Northern Lights for December 2006

by Barry Weisleder

The December 2006 edition of Northern Lights, a regular column from Canada by Barry Weisleder, appears in the San Francisco–based monthly newspaper Socialist Action. Here it is accompanied by three additional news items (by other writers reporting on the Canadian Peace Alliance, the NDP in Québec, and Freedom for the Cuba Five). To subscribe to the newspaper, get the details at the SA web site.

Canada: Never a Peacekeeper

Some myths die hard. But the notion that the Canadian state was ever a peace keeping, neutral force in world affairs is taking a proper beating lately, and not just because of the ugly Canuck interventions in Afghanistan and Haiti.

Ironically, the political pummelling comes at the hands of pro-establishment historians and journalists who argue that today’s ramped up Canadian military aggression abroad is consistent with tradition.

Military enthusiast and conservative historian Jack Granatstein, quoted in The Toronto Star on November 5, wants to set the record straight: “Because [Lester] Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize, every Canadian came to believe that all we did was peace keep. ‘We don’t fight wars. The Americans fight wars. We keep the peace. We’re the world’s pre-eminent middlemen.’ Well, of course, this was nonsense.”

He drives the point home: “We were in both the First World War and the Second world War. We fought in Korea. We belonged to NATO from 1949, and we’re really one of the three founding nations that created the alliance. We’ve participated in virtually every conflict of the 20th century that the West has been involved in. We don’t do just peacekeeping.”

Of course for Granatstein, the “we” is the state, and a state drenched in blood in the cause of corporate profits and counter-revolution is an object of veneration. For him a state like Canada’s, built on the crushed aspirations of aboriginal, Québécois, Acadian and Métis peoples, to say nothing of workers and their organizations, is an admirable vessel indeed.

An illuminating account of one of the origins of the peacekeeper myth is provided by Antony Anderson, a Toronto film-maker currently producing a documentary with the Dominion Institute about Lester Pearson’s role in the Suez Crisis. According to Anderson, author of the overarching piece in the same edition, Canada was no honest broker and Pearson was no boy scout.

In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, signalling a challenge to British domination of the region and taking a step to fund the construction of the Aswan Dam hydro-electric project. To curb Nasser’s radical nationalism, Britain and France decided to take punitive military action. The new Israeli colonial settler state, eager to build up credit with the great powers, agreed to act as an aggressor and invade Egypt. This gave British Prime Minister Anthony Eden a pretext to land U.K.-French troops as “peacekeepers,” separate the Israeli and Egyptian armies, and thereby retake the canal.

But U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower opposed Britain’s military build-up as a destabilizing over-reaction, and asked Eden to back down. The Suez Crisis was arguably the worst break in U.S.-U.K. relations in the 20th century.

As revealed by a CBC interview recorded 14 years later (but never aired), Pearson’s concern was not about war in Palestine; it was about the rift between London and Washington. Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Arnold Heeney, saw this “as a very serious blow to the Western alliance and to the cohesion of the free (i.e. capitalist — BW) world.”

Anderson describes Lester Pearson, not as some kind of pacifist, but as “a ruthless pragmatist” who acted single-mindedly “to save the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.” For Pearson and his government, it was not a matter of morality or international law. It was the lack of U.S. backing for the U.K.-led invasion. As Pearson told the CBC in the unaired interview, “to make their invasion work, the British would have to take over more than just the canal zone. They would have to march into Cairo and, in effect, occupy all of Egypt” — with all the explosive political implications that would have had for the entire Arab and Muslim world.

(Does this seem like an anticipation of something like the Bush regime’s current debacle in Iraq?)

Pearson’s first stab at saving British imperialism from itself was his suggestion that the U.N. simply declare the British and French armies to be U.N. troops, that is, to turn the invaders into protectors. He got approval from the Liberal cabinet of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, but Washington totally rejected the idea.

Then Pearson turned his mind to creating a more credible U.N. ‘peacekeeping’ force. He had no illusions about what he was doing -- he was designing an exit route for the invaders under U.N. cover. With considerable tenacity and ingenuity he persuaded a majority of the U.N. Assembly to accept his proposal.

