|Centre on North American
Politics and Society
Session 2: Governance
As noted by
conference facilitator Jimena Jimenez, g[t]he term
governance conjures up many contradictions, tensions and
paradoxes inherent in processes of globalisation.
It signifies the search for order in the disorder, for
stability in turbulent times and for hope in despair.h
In this, North America is no exception, and the
participants were confronted with the daunting task of
how best to wind their ways through these uncertainties
and dangers, and articulate concrete proposals for their
individual communities, regions, countries and for North
America. Along this path, the participants were
asked to consider and discuss what kind of governance
actually exists in North America. Who defines it
and whose interests does it serve? Are current
NAFTA institutions sufficient to meet the challenges
posed by the economic integration promoted by corporate
interests? What are the proper roles and limits of
Government, of civil society, and of NGOs?
Guest Speaker: Prof. John D. Wirth (United States)
Opening the discussion on post-NAFTA governance, Professor John D. Wirth, President of the North American Institute, Sante Fe, identified the need for new mechanisms and methods of governance, the prerequisites and difficulties of their creation, and the possibilities as revealed through cross-border environmental considerations and demands. Prof. Wirth asserted that North America has embarked on a process of integration quite different from the EU model, and though regionally varied, deep enough to claim that we no longer have gforeign policyh as such. Echoing the opening words of Minister Axworthy, Prof. Wirth noted how the changes brought about through economic integration are outpacing the national and regional infrastructures necessary to deal with them. Yet, in spite of this there has been very little consideration given to what kind of integration we desire, let alone how to deal with the current and future consequences.
Addressing the changes wrought by economic integration, Prof. Wirth advised that we move beyond shallow, economic linkages, and develop deeper regional relationships in the spirit and hopes of a community. For this to occur, he suggested that greater attention must be given to issues of resource distribution and citizen involvement in the decision-making processes. He stressed that with any sort of development, we need to question how the benefits and costs are distributed in order to put in place mechanisms for just distribution, and consider how to forge appropriate public policy to deal with the costs. For public policy to advance in this direction, he is wary of government-business elites and their agendas, and advised that we need to take greater account of the necessary roles of NGOs and citizens. Noting the controversy surrounding the terms and practice of citizen participation, especially in Mexico, he maintained that we must enter into the process with trust, and not shy away from the challenges, as citizen participation is surely the way of the future.
that gthe environment knows no passport,h and cuts
across all issues, Prof. Wirth suggested to the
participants various ways in which environmental
challenges and opportunities present possibilities for a
more just form of governance which incorporates the
involvement and interests of social actors.
Celebrating environmental movements as exemplars of
active gsocial capital,h Prof. Wirth advised that
mechanisms such as the Commission on Environmental
Co-operation (CEC), typically known for their lack of
vision regarding citizen involvement, could be
strengthened through social capital and the greater
sharing and publicising of information. More
specifically, he asked the participants to consider the
feasibility of yearly environmental etaking-stockf
reports, which would help raise public awareness and
social pressure on governments, and the establishment of
Trans-border Environmental Impact Assessments to be
carried out for any project within 100 kilometres of a
Participant Presentations and Discussion
Continuing the focus on policy options and social action, participant presentations and discussions were led by Jorge Schiavon (Mexico), Shawn McClure (US), and Sylvain LeDuc (Canada). Perhaps due to the ambiguities hinted at above, the discussions surrounding questions of North American governance were far-reaching and difficult to conclude. In general, participants appeared to reach the consensus that current NAFTA institutions are insufficient to address the multiple challenges of growing integration. From this starting point, they questioned the implications of NAFTA for the political institutions and for citizenship in the three countries and the extent to which integration should be pursued; what institutions and actions are necessary, and how can we co-operate to confront these challenges?
Perhaps due to the overtly epoliticalf nature of the topic, questions of governance were conceptualised largely in bipolar terms; globalisation vs. parochialism, state vs. society, national vs. local, economic vs. political, and co-operation vs. conflict. Participants were virtually unanimous that while certain parallels could be drawn between NAFTA and the EU, North American and European Union are necessarily different, as are our collective and separate histories and cultures. This launched a discussion on the contestations between processes of globalisation and parochialism. Clearly, the experiences of North America suggest an increasingly co-operative system of governance, which although stretches and challenges notions of sovereignty, is a commitment distinct from globalisation. The participants went on to question the continued relevance of esovereigntyf as a concept and organising jurisdiction in the North American context, pointing to transportation as a good example of where gco-operation is more useful than sovereignty.h In this way, both globalisation and parochialism were abandoned for a more nuanced approach which sought to forge more eglobalf links without compromising local priorities.
But how to define the elocalf became another source of debate. In the North American context, should the local be understood to be the national level, or more specifically the community? The participants stressed that we are far more than eNorth Americans,f and still more than simply Mexicans, Americans and Canadians. Each country is comprised of diversities and linkages that defy easy categorisation. Policies and governing structures suitable for Utah or Mexico City, may prove inappropriate for Chiapas or Quebec, especially when considering such issues as political representation, resource usage and language. This resulted in the need for a discussion over the appropriate actors to represent these diverse interests. Should these actors be the state or society, government or civil society? While recognising gthe reality of political integration,h that seems to favour traditional political structures, the participants firmly asserted that North America, if it is to exist as a true community, must be built from the bottom-up, with the emphasis clearly and continuously on the people.
and contribute to governance of the people, the
participants stressed that integration must be recognised
as involving more than narrowly conceived economic
interests. Linkages between economics, politics,
culture, tradition, and the environment need to be
recognised at the personal level, demanding a
reconceptualisation of citizens as consumers within a
predominantly consumer society. For individuals and
communities to assume a greater role in North American
governance, they will need to recognise and assert the
complexities and strengths that give them political
Session & Session 1: Culture
3: Sustainable Development