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Saying no to Canada’s death game June 22, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Arms, Canada, Human Rights, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: it is a widely held myth that Canada is a basically peaceful nation, a kind of antithesis to its bellicose neighbour to the south.  Despite some nuances to Canadian government policy (e.g. staying out of the initial invasion of Iraq, but not Afghanistan), Canada has been and remains a faithful ally of U.S. war mongering foreign policy.  Yet the myth persists, not only internationally but as well as amongst the Canadian population.

Here is the true story.


| JUNE 22, 2016, http://www.rabble.ca

Matthew Behrens

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr



In a reminder that the warfare state is never affected by who gets elected in Canada, the Trudeau Liberals are about to embark on a militaristic spending spree that will draw no opposition from the Conservatives or the NDP. All major parties are firmly committed to spending obscene amounts of money on war, and in Canada, the War Department’s annual sinkhole of over $20 billion is by far the largest use of discretionary federal spending (i.e., spending that is not mandated by any legal commitment).

While Parliament is away this summer, Justin Trudeau is expected to pony up countless billions for Super Hornet fighter jets whose only purpose is to drop bombs on human beings. The Super Hornets are expected to play the role of “interim” tools of mass murder from the air until the Liberals can figure out the best sunny ways PR to massage the Canadian public into accepting even greater spending on F-35 fighter jets further down the road. In addition, the Liberals are on board for a $26-billion Canadian warship investment that will continue to leave the cupboard bare when it comes to daycare, desperately needed investments in Indigenous communities, environmental clean-up, affordable housing, and dozens of other social programs that remain miserably underfunded.

As the Canadian military quietly wages war in Iraq with Trudeau’s earlier, expanded commitment on the ground and continued contribution to aerial bombardment of people below, the Liberals are also considering sending hundreds of troops to the Russian border in yet another provocation against Moscow. This is in addition to the hundreds of troops already stationed in the region who, instead of helping refugees cross the dangerous Mediterranean, are playing war games to provoke the Russian Bear. Such escalations all help set the stage for bigger investments in war just as War Minister Harjit Sajjan gets set to hold his window-dressing consultation with Canadians over war policy.

Absurd assumptions

The idea that Canada “needs” warplanes and warships is absurd. The only ones who “need” Canada to have them are those corporations who profit from such massive purchases. Sajjan claims Canada faces a “capability gap” by not purchasing new warplanes, but in saying so he is merely acting as the pathetic public face of a muscular military industry that, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out in his brilliant play Major Barbara over a century ago, is the real force conducting and forming foreign policy.

In that play, arms dealer Andrew Undershaft (of the munitions firm Undershaft and Lazarus), declares quite clearly to the small group who raise moral concerns about the nature of his business:

“I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.”

It is not just the arms-makers like Undershaft who call the tune. The tune is also hummed, eerily enough, by human rights NGOs who have bought so far into the system that they cannot reject its core principles. The language they use in opposing things like the $15-billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia is compromised by accepting the assumption that there is nothing wrong with the production of killer brigade vehicles: they just should not be used by certain countries.

A compromised letter

On April 25, a group of NGOs released an open letter, expressing “profound concerns” about the Stéphane Dion-issued export permits for these warrior vehicles, calling the decision “immoral and unethical.” Fair enough. But the letter suffered from a fatal flaw: it accepts as legitimate far too much of state violence. And it proposes that peace groups, rather than working for disarmament, work with the government to facilitate the weapons trade.

They also ask the government to “rescind the export permits, ensuring that this deal does not go ahead unless and until relevant human rights concerns have been resolved.”

A question arises: what human rights concerns would have to be resolved to ensure that it is safe to supply a regime with vehicles whose sole purpose is the crushing of human rights? The letter continues that the Canadian government’s arms control regime’s “integrity has been utterly compromised with the government’s decision to proceed with the largest arms sale in Canadian history to one of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

No similar letter appears to have been issued with respect to the billions annually sold to governments which commit gross violations of human rights on a scale that makes Saudi war crimes in Yemen and surrounding countries small potatoes. Like the United States, for example, the single-largest purchaser annually of Canadian-made weapons. The groups argue that Canada’s arms control regime is designed to prevent deals like those that went to Saudi. But how can a regime that simply regulates who gets the killing machines have any sense of “integrity”?

While the letter is a welcome voice on the one hand that says no to this particular sale, it serves to legitimize the execrable business of the production of mass murder by Canadian manufacturers. Here is the rub. The letter states: “Our export control system must ensure that export authorizations are granted for only end-users that are in full compliance with applicable safeguards.” But when you produce a killer brigade vehicle or a machine gun that rattles off 4,000 rounds a minute, it has only one purpose: legalized murder.

Human rights groups to facilitate weapons trade

The groups hope Canada will soon sign an additional arms control measure that legitimizes the wholesale profit from slaughter, but under more stringent conditions. They even offer their assistance in helping Canada figure out a more sanitized manner of pursuing the death merchant business “to improve the legal and political machinery for regulating Canadian arms exports, and we stand ready to contribute to any and all efforts in this regard.”

