Stephen Harper

War is Peace: The Foreign Policy of Justin Trudeau

Since July of this year, rumours have been circulating of a major Canadian Forces deployment in Africa. Those rumours have now been confirmed. As of late August, the Trudeau Liberals have pledged up to 600 troops in support of United Nations missions on the continent. This comes on the heels of an earlier commitment, made in late-June, to deploy 450 troops to Latvia in support of NATO missions in eastern Europe, as well as the addition in February of over 100 special forces to Canada’s mission in Iraq. In total, the Liberals have pledged to deploy more than 1000 soldiers across the globe in the short span of just seven months. This is a far cry from what was supposed to be a departure from the Harper era. In many ways, it is far worse.

In no other department have the Liberals veered farther from their expectations than in foreign policy. Trudeau went to great lengths to distance himself from his predecessor during the campaign. Among other things, he promised he would end the combat mission in Iraq. Upon being elected, he said he would restore Canada’s “compassionate and constructive voice in the world.” Many were led to believe that Harper’s divisive foreign policy had come to an end. But it is unlikely that this was ever Trudeau’s intention.


Canada among the most Sued Countries by Corporations

Canada is the most-sued country under the North American Free Trade Agreement and a majority of the disputes involve investors challenging environmental laws, according to a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Over 70 per cent of claims since 2005 have been brought against Canada, and the number of challenges under NAFTA’s settlement clause is rising sharply.

A Huffington Post story by Sunny Freeman on the CCPA report says that the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism contained in NAFTA’s chapter 11 grants investors the right to sue foreign governments without first pursuing court action. The provision included in the 1994 treaty on the argument that U.S. and Canadian investors needed protection against corruption in Mexican courts. But the mechanism limits governments from enacting policies on public concerns such as the environment and labour or human rights, and negotiations are often carried out in secret.

The CCPA believes the federal government’s commitment to Chapter 11 and its willingness to settle and compensate claimants is encouraging this trend. There were 12 cases brought against Canada from 1995 to 2005, and another 23 in the last decade. This compares to 22 against Mexico and 20 percent against the U.S. since 1995.

Canada has lost or settled six claims paying a total of $170 million in damages, while Mexico has lost five cases and paid out $204 million. The U.S. has won 11 cases and has never lost a NAFTA investor-state case.

“Thanks to NAFTA chapter 11, Canada has now been sued more times through investor-state dispute settlement than any other developed country in the world,” said Scott Sinclair, who authored the study. He estimates that Canada has spent $65 million defending such claims over the past two decades.

About 63 per cent of the claims against Canada involved challenges to environmental protection or resource management programs that allegedly interfere with the profits of foreign investors. The government has lost some of these challenges and has been forced to overturn legislation protecting the environment.

In 1997, the Ethyl Corporation, a U.S. chemical company, used chapter 11 to challenge a Canadian ban on the import of MMT, a gasoline additive that is a suspected neurotoxin and which automakers have said interferes with cars’ diagnostic systems. The company won damages of $15 million and the government was forced to remove the policy.

A year later, U.S.-based S.D. Myers challenged Canada’s temporary ban on the export of toxic PCP waste, which was applied equally to all companies. Canada argued it was obliged to dispose of the waste within its own borders under another international treaty. However, the tribunal ruled the ban was discriminatory and violated NAFTA’s standards for fair treatment.

There are currently eight cases brought by U.S. companies against the Canadian government asking for a total of $6 billion in damages. Many of the current challenges involve domestic environmental protections such as the promotion of renewable energies, a moratorium on offshore wind projects on Lake Ontario and Nova Scotia’s decision to block a mega-quarry.

In one case, Lone Pine Resources Inc., is suing the Canadian government for $250 million over Quebec’s moratorium on natural gas fracking, which applies equally to foreign and domestic companies. Lone Pine argues it was not consulted before the ban nor compensated for its wasted investment or loss of potential revenue.

Sinclair argues that the threat of challenges under chapter 11 has a chilling effect on public interest regulation, which will only worsen unless political and legal action is taken.

“Buoyed by their past successes, foreign investors and their legal advisors are now turning to NAFTA chapter 11 with increasing frequency and assertiveness,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, compared to other parts of the world, there is surprisingly little political debate about the corrosive influence of ISDS on public policy and democracy in Canada.”

Canada is embarking on a new generation of treaties such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, both of which contain investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems. While governments can be sued under ISDS, there is no similar recourse for states to hold foreign investors accountable for their actions.


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Trudeau Government to Condemn the BDS Movement

The Canadian Parliament is on course to “condemn any and all attempts” by Canadian groups to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The motion to condemn BDS was put forward by the Conservatives, but on Thursday the Liberal majority government announced it would vote in favour. The NDP says the motion is an attack on freedom of expression and is opposing it.

BDS, which calls for an economic boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, has become a major issue on university campuses. Its proponents include the United Church of Canada and a Quebec labour union.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who seconded the motion, described BDS as a movement that stifles academic freedom and opposes Israel’s right to exist.

“The BDS movement brings physical intimidation and a spirit of demonization into the Canadian discourse of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” she said.

“This is not Canadian, and thus I condemn it.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion accused the Conservatives of being divisive and reducing the debate to black-and-white terms.

But he revealed the Liberals will support the motion regardless, because they view the BDS movement as harmful and ineffective.

“The world will win nothing for boycotting Israel,” said Dion.

With both the Liberals and Conservatives onboard, the motion will easily pass when it goes to a vote either later today or next week.

The NDP lashed out at the other two parties for not supporting freedom of belief. They said the motion is designed to muzzle people who hold contrary opinions.

“What kind of world are we living in here in Canada where we’re starting to attack the fundamental right to disagree,” said NDP MP Hélène Laverdière.

Green Party MP Elizabeth May is also opposing the motion.


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Study Confirms Maidan Massacre a False Flag Operation

Research conducted by the University of Ottawa on the Maidan “Snipers’ massacre” of February 2014 has shown that the killings of protestors were organized by far right paramilitary groups and allied political parties, not the former government’s Berkut riot police, as claimed by the current Kiev government and repeated by Western media.

A study of the February 20, 2014 “Snipers’ massacre” in Kiev, where scores of protesters were killed by shots fired from surrounding buildings, has proved that it was carried out by Western-backed opposition groups.

The research found that the Berkut special police force, which was loyal to the Ukrainian government, was not responsible, contrary to the narrative which was created by the post-Maidan coup government in Kiev, and consequently accepted by Western governments and media.

Ivan Katchanovski, a teacher of political science at the University of Ottawa, studied eyewitness reports, estimates of ballistic trajectories, 30 gigabytes of security forces’ radio intercepts, 5,000 photos and 1,500 videos and broadcast recordings of the protesters’ deaths.

“This academic investigation concludes that the massacre was a false flag operation, which was rationally planned and carried out with a goal of the overthrow of the government and seizure of power,” wrote Katchanovski in his study, called ‘The “Snipers’ Massacre” on the Maidan in Ukraine.’

“It found various evidence of the involvement of an alliance of the far right organizations, specifically the Right Sector and Svoboda, and oligarchic parties, such as Fatherland. Concealed shooters and spotters were located in at least 20 Maidan-controlled buildings or areas.”

The deaths of 49 protesters on February 20 have been attributed by Kiev’s current government to the Berkut special police force, loyal to then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s government. Investigations of the massacre by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office and other government agencies blame Berkut for shooting the protesters on Yanukovych’s orders.

The prosecutor’s report falsely concluded that Berkut snipers killed 39 of the protesters who died that day, reports Katchanovski.

The killings took place as the Yanukovych government was negotiating with opposition groups to find a political solution to the crisis, and was soon followed on February 22 by an armed coup that gave Ukraine’s Verkhovnaya Rada the power to change the constitution and overthrow the president.

“The Maidan-led government used the Maidan massacre as a source of its legitimacy and widely commemorated this mass killing and its victims among the protesters. The killed protesters were posthumously awarded ‘Hero of Ukraine’ titles by President Petro Poroshenko, and the government established February 20 as a day in their honor,” Katchanovski explains.

The post-Yanukovych government’s version of the events of that tragic day has been largely unchallenged by the Western governments and media, who have represented the massacre and the Maidan protests as “a part of the narrative presenting ‘Euromaidan’ as a democratic, peaceful mass —protest movement and a revolution led by pro-Western parties,” says the academic.

“A report of the International Advisory Panel, set up by the Council of Europe, presented evidence in 2015 that the investigation of the ‘snipers’ massacre’ on the Maidan has been stalled, in particular by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General office. The report revealed that contrary to the public statements, the official investigation had evidence of ‘shooters’ killing at least three protesters from the Maidan-controlled Hotel Ukraina or the Music Conservatory and that at least other 10 protesters were killed by unidentified ‘snipers’ from rooftops.”

