Liberals’ massive increase in defence spending is a budgetary coup

The arrogance of power could scarcely be more dramatically demonstrated than by the tag team of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announcing that Canada was going to cave in to Donald Trump’s demand that we spend two per cent of GDP on defence. We will be increasing military spending by 70 per cent over 10 years — an obscenity when so many social needs go unmet. Not only does this make a mockery of Trudeau’s election pledge to return to Canada’s historic peacekeeping role but surrenders to the absurd one-size-fits-all NATO imperative. Nothing has changed internationally to justify such an increase. There are no existential threats to Canada on any horizon. As Trudeau said in March, Canada more than pulls its weight in NATO: we are the sixth-highest spender in NATO and 16th in the world.

Giving Freeland the opening role on the announcement raises the question of her disproportional position in changing Canada’s defence posture. Her contradiction-filled foreign policy speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday suggested that Canada is going to somehow fill the vacuum left by an allegedly isolationist Trump regime. In her statement Freeland declared: “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.” Really? Just how do we do that by caving in to Trump’s demand that all NATO members pony up? In fact, the increase in spending — $14 billion over 10 years; $62 billion over 20 — represents a clear loss of sovereignty, abandoning our right to make decisions in our national interest in order to please a rogue U.S. president.

Exactly what kind of global leadership does Freeland think we are now missing? Given that she spoke almost exclusively about defence spending, presumably she thinks that a less military-interventionist Trump requires more intervention from Canada. But intervention where, exactly? Our last enthusiastic intervention — celebrated by our last prime minister — was in Libya. That “humanitarian” project resulted not only in a failed state but also in the creation and arming of ISIS, the flood of desperate refugees to Europe and, indirectly, the terror attacks Freeland rightly describes as “monstrous.”

U.S. “leadership” is known by another name in scores of countries around the globe: U.S. imperialism. In the last decade that term has gained widespread acceptance by the U.S. political elite where it used to be righteously denied. Does Freeland believe that the illegal war on Iraq is an example of U.S. leadership? Would she, unlike Jean Chrétien, have joined in? What about the slaughter in Yemen? Going back a bit further, would Freeland see the literally dozens of U.S. interventions to overthrow democratic governments and install dictators the epitome of U.S. leadership?

The notion that anything Trump says can be taken as rock solid American foreign or defence policy is laughable. The man is willfully ignorant of anything outside his New York penthouse and incapable of formulating, let alone implementing, a coherent policy. While he Twitter-rants, real decisions are made by others. The U.S. has not announced the closing of any of its 800 military installations around the world. Trump is going to go along with the military’s request for thousands of more troops for Afghanistan. And what kind of isolationist president increases military spending — already at $600 billion — by $54 billion?

The increase in military spending announced Wednesday will turn the Defence Department into an unabashed War Department, with Harjit Sajjan playing second fiddle to the militant Freeland. Just what existential threats does Canada face? The terrorist threat is handled by our intelligence agencies and police. Russia and the U.S. are the only two countries in close proximity and whether we have 65 jet fighters (Stephen Harper’s plan) or 88 (Freeland’s plan) will make absolutely not one iota of difference. With respect to the Arctic, where there are conflicting interests, it is obvious to all parties that negotiation is the only possible strategy.

But, of course, it’s not about defence. It’s about war. If we look at the planned spending it seems clear that we are gearing up for more Western adventurism, using NATO to prop up a failing finance capitalism by military threats. Freeland stated: “Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes requires the backing of hard power.” She has a duty to explain exactly what that means in the areas she listed as the focus of hard power: North Korea, the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Baltic states. Freeland’s stated goal of “peace and stability” will not benefit in any way from an additional $14 billion in war materiel.

It’s hard to say which is the most outrageous aspect of this budgetary coup by the foreign affairs and defence bureaucracies. The transparent rationalization for the spending is simply shocking. Equally disturbing is the complete lack of a mandate for such an increase: it was never mentioned in the election and erases the Liberal election commitment to peacekeeping, it doubles down on Harper’s aggressive foreign policy, and was done without consultation with Canadians.

There will be blowback to this military build-up. Young people played a major role in electing Sunny Ways Trudeau. They might want to ask how it is Mr. Trudeau can find billions more for war fighting but nothing for reducing the crushing weight of tuition fees. They have the political clout and passion to put him on notice that this is a dealbreaker. Let’s hope they use it.

