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November 1, 2012

Engler Raps Empire

Reuel S. Amdur

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Canada's foreign policy has served the interests of empire, "the British empire till after World War II when it was the American empire." That was what Yves Engler told an enthusiastic crowd on October 4 during an Ottawa stop during a tour organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

A week or so before, Stephen Harper skipped a meeting of the UN General Assembly to receive an award from a Zionist organization as a statesman of the world.  Engler reported on a different award ceremony that Harper chose not to attend.  He was awarded the Richard Nixon Prize, for his consistent promotion of the interests of the rich and powerful.  In the realm of environmental activities “He made the tough decisions to increase carbon emissions.”  Harper has been in the forefront in fighting against environmental protection, promoting the tar sands and quietly lobbying in California and Europe against automotive emissions standards.  He has promoted destructive resource extraction activities, bolstered armaments, and enhanced the position of the banks.  In Afghanistan Harper has stonewalled on the issue of maltreatment of detainees, and—against Canadian public opinion—kept 1,000 troops in the country till 2014.  He has truly earned the prize.

While it is sometimes said that Canada does not have much influence internationally, Engler does not agree.  He pointed to Harper’s policy on Iran, with Canada part of an international effort to crush Iran economically.  The effort has even cut payments to Iranian pensioners in Canada.  Engler does not accept the contention that Iran is trying to enter the nuclear arms race.  However, he noted that both Israel and the United States, who want to prevent Iran from doing so, are themselves a major part of that race.  “The United States spends $60 billion a year on its nuclear weapons program.  That’s more than Iran’s total annual budget.” 

Larry Rousseau joined Engler in discussion.  Rousseau is the Public Service Alliance of Canada Executive Vice-President for the National Capital Region, a man of Haitian origin.  Much of their exchange related to Canadian interventions in Haiti.

They said that the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 by a coup d’état was orchestrated by the United States, France, and Canada.  And when the earthquake struck, Canada sent troops, to prevent a popular revolt that might bring Aristide back.  Harper does not look kindly on Aristide because of his efforts to improve the living conditions of Haitians.  Gildan, a Canadian t-shirt manufacturer operating in Haiti and one of the largest employers in the country, was upset by his doubling of the minimum wage before his ouster.

“U.S. capital,” explained Engler, “is losing its position in the region,” and the Harper government shares the concern.  As shown in the case of Haiti, it also shares the pain.  The fear is that if things get out of hand in Haiti the danger is  that the threat to American and Canadian interests could spread elsewhere in the region, for example to Honduras.

Both the U.S. and Canada accepted the military take-over that threw out a government more willing to act in the interests of its own people rather than in those of foreign capital.  Before the coup, Honduras adopted a mining code that increased mining royalties, much to the distress of foreign capital.  Engler pointed out that capital is non-discriminatory on the issue.  The threat of higher royalty fees in Alberta also raised the hackles of the mining interests.

Engler identified Harper’s foreign policy on Canadian mining operations abroad as being a consequence of the proliferation of Canadian mining activity, especially in Latin America.  He and the mining interests fear the rise of social democratic governments which might insist on higher wages for mine workers and higher royalties.

Engler sees the Harper government as more extreme in its support of Israel, its behavior in Haiti, and in promotion of the tar sands than previous Canadian governments.  But wait a minute—Rousseau pointed out that “at the time of the overthrow of Aristide, the Liberals were in power.”  Rousseau fingered Pierre Pettigrew, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, as the guy in charge of Canada’s role in Haiti. 

Why Harper’s avoidance of the recent UN General Assembly session?  Engler thinks it may be related to his objection to international concern about the impact of the oil sands on the environment.

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