When Canada plotted to overthrow Haiti’s government

Eleven years ago this weekend Canada organized an international gathering to discuss overthrowing Haiti’s elected government. The conference was reported in a major magazine at the time, but since the coup actually happened the dominant media has refused to investigate or even mention the meeting.

On Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting President Aristide and most other elected officials were pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. Since that time the Haitian National Police has been heavily militarized and steps have been taken towards recreating the military.

Present at the Ottawa Initiative discussion were Canadian Health (and later foreign) Minister Pierre Pettigrew, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Otto Reich, another State Department official, Mary Ellen Gilroy, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luigi Einaudi, El Salvador’s Foreign Minister, Maria de Avila and France’s Minister of Security and Conflict Prevention Pierre-André Wiltzer. They were all invited to the government’s Meech Lake conference centre in Gatineau, Québec by Secretary of State for Latin America and Minister for La Francophonie Dennis Paradis.

Prominent journalist Michel Vastel brought the gathering to public attention in the March 15, 2003, issue of l’Actualité, Quebec’s equivalent to Maclean’s magazine. In an article titled “Haiti put under U.N. Tutelage?” Vastel wrote that the possibility of Aristide’s departure, a potential trusteeship and the return of Haiti’s military were discussed by Paradis and Wiltzer during a joint panel titled “Obligation morale internationale; Perspectives, idées nouvelles et démarches a explorer.”

After the coup Vastel said his source on this private conference was his friend Denis Paradis and information on the meeting was corroborated by French officials. For his part, Paradis would deny Vastel’s account of the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, but the story was never retracted by Vastel or l’Actualité. In several post-coup interviews Vastel stood behind his original article and asserted that several follow-up meetings took place involving the same participants, as well as US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

While claiming he was misinterpreted by Vastel, Paradis made it clear that a foreign intervention into Haiti was discussed. In a September 2004 interview with Haiti Solidarity activist Anthony Fenton, Paradis explained that “there was one thematic that went under the whole meeting [Ottawa Initiative]… the responsibility to protect.” A showpiece of the Liberal Party’s foreign policy, the responsibility to protect doctrine asserts that where gross human rights abuses are occurring, it is the duty of the international community to intervene, over and above considerations of state sovereignty.

As part of his effort to piece together Canada’s role in Haiti, Fenton requested all government files concerning the “Ottawa initiative on Haiti”. Initially told there were one thousand pages related to his Access to Information request, Fenton received 67 pages of material and many of these pages were blacked out. For instance, the copy of recommendations made by Paradis and Wiltzer during their joint session was blacked out. (The person with final say on the release of these documents was Christian Lapointe, head of the Latin America and Caribbean desk and primary contact person for the Ottawa Initiative meeting as shown in the very same documents.)

Still, it’s clear from the information released that Foreign Affairs monitored public reaction to Vastel’s story. In an e-mail exchange with Foreign Affairs, Canada’s Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Cook pointed out that of the 70 letters received by l’Actualité on the topic of regime change, “most were positive.”

As such, one suspects that Paradis’ leak to Vastel was a trial balloon designed to gauge the response of the opposition parties, the Haitian community and other social organizations.

For obvious reasons, the Haitian government wasn’t too pleased with the meeting. Days after the meeting came to public attention, Haiti’s foreign demanded a meeting with Canada’s Ambassador and, reported Haiti’s radio Metropole, Paradis sent a letter to Haiti’s foreign minister telling him the Ottawa meeting posed no threat to his government.

In a striking example of subservience to power, the dominant Canadian media has refused to investigate the Ottawa Initiative and has barely mentioned the meeting. A recent Canadian Newsstand search found not one single English language report about the meeting published over the past decade (except for two opinion pieces by myself and another solidarity activist that mentioned it). Montréal’s La Pressemay be the only corporate newspaper to have reported on the Ottawa Initiative after the coup. In that case progressive journalist Jooned Khan used space made available during Haiti’s February 2006 electionupheaval to briefly mention the gathering on two occasions. By this point Khan, a veteran international affairs writer at La Presse, was closely following the work of Haiti Action Montreal, an anti-coup solidarity group.

