Category Archives: Canada’s foreign policy

Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and [humans are] at last compelled to face with sober senses [our] real conditions of life, and [our] relations with [our] kind.

— Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto

An unfolding trade war pitting the United States simultaneously against China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico has begun. The economic and political consequences – intended and unintended – are now unfolding.  How this trade war develops and “ends” is a political question that cannot be predicted concretely. But the framework to foresee what is coming down the road is coming into focus.

There is no letup in the continued erosion and breakdown of the post-World War II, post-“Cold War” eras characterized at their core by the predominance of US capital in the institutions of world capitalism and in world politics.

China

On June 15, 2018 the Donald Trump Administration announced it will be adding a 25% tariff-tax on some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the United States. On June 18 Trump then threatened another 10% tariff-tax on $200 billion worth of additional Chinese commodities, raised to $500 billion on July 5, affecting virtually every Chinese product throughout the US-China production-to-exchange chain.

The first-round of tariffs, $34 billion worth, took effect on July 6, applying to 818 commodities and products. The second round, $16 billion on an additional 284 items, await “reviews,” that is vetting by the major industrial and financial oligopolies whose profits may be more or less directly affected. They are lobbying Trump and his enforcers for exemptions, waivers, and dilutions individually and collectively.

Trump’s threats to escalate were presented as being contingent on any Chinese government and state counter-tariffs on US goods and services. These, of course, were bound to happen; there could be no other political choice for the Xi Jinping government. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce immediately announced counter-measures “of the same scale and the same strength.” The statement further announced as “invalid” the recently reported “progress” on a deal that would have led to an additional $70 billion in US imports to China, based on a negotiated reduction of Chinese tariffs and other legal barriers to selected US commodities and services, including energy, agricultural, and high-tech products. Agricultural commodities were an initial focus of Chinese counter-tariffs, since China is a major market for US agricultural products, especially soy beans.

Trump’s announcement was rolled out with provocative and jingoistic rationalizations. Uncle Sam as bumbling sucker, the victim of nefarious Chinese practices. They are stealing our technology. They carry out “state subsidies” of industries and dump surplus production stealing the jobs of American workers. And so on…as if the entire system of world capitalist production, finance, and exchange were not lubricated and dependent as a whole on such practices. Practices by which the most advanced capitalist states and industrialized economies – the United States, the former colonial powers of western Europe, and Japan – are the historic masters and mentors.

At a July 5 campaign rally in Montana which drew thousands, Trump thundered:

We are bringing back our wealth from foreign countries that have been ripping us off for years…For too long we watched and we waited and we saw as other countries stole our jobs, cheated our workers, and gutted our industry.

With his trademark national chauvinism and demagogy, Trump continued:

The United States of America was the piggy bank that everybody else was robbing. Our allies in many cases were worse than our enemies. We opened our country to their goods, but they put up massive barriers to keep our products and our goods the hell out of their country because they didn’t want that competition.

Trump is upending the decades-long, highly profitable arrangements between the US capitalist class, its various governments in Washington, and the Chinese state. US capital would invest in commodity production inside China for sales to the US and other developed capitalist markets. It has been an arrangement that has been crucial in the formation and accumulation of state and private capital in China by Chinese business owners and government officials.

While it is very difficult to calculate precisely balance-of-trade surpluses and deficits of nation-states within globalized production chains, as well as calculating so-called “services” onto the balance sheets, China’s trade “surplus” in finished goods with the United States has been in the low-to-mid 100s of billions of dollars range for many years. A good slice of which is recycled and parked in US Treasuries. This greatly cushions the impact for US debt markets, making it easier for US federal and private banking institutions to obscure, dilute, and hide dollar-denominated debt. It also helps the US Federal Reserve suppress higher interest rates, and keeps low or non-existent tax rates and outlays for billionaires, millionaires, and US-style oligarchs.

China today owns nearly $2 trillion in US Treasury securities, which makes it the largest US “foreign creditor” and the second largest owner of US bonds, after the Federal Reserve itself. No one can know for sure what the impact of the unfolding trade war will be on Chinese purchases of US Treasuries, insofar as the US-China balance of trade numbers and those of China’s purchases of US government debt have become the intertwined sine qua non of the entire economic and financial relationship. China’s vast holdings register both leverage and vulnerable dependency. China’s decades-long massive economic expansion and growth (high single-digit to low double-digit GDP rises every year since 1991!) has been strongly predicated on maintaining China’s access to US markets for the wholesale and retail sales of these commodities.

Over the decades US-China economic ties and exchange led to the massive expansion of Chinese factory manufacturing and industrial development, as well as huge profits for US capitalists and their Chinese state and private partners.

This process also contributed mightily to the large expansion of the Chinese industrial proletariat, including a super-exploited sector of migrant workers, and urban petty bourgeoisie, with the concurrent reduction in the size of China’s peasant population. All of this has led to the massive production and reproduction of surplus value in the country based on the application of labor power to produce commodities to be exchanged, that is, sold in the US and world markets.

This massive production and reproduction of real value, real social wealth, and real capital was certainly siphoned off disproportionately and corruptly by Chinese bureaucrats and capitalists. But it has also been massively invested in infrastructure and urban development projects, led by high-speed rail production and construction.

Two giant Chinese initiatives in the past period highlight these historical developments. First, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which promotes regional “connectivity” through infrastructure and other economic projects, and second, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which finances infrastructure and other economic projects in the Asian-Pacific region. AIIB is headquartered in Shanghai and has 86 members, including a number of US NATO “allies.”  Washington, from Barack Obama to Trump, has so far declined to be any part of it. Moreover, China has publicly issued its Made in China 2025 plan to be world leaders in future industrial applications in artificial intelligence, robotics, and chip manufacturing, which is viewed with hostility in Washington.

Looming Recession?

Washington – and this is a largely bipartisan cry – gets particularly worked up over so-called state aid and subsidies to Chinese industries and companies that are themselves state or quasi-state-owned or nominally private. China also attempts to get around efforts led by Washington to pressure companies to restrict Chinese access to some technologies by making such access a condition for sales and commercial exchanges in the vast Chinese markets themselves.

A June 29 column in the Financial Times (“Bond markets send signals of a looming recession”) by University of Chicago “Professor of Finance” Raghuram Rajan states:

[E]conomic metric estimates of the effects of one or two rounds of tariff rises are small. But the models do not capture the intertwined nature of global supply chains. Moreover, the effect on business sentiment, as well as the pall of uncertainty cast over investment will be considerable, A trade war will be costly.

Rajan points to the political difficulties for any governments and national leaderships today “to be seen [as] giving in to threats, making trade conflicts more likely.” He then continues with:

… a final reason for concern. China is cleaning up its financial system, an immensely complicated task given the debt that has built up. Growth has slowed, the cost of riskier loans has been rising, as have defaults. The Chinese authorities are working to spread losses across the system, but this needs to be managed carefully to avoid panic. If China is caught in a trade war while it is still restructuring its financial system, its difficulties could spread abroad.

If the dynamic of a large-scale US-China trade war is unleashed, then it will have critical economic and commercial – and therefore political — consequences for the trade and diplomatic regime that has been built up and stabilized over many decades between Beijing and Washington – and Wall Street and China.1

The EU, Canada, and Mexico

The tariffs on China set in motion by Trump and his Executive Branch team of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came on top of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports carried out against Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, announced with great hoopla, earlier in the June month. These ostensibly aim at boosting US domestic steel and aluminum production, but also led to immediate retaliatory measures of equal reach and value by all. So far, every dollar-value of US tariff-taxes have been met with an equal value in counter-tariffs. Can that be sustained?

