Northern Lights

by Barry Weisleder


Socialists say “break with imperialist interventions

While Canadian military fattens, NDP leaders fiddle

More surprising than the federal Conservative government’s $17.1 billion spending spree on transport planes, ships, helicopters and trucks for the military is the muted response of New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton and his caucus of MPs.

On top of the $17.1 billion for equipment, the government will spend a further $6.9 billion on maintenance and support contracts, plus money for new recruits.

Steve Staples, a military analyst with the Ottawa-based Polaris Institute, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan will raise military spending within five years to $21.5 billion a year — by far the highest level of Canadian military spending since World War 2. Does anyone still believe that the military build up is about hunting al-Qaida?

The NDP leadership’s position on this profligacy seems like an enigma, wrapped in a mystery. Or is it simply a case of silent complicity?

As bourgeois budgets go, certain choices always come at a high cost to social priorities. For example, the $3.2 billion price tag for heavy-lift planes (awarded to U.S. aerospace giant Boeing, without competition) could pay for the elimination of post-secondary school tuition. Other billions could go a long way towards training more nurses and reducing waiting times for surgery in our grossly under funded public health care system. Then there are urgent needs for social housing, child care, aboriginal community services, green energy technologies…well, you get the picture.

The first recent whopping increase to the Canadian military came in Paul Martin’s Liberal budget of June 2005. Jack Layton called it an “NDP budget” because he extracted $4.6 billion in more money for housing, pollution clean-up, education and foreign aid, along with a delay in corporate tax cuts. But Layton didn’t put a dent in the Liberal boost in military spending to the tune of $12.8 billion.

So, why should we expect even a murmur from the NDP caucus now?

Because the situation is getting worse, and working people, including 100,000 members of the labour-based party, and over 2 million NDP voters, find it increasingly unacceptable.

While casualties mount in Afghanistan, and Canadian forces step up their war in support of a regime of drug dealers and war lords, NDP MPs argue in the House of Commons over how often the flag should be lowered at government buildings to honour dead soldiers.

Instead of campaigning to bring the troops home now, Jack Layton says, “This is the wrong military mission for Canada”. By trying to turn the issue into a dispute about the ability of the Canadian capitalist state to redeploy its forces to Darfur (in Sudan), or another theatre of conflict where the Empire is losing control, Layton sidesteps a principled anti-war position while fostering illusions in Ottawa’s past policy.

The Canadian state was never a “peace-keeper” — except in the morbid sense of delivering rebels to the eternal peace of an early grave. Canada is a colonial settler state built on the decimation and dispossession of aboriginal peoples, the conquest of Québécois and Acadians, and the squashing of two Métis rebellions, culminating in the hanging of their leader Louis Riel. In the 20th century the War Measures Act was employed three times, primarily to quell dissent and nationalist aspirations in Québec.

As the junior partner of U.S. imperialism, the Canadian state went to war in Korea to halt socialist transformation in Asia. It helped to launch a United Nations military force that used the 1956 Suez Crisis to punish Egypt for nationalizing the Canal, and to consolidate the expansionist Israeli colonial settler state on Palestinian land. Ottawa went with U.N. forces into Belgian Congo in 1960, where UN troops helped to isolate the new anti-colonial, democratically-elected government, leading to the capture and assassination of radical nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba by the Belgian-backed Colonel (and future dictator) Joseph Mobutu. Canada served with dishonour on the infamous International Control Commission, which covered up U.S. cease fire violations in Vietnam, and did surveillance for the US during its terror bombing of the North.

Faced with a deadlocked U.N. Security Council, Canada went with NATO, the cold war relic, to wage war in Yugoslavia in 1999 to hasten the break-up of the former workers’ state and the privatization of its economy. In 2004, Ottawa helped to arrange the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and joined the continuing brutal foreign occupation of Haiti. In the wake of the collapse of the Oslo Accord and the election of Hamas, Ottawa cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority and gives silent consent to the bombardment and invasion of Gaza by the heavily U.S.-subsidized Zionist military machine.