Jagmeet Singh and Niki Ashton: A choice of flash versus vision for the NDP

As the mainstream pundits are putting it, the NDP leadership race just got more interesting with the declaration that Jagmeet Singh, an Ontario NDP MPP, is in the race. He has real charisma and would break the white-only leadership barrier for the first time.

There seems at first glance to be little in the way of major policy differences between the four candidates who preceded Singh in the race. While all are smart, able politicians with a solid understanding of the issues, there seems to be scant recognition of the need for the NDP to distance itself from the Layton-Mulcair period wherein the party decided to go for power and made the inevitable rush to the centre to do so.

The Liberals won that race and now have an almost unshakable grip on the centre. The overarching purpose of the NDP is perhaps the most important issue of all and it’s not being debated. Will the new leader follow in the footsteps of Mulcair and his political whiz kids and go for the ring or will they decide to reinvent the party as a principled, unabashedly left-wing party eager to actually challenge corporate power?

The two candidates who stand in greatest contrast on this all-important issue are Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and newcomer Jagmeet Singh. Singh is eagerly poised to fill the role as the man who can take down Justin Trudeau (literally it turns out, claiming his mixed martial arts would be too much for Justin) and become prime minister. He oozes self-confidence but gets close to being a bit too attracted to himself. He doesn’t quite refer to himself in the third person, but he gets close, as in this Toronto Star interview: “If people see that I’m dynamic and exciting and approachable, that’s a good thing.”

But while charisma is an important aspect of leadership it has to be matched by policy depth and transparency. Singh is famous in Ontario for his expensive, perfectly tailored suits and his brightly coloured turbans. But he is a provincial politician with no experience in federal government issues. He has been given an easy ride by the Toronto Star (no friend of the NDP) and has even been featured in the Washington Post.

But his flash fell short when he was interviewed by CTV’s Evan Solomon. After saying “Glad to be here, man,” Singh looked very uncomfortable when Solomon pressed him three times on his position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. He dodged it three times, falling back each time on a nearly identical rehearsed answer: “We are going to come out with a comprehensive plan…” He similarly dodged a question on whether he would support retaliatory action against the U.S. for its softwood lumber tariff. When Solomon pressed him on what kind of leader he was going to be, he fell flat, suggesting that he was not ready for prime-time questioning.

Singh’s discomfort with these questions (and one on immigration levels) reveals a politician who is a bit of a blank slate. In fact, there is a certain irony in his eagerness to take on Justin Trudeau — another politician who, when he went for the Liberal Party leadership, seemed to have few ideas of his own. The other candidates have been immersed in these issues and their positions seem rooted in personal conviction.

When you haven’t developed a clear vision of the party you want to lead, you end up relying on others, which is exactly what Trudeau did — and it’s largely why he has broken the specific promises he has. They were never his in the first place. It begs the question with Mr. Singh: who is he going to rely on for his vision of the party and the country?

One of the people he is relying on is none other than Brad Lavigne, Jack Layton’s and Tom Mulcair’s strategic genius — you remember, the guy who thought it was cool to work for Hill and Knowlton, the people who brought you the first Gulf war. While Lavigne is only a volunteer and there are other people advising Singh, there is little doubt that Lavigne will be hard-selling the “we can win” Kool-Aid again.

Niki Ashton is about as different from Jagmeet Singh as you can get — about the only thing they share is that they are both young. Where Singh has given no sign of how (or if) he would rebuild the post-Mulcair party, Ashton has been clear that she wants to transform the party into a movement. Whereas Singh attributes the loss of the 2015 election to the fact that Mulcair didn’t “connect emotionally,” Ashton’s take is more substantive:

“In the 2015 election, we allowed the Liberals to out-left us. In the last little while we have lost our sense of being a movement. …We need to reconnect with activists and community leaders who share our same values …We need to build the NDP as a movement for social, environmental, and economic justice.”

While we have to wait for Singh’s answers to fundamental questions, Ashton’s answers seem instinctive but rooted in policy depth. She has served as NDP critic for Aboriginal Affairs, Status of Women and Post-Secondary Education and Youth. As the NDP’s critic on Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development she led a countrywide, 11-city tour engaging young people on the issue of precarious work faced by millennials.

