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Common Causes is an assembly of social movements dedicated to defending democracy, social justice, the environment and human rights in the face of an all-out assault by the Harper government. This is the fourth extract we have published from Maude Barlow’s report on the goals and aims of Common Causes. For an overview, see this article or check out our special rabble.ca Common Causes page

Stephen Harper has moved Canada’s foreign policy sharply to the right, embracing a more militaristic role for Canada’s armed services, putting trade before human rights and using aid to promote the interests of Canada’s infamous mining industry abroad.

Trade trumps human rights

As starkly set out in a leaked 2012 confidential government document, trade and economic opportunities for corporations have become the driving forces behind Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. Gone is any emphasis on Canada as a peacemaker or aid provider. In its place is a country ready to use foreign policy to promote its own economic well-being and gain access to the emerging Asian markets. There is no pretence of using trade deals to pressure countries such as China on human rights. “Even where political interests or values may not align,” says the report, the government will pursue political relationships “in tandem with economic interests.” Stephen Harper has never been a big UN booster, but is now willing to use the UN as a means to provide “vital economic opportunities” for Canada. Similarly, the most welcome immigrants are not those fleeing injustice, but those who will serve Canada’s economic interests. Africa is seen as a “potential major investment destination” and the Arctic, rather than being a potential venue for global cooperation, is a source of “northern resource development.”

Foreign corporations given immense powers in Canada

Stephen Harper’s aggressive trade agenda extends not only to countries with poor human rights histories such as China, Colombia and Peru but also gives foreign-based transnational corporations new opportunities to restrict domestic Canadian economic or environmental policies that hurt their bottom line. Investor state rights under NAFTA let American pulp and paper giant AbitibiBowater successfully demand $130 million in compensation for water rights after it vacated Newfoundland, leaving jobs and pensions unpaid. These same rights are included in the Canada-EU CETA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and would give European and Pacific Rim corporations similar powers in Canada. Harper allowed CNOOC, the state-owned Chinese energy company, to invest $15 billion in the tar sands where the company can now expand as if it were a domestic company. The government is poised to sign the Canada-China FIPA investment deal, which will give CNOOC and other foreign-based corporations operating in the oil patch the right to sue any future government that tries to re-introduce the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The Harper government’s trade agenda deliberately locks in the lowest possible environmental standards.

Foreign aid is slashed

The Harper government froze foreign aid in 2010. It now stands at 0.29% of the country’s GDP, a far cry from Canada’s promise to reach the UN aid target of 0.7% of GDP. In the latest budget, the Harper government slashed even that small budget by $377 million, leaving aid agencies to scramble to meet commitments to the world’s poor. Furthermore, Stephen Harper has changed Canadian aid and development policy in a way that is ringing alarm bells around the world. It has cut ties to traditional aid and development agencies such as KAIROS, and instructed CIDA to give money only to those agencies that will do business with Canadian mining companies operating in the recipient country. Between 2006 and 2012, CIDA approved at least $50 million in projects linked to Canadian mining companies. The Canadian mining industry has been identified in an industry report as having the worst environmental and human rights violations around the world. But yet the industry faces no penalties back in Canada, as Harper blocked legislation that would have reined in abusers. In fact, aid will now go to those countries that make these companies welcome with friendly investment policies. This means that Canadian tax dollars, aid agencies and even some embassies may be implicated in the violent suppression of local anti-mining activities in communities in the Global South.

Peacekeeping is abandoned

Under the Harper government, Canada is abandoning its traditional role as a global peacekeeper and is moving to re-orient Canada’s armed forces to become a more aggressive and militaristic institution in order to back the U.S. in its “war on terror.” Under the Harper government, Canada’s military spending has reached its highest levels since World War II, and military corporations receive strong funding from the government. Harper’s Canada First Defence Strategy has earmarked $490 billion over twenty years for new military hardware, including the controversial F-35 stealth jet fighters, C-17 transport planes and new naval vessels, and committed Canada to long-term deployments such as Afghanistan. The government has also announced a new network of military bases around the world, clearly signalling its intent to shift its emphasis from protecting North America to engaging in far away wars on a regular basis. It is true that DND has been hit with a $2.5 billion cut in the recent austerity plan, but most of this money will be used for staff buy-outs and to wind down the Afghan mission. The F-35 deal is now under review due to huge cost over-runs, but the question must be asked why the Harper government ever chose the F-35 in the first place as it is entirely unsuitable to patrol and conduct search and rescue in Canada’s north. 

Diplomacy takes a sharp turn right

 The Harper government has been marked by defiant international diplomacy, leaving Canada’s reputation for bridge building and even-handedness in tatters. Prime Minister Harper has alienated many moderate allies with his support of the hard right in Israel and its illegal settlements. He dismayed both the U.S. and the UN when his international affairs minister announced a freeze on aid to Haiti. He has little to say about gross human rights violations in Mexico and Colombia because they are trade allies. (His government just allowed Canadian gun manufacturers to sell prohibited fully-automated weapons to Colombia, a country with one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world.) No wonder Canada, under Stephen Harper, was denied a seat at the UN Security Council. Harper skipped the 2012 fall world leaders’ convocation of the UN General Assembly (not for the first time), choosing instead to receive an award from Henry Kissinger and a right-wing American foundation, where he took a swipe at the UN for “courting” dictators in his acceptance speech. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird attended the UN event in Harper’s absence, and his message was received in total silence. Baird was the only speaker that day to receive that kind of snub. 


Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch. She is also an executive member of the San Francisco–based...