While the performance of the Canadian state is today more overtly aggressive, reflecting the bravado of the Harper Conservatives and a shift in Bay Street’s priorities, it is not out of step with its legacy, nor with the interests of Canadian big business.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives publication CCPA Monitor, in its June 2006 edition, reports: “Canada is the seventh largest arms producer in the world, with annual sales of its ten largest contractors in the $2.3 billion range. Most are sub-contractors to the U.S. military, making Canada directly complicit in America’s wars. A Canadian company, for example, manufactures the bullets used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.”

In the same edition of the CCPA Monitor, Richard Sanders of the Coalition Against the Arms Trade points out: “About 100 Canadian companies have been identified as sellers and exporters of parts and services for major weapons systems used by the U.S. in Iraq. The U.S. has hundreds of Canadian ‘Stryker’ vehicles in Iraq, light-armoured vehicles built in London, Ontario, by General Dynamics Canada, which also has contracts with the Pentagon to service and repair these vehicles.”

The benefits to the Canadian corporate elite do not derive exclusively from direct military production, but include the profits made by Canadian banks, mining firms and manufacturers in countries dominated by the Empire which the Canadian state helps to sustain. For example, Montréal-based Gildan Activewear, the biggest producer of T-shirts in North America, operates notorious sweat shops in low-wage Haiti under the shadow of the Canada-France-US-Brazil-led U.N. occupation. SNC Lavalin built the Canadian embassy, provided bullets for the occupying forces, and has been awarded a lucrative contract to construct an additional highway out of the capital, Port Au Prince, to better transport the Haitian elite — while the vast majority of Haitians do without potable water and electricity.

When the NDP in Parliament has addressed foreign policy, it was often Alexa McDonough, NDP International Affairs Critic, calling for more RCMP to go to Haiti, putting equal blame on Palestinians for the conflict with the garrison state that imprisons their people, and asking the Canadian military to “resume peacekeeping” in Afghanistan.

Based on reports from across the country, delegates to the 22nd Federal Convention of the NDP, September 8–10 in Québec City, will be ready with tough questions and eager for alternative policies. At NDP constituency association, affiliated union, and youth club meetings in recent weeks, rank and file members have discussed and endorsed numerous resolutions circulated by the Socialist Caucus, the organized left wing movement within the party. The resolutions include demands that the NDP actively campaign for immediate removal of Canadian soldiers, sailors and police from Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, and Haiti; call for the Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees, for an end to the occupation and the apartheid wall, for restoration of aid to the Palestinian Authority and for a boycott of Israel; for solidarity with Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia and opposition to any U.S.-backed intervention; and for fair and democratic trade, along the lines of the Bolivarian Trade Alternative (ALBA), to replace the global corporate agenda identified with the North America Free Trade Agreement.

NDP socialists argue that the illusion of a possible “independent” capitalist foreign policy for Canada, and a “peace-keeping” role that never existed, serve only as cover for imperialist rule by more liberal means. Such a policy misleads New Democrats, and misrepresents the interests of working people at home and abroad.

The alternative to all that is anti-militarism and anti-imperialism. It is an alternative is driven by a vision of a cooperative commonwealth, a socialist democracy that puts people before profits, a perspective that is animated by internationalism, ecology and human solidarity.

And that is a vision truly worth fighting for.

Childcare lacking for those who need it most

Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods have the least amount of regulated child care services in place.

According to a report released on July 5 by the City of Toronto, entitled “Learning from Each Other: Early Learning and Child Care Experiences in Canadian Cities”, there is a desperate need for more regional planning to ensure equal access to child care at a time when more than 70 per cent of mothers of young children work outside the home.

Even in Québec, where the provincial government has invested more than $1 billion into creating a universal system of low-cost child care, the neediest kids have the toughest time getting the service.

The report states, “As the Toronto and Vancouver stories show, even with a strong vision, a clear plan and a well-developed local infrastructure, inequalities will arise as long as there is insufficient funding to provide a place for all who want and need it.”

The study looks at local children’s programs including child care, kindergarten and recreation in cities across the country, using data gathered last fall from St. John’s, Halifax, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Toronto, Sudbury, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver and Whitehorse. It finds that none of the cities has enough child care for children up to age 12. In terms of access to licensed child care, just 13.6 per cent of children under 12 have it in Toronto; 25 per cent of kids do in Whitehorse; 44.7 per cent in Montréal; 16 per cent in Winnipeg; 14.9 per cent in St. John’s, Newfoundland; and only 6.7 per cent in Saskatoon.

Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government seems to have plenty of money to beef up the military. But its plans to put the ax, next Spring, to last year’s federal-provincial child care funding agreements ensures that inadequate and uneven levels of child care service will only continue and worsen.

Global warming: We are running out of time

The world is on the brink of runaway global warming, with devastating consequences, which can be avoided only if massive cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane emissions are started immediately.

One of the world’s top climate scientists, James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, was one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming. Recently he defied efforts by White House appointees to NASA to force him to delete postings on his web site (www.columbia.edu/-jeh) that contradict positions taken by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Hansen’s message is a sharp reminder that Canada has been badly lagging on reducing CO2 emissions, and has enormous ground to make up.

His central concern is the melting of polar ice caps, which is occurring far faster than predicted. To prevent a catastrophic rise in sea levels, increases in global temperatures must be no more than 1 degree Celsius.

Hansen points out that in the warmest periods during the past 400,000 years, temperatures were about 1°C warmer than now, and in a couple of cases seas were five metres higher. In addition, rapid increases in sea levels of 10 metres or more occurred many times in the past.

If today’s rate of increase were to continue, temperatures would be 2.8°C higher by the end of this century. The last time the Earth was that warm, 3 million years ago, seas rose 25 metres above previous levels.

If that were to happen now, Hansen says, “the United States would lose most East Coast cities…[and] practically the whole state of FloridaChina would have 250 million displaced persons. Bangladesh would have 120 million refugees, practically the entire nation. India would lose the land of 150 million people.”

Not just that. Because global warming is behind the increasing frequency and intensity of storms, the destruction of coastal communities by storms worse than Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is likely.

To prevent temperatures rising beyond 1°C, Hansen says global emissions of CO2 must be capped within 10 years, and then cut a further 60 to 80 per cent by 2050.

He also insists that human-caused methane emissions, like those released in oil and gas operations, should be cut immediately by 30 per cent. Since methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas, limiting its emissions would be a fast start towards meeting his targets.

The greatest fear is that global warming will rise so high that permafrost will melt and release methane. This is what caused intense global warming 58 million years ago that resulted in mass extinctions, says Hansen. Temperatures were then about 5.5°C above today’s level.

Many of Hansen’s observations are based on data from the U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory, where scientists examined ice cores drilled in East Antarctica. That data shows there is a regular swing between warm and cold periods over the past 420,000 years. So what caused the concentration of greenhouse gases to drop and the Earth to cool in the past? According to Hansen, it was primarily the Earth’s orbital variations. The planet moves from a circular to an elliptical orbit about every 92,000 years. The tilt of its axis changes by about two degrees on a 40,000-year time scale; and its closeness to the sun varies over about 23,000 years. This does not affect the total radiation received from the sun, but it does change the angle. The northern hemisphere receives less heat, and less heat means lower CO2 and methane emissions, and a lower greenhouse effect.

That means never again will there be an ice age. Unless human become extinct, human-made greenhouse gases will offset cooling from orbital variations. Humans now control global climate. Unfortunately, only a tiny minority, a rapacious ruling class of humanity controls the global economic system which is wrecking havoc with the environment, and which threatens the future of humanity on this planet.

North America and the emerging Asian economies, especially China, are responsible for the bulk of the annual 2.1 per cent increase in emissions. And the rate of emissions is rising. Therein lies the challenge of capping them by 2016 — or else.

The good news is that, according to Hansen, and according to a report by Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) and ICF Consulting International of Toronto, all the tools needed to achieve the cuts in Canada and the U.S. are available now. The report’s list ranges from upgrading homes, to improving fuel efficiency for motor vehicles, to capturing carbon dioxide and storing it.

Unfortunately, the report does not suggest conscripting corporate profits, especially those of the gas and oil giants, for investment in developing and implementing green energy technologies. This matches the abject weakness of the proposals offered by Al Gore’s popular video documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.

And with Ottawa not enforcing the Kyoto Protocol (and Washington disavowing it altogether), and given the absence of incentives to invest in projects in China and India that reduce emissions, the rapid descent to disaster continues unabated.

The old aphorism, “capitalism fouls things up”, is an outdated understatement. Today’s verdict must be: Capitalism is destroying the world. Only socialism, that is, public ownership of industry under workers’ democratic control, can possibly save it.