Forum on Society and the Economy

Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 36th Parliament,
Volume 138, Issue 47
Tuesday, April 11, 2000
The Honourable Gildas L. Molgat, Speaker

Hon. Douglas Roche: Honourable senators, a remarkable event took place yesterday on Parliament Hill. The Forum on Society and the Economy, the highlight of a two-year consultation initiated by the United Church of Canada, led by its moderator, the Reverend Bill Phipps, brought a faith perspective to issues of responsible economic and social policy. The purpose of the forum was to address the fundamental principles and values of social justice that should underlie economic and political decision-making at the individual, community and national levels.

Some of the values cited were mutuality, community, human dignity and solidarity, and inclusion. Contrast these values with the voices of the poor who were heard yesterday. The poor are growing in number, sinking ever lower in spite of a rapidly expanding economy, and are experiencing feelings of being blamed and excluded. In seeking the common good, the forum's participants stressed the desire to take their rightful place in setting the national agenda and holding their governments accountable.

This is a timely message coinciding, as it does, with the United Nations Secretary-General's Millennium Report entitled "We the Peoples," which calls for civil society to draw strength from acting together within common institutions based on shared rules and values to free the world's peoples from want and fear. In an era of globalization, people feel threatened by events both close and far away. They are also more aware of injustice and exclusion and expect states to take meaningful action.

Yesterday's message was loud and clear: People who seek change are abandoning political parties and processes. In fact, our colleague Senator Murray told the gathering that political institutions in Canada have eroded to the point of "irrelevancy". We must be concerned that active citizens are moving away from Canada's political process.

Honourable senators, as I listened to this group of religious and community leaders, one telling word reappeared throughout the day - hope. The forum's expressed disaffection with government has not marred its appetite for action and new ideas, even if it is only a crack in the wall. The group that made up yesterday's forum will not be silent. They want change.