Perhaps the strongest symbol of Ashton’s boldness is her stance regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. After posting support for Palestinian independence she was, of course, subjected to the knee-jerk bullying from B’nai Brith which “demanded” an apology –which it never got. Under both Mulcair (a proud Zionist) and Layton, the party was terrified of the issue. As I detailed in this column a few months ago, Canadians’ views on the conflict are clearly in line with Ashton’s.

Jagmeet Singh might well be the ideal candidate to continue the party’s centrist quest for power. He has charisma, he’s a social media star, young people love him, and breaking the white-only barrier is a very attractive proposition and would be a huge step forward in Canadian politics. If the party wants to try for a quick comeback in 2019 they could certainly do worse.

But if the party wants to rebuild, return to its social democratic roots and show the boldness that will be required to seriously challenge climate change, inequality, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and peace in the Middle East they will need to take the long view and build a movement. That’s Niki Ashton’s pledge though she would have to take on the party establishment to do it.

We’ll just have to wait to see what NDP members decide they want their party to be.

 

As B.C. election approaches, Greens get cozy with Liberals

Is the Green Party in a tacit alliance with the Liberal Party of Christy Clark in B.C.’s election? A lot of people in B.C. think so and here in Powell River the suspicions have been confirmed by the bizarre hosting of a meet-and-greet with Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver by the Chamber of Commerce three days before the vote. The president of the Chamber is none other than Jack Barr, the fundraising chair for the Liberal candidate, Mathew Wilson (though he claims he only found out about it after the fact). The Chamber has not hosted any other leader during the election.

At first glance these two parties make strange bedfellows. The Liberals have an absolutely appalling environmental record and happily take millions of dollars from mining companies, oil giants and the LNG industry.

Progressives are desperate to end the 16-year nightmare of Liberal corruption and rule for the rich. But the Greens are desperate for more seats and steadfastly deny that a vote for Greens could help re-elect the Liberals. The Liberals are an echo chamber on the vote-splitting issue with Wilson’s father, former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson, on Facebook dismissing the vote-splitting claim as spurious: “To suggest that voting for a candidate running for the Greens will elect anyone other than that candidate is offensive.”

The Liberal-Green Alliance was wonderfully illustrated in a recent Vancouver Sun group photo of the three party leaders: Christy Clark has a preternaturally large grin on her face while she shakes Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver’s hand. NDP Leader John Horgan is left out of the love-fest.

If this seems odd to those outside B.C. it isn’t at all strange here — sleazy, yes, but par for the course for Weaver’s Green Party. The Greens are so desperate to get beyond the one seat they have they’re happy to make backroom deals with the devil. And the devil will make deals with anyone to stay in power. It reminds me of the federal election when an equally desperate Elizabeth May used phony opinion polls to suggest that the race was between the Greens and the NDP on Vancouver Island. It seems the Greens, both federally and provincially, have a chronic integrity problem.

Though there is no smoking gun — no actual accord signed between the two parties — the anecdotal evidence keeps piling up: Andrew Weaver promoting a totally misleading Liberal Party attack on the NDP platform costs; Scott Hamilton, the Liberal candidate for Delta North, signing (illegally) the nomination papers for Jacquie Miller, his Green Party opponent; Christy Clark’s press secretary retweeting a prominent Green supporter discussing the Greens’ growing popularity; Andrew Weaver promoting a Liberal accusation of sexism against the NDP leader on Twitter (then quickly removing it); a major Liberal donor and owner of the Kingsgate Mall in Vancouver allowing the Green Party to erect a huge sign on its mall property; Andrew Weaver attacking the NDP’s Horgan far more than Christy Clark in the TV debate.

While this may look like a case of “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” it is actually much worse. There are also clear hints that the Greens are just as likely to support the Liberals as they are to support the NDP if neither party gets a majority.

The Green Party’s campaign chair, Adam Olsen, reinforced suspicions when he was asked about the possibility of vote-splitting re-electing the Liberals. He told the Vancouver Sun: “I’m not concerned about Christy Clark getting back in.” Given the opportunity to backtrack on Olsen’s statement by The Tyee columnist Bill Tieleman, the party declined. But this political stance is hardly news for those who actually follow the Green Party’s record and its leader’s statements — rather than just assume that the Green brand means progressive and green. Tieleman also asked why Weaver failed to support a sewage treatment plant for Victoria which dumps raw sewage into the ocean and why he similarly refused support for a massive public transit plan sought by the Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council. The answer is simple enough: Weaver is unashamedly pro-business and an advocate of “small government.”