Such entreaties are not helpful. The role of human rights groups is not to assist in the better regulation of the business of murder. It would instead, one would hope, call into question the whole nasty business itself, and recognize that, if one wants to go by law, Canada is a signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, which comes as close to outlawing war as any treaty could hope for.

The letter finishes with the standard salute to Canada’s ultimate goodness, those “core values that define Canada’s character as a nation.” They don’t mention those values, but it is assumed, since such groups repeat them with nauseating consistency, that Canada is an honest broker, a peaceful player on the world stage, a Pearsonian boy scout in a world of dangers lurking in the shadows.

If we are truthful, however, the Saudi arms deal, and the implicit support for the war crimes being committed with them, does not violate Canada’s core values. It is a reflection of them. Indeed, a core value of Canada, as history repeatedly shows, is genocide and the profiting from murder. The Truth and Reconciliation was only the latest reminder that Canada as a nation is built on, and continues to pursue, policies of genocide against Indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

One would have hoped for a more principled approach to taking on one of the signature issues of our time. But it has always been thus in Canada, where the very cautious approach (including the endless accolades for Pearson, a prime minister whose government contributed to major war crimes against the people of Vietnam, as documented by Victor Levant) was once skewered by the late Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who passed away just over a month ago at the age of 94. Berrigan, a long-time recidivist who was constantly arrested for resisting war, challenged Canadians in the 1980s in his review of a book by Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum, The Road to Peace.

While this quote is lengthy, it does speak to the heart of what ails so much advocacy, whether it be against the war industry or for an end to climate change. This would be an inability, or a refusal, to plainly call things for what they are, for fear of losing the “ear” of governments who are all too happy to appear democratic by “consulting,” all the while going ahead with their original plans. This is indeed the PR job being shovelled at Canadians who were tired of not being heard by Harper. Trudeau has promised he will listen, but there is no guarantee he will act on what he hears.

In the Berrigan review of this tome on nuclear weapons, he writes that:

“[O]ne can imagine certain academics, scientists, researchers…soberly assessing matters, assembling a volume whose chapters would read like this (if I may adapt from “The Road to Peace)” “Auschwitz and the “Possibilities” (quotes mine) of No More Auschwitzes; A Mad Mad World: The Evolution of Auschwitz Strategies; How Our Vision of Auschwitz has Changed; Verification of Auschwitz: Promise, Politics, and Prospects; Canada’s Auschwitz Policy: redefining the Achievable; New Approaches to Auschwitz. But perhaps the point is something else. Certain unquenched Canadian spirits, deciding simply that Auschwitz had no conceivable right to pollute the human scene, might ‘break and enter’ the vile place, rendering it at least symbolically inoperative. That story, no figment, lies outside the book in question. Outside the law, it goes without saying. Outside true history, and the blessing of the unborn? Perhaps not.”

That reference to breaking and entering came out of Berrigan’s own experience, whether during draft board raids (in which hundreds of people, many of them Catholic priests and nuns, invaded U.S. government offices and destroyed almost 1 million draft files with homemade napalm) or as part of the Ploughshares movement, in which nuclear weapons and warplanes have been symbolically disarmed with hammers and blood, beating swords into ploughshares.

Berrigan’s point is rendered clear enough: by using the government’s official language, we dehumanize and decontextualize what is going on, erasing the victims at all ends of the weapons process, whether they be those who suffer at home for want of social spending or those who live and die under the bombs once they are “delivered” overseas.

An absolute refusal to co-operate

On May 25, the very first absolute, complete refusal to comply with any aspect of the current Saudi arms deal (and the idea that it is OK to export killer weapons to some nations but not others) took place when eight members of Homes not Bombs and Christian Peacemaker Teams entered the Global Affairs edifice in downtown Ottawa and, after unfurling a banner, simply refused to move. Despite repeated entreaties to leave and demonstrate on the street, they refused to do so until Dion cancelled the deal and opened a dialogue on ending the arms trade once and for all. Three were arrested and will face trial later this year. Mr. Dion can expect a subpoena.

While ending the weapons trade is a multifaceted campaign that requires work at all levels, hopefully that work can proceed by refusing to accept the assumptions of the Undershafts of the world. Opposition to Canadian military spending is difficult to muster in a culture that so idolizes the War Dept. and buys its noble aims propaganda. Hence, many groups fashion their approach to the issue based on tinkering with the spending or shifting some resources from the air force to the navy (the Jack Layton approach) without recognizing that if love really is better than hate, as so many MPs are wont to be saying these days, then investments in an institution based on murder is certainly not a good route for conflict resolution.

Decades upon decades of buying into the idea of arms control (instead of disarmament) have left us at a point where the most recent Global Peace Index indicates the world is increasingly a less peaceful place, with the gap between those countries insulated from war versus those suffering through violent conflict continuing to widen:

“The world continues to spend enormous amounts on creating and containing violence and little on building peace. The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2015 was $13.6 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms… or $1,876 for every person in the world.”

