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The G20 Montreal Ministerial Meeting:
Civil Society

Christine Lucyk
G8 Research Group
Montreal, October 25, 2000

The anti-globalization protests outside of the Sheraton Centre where the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors met in Montreal on October 24 and 25, 2000, were yet another reminder that many are watching for the G20, G8, the World Trade Organization, and other global organizations to deliver the broad-based improvements that are the hallmarks of a civil society. As at the recent meetings of the International Monetary Fund in Prague, the protesters were welcomed because their presence heightened awareness on poverty and indebtedness - issues on which both sides agree in substance, but do not agree on the need for violent protests. The Montreal protests were more modest in scale than most meetings of other global organizations, perhaps because the G20 countries represent over 60% of the world's poor, compared to the so-called usual club of rich nations.

Canada's finance minister Paul Martin had met with some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the weeks preceding the G20 meeting in an effort to understand their issues and put them into the context of the G20 agenda and objectives. For their part, the protesters present themselves as guardians for the struggle of life and democratic institutions. Their protests were limited by the use of police barricades, mounted officers, and, in limited instances, pepper spray.

The stated objectives of the G20 are to achieve sustained and broad-based improvements in living standards through the mechanisms of globalization, including liberalized trade, market access for exports, financial management, and openness to technological change and innovation. Key to many of these initiatives are international standards and codes to reduce or prevent money laundering, illegal siphoning of funds from national treasuries, and huge spending on arms and defence in lieu of programs to alleviate poverty, improve health, and increase access to education. Transparency, integrity, and accountability are also essential in order to monitor activities that ensure the benefits of globalization are realized, while reducing the negative impacts that will slow the pace of achieving a more democratic and civil society.

Changes of the magnitude required to achieve a civil society, even among the poorer members of the G20, let alone the greater number of poverty-ridden nations in the world, will not happen overnight. Many NGOs provide a useful pressure point on the deliberations and progress of the G20. The question, however, is the extent to which civil disobedience is required, rather than increased dialogue.

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