Tag Archives: Green Party

Let’s build the kind of Left that demands Canada withdraw from NATO

Even the father of Medicare, Tommy Douglas, fell victim to NATO propaganda.

Final in a four-part series on the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The first two installments discussed how NATO was set up to blunt the European  left and to enable global  dominance while the third focused on NATO’s role in spurring conflict  and military spending. This article details the Left’s relationship with NATO.

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the NDP’s predecessor, backed NATO. In early 1949 the National Council of the party announced, “the CCF  believes that Canada should support and join a North Atlantic security pact.” At its 1950 convention the party passed a resolution supporting NATO and, in coded reference to his aggressive response to its opponents, long time party secretary David Lewis writes, “the NATO  issue did not disappear. It had to be dealt with at every subsequent convention, and always produced one of the most heated debates.” Army Captain and party advisor Desmond Morton describes the battle over a compromise resolution on military alliances at the NDP’s founding convention in 1961. The motion to abandon NORAD, but stay in NATO, was “subjected  to a bitter, emotional attack from the floor. As they had done in so many CCF conventions, [MJ] Coldwell, [Tommy] Douglas and Lewis came to the microphones to hammer back the unilateralists.”

Party leaders did not only employ the power of persuasion. In addition to benefiting from the dominant ideological winds, the leadership employed the levers of power within the party. On one occasion, Coldwell threatened to resign as party leader if members did not support the North Atlantic treaty. When a group of Manitoba CCF members, including individuals elected to the provincial legislature, organized an anti-NATO group the provincial secretary blocked their access to the party’s mailing list. Federal MP and future party leader, Stanley Knowles also intervened to pressure the Manitoba CCF to punish prominent opponents of NATO and the provincial party expelled two former members of the Manitoba legislature for campaigning against the North Atlantic accord.

Two decades after its creation the NDP finally called on Ottawa to withdraw from NATO. But, its 1969 position was partially reversed in the mid-1980s, culminating in a 1987 “security” policy paper that equivocated on the subject. When members have submitted  resolutions critical of NATO at recent NDP conventions they have been buried. In a 2015 federal election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called the NDP “proud  members of NATO” and said his government would make the alliance a “cornerstone” of its foreign policy. There’s little indication that new leader Jagmeet Singh has changed  the party’s position.

On the eve of the 1980 referendum the Parti Québecois’ 1979 White Paper (Québec-Canada: A New Deal. The Québec Government Proposal for a New Partnership Between Equals: Sovereignty-Association) said an independent Québec would continue its membership in NATO. More recently, the PQ’s 2012 election platform pledged to remain in NATO. In its platform Québec’s other main sovereigntist party, Québec Solidaire, calls for “Canada’s  immediate withdrawal from NATO and NORAD.”

The Green Party has questioned “maintaining  membership in NATO” and called for “shifting our focus away from NATO war missions towards UN Peacekeeping contributions”, but they don’t appear to have explicitly asked to withdraw from the alliance. The Communist Party  and other smaller Left parties have called for withdrawing from NATO.

For decades the ‘house of labour’ backed NATO. The Canadian Labour Congress’ predecessors – the Canadian Congress of Labour and Trades and Labour Congress – supported the formation of NATO and the CLC’s inaugural convention called on the “Canadian  government not to falter or fail in its support of NATO”, which it described as a measure for “self-protection against aggression.” In 1957 the CLC “reiterated its support of NATO in the memorandum submitted to the government of Canada.” As part of an effort to promote the military alliance, the newly formed labour federation distributed 11,000 copies of a booklet titled “The Trade Unions and NATO”. The pamphlet explained, “unfortunately we still do have to spend large sums on defence, and the responsibility for the fact rests with international communism. Canadian labour firmly supports NATO.”

Through the 1960s the CLC continued to back NATO. It wasn’t until 1976 that the CLC “urged  the federal government to … deemphasize the military role of the North Atlantic organization.” In recent years the CLC and its affiliates have said little about NATO.

A number of peace organizations – Pugwash  Canada, Project Ploughshares, etc. – have taken ambiguous positions  towards NATO. The president of the antiwar Rideau Institute Peggy Mason attended  all NATO Council meetings when she was a lead adviser to Progressive Conservative MP and foreign minister Joe Clark from 1984 to 1989. During a 2012 National Defence Committee parliamentary meeting Mason noted, “I’m  talking as someone who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working with NATO.” The Rideau Institute president trained NATO commanders for peace and crisis stabilization operations and, according to Mason’s LinkedIn profile, continued in this role after taking over RI.

