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When it comes to Saudi LAV sales, lobbyists will likely rule

Will they cancel the contract or won’t they? In order to understand Ottawa’s decision making process regarding General Dynamics’ massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia one must look closely at industry lobbyists.

While the Trudeau government is under substantial public pressure to rescind the $15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale, to do so would challenge the company and the broader corporate lobby.

Last week a senior analyst with the GD-financed Canadian Global Affairs Institute boldly defended the LAV sale.“There has been no behaviour by the Saudis to warrant cancelling this contract”, said David Perry to the London Free Press. Perry must have missed the Kingdom’s violence in Yemen, repression in eastern Saudi Arabia and consulate murder in Istanbul.

Two weeks ago Perry told another interviewer that any move to reverse the LAV sale would have dire consequences. “There would be geopolitical implications. There would be a huge number of economic implications, both immediately and in the wider economy… cancelling this, I think, would be a big step because as far as I understand the way that we look at arms exports, it would effectively mean that we’ve changed the rules of the game.”

Amidst an earlier wave of criticism towards GD’s LAV sale, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute published a paper titled “Canada and Saudi Arabia: A Deeply Flawed but Necessary Partnership” that defended the $15-billion deal. At the time of its 2016 publication at least four of the institute’s “fellows” wrote columns justifying the sale, including an opinion piece by Perry published in the Globe and Mail Report on Business that was headlined “Without foreign sales, Canada’s defence industry would not survive.”

Probably Canada’s most prominent foreign policy think tank, Canadian Global Affairs Institute is a recipient of GD’s “generous” donations. Both GD Land Systems and GD Mission Systems are listed among its “supporters” in recent annual reports, but the exact sum they’ve given the institute isn’t public.

The Conference of Defence Associations Institute also openly supports GD’s LAV sale. Representatives of the Ottawa-based lobby/think tank have written commentaries justifying the LAV sale and a2016 analysis concluded that “our own Canadian national interests, economic and strategic, dictate that maintaining profitable political and trade relations with ‘friendly’ countries like Saudi Arabia, including arms sales, is the most rational option in a world of unpleasant choices.” Of course, the Conference of Defence Associations Institute also received GD money and its advisory board includes GD Canada’s senior director of strategy and government relations Kelly Williams.

Representing 150 top CEOs, the Business Council of Canada (formerly Canadian Council of Chief Executives) promoted a similar position.In a 2016 iPolitics column titled “We can’t always sell weapons to people we like” the corporate lobby group’s head, John Manley, wrote that LAVs are not “used in torture or persecution of women. We are selling military vehicles — basically fancy trucks.”

Another corporate lobby group applauded GD’s Saudi sale. In 2014 Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters president Jayson Myers labeled the LAV sale “an Olympic win for Canada and for Canadian manufacturers … All Canadians should be proud of this record achievement.”

The armament industry’s primary lobby group also backed GD’s sale to the Saudis. In 2014 Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries president Tim Page celebrated the LAV sale as a “good day for Canada” and two years later its new president, Christyn Cianfarani, defended the deal from criticism, telling the press “we certainly don’t take positions on the judicial practices of other nations.” GD is a member of CADSI and GD Land Systems Vice President, Danny Deep, chairs its board. With an office near Parliament, CADSI lobbyists have likely spoken to government officials about reversing the Saudi LAV sale.

For its part, GD has been lobbying decision makers aggressively. According to an October 24 iPolitics article “General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada has filed almost a dozen communications requests with government officials in the last week.” Like other military companies, the London, Ontario, armoured vehicle maker maintains an Ottawa office to access government officials.

GD has contracted former military officials to lobby on its behalf and offered retired Canadian Forces leaders senior positions. Before becoming Defence Minister, Gordon O’Connor, a former Brigadier-General, represented GD as a lobbyist while GD Canada hired former Navy commodore Kelly Williams as senior director of strategy and government relations in 2012.

