Backers of ‘anti-Semitism lessons’ fail to speak out against all forms of racism

Is a school lesson plan, widely used across Canada, designed to fight racism like its promoters say? Or is it also a clever cover for defending Jewish and white supremacy in the Middle East?

A recent 12-page Canadian Jewish News insert about Elizabeth and Tony Comper raises the issue. According to the supplement, in 2005 the Bank of Montreal head and his wife Elizabeth started Fighting Anti-Semitism Together (FAST), a coalition of non-Jewish business leaders and prominent individuals. FAST sponsored a lesson plan for grades six to eight called “Choose Your Voice: Antisemitism in Canada.”

Over 2.4 million students in 19,000 schools have been through the FAST program. A year ago, FAST added Voices into Action, an anti-racism lesson for Canadian high schoolers that devotes a third of its plan to the Nazi Holocaust in Europe.

Unfortunately, FAST does not appear to be an example of business leaders struggling for social justice. Rather, it’s part of what Norman Finkelstein dubbed the “Holocaust Industry,” which exploits historical Jewish suffering to deflect criticism of Israeli expansionism.

In the section titled “What we stand for” on its website, FAST calls on Canadians “to speak out against all forms of bigotry, racism and hatred,” yet the Compers were honoured guests at a 2009 Jewish National Fund fundraiser in Toronto. Owning 13 per cent of Israel’s land, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian-Arab citizens who make up a fifth of Israel’s population. (What would we think of anti-racist activists who attend KKK meetings?)

In a 2006 article titled “BMO head slams one-sided Israel critics” the Canadian Jewish Newsreported on FAST’s Quebec launch:

“Singling out Israel for blame in the Middle East conflict, even by those of good faith, is fanning anti-Semitism, Bank of Montreal president Tony Comper says. It may not be the intent, but the effect of condemning Israel alone is providing justification for hatred of Jews in Canada and internationally, Comper warned more than 400 business executives….In underscoring the serious threat of anti-Semitism worldwide, Comper suggested that ‘a second Holocaust’ is possible if Iran acquires nuclear arms and attacks Israel.”

In his speech, Comper cited CUPE Ontario and the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada’s support for boycotting Israel as spurring anti-Semitism.

FAST supporters include a who’s who of the corporate elite: President TD Bank, Ed Clark; CEO of CN, Hunter Harrison; CEO of Manulife Financial, Dominic D’Allessandro; CEO of Bombardier, Laurent Beaudoin; president of Power Corporation, André Desmarais; President of RBC Financial, Gordon M. Nixon and many others.

According to the Canadian Jewish News supplement, the Toronto couple also sponsored the Elizabeth and Tony Comper Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism at the University of Haifa in Israel. The Center operates an online Ambassadors Program, which reports the paper, “gives students intellectual material and technical skills to combat online the global boycott, divestment and sanctions anti-Israel movement.”

The supplement was partly sponsored by Larry and Judy Tanenbaum. Larry was one of a half-dozen rich right-wing donors that scrapped the 100-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress in 2011 and replaced it with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. As the name change suggests, this move represented a shift towards ever greater lobbying in favour of Israeli nationalism.

The Compers provided over $500,000 to the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. Established in 2008, Larry and Ken Tanenbaum gave the U of T $5 million dollars and helped raise more than $10 million more for the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies.

Andrea and Charles Bronfman gave over $500,000 to the Anne Tanenbaum Centre, which has close ties with the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Chair in Israeli Studies. In 1997, the Bronfman family provided $1.5 million to create an Andrea and Charles Bronfman Chair in Israeli Studies at the U of T. “Fifty years after its rebirth, the miracle of modern Israel is of broad interest,” said Charles Bronfman at the launch.