For their parts, the Canadian Peace Congress, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Canadian Peace Alliance and others openly call for Canada to withdraw from NATO, which shouldn’t be a controversial position for progressive organizations.

Though it would elicit howls of outrage from the militarists, withdrawing from NATO would not be particularly radical. European countries such as Sweden and Finland aren’t part of the alliance, nor are former British dominions Australia and New Zealand, not to mention Canada’s NAFTA and G7 partners Mexico and Japan. Still, withdrawing from NATO would dampen pressure to spend on the military and to commit acts of aggression in service of the US-led world order. It’s long past time to do so.

 

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The Left in denial over Canadian imperialism

As hard as it is to admit for a former junior hockey player who spends many hours writing at the neighbourhood Tim Hortons, some things are better in the USA.

For example, comparing Green Party leader Elizabeth May to her American counterpart Jill Stein on foreign-policy issues puts Canada to shame. While Stein has articulated forthright criticism on various international issues, May spouts nationalist platitudes as often as she challenges unjust policies.

Recently, Stein endorsed the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, called for Washington and Moscow to work together and said, “US pursuit of regime change in Libya, Iraq, and Syria created the chaos that promotes power grabs by extremist militias. Many of the weapons we are sending into Syria to arm anti-government militias are winding up in the hands of ISIS. This isn’t a clever foreign policy — it’s disastrous militarism.”

For her part, May spent last weekend undermining her party’s internal democracy to protect the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund and Israel from censure. At their convention in Ottawa May and most of the Green leadership succeeded in eliminating any mention of the JNF in a resolution, which was rewritten from targeting that institution to call on the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the status of all charities engaged in international human rights violations. Fortunately, the party leadership failed to block a resolution endorsing BDS in what is probably the single most significant pro-Palestinian victory in Canadian history.

While the Green members who bucked the party leadership to support the JNF and BDS resolutions deserve to be congratulated, the anti-Palestinian, right-wing Israeli nationalist groups who terrorized May in the lead-up to the convention raised an important, if disingenuous, point: Why were there only two resolutions dealing with foreign-policy at the convention? Why didn’t the Greens debate Canadian mining companies’ abuses abroad, special forces in Iraq/Syria, international tar sands promotion, troops on the Russian border, among numerous other important international issues?

The Green’s 2015 federal election foreign-policy platform paper was peppered with nationalist platitudes. It said “Canada is fundamentally a peaceful country” and “defender of human rights.” In laying out the party’s 2015 election position in Esprit de Corps magazine May wrote, “the world needs more Canada” and argued, “we should also support the United Nations’ ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine”, which was used to justify bombing Libya in 2011 and ousting Haiti’s elected government in 2004.

May backed the Conservative government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $30-$40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades. But the naval upgrade will strengthen Canadian officials’ capacity to bully weaker countries. The 2000 book Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy details the navy’s extensive history of flexing its muscles, including dozens of interventions in the Caribbean and pressuring Costa Rica to repay money the Royal Bank loaned to an unpopular dictator. And it’s not just history; over the past 25 years the Canadian Navy has played an increasing pro-imperial role in the Middle East and off parts of Africa.

May and Green Party policy statements have also mythologized Canadian foreign policy, citing Lester Pearson as some sort of hero. May claimed “a Green Party approach to international issues will return Canada to the values of Lester B. Pearson.” But, as I detail in Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt, the former external minister and prime minister was an ardent cold warrior, who played a part in dispossessing Palestinians, creating NATO and helping the US wage war in Vietnam and Korea.

Of course, the problem runs deeper than May or the Green Party. Much of the Canadian ‘left’ is highly nationalistic, wedded to both the idea this country is a US “dependency” and international “peacekeeper”.

While far from what’s needed, internationalist minded Americans have helped expose US imperialism. Progressive people in this country have largely failed to do the same with Canadian imperialism. In fact, left-wing Canadian academics have probably written more books and articles criticizing US foreign policy than Canada’s.

Certainly the US left has built more of an infrastructure/culture willing to genuinely challenge US foreign policy. A number of prominent academics are highly critical of US foreign policy and left-wing US media outlets such as CounterPunch, Z, Dissident Voice, Common Dreams, etc. shun foreign-policy apologetics.

