Is the NDP establishment scared to have party members discuss Canada's international posture?
At the party's first leadership debate last weekend there wasn't a single foreign policy question despite a host of contentious recent party positions on international affairs.
Certainly at a time when the mainstream media is giving prominence to militarist voices, many members would be keen to hear the four candidates' positions on military spending. The party's 2015 platform said an NDP government would "meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations." In addition to backing Stephen Harper's budget allocations, the NDP aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion). Defence critic Jack Harris bemoaned "Conservative delays" undermining "our navy from getting wanted equipment" and the platform said the NDP would "carry forward the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to ensure Canada has the ships we need" even if this naval build-up strengthens Canadian officials' capacity to bully weaker countries.
It would also be good to know the candidates' views on the Trudeau government repeatedly isolating Canada from world opinion regarding Palestinian rights. In November, for instance, Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN motions titled "Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan" and "persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities." One hundred and fifty-six countries voted in favour of the motions, but the NDP stayed silent on the UN votes.
During the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as the party's candidate in a Nova Scotia riding because he accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, when it killed 2,200 mostly civilians in the summer of 2014. Do leadership candidates plan to continue purging critics of Israel?
The grassroots would also be interested to know the candidates' views on Ottawa ramping up its military presence on Russia's doorstep. The NDP backed the 2014 coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe. During a 2015 election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called for stronger sanctions against Russian officials and last summer NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of ratcheting up tensions with Russia. Alongside ongoing deployments in Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops will soon be deployed to Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.
Are the candidates troubled by the protracted civil war in Libya that grew out of NATO's bombing? In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya, which was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime's human rights violations (see my The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy for details). Additionally, the NATO forces explicitly contravened the UN resolutions sanctioning a no-fly zone by dispatching troops and expanding the bombing far beyond protecting civilians, while Ottawa directly defied the two Libya-related UN resolutions by selling drones to the rebels.
It would also be good to hear the candidates speak out against diplomatic efforts to promote mining interests abroad or Ottawa signing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs) to protect mineral corporations in Africa.
But party insiders likely don't want to discuss foreign policy because there is a substantial gap between members' views on the issues and what the dominant media considers acceptable. The party's grassroots would be open to reducing the $20 billion (plus) military budget and withdrawing from NATO. A good number would also be concerned about stoking tension with Russia and a new poll confirms that NDP members -- and most Canadians -- are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society's call to boycott that country.
Fundamentally, party insiders do not want to rock the foreign policy status quo boat. The media backlash that would result from adopting progressive foreign policy positions terrifies the NDP establishment. Even debating the subjects mentioned above would drop the party's stock in the eyes of the dominant media.
But maybe that's a good thing. Maybe being perceived as outside the mainstream political consensus -- fresh ideas and promoters of open debate -- is exactly what the NDP needs.
If a leadership campaign is not a time for a rigorous foreign policy debate, when is?