While observing the overwhelming bias of Western media representations of the events, the scholar was able to cite some more thorough investigations. German TV program Monitor shows shooters based in the Hotel Ukraina, and revealed manipulation of the government’s investigation of the shootings. In addition, Katchanovski found reports from the BBC and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) that confirmed the presence of armed protesters at the Music Conservatory and their shooting of the police at Maidan.

However, Katchanovski also relates other serious examples of media manipulation of the shootings, such as BBC editing of an interview with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which “was misrepresented by BBC and the Ukrainian media as an admission of his and his police forces’ responsibility for carrying out the Maidan massacre.”


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Bank Bonuses Rise Amid Economic Crisis: Nationalize Them Under Workers’ Control!

After laying off 4,664 workers, Canada’s top six banks have recorded a combined profit of $35 billion and set aside a bonus pool of $12.5 billion for their executives at the end of 2015. It has become evidently clear that Canada’s bankers have not felt the pain of the economic crisis the same way as the working class and impoverished.

According to a new report by Bloomberg, a prominent financial information company that analyzed the findings, the 4,664 job cuts at the six banks was the most in six years. The firings, or “cost controls”, as the bankers like to say, are set to continue into 2016.

Toronto-Dominion Bank alone eliminated 1,594 staff positions. In response to criticism, TD Bank CEO Bharat Masrani said “This is simply a reality of today’s slower-growth world.” Ironically, this year’s executive bonuses were higher than $12 billion in 2014 which was a surge of 13 per cent from $10.8 billion in 2013. All of this during a time when the Canadian economy has entered recession and created immense suffering for average working people and the poor.

In fact, looking back at a trend since the 2008 global recession reveals just how the bonuses of bank executives have grown progressively: $8.3 billion in 2009, $8.6 billion in 2010 and $9.3 billion in 2011. Seven years since the Great Recession with continuous slow growth in the world economy and in Canada, the bonuses of bank executives have in turn been rapidly growing. Hence, Mr. Masrani’s description of a “slower-growth world” is meant for those losing their jobs, but the opposite is true if you’re a bank executive.

Bill Vlaad, president of a Toronto-based firm that monitors compensation trends said “Compensation this year is going to be a grab bag… some are going to have a good deal of candy in the bag and some are not going to get as much.” Here is this year’s candy distribution:

The Bank Bailout of 2008: Canadian Workers Robbed of Their Labour

While Canada’s bankers continue to make the case that they deserve every penny of their colossal bonuses through ‘prudent financial intelligence’, the truth is that they are being spoiled and protected by the government through tax payer dollars, especially when they fail big time.

In 2012 Fightback wrote about a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, The Big Bank’s Big Secret, which revealed that between 2008 and 2010, $114 billion was shelled out of public coffers to save the top five banks in Canada as a response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Royal Bank and TD are the two largest banks in the country. Together they received $25 billion and $26 billion, respectively, in government support. This was enough to buy majority shares in both: 63 per cent share of RBC and a 69 per cent of TD Bank. Scotiabank, CIBC and Bank of Montreal received $25 billion, $21 billion and $17 billion respectively. That was enough money for the government to buy all of them; in fact they overpaid 148 per cent of the market value of CIBC!

Of the $114 billion, $41 billion was made in loans, $69 billion in direct cash injections through mortgage buy-outs for the big five banks and $4 billion to several smaller banks. As a result, during 2008-2010, the banks made a profit of $26.8 billion. None of this vast sum of money made its way back to the public. This kind of wasteful government spending is not criticized on Bay Street because it maintains the for-profit capitalist system. The government bailout allowed the banks to carry on business-as-usual after they had conclusively demonstrated their failure.

As the banks post these massive profits, we are told to “tighten our belts” and accept cuts to social services, wage freezes, job losses, attacks on labour rights and an onslaught of austerity budgets. How often are multi-billion dollar government deficits blamed on government investments into social programs, job creation and infrastructure? How often do we hear the mantra “the money is not there”? The truth is that the “money is not there” as a result of corporate welfare, tax-cuts for the rich, bailouts of big banks and corporations, bad-asset buy-outs, and the failure of the capitalist system generally. Capitalism creates its own crisis and the rest of us are left to pay for it all.

What the Bonuses are Worth

As we have seen, governments hand over more money than the banks are even worth, just to keep the profits in the hands of a tiny minority. Canada’s banks and corporations sit on trillions of dollars. This year’s bank executive bonuses alone, totalling $12.5 billion, instead of being spent on luxury cars, yachts and mansions, could be used for more important things:

The Only Solution: Nationalize the Banks under Democratic Workers’ Control

The idea that a government can engage in cordial negotiations with the bankers or their rich friends in the corporate world to pay for any of these social services is utopian. This is evident if you take a glance at recent global events. In Greece, Syriza tried to negotiate with the EU and Greek bankers, even when the opportunity to nationalize the banks under the control of Greek workers existed. The result was a defeat for the Greek workers as their country is currently being privatized into bits by the capitalists. In Venezuela, the PSUV nationalized some industries more than a decade ago, but the road to complete nationalization was not taken and under pressure from internal and external forces of capital, the government lost the trust of the people and lost power. History shows that any government that either adheres or tries to collaborate with the for-profit system of capitalism cannot meet the needs of workers and the impoverished – especially today when capitalism is in its deepest crisis in its history.

Capitalism is a system that protects the private property and wealth of a few individuals in a chaotic and illogical global network of profit making, and it is time the leaders of the labour movement accepted this reality. The predominant ideas within Canada’s labour movement’s leadership, going back to the 1950s and 60s when capitalism was in its heyday, has run its course and is decades behind the reality of what is happening in this country, let alone the world. Today, capitalism is in its deepest crisis and is revealing immense inequality and lack of wealth distribution. It hasn’t been easy to explain this reality to average workers and youth for a long time.

The choice between capitalism and a new genuinely democratic socialist society is a choice between the unnecessary lavish lifestyles of the rich few and the vital needs of everyone else. This choice is becoming increasingly clear to millions of Canadians. Therefore, the case to nationalize the big banks and corporations in this country and place them under democratic worker’s control has never been stronger. Now is the time for bold demands that can enthuse and organize workers and youth to take back the immense wealth that exists in society and run it in a rational manner for human need.


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The Class Struggle in Trudeau’s Canada

The decade long rule of the Harper regime has come to an end. The Trudeau Liberals have formed a majority government, sweeping through eastern Canada and making large advances in Quebec and Ontario. Many Canadians heaved a sigh of relief as the election results came in. The perception is that the days of Harper’s right-wing reactionary policies are at an end.

For the labour movement, the results were more contradictory. Some trade union leaders declared victory as many had jumped on the “anybody but Conservative” bandwagon during the election campaign. For New Democrats and the section of the trade union movement backing the NDP, the results were bitter to say the least.

The NDP suffered a crushing defeat, from leading in the polls at the beginning of the election campaign to losing 51 seats. This represents a retreat back to the NDP’s historic levels of support around 20%. Many NDP members and labour movement activists were left scratching their heads asking what happened to their opportunity to finally defeat the two capitalist parties.

The results of the federal election can seem confusing. At a time when workers and young people are becoming radicalized around the world from Spain to Greece, to Britain and even the United States, some might come to the conclusion that Canada is immune or stands separated from this global process.

This is a false conclusion, but the confusion is understandable if our observations are limited to looking at things on their surface. If we look deeper, however, we can see many contradictions in Canadian society.

The key questions that need to be asked are: why did the NDP do so poorly? Are the federal Liberals really “progressive” and what can we expect from them? After entering technical recession during the first half of this year, what are the expectations for the Canadian economy? Most importantly, where is the class struggle in Canada heading?

NDP Leadership Delivers Historic Defeat

This was the NDP’s election to win or to lose. The leadership of the NDP threw the historic opportunity away. Appeasing the bankers and bosses led to the melting away of popular support.

Initial enthusiasm for the NDP’s modest reform program, notably the one million childcare spaces, as well as opposition to Bill C-51, began to dissipate as the NDP program was elaborated and placed under scrutiny. The removal of left-wing candidates who supported the Palestinian struggle, while allowing candidates who made right-wing statements, disillusioned many party members and supporters. The commitment to balanced budgets in particular put the NDP in the camp of the status quo for many workers.

It became clear that on the basis of meagre corporate tax increases (that would remain below the average tax rate of the Harper years), no real improvements could be delivered. Even the prominent childcare program would not be rolled out in the first term of an NDP federal government, but rather would take eight years to implement!

The Liberals, who were down in the polls, saw the opportunity to maneuver left and seize the space vacated by the NDP. As is the tradition of the Liberal Party, they adopted some socially progressive measures. They began championing marijuana legalization, criminal justice reform and accepting Syrian refugees among other initiatives.

More importantly, the Liberal election campaign began to give rhetorical emphasis to wealth redistribution. They repeatedly highlighted wealth inequality and the need to tax the “1%”, adopting the phraseology of the Occupy movement. Trudeau declared he would strengthen the “middle-class” through increasing stimulus spending, and proposed deficit budgets to do so.