The Canadian media has ignored the Ottawa Initiative even though information about the meeting is easily accessible online and solidarity activists across the country referenced it repeatedly. Additionally,Ottawa’s actions after the meeting demonstrate a great deal of hostility towards Haitian democracy.

On February 5, 2004 the self-styled “intellectual author” of the armed rebellion against Aristide, Paul Arcelin, met Liberal minister Pierre Pettigrew; Six days later ambassador Kenneth Cook cabled Ottawa that “President Aristide is clearly a serious aggravating factor in the current crisis” and that there is a need to “consider the options including whether a case can be made for the duty [responsibility] to protect”;Ottawa cut off aid to Haiti’s elected government and then funneled tens of millions of dollars to the installed government; Paul Martin made the first ever trip by a Canadian prime minister to Haiti to support the post-coup dictatorship; 500 Canadian troops invaded Haiti as part of a US-led effort to oust Aristide etc.

The Ottawa initiative on Haiti helped consolidate the international forces – particularly the US, France and Canada - that planned and carried out the coup. It’s a unique event in the annals of Canadianforeign-policy history and for that reason alone, should be investigated by the media.

But the meeting held near Ottawa on Jan. 31 and Feb 1, 2003, to discuss Haiti’s future is not simply of historic relevance. UN troops continue to occupy Haiti and the poor people’s movement has yet to recover from the interruption of their democracy.

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the coup will any major Canadian media outlets report on the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti?

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The long history of Zionism in Canada

Canada’s Conservative government is trying to convince Canadian Jews to support its right-wing imperialistic worldview.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently spoke to the annual Toronto gala of the Jewish National Fund, which has a long history of dispossessing Palestinians and discriminating against non-Jews.

Echoing the words of Theodor Herzl, a founder of political Zionism, Harper told the 4,000 attendees that Israel is a “light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.”

Shortly before this event the Minister for Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney spoke at the launch of the Canadian chapter of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Established by a former colonel in the Israeli military, MEMRI selectively (mis)translates stories from Arab and Iranian media in a bid to advance expansionist Israeli interests.

Kenney told the audience assembled at Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue that MEMRI is “a peaceful weapon of truth-telling in a civilizational conflict in which we are all engaged.”

The comments from Harper and Kenney certainly play well with those in the Jewish community committed to Israeli and Western imperialism, but they also spur that sentiment. Most people respect power and when leading politicians say a country is involved in a “civilizational conflict” against “a region of darkness” it tends to shape opinion.

Few Canadian Jews — or others among the target audience for that matter — realize that Harper and Kenney don’t take this “clash of civilizations” talk literally (if they did they wouldn’t be deepening political ties with a number of Middle Eastern monarchies and selling billions of dollars in weaponry to the region’s “darkest” regime, Saudi Arabia.)

While the Harper government’s pro-Israel comments are particularly extreme, they are far from unique in Canadian history. For more than a century non-Jewish Canadians have promoted a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Similar to Europe, Zionism’s roots in Canada are Christian, not Jewish. Early Canadian support for Zionism was based on the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

They were also tied to this country’s status as a dominion of the British Empire, which in the latter half of the nineteenth century began to see Zionism as a potential vehicle to strengthen its geostrategic position in the region.

At the time of confederation, Canada’s preeminent Christian Zionist was Henry Wentworth Monk. To buy Palestine from the Ottoman Empire in 1875, Monk began the Palestine Restoration Fund.

Unsuccessful, seven years later he took out an ad in the Jewish World proposing a “Bank of Israel” to finance Jewish resettlement. Irving Abella’s book A Coat of Many Colours: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada describes Monk as “an eccentric but respected businessman” who took up a campaign in Canada and England to raise funds for buying land in Palestine during the 1870s and 1880s.

“In 1881 Monk even proposed setting up a Jewish National Fund,” Abella writes. “He issued manifestoes, wrote long articles, spoke to assorted meetings and lobbied extensively in England and Canada to realize his dream.”

Monk called for the British Empire to establish a “dominion of Israel” similar to the dominion of Canada. In the 1978 book Canada and Palestine, Zachariah Kay notes: “Monk believed that Palestine was the logical center of the British Empire, and could help form a confederation of the English-speaking world.”

