New book examines and critiques Harper’s foreign policy

The Ugly Canadian

Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy

by Yves Engler  

“While millions disagree with Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s domestic agenda, fewer Canadians are aware of his government’s destructive foreign policy.”

This is the premise from which Yves Engler begins his examination of that policy and where it is leading us. The topics covered are wide ranging and include the environment, mining in developing countries, and increasing Canadian militarism, but there seems to be a particular emphasis, probably due to recent events, on the Middle East and the Arab world, with four chapters devoted to the Arab Spring, the Libyan campaign, Israel, and Lebanon and Iran.

Few informed readers will be surprised by much of the material in the chapter on the environment and the tar sands, but it does reveal just how close the ties are between the Prime Minister and those leading the tar sands PR battle, prime examples being Ethical Oil author Ezra Levant, who gave up his party’s nomination for a Calgary riding so that Harper could run there; and Bruce Carson, a strategist in the PMO who left that job to become head of the Canada School of Energy and the Environment (essentially an industry think-tank started with $15 million in federal money) and is described as “the spider at the centre of the web” directing tar sands lobbying efforts.

New to this reviewer are revelations of how the Harper government has trained our diplomats to be apologists for the tar sands. In February 2011, it held a retreat bringing together diplomats from European offices, officials of federal departments, and representatives from Total, Shell, Statoil, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to give the diplomats “an industry perspective” and information to equip them to deal with difficult questions on this subject and fight European attempts to have tar sands oil banned.

Lobbying in the U.S. is also a high priority, and Canadian ambassadors Michael Wilson and Gary Doer were both recruited to influence California’s low carbon fuel standard legislation and to vigorously promote the Keystone XL Pipeline. As Engler puts it, “Those who thought consular officials spend their days helping hard-pressed individuals retrieve lost documents or extricate themselves from difficult circumstances may be surprised that… Canada’s diplomats are really on the front line of advocacy for dirty oil.”

Canada’s global role in mining is huge, with overseas investment by Canadian mining companies rising from $30 billion in 2002 to $230 billion in 2011. Unfortunately, much of that activity involves the displacement of indigenous communities, environmental damage, and violent confrontations with protesters. A report by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada concluded: “Canadian companies have been the most significant group involved in unfortunate incidents in the developing world.” Instead of trying to rein in the activities of these companies, the Harper government has opposed the recommendations of a roundtable on mining practices and voted against a private member’s bill on corporate accountability.

It did appoint a Corporate Social Responsibility Councillor, but she has no power to take action without the consent of the company being investigated! Particularly troubling is support by CIDA for mining projects, as it places the moral weight of the agency on the side of the company, implying an ethical stamp of approval for particular projects. Again, Canadian diplomats have been enlisted to pressure foreign governments not to enact stricter mining laws in Ecuador and to serve mining interests in Mongolia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Engler’s chapter on the Arab Spring highlights just how slow Canada was to distance itself from the Mubarak government in Egypt, support for repression in Bahrein, and for Saudi interference in the unrest there. More surprisingly, he shows that Canada and the West rejected ceasefire proposals from the Gaddafi regime in Libya without attempting to test their validity, and that Canada actually armed the rebels in contravention of international law by providing them with an unmanned aerial drone.

As Engler sees it, the two common themes of Harper’s foreign policy are growing militarism and support for corporate interests above all others. The militarism has been evident in the conduct of the war in Afghanistan and in the Libyanoperation, while the support for business is perhaps clearest in Latin America. In recent years, Canada was quick to support coups in Paraguay and Honduras that replaced duly elected governments with regimes more friendly to foreign firms.

Conservative policy towards China offers an example of a turnaround apparently motivated by business interests. Stephen Harper started out by proclaiming his concern for human rights violations in China and stating that he would not sacrifice those concerns for the sake of trade. But that is precisely what he has done by opening six trade offices in China and encouraging sales of military equipment, surveillance technology, and tar sands oil to that country.

It is not possible here to deal with all the foreign policy issues related to the Conservatives’ neoliberal agenda that Engler covers, for he has written a comprehensive treatment of the subject in clear and understandable language. He ends by suggesting that a multi-issue network or movement, perhaps with a nationwide popular education campaign along the lines of “Stop Harper’s Crimes Against Humanity,” be formed to oppose this agenda because groups working individually are not strong enough to have an impact, and he includes a list of resources for activists.

–by Frank Bayerl, CCPA Monitor, Nov. 2012



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