The Liberals began to rise in the polls as a result of this change in tack, garnering the support of many workers and young people. Trudeau began to present himself as the ‘real change’ candidate, and to criticize Mulcair’s program from the left for having adopted “Harper’s budget”. The only response of the NDP was to criticize these Liberal policies from the right!

Is Keynesianism left-wing?

Some in the NDP officialdom have defended their position in the federal election by explaining that Keynesian deficit spending is not necessarily left-wing. This is a correct point in itself and Marxists agree that there is nothing inherently left-wing about deficit financing.

We further explain that deficit financing cannot solve the problems of the working class and neither does it solve the contradictions within capitalism that lead to crisis. At best, these policies delay the inevitable capitalist austerity by making it worse at a later stage.

While Keynesianism is not necessarily left-wing, the NDP’s economic program was certainly right-wing. The NDP committed to preserving corporate profits by ensuring them a favourable tax rate. The only result could be that real improvements for the working class were off the table. In a context of economic slow-down, the NDP’s program could only mean austerity.

Mulcair’s economic program conforms to classical policies of capitalism. The recent finding of the Parliamentary Budget Office that they expect a $3-5 billion annual deficit for the next five years based on current spending displays the weakness in the Canadian economy. How could Mulcair balance the books in this economic context without spending cuts?

The Marxists have long-explained that the NDP cannot serve two masters; either it can organize and voice the interests of the working class, or it can appease and administer the needs and interests of the capitalists. This is unfortunately confirmed in the disastrous federal election results for the NDP. The workers abandoned the NDP as it became perceived to be more aligned with the status quo than the Liberals.

An Abacus Poll published at the end of September explained that 76 per cent of Canadians were looking for “change” in this election. Of those who wanted change, 58 per cent wanted it soon. The same poll found that more Canadians saw Trudeau as representing “ambitious change” and “change that would be felt soon” as compared to Mulcair. In an election where there was a mass anti-Harper mood for change, and where 30 per cent of the electorate was undecided between the NDP and Liberals, this perception was devastating for the NDP.

The policy of appeasing the bankers and bosses lead to the melting away of popular support. It must be said that the election defeat cannot be placed at the feet of Mulcair alone. The NDP’s turn to the right has been occurring for decades. In tandem with this process, we have seen a growing separation of the party tops from the rank-and-file.

The leadership of the NDP is largely filled with careerists and opportunists of all sorts. This has led to a disconnect and blindness to the mood of the masses. More than that, the leadership fears the workers. They see the party as a vehicle for the advancement of their political careers and personal ambitions. They fear that their careers would be jeopardized if the workers attempted to take back the party.

What is the Perspective for the NDP?

The top NDP officialdom was quick to close ranks around Mulcair following his defeat. Immediately after the federal election, an NDP spokesman explained that Mulcair “was in it for the long haul”. Threats were even made against those considering public opposition to Mulcair, such as the statement to the press by the former national director, Robin Sears, that critics of Mulcair “will be quite publicly slapped”.

The NDP officialdom is not unaware of the process of radicalization that they see around the world and view with trepidation. The victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election in the UK has shaken the NDP leadership. Corbyn defines himself as a socialist and is committed to opposing austerity and imperialist wars.

The NDP leadership fears that a similar process could occur in Canada and is moving quickly to ensure that it doesn’t happen. They fear that if a crack were to open at the top, or if Mulcair were to be thrown out, it could open the floodgates and lead to an upsurge of the left. As a result, there has been a closing of the ranks around Tom Mulcair.

The bourgeois has similarly taken note of the loss of authority and prestige of the NDP leadership, and are worried that they could lose their hold on the party tops. The bosses do not fear the Mulcair clique, but they fear the masses in and around the party.

They fear that the working class and youth could try to transform the NDP into a vehicle of struggle as is occurring in Britain. It is for this reason that the mainstream press has been making supportive statements and publishing positive appraisals of Mulcair since the election.

We at Fightback believe that the NDP rank-and-file and the broader labour movement would do well to learn the opposite and positive lessons from the Corbyn movement in Britain. It would be an enormous step forward for the class struggle in Canada if a mass left-wing based upon anti-austerity, anti-imperialist and socialist policies were to defeat the right-wing leading clique of the NDP.

It should be noted that there are differences between the British and Canadian contexts. Class anger has developed more in Britain as the capitalist crisis and austerity policies has had greater impact on the working class than in Canada. As soon as the Tories defeated Labour in the 2015 general election, a spontaneous movement erupted on the streets of many cities and towns in Britain against the Tories.

It was this radicalized mood and movement that was channeled into the Labour Party leadership race behind Jeremy Corbyn. In Canada, the same feeling of disgust does not yet exist towards the Trudeau Liberals. On the contrary, there are many illusions in the Liberals.

Nevertheless, there is a backlash of the NDP rank-and-file. Many feel like they have had enough of the leadership. Party members have been fed the lie that to win power, that they would have to abandon their principles and accept a turn towards the right. In the past many NDP members grudgingly accepted this argument.

The election results have totally discredited this idea and the authority of the leadership who promoted it. Indeed, the manner in which the NDP lost to the Liberals, by being outmaneuvered to the left, further undermines the prestige of the NDP leadership. Furthermore, the right-wing bureaucracy of the NDP has also been significantly weakened as many have lost their jobs due to the defeat.

The rank-and-file mood in the NDP does have the potential to develop into a left wing. The major barrier standing in the way of the development of such a movement is the lack of a focal point. A cohesive left-wing movement inside the party would require a prominent force, organization or figure within the NDP to stand up to the leading clique and voice the rank-and-file sentiment.

The party brass is standing behind Mulcair and only a serious fight will dislodge these careerists. Without a pole around which to coalesce an effective challenge, the rank-and-file will voice their dissent but could find themselves shut down by the bureaucracy.

An alternative to the existing leadership could come from a sitting or unseated parliamentarian, or from the trade union movement or even somewhere unexpected. Nearly six weeks after the election an uneasy calm reigns within the NDP, with many looking to which way the wind will blow without sticking their heads up. This is a reflection of the weakness of the “lefts” in the NDP. Many of the lefts have abandoned the party or capitulated to the leadership.

The silence was finally broken when Cheri DiNovo, a provincial MPP in Toronto, gave an interview to the Toronto Star on December 1st, 2015. She made excellent points about the need to reclaim socialism, to oppose the NDP’s “austerity approach” and made reference to movements around Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Former Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan also made similar points. The question is whether those on the left of the party, such as Cheri DiNovo, will actually organize a movement leading into the Federal NDP Convention next spring.

If no focal point on the left arises for the mood of the rank-and-file to gravitate towards, there could be a repeat of the processes previously seen in the Ontario NDP. Andrea Horwath led the ONDP to defeat on an election program similar in substance to that of the federal party. Given no alternative to her leadership, Horwath was able to hold on. She made some gestures towards the left, sounded apologetic to the rank-and-file, made some concessions to rival sections of the bureaucracy and was able to keep her job with a 77 per cent vote in the provincial leadership review.

It is impossible to predict whether somebody or some force will step forward to galvanize and focus the energy of the ranks of the party. However, if the Mulcair leadership manages to hold on, things do not look good for the NDP in the near term. With no alternative policy, or even a policy of critiquing Trudeau from the right, support would bleed away to the Liberals. In the context of the Liberals gaining popularity by undoing unpopular Harper legislation, a Mulcair NDP could find itself polling under 10 per cent, or even 5 per cent like in the 1990s. After a while, an internal crisis like this might be the tipping point for regime change. As they say, nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging.

The historic defeat brought on by the right-wing clique at the top of the NDP opens up an opportunity to transform the party. Such a development within the party would be enthusiastically supported by Marxists.

On the other hand, if the status quo prevails within the NDP, it would be a recipe for further defeats. The growing radicalization in society would tend to be expressed through other avenues. The defeat in the federal election is a clear warning to the rank and file of the NDP and the broader labour movement.

How Long will Trudeau’s Honeymoon Last?

There is a wave of support and enthusiasm for the Trudeau Liberals. He has built expectations in his election campaign. Since forming government, the Liberals have rolled back unpopular measures of the Harper Conservatives, and have been championing socially progressive measures.

The sentiment in support of Trudeau will be enhanced as he passes socially liberal measures, though it should be noted that many of these are not particularly costly from a capitalist standpoint. Given the relief from having brought down the Harper Conservatives and as no serious left alternative is providing sharp criticism of the Liberals, it is not surprising that illusions have developed in Trudeau.

What must be stressed, however, is that the Liberal Party is a party of the bosses. Indeed, it is the historically preferred and natural governing party of Canadian capitalism and imperialism. It is the party that carried out the largest cuts to public spending in Canadian history under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. It is the party that began the War on Terror and the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Liberals are already showing their true colours. The appointment of Bill Morneau, the head of Canada’s largest HR firm and the former director of the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute think tank, as finance minister is a clear statement. The Liberals will serve Bay Street well, and they have picked one of its men to run the new federal government’s finances.