The long-standing Zionist family put up $1 million to establish a Jewish Studies program at Concordia two years later. An orchestrator of opposition to Palestinian solidarity activism at the Montreal university through the 2000s, Concordia Jewish studies professor Norma Joseph was also “instrumental” in setting up the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies. In 2011, multi-billionaire David Azrieli gave Concordia $5 million to establish the first minor in Israel Studies at a Canadian university. After attending an Association for Israel Studies’ conference organized by the Azrieli Institute, prominent anti-Palestinian activist Gerald Steinberg described the Institute as part of a “counterattack” against pro-Palestinian activism at Concordia.

The Israeli nationalist tilt of McGill’s Jewish studies is actually inscribed in a major funding agreement. In 2012 the estate of Simon and Ethel Flegg contributed $1 million to McGill’s Jewish Studies department partly for an “education initiative in conjunction with McGill Hillel.” But, Hillel refuses to associate with Jews (or others) who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.”

The individuals driving Jewish studies and anti-Semitism lessons in Canada overwhelmingly back Jewish and white supremacy in the Middle East and encourage the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism.

Unfortunately, support for anti-Palestinian racism, along with colonialism and western imperialism, makes one question their “anti-racism” credentials.

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Left thrives in compact communities, dies in suburban sprawl

Suburban sprawl is an enemy of the Left and progressives should support efforts to discourage it, including tolls.

In opposing tolls on Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, a number of leftists cite political strategy. They argue the tolls will elicit a rightist populist backlash and alienate potential supporters.

On Facebook John Bell complained, “to all the ‘progressives’ who support road tolls, and then wonder why a Ford or a Trump gets elected give your head a shake.” Slightly more restrained, Nora Loreto wrote, “if progressives want to have a hope in hell in reaching the average Mississauga commuter” they should oppose tolls.

The Toronto tolls are no doubt highly unpopular among suburbanites who currently use the two highways without paying either through fees or municipal taxes. But, Bell and Loreto’s statements are short sighted. In fact, there’s a case to be made that Rob Ford and Donald Trump wouldn’t have been elected if not for the vast sums in public funds (mainly roadway and mortgage subsidies) spent partly in the hopes of atomizing communities.

Since at least the European revolutions of 1848 elites have repeatedly sought to undermine progressive organizing by dispersing communities. In Toronto Sprawls Lawrence Solomon traces the ways in which the city’s dispersal was a reaction to the breakdown of social control that accompanied growing migration from farms. In the early 1900s, Toronto’s elite became concerned about the growing number of single women and immigrants living in the city, as well as the success unions were having in organizing urban workers. Government officials responded by razing buildings in high-density areas, banning apartment buildings and promoting single-family dwellings more conducive to the traditional family.

Conducive to consumerism, disconnected and depoliticized, the suburbs are bastions of conservatism and infertile grounds for social movements to back the scale between rich and poor. Surveys indicate that suburbanites are less inclined to support government programs, unless considered directly beneficial — highways and education, for instance. Compared to their counterparts in small towns and urban areas, suburbanites reports Urban Sprawl and Public Health, “place little emphasis on such social goals as eliminating discrimination and reducing poverty, and tend to reject initiatives such as park acquisition and mass transit.”

Right-wing politics reign supreme, intensifying as suburbs sprawl further outwards. Conversely, according to Robert E. Lang, Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, “at each greater increment of urban density, democrat John Kerry received a higher proportion of the vote [in the 2004 Presidential election].” Put differently, as the dominance of the car increased, so did votes for George W. Bush.

Canadian voting patterns are similar. In the 2011 election Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won almost every suburban riding in Canada’s major cities (outside of Montréal) and lost most central districts. Similarly, former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford received stronger support in the outer rings of the city.

In a Globe and Mail piece headlined “The real reason Donald Trump got elected? We have a white extremism problem” Doug Saunders correctly cites “higher population density” and mass transit oriented neighbourhoods as a way to reverse white support for Trump. “White people who live in areas where they’re immersed in longstanding populations of immigrants and minorities – that is, in big cities – don’t generally tend to vote for the politics of racial intolerance. That’s called the ‘contact effect’ – you don’t get anxious about immigration if you live around immigrants. But people who live in mainly white areas that adjoin cities with greater diversity often show very high levels of support for people like Mr. Trump.”

