. We may empathize with why they haven't been able to get informed, but not with any apparent reluctance to try to inform themselves (HA).

3. In the meantime, we will build public interest in our local riding in three ways (PA) that show our MP that we are gaining broad support (LP):

3a) Public debates and seminars on the MAI.

3b) Popular education to generate more such concern. Make creative use of such techniques as satire, irony and guerilla theatre to ridicule the MAI as appropriate. (PA) (Note: While public accountability is neutral, i.e. takes no position on any one issue, public education is not.) Strive to make people in authority state their beliefs, attitudes and intentions so that, if these make no sense, they embarrass themselves in public. If they refuse to speak, ridicule this refusal publicly. (HA)

3c) Media work to spread the word. Tell local media about all these actions, do interviews, talk shows, letters to the editor etc.

4a) We will call on International Trade Minister Sergio Marchi, as the one person directly responsible in our government, to release an "equity statement" (EqS) stating who is intended to benefit and who whould bear what costs and risks under the MAI. Again we expect him to comply with this reasonable request. (HA) However, we ensure our request is backed by public awareness and lobbying pressure. For instance, subsequent letters to MPs will make both the writers and their elected representatives aware that Marchi is being called upon to fulfil his public duty in this matter.

4b) If Minister Marchi does not comply, we will present him with an EqS produced by citizens' groups concerned about the MAI, and request he either successfully and publicly challenge its validity or publicly accept it as a fair representation of the fairness trade-offs (HA). Again MPs and the public would be kept abreast of such developments. (PA) (LP)

4c) We never accept something proposed as a fait accompli. The MAI is and must be presented as a government proposal that _if_ approved would have certain consequences. Regardless of whether the MAI was _originally_ intended to be released to the public, the government cannot reasonably deny the public's right to approve, alter or reject any action proposed by government. (HA)

5. We will inform the public that the House cannot be bypassed, since the PM may tell the House of Commons that he doesn't need their permission for Marchi to sign the MAI. The House is entitled to advance information on who would benefit, how, and who would bear what costs and risks, and why. (This would also be required to control what the responsible Ministers of the Crown might actually later do as the legally-accountable ministers, if any parts of the MAI are accepted.)

6. We will prevail upon all MPs and Ministers to explain why, if in fact they support it, the MAI would serve the public interest of Canadians. (HA)

7a) We will continue to relentlessly turn up the pressure on the government to account for the reasoning for the MAI proposal. We will publicize our actions, hold more debates and seminars on the MAI, circulate letters mailed by our fellow constituents, and conduct more popular education. (LP)

7b) Our goal is to make it increasingly difficult for MPs and their party to dodge their duty to fully and publicly explain their position on the MAI. The end objective is to approach all MPs well before next April, in order to ensure the MAI is debated in caucus by each party, and that the House of Commons both debates and votes on the MAI. (HA)

7c) We will make our campaign as public and accessible as possible, by periodically sending campaign updates to e-mail discussion groups (eg. flora.mai-not), and public interest groups that wish to publicize our campaign activities nationwide. There is by no means only one best way to campaign, but in making clear our intentions to each other like this, we can make our efforts cohesive. This will also help us work out contingency plans if the MAI is passed over our objections, or if Parliament is bypassed. END

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