Which brings us back to the immediate problem. The self-proclaimed “feminist” in the PMO who is selling $15 billion worth of weapons to arm Saudi misogyny is eagerly perusing the latest in bomb-dropping killer aircraft, Super Hornets that will split the eardrums of overseas children, rip their legs off, blow apart the faces of their mothers, demolish their schools and places of worship, poison their land and water, and permanently scar countless people for life.

Trudeau’s killer priorities

This is the priority for Trudeau, and many will accept it because it’s coming from the nice guy who isn’t Harper. At home, those who will be hurt by the purchase are many. Each Super Hornet will cost approximately $100 million, in addition to the ongoing costs of fuel (and the outrageous contribution the military continues to make to climate change), maintenance and upgrades that provide even niftier means of murdering people.

What could we use with each $100 million spent on Super Hornets? Some 4,000 students could attend university for four years for free. Some 400 affordable hosing units could be built. Over 6,563 free, year-round child-care spaces would open up. The price of Two Super Hornets would meet the funding gap that Cindy Blackstock identified as missing for First Nations children in Budget 2016. The price of one Hornet is three times what the Trudeau government has committed annually to meeting the mental health needs of Indigenous youth.

Warplanes of any type and variety are offensive by nature. Their use is in violation of the Nuremberg Principles (which prohibits “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression) as well as the Kellogg-Briand Pact (a.k.a. the Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, signed by Canada in 1929), in which:

“[T]he high contracting parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another….The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”

Purchase of warplanes, in addition to the countless tens of billions spent annually on warfare (and the planned $26 billion in warships) stand Canada in contravention to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees all people an adequate standard of living, “including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions…. the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Canada cannot meet the huge need for mental health services, environmental clean-up, and income equality measures while it continues to make war spending its highest use of federal discretionary funds.

While Canada undergoes a summertime “review” of War Dept. priorities, it provides us with an opportunity not to play the arms control game, but to ask serious questions about why we continue to pump untold capital into an institution that — while no doubt peopled with many good folks who have good intentions — serves no truly useful social purpose. We don’t need heavily armed people to help with flood relief or to stop forest fires. Rescue at sea can be conducted by ships and planes that are not armed to the teeth.

What helps, as a step forward, is to name things for what they are. Writing while underground and always staying one step ahead of the massive FBI manhunt for a man who committed a crime of peace, in 1970, Father Daniel Berrigan, in an open letter to other war resisters then underground, put it thusly: “When madness is the acceptable public state of mind, we’re all in danger… for madness is an infection in the air. And I submit that we all breathe the infection and that the movement has at times been sickened by it too … In or out of the military, in or out of the movement, it seems to me that we had best call things by their name, and the name of this thing, it seems to me, is the death game, no matter where it appears.”

Perhaps the best way to end the death game is to stop playing along with it.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr


Siddiqui: Harper acting like an elected dictator December 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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When Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien were in power, conservative commentators used to complain that both tended to be dictatorial, courtesy of our parliamentary system that made the prime minister too powerful, more so in some respects than the president of the United States.

Where are those pundits when we really need them? Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.

“When you add up all that this government has done, it’s truly scary,” says Gar Pardy, former head of the foreign ministry’s consular services. He’s the one who organized the petition that defended diplomat Richard Colvin from Tory mudslinging, and which has been signed by 133 retired ambassadors.

The extent of Harper’s misuse of power becomes clearer when you realize that the Conservatives are replicating some of the worst practices of the Republicans under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney:

Consolidating executive power; eviscerating the legislative branch; operating under extreme secrecy (by keeping an iron grip on information, through endless court challenges and censoring/redacting documents); riding the coattails of the military and questioning the patriotism of political opponents; and forcing out public servants who refused to fall in line.

Count the heads that have rolled in Ottawa:

Peter Tinsley, chair of the military police commission, who initiated the Afghan prison abuse probe – refused a second term.

Paul Kennedy, chair of the Complaints Commission for the RCMP, who criticized the use of Tasers – refused a second term.

Linda Keen, nuclear watchdog, who insisted on safety at Chalk River – fired.

Kevin Page, parliamentary budget watchdog, who rattled the Tories with several revelations – rendered ineffective with a cut of $1 million from his $2.8 million budget.

Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer, who probed Tory election spending – publicly attacked.

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who dared criticize both the U.S. and Israel – refused support for a second term and publicly rebuked.

Jean-Guy Fleury, chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, who opposed the Tory politicization of appointments to the tribunal – frustrated into quitting.

Similarly, groups that won’t toe the Tory line are being penalized.

The Canadian Arab Federation lost funding after its chair attacked Ottawa’s pro-Israeli policies. Now the same fate has befallen KAIROS, a Christian aid group, for “taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel, boasts Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the designated Tory bulldog in charge of attacking real or perceived enemies.

Ottawa is rife with rumour of another scandal in the making: Harper asking Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament, yet again, this time during the Winter Olympics (ending Feb. 28) and perhaps also the Paralympics (ending March 21).