Ultimately, Britain called off the war because Washington used economic blackmail, threatening to destroy the British currency. It was fear of financial ruin, not global opprobrium, that forced London to back down. Then the official ‘peacekeepers’ could move into action. And in the process they secured imperialist interests — in terms of access to the Suez Canal and the consolidation of the Zionist state.

At home, a Gallup poll showed that opinion was divided between those who saw Pearson as “a hero for salvaging peace from war, and those who regarded him as “a traitor to the Mother Country.” A Calgary Herald editorial summed up his actions as “a face saver for the Soviet puppet dictator in Egypt…a rank disservice in the cause of peace.”

But in October 1957, when Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, all the fury over his diplomacy seemed to dissipate. The business and political elite closed ranks around him — no doubt in appreciation for the historic services he rendered them.

For decades it would suit their purposes to foster the illusion that the Canadian state is a neutral force for peace in the world. It didn’t hurt for Ottawa to look like a peacekeeper on stage, while acting like a powder monkey behind the scenes. But as conditions changed, as Washington increasingly demonstrated its incapacity to go it alone as the major world cop for big business, Ottawa’s gloves had to come off in favour of playing a more overt role as a junior imperialist power.

Still, whether playing covertly or overtly, isn’t the game the same? Consider some of the other winners of the Peace Prize: Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin, Fredrik De Klerk, and Theodore Roosevelt. Arguably, war criminals all, serving the masters of the world.

Then reflect on this. Which class generates the ideology that spins “peacekeeping” into “peace making,” and re-casts “self-determination” into “the duty to protect, in order to offer some justification for today’s wars of imperialist occupation?

The fact that the rulers have to beat around the bush to conceal their crimes demonstrates the power of popular vigilance and mass anti-war action. Our task is to keep de-bunking the myths, and demand: Canada out of Afghanistan and Haiti now!

Another Myth: Canada and Ballistic Missile Defence

Another die-hard myth is Canada’s alleged non-involvement in Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).

In 2005, then Prime Minister Paul Martin said “no” to Star Wars 2 — right?

Well, saying and doing can be two very different things.

In fact, billions of Canadian tax dollars have been spent in support of domestic war industries, government scientists and military personnel deeply embedded in United States, NORAD and NATO-led BMD efforts.

While BMD weapons cannot shield the US or North America, they can protect limited areas, like battlefields. “Top priority” Theatre BMD will defend warships, warplanes and weapons so troops in the field can ‘safely’ wage aggressive, foreign wars.

Canadian governmental and corporate involvement with BMD includes:

         Canadian Space Agency (CSA) — The CSA funds Canadian industries involved in militarizing space, including BMD efforts. Its crowning achievement was sponsoring the $600 million RADARSAT-2, set to launch this December. This space-based radar developed by Canadian scientists, together with the US Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, enables targeting in pre-emptive, first-strike attacks against alleged missile sites.

         Industry Canada (IC) — This federal department has delivered $5 billion dollars to Canadian war industries, including some involved in BMD. International Trade Minister David Emerson speaks glowingly of BMD’s corporate benefits. He ought to know. In 2000, he was a director of MacDonald Dettwiler & Assoc. (MDA), then owned by major BMD rocket maker American Orbital Sciences. When Canada’s billion-dollar RADARSAT programme was privatized to MDA, its data was sold to Pentagon and CIA buyers by another Orbital subsidiary run by retired US military men who had spent decades promoting BMD weapons.

         Department of National Defence (DND) — A jointly-funded DND-Dutch programme created an infrared, weapons sensor called SIRIUS aboard Canadian warships to ensure deeper integration into the US Navy’s AEGIS system, the backbone of America’s sea-based BMD weapons.

         Canada Pension Plan (CPP) — The CPP compels working people to invest billions in some of the world’s top weapons producers, including “The Big Four” BMD contractors: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

Say it ain’t so, Liberals, Tories…hello?

(Credit to Richard Sanders of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade for the above data. For more information, click here)

Terror laws intrusive, governments untrustworthy

According to a study by researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canadians don’t trust governments to protect the information that is being gathered as a result of post-9/11 increased surveillance.

The survey of nearly 9,000 people in eight countries about everything from workplace privacy and in-store cameras, to national identity cards and racial profiling at airports, is the work of the Surveillance Project, a group of sociology and business experts at Queen’s looking at privacy and the global flow of information. Governments believe people are worried about so-called “security” measures — and for once they’re right.