On June 29, 2018 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland defiantly announced Canada’s response to the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We will not escalate — and we will not back down,” said Freeland. (Before her current gig as Foreign Minister for the Justin Trudeau government, Freedland was a leading editor of the Financial Times, the quintessential organ of British and world capital.)

She unveiled counter-tariffs on US goods entering Canada, including whiskey, toilet paper, washing machines, and motorboats. Altogether, Canada will tax $12.6 billion worth of American goods, which matched the value of the US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“I cannot emphasize enough the regret with which we take these countermeasures,” Freedland added. She emphasized that the only way Canada might reverse them would be if the Trump White House rescinded first. There are always political dangers when many faces need saving at once.

Trump’s Executive Orders were invoked under the cover of “national security.” This provoked umbrage from Canadian, EU, and other US post-World War II era NATO “allies.” They pointed to the various imperialist wars they fought over the years hand-in-glove with Washington.

The current framework and regime for the regulation of tariffs and the resolution of trade disputes is the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US tariffs are already being contested in WTO bodies in a likely bruising battle. The WTO as an “objective” arbiter and judge, is clearly in danger of losing authority and fraying under great pressure. Trump’s back-to-back measures are bound to accelerate a breaking down of world capitalist trading norms and stability.

Allies and Competitors

The EU bloc, most of its individual nation-state components, and Canada are military allies of Washington — still by far the predominant military power with the most firepower and global reach on Earth – through the NATO alliance. But, at the same time, all are home bases for some of the fiercest competitors of US based multinationals and other capitalist firms in world markets. In a time of intensifying, cutthroat global competition, with financial volatility and turbulent waters ahead, the “competitors” side is being more sharply expressed and rising to the fore. The political fallout from policy choices and decisions on trade, tariffs, currency manipulations, debt and capital flows are, at the very least, posed more sharply in today’s world. Old trading blocs and ties come under pressure and weaken, rebooting political policies and alliances.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended

While Trump’s public utterances – “Trade wars are good and easy to win” – exude typical flippant political confidence on his part, these policies are highly contentious within the broader US capitalist class. Within these circles there is growing anxiety and dread that Washington will not be able to drive things through without serious political consequences in the world arena.

The shift that Trump looks to realize registers the political erosion internationally of the “neoliberal globalization” regime which greatly benefited many US-based giant corporations, banks, and businesses – and the mounds of capital behind their brands – as they set up shop in China, Mexico, and elsewhere with greatly increased profit rates. The major benefit of this inside the United States for US capitalists was the lowering of the value of labor and the evisceration of industrial jobs and industrial unions. The decisive factor involved is relatively cheaper (usually very much so) labor costs, which outweigh other disadvantages and extra costs for US-based capital in production outside the US, such as in transport costs, management training, and so on.

Of course, US capitalists couldn’t care less about the social devastation in working-class communities in the US.2

US Capital is Divided

Opposition to Trump’s measures is strongest among business groups and elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties who have been identified with the general “free trade” neoliberal policies worldwide that have dominated trade pacts and mainstream bourgeois economics for decades. These anti-working-class policies have increased in unpopularity since the so-called Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-08 and are now widely discredited and hated in the US and around the world, especially among working people. But the opposition to them takes varied “populist” forms – left and right — that have done and can do little to effectively counter them or provide any program and perspective of mobilization and independent working-class political action and power. In the face of popular hostility and battered credibility, almost by inertia, the “neoliberal model” limps on.

What will be the impact on world economic developments of Trump’s tariffs? Does it give a push to the next – inevitable – financial jolts and economic downturn-recession? Will the EU, Canada, and Mexico have the political will and strength to counter them? Is there space for increasing domestic US assembly and manufacture of commodities, finished products, and capital goods (machinery, etc.) that have been “farmed out” for decades now that US labor value and costs has been driven down in recent decades? Can increased US domestic manufacturing (up 36,000 in June 2018 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) sustain sales volume and profit rates?

Diminished US Political Power

There are wide layers in top US business, financial, and social circles who do worry that Trump is accelerating and deepening the deterioration in US political influence worldwide. They are anxious that Trump’s course, rather that restoring the post-World War II full-spectrum dominance of US capital – capsulized in his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” – will do the opposite and actually accelerate US decline.

There is considerable substance to this anxiety. Under Trump there has been a striking US political isolation in world political forums on one major international political question after another: Washington’s withdrawal from the (fairly toothless, in any case) Paris climate change accords; Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear production and activity, an agreement which was ratified by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU as a body; Washington’s humiliating isolation every year in the UN over its criminal and hated blockade of revolutionary Cuba; and issues around Israel and Palestine that might ameliorate Palestinian conditions and advance a two-state solution.

Korea is Hardly a Trump Triumph

Trump’s escalating moves on US trade and exchange with China were announced when the ink was hardly dry on the document issued, amid great world attention and hoopla, after the June 12 Summit between Donald Trump and the Kim Jong-un government in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

While the Trump White House has been eager to spin the Summit results as a feather in its cap, his ability to do so was necessarily predicated on the US suspension of “war games” and other joint US-South Korean military maneuvers off the North Korean coasts. Maintaining Washington’s “right” and political will to do so became politically untenable following the Kim government’s ending of missile launches, atmospheric and underground tests, and even the verified destruction of one nuclear site while at the same time the two Korean governments deepened relations through friendly encounters amid popular enthusiasm. No one can seriously doubt that the Moon Jae-in government in South Korea favored and pushed for the US suspension of the “joint” war games.

It seems apparent that China and South Korea forcefully intervened behind the scenes to keep the US-DPRK talks on track. In reality, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (with National Security Advisor John Bolton kept in the shadows) found themselves in an isolated diplomatic and political corner and risked a politically unwinnable confrontation with both China, South Korea and the United Nations large majority. This became even more dangerous politically for Washington on the heels of the US withdrawal from JCPOA treaty with Iran.

As this article was being finished, the US-DPRK negotiations had a negative public eruption after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with top North Korean authorities in Pyongyang. The DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a detailed statement on July 7, calling the meetings “regretful” and Pompeo’s apparent sole focus on unilateral DPRK denuclearization “gangster-like.” The DPRK statement promoted, “in the spirit of” the Singapore Summit and its written statement signed by Trump and Kim, an interconnected focus on issues like a formal peace treaty replacing the “Armistice” ending military combat in 1953; improved US-DPRK bilateral relations; and building a “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” that is, building on the momentum of improving relations between the two Korean governments and states. Pompeo and Trump have both downplayed the DPRK statement, with Trump on July 9 spinning that China “may be exerting pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade – Hope Not!”

Of course, as the DPRK statement said, “suspension of one action called exercises is a highly reversible step which can be resumed at any time or any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously held positions without scraping even a rifle.” Nevertheless, for the Trump Administration to revert to a “maximum pressure” policy while demanding North Korean capitulation and permanently subordinating all other political issues, starting with formal and actual bilateral and multilateral peace, is not politically tenable, starting with South Korea and China and, overwhelmingly, world public opinion.

