Northern Lights


The April 2008 edition of Northern Lights, a regular column from Canada by Barry Weisleder, appears in the San Francisco-based monthly newspaper Socialist Action. To subscribe to the newspaper, please visit the SA web site: www.socialistaction.org.

Have You Registered for A World In Revolt?

Celia Hart will be there. Esteban Volkov will be there. So will Khaled Mouammar, Bryan Palmer, Gerry Foley, Mirna Quero de Pena, Ian Angus, Jeff Mackler, Christine Gauvreau, Ismael Contreras, Andy Pollack, Marty Goodman, Bill Onasch, Sarah O’Sullivan, Jason McGahan, Rebecca Doran, Mazen Masri, Robbie Mahood and this writer.

Please see the ad in Socialist Action newspaper to check out the topics these speakers will address at “Prospects for Socialism in the 21st Century — A World In Revolt,” a fabulous international political education conference taking place in Toronto, Canada, May 22–25, 2008. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to pre-register for the four-day gathering at the early-bird rate of only $30 (a massive saving on the regular $6 x 9 sessions).

Send your check or money order now to: SA, 526 Roxton Road, Toronto, Ontario M6G 3R4. For more information, e-mail: barryaw@rogers.com or call: (416) 535-8779.

Thousands Protest Extended, Over-Budget Afghan “Mission”

Despite best efforts by the Conservative government to keep it under wraps, news that the Canadian military intervention in Afghanistan is more than $1 billion over budget leaked out just before Parliament voted to approve a two year extension of the “mission.”

Documents obtained under Access to Information, as reported in Montréal’s La Presse, indicate the war and occupation have cost at least $7.5 billion since 2001, double what was budgeted. They say it cost $538 million more than expected over the first six months of this fiscal year and is expected to be $539 million over for the last half. (Just $300 million of that over-run would repair Toronto’s crumbling stock of public housing units in which over 200,000 people exist in unhealthy, deplorable conditions.)

But MP s from the Conservative government and the Liberal official opposition shrugged off any fiscal embarrassment and voted, after a farcically brief “debate” on March 13, to keep Canadian forces in Afghanistan to December 2011. The Bloc Québécois and the labour-based New Democratic Party opposed the motion.

As NDP defence critic Dawn Black put it, MPs were basically asked to send a “blank cheque to the military.” Now, to cope with a shortage of personnel, the military is considering extending soldiers’ deployment in Kandahar from the current six-month rotations to up to a year.

On March 15, thousands took to the streets in over 20 cities across Canada to protest the war and the vote to extend it. The marches and rallies, timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, were organized by the Canadian Peace Alliance and Echec à la Guerre, with the backing of the Canadian Labour Congress, the NDP, and a multitude of community, religious and environmental organizations.

The Toronto Coalition to Stop the War stated that 3,000 demonstrated in that city. Many carried banners and placards that read “Bring the Troops Home” and “End it, Don’t Extend it.” Close to 1,000 demonstrated in Montréal. Hundreds trudged through slush and falling snow in Ottawa. Several dozen people turned out in Halifax, and over 400 rallied in Vancouver. In Calgary, what began as an anti-seal hunt protest quickly transformed into a rally demanding troops out of Afghanistan.

The post-demo rally in a Toronto church revealed both strengths and weaknesses in today’s anti-war movement. Speeches and poetry performed by pro-Palestinian and anti-imperialist campaigners were quite inspiring and advanced, but the overall political content was tempered by Ontario Federation of Labour, CLC and NDP speakers who stressed the need to replace NATO with UN forces in Afghanistan. In other words, the foreign occupation would continue under a blue UN flag, beholden to a U.S. veto.

Clearly, there is much more educational work to be done, especially in the unions and the labour-based NDP — without which anti-imperialism will not gain a broader audience, much less a broader base in the population. That work will continue on many levels and in many places, including in the lead up to, and at CLC and federal NDP conventions in the coming months.

Federal By-Elections: a Warning to NDP

The win of neo-liberal, turn-coat Bob Rae in Toronto Centre constituency was not the saddest news for the labour-based New Democratic Party on March 17. It was the fact that the pro-business Green Party did as well or better than the NDP in three of the four ridings where by-elections were held.

