Canada: NDP Leadership Candidate Jagmeet Singh embraces Imperialist Policies of Helene Laverdiere

Shouldn’t leaders who claim to support the interests of the poor and working class inside Canada also take left wing positions internationally?

Yet when a leadership candidate for a left wing party embraces a politician who has repeatedly taken pro-imperialist international stances it hardly creates a stir. Reflecting an indifference to the injustices the Canadian government commits abroad, Jagmeet Singh’s alignment with Hélène Laverdière has been all but ignored.

Since the NDP foreign critic endorsed Singh to be leader of the party he has repeatedly cited the former Canadian diplomat’s support. Singh’s campaigned with Laverdière, sent out an email appeal from the Montreal MP last week and she was the individual immediately behind him during his speech to the final NDP leadership event in Hamilton. But, Laverdière is a bellicose imperialist.

Last year she spoke to the notorious anti-Palestinian lobby organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and participated in a ceremony put on by the head of the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund during a visit to Israel. It’s not just in Israel where Laverdière has aligned with the US Empire’s machinations. On at least two occasions over the past 16 months the NDP foreign critic has demanded Ottawa do more to undermine Venezuela’s elected President Nicolás Maduro. Laverdière also supports deploying troops to the Russian border and has repeatedly called for more sanctions on that country. Similarly, Laverdière demanded the Stephen Harper government take tougher action against the Assad regime at the start of the Syrian conflict.

Singh and the other NDP leadership campaigns are aware of Laverdière’s positions. I’ve written about it and the NDP’s Socialist Caucus called for Laverdière’s removal as foreign critic last month. But, the other leadership candidates have stayed mum.

For his part, Singh refused to criticize Laverdière’s positions when I challenged him about it at a recent event in Montréal. He also told me he saw no problem with an NDP foreign critic attending an (all expenses paid) AIPAC conference since “dialogue” is important.

It’s illuminating to contrast the reaction to Singh’s embrace of Laverdière with the criticism of his ties to Wab Kinew. Singh’s links to the recently elected leader of the Manitoba NDP has stoked a debate since it came to light that Kinew was charged with assaulting his then partner in 2003 (the charges were later stayed). After details of the incident emerged recently Singh denounced domestic abuse but stood by Kinew, which sparked significant debate. An opponent in the NDP leadership race, Niki Ashton challenged Singh on Twitter over his ties to Kinew in light of the assault allegations and a number of media outlets asked Ashton about the issue.

While it’s reasonable to challenge a leadership candidate for being lax on domestic abuse, Singh’s attitude towards Kinew is purely symbolic. Federal NDP leaders have no formal influence over provincial party leaders. On the other hand, they appoint the party’s international critic and directly shape its foreign policy. As such, Singh’s embrace of Laverdière is both a symbolic endorsement of her imperialism and a sign that if he wins he would continue her policy, possibly even reappointing Laverdière as foreign critic.

The lack of discussion about Singh’s embrace of Laverdière reflects the party’s unwillingness to tackle foreign policy issues. Not one of the “issues” or “priorities” listed on Charlie Angus, Guy Caron or Singh’ leadership campaign websites deals with foreign policy. Niki Ashton does a bit better. Her “issues” section includes “A Just Peace in the Middle East” and a summary list of 14 priorities she says she wants to “Ensure that Canada is a voice for peace in the world.”

Jagmeet Singh should be prodded about Laverdière’s views and whether he plans to re-appoint her as foreign critic.

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.