Diffuse suburban landscapes discourage political gatherings. In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit notes that “cars have encouraged the diffusion and privatization of space, as shopping malls replace shopping streets, public buildings become islands in a sea of asphalt, civic design lapses into traffic engineering, and people mingle far less freely and frequently.”

How many demonstrations take place in low-density suburbs? A diffuse geography and population denies a pedestrian scale. As a result, suburbanites’ interaction with protests — and progressive political culture more generally — is limited or mediated through the dominant media.

During the 2012 student-led uprising in Québec the vast majority of demonstrations and neighbourhood “casseroles” (pots and pans) marches took place within the core of Montréal. Yet, those living on the outskirts of the city were significantly more likely to tell pollsters that the protests were disruptive than those in neighbourhoods closer to the centre. In effect, people expressed annoyance with the political disruption in an inverse relation to which they were impacted. Or to put it differently, the more Montréalers interacted with the activism through the dominant media, rather than in person, the more it seemed troublesome.

A pedestrian scale is required for political posters to be read. Signs in the suburbs (think billboards) are enormous and usually too expensive for grassroots groups. Unlike car-oriented billboards, street posters are ideal for volunteer-run movements. Putting up posters is labour intensive, but not expensive, which makes it among the most democratic means of mass communication.

And there are other obstacles to community organizing. Where does one leaflet in a suburb with no centre or subway? The highway?

British historian Eric Hobsbawm’s description of “the ideal city for riot and insurrection,” stands in stark contrast to the modern day suburb. In an insurrectionary city, the poor majority would live in close proximity to government authorities and the wealthy. The ideal city would also “be densely populated and not too large in area. Essentially it should still be possible to traverse on foot.”

In her history of walking, Solnit highlights the vital connection between Paris as a great city for walkers and revolution. She also contrasts walkable San Francisco, with its rich history of progressive political activism, to car-dependent Los Angeles, which has seen less political upheaval. Solnit explains:

Only citizens familiar with their city as both symbolic and practical territory, able to come together on foot and accustomed to walking about their city, can revolt. Few remember that the ‘right of the people peaceably to assemble’ is listed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, along with freedom of the press, of speech, and of religion, as critical to a democracy. While other rights are easily recognized, the elimination of the possibility of such assemblies through urban design, automotive dependence, and other factors is hard to trace and seldom framed as a civil rights issue.

Instead of fearing a populist backlash for challenging automotive hegemony, all progressives need to recognize their strategic interest in promoting pedestrian, bike and mass transit scale urban spaces.

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Car culture and geography harm the poor far more than tolls

There’s no doubt tolls hurt poor people, but a car-dominated transportation system does far more damage and everyone who wants a more just society should support measures that help rid our over-heating planet of private automobiles.

The primary left-wing complaint about tolling two Toronto highways is it will harm the poor. One activist responded to my criticism of toll opponents by posting, “some folks are so desperate for a war on the car they are willing to settle for a war on the poor disguised as such.” Another individual wrote on someone else’s Facebook page: “It’s almost embarrassing seeing people who think of themselves as progressive supporting policies that would disproportionately hit those with the least the most. It seems like the very definition of privileged, ivory towerism.”

To the extent lower income folks drive the Gardiner Expressway or Don Valley Parkway a $2 toll is obviously a greater burden (though income-contingent tax rebates can remedy this). But driving and income are inversely correlated. Poorer people own fewer vehicles and drive less since shoes, a bike, or bus pass are cheaper than a personal car.

But tolls — and the modest, imperfect, challenge to auto-hegemony they represent — should be examined through a broader wealth/inequality lens. In a variety of ways, structuring transport and urban landscapes around the private auto entrenches class and wealth divisions and negatively impacts poor people.

For example, although they drive less, lower income folks are more likely to live on heavily trafficked streets/neighbourhoods. Increased car noise and pollution leads to various ills, including higher rates of asthma and cancer.