Trudeau’s economic policies can be described as mild Keynesian stimulus spending and deficit spending. He has committed to an additional $60 billion in spending, and at first involved $10 billion annual deficits for the first three years until 2018. This has since been revised to higher projected deficits as the Parliamentary Budget Office released new revenue figures. There was also a prominent commitment to tax the “1%”.

These policies can delay cuts for a period and would reinforce illusions in Trudeau. The commitment to stimulus spending will have some popularity among workers. They may initially take a softer approach regarding the labour movement and federal public service negotiations. The Liberals are wary of provoking class struggle.

What is clear, however, is that these economic policies will at best only delay the inevitable. It is notable that they have already backtracked on a commitment to restore door-to-door mail delivery, and have only halted the process of installing new community mailboxes. Cuts will be necessary in a period of prolonged capitalist crisis. The Liberal program commits to balancing the budget by 2019. This will be a painful process that will expose the Liberals for what they are: a party of austerity.

Whether the Liberals will be successful in delaying the class struggle is still an open question. The slow-down in Canada’s economy this year has already resulted in the downgrading of budget prospects as well as expectations for economic growth in the future. Canada’s economy has for long been presented as ‘healthy’, but such optimism has given way to alarm, fear and gloom among mainstream commentators.

It is clear that at a certain point, the honeymoon with the Liberals will come to an end. When it does, the backlash among the workers and youth will be all the more visceral because of the ‘progressive’ façade upon which the Liberals won the federal election.

Many youth are too young to remember the legacy of the Chretien-Martin Liberals. This explains some of the illusions and enthusiasm to vote Liberal as a means to defeat Harper. The youth in particular will be in for a very rude awakening.

When the Liberals will provoke class struggle, or how long they can delay it, is conditional on factors in the Canadian and the global economy. A definite timeline cannot be given to many of these processes. However, the deep contradictions in the world and Canadian economy will express themselves inevitably, and perhaps sooner than many expect.

Canada’s Economic Slow-Down

Many bourgeois commentators have praised Canada’s economic health since the 2008 financial collapse. Stephen Harper was particularly fond of lauding his credentials as a steward of the economy.

Working class people could tell from experience that this wasn’t the case. There was a massive shift towards precarious employment as better paying jobs were replaced with part-time and contract work. The United Way published a 2015 report which demonstrated that in Toronto and Hamilton, 52 per cent of all workers were temporary, contract or part-time.

Wages have been repressed through attacks on the public and private sector. For example, in Ontario one third of all workers are considered low-wage, defined as making within $4 of the minimum wage. Young workers in particular were badly hit with a combination of high debts, two-tiered wage scales and contract or low-wage employment.

However, there was an element of truth to the fact that Canada fared better than other advanced capitalist countries. This was largely on the basis of the oil boom, the expansion of credit and the bloated housing bubble. Austerity wasn’t as deep as in many advanced capitalist countries, unemployment did not skyrocket, and the resource sector provided an outlet for those who couldn’t find jobs.

Canada’s economy has indeed slowed since the 2008 crisis. The average annual GDP growth from 1998 to 2008 was 3.2 per cent. Since 2008, the average growth has slowed to 2.5 per cent annually. The drop, however, wasn’t as drastic as in many other OECD countries.

Events over the past year – particularly the oil crisis – have shaken illusions that Canada is immune from the process of stagnation and slump that afflicts the world economy. The Canadian economy began contracting earlier this year.

The economy shrunk modestly in the first two quarters of 2015 making it a ‘technical’ recession. This was largely due to the collapse in oil prices, which led to a significant drop in capital investment as well as layoffs in the oil patch.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimated 35,000 jobs were lost in the oil sector in 2015. The Globe and Mail estimated that 63,500 jobs were lost in Alberta during the first 8 months of 2015. Unemployment in the province has increased from 4.4 per cent to 7.0 per cent from September 2014 to November 2015.

This is the first time since 1994 that Alberta’s unemployment rate has surpassed that of Ontario. Companies continue to post losses and at present there is no end in sight to layoffs and cancellations of oil projects.

Some commentators suggested that the resulting drop in the Canadian dollar combined with growth in the US would result in a rebound in Canadian manufacturing. A rebound has not occurred, and at best there is a delaying of the gradual decline in manufacturing in the Canadian heartland.

Bourgeois commentators have begun to clue into the significant weaknesses at the foundations of the Canadian economy. The GDP growth estimates for 2015 are estimated to be around 1 per cent. The IMF predicts that growth will be 1.7 per cent in 2016. This is not the rosy picture that Harper was presenting over the past year.

It has also become apparent how sensitive the Canadian economy is to volatility of the world market. There is increasing concern about record consumer debt, overvalued housing prices, the impact of the global crisis on export markets and a prolonged glut in oil and mining commodity prices.

The Economist published an article titled “Late to the Party” which ran with the byline “an economy renowned for sobriety has binged on debt”. It warns that:

“Now the economy is shaky, which makes inflated debt and housing values more dangerous. The 50% fall in oil prices since 2014 battered the energy sector. Overall, the economy contracted slightly in the first half of 2015; the downturn was worst in oil-producing Alberta. The economy is now growing again and forecasts are relatively cheery.”

“But household debt casts an ominous shadow. At present, borrowers can pay; interest costs have fallen in relation to disposable income. But that could quickly change. Any shock in the form of inflation, which could force interest rates up quickly, or a recession in emerging markets or the United States, would be magnified by Canada’s overblown debt.

….An economic downturn might not spell catastrophe. But the debt binge ensures it would be very unpleasant.”

Consumer debt has reached 165 per cent of income, which is the same level it was in the United States prior to the foreclosure crisis. Canadians are already priced out of the housing market or barely able to pay their mortgages.

Among young people, the situation is even more desperate. The CBC reported that since 1999 debt among people in their thirties had doubled, reaching a debt-to-income ratio of 400 per cent. A decline in real estate prices would leave many homeowners in their 20s and 30s with debts greater than their net worth.

The Bank of Canada has reduced interest rates twice to soften the impact of the slow-down earlier this year. This hasn’t had the effect of stimulating investment and is contributing to the housing bubble. Rather than investing, corporate Canada has amassed a money hoard of about $700-billion. This situation cannot last forever, especially as the US Federal Reserve is set to increase rates this month. The question now is not whether there will be a housing collapse, but how bad will it be?

The Bank of Canada estimates a 10-30 per cent correction, while the Deutsche Bank estimates a correction of over 60 per cent. Toronto and Vancouver are widely seen as highly inflated, and Moody’s economist Paul Matsiras claimed that they are among the most overinflated housing markets on the globe.

Matsiras also raised the alarm that increases in mortgage rates would have debt-strapped Canadians unable to make their payments and that the Federal Government was exposed to a housing collapse through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation insuring of home loans.

The danger of the world economy entering another slump looms heavily over Canada. Lawrence Summers, the former Secretary of the Treasury of the US who also authored Justin Trudeau’s economic plan, recently warned that “the dangers of the global economy are more severe than at any time since the bankruptcy of Lehman brothers in 2008”.

The IMF has revised global growth to its lowest pace since 2008. There is growing concern of slow-down across the emerging economy, and especially in China. These economies were an important driver of growth as huge capital investments were being made in the past period. Since 2008, huge debts have accrued on the basis of low interest rates. This has all come to its limits.

A global slump is developing, and it would have a profound impact on a Canadian economy already on the edge of a cliff. When this occurs – whether in the next six months or in several years – it would have a huge impact on the class struggle in Canada. Among other things, it would spell the end of any lingering honeymoon with the Trudeau Liberals.

The Provincial Dynamic to the Class Struggle

Until the deep contradictions in the Canadian economy begin expressing themselves, and the federal Liberals turn to austerity, we can expect the main focal point of the class struggle will be provincially based.

The struggle of the workers and youth in Quebec continues to stand at the head of the movement. The contract negotiations between the Common Front, which brings together 400,000 workers from all the trade union centrals in the province, and the Quebec Liberals has been moving towards direct confrontation. The student unions have also mobilized in support of the Common Front.

The trade union leaders called off the movement for a “new Quebecois Spring” earlier this year, saying that it was not the right time for struggle. In the current contract negotiations there is a burning desire by the workers to fight the Liberal government.

The Liberals have threatened back-to-work legislation and imposed contracts. This has only enraged the workers. In contrast, the trade union leaders have retreated from their calls for a public sector general strike from December 1st to 3rd. The question at present is will the trade union leadership be able to hold back the struggle once again, or whether the workers will push the struggle forward despite the leadership. December 9th 2015 saw the largest public sector strike in Quebec since the revolutionary general strike of 1972.

