05/01/2013 05:30 EDT | Updated 07/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Can This Network Really Take on Harper?

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, with President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Ever since Stephen Harper took over in Ottawa seven years ago, Canada has needed a strong and powerful social/political movement to stop, or at least slow down, the many destructive measures being carried out by the Conservatives.

Finally, in September 2012, Common Causes, a loosely-knit network of more than 50 groups from the non-governmental sector (NGO), labour and the Native community, was born.

The idea was to have dozens of groups come together under one communications umbrella where they could work together on common-interest projects to oppose the Harper regime.

The creation of Common Causes gave me hope. I have long felt that we desperately need a hard-nosed civil society movement that will challenge the Conservatives with massive campaigns drawing on the resources of hundreds of groups.

A strong citizens' movement that will stand up against the tyrannical Harper is important to all Canadians.

Earlier last year I was involved in setting up a campaigning group, the Campaign to Build One Big Campaign, which had similar goals, and our organization took part in the Common Causes founding meeting in Ottawa.

Common Causes was developed under the leadership of the Council of Canadians (CoC). When officially launched in January, it sounded like what we needed:

"Common Causes will work cross-sectorally . . . to create an extended network for solidarity, resistance, action and change," CoC National Chairperson Maude Barlow wrote. "Through this coordination, we will shape priorities for common action and maximum impact."

Network should have quickly developed strong campaigns

I had hoped last fall that the network would quickly pick an area where Harper is vulnerable and develop a major campaign involving hundreds of groups and thousands of people.

But now, even though the movement is officially only a few months old, organizers have made it clear that the full force of the movement will not be brought together in big campaigns.

The movement is taking a low key, long-term approach to its work. Staff said priority attention is being given to discussions about how to organize more strategically in areas such as democracy building, environmental protection, and the defence of human rights. Hopefully, it will be pro-active in some of its work so we're not always reacting to Harper.

Common Causes may be able to build an effective forum and voice for Canada's liberal-minded, progressive community but, as we have been in Quebec, this can take years. So far, because the network is taking such a low-key approach with its activities, it has barely been mentioned in the national media and remains unknown by the public.

Last week Common Causes rolled out a series of actions across the country and, unfortunately, all but one turned out to be very low key. Protests led by one partner group, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) , were held at the offices of a handful of Conservative MPs in English Canada over the Harper government's disastrous cutbacks to Employment Insurance (EI).

The turnout in communities such as Weyburn, Sask and Simcoe, Ont., were very small -- with from 10 to 40 people taking part. In most places, hardly anyone noticed what was going on. There was some local media coverage.

Only in Montreal, was there a huge parade and protest -- one source said tens-of-thousands people took part. However, this event was organized by Quebec's coalition against employment insurance reform. The protest received some local and national media coverage.

Small protests don't count for much

I don't see how protests of 30 or 40 people are of any help to those who have lost their Employment Insurance. Small turnouts surely reassure Harper that the country is not on the brink of revolution. The only thing accomplished is that a few protesters feel good about taking part in an event.

Common Causes says it will not bring together the full force of the movement in anti-Harper campaigns, but, hopefully, those in charge will eventually change their minds.

It was a great accomplishment when the network brought together non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Canada's most progressive unions under one campaigning mechanism.

By combining the forces of the NGOs and unions, the movement has awesome, unrealized power. The hundreds -- potentially thousands -- of NGOs could provide access to millions of members who can take part in campaigning. The unions could loan staff to the network in the same way they loan workers to the NDP during elections and, more importantly, if they wanted to, they could provide Common Causes with as much as $1-million a year.

Are we serious about challenging Harper?

However, I think organizers need to decide if they are really serious about taking on Harper. In the NGO sector, many groups are more concerned about protecting their own vested interests rather than taking real action that might benefit the general public. And in the labour movement, too often union protests are for show only -- to give the impression that the leadership is doing its job.

To have some impact on the Harper regime, the movement would need to be creative and "think outside the box", instead of carrying out time-worn, routine activities such as holding demonstrations, marches and sending petitions to Ottawa.

So, when it gets right down to it, are the people who head our NGOs and unions too timid?

In my opinion, we must not be afraid to use the strongest possible tactics as long as they are legal. For instance, we should campaign on key issues such as income inequality and austerity by disrupting some government activities, holding flash mobs, carrying out sit-ins, and disrupting government communications systems, etc. until the Conservatives respond.

After all, we are being destroyed by a fascist-like government, the likes of which we have never before seen in Canada.

Read more of Nick's articles on his blog -- A Different Point of View

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