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New book provides real understanding of Rwandan tragedy

The Rwandan genocide — think you know the story?

Deep-seated ethic enmity erupted in a 100-day genocidal rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

In Rwanda and the new scramble for Africa Robin Philpot demolishes this version of history.

Philpot points out that while the official story begins April 6, 1994, any serious investigation must go back to at least October 1, 1990. On that day an army of mostly exiled Tutsi elite invaded Rwanda. The Ugandan government claimed 4,000 of its troops “deserted” to invade (including the defence minister and head of intelligence). This unbelievable explanation has largely been accepted since Washington and London backed Uganda’s aggression.

More than 90 per cent Tutsi, the RPF could never have gained power democratically in a country where only 15 per cent of the population was Tutsi. Even military victory looked difficult until International Monetary Fund economic adjustments and Western-promoted political reforms weakened the Rwandan government.

The RPF also benefited from the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) dispatched to keep the peace. According to Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of UNAMIR, “He [UNAMIR commander General Romeo Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian Hutu President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. A French judge pointed the finger at Paul Kagame and the RPF. But the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Canadian Louise Arbour refused to investigate evidence implicating the RPF. When the ICTR prosecutor who took over from Arbour, Carla del Ponte, did look at the RPF’s role in shooting down Habyarimana’s plane the British and Americans had her removed.

Habyarimana’s assassination sparked mass killings (but no planned genocide, according to the ICTR). Five days after Habyarimana’s death an internal US memorandum warned of “hundreds of thousands of deaths,” but Philpot notes, “even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops.”

UNAMIR would have blocked the RPF from capturing Kigali, something Washington supported to undermine French influence and to improve the prospects of North American companies in the nearby mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Rarely heard in Canada, Philpot’s version of events aligns with that of former UN head Boutros Boutros-Ghali, civilian head of UNAMIR Jacques-Roger Booh Booh and many French investigators. Presumably, many Rwandans’ also agree but it’s hard to know as Paul Kagame ruthlessly suppresses opponents, regularly labeling them génocidaire.

Ottawa has supported this witch-hunt. Philpot points to the example of a former Rwandan prime minister denied a Canadian visa: “The Prime Minister of the government that supposedly ended the genocide had now become a génocidaire. Canada had already received Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramngu with all honours in December 1994 when he was looking for funding to rebuild Rwanda under the RPF. Either Canada’s institutional memory is short and selective or, more likely, the country has a policy of supporting the RPF government at all costs.”

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding the Rwandan tragedy and countering those who cite it to justify Western military interventions.

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Our shame: Canada supported apartheid South Africa

It’s enough to make one who knows even a little history gag.

The death of Nelson Mandela has led to an outpouring of vapid commentary about Canada’s supposed role in defeating South African Apartheid. “Canada helped lead international fight against Apartheid”, noted a Toronto Star headline while a National Post piece declared, “Canada’s stance against apartheid helped bring freedom to South Africa.”

Notwithstanding this self-congratulatory revisionism, Canada mostly supported apartheid in South Africa. First, by providing it with a model. South Africa patterned its policy towards Blacks after Canadian policy towards First Nations. Ambiguous Champion explains, “South African officials regularly came to Canada to examine reserves set aside for First Nations, following colleagues who had studied residential schools in earlier parts of the century.”

Canada also supported South African apartheid through a duplicitous policy of publicly opposing the country’s racist system yet continuing to do business as usual with this former British Dominion. It’s true that in 1961 John Diefenbaker’s Conservative government called for South Africa to be expelled from the British Commonwealth. But this position was not a moral rebuke of apartheid. “Nothing has been more constant in Diefenbaker’s approach than his search for a tolerable way of averting South Africa’s withdrawal,” commented an External Affairs official at the 1961 Commonwealth meeting where South Africa left the organization. Diefenbaker pushed for South Africa’s exclusion in an attempt to save the Commonwealth. The former British colonies — notably in South Asia and Africa — threatened to leave the Commonwealth if South Africa stayed. This would have been the death of the British Empire’s Commonwealth. Diefenbaker’s lack of principled opposition to apartheid helps explain his refusal to cancel the 1932 Canada-South Africa trade agreement.

Sentenced to life in prison in 1964, Mandela, joined 1,500 black political activists languishing in South African jails. In June 1964 NDP leader Tommy Douglas told the House of Commons: “Nelson Mandela and seven of his associates have been found guilty of contravening the apartheid laws … [I] ask the Prime Minister if he will make vigorous representation to the government of South Africa urging that they exercise clemency in this case”? Lester Pearson responded that the “eight defendants … have been found guilty on charges of sabotage and conspiracy … While the matter is still sub judice [before the courts] it would, I believe, be improper for the government to make any public statement on the verdict or on the possible sentences.” This author found no follow up comment by Pearson regarding Mandela.

Widely viewed as a progressive internationalist, Pierre Trudeau’s government (1968-1984) sympathized with the apartheid regime not the black liberation movement or nascent Canadian solidarity groups. Throughout Trudeau’s time in office, Canadian companies were heavily invested in South Africa, enjoying the benefits of cheap black labour.  In October 1982 the Trudeau government delivered 4.91 percent of the votes that enabled Western powers to gain a slim 51.9 percent majority in support of South Africa’s application for a billion-dollar IMF credit. Sixty-eight IMF members opposed the loan as did 121 countries in a nonbinding vote at the U.N. General Assembly. Five IMF executive directors said South Africa did not meet the standards of conditionality imposed on other borrowers. The Canadian minister of finance justified support for the IMF loan claiming that “the IMF must be careful … not to be accused of meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign states.” A few months later, Ottawa opposed IMF funding for Vietnam because of its occupation of Cambodia (largely to stop the Khmer Rouge’s killing).