Amongst the survey’s 1,001 Canadian respondents, almost half find steps touted as “national security” measures to be intrusive. Even more Americans took this position.

In Canada, 47 per cent of respondents disagreed with the idea of requiring every citizen to carry a national identity card. In the United States, 42 per cent felt that way.

A majority, about 60 per cent of Canadians, reject outright the idea that visible minorities should be subjected to extra security screening at airports. The results were comparable among those surveyed in China, Hungary and Brazil. But only about one third of Americans find the notion unacceptable.

At least a third of respondents in all countries objected to governments collecting and sharing a traveler’s personal information, unless the traveler is “suspected of wrongdoing.

Less than a third of Canadians expressed confidence in governments keeping confidential any details about themselves, including work, criminal and travel history. Most people surveyed in other countries agreed — except the French and Chinese, of whom 60 and 67 per cent respectively expressed confidence in their governments’ handling of information gathered about them.

Kyoto Heat Roasts Ottawa

Canada took plenty of heat at the United Nations’ climate conference in Nairobi, Kenya in mid-November — and deservedly so for its abysmal record in combatting global warming.

In addition to capturing a “fossil of the day” award, Canada placed 51st out of 56 countries that were assessed for their performance and policies on climate change. Sweden, Britain and Denmark won top ranking, while Canada is among the bottom 10. Only Kazakhstan, the United States, China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia were ranked lower.

The calculation was based on emission levels, emission trends and climate policies. About one quarter of the energy consumed in Sweden in 2003 came from renewable sources — more than four times as much as the European Union average of 6 per cent.

The US and Australia are the only major industrialized countries to reject the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which calls for mandated cuts in greenhouse gases.

Canada, as a signatory to the treaty, promised to reduce emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008–2012. However, the Conservative government has said the country cannot meet Kyoto targets for pollution reduction, which amounts to a virtual abandonment of the treaty. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have opted to focus on smog reduction instead of climate change. Their “Clean Air Act” sets a goal of cutting emissions by 45 to 65 per cent from 2003 levels — by the year 2050.

Ridiculed by the opposition parties as the “Hot Air Act,” the bill is doomed, unless virtually re-written, which the NDP has pledged to attempt to do in a parliamentary committee. Clearly, mass action is needed to drive meaningful changes forward.

Meanwhile, a 700-page report by Nicolas Stern, a former chief World Bank economist, has set off alarm bells. “The Economics of Climate Change” argues that if no action is taken in the battle against global warming, rising sea levels, heavier floods and more intense droughts could leave 200 million people displaced by 2050, and will eventually cost the world 5 to 20 per cent of global gross domestic product each year.

It would make the Great Depression of the 1930s seem like a picnic — and the fundamental cause of the disaster would be much the same.

Canada Lags in Patient Care

Canada is far behind other developed countries, except the United States, in an international study of effective primary health care for patients released in November by the Commonwealth Fund.

The poll of more than 6,000 doctors in seven countries ranked Canada low on aspects of patient care, including wait times for tests, use of electronic medical records, doctor availability after hours, multi-discipline teams to treat chronic illness and financial incentives for improving quality of care. In these areas, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia were far ahead.

For instance, only 47 per cent of Canadian doctors have arrangements for after hours care so people can avoid going to an emergency room, compared with 95 per cent in the Netherlands. Only the U.S. is lower than Canada at 40 per cent.

In Canada 51 per cent report patients face long waits for diagnostic tests, while 6 per cent do so in Australia. Thirty-two per cent of Canadian doctors routinely work with multi-disciplinary teams and non-physicians to treat chronic illnesses versus 81 per cent in Britain. Twenty-three per cent use electronic medical records; 98 per cent do so in the Netherlands.

Community College Students Join Ranks of Debt Slaves

Canada’s community colleges are supposed to be the most affordable wing of the post-secondary education edifice, but their students are racking up such alarming debts that it may scare off the very folks governments claim they want to attract to the colleges.

This year, 44 per cent of community college students have borrowed more than $10,000 for their education — up from 32 per cent just three years ago.

And the percentage of students with debts of more than $15,000 has surged to 29 per cent from just 17 per cent three years ago, says a report on student debt by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

This degree of financial burden may deter the very students who already enroll in college in lower numbers — aboriginal youth, the disabled, and students whose parents did not go on past high school, says Tyler Charlebois, director of advocacy for Ontario’s College Student Alliance.