Mexico

The July 1 landslide election in Mexico of left-wing “populist”Andres Manuel Lopez Abrador (AMLO) is also setting Washington’s nerves on edge. It is not Lopez Obrador’s political orientation and program, per se, that is setting off (mostly muted) alarms. While he is solidly progressive with anti-imperialist instincts flowing from Mexican and Latin American historical experience, AMLO has sent out clear signals that he is loath to directly promote anti-capitalist measures and policies. His campaign focused on the corruption of private capital and the Mexican capitalist state and the intertwined, massive violence and death associated with the illegal capitalist drug cartels.3

What is worrying for the US (and Mexican) ruling classes is the tremendous enthusiasm and mobilizations around AMLO’s campaign, which points to the rising expectations among Mexican working people and youth who want action and who are saying Enough is Enough! Rather than channel mass political combativity into harmless electoralism and parliamentary wrangling, it is more likely that any significant progressive measures promoted by the Lopez Obrador government and its clear majority in both houses of Mexico’s legislature, will spur on the class struggle. This is particularly worrisome for the guardians of US imperialism, given the remarkable history of gratuitous, patronizing insults and anti-Mexican demagogy employed by Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign for US president. And his reactionary and brutal anti-migrant policies once in office.

In any case, a window into the arrogance of the US ruling rich came with a short editorial in the July 3 Wall Street Journal, titled “The Peso Federales.” Acknowledging Lopez Obrador’s “landslide” and “mandate,” the Journal’s editors warn of the pressure coming from a “different sort of election – the one that takes place daily in financial markets.” Pointing to a 1% drop in the Mexican peso (that “recovered” the next day) following the election, the editorial continued “the president-elect now has to worry what the markets think if he wants to improve the lives of Mexicans.”

One of the biggest concerns for the academic, journalist, and big-business monitors of world economic developments today, prior to the next sharp economic crisis and recession-depression, is that there has been a significant and growing outflow of capital from so-called “emerging” countries into the capital markets of the most advanced capitalist economies, especially the US. This is reversing a mild trend otherwise in recent years.

Sharp turns down for the Argentine peso is the starkest expression of this tendency. In June 2018 the IMF came up with a $50 billion “loan,” a bail out for austerity package, that has already provoked the biggest labor mobilizations in that country for over a decade.

The Class Struggle Will Ratchet Up

When you enter a period like the current one, within the transition from one era-epoch to another, old truisms become stale, alliances and allies can and do change, traditional state-to-state relations become strained and even boil over. No one can doubt that class struggle, social polarization, and political volatility is likely to be ratcheted up considerably in the context of the coming global economic downturn. This will happen everywhere and anywhere. In the United States itself we can expect more massive working class and popular eruptions – seemingly coming out of nowhere – like the wave of solid, disciplined, and victorious teacher’s strikes in the US states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona in early 2018.

The unfolding trade wars unleashed by Donald Trump are now facts on the ground. To cite the great socialist pioneer Frederick Engels:

Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.

  1. The origins of the contemporary US-China relationship and the deeply intertwined  economic ties between both came during the final period of the Vietnam War. US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger carried out a secret diplomacy with the Mao Zedong-Zhou Enlai Chinese government in the early 1970s to establish mutually beneficial ties. The context was the sharp crisis and looming defeat of the US war effort in Vietnam and Indochina. Nixon and Kissinger were under tremendous pressure to end all US military operations and withdraw US troops from Vietnam and Southeast Asia. They were keen to preserve the “South” Vietnamese neo-colonial state and hoped to manipulate China (and China’s fierce political antagonist, the Soviet Union) to pressure the Vietnamese revolutionaries – who they both gave crucial military aid to — to make concessions to Nixon. This failed and Washington went down to final military defeat in 1975. Nevertheless a de facto political alliance and the foundations for the massive expansion of economic exchange between the United States and China was consolidated over four decades under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses.
  2. Before retiring in 2016, I was a Locomotive Engineer for Amtrak and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the teamsters Union. I operated the high-speed Acela and other passenger trains between New York city and Washington, DC. For some 25 years, I would see, along the main line tracks from the locomotive cab, on the Northeast Corridor tracks, especially along the stretches between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia towards Trenton, New Jersey, mile after mile of rotted out and abandoned industrial facilities, factories, plants, mills, metal shop, giant behemoths and myriad smaller ones in what were once, in the world War 2 era and subsequent decades, I imagined thriving working-class communities employing many tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. Today they really look like documentary films from the Battle of Stalingrad on the World War 2 Eastern Front. The authorities, decade after decade, never even bothered to tear them down. I would joke to younger workers in my cab qualifying on the physical characteristics of the territory – track speeds, interlocking rules, industrial sidings, and so on – when we would pass these areas, that the state should put a giant bubble over it all and open up “The Museum of American Industrial Glory.”
  3. The stunning failure of Mexico’s “war on drugs” has left hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated without making a dent in the production, consumption, or the profits of the cartels, and the corrupt wealth of officials up and down the supply chain. The production, marketing, and commercial exchange of cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, opium, and heroin is a major component of the Mexican capitalist economy as a whole, counting for perhaps up to 10% of GDP, as well as propping up Mexican banking.

Right-wing, Fascist-supporting Tilt among Canada’s NDP

In response to Ukrainian Canadian Congress campaigning, two NDP MLAs recently convinced the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to withdraw a brand of Russian vodka from its stores. Alberta MLAs Deron Bilous and Jessica Littlewood argued that a hammer and sickle logo on a bottle of vodka was “offensive“. Articulating a growing rightist effort to equate communism with Nazism in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta chapter president, Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, told the Edmonton Journal that the hammer and sickle was akin to “having a swastika on a bottle of cognac.”

This is not the first attempt by a provincial NDP to ban Russian vodka. In response to the 2014 upheaval in the Ukraine, a minister in the NDP government in Manitoba discussed a provincial ban on Russian vodka. At the same time, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo tabled a motion at the Ontario Legislature calling on government-run liquor stores to suspend sales of Russian Standard vodka.

DiNovo was one of the NDP representatives that flirted with Ukraine’s hard right. She attended a Ukrainian parade in Toronto where some marched behind a banner titled “Right Sector Canada”. Its parent organization in the Ukraine said it was “defending the values of white, Christian Europe against the loss of the nation and deregionalisation.” At another Toronto event NDP MP Peggy Nash shared a stage with a speaker from Ukraine’s Right Sector.

Over the past four years, the NDP has backed a coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military build-up in Eastern Europe. In 2014 the right-wing nationalist Euro-Maidan movement ousted Viktor Yanukovych who was oscillating between the European Union and Russia. The US-backed coup divided the Ukraine politically, geographically and linguistically (Russian is the mother tongue of 30% of Ukrainians). After Yanukovych’s ouster Russia reinforced its military presence — or “seized” — the southern area of Crimea and then organized a referendum on secession. Home to Moscow’s major Baltic naval base, Crimea had long been part of Russia and the bulk of the population preferred Moscow’s rule to the post-coup right wing nationalist government in Kiev.

The NDP echoed the US/Stephen Harper government position on Ukraine. The day after Yanukovych fled, NDP MP Olivia Chow told a Euro-Maidan Canada rally in Toronto, “we must be vigilant, we must ensure our government, our Canadian government, continues to keep an eye on the Ukraine to make sure that the Russians do not interfere.”