She should flat-out refuse and not repeat her mistake from a year ago, when she got rolled by him. At that fateful meeting, she should not have let Kevin Lynch, clerk of the Privy Council, into the room. Get-togethers between the governor general and the prime minister are privileged.

She also should not have shuttled between Harper and a team of constitutional advisers she had assembled. Instead, she should have taken his request under advisement and sent him off, and summoned Stéphane Dion and perhaps also Jack Layton to brief her on their coalition agreement.

That way, she would’ve had more choices:

Advise the Prime Minister to seek a vote of confidence. Or, if he felt he didn’t have it, to ask if someone else on his front benches might. Failing both, turn to the opposition to demonstrate that they could muster the confidence of the House, as claimed.

Jean failed in her duties by deciding the fate of the government behind closed doors, rather than in an open democratic process by the elected representatives of the people.

A governor general is not obliged to take the prime minister’s advice, only that which she deems appropriate to our parliamentary system. What Jean saw as appropriate last year wasn’t. Each passing day proves it.

Haroon Siddiqui writes Thursdays and Sundays. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Coalition government still a good idea January 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition, Economic Crisis.
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When Michael Ignatieff opted yesterday to support the Conservative government and its new budget, he was making what may be the most critical decision of his career as Liberal leader, regardless of how long he holds the job.

By siding with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ignatieff was rejecting calls to join the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois in defeating the budget, thus bringing down the Tory government and paving the way for an election or a coalition government.

Ignatieff based his decision to a good extent on internal Liberal politics. Basically, the party is broke, disorganized and still licking its wounds from last fall’s disastrous election under former leader Stéphane Dion.

But rather than propping up Harper’s government, Ignatieff should have seriously considered voting down the budget and forming a coalition with the NDP, as Dion proposed last December.

Despite the earlier tepid response, especially in Western Canada, to the coalition touted by Dion, there are many reasons why a Liberal-NDP coalition, with the unofficial backing of the Bloc Québécois, is still a good idea.

First, a coalition that guarantees two years of continuing government, as the Liberals and NDP did in their accord signed in December, would be a stabilizing element for the country during this financial crisis. Stable governments are essential for businesses and financial markets to start recovering.

Without a coalition, Canada will be under constant threat of another election. That vote likely would result in another minority government and more instability.

Second, coalitions are appropriate in a time of national crisis, such as Canada is experiencing.

In Canada, the only federal coalition was the Union government of World War I, which saw the Conservatives led by Robert Borden join with some Liberals and independents to deal with the controversial issue of conscription.

In other countries, similar coalitions have been formed during a national crisis, such as in Britain during the Great Depression when Labour and Conservatives joined forces to tackle the economy.

Third, a coalition of Liberals and the NDP could bring a combination of fiscal responsibility and an economic stimulus package that could better address the needs of Canada than the Harper budget.

Last December, the proposed coalition promised to pump much-needed money into infrastructure projects, such as housing, roads and public transit. It also vowed to improve social benefits and provide help to troubled industries.

The program was so good that Harper stole many of the ideas and put them into Tuesday’s budget.

Fourth, Harper has shown himself to be unqualified to deal with the economic mess. The best example of that was the mini-budget last November, which was devoid of any sense of the crisis the country was in, despite massive job layoffs, a weakening dollar and rising bankruptcies.

Also, top economists are criticizing Harper for pushing massive tax cuts. They argue it is folly to slash taxes while increasing government spending by record levels.

Fifth, and most important for Ignatieff, the Liberals will reinforce their image established under Dion as a party of wimps afraid to face Harper in an election.

By forming a coalition, Ignatieff would signal he is ready to govern.

By refusing, he ends up being outmanoeuvred politically by Harper, who in a year or two will claim credit for what will then be an improving Canadian economy.

That would be a powerful campaign theme that could ensure Harper wins the next election and bring an abrupt end to Ignatieff’s reign as Liberal leader.

Bob Hepburn’s column appears Thursdays. bhepburn@thestar.ca

Coalition Deserves a Chance December 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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Toronto Star Editorial
Dec 02, 2008 04:30 AM

The Conservatives’ reaction was fast and furious to news that the opposition parties have signed off on a historic deal to kick them out of office and replace them with a coalition government.

His voice dripping with scorn, Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday accused Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion of playing “the biggest political game in Canadian history” and of relying on “socialists” (New Democrats) and “separatists” (Bloc Québécois) to vault himself into power. Harper’s ministers and MPs used language like “deal with the devil” and “secret cabal” to describe the arrangement.

The suggestion was that the coalition deal was illegitimate and undemocratic, a coup d’etat.

It is nothing of the sort. It is the way our parliamentary system works, especially in the immediate aftermath of the election of a minority Parliament. Furthermore, the Harper government created an opening for the opposition parties last week by tabling a provocative “economic statement” that failed to address the economic crisis but contained poison pills it must have known they could not swallow.