Why has debt gone up so much when Ontario just had a two-year tuition freeze? Because tuition accounts for only 21 per cent of the cost of going to college or university. The ever rising cost of rent, books, mandatory student fees and transportation account for much for the rest.

And while college programmes do cost less than university — $1,920 a year on average for college in Ontario, compared to roughly $4,900 a year for university — many college programmes cost more. Sheridan College’s computer animation programme requires $11,950 a year for tuition alone.

More grants and bursaries are the band-aid solutions suggested by liberals and education bureaucrats. Socialists demand student stipends and tuition abolition, linked to taxing big corporations and the rich to make higher education accessible to all.

Québec NDP Convention Hears a “Leftist” Layton

by Robbie Mahood

When Jack Layton addressed the Convention of the Federal NDP-Québec section on November 12 his remarks on Afghanistan were better than I expected. He called for the withdrawal of Canadian troops, not differentiating between Kandahar and the rest of the country, nor between combat and other roles. He spoke of the suffering of the Afghan people under bombardment, not just the loss of Canadian soldiers.

I was able to button hole him afterwards in the corridor long enough to find out that by withdrawal he meant the 2700 troops in Kandahar, but he was prepared to make an exception for 50 soldiers in Kabul whose presence he claimed had been requested by Canadian aid agencies to provide security for their personnel. He did not specify a timetable for withdrawal in his speech, but favoured immediate or a.s.a.p. for the 2700 in his remarks to me. There was nothing in the speech about an ongoing (non-military) Canadian role in reconstruction, development and humanitarian aid (presumably under continued NATO occupation), nor in terms of “peace-building” in collaboration with “our NATO allies,” the Karzai government, and other unnamed parties, as was specified in the NDP leaflet distributed at the October 28th anti-war mobilizations.

The rest of the speech dealt mostly with environmental issues which have been front row center for the NDP as it tries to shake down the Tories on this hot topic. The goal for the next election is “an NDP-led government.” NDP Québec deputy, Pierre Ducasse, had earlier made explicit reference to NDP participation in a coalition government.

The convention of the Québec section of the federal party was otherwise noteworthy for the defeat of a proposal to re-establish a provincial NDP — which would have pitted it against the new leftist party, Québec Solidaire, in the provincial arena. Socialist Caucus delegates opposed this initiative, as did the party brass (for different reasons). A resolution against the new federal Young Offenders Act was also passed rather handily without mentioning Layton's previous tilt toward the law and order Tories on this issue. We tried but failed to get approval to introduce an emergency resolution holding Layton to the party policy of immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan adopted at the September federal NDP convention.

Much ballyhoo surrounded the adoption of the Sherbrooke Declaration, a position paper on Québec and federalism which is touted as paving the way for an electoral breakthrough for the federal party in Québec.

(It recycles the idea of “asymmetrical federalism” in which Québec would be able to opt out of federal government programmes and receive financial compensation, thus enhancing Québec’s control of such spending. And in a partial reversal of NDP support for the federal Clarity Act, the Declaration states that the NDP would respect a future referendum vote for Québec sovereignty if it attains a simple majority on a question approved by the Québec National Assembly. At the same time, it acknowledges that the federal Parliament could take its own course on such an outcome. — BW)

There were officially 134 delegates to this convention, the largest in a long time. There were only about 60 at most sessions, but that is still a substantial improvement over past conventions. The NDP is running a Steelworkers Union rep in the Repentigny by-election, which is a Bloc Québécois stronghold.

In my view, Layton succeeded in refurbishing the NDP’s antiwar credentials amongst the assembled delegates for whom ending our combat mission sounds plausibly like the only significant goal. He was silent on other violations of Afghani sovereignty and it would have been difficult to tackle the question of a non-military or at least non-combatant intervention for Canada in Afghanistan in the context of continued US-NATO occupation and control. The NDP ranks are still susceptible to appeals to the mythic Canadian peace-maker role and to missionary impulses as promoted by Ottawa with the able assistance of the business media.