Weaver himself has repeatedly left the door open to allowing the Liberals a fifth term. He supported two Liberal Party budgets. He supported the Liberals’ run-of-the-river hydro privatization that will keep hydro rates sky-high for the next two decades. He supported the idea of an oil refinery at Kitimat to refine tar sands bitumen — when most environmentalists are saying we have to keep most of it in the ground.

And just this week he came as close as possible to endorsing Clark when asked in a Global News interview which leader he would be “most comfortable” working with. Weaver would not answer but repeatedly referred to Horgan’s temper and how he would have to control it if Weaver was to work with him. And then he praised Clark: “[Y]ou can have a respectful disagreement in a one-on-one conversation and it’s not personal.”

All of this is highly reminiscent of the last provincial election when the Greens and Liberals played the same game. The most shameless example of this was a full-page ad for the Greens in the Victoria Times-Colonistpaid for by the Liberals. This divide-and-conquer strategy has been used in the Legislature ever since the last election, with Clark repeatedly giving kudos to Weaver — and Weaver gleefully accepting them.

The Weaver Greens are also reminiscent of the former leader of the federal Green Party, Jim Harris. In 2005 I wrote a feature article for The Walrus on the Greens under Harris entitled “Green Party Blues.” It revealed a party with policies and a lack of internal democracy more reflective of the Conservatives than any other party. Of course Harris had been in the Conservative Party so it was not at all embarrassing to him. He was confident, as is Weaver, that the Green brand would fool enough people to elect a bunch of MPs. He was wrong. Elizabeth May was confident, too. She was wrong, too.

It seems that people’s good instincts can still kick in, in the nick of time — as they grip the pencil to mark their ballot.

 

What is the antidote to Trumpism?

Like biting on a sore tooth it seems like we cannot curb our fascination with U.S. President Donald Trump (just writing those words seem surreal). The man-child president never disappoints in his buffoonish behaviour and exquisite inarticulateness — as in a recent AP interview.

But we monitor Trump not just because it still seems impossible that such a fool actually is president but also because he is the most dangerous president in U.S. history. He could kill us all.

We tend to forget how he got there and the forces that overturned conventional politics in the U.S. If we are going to be obsessed with anything it should be this: how do we create a new politics that in the long term builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace the hollowed-out institutions we now have in English-speaking developed countries? To do so we first need to understand the roots of Trump’s popularity.

We could do worse than revisit the writings of the brilliant Hannah Arendt, still perhaps the most insightful analyst of the roots of totalitarianism. A recent essay by Roger Berkowitz, “Why Arendt Matters: Revisiting The Origins of Totalitarianism,” reminded me of her renewed relevance. Berkowitz writes:

“Arendt’s understanding of the origins of totalitarianism begins with her insight that mass movements are founded upon ‘atomized, isolated individuals.’ The lonely people whom Arendt sees as the adherents of movements are not necessarily the poor or the lower classes. They are the ‘neutral, politically indifferent people…'”

They join, says Arendt, because they “[a]re obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects.” This description fits almost perfectly with the white working class facing, as my last column featured, “death by despair.”

Berkowitz argues that Trump won because he was not leading a conventional political campaign — he was the leader of a mass movement and “[m]ovements thrive on the destruction of reality [and] work to create alternate realities that offer adherents a stable and empowering place in the world.”

If Arendt and Berkowitz are correct then the left needs to determine how to counter the enervating influence of an increasingly dismal reality on ordinary citizens. So far, at least, Canada’s political culture has proved resilient in resisting right-wing populism in spite of social and economic conditions that are not dissimilar to those in the U.S.

But such a populist response is not impossible. Preston Manning harnessed alienation with “eastern elites” in building his Reform party. And the left in Canada still has not come to terms with the key message of Arendt’s analysis: that the isolation of people from each other —  “atomized, isolated individuals” — is the political right’s principal advantage and the left’s greatest blind spot.