Officially, the Trudeau government supported the international arms embargo against South Africa. But his government mostly failed to enforce it. As late as 1978 Canadian-government financed weapons continued to make their way to South Africa. Canadair (at the time a Crown company) sold the apartheid regime amphibious water bombers, which according to the manufacturer, were useful “particularly in internal troop-lift operations.” (The official buyer was the South African forestry department.) In the early 1970s the Montréal Gazette discovered that the RCMP trained South African police in “some sort of liaison or intelligence gathering” instruction.

Supporters of apartheid would say anything to slow opposition to this cruel system. At a 1977 Commonwealth meeting, Trudeau dodged press questions on post-Soweto South Africa suggesting that Idi Amin’s brutal regime in Uganda should be discussed along with southern Africa. For its part, the Globe and Mail argued in 1982 that “disinvestment would be unwittingly an ally of apartheid” since foreign investment brought progressive ideas.

After decades of protest by Canadian unions, churches, students and others, Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government finally implemented economic sanctions on South Africa in 1986. The Conservatives only moved after numerous other countries had already done so. “The record clearly shows”, notes Ambiguous Champion, “that the Canadian government followed rather than led the sanctions campaign.” Unlike Canada, countries such as Norway, Denmark New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina also cut off diplomatic ties to South Africa. Even U.S. sanctions, due to an activist Congress, were tougher than those implemented by Ottawa.

From October 1986 to September 1993, the period in which economic sanctions were in effect, Canada’s two-way trade with South Africa totaled $1.6 billion — 44 percent of the comparable period before sanctions (1979-1985). Canadian imports from South Africa averaged $122 million a year during the sanctions period.

Canada did business with the apartheid regime and opposed the liberation movements. Ottawa’s relationship with the African National Congress (ANC) was initially one of hostility and then ambivalence.

Canada failed to recognize the ANC until July 1984 and then worked to moderate their direction. In an August 1987 letter to the Toronto Star, Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Clark explained the government’s thinking: “Canada has been able to develop a relationship of trust with the … African National Congress that it is hoped has helped to strengthen the hand of black moderates.”

With apartheid’s end on the horizon, Ottawa wanted to guarantee that an ANC government would follow pro-capitalist policy, contrary to the wishes of many of its supporters. The man in charge of External Affairs’ South African Taskforce said that Ottawa wanted an early IMF planning mission to the country to ensure that the post-apartheid government would “get things right” from the start. One author noted: “The Canadian state has entered fully in the drive to open South Africa to global forces and to promote the interests of the private sector.”

Ottawa’s policy towards apartheid South Africa was controversial among Canadians. There was an active solidarity movement that opposed Canadian support for the racist regime and to the extent that Canadian politicians played a role in challenging South African apartheid it was largely due to their efforts.

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Inequality grows as CEOs blackmail the rest of us

Last week in Switzerland big money staved off an important challenge to big paychecks. But the sentiment that spurred a Swiss effort to tie executive compensation to common workers’ wages will not be defeated so easily.

A Sunday ago Swiss voters said no to a referendum question that would have capped executive compensation at 12 times the lowest paid worker in the firm. After gaining over 130,000 signatures to put the question to voters, proponents of the initiative were overwhelmed by a flood of money claiming a ‘yes’ vote would drive companies away. Early polls found 46% of the Swiss public opposed to the 12:1 pay measure but with opponents spending up to 50 times more than the ‘yes’ campaign, 65% ultimately voted ‘no’.

According to supporters of the measure, the average Swiss CEO made 43 times the average wage in 2011, up from six times in 1984. A number of top Swiss CEOs make more than 200 times their employees’ wage.

But Switzerland’s CEO-to-worker pay differential appears socialistic compared to North America’s. After the US, Canada has the second highest CEO-to-worker pay ratio. Last year, for instance, the CEO of BCE, George Cope, received $11.1-million in compensation. This staggering sum is nearly 200 times more than what a Bell Canada technician in Toronto makes and 2,000 times the pay of an Indian call-centre worker who responds to Bell customers.

Despite making 200 times the average industrial wage, Cope was not the best-paid executive in Canada. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ summary of Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs in 2011, the $11.1 million Cope made in 2012 would have placed him just off the top 15. Incredibly, the CEO of Canadian Pacific, Hunter Harrison, took home four and a half times Cope’s pay.

In recent years the difference between regular employees’ pay and CEO compensation has grown rapidly. A recent Globe and Mail survey found that ratio has reached 122-1 at Canada’s biggest firms, up from an average of 84-1 a decade ago. Using a different set of data, the CCPA and AFL-CIO put the Canadian CEO-to-worker pay ratio significantly higher.

As a flagrant symbol of growing inequality, executive pay is increasingly facing political challenge. While the 12:1 initiative was defeated, in March more than two-thirds of Swiss voters supported a referendum question requiring companies to give shareholders a binding annual vote on executives’ pay, while outlawing bonuses to executives joining or leaving a business or as part of a takeover. Similarly, some EU officials have suggested that shareholders should be given the right to vote on the ratio between a company’s best and worst paid workers.

