Why won’t any party challenge Canadian foreign policy?

English-language Leaders debate. Getty Images

During the first month of the election campaign the discussion of international and military affairs has been dismal at worst and non-existent at best.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to the problem that requires a profound shake up in the popular understanding of Canada’s place in the world.

A number of liberal minded foreign policy voices have recently called for greater attention to be devoted to the subject, which would be good. But the problem is much deeper than a lack of foreign policy debate. The mainstream media and political parties’ discussion of Canada’s role in the world is steeped in so much mythology and ignorance that an election debate would achieve little.

Afghanistan offers a case in point. Despite the utter failure of this imperial war that was supposedly fought for democracy and women’s rights, the NDP and Greens have steadfastly refused to question 13 years of Liberal and Conservative policy there. A Maclean’s reporter’s request for comment from the NDP on the issue was simply ignored.

To the extent the NDP or Greens have criticized the government on the issue it is to complain that more of those allied with Canada, the US and NATO (the good guys) haven’t been helped out of the country. The Green platform states, “even as the Liberal government promised to protect the Afghans who supported the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, fighting and dying alongside Canadian soldiers, it made the decision to call an election, rather than to focus on how to rescue the thousands of Afghan support staff behind with little hope of safety or rescue.”

Yes. Open Canada’s doors to more Afghans who want to leave or may be in danger. But let’s acknowledge the reality that many of these individuals helped Canadian forces intimidate communities, call in airstrikes, carry out nighttime assassination raids, etc. The ‘protect our Afghan allies’ discourse from the Greens and NDP reinforces benevolent Canada mythology, which is a major obstacle to properly discussing foreign policy.

If they refuse to criticize the military’s role in Afghanistan, there’s no reason to expect a political party to challenge the militarists’ push to devote huge sums to strengthening the Canadian Forces capacity to wage war. The NDP election platform supports spending $100 billion — $300 billion over their lifecycle — on new naval vessels and fighter jets, which will enable the military to fight another Afghanistan or Libya type war. The Green platform is silent on the two largest federal government procurements ever.

The NDP and Greens’ deference to the war machine is also reflected in their silence towards the Department of National Defence being exempt from government emissions reduction targets despite releasing 59% of federal government greenhouse gas emissions. They have also ignored a grass roots push to end the military exemption in international climate negotiations.

More fundamentally, the NDP and Greens largely fail to look at the climate crisis from an internationalist perspective. They ignore the issue of climate debt and how wealthy countries have taken up most of the space in the atmosphere for CO2. Between 1900 and 2004 Canada contributed more to global warming than all of sub-Saharan Africa and today per capita emissions in many African countries are 1% of Canada’s rate.

Yet, few raise the international inequity element of the climate crisis. Labeled the world’s first “climate change famine” by the United Nations, tens of thousands in Madagascar are currently suffering “catastrophic” levels of hunger. With per capita emissions that are two per cent of Canada’s rate, Madagascar has contributed almost nothing to the climate crisis and can do little to mitigate it.

The climate crisis is a stark example of how Canada’s position at the top of an unjust, hierarchical, global capitalist order is largely unmentionable in the mainstream. That’s why the NDP and Greens have failed to criticize the Liberals over the embarrassing collapse of their anti-Venezuela Lima Group and reversal of the coup they backed in Bolivia. Also unmentioned are the Liberals failed promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran and to set up a proper ombudsperson to rein in Canadian mining companies abuses abroad.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the right-wing Conservatives take clear positions. Its election platform attacks China ferociously and promises to sanction Iran as well as calling for increased military spending and to move the Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem.

The Conservatives, of course, benefit from a staunchly militaristic, nationalistic and imperialistic media sphere.

For peace and socialist minded internationalists this election confirms the importance of building grassroots antiwar and solidarity groups, as well as media outlets, willing to challenge Canadian imperialism and the servile support from supposedly left wing parties for the status quo.

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