Undoubtedly, you’ve seen the images of burning police cars and black bloc “anarchists” wreaking havoc in downtown Toronto. Obviously protesters are a brutish bunch of people who deserve to be demonized. But wait… among any large crowd of decent people, aren’t there always a few troublemakers? Having taken part in the absolutely massive G20 protest march, I can personally attest to the fact that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful. In fact, according to the Montréal Gazette, about 100 people were responsible for the carnage. That’s 100 out of 10,000. It seems that 1% of the people get to make 90% of the news.
So let’s rightfully denounce the 100 or so people who rioted. But why were the other 9 900 people in the streets? It seems that economic summits like these always bring large numbers of protesters, but the media focus only on the small percentage who clash with police. Sensationalism creates higher ratings, apparently, but leads to poorly informed citizens. An effective media would inform the public about why so many people disapprove of G8 and G20 summits. What follows is my attempt to summarize the wide variety of important issues that led people of all ages and all political persuasions to publicly protest the G20 summit:
1. G8 and G20 Summits exclude poor nations from important decisions
The world already has a decision-making body called the G192… better known as the United Nations. Interestingly, the United Nations operating budget for a year is $1.9 billion, which puts the billion-dollar security tab for the G20 in perspective. The UN is the legitimate body for discussions about global economic policy. Unfortunately, this body is democratic. In the United Nations General assembly, poor nations (who represent the majority) can vote down policies they don’t like. Rich countries like Canada frequently don’t get their way. Fortunately the G20 and G8 have no such burdens. While the G8 has been enlarged to the G20 under the veil of inclusivity, the reality is that it was drafted by Paul Martin and Larry Summers (see Globe & Mail) on the back of a manila envelope in an arbitrary fashion.
2. The G20 are discussing the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
Despite the fact that Canada is on the verge of an enormous new trade agreement, very few Canadians have heard about CETA, a policy that will be pursued at the G20. Why is it bad? Here’s just a few reasons. CETA negotiators are planning to give transnational corporations and foreign investors the right to sue Canadian government’s over policies or decisions that they feel prevent them from making profits. Sound absurd? It’s already happened under NAFTA. DOW chemical recently sued the province of Québec for $2 million following passage of a piece of legislation banning cosmetic pesticides.
CETA also threatens water. Huge multinationals like Nestlé and Suez are eager to gain access to the Canadian water market which has the potential for enormous profits. CETA threatens public health care. The E.U. has made it clear that they want all of our public services covered by CETA, including healthcare. This means that European corporations would have to be given the right to bid on healthcare services. Obviously, this would expose Canadian Medicare to huge privatization pressures. Worst of all, under the rules of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), Canadians would have to offer the same access to private health corporations from the United States. Free trade agreements are generally designed to benefit investors and multinational corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.
3. The G20 are pursuing “austerity measures” advocated by the International Monetary Fund
What is an austerity measure? It is essentially a cutback process designed to reduce government spending on social programs. The International Monetary Fund has a long history of requiring poor nations to implement such reforms in order to qualify for loans, which incidentally, they must pay back with interest. Austerity measures typically include privatization of government-owned enterprises and vast cuts in government spending. Typically these cuts reduce services available to the poor, including health and education services. Why are G20 nations rushing to pursue austerity measures? Most major governments of the world have spent billions if not trillions of dollars bailing out financial institutions over the past two years. The US government alone has spent an estimated $2.5 trillion bailing out banks, a number so incomprehensibly large that it simply can’t be grasped. This amounts to the largest transference of public funds into private hands in history. The G8 and G20 have made it exceedingly clear that when it comes to helping private financial institutions, public funds have almost infinite pockets. When it comes to policies that benefit the general population, funds mysteriously run dry. The cutback process has already begun. Ontario recently stopped funding the Special Diet Program, a program that gave money to poor people with special dietary needs, allowing them to feed themselves. Incidentally, the program cost $220 million a year, meaning the security tab for the G20 summit could have sustained it for five years.
4. Canada is obstructing legitimate progress towards a better world
Water… not a human right
While at the Council of Canadians “Shout out for Global Justice” event, I had the opportunity to hear Pablo Solon, Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, speak about water justice. In a few months, Bolivia will be tabling a motion at the United Nations that will make water a fundamental human right. Virtually alone in the world, the Canadian government continues to oppose this legislation.
Against the Tobin Tax
Although we think about money as something we used to buy “real” things like houses and food, most of the money floating around in the world isn’t used for anything real: it is used for speculation. When you listen to the news and hear that “the dollar is up two cents”, essentially what you are hearing is the price that currency speculators are willing to pay that day. In essence, currency speculators (mainly banks) bet on whether the dollar will go up or down. This is no small business. In 1975 about 80% of currency transactions were to conduct business in the real economy (investing in real things) while 20% was purely speculative. However, today only 2.5% of currency trade is used for something real; 97.5% is speculative. This means that $1.8 trillion is exchanged every day and is used for nothing! Making things worse, gambling is inherently risky, and eventually things collapse. To combat this type of predatory financial system, a growing movement is calling for something called the Tobin Tax that would tax every currency transaction at a rate of about 10 to 25 cents per $100. The Canadian government is currently opposed to such a tax.
5. The G8/G20 Pursue Policies That Are Bad for Developing Nations
The wealthy nations of the G8 have consistently adopted policies that are detrimental to the majority of people in the world. Over the last 30 years the rich have gotten richer and the poor of gotten poorer at a staggering rate. Fact: the richest 1% of people in the world own 40% of global assets. The world’s richest 500 people have more money between them than the world’s poorest 416 million people. In contrast, the bottom half of the world population owns barely 1% of global wealth. Policies pursued by wealthy nations have forced developing nations to open their economies to “free trade” and allow foreign companies to take advantage of cheap labor. Although we often hear about wealthy nations giving aid to Third World countries, the reality is that developing nations finance wealthy countries. For instance, the developing world now spends $13 on debt repayment for every dollar it receives in grants. Although the G20 is currently discussing giving “aid” to developing nations, there is no discussion of debt cancellation. In the 1970s, wealthy nations agreed to give 0.7% of their GDP to developing countries, however almost all countries, including Canada, have systematically failed to meet this number. Donors often apply conditions to aid that force the recipient to purchase products only from the donor country. Critics decry this as simply a way to subsidize domestic business. The facts show that the policies of the last 30 years have been disastrous for developing countries, yet the G8 and G20 continue to pursue them.
The 10,000 people at the G20 protest march represented citizens of all ages and all ethnicities seeking to raise attention to a plethora of issues of the utmost importance. While crimes such as breaking windows and burning cars should be reported, the issues raised by peaceful protesters are infinitely more important. Obviously this summary is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are interested in learning more, please let me know. Cheers.