The French government took office last year saying it would limit executive salaries at state-controlled companies to a maximum of 20 times that of the lowest-paid employees and on Wednesday Ontario New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath called for the salaries of CEO’s at the province’s hospitals, electrical utilities and other public sector agencies to be capped at $418,000, twice the premier’s annual salary.

Politicians should legislate a maximum pay differential between the best and worst paid workers in all companies. How about a ratio of 20 times that’s steadily reduced over time?

It may be difficult, but I’m sure CEOs like Bell’s George Cope could learn to cope on a million bucks a year.

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Harper raising funds for racist organization

At the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will help raise funds for an organization that practices discriminatory land use policies long outlawed in this country.

In a first for a sitting prime minister, Harper will address the 100-year-old Jewish National Fund of Canada. While it is illegal to restrict the sale of property to certain ethnic or religious groups in Canada, the JNF does just that in Israel.

Into the 1950s restrictive land covenants in many exclusive neighborhoods and communities across Canada made it impossible for Jewish, Black, Chinese, Aboriginal and others peoples deemed to be non-“white” to buy property.

It was not until after the Second World War that these policies began to be successfully challenged in court.

In 1948, Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish.

During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property contained the following clause: “The lands and premises herein described shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased, rented or in any manner whatsoever alienated to, and shall never be occupied or used in any manner whatsoever by any person of the Jewish, Negro or coloured race or blood, it being the intention and purpose of the Grantor, to restrict the ownership, use, occupation and enjoyment of the said recreational development, including the lands and premises herein described, to persons of the white or Caucasian race.”

Noble and Wolf tried to get the court to declare the restriction invalid but they were opposed by the Beach O’Pines Protective Association. Both a Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist covenant.

But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a six-to-one decision the highest court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property.

The publicity surrounding the case prompted Ontario to pass a law voiding racist land covenants.

In 2009 the federal Conservative government defined the Noble and Wolf vs. Alley Supreme Court case “an event of national historic significance” in the battle “for human rights and against discrimination on racial and religious grounds in Canada.”

Six decades after the Supreme Court delivered this blow to racist property covenants, our Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be promoting a charity that discriminates in land use.

A 1998 United Nations Human Rights Council report found that the JNF systematically discriminates against Arab citizens of Israel — who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population.

According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

More recently, the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted: “Approximately 93 percent of land [Israel] was in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 percent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization.

In May 2002, JNF Canada’s executive director for eastern Canada, Mark Mendelson, explained: “We are trustees between world Jewry and the land of Israel.”

JNF Canada’s head Frank A. Wilson echoed this statement in July 2009: “JNF are the caretakers of the Land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world.”

The JNF’s bylaws and operations are clearly incompatible with Canadian law concerning racist property covenants.

Yet JNF Canada, which raises about $8 million annually, is a registered charity in this country. As such, it can provide tax credits for donations, meaning that up to 40 percent of their budget effectively comes from public coffers.

Does Stephen Harper support racist land use policies?

 

 

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The real story about Canada’s role in Haiti

Step one for everyone trying to make the world a better place should be listening to those they wish to help.

This is certainly true in the case of Haiti, a long-time target of Canadian ‘aid’. But, while Haitians continue to criticize Ottawa’s role in their country, few Canadians bother to pay attention.

After Uruguay announced it was withdrawing its 950 troops from the United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti last month, Moise Jean-Charles, took aim at the countries he considers most responsible for undermining Haitian sovereignty. The popular senator from Haiti’s north recently told Haiti Liberté:

Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay are not the real occupiers of Haiti. The real forces behind Haiti’s [UN administered] military occupation — the powers which are putting everybody else up to it — are the U.S., France, and Canada, which colluded in the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’etat against President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide. It was then they began trampling Haitian sovereignty.”

For the vast majority of Canadians, Jean-Charles’ comment probably sounds like the ramblings of a crazy person. When the media in this country focuses on Haiti, it is typically to highlight Canadian aid projects. Yet, here is one of Haiti’s most popular politicians telling the press (and audiences throughout South America) that Canada helped overthrow its elected government and continues to undermine its sovereignty.

Jean-Charles’ opinion is not uncommon in Haiti. Since Aristide’s government was overthrown in February 2004, Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté newspapers have described Canada as an “occupying force,” “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times. Haiti’s left-wing weeklies have detailed Ottawa’s role in planning the coup; destabilizing the elected government; building a repressive Haitian police force; justifying politically motivated arrests and killings; militarizing post-earthquake disaster relief; pushing the exclusion of Haiti’s most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, from participating in elections.

While the above-mentioned information has been copiously detailed in Haitian newspapers, as well as English-language books, reports and left-media, Canada’s dominant media rarely critically discusses this country’s role in Haiti. During Montréal’s recent municipal election, for instance, the media largely ignored the eventual winner’s role in undermining Haitian democracy and justifying repression. Aside from a piece in the Montréal Media Co-op by Dru Oja Jay, no media seems to have discussed Denis Coderre’s previous position as Prime Minister Paul Martin’s point person on Haiti.

Will the dominant media also ignore the 10-year anniversary of the coup? Without pressure it is likely, even though the date remains a potent political symbol.