Harper and his government took some steps away from those toxic measures last weekend, but it was too late. The opposition had made up its collective mind that Harper could not be trusted.

With their demise perhaps less than a week away (a non-confidence vote is scheduled for next Monday evening), the Conservatives are arguing that a change of government at this moment would be “very destabilizing” for the economy. As if to underscore that point, the markets plunged yesterday (although most analysts attributed the bulk of the losses to bad economic news from the U.S.).

But consider the alternatives to a change in government: either there would be another election (which would leave the affairs of state suspended for the duration) or Harper would remain in office with the opposition ready to pounce and defeat his government at every opportunity. That is as unstable as it gets.

The coalition, meanwhile, has agreed to hold off elections until at least June 30, 2011 – 2 1/2 years from now. (The Bloc, which would not have a cabinet seat, has signed on until June 30, 2010.) That should provide the stability needed for the government to grapple with the economic challenges facing Canada.

And grapple they promise to do in their accord, which features an economic stimulus package that includes “substantial new investments” in infrastructure and housing, support for the forestry and auto sectors, and enhancements in Employment Insurance. All this should have been included in last week’s economic statement.

To be sure, there are questions to be answered about the coalition. Canadians will want to know whether there are any worrisome side deals with the Bloc. (Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said yesterday there is no agreement on “concrete” measures to enhance Quebec sovereignty.) And what about the coalition’s foreign policy, notably on Afghanistan, where the Liberals and New Democrats have differed sharply in the past?

Also problematic is the fact that, under the deal, Dion, the Liberals’ lame-duck leader, would serve as prime minister, at least until the new party leader is chosen next spring. In the Oct. 14 election, Canadians resoundingly rejected Dion, who finished a poor third behind both Harper and Layton as “best prime minister” in all the opinion polls. A wiser choice for interim prime minister might have been a Liberal stalwart like former finance minister Ralph Goodale.

It is also unclear whether the Liberal leadership candidates – Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc – would be given cabinet posts. Again, it would be wise to keep them out, as they are going to be busy campaigning for the next five months.

Issues like these could still derail the coalition before the crucial vote next Monday.

That being said, a coalition government of Liberals and New Democrats is preferable at this time to a Conservative regime led by Harper, who has demonstrated that ideology and partisanship are more important to him than providing good government.

Canada: Do the Math; Look at the Abject Tory Failure; Support the Coalition December 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in A: Roger's Original Essays, About Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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© Roger Hollander 2008


Let’s begin by looking at the numbers in the October election:


(Elections Canada: http://enr.elections.ca)


Conservatives:     5,205,334   37.6%    143 seats (46.4%)


Liberals:               3,629,990   26.2%    76 seats (24.7%)


NDP:                    2,517,075   18.2%    37 seats (12.0%)


Bloc:                     1,379,565   10.0%    50 seats (16.2%)


(Note: there are 2 Independents elected)


The first thing to note is that, taking into account the overall popular vote,  the Conservatives and the Bloc are somewhat over-represented in Parliament and the NDP greatly under-represented.


But with respect to the question of “democracy” as it arises in connection with the proposed Liberal/NDP Coalition (the Bloc being something of a silent partner), what is noteworthy and unquestionable is the following:


The combined Liberal/NDP popular vote percentages are 44.4% versus the Conservatives 37.6%.  When the Bloc vote is added to the Liberal and NDP vote, the comparison with the Conservatives is 54.4% versus 37.6%.  With respect to seats in the House of Commons, the three Parties that are proposing the Coalition have a combined total of 163 (52.9%) versus the Conservatives 143 (46.4%).




Now let’s look beyond the statistics.  Following the October election, the Conservative Party formed a legitimate minority government.  However, it has operated as if it were a majority in failing to consult or take into account the policy positions of the other parties, who combined represent a majority of Canadian voters.


This Conservative minority government, however, appears now to have lost the confidence of the majority of the House of Commons as a result of a response to the economic crisis that not only is inadequate, but also an insult to Canadians.  The measures proposed by Finance Minister James Flaherty included no initiatives to deal with the crisis, but instead lashed out at the Party’s ideological opponents by proposing measures that are anti-woman, anti-labor and anti-democratic.


It is altogether fitting that the majority of the members of the House of Commons should petition the Governor General to recognize said loss of confidence and recognize as the new government of Canada the proposed Coalition.  The Coalition not only represents a majority of Canadian voters, but it has put together a concrete policy agenda that in fact does begin to meet the economic crisis from which the country now suffers.


While the Governor General also has the option of calling a new election, she should take into account that the country spoke loud and clear in October; and that it is only the vicissitude of the fragmentation of political parties in Canada that have allowed the Conservative Party to rule.  Given that a new and coherent and unified majority has arisen, it makes much more sense to give that Coalition an opportunity to govern.


Majority Is Heard At Last December 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada.
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When Barack Obama was elected president on that electrifying night early last month, it became clear – if it wasn’t already – why Stephen Harper had rushed Canadians to the polls a few weeks earlier.