But, the NDP MP wasn’t bothered by Canadian interference in that country. Eighteen months after the coup the Canadian Press reported that opposition protesters were camped in the Canadian Embassy for a week during the February 2014 rebellion against Yanukovych. “Canada’s embassy in Kyiv was used as a haven for several days by anti-government protesters during the uprising that toppled the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych,” the story noted.

Ottawa played a similar role during the “Orange Revolution” a decade earlier. In a story headlined “Agent Orange: Our secret role in Ukraine,” Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon detailed how Canada funded a leading civil society opposition group, promised Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner Canadian citizenship if he did “the right thing” and paid for 500 Canadians of Ukrainian descent to observe the 2004-05 elections. “[Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called ‘donor coordination’ sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr. [presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy-handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovych [winning].”

Indifferent to Canada’s interference in Ukrainian affairs, during the 2015 federal election leaders debate Mulcair said, “with regard to Ukraine, yes, Putin is a danger. We stand firmly with Ukraine against the aggression by Russia.” The NDP leader also reiterated the party’s call for harsher measures against Russian officials, naming two businessmen whom he said should be added to Canada’s list of Russians targeted for sanctions. In March 2014 NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar released a statement calling for “travel bans against certain Russian officials and suspending trade with Russia’s military sector.” Five months later the NDP put out a press release under the headline “Conservatives shield Russian business elite from sanctions: Toothless sanctions are out of step with Canada’s closest allies.” In 2017 NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière applauded a bill modeled after the US Magnitsky Act that would further strain relations between Ottawa and Moscow by sanctioning Russian officials. NDP MPs voted for legislation Laverdière labelled an “important step to support the Global Magnitsky movement.”

In summer 2016 NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of a ratcheting up of tensions with Russia. Four hundred and fifty Canadian troops are currently leading a 1,000-strong NATO force in Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. As vice-chair of Parliament’s Standing Committee on National Defence, Garrison endorsed a December report titled “Canada’s support to Ukraine in crisis and armed conflict.” It denounced Russia’s “war of aggression against Ukraine” and lauded Canada’s “support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia.”

Deploying Canadian troops to the Russian border and Alberta MLAs pushing to ban Russian vodka both empower rightists in Eastern Europe. They are part of a troubling game of brinksmanship with Russia.

Is this really in Canada’s interest? And why is the NDP enabling the agenda of extreme right forces?

Canada, the Korean Dispute and Foreign Policy Mythology

Repeat after me: Canada is seldom a force for good in the world, Canada is seldom a force for good in the world.

Thomas Walkom’s “Canada should board Korean peace train” is yet another example of how the progressive end of the dominant media has been seduced by Canadian foreign policy mythology.

The leftist Toronto Star columnist offers an astute analysis of what’s driving rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula. He points out that the two Koreas are moving the process forward and that Pyongyang believes “complete denuclearization” of the Peninsula includes the US forces in the region aiming nuclear weapons at it.

But, Walkom’s column is cloaked in naivety about Canada’s role in the geopolitical hotspot. He ignores the international summit Ottawa and Washington organized in January to promote sanctions on North Korea. In a highly belligerent move, the countries invited to the conference in Vancouver were those that fought against North Korea in the early 1950s conflict. “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” General Curtis LeMay, head of US air command during the fighting, explained three decades later. “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off … twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure.”

(During another dreadful chapter in Korean history Canada supplied war materials to the Japanese army that occupied Korea before World War II.)

Continuing its aggressive diplomatic posture, Chrystia Freeland brought up North Korea at the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February and the next month Canada’s foreign minister agreed with her Japanese counterpart to send a “strong message” to Pyongyang at the upcoming Group of Seven meetings. In a subsequent get together, Freeland and Japanese officials pledged to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea. After “welcoming South Korea’s critical role in maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea” in March, Freeland responded gingerly to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement last month to seek a formal end to the Korean War and rid the Peninsula of nuclear weapons. “We all need to be careful and not assume anything,” said Freeland.

Walkom also ignores the Canadian Forces currently seeking to blockade North Korea. Three weeks ago Ottawa announced it was a sending a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan to join British, Australian and US forces monitoring efforts to evade UN sanctions. Earlier in the year a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the pond partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea.

Canadians are also part of the UN military mission in Korea. The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created in 1950, Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre was recently appointed deputy commander of the UN force stationed there.

(To be fair, Walkom hints at Ottawa’s belligerence, noting that Canada is “still technically at war with North Korea” and is among countries that “traditionally take their cue from the U.S.”)

In my forthcoming book Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I discuss how leftist intellectuals concede a great deal to the foreign policy establishment’s outlook. Laziness is a simple, though not unimportant, reason why these writers mythologize Canadian foreign policy. Buried amidst a mass of state and corporate generated apologetics, critical information about Canada’s role in the world takes more effort to uncover. And the extra work is often bad for one’s career.

A thorough investigation uncovers information tough to square with the narrow spectrum of opinion permitted in the dominant media. It’s nearly impossible to survive if you say Canadian foreign policy has always been self-serving/elite-driven or that no government has come close to reflecting their self-professed ideals on the international stage. Almost everyone with a substantial platform to comment sees little problem with Canadian power, finding it expedient to assume/imply Canada’s international aims are noble.

Rather than a story titled “Canada should board Korean peace train”, Walkom should have written about how “Canada must step off the belligerence bus”. His conscious or unconscious naivety regarding Canada’s role in Korea is part of a mainstream left trend that partly explains why Canadians overwhelmingly believe this country is a benevolent international actor despite a long history of supporting empire and advancing Canadian corporate interests abroad.

Canada Openly Seeking “Regime Change” in Venezuela

Is there no voice in Parliament willing to denounce Canadian interference in another country’s electoral process?

The Trudeau government is engaged in a wide-ranging campaign to weaken Venezuela’s elected government. In a bid to elicit “regime change,” Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas, imposed sanctions, and supported the country’s opposition.

Recently, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland endorsed Peru’s decision to block Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from attending the mid-April Summit of the Americas in Lima. “As Venezuela slides deeper into dictatorship, and as Venezuelans continue to suffer, Maduro’s participation at a hemispheric leaders’ summit would have been farcical,” Freeland noted. But, Freeland has no problem with the presence of Brazilian President Michel Temer, who doesn’t have any pretence of electoral legitimacy. Nor has she opposed the participation of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez who defied that country’s constitution in running for a second term and then ‘won’ a highly questionable election.

Since the summer Freeland has participated in five meetings of the Lima Group, a collection of foreign ministers opposed to Venezuela’s elected government. As part of this initiative she declared that Canada wouldn’t recognize the upcoming presidential election. Two months ago she tweeted out that “we reject this decision by the Gov of Venezuela to call these elections, as they do not give a reasonable amount of time to ensure free and fair elections” and then three weeks later Canada’s foreign minister “demand[ed] that presidential elections be called with sufficient advance notice.” When the opposition and government agreed to push back the presidential election from April 22 to May 20, Freeland responded by tweeting “Maduro regime’s decision to postpone Venezuela’s elections until May changes nothing.”

Another demand Freeland has made of the Venezuelan authorities is that international observers be allowed to monitor the election. Yet, the Venezuelan government’s vocal request for UN observers has been opposed by the country’s opposition alliance. Behind the scenes the US is undoubtedly lobbying the international body to reject Caracas’ request.