GD also advertises at events and in areas of the nation’s capital frequented by government officials. Similarly, it promotes its brand in publications read by Ottawa insiders.

If the government does not cancel the Saudi LAV sale it will be further proof of the corporate lobby’s political influence.

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Real hate taught inside Toronto school, not scrawled outside

Supporters of a private Toronto school that publicly promotes racism against Palestinians, flies an Israeli flag and then complains of “anti-Semitism” when pro-Palestinian graffiti is scrawled on its walls should give their heads a shake.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai Brith labeled messages scrawled on Leo Baeck Day School “hateful” and “anti-Semitic”, but fair-minded individuals should be more concerned with the hatred taught inside the school.

Recently someone wrote “Free Palestine” and“Long Live Palestine” on the school’s sign and flagpole. On a picture of a rally with Israeli flags at or near Leo Baeck (reports differ) someone wrote “Long Life [sic] to the Hamas.”

Saying it received a call to its “Anti-Hate Hotline”, B’nai Brith claimed the school was “defaced  with antisemitic epithets”. FSWC and CIJA also put out statements denouncing “hatred”. A number of city councillors and MPs repeated their message with Mayor John Tory writing, “there is no place for hate” in Toronto.

But none of these groups or politicians mentioned the hate taught inside the school itself.

Leo Baeck is a bastion indoctrination and activism that meets most of the criteria of anti-Palestinian racism, as defined by the UK’s Jewish Voice for Labour.

An Israeli flag flies in front of the school and its publicity says it “instills” a “love of Israel” and  “a deep and meaningful connection to … the State of Israel” among students. The school has an Israel Engagement Committee and in 2012 it received United Jewish Appeal Toronto’s inaugural Israel Engagement Community Award. That same year the Israeli Consul General in Toronto, DJ Schneiweiss, attended the launch of a new campus at Leo Baeck.

A 2012 Canadian Jewish News article titled “Leo Baeck adopts  more Israel-centric curriculum” quoted the head of the school saying “one of the reasons people choose our school is a commitment to the State of Israel.” But, principal Eric Petersie told the paper, graduates felt unprepared to respond to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on university campuses so the school increased its Israeli teachings.

Leo Baeck was the first school to join UJA Federation Toronto’s shinshinim (emissary) program, which began in 2007. Partly funded by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the program sends young Israelis to interact with Canadian students and staff. Last year the school hosted Idan Aharon and Roni Alkalay for three days a week. According to the Canadian Jewish News, “one of the ways Leo Baeck and the Young Emissary Program ensure that students understand the realities of Israel is by re-introducing the previous year’s shinshinim to students by way of live video chat from their Israel Defence Forces barracks dressed in their military uniforms.”

The school promotes the Israeli military in other ways. Last year’s Grade 8 class organized a school-wide fundraiser to support Beit Halochem Canada/Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel and a choir “paid tribute  to Israel’s fallen heroes.”

In another crude form of anti-Palestinianism, Leo Baeck works with the explicitly racist  Jewish National Fund, which excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. Some “students took  virtual walk across Israel in school thanks to JNF map and guidance”, noted a 2015 tweet.  But, the JNF map  shown to the nine and ten-year-olds encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza, effectively denying Palestinians the right to a state on even 22 percent of their historic homeland. In all likelihood, Leo Baeck works with JNF Canada’s Education Department, which has produced puzzles and board games to convince young minds of its colonialist worldview, and organizes celebrations of JNF day  at Jewish schools.

While B’nai Brith, FSWC and CIJA’s statements on the graffiti present the school as sacrosanct, apolitical, terrain, they didn’t object when a politician used it as a backdrop to express his anti-Palestinian bonafides. During a 2012 tour of Leo Baeck then Liberal Liberal party leadership contender Justin Trudeau criticized Iran, celebrated Israel and distanced himself from his brother Alexandre’s support for Palestinians.

