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Despite Canada’s liberal reputation, its international affairs are built around support for empire and corporate interest.

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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Mark Steiner: Welcome to the Real News, I’m Mark Steiner. Great to have you all with us. Now, despite being one of the founding members of the United Nations and portraying itself as a just society, Canada has just lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. The Canada self-image is one of a liberal peace-loving democracy, but it didn’t stop organizations from around the world to organize petition drives, demanding that UN member states not allow Canada to have a seat. The campaign succeeded and Ireland won that seat, instead. The Canadian ambassador to the UN, Marc-Andre Blanchard, tried to explain Canada’s failure. Let’s have a listen.

Marc-Andre Blan…: At the UN, this the race for the Security Council in the Western European and others group that we belong to, the regional group that we belong to, is always very, very competitive. The tights are the, the races are tight and this year was no difference. And then when you have a race like the one we were in with three great, really three great countries that have a lot to bring to the world and to the UN, it’s a difficult choice for the countries and the member states. And each countries has 193 different reasons why they would support one country or another and this is the politics of the UN that is very tricky and very difficult and complex. And we will have plenty of times to actually look at that in the near future.

Mark Steiner: So, led by many people, including people like Bianca Mugyenyi at Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, over a hundred organizations, including Canadians for Just Peace in the Middle East, argue that Canada doesn’t deserve a seat on the Security Council because its foreign policy just mimics US foreign policy as its own, especially in the middle East. And it doesn’t pay its fair share of international aid and spells arms to notorious human rights violators around the world. Canada’s record on Israel, Palestine is especially bad. In 2018, the foreign minister in Canada, whose name was Christina Freeland, told Israelis that if Canadians had a seat on the council, it would be, quote, an asset to Israel. Ireland and Norway, won more votes than Canada for the seat in part because of the work they do. And they recognize the status of Palestine as a nation and have a much better record than Canada’s on promoting peace throughout the world.

In April, we spoke with Yves Engler right here at the Real News about Canada’s decision to sell armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, despite the arms embargo. And since then, Canada has also sold optical systems to Turkey. I think they may be fighting each other with those weapons. So now it’s time to go back to Yves Engler to get a deeper look at what is happening and why and what the future might hold. Welcome back, Yves. Good to have you with us.

Yves Engler: Thanks for having me.

Mark Steiner: And remind you all, Yves Engler is a Canadian commentator and author, his most recent book is the Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy, he previously published The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, and Canada in Haiti: Waging War on a Poor Majority. And Yves, let’s begin with what just happened before we kind of dive into what could have happened and what is happening. So the UN Security Council with its five permanent members, all of them are heavily armed nations and deeply involved in different parts of the world and human rights violators in some part, just said they were not a lot counted on. And so it’s interesting to me that Norway and Ireland, both smaller countries are standing up for human rights, cut out these seats. I mean, so is something switching with UN, is this, how do you analyze it that this, what just happened?

Yves Engler: Well, it’s a matter of the General Assembly, that’s who voted 193 members of the General Assembly, and the members of the General Assembly, I think, voted against Canada in large part because the Canadian government identified as being very close to the Trump administration, close to Netanyahu and Israel, is aligned with indifference to climate catastrophe in Africa, Canada has a huge mining sector involved in all kinds of conflicts around the world.

So I think that the vote at the General Assembly, I don’t want to argue that this is just morality entering into play, but I think morality did enter into play. I mean, I think there’s a lot of countries in the world, a country like Uganda. Maybe you could say that Uganda has repressive domestic policies, but there is a sense of, of internationalism, there’s a sense of anti-imperialism and the UN ambassador of Uganda or maybe Nicaragua or another country, basically when it came down to the private vote, they assessed Canadian foreign policy and Canadian foreign policy is a much more militaristic, much more pro-corporate, anti-Palestinian foreign policy than is the Irish foreign policy or the Norwegian foreign policy and that’s in large part, why Canada lost quite badly in it’s bid to sit on the Security Council.

Mark Steiner: So let’s kind of explore this a little bit, a bit deeper in that. When you look at the Trudeau government coming in as a liberal party, people thought that the government would come in and turn over some of Harper’s policies. But what’s happened is it seems to me, Trudeau’s government is not changing things Harper has done internationally, maybe even more, and B that it just kind of shows kind of a, for want of a better term, the neoliberal inability to control capitalism or control of mining interests and it’s going to arms industry. So what, what’s the political dynamic inside Canada?

