Bono or no, neoliberalism ain't cool

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

Bono doesn't mind letting a bit of his hipness rub off on Martin.

Somehow Paul Martin has pulled it off. He can't dance or even carry atune. He's not funny and he's certainly not a sex symbol. But the seniorcitizen Prime Minister is by most estimates between 80-90 per cent cooler todaythan he was Wednesday (and just in time for the June 28 elections).Experts are calling it the “Bono factor.”

U-2's super-mega-worldclass-hyper-hegemonic-rockstar Bono held a jointpress conference with Paul Martin Wednesday to promote Canada'scontribution to the global fight against AIDS and extreme poverty. Thepair was at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa where adoring fans wavedat their rock idol and where Paul Martin, grinning from ear to ear,clearly basking in the glory and the warmth, waved back. A nice changefrom the cold shoulder he had been getting from the public since thesponsorship scandal hit the front pages.

The media event was obviously timed to get the most electoral bang for thebuck in the wake of Martin's announcement of $70 million to the WorldHealth Organization's fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Thenew money follows on the heels of Bill C-9 which will give more leeway toThird World importers of generic AIDS drugs and $100 million for aninternational initiative for AIDS treatment.

“Am I being used?” Bono asked rhetorically. “Sure I'm being used. I wantto be used.”

Bono doesn't mind letting a bit of his hipness rub off on Martin becausepoliticians like Martin need encouragement when they take steps, howeversmall, towards fighting disease and extreme poverty in the Third World.But how well does Bono really know the record of this political groupiehe's crawled into bed with?

As finance minister in the 1990s, Martin cut Canada's foreign aid budgetto the tune of $2.8 billion. And despite a few token gestures towardsThird World debt forgiveness, he has also played a lead role ininternational institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, whereausterity measures are foisted on indebted countries and where corporateinvestment rights are given priority over human rights.

Even the Liberal government's recent move to allow generic AIDS drugs intoThird World countries — the very centrepiece of Martin's AIDS strategy —has been watered down since its introduction into the legislature by the JeanChrétien administration. Groups like Médecins Sans Frontières have pointedout that the pharmaceutical lobby in Ottawa has effectively de-fanged themuch celebrated Bill C-9 by restricting the generic drugs that areeligible, by restricting the countries that are eligible for aid, by tyingthe hands of NGOs who want to distribute AIDS drugs, and by providinglegal loopholes for pharmaceutical corporations who want to protect their“intellectual property.”

The televised duet was not recommended viewing for those with weakstomachs. Bono stroked Paul Martin's ego, calling him a politician who“keeps his promises.” Perhaps Bono was not aware of a few other promisesPaul Martin had made:

  • In 1989 he, along with all other Canadian MPs promised to eliminatechild poverty by the year 2000. After being finance minister for most ofthe following decade, Paul Martin had actually managed to increase childpoverty by almost 20 per cent. This was a direct result of his cuts to socialspending.
  • In 1997 Paul Martin promised to use 50 per cent of future surpluses forreinvestment in Canada's social programs. The following five years 98 per centwent to debt payments and tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy. Only two per cent wentto social programs.
  • In his budget speech of 1997 Paul Martin said, “Let us never come tobelieve that there is such a thing as a tolerable level of child povertyor that a growing gap between the rich and the poor is ever acceptable.”As a result of Martin's tax-cuts to the rich and cuts to social spending,during the 1990s the richest 20 per cent of Canadians grew richer while allother groups lost ground.

However you look at it, even with an endorsement from the king of rock,Paul Martin and his neoliberal ideology are not cool.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.