Haiti continues to be occupied by the UN force brought by the U.S./France/Canada military invasion to overthrow Aristide. And that UN force’s neglect for Haitian life has led to an ongoing cholera outbreak that has left 8,500 dead and nearly 700,000 ill.

At the electoral level, the party Ottawa helped overthrow, Fanmi Lavalas, continues to be excluded from participating in elections. This has been to the benefit of Haiti’s notoriously corrupt political class, including current president Michel Martelly, who is unlikely to have won a fair election (and is facing growing protests calling on him to resign).

It is clear that Martelly does not have the legitimacy or the credibility to lead the country,” Senator Jean-Charles told this week’s Haiti Liberté after 10,000- 50,000 took to the streets of Port-au-Price. “We are asking the Americans, French, and Canadians to come and collect their errand boy because he cannot lead the country any more.”

On February 28, 2014 tens of thousands are likely to hit the streets across Haiti to once again express their rejection of the U.S./France/Canada coup. Is any major news agency in this country prepared to mark the occasion by telling Canadians what their government has done over the past decade to undermine Haitian sovereignty and democracy?

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CETA is more than a trade deal and not in a good way

Since announcing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) three weeks ago, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have repeatedly labelled those questioning the deal as “anti-trade.” But this Canada-European Union accord is one part trade and four parts corporate bill of rights.

While the government has promoted the part of the agreement that would eliminate 98 per cent of all tariffs, this masks the fact that these are already low (or non-existent) on most goods traded between Canada and the EU. A Royal Bank report released last week notes that mining, oil and gas products represent 45 per cent of Canada’s exports to the EU and most of these materials already enter the EU duty free.

On combined bilateral trade of $85 billion a year, EU exporters currently pay $670 million in tariffs while Canadian producers pay only $225 million in duties. To put this sum into perspective, eliminating all current Canada-EU tariff payments will barely cover the increased drug costs caused by another part of the agreement. The extension of Canadian patents under CETA is expected to drive up already high pharmaceutical drug costs in this country by between $850 million and $1.65 billion a year, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study. In other words, Harper’s Conservatives are proposing to add a billion dollars or more to the cost of our health care system, in return for a cut of less than $900 million in tariffs, most of which will benefit European producers. Is this really a good deal for ordinary Canadians?

And, one might ask, what does extending patents have to do with free trade? In fact, as a type of monopoly, patents stifle competition, which is supposed to be a pillar of free trade ideology. Of course the powerful brand-name drugmakers pushing the patent extension are more interested in increasing their profits than economic theory.

Another part of CETA that has little to do with expanding free trade is the investor state dispute settlement process. Modelled after the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Chapter 11, this aspect of the accord will give corporations based in Canada and the EU the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. The Conservatives pushed for an investor state dispute process in CETA even though there’s been a growing international backlash to these type of accords and under NAFTA’s investor dispute process Canada currently faces more than $2 billion in lawsuits.

A number of other CETA provisions also strengthen investors’ rights to the detriment of democracy. For example, the agreement gives multinational corporations unprecedented rights to bid on public contracts. This will weaken provincial and municipal agencies ability to buy local and pursue other environmental and socially minded policies.

Concurrently, the accord makes it more difficult to set up new publicly operated social services. For instance, a municipality unhappy with private water delivery could face a suit if they tried to remunicipalize (or de-privatize) this service.

CETA also locks in reforms to the Telecommunications Act buried in last year’s 450-page omnibus budget. The Conservatives’ changes allow foreign-controlled corporations to buy a majority stake in telecommunications companies holding up to 10 per cent of the Canadian market (and then grow without limit from there). Under the banner of “free trade,” CETA will make it extremely difficult for a future Canadian government to reverse recent reforms to the Telecommunications Act. This is just one more example of the Conservatives sneaking through their ideological agenda without proper, transparent debate in Parliament.

Recently International Trade Minister Ed Fast told the House of Commons that “the NDP remains beholden, both financially and organizationally, to the big union bosses and anti-trade activist groups.” For his part, Harper told the press that “ideological opposition to free trade in Canada is really, today, part of a very small part of the political spectrum — a very small and extreme part — and for that reason I think you will find very few Canadians who are opposed in principle to having a free-trade agreement with Europe.”

Yes, few Canadians oppose trade with Europe “in principle,” but CETA is only partly about trade. The deal mostly benefits multinational corporations and it isn’t “anti-trade” to say so.

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What would a people’s trade agreement look like?

What would a trade agreement intended to benefit all Canadians look like?

This is of more than academic concern right now as the Harper Conservative government will eventually unveil the full details of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

From what we know about it now this agreement is little more than a ‘corporate bill of rights’. It gives corporations even more power to shift investment as they see fit and directly strengthens their interests in everything from public procurement to patent laws.

The one-sidedly pro-corporate nature of the agreement reflects the power that corporations yield over discussions of international trade. Despite the corporate world’s current stranglehold over international economic decisions, a here and now People’s Alternative to CETA is feasible.

To protect multinationals from the scourge of “discriminatory” government policies, CETA includes an investor-state dispute settlement process. This will give corporations based in Canada and the EU a new supranational tool to sue governments for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making.

But rather than giving even more power to the top 0.1% richest people in the world, who are the investor class, an economic accord driven by a People’s Alternative would set up a labour-state dispute settlement process. In these tribunals workers could sue governments that fail to force employers to abide by labour law and International Labour Organization statutes.

