The 2015 federal election is a critical opportunity for the people of Canada to defeat the Harper Conservative government and its reactionary, pro-war agenda. It is important that the peace movements in Canada begin work now to play a strong role in shaping the public policy debate.
Foreign policy matters do not normally play a defining role in Canadian federal elections, and it appears that this election may be one of the rare cases in which issues of peace, security, militarism and international policy are an important part of the public debate.
The Harper government itself has tried to maintain a high public profile for certain aspects of its foreign policy, under the recurring pretext of fighting terrorism at home (through Bill C-51) and abroad (through the expanding war in Iraq and Syria.) This is partly an effort to shore up the Conservatives’ political base. It is also an attempt to draw public attention away from the ongoing and deepening economic crisis, which has attracted increasing public anger to the Harper Tories, and toward foreign policy issues, where the Conservatives can differentiate themselves from opposition parties whose positions generally present weak alternatives.
Of course, the two issues of economic crisis and war are closely related and should not be counter-posed to one another. The Canadian Peace Congress put it this way at our 2011 Convention:
As the global, systemic economic crisis continues and deepens, competition for resources, markets, influence and profits has grown much more fierce and desperate. Capitalist governments have moved quickly to attack social and labour rights and impose severe austerity measures that will impoverish and marginalize masses of working people, at the same time that they are prosecuting wars and increasing military budgets.
The role of the peace movement is to draw attention to this relationship, to highlight the disastrous foreign policy record of the Harper Tories, and to identify the danger of continuing those policies. In the process, we must project the importance of a new, independent foreign policy of peace, international cooperation and solidarity. And we must insist that such a new foreign policy will work hand-in-hand with progressive, democratic domestic policies that serve the needs of the majority of the people in Canada.
Among peace and progressive groups, there are different proposals for how to approach the federal election. Some argue that the singular focus should be on defeating the Harper government. Others argue the broad foreign and military policies of the main parties are so similar that the tasks before the peace movement lie far beyond the scope of a single election.
The Canadian Peace Congress takes a different approach, one that includes both the immediate goals and the necessity of fundamental policy change. Our two-part proposal is that the Harper Conservatives must be defeated, and also that we need to build a mass movement that demands of all governments a foreign policy of peace.
It is very true that the main arena for peace and anti-war activism is “extra-parliamentary” – in workplaces, communities, schools and the streets. This is where we encounter interested, engaged people whose commitment and energy provides the backbone for the kind of mass movement we need to build. A strong and united movement, in action, can project a peace program for Canada that no government can afford to ignore or distort.
At the same time, however, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has pursued the most aggressive and dangerous foreign and military policies in memory. Under the Harper Conservative government:
• Canadian military spending has soared, so that Canada is now the sixth largest military spender among NATO’s 28 members, and the 16th largest military spender globally.Will defeating the Conservatives bring about a fundamental change in foreign policy? No, it won’t.
• Canada has deeply embedded its foreign policies into those of the United States and NATO, to the extent that key economic policy is dictated by the military priorities of NATO and the US.
• Canada has promoted foreign intervention and participated in wars of aggression against sovereign states, including Libya, Syria, North Korea, Yemen, Brazil, Honduras, Venezuela and Ukraine.
But it will remove the biggest immediate barrier to that change. Defeating Harper is key.
The Canadian Peace Congress Executive is developing the strategy for its federal election campaign, which will be launched soon.
Elements of the campaign will likely include:
• Window signs with messages that highlight the Harper government’s record on war and militarism and call on people to “vote for peace”We invite all members, supporters and friends to help with this campaign. If you want to get involved, or have ideas to share, please let us know.
• A series of fact sheets and videos about foreign policy, militarism and war, and the importance of these issues in this election
• A speaking and organizing tour, to local groups across Canada, to draw together activists and identify ways cooperate in an effort to get foreign policy into the election discussion
This piece originally appeared in the Canadian Peace Bulletin, vol 2 no 1. It is reprinted here with permission.
Dave McKee is the Canadian Peace Congress President
You can find out more about the Canadian Peace Congress at www.canadianpeacecongress.ca
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