in what critics say is a cheap
media ploy, the federal government will host a consultation with civil society groups at next week's Summit of the Americas.
To go or not to go is the question on the minds of many of the invitees. Some will attend, reasoning that a chance to have a word with the government can't be passed up. Others will boycott the event, fearing that the 90-minute meeting with federal ministers Pierre Pettigrew and John Manley inside the infamous wall around the conference site will be used by the feds to deflect attention from the protest march happening the same day.
"We took the position that it would not be appropriate for us to participate in a meeting inside the perimeter while thousands of others are being politically restrained outside," says Gerry Barr of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.
Barr contends that the government has hand-picked groups and left out others (the Council of Canadians, for example). "In an authentic consultation, you don't browse your partners and cherry-pick your discussants. You need to go to groups, ask them to deliberate themselves and provide discussants for you."
The Canadian Labour Congress has also decided to sit out the meeting. But Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come of the Assembly of First Nations will be there. AFN spokesperson Jean Larose says Coon Come also hopes to meet ministers and officials from other countries in Quebec City.
"Notwithstanding what the feds may be trying to do, if the national chief does have (those) meetings, obviously for him there is something to be gained."
Likewise, Amnesty International spokesperson John Tackaberry says his group's issue focus is human rights, not globalization, and it avails itself of any opportunity to influence government decision-making.
"There's a possibility of media manipulation, but if we are given a chance we raise our specific concerns (about human rights) -- fully cognizant of the fact that it might be misrepresented by some or used by others to try to deflect attention from other activities that are going on."
Among the other attendees will be Warren Allmand, the former maverick Liberal cabinet minister who now heads the federally funded Rights and Democracy. "His view on this is that he will not be used," says Diana Bronson, the group's globalization coodinator. "If the process is a sham, he'll come out and say the process is a sham."
So far, it's not clear what the return will be for those who dare desert their fellow marchers and enter the inner sanctum. The only confirmed ministers so far are Manley and Pettigrew. Eric Pelletier, a spokesperson for the official Summit organizers, says it won't be known until closer to the date of meeting exactly which civil society groups will take part, and whether any ministers from other countries will join Manley and Pettigrew on the podium. "We'll know that a bit farther along," he says.
Pelletier says the invite-only list was put together on the basis of who has been meeting with the government in advance of the Summit to offer input on issues such as building democracy in the hemisphere. He expects 40 to 60 representatives to attend.
The spat over the meeting is the latest in the battle to control media messages coming out of Quebec. The feds scored a big one this week when they announced that the negotiating text of the FTAA will be released -- after the Summit.