by Barry Weisleder / August 2006 of Socialist Action
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 that 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 II. Does anyone still believe that the military build-up is about hunting al-Qaeda?
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 underfunded 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 antiwar 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 Quebecois and Acadians, and the squashing of two Metis 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 Quebec.
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 UN forces into the 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 U.S. during its terror bombing of the North.
Faced with a deadlocked UN 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 firm,s and manufacturers in countries dominated by the Empire that the Canadian state helps to sustain. For example, Montreal-based Gildan Activewear, the biggest producer of T-shirts in North America, operates notorious sweatshops in low-wage Haiti under the shadow of the Canada-France-U.S.-Brazil-led UN 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, Sept. 8-10 in Quebec 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; 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.