The movement in Quebec gives a taste of the kind of backlash that can occur at a later stage against the Trudeau Liberals. The Quebec Liberals did not win the provincial election on the basis of austerity, but instead won on the basis of their opposition to the PQ’s divisionary “Charter of Values”. The anger of the workers is even greater as they feel like this is not what they voted for, and feel like the government doesn’t have a mandate for such austerity cuts.

In Ontario, the ‘progressive’ character of the Kathleen Wynne Liberals has shown itself to be a program of austerity, privatization and net-zero negotiations in the public sector. The sell-off of Hydro One in particular has garnered significant criticism. There is a developing anger against the Wynne Liberals.

The reason that we have not seen a serious fight back in Ontario is because the labour movement is terribly disoriented. Many trade union leaders supported Kathleen Wynne in the 2014 provincial election, and many trade unions gave financial support directly and indirectly to the Ontario Liberals as well. Now these same groups of workers are under attack.

On the other hand, the Ontario NDP has not provided an alternative to austerity. During the provincial election the party campaigned towards the right and openly courted Bay Street. The party has shifted slightly to the left since the defeat but is far from providing a fighting alternative to austerity.

The recent coup in the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) against Sid Ryan by the right- wing of the labour leadership is a further blow to the struggle. Despite his weaknesses, Sid had brought a more bold and social movement orientation to the OFL.

In the private sector, union leaders in Ontario have pushed round after round of concessions onto their membership despite record strike votes in many sectors. This can only go on for so long until one section or another of the working class decides to draw a line in the sand. This could cause a domino effect by inspiring other workers facing the same attacks.

Despite the utter paralysis of the trade union and NDP leadership, a fighting mood is developing in the province.

Earlier this year in Alberta, we saw an example of how rapidly consciousness can shift. The Albertan working class, which has been historically viewed as conservative and backward, defeated the 44-year long Progressive Conservative dynasty in the province and elected an NDP majority.

There was enormous anger towards the attempt of the Conservatives to place the burden of the oil crisis on the backs of the working class. Rachel Notley’s NDP won the election on a program of halting austerity through deficit financing and by taxing the rich. This represented a significant step forward for the class struggle in Alberta.

The plunge in oil prices, which is likely to be prolonged, is showing the limits of the Alberta NDP’s reformism. There is a significant drop in capital investment in the energy sector and associated industries, as profits have dropped by 55 per cent in the energy sector. Unemployment is increasing as mass layoffs are announced every month in the oil patch.

The Alberta government is set to take on significant debt as to avoid austerity. The largest deficit in Alberta’s history is being tabled for 2015. A surplus of $1 billion has transformed into $6.1 billion deficit. Non-renewable resource revenue has dropped from $9 billion to $3 billion.

Meanwhile, increasing taxes on the rich and instituting environmental regulations will only further push away capital investment. The energy sector is estimated to account for approximately 40 per cent of the provincial economy. The problems of unemployment, access to good quality services and preventing environmental destruction can only be solved if the Alberta NDP breaks from the profit motive.

Until the energy, banking and other strategic sectors are nationalized, the Alberta economy will be volatile and at the whims of world market, and the NDP will not be able to prevent declining living standards in the province. Over the coming years, the limits of reformism will become evident as the Alberta NDP faces rising debts, climbing unemployment, drops in capital investment and the hostility of the bosses.

Radical Mood Developing in Society

The class struggle is developing in an extremely contradictory way, precisely because of the lack of an outlet. The NDP’s capitulation to corporate interests has led to defeats and confusion especially in English Canada.

Even if the mass organizations fail to give a lead, this will not stop the class contradictions in society from developing. Spontaneous struggles will be on the order of the day. Movements, especially of students and young workers, similar to those we have already seen around inequality, police brutality, indigenous oppression, tuition fees and precarious work should be expected.

Canada is not immune to the problems that have engulfed societies in Europe, the Middle East, or Latin America. At a certain point, the working class will enter the struggle. This will change the situation overnight.

Consciousness can shift rapidly as the impact of the crisis of capitalism is felt. Sharp turns in the political situation and leaps in class-consciousness are to be expected in the coming period. This is a process that is occurring across the globe.

Among the youth in particular a radical mood is developing. This provides an extremely ripe terrain of work for the revolutionary movement. The youth are badly impacted by the economic crisis. The prospects for the future of an entire generation are being dashed away by the capitalist system.

The youth are also more sensitive to the sickness of capitalist society. The barbarity of a western imperialism, the refugee crisis, the destruction of the environment, the poison of racism and sexism, and even the crisis of morality are radicalizing the youth.

The revolutionary movement must organize itself in anticipation of the coming struggles. The Marxists in Canada have a certain advantage over our comrades in other countries. We are able to observe and study the generalized process of radicalization and of heightening class struggle around the world while having the luxury of time to prepare our forces. The youth have not been this open to revolutionary ideas since the 1970s.

But we do not have infinite time. The pressing task is the preparatory work of organizing and educating the most advanced, critical and combative workers and young people for the major struggles to come. Eventually the working class will move en-masse, the question is only when. Now is the time to prepare and build for this inevitable confrontation.


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Beyond #ELXN42

Efforts to get people to vote, complete with ballot-box selfies, loomed large on social media, but when casting a ballot is treated as the noblest thing you can do in a democracy, it accommodates a status quo of incredibly narrow choices.

While federal election #elxn42 featured many firsts, and it felt good to see Stephen Harper’s Conservatives trounced, one new electioneering element stood out in the social media age – the fetishization of voting.

Efforts to get people to vote showed themselves on countless Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and even in a campaign promoted by CBC personality Rick Mercer, turning the placement of an ‘x’ on a piece of paper into a moment of important self-regard, complete with ballot box selfies.

This hyper-celebration of voting reflects an age in which cheap and easy commitments – changing our Facebook status to read Je Suis Charlie, as was done following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, or holding up selfies reading Bring Back Our Girls for the kidnapped Boko Haram girls – do more to make us feel good about ourselves than address the challenges we face. Meanwhile, those who don’t vote are treated like the party poopers who are told they cannot complain if they don’t like the results.

Voting is the absolute minimum task one can perform in a democracy. But voting does not equal or encourage participation in decisions affecting our daily lives, which is why it is so easy for mainstream institutions to promote it as the noblest of political actions.

By elevating it to the level of heroism, we paper over serious questions about what, exactly, is achieved after 10 long weeks, tens of millions of dollars spent, and untold volunteer hours going to three mainstream parties who are not terribly different in their fundamental outlook.

How many people went to the polls on Monday and held their noses in a desperate Anybody-But-Conservative moment? What does it mean to “have your say” when most voters would be embarrassed pink to spout the somnambulant sound bytes of the parties’ leaders (“ready for change,” “real change,” and “protecting the economy”)?

One is reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s gradual radicalization, when he came to the conclusion that winning the right for blacks to share lunch counters with whites meant nothing as long as those enjoying this new freedom could not afford to buy lunch.

How can Canadians enjoy a truly democratic choice when the richest 86 people in this country have the same wealth as the poorest 11.4 million Canadians?

On a broader level, how can anyone place their future hopes in political parties that refuse to recognize the seriousness of Canada’s single biggest contributor to planetary peril, the Alberta tar sands? And what does it mean to vote without pausing to remember the Truth and Reconciliation Commission conclusion that Canada is a nation built on what it deemed a “cultural genocide” waged against indigenous peoples?

When voting is treated as the most important thing you can do in a democracy, it accommodates a status quo of incredibly narrow choices with only minor tinkering.

Privileging voting ignores the very grassroots efforts that create and sustain those best elements of democratic countries, from the community organizing that leads to the creation of women’s shelters, co-op housing and credit unions, to the organization of demonstrations, strikes, and direct action.

Indeed, it was the very outbreak of participatory politics in the 1960s and 70s that led the planet’s leading powerbrokers (including members of Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet) to form the Trilateral Commission, whose report, The Crisis of Democracy, shivered with the conclusion that the social movements forcing real changes in those tumultuous times resulted from an “excess of democracy” that had to be reigned in through economic and political austerity and lowering of expectations. The viewpoint of the political elites was that “the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of some individuals and groups.”

When the NDP uprooted the “socialist” bogey-word out of the party’s constitution in 2013 in an effort to make itself more “electable” (supplanting the old with a new focus on balanced budgets), it was one final blow severing its ties to the 1933 Regina Manifesto when the party’s predecessor, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, proudly declared: “We aim to replace the present capitalist system, with its inherent injustice and inhumanity, by a social order from which the domination and exploitation of one class by another will be eliminated.”

But what if the NDP returned to its roots as a party that refused to make such accommodations to a cruel economy, as when it fought for universal healthcare?

Look south of the border to the popularity of Bernie Sanders, and a Pew research poll that finds 49 per cent of Americans under age 30 have a positive view of socialism, and overseas to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain’s Labour Party. Take note as well of the anti-austerity victories posted by Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece, and one can see that condemning the current system as unfair is hardly an unpopular notion. Such positions reflect broad popular forces that have created a critical climate for systemic change.