CETA also gives multinational corporations unprecedented rights to bid on public contracts. In a bid to create a “level playing field” for multinationals in public procurement, the agreement will weaken provincial and municipal agencies ability to “buy local” and pursue other environmental and socially minded policies.

Instead of undermining public agencies’ ability to pursue ecological and social goals when tendering contracts, a progressive economic accord would prod firms to follow the highest ecological and social standards within the trading area. A People’s Alternative would give priority to firms that cut their carbon emissions in line with the stronger levels mandated by the EU. It would also prioritize companies that establish works councils, which give workers some formal voice in the operation of the firm and are common throughout Europe.

Under CETA Canada will lengthen the time drugs remain under patent, which is expected to drive up already high Canadian pharmaceutical drug costs by more than $850 million a year. Instead of extending Canadian patent laws to more closely reflect Europe’s rules, why not harmonize daycare programs to reflect the best of the trading area?

Most European countries provide public day care services, which have both costs and benefits to the economy. According to the logic that says trading partners are supposed to be on similar economic footing, it makes as much sense to standardize daycare systems as it does patent rules.

Another argument presented to justify extending patents is that it will lead to more research and development taking place in Canada. But, over the long-term, publicly funded day care would better accomplish this objective. Particularly beneficial to the intellectual development of poor kids, quality public day care increases the likelihood that disadvantaged children will be successful in school and contribute to future innovation.

With the corporate perspective so thoroughly dominating public debates on international trade it can be difficult for critics to do anything more than oppose the current policy direction. But when we disentangle the “economy” from what’s good for corporations a pro-people international economic accord is entirely feasible.

If we enjoyed real democracy, our governments would consult the people about their priorities in trade agreements.

If we lived in an economic system of one-person-one-vote, rather than the one-dollar-one-vote corporate system we have today, trade would flourish but trade agreements would look much different. They would be concerned with benefiting ordinary people, not just the already wealthy and powerful.

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Conservatives, capitalists and more

The Harper Conservatives have forcefully championed the interests of international investors and corporations, but it has not been enough for the “greed is good” business pundits who earn their living pimping the interests of the rich and powerful.

Last November a Canadian Business headline asked “Is Canada closed to foreign investment?” while more recently there’s been a number of apoplectic commentaries about Ottawa blocking an Egyptian billionaire from acquiring Winnipeg-based MTS Allstream on national security grounds.

In a particularly hyperbolic column the National Post‘s Andrew Coyne complained: “investors in this country should be on notice. Their assets are protected by neither law nor policy, but are vulnerable to whatever whim or grudge crosses the government’s mind. They may be confiscated, in whole or in part, at any time and for any reason. Or, indeed, for no reason.”

Coyne can’t be serious. Anyone who pays even cursory attention to the news knows that the Conservative government is an unabashed supporter of corporations and foreign investors. Their policy moves designed to favour those interests are many.

The Conservatives have slashed environmental oversight; attacked workers and labour unions; opened Canada’s telecommunications sector up to majority foreign ownership; tripled the financial threshold at which point the federal government must do a “net benefit” test of a foreign corporate takeover. On the international stage they’ve done almost everything possible to support Canada’s huge mining industry.

The Conservatives established diplomatic relations with a country simply to advance mining interests (Mongolia), signed a free trade agreement largely to protect Canadian miningcompanies (Peru) and obstructed international efforts to reschedule a poor country’s foreign debt after the government revoked a Canadian company’s concession (the Congo).

They’ve also ploughed tens of millions of “aid” dollars into supporting controversial mining projects and were recently caught spying on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry in an apparent bid to aid the many Canadian resource companies active in that country. Partly to protect Canadian mining investments in Africa and Latin America, the Conservatives have gone on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) signing spree. They’ve already concluded five FIPAs’ this year and are negotiating with another 12 countries.

Modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Chapter 11 investor state dispute process, all these FIPAs’ give corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in private investor-friendly tribunals for lost profits. But the Canada China FIPA signed last year is particularly onerous.

Once adopted, future governments will be locked into the accord for a whopping 31 years. With only slight hyperbole Leadnow.ca explains: “If FIPA passes, China’s companies can take over Canadian resources and then sue Canadian governments in secret, if the government does anything that threatens the company’s profits.”

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) the Conservatives have negotiated with the European Union is an even bigger sop to international investors. The Council of Canadians’ trade campaigner Stuart Trew points out: “if ever cancelled by either party CETA’s investment protections would live on like a zombie for 20 years, five years longer than in the [China] FIPA.”

While the final text of the accord has yet to be made public, leaked negotiating documents suggest it was the Conservatives who pushed the EU for an investor state dispute settlement process in CETA. The Ontario NDP claims: “The inclusion of an investor-to-state dispute settlement process in CETA is, in fact, one of Canada’s only requests in the negotiations.”

The Conservatives pushed for an investor state dispute process even though there’s been a growing backlash to these highly undemocratic accords. Recently Australia, India, South Africa and many Latin American countries have all stopped signing investor state treaties or are revising existing ones.

The Conservatives also don’t seem to care that Canada has been sued more than any industrialized country under investor state accords. The federal government is currently facing over $2 billion in outstanding lawsuits under NAFTA’s investor dispute process.

