We’ve all heard many times that “money talks” in politics but it was unclear how loudly. Now we know –one billionaire is heard over 50,000 ordinary Canadians.
While about 50,000 people and 175 organizations supported Up for Debate’s call for an election debate focused on women’s issues, it won’t happen because Stephen Harper refused to participate and NDP leader Tom Mulcair is unwilling to appear if the prime minister is not there to bash.
But the same politicians have agreed to a September 28 debate on foreign policy sponsored by an organization named after and financed by one of Canada’s richest and most right-wing capitalists.
Through his Aurea Foundation, Peter Munk, the founder of Barrick Gold, established Munk Debates in 2008. Peter’s son Anthony Munk, a close friends of Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright, is part of the four-person committee overseeing the debate series.
Set up to promote Peter Munk’s vision of the world, the Aurea Foundation has doled out millions of dollars to right-wing think tanks such as the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Canadian Constitution Foundation as well as the Fraser Institute’s Global Centre for Mining Studies.
Peter Munk espouses far-right political views. In 1997 he publicly praised dictator Augusto Pinochet for “transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world” while two years later the Canadian Jewish News reported on a donation Munk made to an Israeli University and speech in which he “suggested that Israel’s survival is dependent on maintaining its technological superiority over the Arabs.” In 2006 he attacked leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales and the next year wrote a letter to the Financial Times comparing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to Hitler. In a March 2011 Globe and Mail interview Munk dismissed criticism of Barrick’s security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in that country.
Operating some of the most controversial mining projects in the world, Munk cultivated influence with politicians. He appointed former U.S. President George H. Bush and Tennessee Senator Howard Baker to Barrick Gold’s board, while former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney currently chairs its international advisory board. (When asked why he appointed Mulroney to Barrick’s board, Munk told Peter C. Newman: “He has great contacts. He knows every dictator in the world on a first name basis.”) A month after stepping down as Canada’s foreign minister in February John Baird also joined Barrick’s international advisory board.
While the Munk Debates presents itself as a forum of ideas, Peter Munk has a direct personal stake in Canadian foreign policy. Operating mines on six continents, Barrick Gold has benefited from Canadian aid money and diplomatic support. The company has aggressively opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. In 2008 it opposed the recommendations of a business/civil society mining roundtable launched by the previous Liberal government, and two years later the company successfully lobbied against Liberal MP John McKay’s private members bill C 300 (An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries).
While Canadian foreign policy should be debated during an election it is not more important than issues that effect women.
And while Canada’s status as a global mining superpower ought to be part of a foreign policy debate, don’t expect any discussion of regulating mining activities abroad or the appropriate level of government “aid” to profitable “private” companies on September 28. Nor should we expect discussion about matters likely to embarrass the military or major corporations, such as what role Canada has played in Libya’s descent into chaos or Canada’s refusal to support international agreements to restrict carbon emissions. After all, a billionaire might be offended.
Ordinary Canadians have been put in their place — 50,000 of us can be dismissed. How many will it take before the politicians are forced to listen to us and ignore the billionaires?