Over the past year the Canadian Jewish News has published at least three stories about the growing attention devoted to Israel education at Jewish schools. A 2017 cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey”, in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”

When a school engages in partisan political activity in support of a foreign country, when it supports racism and intolerance against an oppressed people, when it indoctrinates children in these views, surely it cannot be surprised that some would be upset, and might illustrate their displeasure.

One can debate the merits of writing political graffiti on school grounds, but what news reports described was certainly not anti-Semitic.

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Doctors choose capitalism over better public health

Doctors’ aggressive opposition to a more equitable tax code reflects a capitalist ethos that’s often been at odds with public health.

The Canadian Medical Association, Coalition of Ontario Doctors, Ontario Association of Radiologists, Canadian Association of Radiologists and Ontario Medical Association all joined the newly formed Coalition for Small Businesss Tax Fairness. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Canadian Federation of Independent Business are also part of this large coalition established to scuttle a government initiative to lessen tax advantages for wealthy small business owners and remove loopholes that incentivize incorporation for high paid professionals (two thirds of doctors have a corporation to reduce their taxes).

The government’s proposal would restrict business owners’ ability to lower their tax rate by sprinkling income to family members — who do no work for the firm — in lower tax brackets. The changes would also limit certain companies’ investments in stocks and real estate and the ability to convert a corporation’s regular income into capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate. The government says the proposed changes would have almost no impact on anyone making under $150,000 a year, but doctors often make $300,000, $500,000 or more and the higher the income the greater the savings under the current rules. According to a summary of the 2014-15 fiscal year, 500 Ontario doctors received over $1 million from the provincial government with the top-biller claiming $6.6 million.

Currently high paid doctors and other professionals often pay lower taxes rates than nurses. That injustice and the Ontario Medical Association president’s claim the proposed tax changes would harm patient care prompted the Canadian Nurses Association to endorse the government’s tax plan. The CNA noted, “should the proposed changes pass, provincial and territorial governments should see an increase in revenues which can be invested in strengthening our publicly-funded health services, which in themselves employ thousands of salaried, highly-skilled professionals who pay their fair share of personal income taxes.”

While nurses defend public health care, doctors have long promoted a capitalist model of medicine that maximizes their wealth and power. In 1962 doctors in Saskatchewan, the birthplace of Canada’s universal health care system, went on strike for 23 days to block Medicare and other health reforms that weakened their power over medicine. After working to stymie the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation’s proposed health reforms for two years, in July 1962 doctors withdrew their services and launched a massive public relations campaign when the government introduced its long promised health improvements.

As part of the research for The Year We Became Us: A Novel About the Saskatchewan Doctors Strike, Gary Engler examined the Moose Jaw Times Herald‘s coverage of the work stoppage. The rhetoric was over the top. One editorial was headlined “Legal Profession Next to be Socialized” and another “The Day That Freedom Died In Saskatchewan.” That story claimed, “the people of Saskatchewan are now awakening and find that their province has been slowly, and in recent months much more rapidly transformed from a free democracy into a totalitarian state, ruled by men drunk with power.”

The Saskatchewan doctors’ fight against Medicare was assisted financially by the American Medical Association, which has long been a major obstacle to public health insurance in the U.S. According to Stan Rands in Privilege and Policy: A History of Community clinics in Saskatchewan, “by 1920 the American Medical Association, fearing that public financing would lead to public control of medical practice, had opposed health insurance regulation by any state or federal government. The AMA saw health insurance as a threat to its independence and, like the CMA, proposed that health insurance be carried through private companies.”

Fortunately, the CCF (NDP predecessor) government remained steadfast and the doctors lost their battle against universal health insurance, which was extended to the rest of the nation a few years later. But, the Saskatchewan doctors won a number of concessions, notably fee-for-service billing. Unlike Britain where most doctors are salaried employees of the National Health Service, Canadian doctors are overwhelmingly paid per visit/x-ray/operation. Remunerated based upon the number of clients they see, doctors have a financial self-interest in treating rather than preventing ill health.