“They [the Greens] didn’t steal votes from us. They took votes from the Liberals and Conservatives,” an NDP spokesperson insisted.

But that didn’t seem to be the case in Toronto Centre, which is sandwiched between constituencies held by the NDP — Leader Jack Layton’s Toronto Danforth, and his wife MP Olivia Chow’s Trinity-Spadina. In Toronto Centre, the Green Party climbed from 5 per cent of the vote in 2006 to 13 per cent in 2008. The Liberals got 52 per cent in 2006 and 60 per cent in 2008. By contrast, the NDP vote plummeted a full 10 per cent from 23 per cent support in the riding in 2006. The Conservatives dropped 6 percentage points.

In Willowdale riding the NDP dropped 11 per cent, to fall one point behind the Green Party which received 5 per cent of the votes. The NDP lost ground in Vancouver Quadra, where its vote share declined by 2 points and put it in a virtual tie with the Greens which gained 8 points. Only in the Saskatchewan riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, where Conservative Rob Clarke won, did the NDP vote rise — by 2 per cent — from 2006, and stay well ahead of the Greens.

While the turnout in by-elections is less than half that in general elections, it seems clear that voters looking for an alternative to the major big business parties, the Tories and Liberals, are looking increasingly to a small party that masquerades as ‘environmentalist’ and which seeks to saddle working people with more regressive taxes. So we continue to argue: to survive the NDP must advance anti-capitalist solutions to problems of the economy and the environment. In short, the NDP must turn left to avoid creeping irrelevance and eclipse by the Greens.

Harper’s Tories More Blatantly Pro-Zionist

When the UN Human Rights Council voted in March to condemn Israel for a recent armed invasion of the Gaza Strip that claimed more than 120 lives, many of them civilian, and accused Israel of war crimes, the lone dissenter was Canada. The vote was 33 to 1, with13 countries abstaining. (Israel and the U.S. are not members of the UNHRC.)

That vote was not a radical departure from the past position of Canadian governments, which backed the creation of the Zionist state in 1947 at the expense of the Palestinian people. But it does denote a more blatant backing of Zionist apartheid.

Since 1997, Israel and Canada have had a free-trade agreement, and two-way commerce has more than doubled since then.

The Stephen Harper Conservative regime was the first government in the world to cut off aid to Palestine after Hamas won the Palestinian election in January 2006.

In January 2008 Canada announced it was pulling out of a UN anti-racism conference slated for next year in Durban, South Africa, due to fear the gathering will express opposition to Israeli apartheid, as occurred at a similar meeting there in 2001.

Even Washington, Israel’s main financial supporter and supplier, is more critical of Israel than Ottawa. During a visit to Jerusalem in January, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke out against continuing Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem on land it annexed in 1967 and now occupies illegally, as far as most of the world is concerned. But, only days later in the same city, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Maxine Bernier declined to express specific opposition to Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem.

While Canada keeps a diplomatic office in Ramallah, the West Bank capital, and contributed a paltry $39 million in aid to Palestine in 2006-07, Harper excused the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in August 2006, and backs the military encirclement and starvation of Gaza’s population to the present day.

While not a political rupture, these moves do constitute a deepening of Canadian imperialist hostility towards Palestinians and oppressed peoples everywhere, and clearly call for a renewed effort of challenge and resistance across Canada.

Ontario Owes $78 Million to Pay Equity

Canada’s richest province is shortchanging female workers to the tune of $78 million, leaving its government open to another Charter of Rights challenge on pay equity, says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

A CCPA study says that the Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty is ignoring its own pay equity law by failing to pay the adjustments owed to working women, and that could prompt legal action which forced a previous government to pay up.

In a message so-called “post-feminists” need to hear, lawyer Mary Cornish and author of the study stated, “Women still earn 29 per cent less than men.”

The Liberals have racked up a budget surplus on the backs of female child-care and community health workers. By 2011, she said the Liberals will owe $467 million in pay equity adjustments if they don’t correct the situation now.