Montreal, March 15, 2005 • No 152




Jayant Bhandari is an entrepreneur. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.




Through its research, educational work and campaigns, the Council is committed to building a stronger civil society. Its Citizens' Agenda, launched in 1994, is a long-term project outlining a vision and action plan to bring our economy and society under real public control while protecting the environment.


–"Our History," the Council of Canadians


by Jayant Bhandari


          Is it not the job of a research organization to provide decent verifiable information, with sources, to its audience? Is it not their job to provide a logical stream of arguments to educate people about why a certain action or belief needs to be adopted? Is it not their job to provide true information even if it might not sound good to the ears of the audience?


          Or is it their job to draw certain knee-jerk conclusions, and then look for information to support those pre-determined conclusions, working backwards; or worse, to manipulate the information, and if required, confuse the flow of logic to reach those conclusions? This is what the Council of Canadians, an activist Canadian organization, does.

          Having gone through much of their published material, I can attest that almost nothing is referenced, substantiated or proven, that meanings of terms are used in mutually contradictory ways, and that just about every claim and conclusion is questionable. This is especially the case when they discuss health care and trade, as the following examples show.

Unsubstantiated 'facts'

          In a passage of their book on Medicare, Profit is Not the Cure, discussing the 1993 mergers in the US medical industry (p. 17), the Council deplores the substantial rise in profits that these companies went through, without either proving those figures or analyzing the reasons for such a rise (increased efficiency, etc.). They then say, "The annual profit of the corporate health care market in the US now stands at almost one trillion dollars (US)." Well, the truth is that the consolidated profits of all US companies stood at a lot less than one trillion dollars (US), even in 2002(1).

          Why exaggerate figures so much that they have absolutely no value? If this denunciation of profits in the US health care system is the basis for advocating the continued exclusive public sector control of the Canadian health sector, what should we conclude if the figures are so erroneous?

          In their book to educate people about international trade agreements (Making the Links: A Citizen's Guide to the WTO and the FTAA, p. 7), the Council claims that: "the powerful U.S.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association spent US$197 million to elect Republicans to office…" No source is provided for these figures. According to information available on the Websites of the Federal Election Commission, and two other watchdogs (, and Common Cause), total receipts by Republicans for the 2000 US presidential election was US$193 million. This included US$67 million in federal funding. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association donated a total of US$0.33 million.

          Talking about trade agreements (p. 9), the Council writes that, "family farms and small agricultural operations all over the world have been destroyed by free trade in agriculture." Just a bit earlier they say, "the U.S. and Europe have [...] stepped up agricultural subsidies…" Indeed, the harm to farmers in poor countries is due to subsidies in Europe and the USA, not to free trade (as subsidized trade is not free).

          Elsewhere (p. 21), they claim that: "While the FTAA's investment rules establish and secure the 'rights' of corporations, there are no labor clauses to ensure or guarantee the rights of the workers." This is one of the most oft-repeated statements. Investment rules are directly related to the investors, i.e., corporations. It is true these rules do not necessarily talk about space exploration, traffic system, the educational system, environment, law and order, workers' rights, and many other areas – nor should they. But the fact that they do not talk about other laws does not mean that all other laws stand nullified.

"Activist organizations like the Council of Canadians skew the truth and exaggerate the problems so much to support their agendas that it is difficult to know what is true, and what is not."

          In the same book (page 41) they write: "Increasingly, all services and resources are controlled by a handful of transnational corporations operating outside of any national or international law." The reality is that transnational corporations not only have to satisfy all the laws of the country they invest in, they also have to satisfy some of the laws of the home country as well (antitrust legislation in the US, for example).

Destructive forces

          The Council further claims (p. 9) that: "The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade forces nations to prove that their environmental laws [made to ban entry of products produced using 'terrible and inhuman environmental practices,' and 'from countries with poor human rights records or sub-standard labor practices'] are 'necessary' and have been established in the 'least trade restrictive' way. This means that a country bears the burden of proving a negative, rather than having the right to adopt the 'Precautionary Principle,' acting in the case of doubt on the side of caution."

          Delve a little deeper and you will see that to accept such a statement, you do not need to understand economics, because it does not belong to that realm. It belongs to the realm of hypocrisy. Even if nations had the legitimate right to interfere in the environmental and labor practices of other countries, why wouldn't the Council be able to show that these practices were terrible, if they knew about them? What could they mean by "Precautionary Principle" in this context? That a government should have the right to impose ad hoc conditions against overseas companies, without understanding the consequences, and without being able to show any decent reasoning at all behind such actions?

          Creating organizations for production and trade requires a high level of investment. These are already risky endeavors. If governments can bring forth (as they have done in the past) laws that unjustifiably restrict trade, they can badly damage organizations for no fault of their own. What is the value of any contract, if you can be seen not to be breaking it, and still break it on flimsy grounds?

          And if you thought about it a bit more, you would see that adoption of this policy prescription would mean that there would be no need to make any law, as the governments could do anything they wished when they wished, without going through a process of checks and balances. Acceptance of such hypocritical statements has always led us to dictatorial governments, and the loss of millions of lives.

          Let us consider an example. What if the local government tomorrow decided that your house, that satisfies all possible standards, had to be demolished for safety reasons without mentioning any, and without giving you any recourse to the judiciary? Would you feel used or hurt? Would it be acceptable if those who did not own houses said that government should have such powers of "Precautionary Principle" to act on the side of caution? Would you call such non-house-owning people idealists, or hypocrites? This is the position taken by the Council. This is the position taken by extremist environmentalists. Are they idealists or just plain dishonest, destructive forces, cloaked in the politically correct garb of the day?

Exaggerations and lies

          Activist organizations like the Council of Canadians skew the truth and exaggerate the problems so much to support their agendas that it is difficult to know what is true, and what is not. Why not challenge instead all of these areas on the merits of their cases, by analyzing the issues in detail? We need environmentalist and social organizations that can provide well-analyzed, well-researched, well-balanced work so that we know where we stand and can take actions to improve our society, our world, and our environment. But lost in exaggerations and lies, the Council and many similar organizations have lost track of their declared objectives.


* This article is excerpted from a longer report on the Council of Canadians that is available on the author's Website.
1. See the US government's budget related documents at: