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Mel Watkins (born 1932) is a Canadian political economist and activist. He is professor emeritus of economics and political science at the University of Toronto. He was a founder and co-leader with James Laxer of the Waffle, a left wing political formation within the New Democratic Party that advocated an "independent socialist Canada" and Canadian nationalism.
His political activity followed his work heading up the federal government's Task Force on Foreign Ownership and the Structure of Canadian Investment, which investigated the impact of growing American control of the Canadian economy. Striking this task force of economists had been urged upon the Pearson government by former Liberal finance minister Walter L. Gordon. The "Watkins Report", as it was widely known, was issued in 1968 and recommended strict regulation of foreign investment in Canada, particularly foreign ownership of Canadian businesses and resources. Its findings led to the establishment of the Canada Development Corporation to help facilitate greater Canadian ownership as well as the Foreign Investment Review Agency to regulate foreign ownership.
Watkins' concern for Canadian economic sovereignty led him to join others in 1969 to found the Waffle, which issued a Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada calling for increased public ownership of the economy as a means of securing Canadian independence from the United States, as well as establishing social and economic equity. The group was essentially expelled from the NDP in 1972 and while Watkins supported the group's attempt to form a new left-wing political party, the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada, his interest and involvement waned, particularly when he left to spend time in the far north to investigate the living conditions of the aboriginal Dene people.
After the collapse of the Waffle in 1974, Watkins spent most of his time teaching and writing. He eventually rejoined the NDP, and ran as its candidate in Beachesâ€”East York in the 1997 and 2000 federal elections. He placed second on both occasions behind Liberal Maria Minna.
Watkins supported the New Politics Initiative, which was formed in 2001 to attempt to convince the NDP to join with social movements to found a new left wing party. He has retired from academia and moved to Constance Bay in eastern Ontario, where he continues to write a column for This Magazine and pieces for other publications. He is a Board-member of and regular contributor to the online newsmagazine Straight Goods.
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