Since September 11, 2001, there has been an uneasy dialogue among Canadians as we ponder our position in the world, especially vis àvis the United States. Critically and painfully, we are re-examining ourselves and our government. We are even questioning our nation’s ability to retain its sovereignty.

The questions we should be asking ourselves are not new. Over the last 30 years, and particularly during the dreadful period of the early 1990’s, leading up to the Quebec referendum of 1995, inquiries and Royal commissions, one after another, studied the state of the country. What is new and unique is that eight years ago, a group of citizens looked at this parade of inquiries and commissions and said, “These don’t deal with the real issues.”




urc-side2They wondered how it was possible for a nation that was so promising and prosperous in the early 60’s to end up so confused, divided, and troubled. And they decided that what was needed was a different kind of investigation — driven from the grass roots “bottom,” and not from the top. Almost as a provocation, this group of people, most of whom were affiliated with the well – known documentary-maker Breakout Educational Network decided to do it for themselves — and so was born the underground royal commission (urc)!

It was a most ambitious undertaking, launching a wide-ranging investigation into the challenges facing Canada internally. The investigation would be as comprehensive as any government inquiry, but it would be a grass roots initiative driven by citizens determined to get at the “real” issues.

The underground royal commission’s (urc) inquiry began with seven young researchers straight out of university, accompanied by a television crew and producer, interviewing people from all walks of life across the country. Eventually, the research team would grow to 23 with hundreds of people being interviewed over the better part of a decade, at a cost of several million dollars. This enormous undertaking produced a unique national archive of interview footage, 14 hours of television documentaries, 16 published books of edited transcripts and commentary
and a multi-media university course.

What the underground royal commission uncovered was a wasteful and inefficient system of government largely lacking in accountability, regardless of subject, region of the country, level of administration, or political party in office. The people’s connection with government was weakening, and with it their ability to know and direct government – essentials of democracy. The researchers’ own experience demonstrated how difficult, in fact nearly impossible, it was for members of the public to track how tax dollars were being spent.


urc-link2Meanwhile, government was accumulating IOUs which could cripple future generations. Most alarming of all, the people were as responsible as anyone else for this state of affairs, failing to demand accountability and allowing their elected representatives to become “nobodies”.

For more on the story of Breakout Educational Network, click here.

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