Bono or no, neoliberalism ain't cool

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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.

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