In this context it is interesting to watch the NDP leadership race to test for signs that the candidates understand what they are up against in rebuilding the party. Two of them, Niki Ashton and Peter Julian, have spoken of the importance of social movements in creating a newly robust progressive party. That’s encouraging because under both Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair the party became increasingly professionalized. (Layton didn’t start out that way but that’s where he ended up.)

The difficulty with this recognition of social movements is that it comes too late. The sad reality is that there are almost no social movements in Canada. While the global Women’s March, the recent March for Science in the U.S., The Leap Manifesto and the Quebec students’ strike were all significant and provided much-needed inspiration they are not sustained movement organizations. The women’s movement in this sense has been moribund for over a decade, the anti-poverty movement likewise. There is literally no peace movement — recall the days when every year 60,000 people marched for peace in Vancouver — yet we are closer to nuclear annihilation today than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. The labour movement has never recovered from the loss of hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs because of NAFTA and is now all but irrelevant as a national, politically engaged movement. Only the environmental movement and a resurgent First Nations movement can claim a national presence.

The height of the influence of social movements on the political culture was the 1970s and ’80s. The Action Canada Network which fought the first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) consisted of all the major unions, the churches, the aforementioned movements and provincial coalitions in every province save one. The Saskatchewan coalition was founded by 50 organizations and played a major role in defeating the Grant Devine Conservative government.

There are no longer any social justice coalitions because their components simply no longer exist or are barely hanging on. A short history lesson may help to explain why. The roots of all of those organizations can be traced back to the late 1960s before the neoliberal counter-revolution. The silo model of movements (each focused on a single issue) reflected the fact that governments of the day actually believed in governing. The Trudeau government (and, later, most provincial governments) funded dozens of grassroots organizations. I once interviewed Gérard Pelletier, the minister in charge of this funding, and believed him when he said the government was responding to left criticism that many voices were not being heard, that our democracy was shallow.

The advent of the FTA and the other elements of the so-called Washington Consensus (deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to social spending, privatization) was the death knell for this kind of grassroots politicking. Neoliberalism — adopted by all the parties to a greater or lesser extent — was intent on giving democracy (and its incessant demands for more) a cold shower and dramatically downsizing the social state. The federal and provincial governments quietly tore up the implied “contract” between social movements and the state. They just didn’t tell the social movements.

Simone Weil wrote that “[t]o be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” The lesson here for the NDP leadership candidates genuinely open to “social movements” is the need to shift their attention inwards: a renewed NDP must itself become a movement rooted in community (like its predecessor, the CCF), going beyond a list of policies and pledging to help build a society which offers people meaning in their lives.

 

Trudeau runs risk keeping flawed politician as foreign affairs minister

The irrational has begun to dominate our politics as if the American virus has stealthily moved north to infect our national narratives. It reflects itself in various ways but it seems that wars — old wars, current wars and future wars — have gripped the minds of our political elite and their courtiers in the media. Most problematic is Chrystia Freeland whose well-documented hostility towards Russia raises questions about her suitability for the foreign affairs post. She got off almost scot-free for blatantly lying about her Nazi grandfather. Justin Trudeau lost his reason regarding the U.S. missile attack on Syria and we were subjected to an extra-heavy dose of non-sense about Vimy Ridge with Trudeau opining that “this was Canada at its best.”

Really? That was our best? This grotesque war that sent millions of innocent young men — from all combatant countries — to their meaningless deaths is what defined us as a nation? We should obviously mourn the deaths of all those young people forced to sacrifice their lives for nothing.

But Canada at its best? How about when we finally gave women the vote? Or when we established universal medicare? When we decriminalized abortion? Ended the death penalty? When we refused to get sucked into the Iraq war? When Canada invented UN peacekeeping? Or when we took in Syrian refugees?

