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What should we lament? Canada's foreign policy, international trade or 'corporate shill' status

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On Wednesday November 27, John Baird officially redefined Canada to the world as a corporate shill.

Prime Minister Harper told Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade after the 2011 election that he wanted Canadian foreign policy to focus on foreign trade. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s new Global Markets Action Plan is the result of that order. But it isn’t all that new -- it’s been developing ever since Bev Oda scrawled "NOT" on CIDA’s funding approval letter to KAIROS.

Actually it’s been developing a lot longer than that.

In 1965, George Grant published Lament for a Nation. In his eulogy for a sovereign Canada, he argues the Liberals got and held power by merging their political policies with the ambitions of corporate North America: "Liberalism is the perfect ideology for capitalism…even the finest talk about internationalism opens markets for the powerful."

For Professor Grant, John Diefenbaker was the last Canadian nationalist. Yes, he cancelled the Avro Arrow, a fighter jet ahead of its time. It was too expensive to build, largely because the U.S. refused to buy any. But when the U.S. pushed the Bomarc missile on him, he refused to arm them with nuclear warheads. 

It was a move mocked by the Liberals under "Mike" Pearson and booed by Bay Street. In the "Defence Election" of 1963, Dief was out and Mike was in. The Americans were happy and President Kennedy promptly sent over nuclear warheads for the Bomarcs.

Mr. Pearson was an internationalist, and not just at the UN. What was good for GM was good for America-- and Canada too, once Mike signed the Auto Pact. A few years later Pierre Trudeau yoked external affairs with international trade.

Brian Mulroney knew which way the corporate winds were blowing in the 1980s and promoted a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. Guess who won the "Free Trade Election" of 1988?

The Liberals never again made the mistake of opposing international trade. In fact, Jean Chretien embraced it and expanded it and renamed the Department that led it, Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He began signing free trade agreements with anyone with a pulse.

Mr. Harper has gone several better than Mr Chretien. Since first elected in 2006, his government has entered into negotiations for over 50 Free Trade Agreements and Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (FIPAs).

For someone who hates the Liberal brand as much as Stephen Harper does, it’s intriguing to watch him follow, with such gusto, the old Liberal agenda.

Our new trade partners include Mali, Tanzania, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and a whole lot of others. At this point in time, with our manufacturing sector in tatters, you have to wonder what it is we make that anyone wants to buy.

Well, Columbia -- one of the most violent countries in the world, especially if you’re a union leader -- is buying shipments of high-capacity magazine assault weapons from us, even though they’re banned in Canada. That deal was inked by John Baird the day before 26 children and teachers were shot to death in Newtown Connecticut. And we’re still selling asbestos (also banned in Canada) to anyone foolish or desperate enough to buy it.

These countries have no serious investments in Canada. But our mining companies have billions invested in them.

It’s no secret that trouble dogs the heels of Canadian mining companies operating in the third world. A Tanzanian organization of lawyers claims 19 villagers were killed by Barrick Gold’s security guards and police between 2009 and 2010. In Papua New Guinea, Barrick has been obliged to institute a remediation program for women raped by the company’s security guards. HudBay Minerals Inc. is being sued by the Maya in a Canadian court on charges of murder, gang-rape and assault.

Similar crimes, or if not crimes then popular opposition, are cropping up around Canadian mining operations in Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mongolia. According to Amnesty International, "Colombia’s Constitutional Court has identified 34 Indigenous nations that are in grave danger of extinction, amidst armed conflict that has been used as a cover for appropriation of their resource-rich lands."

The FTAs and FIPAs Canada signs with these countries are making thing worse. Amnesty International fears the Canada-Colombia FTA could "fuel or contribute to grave human rights violations against those living in areas of economic interest."

There are no provisions in these agreements for prior consultation with groups most affected. Clauses prohibiting expropriation of any kind and protecting investment so favour corporations that it is very difficult for a third world country to buck the wishes of a Canadian-owned mining company.

Some agreements -- the Canada-Colombia FTA for example -- even oblige the host country to indemnify mining companies against political unrest. And if a nation passes legislation to protect the health and environment of its citizens it might find itself in a trade tribunal and on the hook for millions, even billions, of dollars in compensation  -- as did Canada when, in 1997, we banned a toxic gas additive called MMT made in the U.S.

We need to ask, as George Grant did in 1965, what should we lament? Well, our good regard in the world for one. But it’s more serious than that.

Mr. Harper’s government has defunded or disbanded experienced non-government organizations with good contacts in other countries and a track record of solid development work. To take their place in the sensitive world of foreign aid and development, the Tories are hiring evangelical Christian organizations such as World Vision and Crossroads Christian Communications.

Among other works, World Vision helps people in the first world sponsor children in the third. On its website: "We are members of an international World Vision Partnership that transcends legal, structural, and cultural boundaries."

Crossroads Christian Communications is a registered charity that also produces the TV show 100 Huntley Street. The "category" on their Canada Revenue Agency detail page is "Missionary Organizations and Propagation of Gospel."

For me, if not for George Grant, there is nothing inherently wrong with mixing international trade with foreign policy. Unless it’s reeking with missionaries, rape, murder and predatory resource extraction.

If we didn’t have a colonial history before, we sure do now.


David McLaren is an award-winning writer who has worked in government and the private sector, for NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. Other writings can be found at http://jdavidmclaren.wordpress.com/.

Photo: flickr/Peter Blanchard

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