Is there space for peace?

Letter to host of “Q,” submitted to CBC, Dec. 24, 2008 • You opened your Christmas Eve show with a flashback to 1968, the Apollo 8 flight, and the astronauts reading selections from Genesis, the first book of the Bible, while floating in space. “Peace on earth” you speculate could be brought a wee bit closer if we told the Apollo 8 story every Christmas, helping us to see our earth in green and blue perspective.

Many of us remember that flight like it was yesterday. Many of us, as children, were enthralled by the space program, by NASA, and by its celebrities – chief among them, Wernher von Braun.

As adults, many of us learned the truth. Von Braun was a veteran of Hitler’s Germany, scooped up along with dozens of other Nazi-era scientists, a prize catch for the United States.[1] The Apollo program was the direct descendant of von Braun’s Nazi-era rocket research, designed to deliver payloads of death and horror to civilian populations in Britain. We know now that he used slave labour in these activities.[2]

And NASA? The furious pace of its progress in the 1960s was not motivated by the desire to put astronauts in space to read the Bible. That was just window-dressing. The whole program was completely embedded in the arms race. Rocket technology is not about romance and religion, but about mass murder and war – a technology necessary for the delivery of nuclear warheads to whomever might threaten U.S. hegemony.

The Apollo space flights are a poor vehicle with which to bring peace on earth, their roots deeply planted in slave labour, fascism, and the desperate search for the construction of weapons of mass destruction. If the Apollo astronauts had wanted to quote the Bible for peace, they should have stayed away from Genesis and chosen Isaiah instead. To get peace on earth we will have to “beat our swords into ploughshares,” so that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation.”[3] Among the biggest swords to be re-engineered are the rockets of the U.S. space program.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] A fact known for years – see Tom Lehrer’s bitter spoof, available on youtube.
[2] Tony Paterson, “Germans at last learn truth about von Braun’s ‘space research’ base,” The Telegraph, June 14, 2001
[3] Isaiah 2: 4

Afghanistan is still the issue – anti-war movement in convention

December 6, on the second day of the biennial (every two years) convention of the Canadian Peace Alliance, 100 or so delegates and observers gathered in the bitter cold on the sidewalk outside the student centre at Ryerson University in Toronto. Behind a massive banner and carrying dozens of placards saying “Troops Out of Afghanistan” we marched to join the 3,000 strong anti-Harper rally taking place that day at City Hall. We took the streets, and as our little contingent turned the last corner before arriving at City Hall, we took up the chant, “Harper Out of Ottawa, Canada Out of Afghanistan.” The message couldn’t have been clearer – no matter what government is in office, there is a movement on the streets telling any who will listen, Afghanistan is still the issue.

Most in the crowd greeted us with enthusiasm. Thousands of NDP members have been central to the anti-war movement. But Jack Layton has told them that the Afghanistan file is on the shelf while he pursues the increasingly forlorn project of coalescing with the Liberals. Suddenly, it is not at all clear that the NDP federal leadership considers it “legitimate” to be against Harper and against the war at the same time. The CPA contingent gave voice again to the crowd that was in its vast majority anti-war. The reception was fantastic (except for some disgruntled senior Liberal Party members). It was a moment when all present were very proud to be part of Canada’s anti-war movement. Opposing the war in Afghanistan is not a bargaining chip to be used in parliamentary coalition negotiations. It is a non-negotiable matter of principle. The troops must come home. The killing must stop.

The convention was an intense three-day event, December 5 to 7, which brought together elected delegates from 39 anti-war and peace organizations from across the country. Together with observers, more than 100 people attended.

The central decision of the conference was the adoption of a two-year “Campaign Goals, Strategy and Actions.” The delegates unanimously agreed that for the next two years, the war in Afghanistan and the War Resisters Campaign would be the strategic focuses for the CPA. The plan commits the CPA to two bi-national demonstrations against the war in Afghanistan each year, one in the spring, one in the autumn. The first one in 2009 will be held in the first week of April to coincide with the call from anti-war groups in Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is prosecuting the brutal war in Afghanistan.