Monk was not alone in Canada. Citing a mix of Christian and pro-British rationale, leading Canadian politicians repeatedly expressed support for Zionism. In 1907, two cabinet ministers attended the Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada convention, telling delegates that Zionism had the support of the government, according to Kay’s book.

Kay’s book also states that Arthur Meighen, then solicitor-general and later prime minister, proclaimed in November 1915: “I think I can speak for those of the Christian faith when I express the wish that God speed the day when the land of your forefathers shall be yours again. This task I hope will be performed by that champion of liberty the world over — the British Empire.”

The 1917 Balfour Declaration, which declared British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, boosted support for Zionism in this country. In the years thereafter, Canadian politicians of various stripes repeatedly urged Jews (and others) to support Zionism.

During a July 1922 speech to the Zionist Federation of Canada, the anti-Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie King “was effusive with praise for Zionism,” explains David Bercuson in Canada and the Birth of Israel. King told participants their aspirations were “in consonance” with the greatest ideals of the “Englishman.”

A dozen years later, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett told a coast to-coast radio broadcast for the launch of the United Palestine Appeal fund drive that the Balfour Declaration and the British conquest of Palestine represented the beginning of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

According to a 1962 book by Canadian Zionist Bernard Figler, Bennett said, “When the promises of God, speaking through his prophets, are that the home will be restored in the homeland of their forefathers…Scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun.”

Jewish Zionism must be understood from within the political climate in which it operated. And Canada’s political culture clearly fostered Zionist ideals.

British imperialism, Christian Zionism and nationalist ideology were all part of this country’s political fabric. Additionally, in the early 1900s most Canadians did not find it odd that Europeans would take a “backward” people’s land, which is what settlers did to the indigenous population here.

A number of books about Canada’s Jewish community discuss how elite Canadian Jews, especially after the 1917 Balfour Declaration, were more active Zionists than their US counterparts. In Canada’s Jews: A People’s Journey, Gerald Tulchinsky explains: “The First World War accentuated differences between Canadian and American Jewry. For example, loyalty to Britain’s cause provided Zionists with opportunities to identify their purposes with Britain’s imperial mission.”

When British General Edmund Allenby led a campaign in late 1917 to take Palestine from the Ottomans as many as 400 Canadians (about half recruited specifically for the task) fought in Allenby’s Jewish Legion. Sometimes beleaguered Jewish communities were praised by the media for taking up England’s cause to conquer Palestine.

Since Israel’s creation in 1948 different Canadian governments have expressed varying degrees of support. But overall, the laudatory public declarations have continued.

After a long career of support for Zionism as external minister and prime minister, Lester Pearson referred to that country as “an outpost, if you will, of the West in the Middle East.”

External Affairs Minister Don Jamieson echoed this sentiment in an October 1977 speech. “Israel is an increasingly valuable ally of the West and Jews and non-Jews alike should see to it that Israel remains … an ally of the Western world,” Jamieson said. “We in Canada must see to it that when Israel is making such tremendous sacrifices, we should stand ready to help Israel with oil and material assistance.”

Yes, the current government is more aggressive in its public declarations than any before it and this has helped drive the establishment Jewish community to an even more hardline position.

To the Conservatives’ delight, two years ago the ninety-year old Canadian Jewish Congress was disbanded by its wealthy donors in favor of an even more Israel-focused Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Similarly, the Conservatives’ strong ties to Christian Zionism has prodded the Zionist lobby group B’nai Brith to deepen its ties with Canada Christian College and the prominent right-wing evangelist Charles McVety.

At the same time, the anti-racist sectors of Canada’s Jewish community have made major strides in recent years. Groups such as Independent Jewish Voices, Not In Our Name, Jewish Voice for Peace, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Women in Solidarity with Palestine and Jews for a Just Peace, have undercut the notion that all Canadian Jews support Israeli policy or Zionism. But these groups are unlikely to become dominant voices within the Jewish community until there is a shift in Canada’s political culture.

Canadian Zionism has long been part of the religious and political establishment. In every community there are those who take the side of the rich and powerful.

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Work is a fundamental human right

A just society should provide everyone with access to a job yet nearly 2 million Canadians can’t find work.