In one example, Indianapolis based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced a “Notice of Arbitration” that it will sue Canada for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated its patent for the ADHD drug Strattera and antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.

The courts found that Eli Lilly’s drugs failed to fulfill the promises the company made when the patents were filed and thus invalidated them. Washington-based Public Citizen explains: “[Eli Lilly] presumes to declare what Canada’s standard of patentability policy should be — that Canada must issue a patent and allow a drug firm to charge monopoly prices if an invention simply claims utility without demonstrating it. This is a critical point: Eli Lilly is asking the NAFTA investor-state tribunal to award compensation for a violation of its investor rights because Canada enforced its patentability standards, even though the underlying NAFTA provisions covering patents provide signatory countries flexibility to determine their own substantive standards for patentability.”

Clearly, big business has gotten almost everything it has wanted from Harper’s Conservatives. What should we learn from the fact that it still pushes for more? Perhaps a simple truth about capitalism: There is never enough profit.

Everyone who understands there are limits to growth needs to think about this. Capitalists are never satisfied. They always want more. That’s the way of the system.

The current Canadian government is just a small part of the problem we face.

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NDP should move to the left on its foreign policy

Is the NDP the solution or part of the problem for those us who promote a Canadian foreign policy that favours ordinary people around the world?
While pushing arms control measures and oversight of Canadian mining companies, this ‘Left’ party generally backs the military and a Western pro-capitalist outlook to global affairs.

In 2011 the party supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya. The party’s most recent election platform called for maintaining the highest level of military spending since World War II. In a more recent display of militarism NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer joined some veterans in criticizing an agreement between retailer Target and the Royal Canadian Legion allowing red poppies to be sold outside the company’s stores. “We agreed that outside the front doors would be ideal and obviously if the weather is inclement or they prefer they are welcome to stand inside the double doors as well,” said Target spokesperson Lisa Gibson at the end of last month.

But this wasn’t good enough for many red poppy sellers who want to set up inside. So Stoffer demanded that Target “let these veterans into their stores, set up their tables and sell the poppies” and called on the company “to allow them [red poppy sellers] to come into the store at all times.”

Remembrance Day Poppies commemorate Canadians who have died at war. Not being commemorated are the Afghans or Libyans killed by Canadians in recent years or the Iraqis killed two decades ago or the Koreans killed in the early 1950s or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that. By focusing exclusively on ‘our’ side Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous, a sentiment often used to promote wars.

One wonders if the NDP is willing to call on Target to allow peace organizations to set up tables and sell anti-war white poppies?

The same day Stoffer criticized Target, Michael Byers, a former NDP candidate and Thomas Mulcair leadership campaigner, co-authored aNational Post opinion piece titled “Putting Politics Before Soldiers”. Based on a report Byers co-authored for the Rideau Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the article argued that Harper’s Conservatives are spending $2 billion to buy tanks that are no longer necessary since the US military has shifted its counterinsurgency tactics. The article glowingly cited the Petraeus Doctrine, which is named after General David Petraeus who was in charge of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The doctrine calls for soldiers to engage with and support local people so as to erode any incentive they might have to side with insurgents.”

The article said nothing about the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans killed by the US-led forces implementing the Petraeus Doctrine. Nor does Byers’ report call for a reduction in Canada’s high-level of military spending.

While promoting US counterinsurgency tactics and red poppy sellers, the NDP was quiet on the recent visit to Toronto by Africa’s most blood-stained leader, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. Nor have they said much about Ottawa’s support for the Egyptian military’s ongoing repression or foreign minister John Baird’s anti-Iran efforts with the Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies.
It wasn’t always this bad.

A new biography about one of the NDP’s more courageous MPs touches on the party’s tendency to support the foreign policy establishment. In a published excerpt of Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics, Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies told the book’s author: “Some people are concerned that we’ll slide, especially on foreign affairs. He [Robinson] was an outstanding voice on foreign affairs when he was critic for so many years. He never shied away from things… People wanted it. They wanted a party that actually had a real, critical position on foreign affairs — that wasn’t the Time magazine version … and that’s, I fear, what we’ve come around more to now.”

Robinson was willing to aggressively and creatively challenge the foreign-policy establishment. He was a founder of the Canadian wing of Parliamentarians for East Timor and questioned Canada’s role in the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government. In a particularly principled action, Robinson responded to Israel’s effort to seal off Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah by trying to travel there in October 2002. This act of solidarity unleashed a media storm, prompting NDP leader Alexa McDonough to strip Robinson of his role as foreign affairs critic.

Robinson’s time as foreign critic represents a shining moment for the party’s international policy (It should be noted, however, that Robinson backed the 1999 bombing of the former Yugoslavia, only turning critical over a month after it began.). His term also highlights the tension within the party between those who support a critical approach and those basically willing to go a long with the Canadian foreign policy establishment. Unfortunately, the latter group has generally determined the NDP’s international policy.

At its 1949 convention the CCF, the NDP’s predecessor, passed a resolution supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Even worse, the party also expelled two elected legislators who were critical of NATO.

