Garrison gone, but legacy of NDP militarism not forgotten

Randall Garrison was recently removed as NDP defence critic. Prompted by antiwar and Palestine solidarity campaigners, Garrison’s removal improves the prospect that the social democratic party will shift away from militarism.

In the summer two dozen groups signed a public letter instigated by Just Peace Advocates calling for Garrison to be “removed as NDP defence critic”. Alongside the assortment of mostly Palestine and peace organizations, more than 1,300 individuals emailed NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calling for Garrison’s removal from a position he held for at least six years.

Garrison is out of step with NDP members on Palestinian rights,” read the letter. Vice-chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, Garrison regularly echoes anti-Palestinian messages.

“His militarism is also not shared by most in the party,” noted the letter. Garrison has supported military missions and increased military spending. He backs the government’s controversial plan to spend $19 billion — $77 billion over their lifecycle — on 88 new aggressive, climate destroying, fighter jets.

Unlike Garrison, new NDP defence critic Lindsay Mathyssen hasn’t promoted the fighter jet procurement and she doesn’t represent a base community. As such, it should be easier for her to echo elements of the No Fighter Jet campaign’s call to scrap the purchase of 88 offensive warplanes. Mathyssen should be immediately pressed to oppose purchasing the F-35, which the government is angling to do (the NDP ostensibly opposes purchasing that jet but it’s largely remained quiet on the issue).

The shake-up within the NDP is a good thing but the value of removing Garrison should not be exaggerated. He remains deputy defence critic and the party leadership won’t jettison its militarist orientation overnight. Throughout its history the NDP/CCF has only taken anti-militarist positions — such as calling on Canada to leave NATO or NORAD — after years of activist pressure. Garrison’s removal as defence critic bolsters those who argue it’s important to pressure the NDP leadership on these issues.

Many groups who disagree with Garrison on Palestine and the military failed to endorse the call for his removal as defence critic, which is not exactly a radical demand. Openly criticizing the NDP makes many party supporters uncomfortable, which make sense at one level. But there has to be a threshold at which the gloves will come off. For anyone who believes in internationalism and peace, Garrison long ago crossed that threshold. More than three years ago 200 people, including Roger Waters, Linda McQuaig, Maher Arar and Noam Chomsky, signed a public letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. But Garrison has remained on the executive of the anti-Palestinian group.

Garrison’s removal crystalizes how important it is to pressure the NDP. The groups and individuals who demanded his removal as NDP defence critic deserve credit for opening the door to the possibility of something better.

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