CPA Sets March 17 Antiwar Actions, Calls for Palestinian Right of Return

by John Riddell

Forty-three delegates and about 50 observers at the Canadian Peace Alliance’s November 10–12 congress in Ottawa set March 17, 2007, as the date of a pan-Canadian action against the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Delegates also adopted a far-reaching resolution on Palestine calling for Israel’s prosecution for war crimes against civilians, dismantlement of Israel’s “security” wall, withdrawal of West Bank settlements, and an end to other discriminatory measures against Palestinians. Delegates agreed to support UN resolutions 194 and 242, which call for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. After a lively and cordial discussion, delegates voted 21 to 16 to include in the resolution explicit support of the Palestinians’ right of return.

Member organizations were urged to attend the fifth Cairo conference against U.S. aggression, to be held March 25–27, 2007.

Among other convention decisions:

         Canada should withdraw all police and military personnel from Haiti and convene a parliamentary inquiry into this country’s involvement in the 2004 coup against Haiti’s democratic government.

         The B.C. government should halt uranium exploration and mining in the province.

         The CPA opposes and will mobilize against any attack or sanctions against Iran.

         The CPA supports full equality and self-determination for Aboriginal nations in Canada, including a speedy and just resolution of land claims.

         Delegates decided not to modify the CPA’s 2004 resolution on Darfur, which supports humanitarian aid but opposes military intervention in Sudan.

A set of proposed amendments to the CPA’s bylaws was referred to the incoming steering committee for consideration, circulation to member organizations for comments, and decision. Delegates decided not to alter the bylaw excluding political parties from membership in the CPA, while reaffirming that individuals from all political organizations are welcome in the Alliance.

Perhaps the most memorable of the three outstanding panel sessions heard moving and compelling presentations by Canadian war resister Francisco Juarez; Andria Hill-Lehr, mother of a Canadian soldier; Chris Teske, a U.S. war resister who arrived in Canada after two deployments to Afghanistan; and his wife Stephanie, an outspoken opponent of this war. The presentations are being posted to YouTube and are well worth watching.

Caucus discussions were held on a wide variety of topics, including student/counter-recruitment, labour, faith communities, and independent media. The Haiti caucus was in fact a broadly representative national gathering of the Canada Haiti Action Network.

The convention also included anti-war choral music by Ottawa’s Just Voices and a peace concert featuring Faith in 11 and Mohammed Ali. Delegates took a break Saturday at 1 p.m. to participate in “Close Guantanamo North,” a protest against detentions and secret trials at Ottawa’s Human Rights Monument.

The incoming steering committee, with 19 members, includes James Clark (Toronto), Jessica Squires (Ottawa), Doug Nesbett (Ottawa), and Elizabeth O’Connor (Midland) from the Ontario region. Michelle Robidoux and Ali Mallah of Toronto are also members. The new CPA co-chairs are Collette Lemieux and Christine Jones.

“Free the 5” Campaigners Meet in Holguin, Cuba

by Judy Koch

I joined a small contingent of a Canadians in the north-east coastal city of Holguin, for a two day conference, November 10–12, devoted to the fight for freedom for the Cuba Five. About 200 people came from all over the world to discuss the situation of the five Cuban patriots who have committed no crime, but are still being held in five distantly remote U.S. prisons.

The five men, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labano, René González, and Antonio Guerrerro are in prison in the US because they infiltrated right wing Cuban groups in Miami to discover the terrorist acts being plotting against Cuba. They reported the terror plots to the Cuban government and the FBI. When they went to the FBI in 1998 they were arrested for being unregistered agents of a foreign government, and were given heavy sentences ranging from fifteen years to double life. Members of their families have also been punished since they have infrequently been allowed by the US government to visit them. The hatred of the US ruling class towards Cuba is all too clear in this case.

The Holguin gathering was the second annual symposium held to coordinate the campaign to free the Cuba 5. One of the highlights was a presentation by Ricardo Alarcón, the President of the Cuban National Assembly of People's Power. Members of the prisoners’ families spoke to the conference, as did leaders of international organizations demanding freedom for the Cuba 5.

International actions to fight for their release were also planned. The conference stressed trying to find ways to break the wall of silence that the big business media around the world has imposed on these men and the campaign to free them. The role of film and other media to get the word out was also explored. The Cuban hosts committed to hold annual conferences until these anti-terrorist heroes are free and back in Cuba.