Poor and working-class communities have also borne the brunt of community destroying automotive infrastructure. Innumerable poor and working class neighbourhoods across North America have been bulldozed to build highways.

As well as indifference to the negative impact of highways on poor communities, planners require parking spots for each new lodging unit, which increases the cost of housing. “Zoning requires a home for every car, but ignores homeless people,” writes Donald Shoup in The High Cost of Free Parking. “By increasing the cost of housing, parking requirements make the real homelessness problem even worse.”

Then there’s the ideological element. As an important means for the wealthy to assert social dominance, the private car heightens cultural inequities. “The automobile’s a credit card on wheels,” writes Heathcote Williams. “It’s pushy to tell people how much you make, so you tell ’em through your automobile.”

While allowing the rich to flaunt their status, the private car also shields drivers from “undesirables.” During a stop in Portland as part of research for Bianca Mugyenyi and my book Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay an Oregonian columnist writing about street youth shared a reader’s letter detailing the lengths he went to avoid the homeless. In the morning he entered work through the underground parking. At lunch he eschewed the nearby restaurants and slipped into his car to avoid panhandlers. Finally, he used the parkade exit to avoid street people on his way home from work. “Many of us, myself included,” a businessman from northeast Portland emailed the paper, “drive garage (home) to garage (downtown) to garage (home) and never leave the building because of this [street youth] problem…It’s easier just not to deal with it.”

One reason some choose personal vehicles over public transit is to avoid the poor or perceived social inferiors. A couple years ago a union colleague strongly implied that was why he didn’t take the bus to work. In Down the Asphalt Path Clay McShane writes about the history of the elite’s disdain for public transit riders: “Trolleys were dirty, noisy, and overcrowded. It was impossible for middle-class riders to isolate themselves from fellow riders whom they perceived as social inferiors. Distancing themselves from blacks, immigrants, blue collar workers, and, in general those stereotyped as the ‘great unwashed,’ was often precisely why the middle classes had moved to the [streetcar] suburbs.”

The private car has made it possible for the wealthier to live far from the poor (or anyone else without an automobile). Partly to keep “undesirables” out, many suburban municipalities have blocked transit projects from their boundaries or underinvested in mass transit.

A 2013 study looking at how social mobility varies across US cities found that the poor are less likely to rise the socio-economic ladder the more residents are geographically segregated. In other words, the further apart different social classes live the more entrenched inequality becomes. The “Equality of Opportunity Project” study shows that relatively compact cities such as San Francisco, New York and Boston have greater social mobility than more sprawling counterparts Memphis, Detroit and Atlanta. In relatively transit and pedestrian oriented San Francisco, for instance, someone born into the poorest fifth of income distribution had an 11 per cent chance of reaching the top fifth while in car-oriented Atlanta this number was only four per cent.

At a global level the world’s poorest are the chief victims of the climate crisis. Automobiles are a major source of Canada’s extremely high per capita carbon emissions. Transport represents over 40 per cent of Toronto and Montréal’s greenhouse gas emissions and in both cities it’s growing while other sectors decline.

Although hardest hit by climate change, the terrible irony is that Africa among all continents is least responsible for the problem. Per capita emissions in most African countries amount to barely one per cent of Canada’s rate, yet the Climate Vulnerability Monitor concludes that climate disturbances are already responsible for 400,000 deaths per year, mostly in Africa. Nigerian ecologist Nnimmo Bassey has dubbed growing carbon emissions a “death sentence for Africa.”

Overwhelmed by capitalist culture and enmeshed with unions tied to automobile production, socialist parties and movements have largely failed to challenge car-oriented transport for exacerbating inequities. Much the same could be said for an environmental movement highly dependent on rich philanthropists.

If we want a more egalitarian society, we must reverse geographical segregation and build communities and cities where people can get around without the private automobile. Tolls that discourage driving can be one step in accomplishing this.