That these parties have a long way to go is without question, but they have given strength to the notion that substantive change can be brought through an electoral politics that goes beyond passionless calls for balanced budgets, tax credits, and reduced ATM fees.

But does change have to wait another four years for a new party to come along, or can we get to the business of organizing ourselves into a social force that cannot be ignored? One answer, as African American poet June Jordan reminded us, is this: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

As the old bumper sticker goes, “If voting made a difference, it would be illegal.”

Source: Canadian Dimension

Joining the Empire: Canadian Foreign Policy under Harper

Since the Conservative government of Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, shifts in Canadian foreign policy have been a flashpoint of debate in Parliament, the media, and civil society. There is general agreement that a “revolution in Canadian foreign policy” has occurred, to quote Canadian academic Alexander Moens.

For liberals, Harper’s changes are simply a product of his right-wing ideology and domestic maneuvers, and thus are amenable to executive reform. For social democrats and left-nationalists, the same perspective holds, with the added concern of US influence over Canadian state practices.

As Marxists have pointed out, the limitation of these perspectives is the absence of any political-economic analysis of Canadian state power – of any theorization of Canadian foreign policy as an expression of economic, political, and social power dynamics at home and abroad.

In this article I provide such a theory of Canadian foreign policy under the Harper government. I examine, in particular, the global context in which Canadian foreign policy operates; the policies of Liberal governments before Harper; the strategy of armoured neoliberalism that Harper has advanced; and the implementation of this strategy in several case studies. I argue that the new Canadian foreign policy is a reflection of the internationalization of Canadian capital and the restructuring of the state as an institution of class domination locally and globally.

The Global Context

The ‘revolution in Canadian foreign policy’ has to be viewed in relation to global dynamics in the world economy and state system. After the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s, corporate elites and state managers pursued a ‘neoliberal’ model of capitalism in which wages are reduced, unions curtailed, social programs retrenched, public assets privatized, and finance and production globalized. The goal was to raise corporate profits by exploiting workers more harshly, and by creating new commodities out of nature and the public sector. Predictably, the neoliberal period has witnessed new patterns of social inequality, uneven development, and political conflict within and between countries.

The world economy, for example, has been characterized by structural imbalances – in particular, by the trade and investment relations within and between the regional blocs of North America, Western Europe, and developed Asia. Anchored by the United States, the North American bloc has been integrated as a preferential trading zone, and has tended to run systematic deficits with the European Union and key Asian economies. American deficits have been covered by dollar inflows to Wall Street and the US Treasury, allowing the US to finance its trade and government deficits, credit bubbles, and military campaigns.

Through these global value flows, US strategy has been buttressed. Since the end of the Cold War, successive US administrations have articulated a strategy of global preeminence. To this end, the US has worked to block the emergence of any competitor in Eurasia, to expand the Cold War security alliances, and to further globalize neoliberal policies.

To support this agenda, the US has engaged in global forms of disciplinary militarism. After 9/11, it increased defence spending to nearly half of world totals, and intervened militarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Haiti, and Ukraine, among other countries. Despite the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has developed new techniques of interventionism, including drone strikes, Special Forces operations, and cyber warfare capabilities. The US has also contrived new pretexts for regime change in ‘rogue’ or ‘failed’ states – for example, through selective applications of ‘democracy promotion’ and the ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians from oppressive governments.

Since the first Gulf War, the Middle East has been the key front of US imperialism. According to US Central Command, the US government’s fundamental interest is in protecting “uninterrupted, secure U.S./Allied access to Gulf oil.” To this end, the US has maintained its key alliances with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel; supported Israeli attacks on several states and resistance movements in the region, and impeded any efforts to end the occupation of Palestine; sanctioned and threatened Iran; and tried to steer the ‘Arab Spring’ in amenable directions – for example, by seeking regime change in Libya and Syria, backing repression in Bahrain and Yemen, and recognizing the 2013 military coup in Egypt. Alongside the war in Iraq, these policies have generated a vicious circle of militarism, underdevelopment, terrorism, and state failure in the region.

Beyond the Middle East, the neoliberal agenda of US grand strategy has also limited development. In 2010, the UN Development Programme admitted that the world economy had experienced “no convergence in income…because on average rich countries have grown faster than poor ones over the past 40 years. The divide between developed and developing countries persists: a small subset of countries has remained at the top of the world income distribution, and only a handful of countries that have started out poor have joined that high-income group.” Furthermore, “within countries, rising income inequality is the norm.”

The logic of global capitalism under US hegemony has thus been one of entrenched inequality and uneven development. With this in mind, how has the Canadian state positioned itself in the global system of empire?

Before Harper: Neoliberalism and Canadian Foreign Policy

Harper’s foreign policy agenda is best viewed as a radical extension of Canadian state practices in the neoliberal period. On both economic and political fronts, four dynamics have transformed the political economy of Canadian foreign policy.

First, from the mid-1980s to the present, the Canadian state has pursued a project of continental neoliberalism. Under the direction of corporate policy groups and think tanks, the goal of this strategy has been to integrate the US and Canadian economies in free-market ways, and to decompose the Canadian labour movement through new forms of regional competition. The free-trade agenda, which was embodied in the 1988 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, was a vital strategy for capital, and helped to raise the rate of profit for Canadian business from 1992 to 2007.

Second, the Canadian state worked to globalize production and investment on a broader scale. In fact, the regional strategy of continental neoliberalism was designed as a stepping-stone for Canadian corporate expansion in the world economy, particularly through foreign direct investments. By 1996, Canada had become a net exporter of direct investment capital, and Canadian corporations became leaders in several global sectors, including energy, mining, finance, aerospace, and information-and-computer-technologies. Directorship interlocks between the top tier firms of Corporate Canada and the top firms globally also increased, with Canadian corporate elites expanding their position in the ‘North Atlantic ruling class.’ On the trade front, Canada began to register a pattern in the balance-of-payments, running deficits with Europe, Asia and less developed economies, and overcoming these deficits with surpluses with the US. In these ways, the NAFTA zone supported the global links of Canadian capital.

Third, in support of these dynamics, Liberal governments worked to erect a global architecture for transnational neoliberalism. In the 1990s, this was achieved through the World Trade Organization, APEC forums, and efforts to establish a Multilateral Agreement on Investment through the OECD. In the early 2000s, the Chrétien government also sought a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Building on the mass campaigns against CAFTA and NAFTA, Canadian activists played a critical role in protesting these trade and investment initiatives, most notably during the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Québec City.

Fourth, Liberal governments also began a rethink of Canadian foreign policy in light of the globalization agenda and Washington’s primacy strategy. Most notably, in 1999, the Chrétien government supported NATO’s illegal attack on Serbia, and in 2001 sent troops to Afghanistan. The Chrétien and Martin governments also increased budget lines for the Department of National Defence (DND) and for Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies.

To support these efforts, they also issued several strategy documents, including the National Security Policy (2004) and the International Policy Statement (2005), both of which called for new security measures domestically and new military capabilities internationally. In addition, both governments further aligned Canada’s security and immigration policies with the US, as demonstrated in the Smart Border Declaration (2001), the Safe Third Country Agreement (2002), and the Security and Prosperity Partnership (2005). Although Canada refused to participate formally in the 2003 Iraq war, the Chrétien government offered multiple forms of military assistance, including surveillance aircraft, naval ships, military personnel on exchange programs, and a military deployment to Afghanistan to relieve US soldiers for the Gulf. The Martin government also deployed troops to Haiti in support of the 2004 coup d’état, and its Emerging Market Strategy (2005) delineated an array of supports to Canadian corporate expansion in the Third World.

The Harper government thus inherited a nascent apparatus for the internationalization of Canadian capital and the militarization of Canadian foreign policy in conjuncture with US imperialism.

Armoured Neoliberalism: Harper’s Grand Strategy

The novelty of Canadian foreign policy under Stephen Harper’s government has been the upfront class-consciousness of its geopolitical and geo-economic agenda. With support of the corporate community and defence lobby, the Harper government has articulated a new grand strategy of armoured neoliberalism: a fusion of militarism and class warfare in Canadian state policies and practices. The aims have been three-fold: to globalize Corporate Canada’s reach; to secure a core position for the Canadian state in the geopolitical hierarchy; and to discipline any opposition forces – both state and non-state – in the world order.

In pursuit of these goals, Harper has operated as “the ideal personification of the total national capital,” to quote Friedrich Engels. With this in mind, his government has developed new state capacities for military propaganda; propped up right-wing constituencies domestically for external purposes; and fortified a national security apparatus to monitor and suppress any challengers to the state/corporate nexus in Canada.

At the level of doctrine, this agenda has been spelled out in several statements. In 2008, the Canada First Defence Strategy highlighted “terrorism,” “failed and failing states,” and “insurgencies” as key security threats, and argued that Canada’s highly globalized economy relied on “security abroad.” It promised $490 billion in new military spending, and envisioned a “combat-capable” military that is interoperable with US forces.

