Canadian Political Left Disappearing

NDP Slides to the Right

Last Tuesday the Appeal of Conscience Foundation announced that Stephen Harper would receive its world statesman of the year award. Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger will present the prize at the end of the month.

That another pro-Israel US group has chosen to honour Harper for being “a champion of democracy, freedom and human rights” should come as little surprise. But the lack of critical Canadian response is much more disturbing.

Despite a laundry list of international misdeeds, the limited critical commentary on Harper’s award has focused on his domestic failings. A United Food and Commercial Workers press release criticizing the award focused on the government’s expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. While this exploitative program deprives many of their rights and drives down wages and working conditions it is only tangentially connected to international affairs. Similarly, Bob Hepburn in the Toronto Star lambasted the Appeal of Conscience Foundation for ignoring Harper’s destructive domestic policies. “The foundation should have known that anointing Harper, who has displayed such a casual disrespect for democracy at home, as its World Statesman of the Year would be seen as a sad joke on all Canadians struggling to protect their democracy.”

Certainly the UFCW and Hepburn could have found many international policies to criticize. How about Harper backing Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak until his last hours in office? Or maybe, the Harper government’s bid to sabotage of international climate negotiations? Bombing Libya? Complicity with coups in Honduras and Paraguay? Support for Israel’s bombing of Gaza and Lebanon? Extending the war in Afghanistan? The deployment of troops rather than Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams to post-earthquake Haiti? Unyielding support to destructive Canadian mining operations?

To be fair, at least UFCW and Hepburn publicly challenged the award. The NDP has said nothing about the “honour” and little about his extreme pro-corporate/pro-empire foreign policy. A case in point is the official opposition’s inability to clearly oppose Canada’s low-level war against Iran.

On Wednesday NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar was rebuffed by party leader Tom Mulcair after he meekly criticized the Conservatives’ recent move to cut off diplomatic relations with Iran (and list that country as a state sponsor of terrorism). “For us to make a difference, we have to be there [in Iran],” Dewar told CTV News. “We have to show up, and now we’re walking away.” But that was too much for Mulcair. “I think one of the concerns that Paul [Dewar] was expressing there was with Canadians who are currently in prison, so it becomes difficult for them. But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that there were serious concerns, we don’t have the same information but it would appear that there might be some very solid information that would have led the government to that decision [to cut relations with Iran], so until we have that information it’s hard to comment further.” In other words, the Conservatives can do what they want to Iran because they have more information on the matter.

Mulcair and many establishment commentators have alluded to secret information that may explain the suspension of diplomatic relations. But, the Conservatives’ timing was at least partly a response to a very public Iranian diplomatic victory. Two weeks ago Iran succeeded in breaking US-led efforts to isolate it by hosting a 120 nations from the Non-aligned Movement, which included 60 heads of state and the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, who attended the summit despite aggressive Canada/Israel/US lobbying.

In justifying the Conservatives’ move, a number of commentators claimed the 14-person Iranian embassy in Ottawa was spying on this country (it probably was). Yet these commentators ignore stronger evidence suggesting Canadian spying in Tehran. (In his 2010 book former Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, admits to spying for the CIA during his time there, while in November 2006 a group of Iranian parliamentarians called the Canadian Embassy a “den of spies” and the book Unexpected War claims that some Foreign Affairs officials wanted Canada’s headquarters in Afghanistan located in the west of the country “so that Canada could get a better window on Iran”. Moreover, the Conservatives have greatly boosted the 2000-employee Communications Security Establishment, which engages in international spying.)

The most propagandistic commentators claim Canada severed diplomatic relations to stop the Iranian embassy in Ottawa from engaging in terrorist plots in this country. They, of course, provide no evidence for their claims. And, in fact, it’s more likely that Canadian officials have been involved in terrorist attacks in Iran than the other way around. How could anyone believe otherwise when there haven’t been any recent foreign-sponsored terrorist attacks in Canada, while there have been several in Iran?

After the Harper government severed diplomatic relations with Iran, a number of media outlets began to crazily fear-monger. Sun media asked readers “Do you think Iran is a threat to Canada?” while a front page Ottawa Citizen headline noted “U.S. eyes missile defence for East Coast. System could also protect Canada from Iranian strikes.”

No media dared ask whether Canada is a threat to Iran, even though the defence minister recently mused about the Canadian military preparing for an assault on that country. On top of that, Canadian troops occupy a country bordering Iran and Canadian naval vessels run provocative manoeuvres off its coast. Despite all this and the economic sanctions that have been imposed no one in the Canadian mainstream media even calls this what it is, a low level war.

The embassy closure should be seen as one more escalation in this war. But it also reflects the depths of the Conservatives’ longstanding campaign against Iran. Ottawa’s bid to stop all economic relations with Iran has been so successful that Harper can shutter the embassy with little difficulty. After all, most of what Canadian embassies do is facilitate business deals. In Iran, because of Conservative policies, there are none to be made.

That’s the real reason why Harper closed the embassy.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.