As for the mendacious Ms. Freeland, why on earth is she still in one of the most important cabinet posts in the Trudeau government? She got a pass on her grandfather’s record with the help of media group-think along the lines of “we can’t blame her for her Nazi grandfather.” But no one ever did. Critics blamed her for knowing her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator for two decades and saying nothing, and for never denouncing him (she still hasn’t). Critics also blamed her for lying about him — actually portraying him in her autobiography as almost a freedom fighter: “My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939. They never dared to go back…”

Well, yes, he did leave Ukraine. Freeland’s grandfather Mykhailo Chomiak spent the entire war in occupied Poland editing the Nazi-run newspaper Krakivski Visti (News of Krakow) under the orders of the Nazis’ German Governor-General Hans Frank, the man who organized the Holocaust in Poland. Chomiak and his family moved into an apartment seized from a Jewish family and ran the newspaper from editorial offices of a former Polish-language Jewish newspaper, Nowy Dziennik, whose editor ended up being murdered at the Belzec concentration camp along with 600,000 other Jews.

Critics also blame Freeland for repeatedly refusing to answer direct questions about her grandfather. Her office gave the Hillary Clinton defence: “People should be questioning where this information comes from, and the motivations behind it.” Freeland herself tried to deflect them with references to Russian disinformation: “American officials have publicly said … there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada.” What disinformation would that be? Not, apparently, the crude attempts at whitewashing her grandfather’s role in Poland.

That whitewashing includes efforts to downplay just how pro-Nazi the newspaper was. Yet Krakivski Visti was a vicious propaganda tool fomenting as much hatred of Jews as it could. The writer Juilan Tarnovych wrote a series, “Out of Satan’s Claws,” in which he referred to Jews as “Yid mobs,” “bastards,” “rotten scum,” “bacillus,” “that riffraff — that nest of crawling kikes,” and “a pile of crawling worms.” Chomiak himself wrote editorials claiming Poland was “infected by the Jews.”

Articles from Chomiak’s newspaper can be found in Holocaust museums around the world, such as the one in Los Angeles, California.

Instead of saying (last year), “I am proud to honour [his] memory today,” how difficult would it be to distance herself from her grandfather’s role?

Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that Freeland is, like her father and grandfather, a devoted Ukrainian nationalist with a deep-seated hostility towards Russia. Even when she was a journalist with the Financial Times she did not hide her fierce Ukrainian nationalism — encouraging the Euromaidan rebellion that became a violent coup against Russian-friendly Viktor Yanukovich. Freeland’s take? “Their victory will be a victory for us all; their defeat will weaken democracy far from the Euromaidan. We are all Ukrainians now. Let’s do what we can … to support them.”

The democracy that resulted from the coup was not quite as advertised. Freeland’s Nazi ghosts came to life in the new government which was chock-a-block with outright Nazis. The new government had five cabinet members from the Svoboda Party — proud descendants of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) who fought against the Red Army alongside the Nazis. In 1941 the OUN sent a message to Lvov’s Jews in the form of a pamphlet which said: “We will lay your heads at Hitler’s feet.” The OUN and the SS arrested and executed 4,000 of the city’s Jews.

It is rare to see a modern politician so blinded by personal hostility. To place Chrystia Freeland in the position of foreign minister is nothing short of reckless. If her bias was against Luxembourg it would hardly matter. But the world is now closer to a nuclear holocaust than at any time since the Reagan administration. The relationship between the West and Russia is now the most important geopolitical issue on the planet.

How can we trust someone who has shown hostility towards Russia to the extent that Freeland has to lead Canada in navigating these treacherous foreign policy waters? Does her blindness prevent her from imagining the potential for nuclear war? Is she capable of accepting that Russia has legitimate interests? Are we risking a Freeland blunder in a situation that requires nuance?

Regarding Russia the question arises of whether or not the tail is wagging the dog in the Trudeau government. Trudeau pledged in the last election to rebuild relations with Russia. Now Canada is demanding that “Assad must go” (via Freeland) — pure posturing especially given there is no evidence yet of who used gas against Syrian civilians. Then Trudeau added to the embarrassment by demanding Russia abandon Assad, something everyone knows is not going to happen. But it will add to Putin’s paranoia that the West is out to get him.

Someone should ask Trudeau just who he is trying to please by keeping this flawed politician in such a powerful post.

 

Working Canadians face ‘death by despair’ as labour insecurity grows

A recent report out of the U.S. raises questions about politicians’ obsession — in Canada and the U.S. — with the state of the middle class and highlights why Donald Trump won the U.S. election. It is a sobering picture and scathing indictment of neoliberalism — particularly so-called free trade. While the authors don’t say so explicitly, the conclusion is inescapable: NAFTA kills.