In 2013, the Harper government released its Global Markets Action Plan, according to which “all Government of Canada assets [will be] harnessed to support the pursuit of commercial success by Canadian companies and investors in key foreign markets.” As part of this, it articulated an “extractive sector strategy” for Canadian resource investors abroad.

To support such economic interests, the Harper government published Building Resilience Against Terrorism (2012), also known as the Counter-Terrorism Strategy (CTS). This document has been the key legitimation strategy for Harper’s national security and foreign policy agenda. It begins by identifying “Islamist extremism” as the leading threat to “Canadian interests.” The importance of this threat assessment is that it bases Canadian strategy on an apolitical and ahistorical understanding of Islamist violence, one that ignores the history of Western foreign policy in the Muslim world and conflates different types of Islamist movements. In the process, it constructs a one-dimensional menace against which Canadian forces must be mobilized on a permanent basis.

Second, the CTS targets domestic movements of “environmentalism and anti-capitalism” as potential sources of terrorist violence against “energy, transportation and oil and gas assets.” It thus seeks to legitimate a class-based project of securitization in the Canadian state itself, one that can surveil and discipline any working-class or environmental challenges to Canadian capital.

The key strategy of the Harper government, then, has been to openly define the foreign and domestic interests of Canadian capital as the raison d’étre of the state. The aim is to consolidate a national security state that can advance the global interests of Canadian capital, and suppress any opposition to this agenda. With this in mind, the Harper government has further restructured the national security and foreign policy apparatuses.

For example, under the Harper government, funding for Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), a federal agency for global signals-intelligence, increased dramatically to $422 million in 2013. With such new resources, CSEC has been involved – as part of the ‘Five Eyes’ group of countries – in metadata surveillance at home and abroad; in foreign industrial espionage in support of Canadian mining and energy corporations; and in covert spying operations for the US National Security Agency.

By 2010/11, funding for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) also increased to $506 million, giving CSIS new capacities for foreign and domestic intelligence work. CSIS has been involved in communications monitoring in Canada, and in surveillance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also been complicit in the detention and torture of Canadian citizens abroad, as demonstrated in the cases of Maher Arar, Abousfian Abdelrazick, and Omar Khadr, among others. In support of this, the Harper government closed the Office of the Inspector General of CSIS, and now allows CSIS to use intelligence gained through torture by foreign security services. Within Canada, CSIS has collected intelligence on the global justice and peace movements, and has targeted indigenous activists, mosques, and migrant organizations.

The Harper government has revolutionized the foreign policy apparatus in other ways. In March 2013, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was folded into a new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). In the process, Canada’s development assistance work was further linked to the economic and geopolitical interests of the state. In particular, it was torqued for making developing economies “trade and investment ready,” as former-Minister Julian Fantino put it. Alongside Export Development Canada and Natural Resources Canada, the DFATD has anchored a ‘whole-of-government’ effort for Canadian mining investment in the Third World.

Although the ‘commercialization’ of Foreign Affairs began in the early 1980s, the Harper government has advanced this process in novel ways. In particular, it tasked DFAIT with reviewing ties with emerging economies in Asia, coordinating more closely with the US State Department on trade and global security, and developing a ‘Strategy for the Americas’ in light of Canadian corporate expansion in the region (see below). It also has negotiated a series of bilateral foreign investment agreements, and supported a new arms exporting strategy in liaison with the Canadian Commercial Corporation and defence industry groups.

In 2012, it also inked a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China, with the two-fold aim of (1) securing and protecting long-term Chinese investment in Canada’s growing industrial sectors; and (2) offsetting the decline in US demand for Canadian exports with new patterns of trade and investment with China and Asia. While the Agreement does not provide the same reciprocity to Canadian investors in China, and while it limits Canadian democracy with respect to economic, environmental, and First Nations policies, it fully accords with the neoliberal project of globalizing Canadian capitalism. With this in mind, Harper’s DFATD has also worked on dozens of other investment and trade agreements with developing countries, many of which are recipients of large-scale investments by Canadian banking, mining, and energy firms.

The Harper government has also restructured the Department of National Defence. In October 2012, the Canadian Forces were given two command structures: the Canadian Joint Operations Command and the Canadian Special Operations Command. By 2011, Harper had increased defence spending to $22 billion, the highest level since the Second World War. In this context, the Conservative government increased regular and reserve personnel, and launched a major procurement effort, though the latter has been limited by austerity measures, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and political incompetence. Harper also has withdrawn Canadian forces from any significant UN peacekeeping operations, supported DND efforts to build seven overseas operational support hubs, and endorsed the new DND focus on counterterrorism, defence diplomacy, and interoperability with US and NATO forces.

To support these efforts, it has tried to inculcate a new culture of militarism in Canadian civil society – for example, through yellow ribbon campaigns, war commemorations, recruitment drives, fallen soldier ceremonies, and military spectacles at professional sporting events. As historians Ian McKay and Jamie Swift argue, this “state-orchestrated cultural revolution” has aimed to “realize a specific vision of Canada, one of money for arms, more respect for soldiers, and more muscularity in foreign affairs.”

In these ways, then, the Harper government has embedded a new calculus of power in the grand strategy and institutional resume of the state. It has consolidated a national security apparatus at home, and redefined the strategy of Canadian foreign policy abroad, around a class-based imperialism.

Exploitation and Destruction: Harper In Action

The key foreign policy actions of the Harper government have revealed the logic of armoured neoliberalism in Canadian grand strategy. The war in Afghanistan has been the most important case in point. Upon taking office, the Conservative government fully embraced the counterinsurgency mission in Kandahar, and continued to extend the deployment until Spring 2011, after which Canadian forces were mandated with a three-year training mission for Afghan security services. Through a Strategic Advisory Team in President Karzai’s office, Canadian military personnel were entrenched in the Afghan state, and played a key role in drafting a neoliberal development plan for that country. This plan involved privatizing state assets, deregulating the domestic economy, and liberalizing trade and investment. International donors largely managed the distribution of aid funds, and NGOs established projects across the country, without coordinating with the state.

Under the Harper government, the majority of Canadian aid spending was militarized as part of supporting the war in Kandahar. However, as Nipa Banerjee, the former head of CIDA operations in Afghanistan, has revealed, “all the projects have failed” and “none of them have been successful.”

The Canadian military mission also failed to achieve its stated aims of pacification, democratization, and development. While it prevented the Taliban from taking over Kandahar City, it failed to defeat the insurgency, antagonized the population, empowered warlords and drug traffickers, killed civilians and destroyed infrastructure, and knowingly transferred detainees to torture by Afghan security personnel. In these ways, Canada practiced a neoliberal form of militarism in Afghanistan – one that liberalized the Afghan economy, and established a client state for western influence in the region.

The same logic was apparent in Harper’s Strategy for the Americas, which was designed to support Canadian corporate investment, bolster conservative governments, curry influence in Washington, and beat back left-wing movements. Nowhere was this more evident than in Honduras, where, in June 2009, the democratically elected President was abducted and flown out of the country by the military. He was replaced by a dictatorship, led by prominent members of the Honduran oligarchy, which cracked down violently on demonstrations.

Canada quickly emerged as one of the dictatorship’s closest allies, consistently blaming the former-President for the crisis and lauding the accomplishments of the dictatorship. Though the OAS immediately ejected Honduras, demanding the restitution of democracy, Canada lobbied to have Honduras re-instated. Indeed, Canada helped the dictatorship create the appearance of democracy and rule of law, twice accepting the results of fraudulent elections and sending a representative to a sham ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, despite Amnesty International’s denunciation of the dictatorship for using death squads to assassinate activists and journalists.

In 2011, Canada announced that it had signed a free trade agreement with Honduras, which would further reduce taxes and operating constraints on mining, garment, and tourist industry capital in Honduras. Canada has also helped train Honduran police, as part of Canada’s emphasis on security – which makes sense in a context where Honduran communities have been mobilizing against Canadian companies like Goldcorp and Gildan.

Similar interests guided the Conservative government’s interventions in Haiti after the 2012 earthquake. In public statements, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon averred that Canada’s military deployment was “all about solidarity…all about helping [Haiti] in its hour of need.” Classified DFAIT documents reveal, however, that Canada’s main priority was containing both “the risks of a popular uprising” and the “rumour that [left-wing] ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide…wants to organize a return to power.” The same documents reveal that Canada also supported a neoliberal reconstruction effort, one that involved a “real paradigm shift” and a “fundamental, structural rebuilding of [Haitian] society and its systems.” With this in mind, roughly 97 per cent of Canadian relief funds bypassed the Haitian government, going instead to the UN and international NGOs. As a result, it compounded what Canadian academic Justin Podur calls the “new dictatorship” in Haiti: a coalition of foreign and domestic elites that dominate and exploit the country through neoliberal methods of political, economic, and military control.