(Notwithstanding the partisan attacks, Venezuela has among the world’s most efficient, secure and transparent electoral systems. In 2012 former US President and head of the Carter Center Jimmy Carter stated, “as a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”)

The third condition Freeland has imposed for respecting the election is “that all Venezuelan political players be included in the election.” But, the Maduro government doesn’t have the power to release those found guilty of crimes and repatriate political figures who have fled the country to avoid criminal charges.

Alongside its impossible-to-meet conditions, Canadian officials have prodded Caribbean countries to join its anti-Venezuela campaign. At a Jamaica-Canada bilateral consultation three weeks ago Canadian officials brought up Venezuela and earlier in the year Freeland tweeted that “Canada welcomes signatures by Saint Lucia & Guyana to Lima Group declaration.” Last month Freeland met Costa Rica’s vice minister of foreign affairs to discuss Venezuela and Canadian representatives were part of a recent session dealing with that country on the sidelines of a Group of 20 finance ministers meeting. Canadian officials are set to join an upcoming discussion of Venezuela called by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Following Washington’s lead, Ottawa imposed two rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan officials in the Fall. Last week the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the economic sanctions the US, Canada and EU have adopted against Venezuela. It urged “states to refrain from imposing unilateral coercive measures (and) condemn(s) the continued unilateral application and enforcement by certain powers of such measures as tools of political or economic pressure.”

As I, Anthony Fenton, Neil A. Burron and others have detailed, Ottawa has supported opposition groups inside Venezuela. In August outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

In line with its policy of amplifying oppositional voices, on March 7 the Canadian Embassy in Caracas gave a human rights prize to Francisco Valencia, director of the Coalición de Organizaciones por el Derecho a la Salud y la Vida (CODEVIDA). Numerous media outlets reported on the award given to an aggressive opponent of the Venezuelan government. “I believe that we are facing a criminal State”, Valencia told Crisis en Venezuela.

The Embassy’s human rights prize is co-sponsored with the Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos. The director of that organization, Raúl Herrera, has repeatedly denounced the Venezuelan government. Six months ago Herrera said, “the Venezuelan State systematically and repeatedly violates the Human Rights of Venezuelans and political prisoners.”

Clearly Ottawa is guilty of interfering in the electoral process of Venezuela. When Russia has been accused of (a much more mild) form of intervention every party in Parliament is quick to condemn them.

Has the NDP become so tied into the American Empire that it cannot point out this obvious hypocrisy?

 

Canada’s NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Political Violence

We should be concerned about Jagmeet Singh’s support for political violence. But not the stuff that’s making news. While the media makes much of the new NDP head’s ties/indifference to Sikh violence, they’ve ignored Singh’s leadership of a party/community that has repeatedly backed Canadian aggression.

In a Rabble story on the controversy, Karl Nerenberg described Singh as the “leader of a party that has throughout its history favoured peaceful and non-violent solutions.” As such, Nerenberg called on the NDP leader to “make a stronger statement against any use of violence in furtherance of Sikh goals.”

While not downplaying the terrible human loss in the 1985 Air India bombing or disagreeable aspects of the Khalistan movement, it’s more salient to know Singh’s position on Canadian violence. Contrary to Nerenberg’s claim, the NDP has repeatedly supported Canadian aggression.

Seven years ago the NDP wholeheartedly endorsed bombing Libya, a quarter century ago it applauded the bombing of Serbia and in 1950 it cheerlead Canadian participation in the Korean War. At the beginning of the century important elements of the party backed Canada’s deployment to Afghanistan and the NDP was ambivalent towards Canadian-assisted violence in Haiti.

After the Communists took control of China in 1949 the US tried to encircle the country. They supported Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, built military bases in Japan, backed a right-wing dictator in Thailand and tried to establish a pro-Western state in Vietnam. The success of China’s nationalist revolution also spurred the 1950-1953 Korean War in which eight Canadian warships and 27,000 Canadian troops participated. The war left as many as four million dead.

The NDP’s predecessor, the CCF, endorsed the US-led (though UN sanctioned) war in Korea. Deputy leader and party spokesperson Stanley Knowles immediately endorsed the deployment of Canadian naval units to the Western Pacific, which the government sent in case they “might be of assistance to the United Nations and Korea.” Before Ottawa committed ground troops the CCF Executive Council called for them. The CCF started to shift its position on the Korean War when Washington had the UN condemn Chinese “aggression” six months into the fighting.

The NDP backed Canada’s significant contribution to NATO’s 1999 bombing of the former Yugoslavia. Contravening international law, the 78-day bombing campaign killed hundreds and spurred the ethnic cleansing of Albanian Kosovars NATO officials claimed to be curbing. The party only turned critical over a month after the bombing began.

Important elements within the NDP initially supported Canada’s October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Two days after the George W. Bush administration declared war, NDP leader Alexa McDonough and defence critic Peter Stoffer issued a “joint statement”, saying they “completely back the men and women in the Canadian military assigned to the U.S. coalition.”

The NDP was wishy-washy on the February 29, 2004, US/France/Canada coup in Haiti and violence that followed. In the days after the US/France/Canada military invasion NDP foreign critic Svend Robinson called for an investigation into Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal and asked if “regime change in Haiti” was discussed at the January 2003 Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, where high level US, Canadian and French officials deliberated on overthrowing the elected President. But, subsequent foreign critic Alexa McDonough largely stayed mum as Canada offered military, policing, diplomatic and financial support to a dictatorship and UN force that killed thousands violently suppressing Port au Prince’s poor (pro-Aristide) neighborhoods.

In 2011 the party supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya. “It’s appropriate for Canada to be a part of this effort to try to stop Gadhafi from attacking his citizens as he has been threatening to do,’’ said party leader Jack Layton. But, the NATO bombing campaign was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations as I discuss in detail in The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. Additionally, NATO forces explicitly contravened the UN resolutions sanctioning a no-fly zone by dispatching troops and expanding the bombing far beyond protecting civilians.

Canada also defied UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 by selling drones to the rebels. After Gaddafi was savagely killed, NDP leader Nycole Turmel released a statement noting, “the future of Libya now belongs to all Libyans. Our troops have done a wonderful job in Libya over the past few months.”

Beyond this history, there are good reasons to fear Singh will support Canadian aggression. During the leadership race he allied himself with pro-US Empire MP Hélène Laverdière and subsequently reappointed the former Canadian diplomat as NDP foreign critic. At last month’s party convention he mobilized supporters to suppress debate on the widely endorsed Palestine Resolution. Singh has also said little (or nothing) about Canada’s new defence policy, which includes a substantial boost to military spending and offensive capabilities.

In the interests of a first do no harm Canadian foreign policy, it’s time for a comprehensive discussion of Singh’s views on political violence.

Canada’s New Democratic Party’s Anti-Palestinian History

The NDP leadership’s naked suppression of debate on the “Palestine Resolution” is rooted in a long pro-Israeli nationalism history.

At last month’s convention the party machine blocked any debate of the Palestine Resolution, which mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

As I detailed previously, the Palestine Resolution was confusingly renamed, deprioritized and then blocked from being debated on the convention floor. The suppression of a resolution unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many outside groups and over 25 riding associations was the latest in a long line of leadership anti-Palestinian actions.