The report, by economists Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton (winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics), talks about “deaths of despair” and reveals that:

“An epidemic of overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related illness is causing a surge in deaths among white Americans with a high-school education or less that now makes them more likely to die early than those who are black or Hispanic…”

The report reinforces many other studies documenting the devastating impact of nearly three decades of deindustrialization (read: NAFTA) and automation on Americans with high-school education or less. According to Dr. Case: “This doesn’t seem to be just about income. This is about accumulating despair for these people.” The numbers are hard to credit: “In 1999 white men and women aged 50-54 with a high school education had a mortality rate 30 per cent lower than Black Americans. In 2015 it was 30 per cent higher.” (There was no indication that the situation for Black and Hispanic Americans actually improved.) The numbers are similar for all age groups from 25-64.

The gravity of the changes are unique to the U.S. where deindustrialization has been most dramatic and where slack labour standards, low unionization rates, a tattered social safety net and expensive health insurance make less educated workers extremely vulnerable. According to the two researchers, Canada along with Britain, the U.K., Australia and Germany are still seeing declining death rates.

They don’t say why. But if you look at many of the conditions faced by working Canadians, it is easy to conclude that we are headed in the same direction, just more slowly. Maybe we have time to prevent “death by despair” in Canada but someone had better begin speaking up for those most vulnerable. Both the Liberals and NDP federally (and provincially) have been wringing their hands about the “shrinking middle class” — failing to notice that when the middle class shrinks, its ranks drop down the economic scale to join the precariate.

As I listed last November, Canada now boasts:

“[t]he largest income gap between rich and poor since the late 1920s; incomes that have been stagnant since the early 1980s; the second-highest proportion of low-wage jobs in the OECD (after the U.S.); the highest personal debt-to-income ratio in Canadian history … the continued loss of tens of thousands of the best industrial jobs; [and] welfare rates that deliberately punish the poor…”

We also have an EI system accessible to less than a third of workers who pay into it.

The effects are devastating. While we do not have death by despair, we have an epidemic of anxiety and depression — grinding economic insecurity, widespread abuse of workers’ rights because governments refuse to enforce labour standards, the virtual collapse of the kind of family life that was the norm 40 years ago and levels of job dissatisfaction not seen at any other time in the postwar period.

The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, authored by professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario, reports on the (ever-worsening) work-life imbalance of thousands of individual workers:

“Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week — 50 per cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years…. More than half of the survey’s respondents took work home with them, putting in an average of seven extra hours a week from home. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991.”

There is nothing to suggest that things have gotten anything but worse in the intervening five years. Just this week a report on bankruptcy out of Ontario reveals that the demographics of indebtedness are changing — “[s]hifting to seniors with fixed incomes, single parents and millennials burdened with student-loan debt. Forced to cover debt with more debt just to pay for basic expenses, low-income earners are using payday loans and filing for insolvency at historic rates.”Twenty-five percent of filers — and 38 per cent of those under 30 — rely on payday loans with astronomical interest rates.

If the recent Liberal budget is any indication, the state has no intention of easing the burden on young people, ensuring that the precariate will continue to grow. An analysis of the budget by Generation Squeeze, an NGO advocating for younger generations, points out that the budget earmarked $23,000 per person aged 65 and over, and $5,500 per Canadian under the age of 45. While that may be a somewhat crude comparison, any talk about fixing inequality without providing universal child care, low or free tuition, and a reversal of the “labour flexibility” measures introduced almost 25 years ago by Paul Martin is insulting.

Governments listen to those with the loudest voice and for three decades that has been Bay Street. There was a time when organized labour spoke loudly, too. It was responsible for successfully fighting for EI, social assistance, public pensions, fair taxes, workers’ compensation and workers’ rights through enforced labour standards.

One of those standards was the 40-hour week. Maybe the union movement should come out of its long slumber with a new slogan: “Bring back the 40-hour week.” Anyone? Anyone?

EKOS poll: Canada should support Israeli sanctions, not demonize them

 

Foreign policy is one of those areas of democratic governance that doesn’t often get on the public’s radar. But when it does it provides citizens with a kind of unsullied opportunity to apply their values. That is, unsullied by considerations of self-interest, we get to ask: what is the right thing to do?