In Canada the most prominent ‘left-wing’ foreign-policy think tank is led by Peggy Mason who was a key adviser to Conservative foreign minister Joe Clark in the late 1980s and has held numerous diplomatic postings and UN positions since. During a 2012 National Defence Committee parliamentary meeting on NATO the head of the Rideau Institute noted, “I’m talking as someone who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working with NATO.” Mason trained NATO commanders for peace and crisis stabilization operations and boasted she trained the general Charles Bouchard, who led the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, which the Rideau Institute head described as a “very important mission.”

The Rideau Institute’s lead collaborator/advisor is an employee of the Canadian Forces who aggressively supported Canada’s worst foreign-policy crime of the first decade of the 21st century (the coup in Haiti). Walter Dorn’s Rideau Institute reports are usually co-published by Canada’s leading left think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. While the CCPA Monitor publishes some articles critical of Canadian foreign policy, its international affairs reports, which receive the bulk of resources, do not offer serious criticism. A number of recent reports have called for adjustments to military priorities while accepting the broad outlines of Canadian militarism. In February they co-published Unprepared for Peace?: The decline of Canadian peacekeeping training (and what to do about it). On the cover of the report a white Canadian soldier, with a massive M-16 strapped around his shoulder, is bent over to hold the hand of a young black boy. In the background are Canadian and UN colours. A call for the Canadian Forces to offer its members more peacekeeping training, Unprepared for peace? is premised on the erroneous notion that UN missions are by definition socially useful and it repeatedly implies that Canada’s most significant recent contribution to a UN mission — the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — was an operation we should be proud of.

Last year the CCPA and Rideau Institute co-published Smart Defence: A Plan for Rebuilding Canada’s Military, which introduces the issue this way: “When the Harper government came to power in 2006, it pledged to rebuild Canada’s military. But for nine long years, it has failed to deliver on most of its promises, from new armoured trucks and supply ships to fighter jets and search-and-rescue planes.” Author Michael Byers peppers the report with various militarist claims. Canada “faces challenges at home and abroad that require a well-equipped and capable military,” he writes. At another point he says “the Canadian Army cannot deploy large numbers of troops overseas because of a shortage of armoured trucks.” In other words, let’s improve Canada’s military capacity.

While mostly providing a counterpoint to the dominant media, Rabble also publishes some blatantly establishment foreign-policy pieces. It regularly runs Gerald Caplan’s apologetics for the US–Britain–Canada backed Paul Kagame, Africa’s most bloodstained dictator. In late 2015 Rabble ran interviews by CCPA research affiliate Christopher Majka of Libyan, Syrian and Russian invitees to the Halifax International Security Forum, which is sponsored by NATO, the Department of National Defence and various arms firms.

Last week Rabble published a blog by Penney Kome, former editor of the now defunct left website Straight Goods, claiming Donald Trump is soft on Russia. She wrote: “Three of Trump’s top aids have extensive Russian connections, (Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page) and Trump’s policies — such as they are — are strongly pro-Russian. It’s only fair to wonder what his Russophillia means for NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and for former Soviet Union countries that Vladimir Putin may still want to annex, such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.” Kome’s piece comes a few weeks after Ottawa announced it would send 450 troops and armoured vehicles to Latvia to be permanently stationed on Russia’s border.

During his campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination Bernie Sanders, who largely avoided foreign-policy before endorsing a hawk for president, at least criticized Washington’s role in overthrowing Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, Salvador Allende in Chile as well as the US war in Indochina. It made me wonder if a leading Canadian politician had ever criticized a past foreign policy.

It’s hard to imagine an NDP leader saying, “we shouldn’t blindly follow Washington’s war aims since that led Lester Pearson’s government to deliver US bombing threats to North Vietnam in violation of international law.” Or, “as we evaluate our support for this UN mission let’s not forget the blow Canadian peacekeepers delivered to central Africa when they helped undermine Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.”

It’s as if there’s a sign hanging in Parliament that says: “foreign policy mythologizers only.” A maxim Elizabeth May seems to have embraced, to the shame of all Canadians who really do want this country to be a force for good in the world.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel, Canada in Africa, Canada in Haiti, The Truth May Hurt, The Ugly Canadian

What’s ‘Green’ about subsidizing car travel?

Would you believe the Green Party recently took a more environmentally regressive position on an important issue than Stephen Harper?