Officially 6.9 per cent of the Canadian workforce is unemployed. But this number rises to 10.3 per cent when those who’ve given up searching for work are included. Counting “discouraged workers”, about 1.8 million Canadians can’t find a job.

Looked at from a different perspective, StatsCan announced last week that there were six job-seekers for every job available in September. Counting “discouraged workers” that number increases 50 percent.

Incredibly, some consider Canada’s unemployment rate a success. In his October throne speech Stephen Harper misleadingly declared that “Canada now has the best job creation record in the G-7 — one million net new jobs since the depths of the recession.”

This isn’t simply self-promotional rhetoric. Policy moves suggest the government is little concerned by the large number of Canadians out of work. Over the past two years they’ve curtailed Employment Insurance benefits, increased the age at which people can receive Old Age Assistance and slashed public-sector employment.

While the government would never say as much publicly, some among the corporate-funded think tanks argue that having over 1 in 10 Canadian workers out of a job is actually too few. “Canada’s unemployment rate dangerously low” was the title of an April Financial Post article by Philip Cross, Research Coordinator for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Hostility to anything approaching full employment reflects the growth of neoconservative policies. Over the last three decades the idea that everyone should have access to a job has largely disappeared from political discourse. But it used to be fairly common.

In the 1963 election Liberal leader Lester Pearson ran on a “Sixty days of decision” platform that included a pledge of full employment and during his time as Prime Minister Canada’s official unemployment rate dropped below 3%. Similarly, the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was adopted in 1966 and signed by Canada in 1976, called for the right to employment. It recognizes that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Instead of focusing on peoples’ right to employment, policymakers today emphasize property rights. In effect, this has meant extending patents, easing safety/environmental regulations on corporations and enabling investors to move to low-wage jurisdictions.

While these policies certainly benefit some, few of us gain our income from owning property. The vast majority of Canadians are wageworkers, their dependents or retired wageworkers. And without a job it’s difficult to get by.

But a job is not only about paying the bills. What one does is generally an important part of a person’s identity and most people want to feel like they are contributing to society. Persistent unemployment can be psychologically damaging for individuals.

It’s also socially damaging. Mass unemployment is a waste of peoples’ energy and ingenuity. Imagine what the 1.8 million Canadians out of work could accomplish if they were mobilized to develop green energy sources or to expand mass transit and childcare services.

But how do we mobilize all this latent human energy. One socially useful way to stimulate employment would be to have the government significantly expand its role in mass transit and childcare. Another would be to push Corporate Canada, which is sitting on over $575 billion in cash, to invest in renewable energy.

It’s time to rekindle the idea that all adults have the right to a job. There are 1.8 million Canadians waiting to better contribute to their society.

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The rich profit while other Canadians suffer from Dutch disease

A clear diagnosis of the Oil Sands fever variant of Dutch Disease may be just what the doctor ordered to rally Canadian workers in the fight against global warming.

A rapid increase in natural resource investment and revenue usually drives up a nation’s currency. This generally makes other industries less competitive and can greatly weaken a country’s manufacturing base.

Widely known as “Dutch Disease” (named after a period of rapid expansion of the natural gas industry in the Netherlands), this well established economic paradox has become a taboo subject in this country. Canada’s highly class-conscious elite is worried that manufacturing workers might make common cause with environmental groups and even some business sectors to challenge the carbon/profit bomb known as the tar sands.

A recent Pembina Institute/Equiterre report titled “Booms, Busts and Bitumen” argues that Canada’s economy is facing “Oil Sands fever”. The study points out that the Bank of Canada believes one-third of the Canadian manufacturing sector’s decline has been caused by a more expensive dollar, which rose alongside the price of oil from $.61 US in 2002 to $1.10 US in 2007 (and has hovered near par since). The study concludes that 40% to 75% of the currency increase has been caused by rising commodity prices, principally oil.

The higher price has led to a boom in production and export. Between 2002 and 2012 energy grew from less than 13% of total Canadian exports to over 25%. And if plans to double tar sands production over the next decade are realized, this dependence will increase.

A February Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study gives a sense of the jobs impact of Oil Sands fever. The Bitumen Cliff notes: “The forestry sector lost close to 30,000 positions. And the manufacturing industry, of course, haemorrhaged nearly a half-million positions. For every new job created in the petroleum sector during the past decade, 30 have been lost in manufac­turing. Across all of the export-oriented goods industries… net employment declined by almost 520,000 jobs in the past decade.”