While officially the West’s response to an aggressive Soviet Union, in fact NATO was established to blunt the European Left and extend North American/European power in light of the de-colonization taking place in Asia and the Middle East. NATO planners feared a weakening of self-confidence among Western Europe’s elite and the widely held belief that communism was the wave of the future. External Minister Lester Pearson was fairly open about NATO’s purpose telling the House of Commons in March 1949: “The power of the communists, wherever that power flourishes, depends upon their ability to suppress and destroy the free institutions that stand against them. They pick them off one by one: the political parties, the trade unions, the churches, the schools, the universities, the trade associations, even the sporting clubs and the kindergartens. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is meant to be a declaration to the world that this kind of conquest from within will not in the future take place amongst us.” Tens of thousands of North American troops were stationed in Western Europe to deter any “conquest from within”.
The other major motivating factor for the North American elite was a desire to rule the world. For Canadian officials the north Atlantic pact justified European/North American dominance across the globe. As part of the parliamentary debate over NATO Pearson said: “There is no better way of ensuring the security of the Pacific Ocean at this particular moment than by working out, between the great democratic powers, a security arrangement the effects of which will be felt all over the world, including the Pacific area.”

In the eyes of Pearson and the US leadership NATO’s first major test took place far from the north Atlantic in Korea. After the Communists took control of China in 1949 the US tried to encircle the country. They supported Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, built military bases in Japan, backed a right-wing dictator in Thailand and tried to establish a pro-Western state in Vietnam. The success of China’s nationalist revolution also spurred the 1950-1953 Korean War in which eight Canadian warships and 27,000 Canadian troops participated. The war left as many as four million dead.

The 1950 CCF convention endorsed Canada’s decision to join the US-led (though UN sanctioned) war in Korea. It wasn’t until huge numbers had died and China entered the war that the CCF started questioning Ottawa’s military posture.

In the early 1950s Iranians pushed to gain greater benefit from their huge oil reserves. But the British had different plans. As one of the earliest sources of Middle Eastern oil, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (British Petroleum’s predecessor) had generated immense wealth for British investors since 1915.

With Anglo-Iranian refusing to concede any of their immense profits, Iran moved to nationalize the country’s oil industry. It was a historic move that made Iran the first former colony to reclaim its oil.

Despite calling for the nationalization of numerous sectors of the Canadian economy, the leader of the CCF criticized Iran’s move. On October 22 1951 M.J. Coldwell told the House of Commons: “What happened recently in Iran [the nationalization of oil] and is now taking place in Egypt [abrogation of a treaty that allowed British forces to occupy the Suez Canal region] is an attempt on the part of these reactionary interests to use the understandable desire of the great masses of the people for improvements in their condition as an excuse to obtain control of the resources of these countries and to continue to exploit the common people in these regions.” The CCF leader then called on the federal government to “give every possible aid to the United Kingdom in the present crisis.”

Mohammad Mossadegh’s move to nationalize Iran’s oil would lead the US and UK to orchestrate his overthrow in 1953. The CCF failed (or at least it’s not recorded in the Hansard parliamentary debate) to criticize Ottawa for backing the overthrow of Iran’s first popularly elected Prime Minister.

No issue better reflects international policy tensions within the party than Israel/Zionism. Initially the CCF opposed the nationalism and imperialism associated with Zionism. In 1938 CCF leader J.S. Woodsworth, stated: “It was easy for Canadians, Americans and the British to agree to a Jewish colony, as long as it was somewhere else. Why ‘pick on the Arabs’ other than for ‘strategic’ and ‘imperialistic’ consideration.” At its 1942 convention the CCF condemned Nazi anti-Semitism but refused to endorse Zionism. “The Jewish problem can be solved only in a socialist and democratic society, which recognized no racial or class differences,” explained a party resolution.

But before Israel’s creation the CCF officially endorsed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In September 1945 new CCF leader M. J. Coldwell said the Zionist record in Palestine “in terms of both social and economic justice” spoke for itself. Three decades later, in 1975, NDP MP and former leader Tommy Douglas told Israel’s racist Histadrut labour federation, “The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” This speech was made eight years into Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip and a quarter century after 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed during the 1948 war.

While better today, this extreme deference to Israel has yet to be expunged from the party. In May 2008 the soon-to-be NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, was quoted in the Canadian Jewish News saying, “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances.”

The NDP ought to shake off its history of supporting the Canadian foreign policy establishment. Beyond the moral imperative, sticking to mild and safe criticisms may be a losing electoral strategy.

Forceful and creative criticism of the Conservatives’ foreign policy could be a way to pushback against Jason Kenney’s successful outreach with immigrant communities (more than 20% of Canadians are born outside the country). The Conservatives have played off the fact that immigrant communities are generally more socially conservative. While this may be true, individuals with a strong connection to another country would also tend to be less supportive of Western domination, which the Conservatives have strongly pushed.

Additionally, Harper’s foreign policy has been designed to please the most reactionary sectors of the party’s base — evangelical Christians, right-wing Jews, Islamophobes, the military-industrial-complex as well as mining and oil executives. To a certain extent the Conservatives view international policy as a relatively low political cost way to please the party’s right wing base (the clearest example of them taking a more extreme position on foreign policy is the Conservatives’ refusal to give Canadian aid to projects abroad that include abortions — even for rape victims — but Harper strongly opposes efforts to challenge abortion domestically).

Could this same thinking not work for the NDP? Is there not a counter block of individuals and organizations focused on issues ranging from international climate negotiations to Palestine, global peace to mining justice? Wouldn’t a forceful and principled NDP position on these issues help galvanize party activists?