However, the first leader of Canada’s original social democratic party actually took a sensible humanist position, criticizing the colonialist/nationalist movement’s impact on the indigenous population. In 1938 CCF (the NDP’s predecessor) leader J. S. Woodsworth said, “it was easy for Canadians, Americans and the British to agree to a Jewish colony, as long as it was somewhere else. Why ‘pick on the Arabs’ other than for ‘strategic’ and ‘imperialistic’ consideration.”

After Woodsworth’s 1940 death the party’s stance shifted and by the end of World War II the CCF officially supported Zionism. Future CCF leader and premier of Saskatchewan Tommy Douglas and long-time federal MP Stanley Knowles were members of the Canadian Palestine Committee, a group of prominent non-Jewish Zionists formed in 1943 (future external minister Paul Martin Sr. and Alberta premier Ernest C. Manning were also members). In 1944 the Canadian Palestine Committee wrote Prime Minister Mackenzie King that it “looks forward to the day when Palestine shall ultimately become a Jewish commonwealth, and member of the British Commonwealth of Nations under the British Crown.”

Not long after 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. In 1947/48 CCF officials said the refugees should not be allowed to return. CCF MP Alistair Stewart said that taking in anything more than a small proportion of the refugees might destroy Israel and would be “asking more than any modern state would be prepared to accede to.”

Despite general misgivings towards arms sales, the CCF backed Canada selling 24 F-86 Sabre jets to Israel in the lead-up to its 1956 invasion of Egypt. The party justified Israel’s invasion alongside declining Middle East colonial powers Britain and France. Party leader M.J. Coldwell said:

Israel had ample provocation for her action in marching into Sinai… Egypt’s insistence that Israel be made to obey United Nations resolutions [while it had] hampered Israel’s shipping without lawful excuse. Egypt’s insistence that Israel be made to obey United Nations resolution sounds no less than cynical coming as it does from a government which for years ignored and flouted the Security Council and United Nations when they ordered free passage for Israel’s ships through Suez.

The NDP also took up Israel’s justification for invading its neighbors in 1967. They criticized Egypt’s blockade of Israeli shipping while ignoring that country’s strategic objectives, which the CIA concluded were the: (1) “Destruction of the center of power of the radical Arab Socialist movement, i.e. the Nasser regime.” (2) “Destruction of the arms of the radical Arabs.” (3) “Destruction of both Syria and Jordan as modern states.”

Despite Ottawa’s strong pro-Israel alignment, NDP leader Tommy Douglas criticized Prime Minister Lester Pearson for not backing Israel more forthrightly in the 1967 war. Describing the NDP convention shortly after the Six-Day War Toronto Star reporter John Goddard wrote, “the delegates were solidly behind Israel. I remember David Lewis leading the discussion at the Royal York Hotel, the look of steely resolve on his face, and the sense of relief in the room over the defeat of the Arab armies.”

After Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967 the party came out in favor of a “united Jerusalem”. “The division of Jerusalem,” said David Lewis, a significant figure in the party for four decades, “did not make economic or social sense. As a united city under Israel’s aegis, Jerusalem would be a much more progressive and fruitful capital of the various religions.”

As Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai, Lewis made “impassioned warnings that Israel was in danger.” During his time as federal leader from 1971 to 1975 Lewis spoke to at least one Israel Bonds fundraiser, which raised money for that state.

Just after stepping down as federal leader Lewis was the “speaker of the year” at a B’nai B’rith breakfast. In the hilariously titled “NDP’s David Lewis urges care for disadvantaged”, the Canadian Jewish News reported that Lewis “attacked the UN for having admitted the PLO” and said “a Middle East peace would require ‘some recognition of the Palestinians in some way.’ He remarked that the creation of a Palestinian state might be necessary but refused to pinpoint its location. The Israelis must make that decision, he said, without interference from Diaspora Jewry.”

After a trip to that country Tommy Douglas said “Israel was like a light set upon a hill – the light of democracy in a night of darkness – and the main criticism of Israel has not been a desire for land. The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” (Douglas’ 1975 comment was made after Israel had driven out its indigenous population and repeatedly invaded its neighbours.)

The NDP labelled the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was created in 1964, a danger and vociferously opposed the UN granting it observer status in 1974. Federal party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO “terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.” (Apparently, multiple players within the NDP-aligned Broadbent Institute voted against allowing the full convention to debate the Palestine Resolution at an early morning session prior to the main plenary.) In the late 1970s the NDP called on the federal government to intervene to block Canadian companies from adhering to Arab countries’ boycott of Israel, which was designed to pressure that country to return land captured in the 1967 war.

Ontario NDP leader from 1970 to 1978, Stephen Lewis was stridently anti-Palestinian. He demanded the federal government cancel a major UN conference scheduled to be held in Toronto in 1975 because the PLO was granted observer status at the UN the previous year and their representatives might attend. In a 1977 speech to pro-Israel fundraiser United Jewish Appeal, which the Canadian Jewish News titled “Lewis praises [Conservative premier Bill] Davis for Stand on Israel”, Stephen Lewis denounced the UN’s “wantonly anti-social attitude to Israel.” He told the pro-Israel audience that “the anti-Semitism that lurks underneath the surface is diabolical. The only thing to rely on is Jew helping Jew.” (Stephen Lewis’ sister, Janet Solberg, was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP’s recent convention. Former president of the Ontario NDP and federal council member, Solberg was a long time backroom organizer for her brother and works at the Stephen Lewis Foundation.)

In the 1989 book The Domestic Battleground: Canada and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Irving Abella and John Sigler write, “historically, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been the most supportive of the Israeli cause, largely because of its close relationship to Israel’s Labour party, and to the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union movement.”

Excluding non-Jewish workers for much of its history, the Histadrut was a key part of the Zionist movement. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir remarked: “Then [1928] I was put on the Histadrut Executive Committee at a time when this big labor union wasn’t just a trade union organization. It was a great colonizing agency.” For its part, Israel’s Labor party (and predecessor Mapai) was largely responsible for the 1947/48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, 1956 invasion of Egypt and post 1967 settlement construction in the West Bank.

Relations with Israel’s Labor party continue. Labor Knesset Member Michal Biran was photographed with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at the recent convention. In the lead-up to that event Biran wrote:

Western progressives must not buy into the simplistic notion that peace is Israel’s gift to bestow upon the Palestinians… Palestinians must make peace with Israel as much as the converse. Here again, recognition [of a Palestinian state] achieves nothing: it will not cause Hamas to halt its missile attacks; it will not encourage the PA to cease payments to terrorists to incentivise murders of Israeli civilians; it will not convince Mahmoud Abbas to cease his antisemitic screeds and Holocaust revisionism. Unilateral recognition offers a free diplomatic gift whilst demanding no Palestinian concessions essential to peace.

When proponents of the Palestine Resolution tried to reprioritize their resolution so the convention could debate it, Singh mobilized his family and community to block it. Two dozen Sikh delegates, including members of Singh’s family, voted as a block against allowing the full convention to debate the Palestine Resolution, which failed 200 to 189. A Facebook meme by Aminah Mahmood captured the sentiment: “When they USE Brown people to vote down the Palestine Resolution.” (Later in the evening I asked Jagmeet Singh’s brother if he voted against the Palestine Resolution, but he refused to answer.)

The suppression of the Palestine Resolution should stir internationalist minded party members to finally confront the NDP’s anti-Palestinian legacy. A first step in breaking from this odious history could be ending all ties with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Israeli Labor Party, Canada–Israel Parliamentary Group and other Israel lobby organizations/forums. If the party believes in justice this is the least it should do.

