For Peace Workers: 10 Lessons from a Foreign Take-Over Campaign

On April 10, 2008, Industry Minister Jim Prentice announced that he would use his authority under the Investment Canada Act to prevent a foreign takeover of Canada’s iconic Canadarm and remote sensing radar satellite from falling into U.S. and the Pentagon’s complete control. MPs from all parties, editorialists, former military leaders, employees, scientists and space experts, nationalists and peace advocates opposed the sale. It was an epic battle that we won, and kept a Canadian icon from falling into the hands of an awful American weapons company, ATK.

1. With odds of 10,000:1 of stopping a foreign take-over, we actually envisioned winning, and this guided our work.

2. Influencing a decision requires fully understanding how the decision is made and who is responsible for making it. Our legal analysis and contacts with experts not only ensured that we had a good understanding of the law, but also helped us predict how the bureaucracy would respond to different interventions.

3. The satellite played a key role in fulfilling the government’s priorities of defending Canada’s national security and Arctic sovereignty, and therefore the sale conflicted with the Conservative Party’s traditional free enterprise principles. The result was that the pro-U.S. free trade and defence lobbies were largely silent, and left political space for nationalist and progressive voices to dominate the debate in opposition to the deal.

4. We understood the influence that individuals can have over a decision such as the Industry Minister, plus Art Hanger, Scott Brison, Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash.

5. Never underestimate the ability of the party with the fewest parliamentary seats to put progressive issues on the political agenda. The NDP, especially MP Peggy Nash, brought about the first committee hearings on the sale that woke up Parliament to the deal that had

been moving along practically unopposed for weeks. The Industry Committee quickly became a key battleground for the deal, dragging it from the backrooms into the open.

6. Once raised, progressive issues must also find champions in other political parties to enliven the debate. Common interest of Bloc Québécois and Liberals delivered enough votes in committee to keep it on the agenda, and meant that questions in Question Period about the deal came from all corners of the House.

7. ‘Going legal’ is often seen as a last-step expensive measure to win a campaign when all else has failed. But in this case, a legal opinion gave us an effective political and communications tool, raising the question of who would control RADARSAT-2 after the sale: the Canadian or the U.S. government?

8. Intelligence-gathering is crucial in developing and implementing campaign strategies that outmanoeuvre your opponents. In this case, several individuals with experience stepped forward to assist our efforts and helped us even the odds against and the much wealthier,  powerful, but poorly-informed opponent.

9. Understanding the issue from a financial standpoint helps us to better understand the economic motivations and special interests influencing the corporation and the government. Our financial analysis exposed weaknesses behind the deal’s backing, such as creditors and lending institutions, which had timelines and demands of their own.

10. Each small victory creates big opportunities for progressive change. The collective decision removed the taboo of governments blocking foreign take-overs. It raised public expectations, disempowered our opponents, and created the political space for further achievements.

Steven Staples, Public Response, Ottawa, Ontario.

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