With average Canadians more knowledgeable and interested in international affairs than ever before, it is likely. But party strategists fear that the dominant media will lambaste the NDP for expressing forthright criticism on many international issues. The media would. But the growth of online news and global television stations makes it easier than ever — if the party cared to try — to defend critical positions on issues such as the recent coup in Egypt or Canada’s indifference to Paul Kagame’s murderous escapades in the East of the Congo.

Ultimately, the options for the NDP is reasonably straightforward: work to create an electoral strategy that significantly improves Canadian foreign policy or continue to make opportunistic appeals to veterans, the military and those who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs. The latter option is tantamount to being complicit with current policies and — if elected — becoming the agent of a pro-corporate/pro-empire Canadian foreign policy.

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Ottawa lines up with Washington against rest of hemisphere

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s recent mission to Latin America cannot mask Canada’s unprecedented diplomatic isolation in the hemisphere. Despite shifting ‘aid’ to the region and claiming to have made Latin America a priority, Ottawa is increasingly offside with a region breaking free from centuries of Western imperialism.

On July 9 the Organization of American States (OAS) held a meeting to discuss four European countries’ refusal to let Bolivia’s presidential plane enter their airspace. Six days earlier Evo Morales was returning from a meeting in Moscow where he said Bolivia could be open to giving political asylum to former CIA contractor Edward J. Snowden, who is wanted by Washington on espionage charges.

The US apparently suspected that Snowden, who was then stuck in the Moscow Airport, was on Morales’ plane. As such, the Obama administration pressed France, Portugal, Spain and Italy to block Morales’ plane in a bid to capture the whistleblower or to deliver a warning to other governments thinking about granting Snowden asylum.

Dubbed a “hostile act” by Bolivia, the OAS condemned the European countries’ “actions that violate the basic rules and principles of international law such as the inviolability of Heads of State.” All 34 OAS members backed the resolution except the US and Canada, which both added an appendix to the resolution saying they didn’t support it.

Harper’s Conservatives have repeatedly sided with Washington’s unpopular policies in the region. They’ve ramped up Canada’s contribution to fighting the ‘war on drugs’ at the same time as Latin America has backed away from this repressive model. Recently, Uruguay legalized marijuana and more and more officials in the region are publicly questioning a policy framework that has left tens of thousands dead and done little to stop the flow of illicit product. In May the OAS released a study advocating a re-think of the war on drugs, including a proposal to abandon the fight entirely.

A briefing note prepared for Diane Ablonczy, then-minister of state for the Americas, outlines Ottawa’s response to these shifting attitudes. “One of the objectives in our engagement in the Americas is to combat transnational crime and our programming investments demonstrate our commitment to this issue,” read the note obtained by Postmedia for a meeting Ablonczy had with Latin American ambassadors in November. “Canada looks forward to robust engagement in this process and sharing our domestic experience in addressing illicit drugs.”

Interestingly, the note was prepared by the Defence Department, which reflects the Canadian military’s growing role in the ‘war on drugs’. In recent months the military has deployed surveillance aircraft, naval vessels and submarines to the Caribbean and East Pacific as part of US drug interdiction missions. According to National Defence, the total cost of operations in the region has increased from $25.3 million in 2008-09 to $282.2 million this year.

Additionally, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has contributed millions of dollars to train police and promote other anti-drug initiatives.

Over the past quarter-century Washington has used the ‘war on drugs’ as a pretext to intervene in the region. For their part Latin America’s traditional elite have generally supported the militarization of society that accompanies the ‘war on drugs’ in order to undercut progressive social change.

Another means by which Washington and the elite have blocked reform efforts in the region is by removing governments that challenge their interests.

On June 22 of last year the left-leaning president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in what some called an “institutional coup”. Upset with Lugo for disrupting 61-years of one party rule, Paraguay’s traditional ruling elite claimed he was responsible for a murky incident that left 17 peasants and police dead and the senate voted to impeach the president. The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere refused to recognize the new government. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) suspended Paraguay’s membership after Lugo’s ouster, as did the MERCOSUR trading bloc. But Canada was one of only a handful of countries in the world that immediately recognized the new government.

A week after the coup Harper’s Conservatives participated in an OAS mission that many member countries opposed. Largely designed to undermine those countries calling for Paraguay’s suspension from the OAS, delegates from the US, Canada, Haiti, Honduras and Mexico traveled to Paraguay to investigate Lugo’s removal from office. The delegation concluded that the OAS should not suspend Paraguay, which displeased many South American countries.

In 2009 the Harper government tacitly supported an even more controversial coup when the Honduran military removed elected president Manuel Zelaya. In response, the OAS expelled Honduras and many countries broke off diplomatic ties. But Ottawa refused to even suspend its training program with the Honduran military and Canada was the only major donor to Honduras — the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America — that failed to sever any aid to the military government. The World Bank, European Union and even the US suspended some of their planned assistance to Honduras after the coup.

Two years ago Canada’s diplomatic isolation was formalized. Founded in December 2011, the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) includes every country in the hemisphere except Canada and the US. Some hope this new body will eventually replace the Washington-based OAS and unlike that body Cuba is a member of CELAC. In explaining the need for CELAC Evo Morales said, “A union of Latin American countries is the weapon against imperialism. It is necessary to create a regional body that excludes the United States and Canada.”

By tying itself to Washington’s unpopular policies, Ottawa has found itself more isolated than ever in the region.

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