Among the New Democratic Party’s 115-page 2021 electoral platform, “Ready For Better,” only one-and-a-half pages are dedicated to Canadian foreign policy—and they leave a lot to be desired.
Before getting into its shortcomings, let’s begin by looking at the stronger components of the NDP’s platform. The highlights of “A better role in the world” (the chapter of the NDP’s official platform dedicated to foreign policy) includes calls to “suspend arms sales to Israel until the end of the illegal occupation,” and for a patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccines, along with a commitment to “nuclear disarmament.” Also commendable is a promise to ensure “Canadian-made weapons are not fuelling conflict and human rights abuses abroad.”
But the New Democrats’ platform is silent about the embarrassing collapse of the Canadian-sponsored anti-Venezuela Lima Group, the reversal of the Canadian-backed coup in Bolivia, and the defeat of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Nor does it mention the Liberals’ failed promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran or to set up a proper ombudsperson to rein in the abuses of Canadian mining companies in the Global South.
What’s more, the NDP promotes Washington’s ‘new Cold War’ with China. “A New Democrat government will stand up to China with a strong and coherent strategy to defend Canadian interests at home and abroad,” the chapter notes. “We will work with our allies to lead a robust and coordinated international response to China’s disregard of the rule of law.” China is the only country mentioned in the statement except for Israel-Palestine, and it receives one of twelve paragraphs towards the top of the statement (Palestine is near the bottom).
The NDP’s “Defence at home and abroad” statement supports purchasing “new military equipment, including ships and fighter jets.” The new warplanes are expected to cost $19 billion upfront and $77 billion over their lifecycle. In July, numerous prominent Canadian and international figures, including NDP stalwarts like Stephen Lewis, Svend Robinson and Libby Davies, criticized the government’s plan to “spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.”
The additional planned purchase of 15 surface combatants is expected to cost $82 billion upfront and $286 billion over their lifecycle. The warships look set to be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometres away, and with radar systems that will allow US military officials to launch the weapons. Both the naval vessels and fighter jets are designed to fight or participate in US and NATO-led wars.
Besides endorsing a massive upgrade in the Canadian military’s capacity to wage war, the statement criticizes supposed “cuts” to military spending and celebrates soldiers “dedication, service, and sacrifice”. According to the NDP:
Unfortunately, after decades of Liberal and Conservative cuts and mismanagement, our military has been left with outdated equipment, inadequate support and an unclear strategic mandate. We need to do better for Canadians in uniform and for the defence of our country. A New Democrat government will make sure that our troops have the equipment, training, and support they need to do the difficult and dangerous work we ask them to undertake.
Despite the social democratic party’s claim, Canadian troops are not “defending our country”—they are engaged in belligerent missions in Latvia, Ukraine, Iraq and elsewhere. The Canadian Forces have set up or are planning to establish small bases in a half-dozen countries and Canadian warships are deployed in the Caribbean, the North Sea, the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea.
The NDP’s foreign policy platform also fails to mention that the Department of National Defence—responsible for 59 percent of government greenhouse gas emissions—is exempt from the government’s pollution reduction targets. Nor does it say anything about the Liberal Party’s plan to spend billions of dollars on armed drones, the expansion of NORAD, or on the growth of the secretive Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM).
The NDP’s foreign policy and military statements suggest little would change if the party formed government. That’s unfortunate since there’s much that needs to shift in Canada’s relationship to the world.
Canadians of conscience shouldn’t be satisfied with being a junior partner in the neoliberal world order and bullying others to follow the dictates of the US empire.
Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.