One of the most intense discussions occurred at a packed workshop centred around the war at home, and the attack on civil liberties. Matthew Behrens from Homes not Bombs said “the biggest losers from the Coalition have been the people of Afghanistan.” He and others expressed the fear that along with the war taking a back seat, so would campaigns around Islamophobia and the attacks on racialized communities. Delegates from the Tamil Youth Organization talked about how their community has been harassed and labelled as “terrorist”, and the implications that has had on community members. There was considerable enthusiasm for the idea of organizing a conference centred on the defence of civil liberties.

The issue of the changing political terrain and the war in Afghanistan was a recurring theme throughout the convention. On the opening panel, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians said of the coalition, “we don’t agree with the concession around Afghanistan,” but nonetheless said that the coalition gave us “an opportunity to have our voices heard.” You can support the coalition, she argued, without agreeing with all its policies. On the Saturday panel, “Thinking Strategically: Building the movement to end the war,” Susan Spratt from the Canadian Auto Workers Union made a similar point. “Without a coalition” she argued, “we’re going to end up with a fascist regime that won’t budge on the war.”

But the overwhelming sentiment at the convention was that the anti-war movement had to steer an independent course. The CPA has a responsibility to keep the issue of “Troops Out of Afghanistan” in the public eye, by keeping the anti-war movement active and on the streets. This is even more the case when the political party with an official position calling for Troops Out – the NDP – has shamefully traded the push to end to the war for the promise of six cabinet seats.

The coming months will not be easy. In Canada, the Afghanistan issue has become confused because of the actions of the Coalition. In the United States, the election of Barack Obama has rightly excited millions. But while Obama is committed to winding down the war in Iraq, he is equally committed to a major escalation in Afghanistan. He is using his massive popularity to argue that Afghanistan is the “good war,” an argument that will confuse many people.

Raymond Legault from the Quebec based “Collectif Échec à la guerre” – attending the convention as an observer – argued that we had to face the fact that “fewer people are at our protests and rallies, not more.” This doesn’t mean an end to organizing, it just means that organizing has to take a different shape. “We don’t hear much about the reality of the war,” he said. “We need to bring this reality to people.” To that end, Échec à la guerre is organizing a Peoples’ Summit in Quebec for the autumn of 2009, to provide a forum where the bitter reality of war can be made more visible. The CPA delegates voted to organize a similar Peoples’ Summit in English Canada.

The convention was a real success, a coalescing of local anti-war organizing that revealed the framework around which our movement can continue to organize and build in the coming months – challenging Canada’s war both abroad and at home.

For more information, check out, and

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Breakthrough for Québec solidaire

DECEMBER 9, 2008 – Amir Khadir, one of the two spokespersons for Québec solidaire (QS), has won a seat in the Quebec National Assembly. Among the many excellent aspects of the Québec solidaire platform, is a call for the Quebec government to pass a motion opposing “any Canadian imperialist intervention in Afghanistan.”[1] The QS success represents an important advance for the social justice and anti-war movements in both Quebec and English Canada.

Khadir’s victory was not just the victory of one individual. In his riding of Mercier, QS won 8,861 votes, 38.06% of votes cast, defeating Daniel Turp, a star candidate of the Parti Québécois (PQ) by 872 votes. But in the ridings surrounding Mercier, QS also did extremely well. In Gouin, the other co-spokesperson for QS, Françoise David, came a very close second to the PQ winning 7,987 votes (31.95%). In ridings adjacent to either Mercier or Gouin, QS won 2,963 votes (13.01%) in Laurier-Dorion, 2,228 votes (11.43%) in Outremont, 3,009 votes (15.22%) in Saint-Marie-Saint-Jacques, 2,502 votes (12.91%) in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, and 2,470 votes (8.24%) in Rosemont – more than 30,000 votes in total in these seven ridings on the Island of Montreal.