Careful consideration of the efficacy of every test or treatment, which should underpin all medical evaluations, is too often overlooked when financial benefits are to be had. In fact, one reason drugs are overprescribed is that doctors are generally paid the same whether they stay with a patient for two or twenty minutes. While a prescription can be written in seconds, it takes time to fully understand an individual’s health history and to offer them ways to avoid illness.

Doctors draw their income and prestige largely from curative medicine, but advances in life expectancy and overall health have largely been shaped by improved public health measures such as sanitation, pollution controls, workplace safety regulations, infection control standards, etc. Further improvements will most likely come through broader sociological dynamics such as reductions in inequality and poverty, or improvements in education, healthier food systems, exercise-oriented urban planning, etc.

In Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health Laurie Garrett estimates that “86 per cent of increased life expectancy was due to decreases in infectious diseases. The same can be said for the United States, where less than 4 per cent of the total improvement in life expectancy since the 1700s can be credited to twentieth century advances in medical care.” While Garrett may be overstating her case, public health measures that seek to prevent illness are what works.

By aligning with corporate lobbyists opposed to a more equitable tax code, doctor associations have provided an opening to those who believe a mistake was made at the dawn of Medicare. Like almost everyone whose income comes from public funds, doctors should be paid a salary. This would better align their interests with Medicare, public pensions and many other social programs that have improved overall health as well as working class Canadians who overwhelmingly support a fair tax system to pay for improved government services.

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Using the big lie to undermine Palestinian solidarity

The big lie is a propaganda technique generally employed when telling the truth would be unfavorable to your side. It goes like this: never admit doing any wrong and instead always insist on a story that portrays your side as the good guys. What really happened is irrelevant. The key is repetition. Do it often enough and loudly enough until most people believe you.

While the big lie is most often associated with authoritarian governments, its use is actually quite widespread. For example, the Montreal Gazette recently published a front page article claiming Jewish students at Concordia University were “feeling like the target of a hate campaign.” The reason cited, as far as this writer can tell, was simply that many students were standing in solidarity with Palestinians.

At the end of November, the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights organized BDS Week. Without citing a single incident of actual racism, the Gazette painted a picture of the discussion series as hateful. Reporter Karen Seidman simply quoted an individual decrying “a hostile environment on campus” and another who denounced “speakers slandering Israeli tactics and spewing hate.”

In her article, Seidman also labeled a referendum held last year in which undergraduates voted to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as “contentious” and downplayed its significance by saying only “a tiny fraction” of the overall student body participated.

So why is this a big lie?

First, the side favored is portrayed as a victim of “hate” with no evidence presented except criticism of the Israeli state causing hurt feelings. Second, and most important, the article blissfully ignores any historical background that would present Palestinian sympathizers in a positive light or even provide context for what they are doing.

It abjectly fails to even get any comment from any supporter of BDS. The reporter writes that she tried and failed to get a comment from the organizers, but it should surely not be beyond a reporter’s ability to get an alternative pro-BDS voice.

And while portraying a rather modest week of solidarity events as hateful, the reporter also ignores how a well-funded Concordia institute has engaged in an effort to erase Palestinians from historical memory.

In 2011, multibillionaire David Azrieli gave Concordia $5 million to set up the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies.

The institute established the first minor degree program in Israel studies at a Canadian university.

This wasn’t a disinterested, apolitical donation. Azrieli, an Israeli-Canadian real estate magnate who died last year, was a staunch defender of Israel. He did not hide his affiliation, happily asserting that “I am a Zionist and I love the country.”

During the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, he was an officer in a largely Anglo-Saxon brigade of the Haganah, a Zionist military force. Led by Major Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian veteran of the Second World War, the Seventh Brigade played a leading role in the infamous Operation Hiram.

Dozens of villages in the north of Palestine were depopulated and destroyed during that offensive.

The operation, initiated in October 1948, included several massacres of Palestinian villagers.

As many as 94 Palestinians were killed in the village of Saliha alone. A Jewish National Fund official, Yosef Nahmani, noted in his diary that between 50 and 60 peasants in Safsaf were killed and buried in a pit after the village’s inhabitants “had raised a white flag.”