Elizabeth May added her voice to the main opposition parties on a recent visit to Montreal by telling suburbanites they should expect a future non-Conservative federal government to continue aggressively subsidizing the most costly, unhealthy and ecologically destructive form of land transport.

May told Le Devoir that her party didn’t necessarily support the Harper government’s plan to implement a toll when the Champlain Bridge, Canada’s busiest crossing and a key connection between the island of Montreal and the city’s South Shore, is rebuilt at a projected cost of over $4 billion.

“The Green Party doesn’t have a rigid position on the issue,” May said in French. “Before talking about a toll, we need to agree on what kind of mass transit we want to put in place between the South Shore and the island [of Montreal]. Maybe if there is an efficient system a reduction in traffic on the bridge will take place naturally and the toll won’t be necessary.”

This is either political opportunism of the worst sort or a lack of real commitment to combatting climate change.

Anyone with the least respect for climate science ought to oppose building an auto-centered bridge of any sort (toll or no toll). But even a fully bike-, pedestrian- and mass transit-oriented bridge, which isn’t being seriously discussed, should include a toll. A light rail-dominated, private and car-free bridge would still include a lane for emergency vehicles and buses, which ought to cross freely. Trucks could also use the lane, but they should pay — they are dangerous, noisy, emit high volumes of carbon emissions and mostly transport goods for private businesses.

Perhaps the Green Party’s unwillingness to publicly back a toll on the Champlain Bridge has little to do with a serious analysis of its ecological or social implications.

Perhaps it’s a sop to a political culture, shaped by the auto industrial complex, that tells drivers it is their right to be subsidized every metre of their 10-, 40- or 80-kilometre daily drive (often solo) into the city. Having been seduced by land developers into buying big houses far from work, suburbanites are outraged at the prospect of paying the direct costs — leaving aside climate and health — for each kilometre of their trek.

But surely a leader of the Green Party ought to publicly declare that climate science makes this state of affairs unsustainable. If not her, then who?

And if electoral politics makes this an impossible position to take, then no moral, ecologically minded person should enter party politics. (The Green’s opportunism is made more depressing by the fact that they have little chance of winning a seat on the South Shore.)

The Green’s ambiguity towards a bridge toll reflects a larger problem with groups challenging the dominance of private cars. They generally shy away from supporting policies that increase the costs or make lives more difficult for drivers and instead focus on inducing individuals to leave their automobiles through new transport services.

While expanding transit options is often necessary, those of us who really care about human health, the livability of urban spaces and humanity’s capacity to survive on this planet shouldn’t fear initiatives that punish private car travel. We must tell the truth.

Increasing gas taxes, tolls and congestion fees; eliminating parking; tearing down highways and otherwise freeing streets from vehicles should all be pursued in the struggle against private automobility.

Dedicating a lane to buses or even building light rail on a new bridge is unlikely to substantially reduce car travel if other automotive infrastructure is maintained or expanded. One reason for this is that cars usually fill whatever space is devoted to them. Another part of the explanation is that areas built entirely for cars can’t simply adopt mass transit.

Car-dominated urban landscapes must be radically revamped, and one way to encourage these transformations is to make drivers pay more of the cost of their trips.

While I believe in challenging the private car at every turn, there is a tactical and social argument for focusing on corporations driving auto dominance rather than individual drivers. But the Green Party is not articulating these types of policies either. If they wanted to challenge automotive hegemony, but avoid angering individual drivers, they could target automakers’ omnipresent advertising, which largely explains the private car’s immense cultural standing.

Many times more damaging than cigarettes, car advertising should be (as with tobacco) steadily eliminated. Or how about pushing for a quota system whereby automakers’ are compelled to steadily increase the production of rideshare vehicles, buses, bikes and light rail cars in exchange for the right to sell private cars? The objective would be to push auto companies to produce less ecologically and socially damaging products while maintaining employment levels.

While it’s unclear how best to curb auto dependence, current efforts are failing. Greater Montreal’s car stock is growing by some 45,000 vehicles a year and new auto sales, driven by gas guzzling SUVs and light trucks, are on pace to reach a record in 2015.

In the current political culture many find it easier to imagine the collapse of civilization than the replacement of a transportation and urban planning system that harms our health and destroys cityscapes. But we either curtail the private car or accept that human civilization is unlikely to survive much longer.

Et tu, Elizabeth May?

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