There were also important results in other parts of Quebec, QS candidates polling 2,241 votes (8.42%) in the Quebec City riding of Taschereau, 1,995 votes (8.78%) in the Outaouais riding of Hull, 439 votes (5.04%) in the vast northern riding of Ungava, 1,413 votes (5.77%) in the “near-North” riding of Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, and just shy of 2,000 votes (6.46%) in Sherbrooke, the riding of Liberal premier Jean Charest.[2]

QS was formed at a convention, February 3, 4 and 5, 2006. Institutionally, it was the coming together of l’Union des forces progressistes (UFP) and Option citoyenne (OC). What this fusion accomplished was to provide a space for the expression of the hopes and dreams of two generations of struggle in Quebec. Those who attended the 1,000 strong opening rally, will never forget the emotion – a video showing the history of struggle in Quebec reaching back through the tumultuous decades of the 1960s and 1970s, from the War Measures Act of 1970 and the General Strike of 1972, to the women’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and the anti-globalization and anti-war movements of the 21st century.[3] There was a feeling of history being made.

With a seat in the National Assembly, QS has a new tool to add to the historic commitment of the UFP to be a “party of the street and of the ballot box.”[4] The visibility that comes from having a sitting member will propel QS into the public eye in a new way.

There were some other encouraging results from the election. In particular, the right-wing Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), which had soared to second place in the 2007 election, saw its vote collapse by a stunning 694,487, leading to the election night resignation of leader Mario Dumont.

But there remain many challenges, of which QS members are very aware. Celebrations of Khadir’s victory were tempered by disappointment over Françoise David narrowly failing to join Khadir in the National Assembly. In addition, the overall result was a majority government for Jean Charest and the Liberal Party, a leader and a party who are a known commodity in Quebec politics – committed to defending the interests of corporate power.

More worrying, in an election which saw 720,000 fewer voters turn up at the polls than in 2007, it was the two traditional parties – the Liberals and the PQ – which saw their votes increase, 49,137 for the Liberals and 13,639 for the PQ. While QS saw its overall percentage increase slightly (from 3.64% to 3.8%), and while it displaced the Green Party as the fourth party in the election, its overall vote total actually declined by more than 20,000, dropping from 144,418 to 123,061.[5] (See table here for complete figures.)

The spectre of an economic crisis is a factor in this. Fear of recession in the absence of mass struggle means many in the electorate are looking for “safety” in the face of a stronger Liberal government. And it is probably the case that an increased number of people turned to the PQ in disgust at the federal Tories Quebec bashing in the context of the current national political crisis.

Given these huge currents in the economy and in mass politics, it is remarkable that QS did as well as it did, and that Khadir was able to win a seat. There is now a more visible progressive voice that can express the concerns of working people in the face of recession and layoffs, and be a voice against war in the face of parties like the federal NDP quietly putting Afghanistan on the shelf as the price for its coalition with the federal Liberals.

The story of QS needs to be given much more visibility in English Canada. Our sisters and brothers in Quebec have taken up the challenge of forging a united alternative to the traditional parties of politics, and have had some real success. Sometimes it seems that in English Canada we know more about events of this sort in Germany, Britain or France than we do about events down the 401, just across the Ontario border. Hopefully the presence of Amir Khadir in the National Assembly will give QS more visibility, not just in Quebec, but in English Canada as well.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article has been published as Breakthrough for Québec solidaire,, 12 December; “Quebec: Breakthrough for Québec solidaire,Links, 9 December.


[1] “Engagements 2008 de Québec solidaire,”, English version available here
[2] All electoral results from Le Directeur Général des élections du Québec, “Cartothèque: Cartes individuelles des 125 circonscriptions électorales provinciales,”
[3] Québec solidaire, “Historique”,
[4] Richard Fidler, “Canada: Quebec’s new united left party,” Green Left on line, December 10, 2003,
[5] Figures for 2007 from “Tableau synoptique des résultats pour l’ensemble des circonscriptions,”, for 2008 from “Élections générales: Résultats préliminaires,”

Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

DECEMBER 5, 2008 – (Article 4 of 4) Of all the compromises that might happen to keep a coalition alive, by far the most troubling is the one that is brewing on the war in Afghanistan. As news of the coalition began to surface in the last week of November, The Globe and Mail reported that “a senior NDP official said that no policy issues are considered deal breakers” including that of the war in Afghanistan.[1]

This above all else has to be a “deal breaker.” The NDP has been the one major party that has been committed to ending the war in Afghanistan. As this is being written, news came across the wires that three Canadian soldiers have been killed, taking the military death toll past 100.[2] We don’t know how many Afghanis have been killed in the war – there is no official attempt to keep track.

