On May 02, 2011, Canadian electors voted in a majority government for the former minority government of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. The Conservatives won 167 out of 308 possible seats, although statistically, because of Canada’s “first past the post” system of electing representatives, they did not receive a majority of the “popular” vote. With a voter turnout of 61 per cent, and the popular vote of 40 per cent for the Conservatives, only 24 per cent of Canadians elected the new government.
The main issue turned out to be “stability” – not economic stability, not world stability, not peaceful stability, but stability in that Canadians did not want to have to another election for as long as the mandate lasted, which in Canada is four years.
The opposition for the first time ever is the New Democratic Party, a left wing party that made huge gains in the province of Quebec and smaller gains in other areas. And for the first time ever, the Green party leader, Elizabeth May, was elected in her riding, a singular counterpoint to what will become the Conservative government’s ignoring issues concerning the environment.
There are significant differences in domestic policy that do not have an impact on the rest of the world. The main thrust is similar to the U.S. policies of less government, more privatization of health care and education (mainly under provincial control, but funded in part by the federal government.)
Canada’s foreign policy will be affected, as the Conservatives will now turn hard to the right and follow if not increase the rhetoric and actions used by the U.S. in its foreign policy. Canada has generally followed the U.S. lead with some minor diversionary arguments to help Canadians feel that they are an independent country. However, most of Canada’s economy is tied to the U.S. economy, and most of its foreign policy reflects that of the U.S.
Canada advertises itself as a green country, the great outdoors to come and explore, with vast regions of wilderness and adventure. On environmental issues the government is distinctly on the side of the large corporations, meaning there may be some lip service paid to the environment, but the real thrust will be towards resource extraction for other countries and corporations profit and benefit. The Harper Conservatives have argued that they are “aligning” our policies with those of the U.S., essentially meaning that any current environmental laws will tend to be ignored, removed, or watered down.
The Alberta tar sands are the biggest most obvious issue. Requiring huge amounts of water and other energy (natural gas) in order to extract the oil residues, the tar sands have become the oil corporations best ‘safe’ reserves. After the lengthy sand scrubbing process, much of the tar sands by-products are then transported to the U.S. after being reconstituted into a form of crude. Under the NAFTA agreement (free trade between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada) the U.S. government has first rights to the oil before Canada gets any remaining share under circumstances of oil shortages. Mexico at least was smart enough to protect its oil resources.
Foreign Policy Militarization
Foreign policy for Canada, as witnessed by the tar sands and NAFTA, is very much in line with U.S. foreign policy. In the first part of the Twentieth Century, Canada followed Great Britain’s global imperial lead, following on their imperial history of creating Canada to protect its own interests at the expense of the French, the nascent U.S. empire, and of course the indigenous population of Canada. As the U.S. became Canada’s lead trading partner and the global imperial leader, Canada followed, often projecting an image of the peaceable kingdom, but more frequently acting in full support of U.S. initiatives. (see Yves Engler, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Fernwood/RED Publishing, 2009)
Currently Canada’s military supports U.S. actions in the Indian Ocean, Afghanistan, Haiti, more recently in Libya, and in Palestine/Israel. The Harper government is intent on purchasing sixty five of the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter plane. Canada has no need of this plane unless it intends to support U.S. actions overseas, as there is nobody in the world capable of attacking Canada in a manner requiring Canada’s use of the F-35. Its main beneficiary, apart from the support given to U.S. foreign policy actions, is to the corporate businesses that make the fighter. Many Canadian companies are complicit with U.S. companies in the manufacture of armaments and technological items used for warfare. These companies will benefit financially from the government largesse in purchasing these weapons.
The price is huge, especially when considered against the squabbling about the mere hundreds of millions of dollars accounted for health care and education. The original sticker price of $75 million per plane is indicated to really be much greater, as “Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer…estimated in March that the sticker price for the radar-evading plane would be more like $148 million apiece.” To maintain the planes, a “new Pentagon report suggests Canada could pay up to $24 billion over 30 years to maintain 65 planes.” (CBC.ca, April 26, 2011). The total cost – and these costs as witnessed by U.S. experience always tend to increase even more significantly than projected – of $33 billion is a wonder when the government is calling for fiscal restraint.
What it really amounts to is the slow militarization of the Canadian economy in line with the U.S. economy, as that is where the major manufacturing profits are made in this era of market financialization. It also suits Harper’s agenda of creating “courageous warriors” for projecting Canada’s power on the international scene.
That power is fully aligned with U.S. power and initiatives. Canada has always supported Israel in its fight against the Palestinians, even more so at times than the U.S. government. Canada was the first, before the U.S., to denounce the democratic election of Hamas in Palestinian elections in 2006. Canadian ignorance refuses to recognize that by drawing the ‘extremists’ into power, there is a necessity to moderate and accommodate policies in order to both retain power and to provide services for the citizens. This has been well evidenced by situations in Ireland, and South Africa as the best examples, but also is show with the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, who have never attacked another country.
The Canadian government creates the same fear of terrorism as the U.S. The Palestinians are considered intruders into their own land, while the Israeli’s are granted their supposed god-given right to inhabit the land regardless of who resided there most recently and over a long historical period. Canada supports the Israeli line of “we are the victims” while the Palestinians are the ‘perpetrators’ of all the violence.
