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History Table of Contents
1998 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1998
Rethinking Canada for the 21st Century

The Canadian Essence: What will it mean to be
a Canadian in the 21st century?

John Kim Bell, President and Founder, The National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation

We’ve been asked to tell you our view of what’s going to happen in the 21st century all in five minutes, so I’ll have to be really quick.

I think change is the only constant in humanity, whatever age we’re in. And everything changes.

The question is not whether the bank mergers will happen, because whether they happen or not this time they will happen eventually, or whether our healthcare system will become a two-tiered system because it is already and it will be no matter what the politicians say. If it doesn’t happen this year or next year, it will happen. Everything is going to change

The question is not so much what is going to change, for me, but why is it changing and I look to the changing of the world’s systems. Of course, we’re all talking about globalization.

What’s happened is that capitalism, the only idealism which has been known to run [a] successful economy on this planet, has benefited really from the balance of other social systems. The social systems of fac, socialism and communism in a way helped capitalism along.

To illustrate that, I’ll draw your attention to the oil business. We always thought the OPEC nations produced the most oil but, in fact, the country that had the greatest capacity for oil production [but] never reached it was always Russia.

And Russia, a Communist country, didn’t produce much oil. It only produced what it needed internally. Never sold it outside of the Soviet Union. Didn’t sell it for very high prices inside the Soviet Union, but their capacity to produce oil was always the greatest — and is the greatest — in the world.

Now they’re moving toward capitalism they create a new competitor which impinges upon the world markets of the other capitalistic societies. So they’re creating a great stress on us.

The same is true for the wheat business. The greatest variety of wheat is produced in the old Soviet Union and they can bring it to market more cheaply, because they have an extensive system of rivers. And our Canadian Wheat Board is really suffering about this. This year the first Russian wheat came to Canada; 30,000 tons came in on the St. Lawrence River, near my reserve.

Anyway, what’s happening is that capitalism is under great stress and in 30 years capitalism has lost 60 per cent of its momentum. The growth of capitalism on a world basis, after correcting for inflation, has been reduced by 60 per cent in 30 years. And that is because more people are converting to democracy and more people are converting to capitalism and with the collapse of communism the Soviet Union and other countries must covert to capitalism.

Now, it’s going to take them 40 years or 50 years, but as a result we’re all scrambling to find new markets. So, we have all reached capacity and that is why mergers and acquisitions are so popular right now. Mergers are the only way we can achieve new capacity.

The positive side of this is [that] there’s a lot of money to be made and that corporations grow to become monopolies and monopolies grow to become oligopolies.

But the down side is it’s eroding all sense of nationalism on our social safety nets. As an example, governments the world over are cutting education. And the reason why they’re cutting education is because you as a corporate society now — you have your head office in Mississauga and you have plant in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s a very corporatist country and there’s lots of people with higher education there; lots of people with MBAs in Indonesia and the country’s building huge industrial parks for our North American companies to put manufacturing plants there.

But a person with an MBA would only make $300 a month in Indonesia and why would a Canadian company want to pay someone $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 a year, when you can pay someone $300 a month who is better educated, who works six days a week.

This is the erosion that’s happening.

It is kind of a social deflation that’s happening, because while the corporations are getting bigger, while growth is happening internally at two per cent a year, or whatever the figure is, the truth of the matter is that more and more people in this country are going to prison, there’s a greater chasm between the rich and the poor, which is only going to be exacerbated as this continues, because no one single country can really address these issues because globalization is such a big system that’s emerging.

The obvious one is the environment. Which countries can afford to cut back on polluting because none of the other countries will. There’s no mechanism which will enforce it.

So, I see that globalism has the potential for great growth at the same time it has great potential for great devastation in terms of a lot of systems.

What happens to all the people who are under-educated in this country when you can hire such cheap labour anywhere else?

I think [that’s] the real question; not that globalization isn’t good, it’s going to happen and we just have to embrace it . What I think what is happening is that it is a corporatist agenda and their agenda is to make money. Their agenda is to make money; their agenda is not to worry and determine what will happen to Canada.

And I think that’s the agenda of the people and the governments to look after.