The No Canada on UN Security Council (#NoUNSC4Canada) campaign has thrust critical discussion of Canadian foreign policy into the mainstream. It has also pierced through a stultifying ‘team Canada’ nationalism that affects much of the left. While the historical record suggests otherwise, it is widely assumed that Canadian power is good for the world.
Last Tuesday the Toronto Star published a powerful open letter calling on countries to vote against Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council. It was endorsed by 20 groups and more than 100 prominent artists, academics, activists and authors including David Suzuki, Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Pam Palmater, Rawi Hage, Sid Ryan, Antonia Zerbisias, Monia Mazigh and Romeo Saganash. The open letter points out how the Trudeau government has been offside with most UN member states on a host of issues and criticizes Canadian militarism, support for controversial mining companies and climate policies.
Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to the letter during his press conference that day. Subsequently, the Canadian Press covered the letter and the Prime Minister’s response. Radio Canada’s Le Téléjournal did a long sympathetic clip and published a story online. Canadian Dimension, Dissident Voice, Rabble, Socialist Project, Presse-toi à gauche!, Left Chapter, Philippine Reporter, Legrand Soir, Les Artistes pour la Paix, L’aut’journal and others published the full letter while Telesur, Sputnik, Pacific Free Press, Redaction Politics, Hill Times, Omny, Orinoco Tribune, Counterpunch, The Conversation, Common Dreams and others covered it. A somewhat unhinged Global news commentary labeled it a “ridiculous petition”.
Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters did a four-minute video clip on why he feels Canada doesn’t deserve a seat on the Security Council, which has been viewed more than 100,000 times. A number of other individuals have produced videos detailing why Canada doesn’t deserve a seat on the Security Council. There’s also been significant discussion of the letter on social media and nearly 2000 people have signed the petition, which will be sent to all UN ambassadors.
The #NoUNSC4Canada campaign has added substance to a discussion focused on whether Ottawa will win a seat, how much time and money the government has spent on it and whether it’s all worth it. Unlike almost all other substantive criticism, the No Canada on UN Security Council campaign has done so without reinforcing nationalist mythology or the idea the world needs more Canada.
When the media has assessed actual policy — rather than the horse race — during the Security Council campaign two issues have received critical attention: Canada’s limited contribution to peacekeeping and low foreign aid. It’s not coincidental that both these criticisms suggest the ‘world needs more Canada’.
Coverage of Canada’s withdrawal from UN peacekeeping presupposes that “peacekeeping” is a benevolent endeavor, which has often not been the case. In 2004 Canada was part of a UN mission that helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government, in the early 1960s Canadian peacekeepers enabled the assassination of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba and a decade before that Canadian troops were part of a ghastly UN lead war in Korea. Bemoaning Canada’s lack of peacekeeping is a nonthreatening criticism because it aligns with nationalist mythology and evades directly confronting military power (elements of the Canadian Forces have long viewed “peacekeeping”, which demands a military force, as a way to maintain public support for its budget.)
The media has also been willing to criticize Canada’s lack of aid. In the abstract and often in practice, international aid sounds appealing. In a just world, wealthier regions would assist poorer ones. Federal government transfer payments smooth out regional inequities in Canada and there’s no reason this type of policy couldn’t be internationalized. When looked at narrowly, most aid projects are beneficial (though there are many examples that are not, from training killer cops in Haiti, to rewriting Colombia’s mining code to better serve multinationals). Schools financed by Canada elsewhere usually benefit some children and the same can be said regarding money put into a farmers’ cooperative or a micro loan program for impoverished women. But as you broaden the lens of analysis the picture changes. Aid takes on a different meaning in the hands of governments run by and for the economic elite.
Initially conceived as a way to blunt radical decolonization in India, Canadian aid is primarily about advancing Ottawa’s geopolitical objectives and, to a lesser degree, specific corporate interests. In the 1970s, for instance, Ottawa increased aid to African states as a way to mitigate their criticism of Canada’s economic and political relations with apartheid South Africa. More substantially, the ‘intervention equals aid principle’ has long seen money channeled into countries where US and Canadian troops are killing people. The $2 billion in aid Canada spent in Afghanistan was at least partially a public relations exercise to justify — to the Canadian public and elite Afghans — its military occupation. Similarly, the huge influx of Canadian aid to Haiti after the 2004 coup was tied to undermining democracy.
While wealthier regions should assist poorer ones, the aid discussion puts a humanitarian gloss on a foreign policy largely driven by support of empire and Canadian corporate interests. The No Canada on Security Council campaign challenges the nationalist prism by criticizing unambiguous foreign policy injustices. Hopefully, #NoUNSC4Canada will go a small way to creating the conditions in which progressives feel comfortable declaring “the world needs less Canada” of the corporate, colonialist kind.