Back in January, when the Harper Tories eked out their election squeaker, Canadian foreign policy wasn’t even on the radar screen, despite valiant efforts by the anti-war movement to challenge Canada’s role in the occupations of Haiti and Afghanistan. Things will be different next time. As Canadian troops die in sizeable numbers for the first time since the Korean War, foreign policy could become a key factor in blocking a Harper majority.
It’s true that the military brass, key business organizations like the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the political right are pulling out all the stops, and this may have some impact. The “red rallies” to “support our troops” are a well-orchestrated campaign to whip up patriotic fervour, and every time a bomb kills civilians in Kabul, the corporate media sings the “save the Afghan civilians” tune.
But instead of liberating women and girls, our troops are killing their fathers and brothers. And these “bad guys,” as General Rick Hillier calls them, can shoot back. Every time Stephen Harper puts on his metaphorical cowboy hat to talk tough, voters are reminded that this is a bloody war of occupation.
Meanwhile, the Tories joined the Bush regime as cheerleaders for Israel’s assaults on Lebanon and Gaza. Even the Israeli killing of one of the few Canadian soldiers actually engaged in an official United Nations peacekeeping mission could not budge the government’s position. Then Canada managed to send the annual Franocphonie Summit into turmoil by a bizarre reluctance to simply acknowledge the suffering of Lebanon, a member country of the Francophonie.
Many voters will have the softwood-lumber deal on their minds. The agreement limits Canadian lumber exports to the U.S. and allows the Americans to keep $1 billion in duties ruled by trade tribunals as illegal. For workers and communities that rely on the forestry industry, this unpopular agreement smacks of serfs and slaves paying tribute to a distant but bloody-minded emperor.
This shift towards vassaldom reflects much deeper processes, which have been emerging for years. The 9/11 events gave the U.S. state the opportunity to openly declare a new set of security doctrines, extending its overseas military capabilities to secure oil-supply routes in the Middle East and Asia. It views Canada’s energy resources in the same way. Tightly linked with the Calgary oil crowd, the Harper Tories are acutely aware that their role in the new international order is to keep feeding the ravenous U.S. war machine, and their foreign policy reflects this view.
Booting out the appalling Tories would help, but unfortunately they aren’t the only sellout party. The governments of Mulroney, Chretien and Martin all moved to align Canadian foreign policy more closely with American imperial interests, particularly from the first Gulf War on. Chretien’s and Martin’s budgets pledged $15-billion increases to military spending. Throw in Harper’s further $5 billion, and Canada is now the third-largest contributor to the “War on Terror” after the U.S. and Britain. The entire basis of the shift towards U.S.-driven foreign policy must be exposed. It’s a big job, but if it doesn’t happen, it could be curtains for any possibility of a truly independent Canadian role in global politics.
Building the peace movement and mobilizing popular forces against American imperialism and Canada’s new militarism must be given first priority in the months ahead. Some unions are passing good resolutions, but are not doing enough to mobilize their members. Similarly, the Israel boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign need to become operational. Union pension funds and university and church investment policies are obvious targets. We need to step up our own work in the labour and student movements and in faith communities.
This article appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Canadian Dimension (Canada: A New Imperial Power?).