No compromise is possible on war. You are either for it or against it. The Liberals began this war. The Liberals voted to extend it to 2011. We all know that it is an unwinnable war, fought for corporate profits and geopolitical power, not for democracy and human rights. An anti-war party cannot stay anti-war and enter a cabinet with a pro-war party. Layton and the NDP leadership have to face up to the fact, that were the coalition to take office, the war in Afghanistan would become their war, and the deaths and injuries suffered in that conflict would be their responsibility.

Some will say that were the NDP to insist on this point, then the coalition would not be possible. That is probably true. But a coalition that includes “compromise” on Canada’s military adventure in Afghanistan is not a coalition worth having. Canada is engaged in an imperialist adventure in Central Asia – part of the long slow re-militarization of Canada begun by the Liberals and continuing under the Tories. Opposition to this war is a matter of principle, not one of political expediency. Were Layton and the NDP leadership to compromise on this issue, it would do immeasurable damage to the anti-war movement in Canada – and ultimately to the NDP itself.

There is fear among millions in the face of an unfolding economic crisis. There is anger at the arrogance of a Tory minority that is pushing full steam ahead with neoliberalism at home and militarism abroad.

But it is no solution to replace Harper with a coalition government led by the other party of corporate power and of militarism – the Liberal Party of Canada. All that would be accomplished would be the burying of the independent voice of Canadian labour – the voice of the NDP – behind the pro-corporate voices of Michael Ignatieff and his colleagues.

If the coalition does not take office, we know the way forward. We need to build social movements against war in Afghanistan, against the militarization of Canadian society, against sending off working class men and women to die for corporate profits. We need to build inside the workers’ movements, unions with the muscle to challenge the agenda of the corporations. Don’t bail out the auto companies – nationalize them and convert the jobs to green jobs, building public transit, building the infrastructure of a sustainable green economy. If the coalition does take office – the way forward is exactly the same.

We will be told that raising Afghanistan is divisive. So be it. We will demand that the coalition withdraw the troops immediately, even if that means the Liberals abandoning the coalition and the government falling. The only lasting basis for gains for working people and the poor is in building social movements that do not rely on manoeuvres at the top of the system. The Liberals will say “but we are a party of peace, we didn’t go to war in Iraq.” We will remind them that they were going full speed ahead to war in Iraq in 2003, until 400,000 people took to the streets – including two massive, beautiful demonstrations in Montreal – demanding that Canada stay out of that conflict. The Liberals reluctantly stayed out of the Iraq war because it would have been political suicide for them to join the Coalition of the Killing.

That is the way we will win progress whether it be a Harper government, or a Liberal/NDP government – by mobilizing on the streets and in the workplaces, whether the Prime Minister is Stephen Harper, or Stéphane Dion, or Bob Rae, or Michael Ignatieff.

Previous articles:Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neoliberalism
Are the Liberals an Alternative?
Liberals and Tories – parties of corporate power

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article was published as Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan,”, 6 December.

[1] Brian Laghi, Steven Chase and Gloria Galloway and Daniel Lebanc, “Harper buys time, coalition firms up,” The Globe and Mail, November 29, 2008
[2] Graeme Smith, “Canada suffers 100th military casualty of Afghan mission,” The Globe and Mail online, December 5, 2008

Liberals and Tories – parties of corporate power

(Article 3 of 4) It is not news to many in the social movements that we have had trouble with both the Tories and the Liberals while in office. Nonetheless, there is considerable enthusiasm for an NDP-Liberal coalition being able to offer real change – change that could not happen under the Harper Tories. But we have to be very sober about what is possible. We cannot judge political parties by their momentary positions, by their style, by their individual leaders. Parties are reflections of class power in a class-divided society – and in Canada, there is no question that the Liberals, like the Tories, are a party of the corporations, a party of the capitalist class.

