Northern Lights: News & Views from SA/Canada

by Barry Weisleder/  March 2005 issue of Socialist Action


Martin: No to missiles, yes to military


On Feb. 24, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, dubbed “Mr. Dithers” by the London-based Economist magazine, finally said no to the U.S. ballistic

missile defence (BMD) plan. But Martin’s Liberal federal minority government softened the blow to the Bush administration by boosting Canada’s military spending in the new federal budget introduced two days earlier.


Moves to cut corporate taxes and devote an additional $12.8 billion to the armed forces over five years were designed also to woo the official opposition Conservative Party, and keep the Liberal minority afloat. Conservative leader Stephen Harper was quick to take credit for the right-wing measures and smugly pledged not to bring down the government.


At the same time, leaders of the labour-based New Democratic Party (NDP) and the nationalist Bloc Quebecois decried the lack of fiscal action on urgent housing and social needs, including unemployment benefits, and blasted the slow pace of new funding for child care, cities, and Kyoto Treaty-mandated environmental improvement. Each of these areas was awarded only $5 billion, spread over the next five years.


Just to make it crystal clear that the decision to opt out of missile defence is not based on any morsel of principle, Martin explained it as simply a matter of priorities: “Ballistic missile defence is not where we will concentrate our efforts.”  His priorities involve billions of dollars for more troops and new killing machines, plus hundreds of millions more for border, marine, and air security, and intelligence gathering.


The P.M. reassured his senior partners in imperialism that “Canada remains steadfast in its support of NORAD [North American Aerospace Defence Command] .... and will continue to work closely with the United States .... on security and defence matters right around the world.”


Ottawa will thus shoulder a bit more of the load for Washington in Afghanistan and Haiti, while probing to see what else the majority antiwar public will tolerate. Sending 30 Canadian officers to train Iraqi soldiers in Jordan is an example, as is Martin’s addendum that “we are also collaborating on efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons to powers such as Iran.”


While Martin bowed to antiwar sentiment, the shallowness of his gesture was highlighted by media references to the August 2004 decision that leaves Canada as part of the missile defence system’s monitoring arm and allows NORAD to share information about incoming missiles with U.S. missile command at Cheyenne Mountain, Col.


The task of the NDP, labour, and the antiwar movement is to step up efforts to stop militarization of space and put an end to wars for profit. That means demanding Canada break from NORAD and NATO, and withdraw from U.S.-backed interventions now.  Returning to Budget 2005, it got “muted cheers from business,” according to the Toronto Star. Apparently, Bay Street expected more than the $4.6 billion in corporate tax breaks it contains.


Elimination of the corporate surtax and a reduction of the general corporate tax rate by 2%, from 21% to 19%, over the next five years will cost the government $4.6

billion in forgone tax revenue. This will come at the expense of ongoing social programmes, which apart from the child-care initiative got little help, and it will

take a heavy toll on the federal public service, where the government plans to save $10.9 billion over five years by cutting 2900 jobs, contracting out services, and trimming other expenses.


Controversy continues to swirl about the new child-care programme, the first $700 million of which goes to the provinces without strings attached and could end up subsidizing an explosion of private for-profit day-care businesses. And the plan for climate change remains hazy, with no estimates of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions likely to come from the $2.3 billion to be spent on Kyoto programmes.


Liberals and NDP move up in polls


Do opinion polls explain budgets? According to a February poll by EKOS Research Associates, the federal Liberals and the NDP are up by 3%, and the Conservatives are down by 4% since the June 2004 election. That puts the Liberal Party at 40.2% and within range of forming a majority government—if it weren’t for the continuing strength of the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec. EKOS says 61% of voters favour social spending over those who prioritize tax cuts (19%) or paying down the debt (18%).


So what did we get?  A budget that tries to look big on social spending, but caters to conservatives who favour the military and tax cuts.  Why do Liberal politicians orient to the right—apart from the fact that it’s what their financial backers amongst the economic elite want? It’s because of the persisting tug of war between social reactionaries and so-called ‘fiscal moderates’ in the Conservative Party.


If Liberals can steal votes from Conservatives, and deliver the goods to big business, why court support from the smaller NDP or the BQ? The NDP at 19% has far to go to overtake the governing party, but it will get there faster by showing that it embodies a real difference and a genuine shift to the left. 


Canadian capital joins merger mania


So soon after the massive corporate mergers of the late 1990s, which helped erase an unprecedented $7 trillion (U.S.) in shareholder value, the urge to merge is back. In the past three months alone, North American CEOs have unveiled an amazing $253 billion (U.S.) worth of mergers—about double last year’s annual pace, and the most feverish merger activity since the pre-bust year of 2000.


The transactions include Procter & Gamble Co., with its $57 billion (U.S.) offer for Gillette Co.; Johnson & Johnson Inc., with its $24 billion bid for medical equipment maker Guidant Corp; SBC Communications Inc., with its $16 billion play for former parent AT&T Corp.; the marriage of Montreal beer giant Molsen Inc. and Adolph Coors Co.; and Eastman Kodak Co.’s recent offer for Creo Inc., a Burnaby, B.C.-based specialist in digital imaging.


The latest Canuck capitalist to join the fray is Gerry Schwartz, of Toronto-based Onex Corp. Onex bought three Boeing commercial aircraft plants in Kansas and Oklahoma for $1.2 billion (U.S.). In December, Onex announced a $980 million (U.S.) deal to buy American Medical Response and EmCare Inc. from Laidlaw International Inc.


Corporate mergers preach ‘efficiency’ but mostly just kill jobs and jack up consumer prices. Merger mania is a sign of the crisis of overproduction, a congenital capitalist disease. It’s one very good reason to replace the anarchic global private enterprise system with one based on democratic ownership and economic planning to meet human needs.

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