Urban areas liberated from the danger, pollution and ecological devastation of the private car enjoy both heightened quality of life and equality of residents. Proportionately, poor people benefit the most.

This is the third in a four-part series on the ‘Great Toronto toll debate.’

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Auto industry requires massive public subsidies to survive

When are capitalists in favour of public ownership? When it earns them a profit. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than when looking at car companies.

As auto interests have pocketed stupendous profits over the past century they’ve also pushed to socialize huge amounts of urban land. While this may contradict textbook economics, capitalists often prioritize socialized costs/privatized profits over “free markets.”

Ignorance of the auto industrial complex’ drive to socialize public space was highlighted in a number of leftists’ recent criticism of tolling two Toronto highways. Bemoaning Mayor John Tory’s “neoliberal policies” and “neoliberal lens of public infrastructure,” Nora Loreto argued the tolls might pave the way to privatization. “Getting people used to paying to use the Gardiner and the DVP [Don Valley Parkway] would make it possible to start talking about full-scale privatization of these roads,” she wrote. “If you’re opposed to privatization, a toll plan under a right-wing administration is effectively creeping privatization. If you can’t put that cat back into the bag, do everything you can to not let it escape in the first place.”

While it’s not inconceivable the city would privatize the Gardiner and DVP, the broader concern reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the auto industrial complex (car, tire, oil, asphalt, etc. companies, as well as big box retailers and suburban developers). Cars are produced for profit, owned by private individuals, but are completely dependent upon public roads. It is even hard to conceive of a large-scale privately owned road network. While there are a good number of toll highways financed and operated by private corporations, it is almost impossible to envision an entire city road system — let alone that of a province or nation — financed and operated privately. Simply put, cars need roads and the state must pay for them; otherwise most of us would still be riding public transit because an unsubsidized private automobile would be too expensive and too inefficient.

The private car’s ability to offload costs onto the public is at the heart of its rise to dominance. German auto historian Winfried Wolf explains: “In road transport there is a possible separation, based on modern technology, between the transport infrastructure (the motorway or road) and the means of transport (the car, truck etc.) This transport technology can therefore be easily organized according to the principle of private appropriation of profit, socialization of costs and losses. Private profits are appropriated by the vehicle manufacturers, the insurance companies, and the motorway construction firms; costs are socialized by means of public financing of motorway construction, policing, hospitalization of the injured and repairs to the environment.”

Out of every economic sector, the auto industry receives by far the most public support. In 2001, reports Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning, the world’s 30 richest governments spent $1.1 trillion (1,100,000,000,000) on road transport. The costs of auto infrastructure are so great Carfree Cities claims: “The savings on street maintenance in a car free city probably exceed the operating costs of the transport system.”

Curbside parking alone sucks up tens of billions of dollars in government subsidies each year. A century ago North American cities began devoting tens of millions of dollars to widen streets and cut down trees to increase parking space. Today it’s hard to find a street without space for curb parking, which the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup, argues, “may be the most costly subsidy Americans cities provide for most of their citizens.”

For those of us of left-wing persuasion, it’s counterintuitive to call for the privatization of public lands. But, often the less public space there is in a neighbourhood, the more pleasant it is. And the less of a toll it takes on the planet. Why is this? The answer is simple and so overwhelmingly a part of our shared existence that we have trouble seeing it: Most public land in urban areas is devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles, which contribute significantly to the climate crisis.

Of the 40 per cent of Toronto that is public land, roadways make up 27.4 per cent, while parks and open spaces cover 13 per cent. Many beautiful, walkable, old cities have less than half as much public land. On the Old Urbanist blog Charlie Gardner writes, “the traditional city of narrow streets and small squares, typified by towns of medieval plan, find ten or fifteen per cent [public space] perfectly adequate.”

So, privatizing the arteries that feed the automotive cancer could lead to healthier, more pleasant and ecologically sustainable cities.