Burying Canada’s Anti-Palestinian Consensus

The anti-Palestinian consensus among Canada’s three main political parties is crumbling and NDP members could bury it this weekend.

After taking an all-expense paid trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington and participating in a Jewish National Fund event in Israel 14 months ago, the NDP’s foreign critic has begun challenging Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession. Hélène Laverdière has repeatedly criticized the Trudeau government’s silence on Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. In response she tweeted, “a devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East. Where is Canada’s voice in protest of Trump’s decision on #Jerusalem? I urge Canada to condemn this decision in the strongest of terms.”

The party’s foreign critic also asked the federal government to condemn Israel’s detention of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi and hundreds of other Palestinian children who are usually tortured by Israeli forces. Similarly, Laverdière has pressed Ottawa to properly label products from illegal Israeli settlements and submitted a petition to Parliament calling “upon the Government of Canada to demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Two weeks ago I received an email on behalf of party leader Jagmeet Singh titled “all people deserve the same human rights”, which listed the party’s recent support for Palestinian rights. It noted, “the NDP shares your concerns about Palestine. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his team of New Democrats have a consistent record of defending Palestinian rights as well as raising concerns over Islamophobia.”

A series of factors are likely driving Laverdière’s shift. She probably never backed former NDP leader Tom – “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances” – Mulcair’s position. Additionally, last year’s NDP leadership race unleashed ever bolder expressions of support for the Palestinian cause.

Amidst the campaign, Laverdière was criticized for speaking at AIPAC’s 2016 conference in Washington and participating in an event put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. In August the NDP Socialist Caucus called for her resignation as foreign critic and it has submitted a motion to this weekend’s convention calling for her to be removed from that position.

Ottawa’s high-profile abstention at the UN General Assembly after Donald Trump announced that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem has given the NDP an opportunity to distinguish itself from the Trudeau government. And media coverage of subsequent Palestinian resistance, most notably Ahed Tamimi’s courageous slaps, has provided additional opportunities to highlight the Liberal’s extreme anti-Palestinianism.

The NDP leadership is also trying to head off members’ calls to boycott Israel (according to a 2017 Ekos poll, 84% of NDP members were open to sanctioning Israel). At least five resolutions (among more than ten concerning Palestine/Israel) submitted to the convention call for some type of boycott of Israel. The NDP Socialist Caucus has called on the party to “actively campaign” in support of the (just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions‘ movement’s demands.

With probably more backing than any of the 100+ resolutions submitted, 30 riding associations and youth committees endorsed “Palestine Resolution”, which calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.” Of course, party leaders fear the media response to any type of boycott resolution being adopted.

Whatever the reason for Laverdière’s shift away from anti-Palestinianism, it remains insufficient. As I’ve detailed, the NDP continues to provide various forms of support to Israel and the party has an odious anti-Palestinian history. In the mid-1970s the party opposed Palestinian Liberation Organization participation in two UN conferences in Toronto and Vancouver and party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO “terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.”

That year NDP icon Tommy Douglas also told the Histadrut labour federation: “The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” (Douglas’ 1975 speech was made while Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai, after it repeatedly invaded its neighbours and ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.)

A progressive party worth its salt campaigns on an international issue in equal measure to its government/society’s contribution to that injustice.

Over the past century Canada has played no small part in Palestinians’ dispossession. Hundreds of Canadians provided military force to realize the crassly anti-Palestinian Balfour Declaration and this country’s diplomats played a central role in the UN’s decision to give the Zionist movement most of Palestine in 1947.

Today, Ottawa regularly votes against Palestinian rights at the UN and subsidizes dozens of charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. Additionally, Canada’s two-decade-old free trade agreement with Israel allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free and over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Hopefully, in the years to come the NDP can help Canada make up for its sad anti-Palestinian history. Perhaps this weekend the party will finally bury official Canada’s anti-Palestinian consensus.

I will be speaking about “What’s Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?” on the sidelines of the convention.

Canada’s New Democratic Party Seeks to Topple Venezuela’s Government

Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?

The Canadian social democratic party’s foreign critic Hélène Laverdière has certainly remained silent regarding US leaders musing about a military coup or invasion of Venezuela and has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means.

At the start of the month US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust President Nicolás Maduro. “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people,” Tillerson said in a speech, which included a quip about Maduro being sent to Cuba.

I found no criticism of Tillerson’s speech by Laverdière. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat also stayed mum when Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela in the summer. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canadian sanctions on Venezuela, which followed a similar move by the US. In a move that probably violated the UN and OAS charters, in September the elected president, vice president and 38 other Venezuelan officials had their assets in Canada frozen and Canadians were barred from having financial relations with these individuals. Two months later 19 Venezuelan officials were sanctioned under the just adopted Magnitsky Act, which Laverdière and the NDP backed.

Nor did I find any criticism of Canada’s role in the so-called Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière remained silent when foreign minister Chrystia Freeland organized a meeting of the Lima Group in Toronto four months ago.

She also ignored Canada’s role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition. A specialist in social media and political transition, outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen in August: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

The NDP foreign critic also stayed mum when the federal government expelled Venezuelan diplomats’ from Canada in December.

Instead, Laverdière has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and call on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government. She publicized and spoke to the weirdly themed “Demonstration for human and democratic rights in Venezuela in solidarity with Ukraine and Syria” and called Venezuela’s vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.”

Amidst opposition protests in the summer, Laverdière told CBC, “we would like to see the [Canadian] government be more active in … calling for the release of political prisoners, the holding of elections and respecting the National Assembly.”

Laverdière’s statement ignored the death and destruction caused by opposition protesters and the opposition’s effort to hamstring the government after it won control of the National Assembly in 2015.

At a foreign affairs committee meeting in June Laverdière responded to an anti-Venezuela screed by saying “I share many of his concerns.” Amongst a series of outrageous claims against the leftist government, Peter Kent told the committee: “As so many dictators have done over the centuries, Chávez blamed Venezuela’s small but dynamic Jewish community for stealing the wealth of the country. His henchmen endorsed the Holocaust.”

In June 2016 Laverdière put out a press release bemoaning “the erosion of democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela”. In it Laverdière said, “the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding Venezuela, and Canada, as a member of the OAS, should support his efforts.” But, the former Uruguayan Foreign Minister’s actions as head of the OAS were highly controversial. They even prompted Almagro’s past boss, former Uruguayan president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

Amidst three months of violent right wing protests at the start of 2014, then NDP Americas critic Laverdière presented a position to the House of Commons titled “Human Rights in Venezuela” and sponsored a House of Commons resolution (slightly re-worded and reintroduced two days later by then foreign critic Paul Dewar) asking, ” the Government of Canada to urge Venezuelan authorities to proactively de-escalate the conflict, protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of Venezuelan citizens, release all those detained during the protests, immediately cease all government interference with peaceful protesters, and ensure that those people who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law.”

After the opposition once again cried foul when they lost the 2013 presidential election, Laverdière accused the Stephen Harper government of being soft on Venezuela (only elections the right wing wins are fair, in the eyes of large swaths of the opposition and Laverdière). “Canada’s silence is striking,” she told Ipolitics. “They had views on President Chávez, but now they don’t seem to actually care what’s happening in the country.”