The last thing Harper would have wanted was to run for re-election after Americans had chosen a historic figure who promised to overturn the very Bush agenda to which Harper had so resolutely clung.

In particular, Harper was saddled with a history of lining up ever so close to Bush on two vital issues of growing importance – resistance to addressing climate change and an unwillingness to abandon discredited neo-conservative economic policies. Obama had talked eloquently during the campaign about overturning the Bush stance on both.

Harper may be many things but he’s not dim-witted. After the Obama victory – which produced near euphoria in Canada – Harper realized he had to abandon (or at least disguise) his Bush-era mentality.

And for a while he did, approaching the Obama camp about a U.S.-Canada deal on greenhouse gas emissions, and signing onto the Obama-led chorus calling for Keynesian-style economic stimulus. Harper even urged running up deficits, the once unforgivable political sin that now seems less controversial than community organizing.

But, as the government’s economic update revealed last week, Harper can suppress his deep right-wing urges only so long before they start erupting in the most embarrassing ways. The update was almost incoherent.

In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the ’30s, the document was severely lacking in economic stimulus, even reporting plans for a small surplus (whatever happened to Harper’s new best friend, the deficit?) and was full of old-style partisan backstabbing and public sector union bashing. It was more Sarah Palin than Barack Obama.

Accustomed to beating the opposition into submission, Harper apparently hadn’t noticed that, where there had once been nothing but mushy soft stuff, the Liberal party had miraculously grown a spine.

Let’s hope it doesn’t shrivel. A Liberal-NDP coalition, headed temporarily by lame duck Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, promises to be a superior government to one run by Harper. And any last-ditch attempt by Harper to prove himself a born-again Keynesian – promising deficits from sea to sea to sea – would have little credibility. We’ve all seen what this guy does when he thinks he can get away with it.

Certainly, there is much that a Liberal-NDP government could accomplish – on the economy, on climate change, on poverty. The Liberals are always at their best when they feel the hot NDP breath of social justice tickling at their necks. Otherwise, they tend to simply cavort with big business.

When the NDP held the balance of power federally from 1972 to 1974, the Liberals introduced a national affordable housing program, pension indexing and a national oil company. The Liberal-NDP accord in Ontario led to the first provincial pay equity legislation in 1987.

It’s true that a majority of Canadians didn’t choose Dion to be prime minister. But the same is true of Harper, a polarizing figure who provokes intense negative reactions in many Canadians.

During the recent campaign, there was much talk of strategic voting among Liberals, NDP and Greens – anything to stop another Harper government. A substantial 62 per cent of voters cast ballots in the hopes of electing someone other than Harper.

The majority may finally get the result it wanted, not the one our cockeyed, first-past-the-post electoral system so often delivers.

The Canadian Election: Another Black Eye for Democracy October 16, 2008

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The results are in, and disappointing is not strong enough a word.  The Tories have increased their minority by around 20 seats and probably would have been able to form a majority government if they hadn’t been awash in a series of scandals, including bribing a dying MP for his vote and a major cabinet minister leaving secret documents at the home of his ex-girl friend, a women with biker gang and mafia associations.


I have a mantra that goes like this: genuine democracy is by nature not possible if there is only political democracy without economic democracy.  And, of course, even the degree of political democracy in some nations hardly qualifies in terms of the word’s origin, which comes from the Greek, meaning “the people.”


In Canada, the winner-take-all system (as opposed to proportional representation) gave the ruling Conservatives a near majority with only abut 38% of the popular vote.  In other words, 62% of those who voted would have preferred a different government but are stuck with one that happens to be little more than a shadow of the U.S. neocon right wing Bush/Cheney conspiracy.  In a Toronto Star poll, when asked if they were happy with the results of the election, 65% said No.  In other words, about two thirds of “the people” were in effect disenfranchised by this election.


One could argue that they played by the rules and won fairly.  But for me it is the rules that I have a problem with.  I like to cite Bob Dylan’s “money doesn’t talk, it swears.”  Given the huge concentrations of capital, including in the communications industries (radio, television, the press), the principle of “one person one vote” becomes a hollow farce.


Non Canadians may not be aware that Canada’s ruling Conservative party was, in effect, hijacked by a merger with the ultra-Right Reform Party in a matter that is somewhat parallel to the take over of the U.S. Republican Party by the Radical Christian Right.


The Liberal Party made a disastrous leadership choice in Stéphane Dion (lowest Liberal popular vote since 1867!), who had slipped through the middle between Michael Ignatieff (an academic and a Canadian who had lived for decades in the U.S. and is notorious for having flirted with the notion of justifying torture under certain circumstances) and Bob Rae a former and largely discredited Premier of the Province of Ontario who left the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) to join the Liberals.  One of these two are most likely to replace Dion and face off against Harper in four years.  Hardly anything to look forward to.