Yves Engler: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s exactly what we need to look at, which is that there is more structural explanations for Canada’s foreign policy than there is if it’s Stephen Harper or if it’s Justin Trudeau, or even if it happened to be a Jagmeet Singh the leader of the supposedly social democratic NDP, that there are structural factors within Canadian society that drive foreign policy in a certain direction. And so there is a lot more that’s similar between Stephen Harper’s foreign policy and Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy, than that is different. I alluded to some before, but just to take a look at Canada’s voting record at the UN on resolutions, dealing with Palestinian rights. In fact, Justin Trudeau’s voting record in his first four years was more anti-Palenstinian than Stephen Harper’s voting record at the UN on Palestinian rights.

If you look at Canada’s involvement in NATO, the Trudeau government has expanded, sent Canadian troops to Latvia on the border with Russia, Canadian troops support NATO with Americans and in Iraq, Canadian Naval vessels are part of these NATO patrols and in the middle East and the Baltic, so they’ve continued with this ramped up number of Canadian forces. So you see that, that even though Justin Trudeau tends to speak a bit more of a liberal kind of a rhetoric on militarism or peace, in fact, his policy largely has continued with the predecessor. And there’s probably no area that’s more clear on that than the question of the mining sector. Canada has about half of the world’s mining companies are based or listed in Canada. Canada has 0.5% of the world’s population, so 100 times Canada’s proportion of the world’s population it’s dominance in the mining sector.

And the Trudeau government promised to bring in reforms that would end public support for mining companies found to be engaged in major abuses abroad. They announced it, the promises were coming to office, they repeated that promise after coming to the office, they began a whole commission, and after the pushback from the mining sector in this country, basically they came up with an ombudsperson that has almost no power to even compel companies to provide documentation about some of the things they may have been involved with and basically no power to end public support for those mining companies.

So that mining sector, of course, is a very powerful force within Canada and over the past 25 years as there’s been the neoliberal reforms in Africa and Latin America, Canadian mining companies have absolutely skyrocketed. So in Mexico, 25 years ago, there were no Canadian mining companies. Now there’s hundreds and hundreds of Canadian mining companies, there’s something like 75% of all the mining companies in Mexico, and that’s totally tied to neoliberal forums in Mexico. And so Canadian, capital Canadian business class is very committed to maintaining those policies in Mexico and many other countries. So Justin Trudeau’s government has mostly just continued that because there are some structural forces that want more of that type of policy.

Mark Steiner: So interesting, one of the things I think is important maybe to bring out here is that it might be overly simplistic to say that Canada merely mimics US foreign policy, but that it goes hand-in-hand because the foreign policy interests of Canada are motivated by the things that are similar to a motivates United States in terms of his own capital interests. I mean, whether it’s arms dealing or the mining sector the minute amount of money that Canada spends on international aid as compared to other countries. I mean, you can’t put this all as just mimicking us foreign policy.

Yves Engler: Oh, there’s no doubt about that. I mean, I’ve said, over and over again, there’s basically two forces that drive Canadian foreign policy: historic support for empire and support for corporate interest. Historically support for the British empire, today support for the American empire and Canadian corporate interests. The Canadian mining companies and Canadian aid policy and diplomacy, and even military policy, which support the mining sector in Jamaica, in Mexico, in Congo, in Senegal, no one in Washington is forcing those Canadian companies and Canadian diplomats to act in a way to serve backup mining companies that pollute local waterways, kill opponents in local communities to their minds. No one in the U S is forcing, Canadian companies or Canadian diplomats to go in that direction. So, Canada has a very expansive international investment class or capitalists class that is totally tied into pillaging the resources of the Congo or of countries in Central America.

I would say that the way to formulate it is that the Canadian Elite see the world and profit from the world in a very similar way to the US Elite. Yes, there are times when the Trump administration, or the Obama administration before that, puts pressure on Canada to go in a certain direction. I think you see that, especially in military policy the US has constantly pushing Canada to increase its military spending, pushing Canada to engage in different foreign Wars or foreign missions, but there are elements to, Canadian structural elements to Canadian economic and political life that pushed Canada towards a belligerent policy abroad that had nothing to do with the pressure from Washington.