Governments, of course, aren’t quite as free to make such decisions given that they have so-called “national interests” to consider. But Canadians should be able to expect from their federal government that its foreign policy conforms closely to their values.

When it comes to Canada’s policy towards Israel the Trudeau government, aping its predecessor, is several country miles from reflecting Canadian values. That is the irrefutable conclusion of an EKOS poll whose partial results were released February 16. A second batch of survey results released yesterday (all survey results can be found here) focussed on the issue of whether or not Canadians think it is appropriate to use sanctions and/or boycotts to pressure Israel to obey international law.

The results demolish conventional wisdom on this question. Respondents were asked — in the context of the UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank: “[d]o you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?” Overall, 66 per cent expressing an opinion answered “yes.” But that number is heavily skewed by Conservative supporters, 70 per cent of whom reject sanctions on Israel.  Openness to sanctions on Israel by supporters of other federal political parties ranged from 75 per cent for Liberals to 94 per cent for Bloc Quebecois supporters. Eighty-four per cent of NDP supporters believed sanctions on Israel would be reasonable.

Levels of acceptance for the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel was even higher with fully 78 per cent of those with an opinion stating they believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.” Again, Conservative supporters expressed radically different views from respondents supporting other parties: 51 per cent rejected a boycott. Supporters of other parties who were receptive to the Palestinian call for a boycott ranged from 88 per cent for Liberal supporters to 94 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois.

Flashback to February 2016, when Parliament adopted a Conservative motion (by a vote of 229-51) condemning Canadian individuals and organizations who promote the Palestinian call for a boycott.  That shameful assault on freedom of expression was supported by the Trudeau government. Only the NDP and Bloc opposed it.

When asked if they supported the passing of this resolution a majority of respondents expressing an opinion — 53 per cent — said “no” while half that that number, 26 per cent, said “yes.” Only 20  per cent of Liberal supporters supported the resolution while 55 per cent disagreed with it.

Most Canadians still have little idea of just how sycophantic the Trudeau Liberals are when it comes to support the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly when it comes to UN votes on Palestinian rights and Israel’s violations of international law.

The Trudeau government has cemented Canada’s reputation as an embarrassing outlier when it comes to UN votes on Israel. Since October, 2015 when it came to power, the Liberal government has voted against United Nations resolutions that were critical of Israel on over 25 occasions. In fact, it has never voted in favour of a UN resolution that is critical of Israel. Which illustrious democracies does Canada find itself allied with in these votes? Besides Israel and the U.S., its loyal benefactor, our fellow travellers are normally Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. Most of these resolutions pass by a vote of 156 or 158 to six or eight (with our EU allies voting for or abstaining).

Some of the resolutions Canada actively opposed should shock Canadians. The Trudeau government opposed a UN resolution that reaffirmed “[t]he importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT].” Another resolution, supporting “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” was opposed by the Liberals as was a resolution that almost precisely reiterates the government’s official policy — that “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” are an obstacle to peace.

Last December the UN Security Council voted unanimously (with the U.S. abstaining) to declare that Israeli settlements on territory intended for a Palestinian state were a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of … peace” between Israel and Palestine. Canada remained absolutely silent as it was (effectively) when Israel passed its “land grab” law which retroactively legalizes settler homes on private Palestinian land.

What could possibly justify Trudeau’s immoral and frankly irrational stance when it comes to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians? In determining its policy towards Israel the Trudeau government has three apparent motivations at play: defending Israel’s right to exist, tending to Canada’s specific national interests and reflecting Canadian values.

None of these shine any real light on Canada’s continued blanket support for the Netanyahu government. It is being increasingly argued by Israel’s friends that the trajectory of that country today is in fact the biggest threat to Israel’s existence: a one-party state that can be Jewish or democratic, but not both. Canada on its own has no compelling “national interests” in the Middle East — except as a yes man for the U.S. empire.

And lastly, Trudeau’s inexplicable stance is overwhelmingly at odds with Canadian values. Not only do large majorities see Israel in a negative light, they reject by 91 per cent the notion that criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic as implied in the Commons resolution. Flying in the face of Trudeau’s cowardly denunciation of BDS supporters are 75 per cent of his own party supporters who are open to sanctions and 88 per cent who say the same of boycotts.

Justin Trudeau has a lot of explaining to do.