Or, an alliance of environmentalists, urbanists, public health advocates and housing rights activists could campaign to turn roadway into co-ops/social housing. But, a prerequisite for this type of “Leap Manifesto coalition” is leftists recognizing the need to move beyond the private automobile.

This is the second of a four part series on the “Great Toronto toll debate’.

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Are tolls a ‘flat tax’ or one step in building a sane (carless) society?

What’s left and what’s right? Usually it is obvious, but sometimes you have to take a step back and consider the bigger picture.

For example, the Toronto toll debate has exposed a lack of scrutiny of the leading source of corporate profit over the past century by many supposed leftists. Absent a political economy of the auto industrial complex, many Marxists have objectively allied themselves with the private car’s awesome political, cultural and ideological power.

“There is no progressive argument in favour of road tolls,” bellowed Nora Loreto, author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement, on Facebook. “I’m perplexed and confused by anyone purporting to be a progressive and at the same time supporting regressive taxes such as tolls or user fees”, wrote leftist former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan. “How on earth are these taxes considered to be anything but a burden placed on the shoulders of working class people who use the Gardiner Expressway and DVP [Don Valley Parkway] to get to work.”

The tolls are no doubt a terrible idea. Anyone serious about livability, pollution, safety, lack of exercise, weakening corporate power or the climate crisis should demand both the Gardiner and DVP demolished. (41% of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions are from land transportation and despite dropping 24% in other sectors between 1990 and 2013 transport emissions rose 15%.) But, since getting rid of these expressways isn’t on the agenda, forcing drivers to pay a Tooney is a small jab at the ‘God-given right’ to take 3,000 pounds of metal 10, 30, 50, or 100 km a day without paying any road costs.

The stated plan is to spend the money raised on “transit” infrastructure. However much is channelled to Toronto Transit Commission projects will be socially useful while the funds devoted to roadway will not.

One objection cited to tolling the highways is that it would simply push vehicles on to alternative routes. It’s possible, but increasing costs or making driving less comfortable generally curtails car travel.

The primary “left” criticism, explains Loreto, is that it’s a “flat tax that roots out those who can pay from those who can’t pay.” To the extent lower income folks take these two highways that’s correct, but driving and income are inversely correlated. Poorer people own fewer vehicles and drive less.

Calling a toll a “flat tax” is a tacit acceptance of a transport system where roads, highways and parking are endlessly subsidized (through public funds or hidden in prices everyone pays in higher store prices, rent, etc.). Few call fees at Canada Post, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Sasktel, Toronto Hydro, Toronto Transit Commission, etc. a “flat tax”. Yet, at least hydro is a greater necessity – to cook or stay warm – than driving a highway.

Left-wing opposition to tolls disregards the longstanding financial incentives, notably road and mortgage subsidies, for people to purchase large single-family suburban homes. But, it’s also a brazen denial of auto hegemony. Toll critics act as if their opposition doesn’t contribute to rightists’ wild attacks against bike paths, trolleys, car-free days, etc. It’s as if former mayor Rob Ford didn’t denounce a supposed “war on cars” and the leader of the provincial Conservatives isn’t seeking to restrict Toronto’s right to raise revenue from its own highways by saying the move would “start a war of tolls” between Ontario municipalities (amen to that).

Objectively, toll opponents are taking the side of the auto industrial complex — car, oil, tire, asphalt, insurance, etc. companies, as well as big box retailers, appliance makers and suburban developers — having fallen victim to the car’s immense ideological/cultural/political power. Since the early 1900s the auto industrial complex has funded consumer groups and university programs. The highly profitable sector has also produced films, pamphlets and books promoting roads and depicting automobiles as a barometer of progress.

Far and away the largest advertisers, car companies have conquered nearly every sphere of human consciousness. Whether you’re at a party, online, at the mall, playing videogames, at the movies or writing checks, there is an endless promotion of both brand names and automobility.