This used to be quite easy to demonstrate. Until December 31, 2006, political parties could receive open contributions from corporations and unions. This changed with the passing of the “Federal Accountability Act” in 2006, which restricted donations to “citizens and permanent residents of Canada” and expressly forbade “corporations, trade unions and unincorporated associations” from making these donations.[1] This does not mean that corporations and unions do not have parties of their choice – it just makes the links between parties and classes in society more obscure.

But the readily available information we have before the passing of this act makes one thing very clear – there is little difference between the Liberals and the Tories from the standpoint of the boardrooms of Canada’s major corporations. In fact, through much of the last generation, their preferred party has been the Liberals, not the Tory/Reform project of Stephen Harper. The chart here documents this clearly.[2]

While the Tories were in office under Mulroney, they were lavished with funds from Canada’s corporations. But once the Liberals replaced them, corporate funding for the Tories collapsed, and the corporations increased their donations to the Liberals, year after year preferring them to either the Tories or the Reform/Alliance, in some years sending many millions more into the Liberal coffers than into those of Tory/Reform.

We know that the economic crisis is seen differently from Bay Street than from Main Street. We know that the corporations will seek to solve the problems of the economy on the backs of working people. We know that attacks on wages, attacks on union rights, attacks on social services – we know that all of these are being prepared in the corridors of corporate power, their usual arsenal when faced with a crisis of their system.

And we know from the data on this page, and from years of bitter experience, that the Liberal Party of Canada is at its core, a party of these corporations – a party which will bend its effort to rule in the interests of these corporations.

Jack Layton is hoping that the NDP will be able to set the terms of the coalition. There is no chance of this happening. The NDP was committed to funding social programs by rescinding the corporate tax cuts made under Harper’s watch. During the election campaign, this was one of the strongest part of the party’s platform. It wasn’t only Harper who opposed it. Stéphane Dion called it a “job killer.”[3] One of the first casualties of the coalition was this NDP campaign promise. Liberal finance critic Scott Brison said that “corporate tax cuts set to kick in next year would remain in effect as part of a Liberal-NDP coalition government.”[4]

What will it mean for working people of Canada if, in order to get into office, policy after policy from the NDP campaign book has to be sacrificed in order to try and align themselves with Canada’s party of Bay Street?

Previous articles:
Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neo-Liberalism
Are the Liberals an Alternative?
Read next:
Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] Elections Canada, “Backgrounders: New Rules for Federal Political Donations
[2] Compiled from Elections Canada, “Financial Reports: Registered Party Financial Transactions Returns,” various years
[3] Mike Blanchfield and Juliet O’Neill, “NDP to tax corporations to aid families,” Edmonton Journal, September 29, 2008
[4] David Akin and Paul Vieira, “No rollback on corporate taxes: Liberal’s Brison,” The Financial Post, December 1, 2008

Are the Liberals an Alternative?

(Article 2 of 4) Harper and the Tories are unfit to govern, and should be shown the door. Unfortunately, the alternative we were offered December 3, after Harper’s broadcast to the nation, was not very promising. The Liberal-NDP coalition would be headed by outgoing Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. Along with Harper, Dion was offered ten minutes of air time on national television to present his position. In a strange piece of melodrama, Dion’s tape was delivered late – so late, that it only appeared on CBC, and was not aired by CTV.

For those who saw the video, the effect was depressing. The message Dion put forward was confusing and hesitant (as well as looking as if it had been produced by a webcam). Many who watched it and had supported the Liberal-NDP coalition, had second thoughts after seeing his performance.

Dion is a lame-duck leader of a Liberal Party that was deeply wounded in the last election. The Liberals received their lowest percentage vote ever, getting the backing of just 26% of the electorate.[1] It is only because they are so weakened that they have been forced to turn to the BQ and the NDP for support.