The world can expect, now that the government has a majority, more policies that support both U.S. and Israeli initiatives around the world, economically and militarily – recognizing that the two are well entwined. They may not be broadcast as such, but worded in more carefully phrased rhetoric or rhetoric disguised in a similar manner as the U.S. freedom and democracy agendas are phrased in the U.S.
Generally, the trend for Canadian foreign policy will be a strengthening of its supposedly independent hard line approach to ‘terror’ in support of U.S. policies. Canada is not strictly a sycophantic follower of the U.S. as it inherited a great deal of its underlying ethos from the British imperial system. Canadians pretend to be much more worldly and compassionate, but with the Conservatives receiving only 24 per cent of the actual voting populations support, what is really reflected is a comfortable complacency with the status quo combined with an underlying willful ignorance of some of the main global problems of today.
- Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.
LETTER FROM MAUDE BARLOW, COUNCIL OF CANADIANS CHAIRPERSON
The 2011 federal election was historic in many ways and most of us are still trying to process the outcome. It is crucial that we pause to reflect on its meaning and think carefully about the next steps we must take.
While it is true that the remarkable surge in support for the NDP means a more dependable progressive voice in the House of Commons than we have had for years, it is equally true that the most socially and economically right-wing government perhaps in Canadian history has just won a substantial majority in the House and – along with their control of the Senate – is now free to implement its agenda even if every member of every other party votes against it.
The Harper Conservatives are now free to:
- cut corporate taxes and transfer payments;
- go after public services, public sector workers and public pensions;
- allow the growth of private health services to undermine Medicare in the lead-up to the expiry of the Canada Health Accord in 2014;
- vigorously promote more unregulated free trade agreements like the Canada–European Union CETA, that will drastically curtail the democratic rights of local governments to promote local economic development, local resource sovereignty, or local food production;
- kill the Canadian Wheat Board;
- fast track the security perimeter deal with the United States that will violate the civil liberties of Canadians and give away crucial pieces of our sovereignty;
- kill the long-gun registry;
- continue to decimate environmental regulations, under fund source water protection, promote dirty energy projects such as the tar sands, gas fracking and Arctic oil and gas drilling, while ignoring the rights of nature;
- and spend our money on military equipment and prisons we don’t need and don’t want.
This means we at the Council of Canadians and civil society in general have our work cut out for us as never before.
However, there are important signs of hope. The Harper Conservatives do not have the support of the majority of Canadians. Almost 40% of eligible Canadian voters did not cast a ballot in the election and of those who did, fully 60% voted for parties other than the Conservatives. This means that over two-thirds of Canadians who were eligible to vote did not cast a vote for the Harper agenda.
As well, the presence of an opposition with a clear progressive agenda on trade, social and environmental justice and public services will create the opportunity for unparalleled (until now) collaboration between Members of Parliament and progressive civil society. While we have had good working relationships with some Liberal MPs on some issues, how frustrating it was to see the Liberals side with the Conservatives on signing trade deals with corrupt and criminal regimes in Peru and Colombia. Further, the election of the first Green Party member, Elizabeth May, will open the door for an environmental debate and dialogue too long missing from the House of Commons.
And, as Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew reminds us, we have fought battles against both majority and minority governments before and won. Unfair deals such as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and the Security and Prosperity Partnership were defeated by popular protest. Unfair trade deals are fought and won outside Parliament, in the court of public opinion, he points out. It was also public pressure that stopped Canadian troops from being sent to Iraq. Similarly, no matter how much Stephen Harper dislikes public health care (and is on record in his preference for private health services), he can go only so far in his dismantling of Medicare, so deeply loved and fiercely protected is this most important of Canadian social programs. And let Harper try to open the doors for commercial export of our water and see how far he gets!
In other words, this country and its values still belongs to the people. As our director of development, Jamian Logue, says, “Neither our democratic responsibilities nor our democratic opportunities ended on May 2. Democracy is a 24/7 pursuit. We have the right and responsibility to act beyond the ballot box.”
What is needed now is a coming together of progressive forces in civil society and the labour movement as never before in our country’s history. Social and trade justice groups, First Nations people, labour unions, women, environmentalists, faith-based organizations, the cultural community, farmers, public health care coalitions, front line public sector workers, and many others must come together to protect and promote the values that the majority of Canadians hold dear. And we must work with, and demand the active representation of, the opposition forces in the House of Commons. In particular, the NDP must oppose the Harper agenda with the full weight of its new power and the Liberals must redeem themselves by working alongside the NDP in defending the interests of the people of Canada.
As the old union saying goes, “Don’t mourn – organize!”. The Harper majority is unfortunately really due to our “first past the post” system. (An American friend writes that he and his colleagues are having trouble understanding how Stephen Harper is Prime Minister with way less than half the votes in Canada. This reminds us of the urgency to promote proportional representation.)
But support for the Harper agenda is paper-thin, as most Canadians do not share the values of this agenda. This then is our task: to work hard over the next four years to protect the laws, rights and services that generations of Canadians have fought for from being dismantled; fight the corporate-friendly, anti-environmental, security obsessed agenda that will come at us; and prepare the way for the kind of government in four years that does in fact, express the will of the people – one with an agenda of justice and respect, of care for the earth, of the more equitable sharing of our incredible bounty.
This will be hard work and will take a great deal of courage and commitment. But really, what more important thing do we have to do?
The Council of Canadians