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WINNIPEG – The issue of a cross-Canada coalition was debated vigorously at the National Peace Strategy Conference held in Winnipeg from February 2nd to 5th. Although most of the 170 delegates agreed that there was value in trying to coordinate actions across Canada, there was considerable disagreement as to how this might best be accomplished.
The official debate began with a scheduled presentation by Kim Killeen, a researcher and one of the few non-activists at the conference. Killeen is presently coauthoring a book on the problems of communication and understanding between the Canadian peace movement and the Canadian government, and began his presentation by pointing out that the movement was progressing rapidly. “A year ago,” he said, “this meeting (the national strategy conference) was probably thought impossible.” Killeen also noted that “if peace is a political objective, then the object of the peace movement must be to increase its own political effectiveness and given this basis I would argue that some form of national coordinating body is necessary.”
“If a critical objective of the peace movement is to influence government policy,” Killeen concluded, “a compromise in terms of philosophical and operational beliefs may be a tactical gain in the long run.”
Compromise is often considered a dirty word in the peace movement. Not surprisingly, debate was lively.
Kay Macpherson with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, itself a Canada-wide co-ordinating body within the women’s movement, expressed the concerns of many when she cautioned, “Have a network, but do not have a structured organisation which is dictating from the top down.”
Murray Randall, one of a number of representatives of the Canadian Labour Congress at the conference, was the only representative of the labour movement who spoke during the debate: “As far as the idea of a network for the coordination… I think this kind of discussion is not premature to be happening today. I think what would be premature is to come to any definite plan of determination. We (the Canadian Labour Congress) see the campaign (the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign), quite frankly, as a trial run: it’s a project. It’s the basis on which we can assess how we get along together, how we understand each other, how we communicate and so on.”
Jamie Scott, an organiser working with the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, a co-ordinating body for international development organisations, agreed with Randall. “There can be kind of ad hoc coalitions around projects. I question whether it would be premature to form at this time anyone-going structured organisation.”
Doreen Plowman of the Manitoba Peace Council offered a compromise, a minimal mandate:
“I think that we are not ready for a structured national coalition at this time, but I think that it is something which we should be looking at for our future… I think at this time what we need is a network. We need to have a few actions a year… and we need to know what everyone is doing across the country.”
No decisions were reached in the plenary on a cross-Canada network. However, two suggestions were later returned to the conference from a workshop of about 25 that formed to discuss the issue further. One suggestion was that the Toronto Disarmament Network co-ordinate a “correspondence network” whose sole purpose would be to collect and circulate, unedited, all proposals received regarding a cross-Canada network or coalition. All proposals would be circulated to anyone who asked to be on the mailing list.
The second suggestion was that people be encouraged to submit short articles to The Peace Calendar discussing the issues surrounding the creation of a cross-Canada network or coalition, and that The Peace Calendar be approached to reserve space in each issue devoted to discussion of these issues.
André-Albert Saint-Laurent from Montréal praised the work being done by PPCC organiser David Langille. Saint-Laurent, a former translator at the U.N. Disarmament Division, said that the “very nature of peace work is so often loose,” and that it requires a certain type of person. Saint-Laurent was “not terribly confident with the financial handling of the Campaign,” but said that he thinks “it will be smoothed over.”
Gary Marchant, a key spokesperson for the End the Arms Race (E.A.R.) coalition in Vancouver, was “glad about the way the conference ended,” but concerned about the tension that pervaded many of the sessions. Marchant suggested that it was “still a bit premature to talk of. a national coalition,” which he regards as a matter of process rather than structure.
Duncan MacDonald, an official with the Ontario Federation of Labour, stressed the importance of the presence at the conference of representatives from three major Québec unions. MacDonald found the “entire event very useful because organised labour and the peace movement came to know each other.” Despite tensions, MacDonald said he felt the two groups “could unite around a mutual concern.” Such unity, MacDonald emphasised, is what is needed if the PPCC is to be a success.