A couple of years ago, the CBC had a nation-wide poll asking Canadians to cast their vote for the person they considered the greatest Canadian of all time.  The hands down winner was Tommy Douglas, who as NDP Premier of the Province of Saskatchewan introduced universal health care in that province, which led to it being adopted by the federal government.  Canadians are not necessarily a passionate people, but don’t ever try to take their health care system away from them.


And yet, fuelled by a hostile media and the political pundit culture, Canadian voters gave only 18% of their votes to the NDP, whose leader, Jack Layton, is heads and shoulders in intelligence, compassion, and transparency above the leaders of the other parties, and whose policies are the most favourable towards lower and middle income Canadians, environmental protection, withdrawing the Canadian military from the fiasco in Afghanistan, etc.  Although the NDP picked up several seats in this election, their representation in Parliament with 18% of the vote amount to just 10%.  The Green Party, which garnered 7%, has no representation whatsoever.


Another sad irony is that, again fuelled by the corporate media and the pundit class, somehow a large percentage of voters are convinced that in the midst of a serious economic crisis, the very Conservative Party under whose watch the crisis has occurred (and which is ideologically joined at the hip with the U.S. Republicans, who are the big culprits) is consider the safest bet to handle the problem.


I hold the notion of democracy as sacred as anyone; it’s just that over a lifetime of political study and activism, it has become crystal clear to me that “formal” political democracy, with periodic elections, is a far cry from the real McCoy.  Yesterday’s Canadian election has once again confirmed this belief.

All We Are Say-ing … Is Give Jack a Chance October 1, 2008

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There is an anti-war song that begins:


Last night I had the strangest dream

I’ve never had before

I dreamed the world had all agreed

To put an end to war.


I am reminded of this because of the strange dream I have been having that the next minority government in Canada will be an NDP/Liberal/Green coalition with Jack Layton as Prime Minister.


Before you consign me to the ranks of the pixie dusters, consider that with the NDP creeping up on the Liberals in the polls and with the Canadian economy on the brink of melt-down occurring on Stephen Harper’s watch, who knows?


When a Liberal candidate approaches my friend Charlie for support, Charlie tells me that he replies, “Why should I vote for you when I can vote for a real Tory?”  This at first confuses the Liberal candidate, Charlie reports, but when the light finally dawns and he realizes Charlie’s point, Liberal candidate responds with unstatesman like anger (echoes of the Phil Ochs classic, “Love me, love me, love me, I’m a Liberal).


I’ll forgive Charlie for forgetting that there are, in fact, no “real” Tories left in Canada.  Much in the same way the fundamentalist ultra-right hijacked the Republican Party in the United States, in a bloodless coup the ultra-right Reform Party has taken the reins of what was once the Progressive Conservative Party and turned it into Bush/Cheney neoCon Lite.  Just as the Nelson Rockefellers and George Romneys are Republican museum piece artefacts, the Joe Clarks and David Crombies are an extinct species in what today passes for Canada’s Conservative Party.


And just as it would be an unmitigated disaster for McCain/Palin to triumph in November, another Harper government in Canada, minority or majority, would spell catastrophe for working folks, the middle classes, our major urban centres, arts and culture, etc.  The opposite of my dream is a Harper nightmare in which social programs continue to be rolled back, the sacred Canada Health Act diluted in favour of creeping privatisation, environmental imperatives and shameful homelessness continue to be ignored, and urban infrastructures continue to deteriorate.


Unlike Stéphane Dion, who gave Harper his budget and his extension of Canada’s ill-advised and hopeless military commitment in Afghanistan, Jack Layton alone has shown strong leadership in challenging Harper and his anti-Canadian agenda head on.  There is no doubt that on October 14, at least 60% of Canadian electors will exercise their franchise in opposition to the direction the Tory government has led the country.  That they should be allowed to continue in power, only because of the Byzantine nature of our multi-party system, would be both a tragedy and an insult to the democratic process.


Just three days ago in Ecuador, where I have lived on and off for nearly fifteen years, 65% of its voters adopted a new progressive constitution that for the first time in recent history will give the country a chance to challenge the forces that have kept the majority of its people in poverty and hunger.  In January of this year I wrote in rabble.ca that Canadians would do well to follow the example of their neighbours to the south (Toronto, by the way, is a sister to Ecuador’s capital city of Quito).


I am copying that article below:


Radical reforms in Ecuador: an example for Canada?

I am witnessing, for the first time in my life, a government that has won democratic power with a promise to implement badly needed political and economic reforms actually proceeding to do so.




Rafael Correa




>by Roger Hollander
January 18, 2008 I heard it back then from my Liberal and even some of my Tory friends: “Ed Broadbent is by far the best candidate. Too bad he’s NDP. Otherwise I’d vote for him.” I am now hearing the same thing about Jack Layton.

Well, let me tell you something. Jack Layton, with his keen intelligence, his transparent honesty, his charismatic and winsome personality, his formidable drive and seemingly endless energy, his love for his country, and – above all – his commitment to social and economic justice; if Jack Layton were Ecuadorian, he’d be the country’s leader today.

Let me explain.