The auto industrial complex is a powerhouse of colossal proportions in their dealings with the media. “Top auto executives hold frequent, off-the-record meetings with the nation’s leading publishers and editors, enjoying a level of access that most politicians can only dream of,” writes Keith Bradford former Detroit bureau chief of the New York Times. When unhappy with editorial decisions car companies have repeatedly pulled their advertising.

Disregarding the political climate when criticizing tolls is highly disingenuous. It’s akin to those who oppose university fees for women’s centres without discussing patriarchy or criticizing First Nations tax breaks without mentioning the land theft, pass system, residential schools, etc. Simply put, blanket condemnation of tolls reinforces an unjust, unhealthy and ecocidal transport/urban planning status quo.

Most leftists opposed to the tolls say they support expanding public transit. To overcome private automobility we unquestionably need major investments in new light rail, metro lines, bus lanes, bike paths, as well as incentives for employment near transit, car free streets and an end to car centric zoning. But, the car won’t be dethroned without also increasing its costs (be it highway or street tolls, luxury vehicle fees, registration fees, parking fees, higher gas taxes, etc.). The short term financial inequities of some of these measures can be mitigated through tax rebates, as well as free transit passes, prioritizing transit services in working-class neighborhoods and building social housing near transit hubs.

To be “progressive” in 2016 must include a political commitment to upending a transport/urban planning system structured around the private automobile.

This is the first in a four-part series on the ‘Great Toronto toll debate’.

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Putting Palestine into the NDP leadership race

To the sound of crickets chirping from opposition benches Justin Trudeau’s government has once again isolated Canada on Palestinian rights. But, recent developments suggest this shameful chapter in Canadian diplomacy is past its political best before date.
On November 21 Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing a UN Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee resolution in support of “the right of Palestinian people to self-determination” backed by 170 countries. Two weeks earlier Ottawa aligned with Israel, the US, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau in opposing a motion titled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan” supported by 156 countries.
While the Trudeau government disgraced this country at the UN, prominent figures including Yann Martel, Naomi Klein, Bruce Cockburn, Richard Parry (Arcade Fire), Gabor Mate and Rawi Hage worked to redeem Canada from its extreme pro-Israel position. At the end of November over 50 authors, musicians, labour leaders, environmentalists, academics and filmmakers appealed to Green Party of Canada members to support “concrete international action” for Palestinian rights and applauded the party’s August vote to support “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation” of Palestinian land.
The former head of CUPE Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Labour, Sid Ryan, signed the appeal. “Sid Ryan for NDP Leader”, a recently launched website to enlist him to run for the head of the party, notes: “Sid Ryan’s advocacy for the Palestinian people, starting in his days in CUPE where he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, shows that an NDP leader could muster broad support for a process where Canada is non-aligned, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed nations in the Global South, and champions a foreign policy based on peace, democracy, social justice and human rights.”
No matter who wins the campaign to become NDP leader in October it’s hard to imagine they will be as hostile to Palestinians as outgoing leader Tom Mulcair — who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances”.
Putting pressure on NDP leadership candidates, last weekend the Green Party reconfirmed its support for “government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment” to support the Palestinians. Backed by 85% of those at a special general meeting in Calgary, the motion encompasses the Palestinian-civil-society-led BDS campaign’s three demands: equal rights for the Arab minority in Israel, the right of refugees to return and an end to “Israel’s illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and the Golan Heights, and Israel’s siege of Gaza.”
The new resolution also details Canadian complicity in dispossessing “the indigenous people”, calling on Ottawa to renegotiate the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, end “all military and surveillance trade” with Israel and “to divest from any companies which are directly benefiting from activity within Israel’s illegal settlements.” Finally, it calls on Ottawa “to ask the International Criminal Court to prioritize its investigation into charges of potential war crimes by members of the Israeli forces.”
Green leader Elizabeth May backed the new policy, which makes her publically stated position on Palestinian rights the strongest of anyone with a seat in the House of Commons.
As the NDP leadership campaign heats up, expect Palestine to be a major point of debate. Hopefully before long a new NDP leader will begin to pressure the government to end Canada’s shameful international opposition to Palestinian rights.