Mark Steiner: And that kind of concludes this issue of pressure, the pressure put on the United Nations member states. How much effect you think that it had in [inaudible 00:12:32] in the seat, and what does that mean for a building movement, both in Canada and around the globe, in terms of what really motivated the being denied the seat, but also just how it connects to a larger movement inside of Canada and worldwide?

Yves Engler: Yeah. Well, that’s an interesting question. We can’t, we obviously can’t answer it completely and how much effect the No-Canada-on-United-Nations-Security-Council Campaign had. A small group of activists began this campaign, actually, began it months ago, and then the pandemic put a two month pause into it. But we began it by launching an open letter, signed by many prominent people, it published in the Toronto star, the widest circulated paper in the country, and then it got a decent amount of attention that day and the prime minister was forced to respond to it in a press conference. And then there was a series of different elements this campaign that included sending 1300, there was another open letter focused specifically on Palestine: one that was just general above critical opinion form pulse and one’s focused on Palestine.

And then there were 1300 individuals that emailed every single UN ambassador critical of Canada’s policy on Palestine. Then, another one that focused more generally, then one focused on the Caribbean countries and emailed Caribbean ambassador’s critical of Canadian policy in the Caribbean, another one focused on African ambassadors, critical policy in Africa. What we do know, we can’t say for sure how much impact this had, we know it generated a fair bit of media attention within this country and globally, but what we can say for sure is that the Canadian ambassador to the UN, Mark-Andre Blanchard, was so concerned about our campaign that he actually penned a letter that he delivered to every single UN ambassador, trying to push back about our criticisms of Canadian policy with regards to Palestine. And so if he felt the need to do that, that was because he heard from many different ambassadors in New York that there was a lot of talk about what we were saying.

And of course, what we were saying is completely well-documented and in their letter, responding to us claim that we were, aridness, but never pointed out any of our errors, of course. So, what we know is that Canada lost by 20 votes to Ireland, but the way it works is that you need to have two thirds of the general assembly to not have a second round. So Norway had 130 votes, Ireland had 128 and Canada had 108. If Ireland would have had 127, there would have been a second round of voting where theoretically Canada could have gained some of the votes that Norway had had. So if we just impacted one country to not vote for Canada and instead vote for Ireland, that impacted the vote. I’m totally confident that we did have that impact and because the information we were putting forward was really irrefutable and we contrasted Canadian policy foreign policy to Irish foreign policy to Norwegian foreign policy.

And in so many areas, Irish, Norwegian foreign policy were less bad, in some cases we’re actually good. Now, what does this mean for Canadian foreign policy going forward? This was a shock to many Canadians. The loss of the security council bid was front page news. It’s a rare time when it was really clear that the the world was rejecting Canada. As much as the government tried to spin that, it was pretty hard to avoid the obvious. We have now launched another campaign calling for a fundamental reassessment of Canadian foreign policy in light of the failed bid of the security council. And what’s interesting is that we, in the five days of gathered signatures, we had many more prominent individuals sign on to this than the previous open letter opposed to Canada’s has been for the security council.

So what I take from that in part is that you have this sort of opening that, that people within kind of progressive circles, but that are generally supportive of Canadian foreign policy are sort of saying, “Hey, this is real, there is a real problem with Canadian foreign policy. The world has rejected Canadian foreign policy, quite clearly that the UN, and we need to sort of look at this in a more fundamental way”. So, this seems to be an opportunity to break through the very narrow spectrum of debate on Canadian foreign policy. And I’m hoping that there will be some lasting impact to both the student council vote and the campaigning that’s been done around it.

Mark Steiner: Well, this has been fascinating? It really has. I mean, I think what you’re describing, what you described in our conversation today really shows the power of what a movement can do, and also how the world can hear a message and how things build and change. So I say thank you for the work that all of you do in this regard and Yves I want to think you for always being ready to talk with us here at Real News. We Look forward to many more conversations.

Yves Engler: Thanks for having me, Mark.

Mark Steiner: My pleasure. And I’m Mark Steiner here for Real News Network. I want to thank you all for watching. Let us know what you think, and please take care.

Production: Genevieve Montinar, Will Arenas, Andrew Corkery
Studio: Will Arenas

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.