Ecuador, a small country with a population of about 13 million, is a country rich in natural resources: minerals and oil, bananas, fresh flowers, coffee, cocoa, rice, fish and shell fish – the list goes on and on. And yet, nearly three fourths of its people live in poverty and lack basic sanitation, health and educational resources.

It has been ruled by military dictatorships and, since the late 1970s, by democratically elected presidents who rarely are able to complete a term in office. Its Congress is made up of a plethora of political parties, most of which are beholden to entrenched economic interests. It has been commonly asserted and seldom contested that the country is simply ungovernable.

Enter Rafael Correa, a European and U.S. trained Professor of Economics who in 2005 became Finance Minister in a transition government. He had the audacity to stand up to the World Bank by demanding that excess revenues from petroleum be directed towards financing health and education programs rather than toward servicing the external debt. The now discredited ex World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, pressured the government to fire Correa, and the Minister became a hero in Ecuador overnight.

A dark-horse candidate with an organization created on the fly, Correa overwhelmed the traditional political parties and won the 2006 presidential election in a landslide. He was 43 years old, the same age as John F. Kennedy when he ascended to the presidency of the United States. Correa has no representation in the Congress, however, which continues to be dominated by three main obstructionist political parties.

Correa’s major campaign promise was to hold a popular referendum that would ask Ecuadorians if they wished to create a Constituent Assembly with plenary powers to restructure Ecuador’s political and economic system. That Referendum was held in April 2007 and the “Yes” vote was an astounding 81.7 percent. Elections for the 130-member Constituent Assembly were held in September of the same year, and Correa’s supporters (Acuerdo País) won 80 seats and another ten to fifteen seats went to progressive parties that are more or less in support of the president’s radical reform agenda. The three major traditional parties (Social Christian, PRIAN and PSP) are a small minority, winning a total of 32 seats between them, and enjoy the additional support of only a handful of delegates from other right leaning parties. How the mighty have fallen!

The Constituent Assembly began meeting in late November, and its first act was to suspend the Congress, a highly popular move.

Just before year’s end it passed its first major piece of legislation, a tax reform bill that addresses blatant omissions and closes enormous loopholes and went into effect on January 1, 2008. Its major elements include (all amounts in US dollars):

A progressive inheritance tax, excluding estates of $50 000 or less, and with a ceiling of 35 percent on estates of $600 000 or more;

A progressive income tax, excluding annual incomes of $7850 or less (the average annual salary in Ecuador is approximately $2500), with a ceiling of 35 percent;

A progressive tax on unused acreage (enormous estates owned, and in many cases confiscated, by the country’s traditional elites are sitting fallow);

An increase in “sin taxes” on cigarettes, liquor, perfume, videogames, sport rifles and ammunition, and incandescent light bulbs.

An increase in the minimum wage from $170 to $200 monthly, and increase of 17.6 percent.

The vote for these measures at the Constituent Assembly was 90 in favour, 23 against, 6 abstentions, and 11 absent. The 90 “Yes” votes represent 69.2 percent of the Constituent Assembly’s total membership and 79.6 percent of those members present and voting.

It is estimated that the new taxes will generate revenue in excess of $400 million, virtually all of it coming from the pockets of the upper and upper middle classes.

These revenues will go directly into public education, urban infrastructure, public utilities such as water purification and sanitation, economic development, and public transportation.

Needless to say, the country’s economic elite, who since time immemorial have been getting away with murder with respect to taxation, are in a state of apoplexy. Correa has been unrelenting in his criticism of the mainstream media, who have attempted to derail his reform agenda with distortions and outright lies. He is being referred to as a dictator and compared to Adolph Hitler. This in the face of unprecedented popular support as reflected in a series of landslide election victories.

I am witnessing, for the first time in my life, a government that has won democratic power with a promise to implement badly needed political and economic reforms actually proceeding to do so. I see in Ecuador, for the first time since I began my annual extended visits thirteen years ago, a glimmer of hope for genuine change. Where this will lead – once the powerful economic forces behind the opposition to these reforms come together with a unified strategy – no one can predict.

I see Correa as a Kennedy/Trudeau-esque figure, but one who, in the context of Latin American political and economic realities, has no choice but to propose more radical reforms than one would expect in the U.S. or Canada. He has made a pronouncement, for example, that “authorizes” workers to take over businesses and industries that refuse to comply with the new tax structure and minimum wage.

Canadians should take a good look at what is happening in Ecuador. In the past 25 years we have seen our social safety net eroded, the loss of decent paying jobs, an increase in underemployment, social programs cut, employee benefits reduced, urban infrastructure deteriorating, and a shameful and exponential rise in homelessness.

I just hope that Canada doesn’t have to fall to the level of poverty and disintegration that has characterized Ecuador before we find a way to elect a genuine leader – I think you might know who I mean – with the vision and courage to address with conviction and vigour the inequalities and injustices that are anathema to the vast majority of Canadians.

Roger Hollander is a former Toronto Metro Councillor (1987-1995) who has lived much of the past 12 years in Ecuador.