New Catholic Times Review of The Ugly Canadian

The Ugly Canadian
Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy

By Yves Engler  

On October 16, 2012 Quebec Premier Pauline Marois addressing the
Institut Français des Relations Internationales in Paris spoke fondly
of the “openness, mediation and multilateralism” of past Canadian
governments, which were noted for their enthusiastic multilateralism
and support of the UN.

“The present foreign policy of Canada does not correspond to our
values or our interests,” Marois said, citing differences between
Quebec and Canada on climate change. She may have added on several
other fronts as well.

It is on these fronts that the brilliant Canadian researcher Yves
Engler hangs his well documented tale, the Ugly Canadian It is all
here, chapter and verse, impeccably researched how a once respected
country, ours, has become an ugly outlier on the international stage,
an embarrassment to the vast majority of Canadians who cherished our
reputation as honest brokers concerned about justice and human rights.

This all came home to me when a friend who has worked for decades as a
Canadian diplomat opined that wherever he goes today on assignment
the question arises, “Whatever happened to Canada?”

Into the light

Yves Engler’s book sheds a welcome light on the Harper governments
international policies. Most Canadians are unaware of how far we have
sunk. The Harperites have been extremely clever in their stealthy
boulversement of our much respected presence on the global stage. The
author sums up this noxious trend in a phrase “militaristic and
corporate oriented foreign policy.”

Engler begins with our “sabotage of international environmental
efforts” in his chapter on Tar Sands Diplomacy. It is difficult to
stomach.The Prime Minister once famously stated that ” the Kyoto
accord a “socialist scheme” designed to suck money out of rich
countries. While he has softened his rhetoric in time, the government
still discharges more greenhouse gases than any other nation. It has
been at the forefront at reversing any progress in the direst problem
to ever face the human community.Engler points out that we were the
first country to abandon the Kyoto Protocol. The new “rogue elephant”
and its spokesman PM Harper has consistently muzzled government
scientists and acted as a shill for the oil industry.

The Oil Man

As a Calgary MP Harper has deep ties to “Dallas North”.His own father
was an Imperial Oil executive and he continues to defend ” one of the
filthiest sources of fuel in the world. The author graphically
summarizes the “environmentally destructive processes” of bitumen
extraction detailed by writers Andrew Nikiforuk, Tony Clarke and Wayne
Marsden in their readable books: “It takes two to three times more
energy to extract a barrel of tar sands oil than a conventional barrel
of crude.” This chapter outlining the “mammoth ecological toll” makes
for sobering reading. It remains to be seen if the US will buy oil
with such a huge carbon footprint. The Harper government sends its
lobbyists everywhere beating the drum for this “made in Canada”
product. The saddest drum beater of all is former NDP premier and now
ambassador to USA, Gary Doer.

“Mining the World” is maybe the most sobering wake-up call of all.
Most of us are unaware of the ugly Canadians active around the world
in mining industries.They are busy as bees ‘razing mountain tops,
poisoning rivers and ignoring indigenous rights” around the
world.This is no mom and pop business either. It is a $210 billion
industry. We are a mining powerhouse.The Tory government, true to
form, has lobbied extensively to quash more stringent rules regarding
environmental standards and human rights protection. No surprise here
given the virtual “voluntary standards, run by the industry itself”
Canadians have seen in the meat packing scandal in Alberta. Ontarians
well remember Walkerton and the negligence around safety standards in
the trucking industry under the Harris government. John Baird, Tony
Clement and Jim Flaherty are now active doing the bidding of
corporations on the national stage. Regarding our shameless lobbying
on the mining front Engler refers to Massachusetts professor Anthony
Bebbington’s appearance before a standing committee on Foreign
Affairs. The latter quoted one Latin American environmental minister
“I don’t know if Canada has been quite so discredited in its history.”

The Arab Spring

Chapter The Arab Spring details the slavish following of american
foreign policy when confronted with the eruption of democratic
impulses in Northern Africa. Despite the boiler plate and disengenuous
PR fodder of” being for and supporting democracy” Engler shows just
how craven our “new” foreign policy is.It supported Egyptian dictator
Mubarak right to the end, the reason being its slavish support of
Israel.Mubarak for decades had done Israel’s bidding while enriching
himself and his cronies. similarly there was no protest against
Marshall Law in Bahrain, the home of the US Fifth Fleet. Similar
silence on the repressive policies of oil rich and US pal Saudi
Arabia. All in all we have been Charlie McCarthy, the pliant radio
dummy on Edgar Bergen’s American knee.

On this point of supporting ugly regimes Engler adds a brief chapter
on the Harper government’s silence on Israel’s continuous support of
the apartheid state, Israel.Readers would be well advised to read
Engler’s earlier book Canada and israel: Building Apartheid. It is
nothing short of a tour de force of extremely valuable research on the
topic.

The author continues with chapters on Libya, Lebanon and Iran and an
excellent precis on our reinvention as a pathetic warrior nation.It’s
all here- those pricey F-16’s which has embarrassed the government,
the truly shocking defence budget 2.3 times that of the peak of the
Cold War, the $23 billion 2012 DND budget at a time of fiscal
restraint, those awful TV ads which kept screaming FIGHT, the deep- sixing of our peacekeeping tradition, the weakening of arms control
measures, the constant promotion of ourselves as “a warrior nation”.
the lying about extending our mission in Afghanistan, the toleration
of torture by prisoners turned over to the Afghan army, certainly a
betrayal of our long tradition of fomenting human rights.

Democracies betrayed

Engler has written previously on our betrayal of democracy in
Haiti.Here he ads eye-opening revelations about our support of coups
in Paraguay and Honduras, two countries which caught the Latin
American fever of democracy building and improving the living
conditions of their poorest citizens.Hence the Tory disgust as well
with Hugo Chavez and his popularity in Venezuela.Imagine organizing a
country’s economy around the vast majority of its citizens!

This is a brilliant little book outlining Canada’s radical shift to
the right, our privileging of neoliberal reforms which harm the global
poor and their environments, our “pro corporate/pro empire” politics
which has betrayed our longstanding reputation as an “honest broker”
which reflexively respected f human rights and development.

Why has this happened?

The author concludes “to please the most reactionary, short sighte
sectorsof the party’s base-the ideological right, evangelical
Christians, right wing Zionists ,Islamophobes, the Cold Warriors ,
the military-industrial complex as well as mining and oil executives.”

This is also an important book.The research is thorough,its conclusion
inescapably sad. The author invites us at the end to do something
about it. He simply says: “Please join a group working on these
issues. The world needs your help.”

–reviewed by Ted Schmidt, Oct. 30, 2012

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