FEATURE: Yves Engler: “The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy.”

Jo Kim | Contributor

Yves Engler was certainly a popular guest among the big crowd gathered in the School of Community and Public Policy lounge, on Oct.9, as he came to present his latest book, “The Ugly Canadian”. This was a part of a national tour sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. The Canadian he refers to is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom he argues is leading the country towards a dangerously belligerent and immoral foreign policy avenue.

Engler began by reminding the audience of Harper’s recent “Statesman of the Year” award, when in fact his policies prove him to be anything but. Since the Conservatives took office, the military budget has continually increased, despite there being very few combat missions Canada participates in. “We are making budget cuts in environmental and social policy areas, but spending as much as if not more than before on the military”, argues Engler.

In fact, General Natynczyk, the outgoing chief of the defense staff, deplored the lack of action for the men and women in uniform. Engler explains that Canadian mentality had shifted from being peace-loving and war-distanced to being militant and hostile; Harper has worked hard to foster this climate for war. Not only has the army delayed its final departure in Afghanistan and actively took part in NATO missions in the Middle East, but it has took on more warlike attitudes in handling Afghan detainees, in aiding pro-Israeli forces to “imperially” dominate the Gaza strip, and more.

More specifically, Engler emphasized that this aggressiveness in Canadian foreign policy is obvious in the hypocritical attitude and double standards Harper holds vis-à-vis the Middle East, particularly towards Iran v. Israel and Palestine v. Israel.

The pattern is unmistakable: by severing all diplomatic ties with Iran (the last step before waging war) and by prohibiting donations to Palestinian charities, Harper demonstrates his clear allegiance to the Israel-US alliance. Given that Israel and the US combined could bomb Iran and Syria thousand times over (together, they own over 5000 nuclear missiles), the excessive opposition to a nuclear Iran should really be put in perspective. Engler refers to the fact that elsewhere in the region, Canada is on very “friendly” terms with countries like Saudi Arabia, where human rights atrocities against women, children, and religious minorities are a daily occurrence, but when a similar incident surfaces in Iran, we are made to believe that the injustices suffered are unique to this terrorist nation.

And on the subject of human rights and freedoms, Harper’s foreign aid efforts are no less disturbing, he says. It is true that Canada offers a great deal of financial aid to developing countries, but to what end exactly? Engler points out the Canadian response to the earthquake disaster in Haiti. Despite numerous calls to send urban search and rescue teams to dig out missing people buried under the rubble, Harper government sent in the army. “Surely human lives come before [propping up] the ruling Haitian elites”, argues Engler.

According to the Canadian Press, Ottawa was “nervous about popular uprising” in the wake of the chaos, and feared the return of democratically elected and recently ousted ex-president Jean-Baptiste Aristide. The army was preferred over a search and rescue mission precisely to contain the potential risk of popular protests, which could destabilize the status quo. Harper jeopardized human lives for the sake of protecting the interests of the small Haitian elite.

Beyond Haiti, and beyond its boorish commentary on the United Nations, on Palestine, Iran, Syria, and others, Harper government has become infamous for its overindulgent support for the mining industry. Under Harper, Canadian mining operations have flourished all over the world, most importantly in Latin America. It is no coincidence that this government injects significant financial aid and support to countries such as Honduras and Paraguay, where Canadian mining corporations are thriving. Thriving at the expense of the local communities, causing widespread environmental devastation and social conflict, not heeding calls for accountability from the native inhabitants or the global community.

His assault on the environment is possibly Harper’s most serious crime, because climate change takes a very real toll on human life. Harper has undermined just about every international climate negotiation, making Canada the first country to quit the Kyoto Protocol.  We are exploiting our non-renewable natural resources more vigorously than ever before, chasing profit for tar sands and lobbying in the US, Europe, and Asia, for oil and gas interests. Key European politicians see Canada as a threat to the collective action for sustainable development and climate change. Regardless of facts, Harper government continues to unconditionally promote and support the energy industry, which creates unnecessary friction politically, but also endangers human existence.

Where does this leave us? What can we do to change the way Harper pursues “rotten” foreign policies that solely advances corporate, non-human, interests? Engler’s answer is this: we must build a cross-issue network and bring together groups that right now stand far apart from each another, because such a coalition will be stronger and better. As such, this coalition could challenge, protest and effectively confront

Conservative rhetoric that tries to blindside Canadians of the truth. Engler dubs this a move to “Stop Harper’s Crimes”, with 300,000 stickers to echo his point. He wrapped up the talk with another emphasis on the “rottenness” of Harper’s foreign policy, and that we have the responsibility to challenge him, for Canadians and for those affected worldwide.

There was certainly open opposition to Harper’s stance on foreign policy throughout the speech, but there was also palpable bitterness against the mainstream media that, for Engler, minimized the coverage and publicity of such controversial issues. Not only is news streamlining problematic, he says, but it feeds the public with a simplified and cursory impression of our foreign policy. It is more than possible that the shallow presentation of information is, Engler claims, helping to mobilize Harper’s pro-Israeli, biblical, right-wing supporter base, and driving a sour wedge between the conservatives and the opposition.

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