While the precise job toll is debatable, the rapid growth in tar sands exports has undoubtedly hurt manufacturers.

Despite the obvious link between tar sands expansion, a higher dollar and a decline in manufacturing, corporate sycophants denounce any politician or established organization that draws attention to the relationship.

Federal Leader of the Opposition Tom Mulcair was aggressively attacked for raising the issue as was former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. In response to the Pembina/Equiterre report Financial Post editor Terence Corcoran called the mainstream Pembina Institute “off-kilter … fomenter of oil sands phobia … keen on triggering a nation-splitting debate over the oil sands.” For his part, Sun Media’s Lorne Gunter wrote: “Left-wing environmentalists should just come clean: they hate the oil industry, they hate profits and love big government.”

Both Corcoran and Gunter cited a recent Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) study lauding the tar sands. It notes: “In recent years, much of the discussion linking the oil sands with manufacturing has included so-called ‘Dutch disease,’ with any supposed relationship being characterized as inherently negative. While the effect of the rising dollar has impacted the competitiveness of the Canadian manufacturing sector, especially exports, the underlying problem was poor labour productivity, lack of diversity among customers, and lower rates of overall capital investment. While increased investment in the oil sands may have strengthened the Canadian dollar, it is by no means the root cause of the challenges faced by Canadian manufacturing. Rather than having a negative impact on Canadian industry, the oil sands are providing a customer base for manufacturers.”

While most sane people would argue it makes little sense for the lobbying arm of Canada’s export-oriented manufacturers to dismiss oil-fuelled currency increases that have added 5, 10, or 30 percent to their costs, the CME is a highly ideological institution. When environmental or labour regulations add a few percentage points to their costs it goes berserk. For instance, before Parliament ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 the CME claimed that reducing greenhouse gas emissions 6% from 1990 levels by 2012 would cost the country 450,000 manufacturing jobs. (Perhaps CME researchers should check to see if they didn’t mistake a minus sign for a plus symbol since the trashing of Canada’s Kyoto commitments through tar sands expansion has contributed to significant job losses in manufacturing.)

The CME tends to represent the voice of its biggest members, many of whom have plants in other countries. They can shift operations to lower-cost jurisdictions or use the threat of moving jobs to force wage and benefit cuts.

But that’s only part of the explanation for the CME’s pro tar sands position. That organization is in fact a mouthpiece for capitalists who are more widely invested than ever before and thus less wedded to particular firms. Without too much difficulty they can move their capital from lower margin to higher profit industries. It’s all about chasing profits and damn the negative consequences for workers.

In recent years the tar sands have been a major source of profit making. The Parkland Institute estimates that oil sands operators realized pre-tax profits of $260 billion between 1986 and 2010 (the public owners of these resources received less than 10 per cent of that sum). Over the past decade Canadian resource companies’ profit margins have nearly doubled the service, manufacturing and “nonfinancial” sectors of the economy. According to a late 2011 calculation, the market capitalization of the 405 oil and gas companies listed companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange topped $379 billion.

The boom in tar sands profits and stock prices clearly benefits leading Canadian capitalists. A recent Canadian Business magazine profile of the “100 richest Canadians” explains: “Collectively, the individuals on the Rich 100 are worth $230 billion, more than the total gross domestic product of many countries in the world, including New Zealand, Ireland and Portugal. And this year has been one of their best ever. Their combined net worth surged by more than 15% … While the actual economies of Canada and the U.S. aren’t faring particularly well, so long as the U.S. Federal Reserve maintains its stimulus program, stock markets will tick higher.”

The “100 richest Canadians” – and the rest of the 0.01% of top shareholders who control most corporations – dominate corporate lobbying associations such as the CME and they also have significant influence with many think tanks, university departments and news outlets. Like their wealthy patrons, these institutions tend to back whatever generates the most profit (that’s the point of capitalism after all). As a result, there’s little interest in discussing the deleterious job impacts of Oil Sands fever.