In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a motion to next weekend’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.” It notes: “Be It Resolved that the NDP actively oppose foreign interference in Venezuela, defend Venezuela’s right to self-determination, reject alignment with U.S. policy in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond, and request the immediate removal of MP Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”

NDP members who oppose imperialism need to challenge Laverdière’s support for Washington and Ottawa’s efforts to topple Venezuela’s elected government.

I will be speaking about “What’s Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?” on the sidelines of the convention. Those opposed to Canadian sanctions on Venezuela please sign this Nosanctions.org petition.

Canada’s New Democratic Party Seeks to Topple Venezuela’s Government

Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?

The Canadian social democratic party’s foreign critic Hélène Laverdière has certainly remained silent regarding US leaders musing about a military coup or invasion of Venezuela and has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means.

At the start of the month US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust President Nicolás Maduro. “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people,” Tillerson said in a speech, which included a quip about Maduro being sent to Cuba.

I found no criticism of Tillerson’s speech by Laverdière. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat also stayed mum when Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela in the summer. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canadian sanctions on Venezuela, which followed a similar move by the US. In a move that probably violated the UN and OAS charters, in September the elected president, vice president and 38 other Venezuelan officials had their assets in Canada frozen and Canadians were barred from having financial relations with these individuals. Two months later 19 Venezuelan officials were sanctioned under the just adopted Magnitsky Act, which Laverdière and the NDP backed.

Nor did I find any criticism of Canada’s role in the so-called Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière remained silent when foreign minister Chrystia Freeland organized a meeting of the Lima Group in Toronto four months ago.

She also ignored Canada’s role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition. A specialist in social media and political transition, outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen in August: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

The NDP foreign critic also stayed mum when the federal government expelled Venezuelan diplomats’ from Canada in December.

Instead, Laverdière has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and call on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government. She publicized and spoke to the weirdly themed “Demonstration for human and democratic rights in Venezuela in solidarity with Ukraine and Syria” and called Venezuela’s vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.”

Amidst opposition protests in the summer, Laverdière told CBC, “we would like to see the [Canadian] government be more active in … calling for the release of political prisoners, the holding of elections and respecting the National Assembly.”

Laverdière’s statement ignored the death and destruction caused by opposition protesters and the opposition’s effort to hamstring the government after it won control of the National Assembly in 2015.

At a foreign affairs committee meeting in June Laverdière responded to an anti-Venezuela screed by saying “I share many of his concerns.” Amongst a series of outrageous claims against the leftist government, Peter Kent told the committee: “As so many dictators have done over the centuries, Chávez blamed Venezuela’s small but dynamic Jewish community for stealing the wealth of the country. His henchmen endorsed the Holocaust.”

In June 2016 Laverdière put out a press release bemoaning “the erosion of democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela”. In it Laverdière said, “the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding Venezuela, and Canada, as a member of the OAS, should support his efforts.” But, the former Uruguayan Foreign Minister’s actions as head of the OAS were highly controversial. They even prompted Almagro’s past boss, former Uruguayan president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

Amidst three months of violent right wing protests at the start of 2014, then NDP Americas critic Laverdière presented a position to the House of Commons titled “Human Rights in Venezuela” and sponsored a House of Commons resolution (slightly re-worded and reintroduced two days later by then foreign critic Paul Dewar) asking, ” the Government of Canada to urge Venezuelan authorities to proactively de-escalate the conflict, protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of Venezuelan citizens, release all those detained during the protests, immediately cease all government interference with peaceful protesters, and ensure that those people who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law.”

After the opposition once again cried foul when they lost the 2013 presidential election, Laverdière accused the Stephen Harper government of being soft on Venezuela (only elections the right wing wins are fair, in the eyes of large swaths of the opposition and Laverdière). “Canada’s silence is striking,” she told Ipolitics. “They had views on President Chávez, but now they don’t seem to actually care what’s happening in the country.”

In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a motion to next weekend’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.” It notes: “Be It Resolved that the NDP actively oppose foreign interference in Venezuela, defend Venezuela’s right to self-determination, reject alignment with U.S. policy in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond, and request the immediate removal of MP Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”

NDP members who oppose imperialism need to challenge Laverdière’s support for Washington and Ottawa’s efforts to topple Venezuela’s elected government.

I will be speaking about “What’s Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?” on the sidelines of the convention. Those opposed to Canadian sanctions on Venezuela please sign this Nosanctions.org petition.

Freedom for Palestine: Another New Democratic Party Resolution

At next week’s New Democratic Party convention in Ottawa Palestinian rights are set to be a major flashpoint. The NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a resolution calling on the party to:

actively campaign in support of the demand of Palestinian unions, civil society and unions across Canada and around the world which call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli state until it dismantles the apartheid wall, allows refugees to return home, ends its demolition of Palestinian homes and olive groves, lifts the siege of Gaza, ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, and terminates its apartheid practices.

A more moderate “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice” has been endorsed by two dozen riding associations. The motion mostly restates official Canadian policy, except that it calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

Already the Canadian Jewish News, Electronic Intifada, National Post, Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Toronto Star, Le Devoir, Mondoweiss, Canada Talks Israel Palestine and Rabble have published stories regarding the resolutions. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has called on the party leader to “push back against marginal elements within the party” promoting Palestinian rights while the more explicitly antidemocratic Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal has “Urged NDP to Disallow Anti-Israel Resolution at Upcoming Convention”.

Unfortunately, corporate-media-focused party operatives may heed the CIJA/Wiesenthal call. Party insiders will no doubt do everything in their power to avoid discussing the Socialist Caucus BDS resolution and will probably seek to block the Palestine Resolution from being debated publicly on the convention floor. If their backroom procedural shenanigans fail to stop the resolutions from a public airing expect a great deal of concern about associating with the international BDS movement.

For NDPers scared of BDS here is an alternative resolution that places no demands on Israel:

  1. The NDP will refrain from excluding electoral candidates who speak up for Palestinian rights.

(During the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they defended Palestinian rights on social media.)

  1. NDP MPs will refrain from participating in any Israel parliamentary group until the party is represented on a Nigerian, Algerian or Spanish parliamentary group.

(Vancouver Island MPs Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin are currently members of the Canada Israel Inter-parliamentary Group.)

  1. The NDP foreign critic will refuse requests to participate in all expense paid trips to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual

(Hélène Laverdière spoke at the 2016 AIPAC conference in Washington DC.)

  1. NDP MPs will participate in all expense paid lobbying trips to Israel at no greater rate than Paraguay, which is of similar size and distance from Ottawa.

(A 2014 calculation found that 20 NDP MPs had been to Israel with a Zionist lobby organization and 13 months ago recently elected party leader Jagmeet Singh went on an organized trip to the country.)

  1. NDP officials will abstain from attending events put on by explicitly racist organizations.

(In 2016 Hélène Laverdière participated in an event in Jerusalem organized by the openly racist Jewish National Fund while NDP MP Pat Martin spoke at a JNF event in Ottawa to “recognize and thank the people that have helped to make JNF Canada what it is today.” Owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land – which was mostly taken from Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist forces in 1947-48 – the JNF openly discriminates against the 20% of Israelis who are not Jewish. Its website notes that “a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”)

My alternative resolution makes no demands of Israel so it’s hard to link it to the BDS bogeyman. Best of all, the party has the power to immediately implement this small gesture of support for the long-suffering Palestinians.

I will be speaking about “What’s Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?” on the sidelines of the convention.