The same practices have appeared in Harper’s Middle East policies. To begin, Harper has given unqualified support to Israel and its apartheid system in Palestine. As part of this, he changed Canada’s voting patterns on Palestine at the UN, and boycotted the elected Palestinian Authority in 2006. Harper also backed the Israeli assault on Lebanon (2006), as well as successive Israeli attacks on Gaza, which the UN and human rights groups have described as war crimes. To build support for these policies, the Harper government has established strong ties with the Israel lobby in Canada, and has disingenuously conflated the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement with Anti-Semitism.

The Harper government was also quick to join NATO’s 2011 war for regime change in Libya. While popular protests against Gadhafi’s government had emerged in parts of the country, and while the UN Security Council had sanctioned a no-fly zone, the NATO mission focused primarily on bombing government, military, and civilian infrastructure in support of the insurgency. Canadian intelligence officers had warned the DND that, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will be transformed into a long-term tribal/civil war.” They also warned that, given the presence of “several Islamist insurgent groups” in the opposition, the Canadian-commanded NATO mission ran the risk of becoming “al-Qaida’s air force.” That Canada, the US, and NATO ignored such warnings indicates (1) the persistent fallacy of such ‘humanitarian wars’; (2) the western strategy to contain the Arab Spring and to exert greater control over Libya’s oil wealth; (3) the strategic interest in testing US AFRICOM’s reach into the continent; and (4) the ongoing use of jihadist groups for imperial ends.

In the wake of Libya, Canada also established closer ties to the economies and security apparatuses of the Gulf Arab monarchies. For example, Canadian arms exports to the region have boomed under the Harper government, reaching tens of billions of dollars. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has become a close ally of Canada’s Middle East policy. It has purchased approximately $15 billion in Canadian military exports; supported other business ventures by Canadian firms such as Bombardier and SNC Lavalin; and participated in Canadian navy and air force exercises. As Canadian journalist, Yves Engler, has noted, “the Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate the absurdity … of Harper’s claim that ‘we are taking strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not’.”

Finally, Harper was quick to insert the Canadian military into the US war against Islamic State (IS) – in particular, through a Special Forces training mission for Kurdish peshmerga militias, an air campaign of CF-18 Hornets, and an aid program for Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the region (though not for settlement in Canada). While Canadian efforts have achieved some success in containing IS capacities in northern Iraq, they fit within a larger strategy that is highly contradictory.

First, the war strategy ignores how the sectarian, neoliberal policies of the US occupation of Iraq created the impetus for IS’ emergence. Second, it ignores how the western strategy of regime change in Syria created another opportunity for IS to advance alongside other jihadist currents, including al-Qaeda in Syria. Third, it involves military forces from the Gulf dictatorships, which share and promote the same ideology as IS. Fourth, it ignores the sectarian character of the Iraqi government and its role in alienating the Sunni population. Fifth, judging from the military engagements to date, it is unclear if western strategy is to defeat or simply contain IS for imperial ends in the region. Sixth, the strategy has not confronted the active role of NATO-member Turkey in supporting IS. And finally, it has refused open collaboration with other forces in the region – namely, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian government – that are also fighting IS and al-Qaida.

For these reasons, Canada’s new engagement in Iraq and Syria is an imperialist war that will likely compound the cycle of militarism, sectarianism, underdevelopment, and state failure in the region, to the detriment of popular struggles.

The conflict in Ukraine has been the last major front of Harper’s imperial statecraft. The conflict has been over-determined by several dynamics of geopolitical and geo-economic rivalry in the post-Cold War period, including the eastward expansion of NATO, US violations of Russian sovereignty, NATO’s rejection of any Russian security interests near its borders, US plans for nuclear superiority, western fury over Russian assistance to Syria, and fears of Russian-Chinese ‘balancing’ of US/NATO dominance. The ‘New Cold War’ of western foreign policy partly explains the authoritarian nationalism of Putin’s government and its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine after the US-backed coup d’état in Kyiv in February 2014.

In this conflict, Canada has played a prominent role. In the events leading up to the coup, opposition protestors were allowed to occupy the Canadian embassy in Kyiv for several days. Canada also recognized the coup government and the subsequent elections of limited legitimacy. In addition, it provided hundreds of millions of dollars in bilateral aid; backed a host of NATO Reassurance Measures; imposed a sanctions policy (albeit with loopholes for Canadian corporate ties with Russia); and deployed military trainers for the counterinsurgency in eastern Ukraine. In June 2015, it also signed a free-trade agreement with the Ukrainian government, which has subsequently solicited Canadian investors to purchase billions of dollars of soon-to-be privatized public enterprises. In taking these positions, the Harper government also aimed to buttress its links to conservative forces in Ukrainian-Canadian communities in several urban ridings.

However, Harper’s policies vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine are not driven by such electoral machinations. While corporate interests are largely peripheral to this conflict, the Harper government has worked to advance the class interests of Canadian imperialism. As ‘the ideal personification of the total national capital,’ Harper has escalated the political, economic, and military conflict with Russia as a means of asserting Canadian state power in a changing global order, one that is increasingly multi-polar and resistant to US/NATO preeminence. As a result, the ‘whole-of-government’ engagement with Ukraine fits within a larger system of economic, political, and military rivalry at the global level. It thus exemplifies the class-based nature of Harper’s foreign policy, and his strategic mobilization of domestic constituencies for political, economic, and military purposes abroad.


Harper’s foreign policy is an avatar for changing dynamics of economic and political power in Canada and around the world. Although Harper himself has played a critical role in conceptualizing and advancing the new grand strategy of armoured neoliberalism, his government is merely supporting the logic of Canadian corporate expansion. As such, Harper’s imprint on Canadian foreign policy is best understood as a hegemonic strategy of the state-capital nexus in the context of neoliberal globalization and US primacy objectives.

With this in mind, any strategy to challenge the new Canadian imperialism will have to address the political economy of capital and class at home and abroad. To this end, the further building of working-class, indigenous, and environmental movements will be of vital service to peace and global justice.

Source: Canadian Dimension

Hundreds of Canadians Receive Incorrect Voter Information Cards

CBC News has learned that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people may have difficulty casting a ballot in this election after receiving incorrect voter information cards.

Elections Canada says there’s a problem in various parts of the country.

Voters in Yukon, B.C., and Saskatchewan say mistakes were made about polling station locations by the body that runs elections in this country. Elections Canada says more than 300 people in Yukon will be receiving new cards.

Some of the cards advised people to travel hundreds of kilometres from their home to vote on election day or in advance polls.

Elections Canada says it’s investigating. Officials say they plan to reissue hundreds of voter information cards but they admit time is running out.

Diane Benson, a spokeswoman at Elections Canada, said reaching every elector is a complex process, and mistakes can happen. She said they rely on electors to reach out if they think there is a problem.

“If you get that voter info card, you’re registered, but you think that that address doesn’t seem right or the voting location doesn’t seem right, we certainly want to hear from you and we encourage you to contact the returning office,” she said.

Benson added that they are working to send out corrected voter information cards, which need to be mailed by Oct. 13 in order to get there by voting day.

Benson said voters can also check where their polling station is online.

Voter information cards are not required in order to cast a ballot, but contain information about the polling station’s location.

Source: CBC

Elections Canada Website Glitches show some Voters as Unregistered

Elections Canada’s website is wrongly telling some rural voters that they’re not registered to vote in the upcoming federal election, despite many of them actually being registered.

Colleen MacQuarrie has lived in the same house in Mount Tryon, P.E.I, for 20 years, and she’s a regular voter. But that’s not what the website told her.

“Other people were having difficulty. I thought, ‘I’m sure I’ll have no difficulty,’ because I’ve not moved and have voted in the past,” she told the CBC’s Maritime Noon radio show.

“I was very surprised to find that, indeed, I’m not in the system. I was told that I need to do a little bit more work in order to get to vote. I’m certainly going to do the work to get to vote but it was very, very, upsetting to find out that Elections Canada doesn’t have my name in the system.”

MacQuarrie said some people may not take the effort.

“I don’t think this is a glitch at all, because who in their right mind would design a system that wouldn’t — in a nation that is comprised of a lot of rural voters — that wouldn’t incorporate rural voters? That’s ridiculous,” she said.

After Maritime Noon‘s broadcast aired, CBC received emails from other who have had the same problem.

“I checked it this morning (having voted from this address in three previous federal elections) and the website could not confirm that I am registered,” said Joan Boutillier.

“I live in Wolfville, hardly a ‘rare and isolated’ part of the province. It is very important that all potential voters have an opportunity to exercise their franchise — democracy depends upon it.”

Charlotte Wilson-Hammond of Clam Harbour, N.S., said she has voted from the same address for more than 40 years.

“When filling in my info, the choice of roads in this area was incorrect. I live on ‘Beach Road’ and there is only a ‘Clam Harbour Beach Road’ listed. There is no such road as far as I’m aware,” she told CBC News. “Very frustrating.”

Source CBC