But environmentalists and union activists should be making common cause by explaining how tar sands profits that go to the rich and powerful cost Canadian workers hundreds of thousands of jobs. Expansion of the tar sands and the resulting bouts of Oil Sands fever may be good for capitalists but it will further weaken the job market and do great harm to Canadian workers.

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Canadian foreign policy is to promote corporate greed

Should the primary purpose of Canadian foreign policy be the promotion of corporate interests?

Canada’s business class certainly seems to think so. And with little political or ideological opposition to this naked self-interest, Harper’s Conservatives seem only too happy to put the full weight of government behind the promotion of private profits.

Recently, the Conservatives announced that “economic diplomacy” will be “the driving force behind the Government of Canada’s activities through its international diplomatic network.” According to their Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP), “All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector to increase success in doing business abroad.”

The release of GMAP is a crass confirmation of the Conservatives’ pro-corporate foreign policy. In recent years the Conservatives’ have spent tens of millions of dollars to lobby US and European officials on behalf of tar sands interests; expanded arms sales to Middle East monarchies and other leading human rights abusers; strengthened the ties between aid policy and a Canadian mining industry responsible for innumerable abuses.

While some commentators have suggested that GMAP is a “modern” response to China’s international policy, it actually represents a return to a time many consider the high point of unfettered capitalism. Often in the late 1800s wealthy individuals not employed by Ottawa conducted Canadian diplomacy. The owner of the Toronto Globe, George Brown, for instance, negotiated a draft treaty with the U.S. in 1874, while Sandford Fleming, the surveyor of the Canadian Pacific Railway, represented Canada at the 1887 Colonial Conference in London.

From its inception the Canadian foreign service reflected a bias towards economic concerns. There were trade commissioners, for instance, long before ambassadors. By 1907 there were 12 Canadian trade commissions staffed by “commercial agents” located in Sydney, Capetown, Mexico City, Yokohama and numerous European and U.S. cities.

Despite this historic precedent, in the 21st century it should be controversial for a government to openly state that economic considerations drive international policy. Yet criticism of GMAP has been fairly muted, which may reflect how many progressives feel overwhelmed by the Conservatives right-wing aggressiveness in every policy area.

Or perhaps there’s a more fundamental explanation. The mainstream political/media establishment basically agrees with the idea that corporate interests should dominate foreign policy.

In response to GMAP, Postmedia ran a debate between John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and a member of the advisory panel that helped draw up the Conservatives’ plan, and former foreign minister and leading proponent of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, Lloyd Axworthy. While Manley lauded the Conservatives’ move, Axworthy criticized it as “bad trade policy. The best way to enlarge your trade prospects and to develop a willingness for agreements and to improve economic exchange is to have a number of contacts to show other countries that you are a willing and co-operative player on matters of security, on matters of human rights, and on matters of development.”

Axworthy did not express principled criticism of the Conservatives’ move; he simply said that “trade prospects” — a euphemism for corporate interests — are best advanced through a multifaceted foreign-policy. Widely lauded by the liberal intelligentsia, Axworthy reflects the critical end of the dominant discussion, which largely takes its cues from the corporate class. And Canada’s business class is more internationally focused than any other G8 country.

Heavily dependent on “free trade” Canadian companies are also major global investors. The world’s largest privately owned security company, GardaWorld, has 45,000 employees operating across the globe while another Montréal-based company, SNC Lavalin, has engineering projects in 100 countries. Corporate Canada’s most powerful sector is also a global force. The big five banks, which all rank among the top 65 in the world, now do a majority of their business outside of this country. Scotiabank, for example, operates in 45 countries.

The mining sector provides the best example of Canadian capital’s international prominence. Three quarters of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. Present in almost every country, Canadian corporations operate thousands of mineral projects abroad.

With $711.6 billion in foreign direct investments last year, Canadian companies push for (and benefit from) Ottawa’s diplomatic, aid and military support. As their international footprint has grown, they’ve put ever more pressure on the government to serve their interests. There is simply no countervailing force calling on the government to advance international climate negotiations, arms control measures or to place constraints on mining companies.

There’s also limited ideological opposition to neoliberalism. Few in Canada promote any alternative to capitalism. Until unions, social groups and activists put forward an alternative economic and social vision it’s hard to imagine that Canadian foreign policy will do much more than promote private corporate interests.

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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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