The role of the NDP and the recently ex-NDP is in fact extremely important in this drama. The origins of the coalition idea seems to have come from current NDP leader Jack Layton in consultation with former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. Layton – far more popular with the electorate than Dion – is centrally important in giving the coalition credibility. And in the dramatic radio coverage of the decision to prorogue Parliament, the CBC had Ed Broadbent on the phone for the NDP, and for the Liberals – former NDP premier of Ontario Bob Rae, and former NDP premier of B.C. Ujjal Dosanjh, both of whom are now senior members of the Liberal Party of Canada, one of whom (Rae) is a leading candidate to replace Dion.

But make no mistake – if the NDP is central to the formation of the coalition, this will be a Liberal government. The prime minister will be Liberal. The finance minister will be Liberal. Most of the cabinet seats will be Liberal. And these Liberals are a known quantity, a party little different from the Tories in both their fiscal and foreign policies.

Harper is hated because of his neoliberal policies. But the bitter truth is, there is nothing to choose between the Liberals and the Tories in terms of neoliberalism. One way of measuring this is in the support given by the federal government to the provinces. In the Canadian system, it is the provinces that deliver the bulk of Health, Education and Welfare. But given the much greater taxation powers of the central state, they are very dependent on transfer payments from the central state to finance these “social wage” activities. One of the key aspects of neoliberalism is launching an assault on this social wage. The chart on this page shows the record here for both the Liberals and the Tories.[2]

The neoliberal era in Canada is usually seen as beginning with the Mulroney Tories in the 1980s. The chart shows that social wage transfers did stagnate through much of the 1980s under Mulroney’s watch. But the years of devastating cuts were 1995 to 1998, years of a Liberal government. The critical moment was the 1996 budget authored by then finance minister Paul Martin, working with then prime minister Jean Chrétien. That is the budget which collapsed long-standing programs for delivering money to the provinces (Established Program Financing and Canada Assistance Plan) into the Canada Health and Social Transfer. Disguised in this bureaucratic shuffle were cuts in billions to the transfers necessary to sustain the social wage – more than $1 billion in the first year, more than $2 billion in the second and almost $3 billion in the third. In Ontario in those years, we could see the open neoliberals – Mike Harris, Jim Flaherty and Tony Clement – launching horrible attacks on hospital and public school funding. But their open neoliberal attacks were made possible by the “silent” neoliberalism of Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien. The fact that those transfer payments go up in the last years of the Liberal tenure should give none of us comfort. The first years of the 21st century saw an unprecedented world-wide economic expansion, which filled the federal coffers with billions of tax dollar windfalls. So transfer payments increase in the last years of Chrétien and Martin – but they have also increased in the last two years of the Harper Tories. This is not because either became wedded to protecting Canadian workers – it is because of the economic boom, a boom which has now come shuddering to a halt.

This division of labour between the Tories and the Liberals has long defined Canadian politics. Their policies are virtually indistinguishable – Liberals playing the soft cop as a counterpoint to the Tories’ hard cop. Social policy is not the only place where this is visible. In foreign policy, the Liberals love to portray themselves as the party of Lester Pearson, the party of peacekeeping – contrasting themselves to the hawkish Tories. And in fact, Harper’s Tories have openly relished increasing the militarization of the Canadian state. This year, Harper has boasted about his plans on these lines. In May, the National Post gave a “sneak preview” of the plans.

Over the next 20 years, the Tories want to commit Ottawa to spending $30-billion more on the military. Mr. Harper foresees an expansion of our Forces to 100,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen. Troop strength will include 70,000 regular forces, up from 65,000 today, while the reserves will expand from 24,000 to 30,000. Ageing warships will be replaced, and new transport aircraft and armoured vehicles wibe purchased. New medium-lift helicopters will be bought immediately to ferry our troops over and around roadside bombs and snipers in Afghanistan.[3]

This was confirmed on the evening of Thursday June 19, 2008 – “the night before Parliament adjourns for the summer”[4] – a major document appeared on the National Defence web site, announcing a 20 year, $490-billion “Canada First” Defence Strategy to steadily upgrade Canada’s military capacity over a generation.[5] But the chart here documents that this increase in spending on war did not begin with the Tories – it began with the Liberals.[6] Under Liberal Paul Martin’s watch between 2003 and 2006, military spending increased more than $1 billion, in real terms, every year. Under Harper, those increases actually slowed for two years, before returning to Martin era levels in 2007-08. There is nothing to choose between the Tories and the Liberals in terms of Canadian militarism.

The “Canada First” increase in Canada’s militarism, builds upon a generation of moves by both Tories and Liberals to move away from the peacekeeping moment. In 1991 under the Tories, Canada was a full participant in the first Gulf War. Canada’s 1993 intervention in Somalia looked to the Somalis more like occupation than peacekeeping.[7] In 1999, under the Liberals, Canada was one of the principal contributors to NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. And from 2001 to the present, it has been a central component of the war in Afghanistan. It was not the Tories who sent Canada into this overseas adventure – it was Jean Chrétien, and John Manley, and Paul Martin, and John McCallum, and Stéphane Dion – the very Liberals we are now told are an alternative to the Tories.

The Harper Tories are a threat to peace, a threat to social programs, a threat to the interests of working people in Canada. But the record of the Liberal Party over a generation should make us soberly assess the chances of a coalition – a coalition they dominate – being any better.

Previous article:
Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neoliberalism
Read next:
Liberals and Tories – parties of corporate power
Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] According to Nodice,
[2] Department of Finance, Canada, “Fiscal Reference Tables, September 2008: Table 11 – Major transfers to other levels of government,” adjusted into 2008 dollars based on Statistics Canada, Canadian Socio-Economic Information Management System (CANSIM) “Table 3260020 – Consumer Price Index, 2005 basket, monthly” accessed December 5, 2008.
[3] “Bolstering our Forces,” National Post, May 14, 2008
[4] David Pugliese, “Parliament in the dark on major weapons purchase,” Canwest News Services, June 19, 2008, accessed June 20, 2008
[5] “Canada First Defence Strategy,” National Defense, Canada, June 18, 2008, accessed June 20, 2008.
[6] Department of Finance, Canada, “Fiscal Reference Tables, September 2008: Table 7 – Budgetary expenses (millions of dollars),” adjusted into 2008 dollars based on Statistics Canada, Canadian Socio-Economic Information Management System (CANSIM) “Table 3260020 – Consumer Price Index, 2005 basket, monthly” accessed December 5, 2008
[7] Sherene H. Razack, Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping and the New Imperialism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004)

Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neoliberalism

(Article 1 of 4) Stephen Harper won a seven week reprieve December 4, the Governor-General granting his request to prorogue Parliament until January 26. But the events of the past week have pushed him into a corner and he is fighting for his political life. The fight has revealed something many people already knew. Behind the fuzzy sweater donned during the last election, behind the “fireside chat” chumminess that he was trying to cultivate, behind this façade of polite civilized behaviour, there resides the same man who was cadre for the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance. That political formation built itself on a combination of polarizing attacks on Quebec and neoliberal dogmatism. Harper in a corner, with his fangs bared, has showed himself not to have changed one iota.

The anti-Quebec politics he has unleashed are appalling. In Question Period December 3, Tory member after Tory member repeated the same two words over and over again – “separatist coalition” – 36 times to be exact, if the official record is to be believed.[1] Harper used the same language in his address to the nation December 3, saying that a time of crisis is “no time for backroom deals with the separatists.”[2] At various times, Tories were using the words “treason,” ” and “deal with the devil” as they carried their polemic against the proposed coalition.[3] This was clearly a planned, coordinated strategy, the most blatantly open anti-Quebec politics to come from the federal stage in years.

Just a few months ago, Harper was trying to woo the voters of Quebec, hoping to re-create the Brian Mulroney coalition of the 1980s. He had surprisingly supported the idea of calling Quebec a nation – something that angered many of his old Reform Party comrades. But pushed into a corner, he needs to rally his base – and nothing energizes the old Reform Party more than attacks on Quebec.

“In the space of just a few days” said one commentator, “the phobia of ‘separatists’ has reappeared in Ottawa and in English Canada, with a force we haven’t seen in years, since the referendum in 1995, since the Meech Lake controversy.”[4] It has become legitimate again to speak about Quebec with outright hostility and bigotry, made legitimate by the irresponsible rants of Harper and the Tory caucus.