In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe notes that few brigade names appear in the oral testimonies that have been gathered about the Nakba: “However, Brigade Seven is mentioned again and again, together with such adjectives as ‘terrorists’ and ‘barbarous.’”

Since opening at Concordia, the Azrieli Institute has proven a potent advocate for Israel on campus.

In June, the institute hosted the Association for Israel Studies’ annual conference.

After attending the conference, the right-wing Israeli academic Gerald Steinberg described Azrieli’s $5 million donation as part of a “counterattack” against pro-Palestinian activism at Concordia.

The institute is largely designed to erase Palestinians from their historical connection to their homeland. Its website fails to even mention the word Palestine.

In a December 2014 letter to the Montreal Gazette, Nakina Stratos noted: “Browsing through the website of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies, I was not able to find the words ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian people.’ How can an institute that teaches about the history of Israel not mention Palestine on its website? This, to me, intersects with the far-right Israeli narrative, which is a total confiscation of Palestinian history, and an attempt to erase the concept of Palestine from the dictionary of the Middle East.”

But rather than investigate how Palestinian students feel about a richly endowed university institute that erases their existence, the Gazette’s education reporter chose to focus on assertions of persecution by those who would do the erasing.

The perpetrators of oppression and their supporters instead become victims. Those who stand up for the oppressed are portrayed as bullies.

That is the big lie at work.

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New book provides real understanding of Rwandan tragedy

The Rwandan genocide — think you know the story?

Deep-seated ethic enmity erupted in a 100-day genocidal rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

In Rwanda and the new scramble for Africa Robin Philpot demolishes this version of history.

Philpot points out that while the official story begins April 6, 1994, any serious investigation must go back to at least October 1, 1990. On that day an army of mostly exiled Tutsi elite invaded Rwanda. The Ugandan government claimed 4,000 of its troops “deserted” to invade (including the defence minister and head of intelligence). This unbelievable explanation has largely been accepted since Washington and London backed Uganda’s aggression.

More than 90 per cent Tutsi, the RPF could never have gained power democratically in a country where only 15 per cent of the population was Tutsi. Even military victory looked difficult until International Monetary Fund economic adjustments and Western-promoted political reforms weakened the Rwandan government.

The RPF also benefited from the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) dispatched to keep the peace. According to Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of UNAMIR, “He [UNAMIR commander General Romeo Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian Hutu President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. A French judge pointed the finger at Paul Kagame and the RPF. But the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Canadian Louise Arbour refused to investigate evidence implicating the RPF. When the ICTR prosecutor who took over from Arbour, Carla del Ponte, did look at the RPF’s role in shooting down Habyarimana’s plane the British and Americans had her removed.

Habyarimana’s assassination sparked mass killings (but no planned genocide, according to the ICTR). Five days after Habyarimana’s death an internal US memorandum warned of “hundreds of thousands of deaths,” but Philpot notes, “even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops.”

UNAMIR would have blocked the RPF from capturing Kigali, something Washington supported to undermine French influence and to improve the prospects of North American companies in the nearby mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Rarely heard in Canada, Philpot’s version of events aligns with that of former UN head Boutros Boutros-Ghali, civilian head of UNAMIR Jacques-Roger Booh Booh and many French investigators. Presumably, many Rwandans’ also agree but it’s hard to know as Paul Kagame ruthlessly suppresses opponents, regularly labeling them génocidaire.

Ottawa has supported this witch-hunt. Philpot points to the example of a former Rwandan prime minister denied a Canadian visa: “The Prime Minister of the government that supposedly ended the genocide had now become a génocidaire. Canada had already received Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramngu with all honours in December 1994 when he was looking for funding to rebuild Rwanda under the RPF. Either Canada’s institutional memory is short and selective or, more likely, the country has a policy of supporting the RPF government at all costs.”

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding the Rwandan tragedy and countering those who cite it to justify Western military interventions.

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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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