It’s backlash week in Canadian politics. Ralph Klein, Alberta’s neoliberal premier and the closest thing Canada has to George W Bush (Klein would take that as a compliment) sent a letter to the US ambassador to Canada, repudiating the Prime Minister’s (rather ambivalent) anti-war stance and talking about Alberta’s “abiding friendship with the United States, a friendship based not only on mutual interests but also on shared values. In short, the president and your nation have exemplified leadership”
Ontario’s premier, Ernie Eves, wrote his own letter to the US ambassador, stating that Ontario is a friend of the US even if the Prime Minister is not. Eves may have had other motives, however. In a bizarre, and almost comical move, Eves decided to deliver his budget by closed-circuit television, from the building of a private corporation (an auto parts manufacturer called Magna International).
The budget itself contained the usual: tax cuts for those earning more than $70,000 a year and $1 million for a new police helicopter in Toronto, perhaps for monitoring all those protests outside the US consulate. It is possible that the letter and the bizarre budget delivery method were PR moves to distract Ontarians from the continuing rip-off they have been exposed to since their neoconservative government enacted what they called the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ in 1995.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has weighed in as well, with the president Nancy Hughes Anthony saying: “Our car plants can be replaced by Mexican car plants in short order,” she said. “We do have to appreciate that this is a package deal here, that with the economic advantage of being north of the border comes also the kind of duty and responsibility of standing up for your friends in hard times.”
The Canadian Council of Executives’ response was to add: “”Is a negative impact on $2-billion a day of business . . . important? Damn right it’s important”. Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson waved his finger at Canadians: “If you are one of the millions of Canadians whose job depends on the free flow of goods and services with the United States, you should be furious.”
With all this fury for the risks to our jobs, car plants, and business, one wonders whether Canadians are to have any fury left over for all the lies we are being told, all the Iraqis who are being killed, and all of the international laws that are being violated by an unprovoked attack on a defenceless civilian population. What was it that Justice Robert Jackson said about the Nuremberg trials? “The very essence of the Nuremberg charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the state.” To be fair, I suppose he didn’t say that individuals’ international duties transcend $2 billion a day of business, or millions of jobs.
But all this discussion by Canada’s elite only shows how isolated they are not only from ordinary Canadians, but also from ordinary Americans, since there are millions of Americans who are against this war. Those Americans might want Canadians to stick to our anti-war stance. They might even consider that part of our “responsibility” to our “friends in hard times”.
And even if Canadians were the kind of people who were willing to trade other people’s lives in exchange for the security of our jobs, for these people– who have spent the past decade gutting the public sector, throwing hundreds of thousands out of work, and lining their own pockets– to suddenly be worried about Canadian ‘jobs’ seems slightly insincere.
If the United States wants to punish Canada (and Mexico, and Germany, and France, and a hundred other countries) for not joining it in turning the clock back 50 years to the days of colonial occupation, in pretending that all the struggles of the poor people of the world for their independence never happened or can be undone-by moving their corporations and closing the border as they are threatening– Canadians might discover that begging for scraps from US corporations was never in our interest. Indeed, some have called for a boycott of US products.
If, on the other hand, the Canadian people use our integration with the US as a chance to reach out to American people, saying, perhaps, that “friends don’t let friends commit war crimes”, this is to the good. Canadians and Americans who are against war could act jointly.
Neither our integration with the US nor our independence from it compels us to be subservient to the agenda of its current government. To the extent that we are integrated with the US, we have a responsibility to make sure our common path isn’t one of committing crimes against humanity. To the extent that we have independence, we should use it to pressure the US towards the same goal. Canadians have to help Americans stop their empire, notwithstanding our revolting elites.