Harper is aware just how inflammatory is his language. In the French version of his address to the nation, he translated the loaded word “separatist” into the much less value-laden “souverainiste”.[5] But this transparent ruse is unlikely to fool the people of Quebec, who are rightly recoiling in shock at the display of venom coming from Harper and his followers. As one radio commentator put it, the price for Harper rallying the troops to his anti-Quebec flag, was to put “scorched earth” between the Tories and what had been their developing base in Quebec.

Harper’s target is the Bloc Québécois (BQ), which has indicated it would support the proposed coalition between the Liberals and the NDP. Harper’s attack is ridiculous. First, the BQ is not part of the coalition – it has only indicated that it will give the coalition 18 months to govern. Second, this is not unusual. The BQ was, after all, central to keeping Stephen Harper’s last minority government alive in its early months. And these parliamentary details are beside the point. The Tories are focussing on the fact that the BQ supports sovereignty. That is their right. They are also the party supported by 1.3 million Quebeckers in the last election. The BQ is a legitimate part of the political spectrum in Canada. It has a long record of operating in the House of Commons – including being the official opposition in 1993, a party which has “contributed to debates outside matters of Quebec’s status and powers, on everything from climate change and Afghanistan to efforts to repatriate Omar Khadr” as even the editorial writers for The Globe and Mail have to admit.[6]

But Harper is teetering on the edge of losing his office, and will use every weapon at his disposal to say in office – even if that means fanning the flames of anti-Quebec bigotry. What brought Harper to this impasse was his stubborn commitment to neo-liberal orthodoxy, even in the face of the economic storm sweeping the world economy. In country after country, governments have turned their back on the neoliberal allergy to the state – and begun the process of rediscovering Keynesianism and state intervention – indispensable in the face of the horrors of the unfettered free market. But Harper and his finance minister Jim Flaherty – the latter trained in the neo-liberal era of Ontario’s Mike Harris – had delivered an economic update that instead of stimulating the economy, would have further depressed it. They are dogmatic neoliberal ideologues, very reluctant to abandon the old, failed orthodoxy.

Flaherty has been trying to argue that he has already stimulated the economy through previously announced tax cuts. The Department of Finance depends on four firms to help with the preparation of budget documents. One of these is the Centre for Spatial Economics. Flaherty’s view “is a fantasy” according to the Centre’s Robert Fairholm, quoted in The Globe and Mail. “Most of the short-term stimulus from these measures have already boosted economic activity, and so will not continue to provide [a] short-term jolt to growth.” The tax cuts coming January, 2009 put $2.5 billion into the economy. But the update was going to cut $4.3 billion, “so the net effect is contractive, Mr. Fairholm explained.” In fact, instead of stimulating the economy, Fairholm estimates that the impact of Flaherty’s “update” would be to turn a 0.3 per cent annual growth rate to a decline of 0.1 per cent.[7]

Harper has revealed his colours – first as a neo-liberal dinosaur who has no understanding of how to respond to the economic crisis, second as a politician willing to go to any lengths – including irresponsibly provoking an anti-Quebec backlash in English Canada – to consolidate his base and keep his job. No wonder that his actions have disgusted thousands, and that the three other parties in the House of Commons are trying to push him out.

Read next:
Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] “40th Parliament, 1st Session: Edited Hansard: Number 012,” Wednesday, December 3, 2008,
[2] “Full text of Harper’s televised address,”, December 3, 2008
[3] “Fanning anger toward Quebec,” The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2008,
[4] Translated from Vincent Marissal, “Situation désespérée, stratégie du désespoir,” La Presse, 04 décembre, 2008,
[5] Graeme Hamilton, “Old bogeyman usurps real crisis,” National Post, December 4, 2008,
[6] “Fanning anger toward Quebec,” The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2008, p. A22.
[7] Cited in Heather Scofield, “Flaherty’s plan prolongs the pain, forecaster says,” The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2008, p. A4.