This article first appeared in The Hill Times.

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Canada opposed Cuba’s key role in ending apartheid

Did Canada lead the international charge against apartheid and white rule in South Africa or criticize a country that, in fact, did?

Recent commentary about Canada’s policy towards southern Africa’s liberation struggles distorts history that should inform debate over Canada’s planned military deployment to the continent today.

Globe and Mail article last month described “Canada’s strong support for the anti-apartheid movement” while a Kingston Whig Standard story last week claimed a “senior Canadian diplomat and his wife became engaged in providing support to a wide array of South Africans actively opposing the apartheid regime.” A Le Devoir columnist wrote that “faced with apartheid South Africa, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, in the 1980s, was the first in the Commonwealth to adopt a policy not of inclusion but of economic sanctions, against the government of Pieter Botha.” But, this statement is only plausible if you reduce the Commonwealth to the European settler states. Does anyone actually believe Ottawa was more opposed to the white regime than Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, India, etc.?

Toronto Star editorial about Fidel Castro’s death hinted at a position hard to align with this self-congratulatory revisionism. (Or a Star story after Nelson Mandela’s death titled “Canada helped lead international fight against apartheid”). The editorial pointed out that in the late 1970s Prime Minister Pierre “Trudeau was also voicing deep concerns to Castro… over Cuba’s military involvement in Africa, especially Angola.” The Star editorialists failed to elaborate on Trudeau’s “deep concern”.

Not long after Angola won its independence from Portugal, apartheid South Africa invaded. In an important display of international solidarity Cuba came to Angola’s defence. Thousands of Cuban troops, most of them black, voluntarily enlisted to fight the racist South African regime. Contrary to Western claims, Cuba decided to intervene in Angola without Soviet input (Washington knew this at the time). Cuba’s intervention helped halt South Africa’s invasion.

This successful military victory by black forces also helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. The famous township rebellion in Soweto took place three months after South Africa’s initial defeat in Angola. Nelson Mandela’s ANC noted “their [the South African army’s] racist arrogance shrank when our MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola] comrades thrashed them in Angola.” For its part, Johannesburg’s Rand Daily Mail warned that the legacy of Angola resulted in “blows to South African pride.” The paper viewed the defeat as, “the boost to African nationalism which has seen South Africa forced to retreat.” In a similar vein another South African analyst observed “whether the bulk of the offensive was by Cubans or Angolans is immaterial in the colour-conscious context of this war’s battlefield, for the reality is that they won, are winning, and are not white: and that psychological edge, that advantage the white man has enjoyed and exploited over 300 years of colonialism and empire, is slipping away. White elitism has suffered an irreversible blow in Angola and Whites who have been there know it.”

Ottawa freaked out, diplomatically speaking. Trudeau stated: “Canada disapproves with horror [of] participation of Cuban troops in Africa” and later terminated the Canadian International Development Agency’s small aid program in Cuba as a result.

Conversely, Ottawa funnelled aid to Zambia during this period partly to support its “moderate” position in southern Africa’s racial conflict. In Canadian Development Assistance to Zambia Sinkala Sontwa explains how Ottawa “lent support to what they considered as Zambia’s moderate stand among the Front Line States on Southern African politics.”

A few years earlier Canadian officials expressed apprehension about providing indirect backing to Ghanaian and Tanzanian proponents of what Ottawa dubbed a “war of liberation” in southern Africa. At the end of the 1960s, Canada failed to renew its military training in Tanzania partly because the government provided limited support to the liberation movement on its southern border in Mozambique.

Canada’s position towards the African liberation struggles of the 1970s and 80s should influence how we view deploying troops to the continent today. This history – and the media’s distortion of it – suggests the need for a healthy dose of skepticism towards Ottawa’s intentions.

To paraphrase George Santayana, Canadians who cannot remember the past are condemned to allow the bad guys to repeat it.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa