Reviewing Linda McQuaig’s “Holding the Bully’s Coat”

Linda McQuaig is a prominent, award-winning Canadian journalist, sadly less well known in the US because she writes about her own country.  She was a national reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail before joining the Toronto Star where she now covers Canadian politics with her trademark combination of solid research, keen analysis, irreverence and passion.  She’s easy to read, never boring, and fearless. The National Post called her “Canada‘s Michael Moore.”


McQuaig is also a prolific author with a well-deserved reputation for taking on the establishment. In her previous seven books, she challenged Canada‘s deficit reduction scheme to gut essential social services.  She explained how the rich used the country’s tax system for greater riches the way it happened in the US since Ronald Reagan, then exploded under George Bush.  She exposed the fraud of “free trade” empowering giant corporations over sovereign states while exploiting working people everywhere. 


She also showed how successive Canadian governments waged war on equality since the 1980s, and in her last book before her newest one she took aim at why the US invaded and occupied Iraq.  It’s catchy title is “It’s the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet.”  It’s no secret America’s wars in the Middle East and Central Asia are to control what Franklin Roosevelt’s State Department in 1945 called a “stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history – the huge amount of Middle East oil alone and veto power over how it’s disbursed and to whom.


“Holding the Bully’s Coat – Canada and the US Empire” is her eighth book. She writes about a country slightly larger than the US in geographic size with around one-tenth the population and one-twelfth the GDP.  It also shares the world’s longest relatively open, undefended border extending 3145 miles.  In her book, McQuaig explains how corporate-Canada, its elitist “comprador class,” the Department of National Defense (DND), and mainstream commentators want Canada to be Washington‘s subservient junior partner. The result is Ottawa abandoned its traditional role in peacekeeping, supporting internationalism, as a fair-minded mediator and conciliator, and it’s continuing downhill from there.


Today Canada‘s allied with the Bush administration’s belligerent lawlessness in its phony “war on terrorism.”  It’s not part of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq but joined Washington‘s war of aggression and illegal occupation in Afghanistan.  In February, 2004, it partnered with the US and France ousting democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, then became part of the repressive Blue Helmet MINUSTAH paramilitary force onslaught against his Lavalas movement and Haitian people under cover of “peacekeeping.”  More on that below.


In “Holding the Bully’s Coat,” McQuaig further explains how Canada lost its moorings.  As an appendage of the US empire, it abandoned its traditional commitment to equality, inclusiveness, and rule of law.  She wants her country to disgorge this virus plaguing it – its uncharacteristic culture of militarism, loss of sovereignty and one-sided support of privilege, returning to its roots to reclaim its once proud status now lost.  Its leaders might recall former Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz’s lament saying: “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the US.” Closeness plagues Canada, too.  It can’t choose neighborhoods but can still go its own sovereign way.


This review covers McQuaig’s important book in detail so readers can learn what afflicts America affects Canada as well.  It’s a cancerous disease, and all people everywhere suffer for it.


McQuaig starts off noting the “significant shift in how Canada (now) operates in the world (having) moved from being a nation that has championed internationalism, the United Nations and UN peacekeeping to being a key prop” in George Bush’s “war on terrorism.”  It belies Canada‘s now sullied reputation “as a fair arbiter and promoter of just causes (and as a) decent sort of country.”  She laments how the conservative Harper government aids the beleaguered White House, joined its war of aggression in Afghanistan, and continues distancing itself from its European allies “with whom we have a great deal in common.” 


Canada and the continent have “compelling similarities” shown in stronger social programs, “aspirations for greater social equality,” and wanting “a world of peaceful co-existence among nations.”  In contrast, America continues growing more unequal, focusing instead on achieving unchallengeable economic, political and military supremacy in line with its imperial aims for world dominance.  Nations daring to step out of line, risk getting flattened the way it’s now happening to Iraq and Afghanistan.


Canada‘s tilt to the right began in earnest in the 1980s under conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and his relationship with Ronald Reagan.  Corporate American elites fondly remember his December, 1984 appearance at the New York Economic Club where one writer said business heavyweights were “hanging from the rafters” to hear what he’d say.  They weren’t disappointed, and it’s been mostly downhill since.  Back then, the order of the day was mainly business, but it no longer would be as formerly usual with Mulroney delighting his listeners announcing “Canada is open for business.”  He meant US corporations were welcome up north, the two countries would work for greater economic integration, and America‘s sovereignty henceforth took precedence over its northern neighbor.


Before Stephen Harper took office in February, 2006, McQuaig notes Canada‘s foreign policies began tilting to the right under Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.  He replaced Jean Chretien in December, 2003, stepping down after 10 years in office just ahead of the federal “sponsorship scandal” over improper use of tax dollars that doomed the Martin government after an explosive report about it was released in February, 2004.  While still in office, Martin’s April, 2005 defence policy review stressed the integration of Canada‘s military with the US.  He also approved redeploying Canadian Afghan troops away from “peacekeeping” in Kabul to fighting Taliban forces in southeastern Helmand province.  Based on Taliban gains, since its resurgence to control half the country, he and Harper may live to regret that decision.


McQuaig notes the absence of any evidence Canadians approve.  In fact, polls consistently show they’re “increasingly wary of our involvement in Afghanistan (and too close an alignment) with the United States.”  Their feeling may be heightened under Harper’s “flag-pumping jingoism” aided by the country’s dominant media championing the war effort much like their counterparts in the US.  Public approval doesn’t count in Canada any more than in the America.  What George Bush wants he’s mostly gotten so far, and Stephen Harper is quite willing to go along.


Anti-Canadians at Home and Abroad


Since taking office in February, 2006, Harper’s been in lockstep with Washington, even abandoning Canada‘s traditional even-handedness on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  One of his first shameless acts was to cut off aid to the new democratically elected Hamas government.  Showing his pro-Israeli bona fides, he failed to show concern for 50,000 Canadians in harm’s way in Lebanon after Israel launched its summer war of aggression last year.  Instead of calling for a ceasefire, Harper defended Israel calling their action “measured.” In fact, it flattened half the country causing vast destruction, many hundreds of deaths, massive population displacement, and untold human misery and desperation still afflicting those in the conflict areas.


McQuaig notes Canadian internationalism evolved post-WW II.  It showed in support for the UN, peacekeeping as opposed to militarism, the rule of law, distaste for imperialism, and by following a good neighbor policy toward all other countries.  It was completely contrary to American belligerence, hardened under George Bush post-9/11, and now largely embraced by Stephen Harper just like Britain did it under Tony Blair.  The UK leader is leaving office June 27 at the end of his prime ministership with an approval rating lower than George Bush’s (at 26% in latest Newsweek poll nearly matching Richard Nixon’s record low of 23%), maybe signaling what’s ahead for Mr. Harper.


His government, Canada‘s elite, and its military support policies distinct from the public’s.  They want tax cuts for the rich, cuts in social spending, more privatizations and less regulation, increased military spending and closer ties to the US and its belligerent imperial agenda.  That includes its policy of torture Canada‘s now complicit with as a partner in Bush’s “war on terrorism” and how it’s being waged.  In contrast, the public “favours a more egalitarian agenda of public investment, universal social programs,” and maintaining Canada‘s identity distinct from its southern neighbor.  Most Canadians don’t wish to emulate it, nor would they tolerate living under a system denying them the kinds of essential social benefits they now have even though they’re eroding. 


Their feelings are especially strong regarding their cherished national health medicare system.  It’s “founded on the principle that everyone should have access to health care (and) be treated equally,” unlike in the US where everyone can get the best health care possible as long as they can pay for it.  If not, too bad, and for 47 million Americans without health insurance it’s really bad along with around another 40 million who are without it some portion of every year.  For Canadians, that’s unthinkable and wouldn’t be tolerated.


It should be as unthinkable that the Harper government’s so-called Clean Air Act of October, 2006 meant Ottawa‘s effective abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.  The Chretien government accepted and ratified it even though little was done under Liberal rule, making it easier to do less under Conservative leadership.  That’s in spite of near-universal agreement global warming is real and threatening the planet with an Armageddon future too grim to ignore.  Canada‘s doing it under Harper just like Washington ignores it under George Bush.


A large part of the problem is both parties’ support for  industry efforts to triple oil sands production by 2015 to three million barrels daily.  At that level, it’s impossible  meeting Kyoto targets, but Washington approves as most production is earmarked for US markets.  It will feed America‘s insatiable energy appetite meaning planet earth’s fate is someone else’s problem, and maybe it will go away if we stop talking about it.  And maybe not after we learn it’s too late to matter.  Canada‘s record is already disgraceful with one of the world’s highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions per person.  Unless it acts to change current policy, it risks being called an international scofflaw, no different than its southern neighbor, except in degree.


The Harper government is also massively ramping up Canada’s military spending he plans to increase over 50% above 2005 levels to $21.5 billion annually by 2010.  That’s in spite of the nation facing no threats and a public consensus favoring social spending.  It’s also contrary to Canada’s traditionally eschewing militarism unlike the US with its long history of it since the nation’s founding.  It intensified post-WW II after it emerged preeminent and chose to pursue an imperial agenda for new markets, resources and exploitable cheap labor now endangering all planetary life by its recklessness. That’s what Canada chose to partner with making it complicit with whatever happens henceforth.


Unsurprisingly, the Bush-Harper “war on terrorism” partnership now focuses on the Middle East where two-thirds of the world’s proved oil reserves are located (around 675 billion barrels) and the Central Asian Caspian basin with an estimated 270 billion barrels more plus one-eighth of the world’s natural gas reserves.  It doesn’t matter that claimed “terrorism” is phony and “war” on it against “Islamofascists” threatening our freedoms unjustified.  It only matters that people of both countries believe enough of the daily media-fed fiction so their governments can pursue what enough popular outrage never would allow.  Anger and disillusionment in both countries are growing but haven’t reached critical mass. 


It’s the job of the dominant media to prevent it getting there.  So the beat goes on daily keeping it in check in both countries suppressing ugly truths and preaching notions of American exceptionalism.  We’re told it’s unique in the world giving the US special moral authority to make its own rules, irrespective of long-standing international laws and norms it openly flouts as “quaint and obsolete.”  Because of its privileged status, it reigns as a self-styled “beacon of freedom” defending “democracy-US style,” empowered to wage imperial wars using humanitarian intervention as cover for them.  In the made-in-Washinton New World Order, America answers only to itself, the law is what the administration says it is, and, the message to all countries is “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  Thus, Spaketh a modern-day Zarathustra, aka George Bush.


McQuaig continues explaining how Canadians are used to their own media, academic and corporate elites pandering to Washington rather than taking pride mostly in their own country.  She notes the National Post and C.D. Howe Institute serve as “spiritual home(s) for neoconservatism” favoring the same kinds of policies as the US-based bastions of conservative extremism like the Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution and Wall Street Journal editorial page that’s hard right enough to make a Nazi blush.  She mentioned C.D. Howe’s sponsored lecture in late 2004 by former Canadian ambassador to the US, Allan Gotlieb.


He stressed Canada is a faded world power needing to accept the “transcendant (reality of) US power” and align with it.  He said Canadians have a choice between “realism” and “romanticism.” The former means accepting US preeminence, even when it violates international law.  Further, Canadians must “liberate themselves from the belief that the UN is the sacred foundation of our foreign policy.”  According to Gotlieb, international law, embodied in the UN Charter, is obsolete and irrelevant including what constitutes legitimate armed intervention. 


The “romantic” approach respecting international law and treaties, that are law for signatories, are “narcissistic” and “sanctimonious.” Following this course will marginalize Canada reducing its influence.  It can only be enhanced by aligning with Washington so as its power grows, so will Canada’s opportunity to benefit from it.  Advancing this kind of tortured logic guarantees Canada only trouble in light of George Bush’s failed adventurism and US status as a world-class pariah  mass public opinion condemns nearly everywhere.  McQuaig says “it’s hard (imagining) we’d be viewed with anything but contempt (for having chosen to “hold the bully’s coat” as its) unctuous little sidekick.”  Not according to Gotlieb who scoffs at the idea of “remain(ing) committed to the values we hold….advance them to the world” regardless of what direction the US takes.


McQuaig compares her country’s government, business and military elite to the 19th century notion of a “comprador class” serving foreign business class interests.  Modern-day Canadian compradors serve as intermediary junior partners for corporate American giants especially as so much of Canada’s economy is foreign owned or controlled – 28% of non-financial sectors with 20% by US companies in 2004.  It’s much higher in the key oil and gas sector at 45% overall and 33% in US hands.  Further, of the 150 most powerful CEOs on the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), about one-fourth of them are with subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies and 18% of them are American. 


McQuaig stresses these numbers are significant but not overwhelming.  What’s astonishing and overwhelming is Canada’s growing dependence on the US market now accounting for 87% of all exports.  It explains why Canadian business championed its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) “leap of faith” in 1988, NAFTA in 1994, and the new Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) founded in March, 2005 by the US, Canada and Mexico. SPP aims to advance a common security strategy veiling a scheme to destroy Canadian and Mexican sovereignty under a broader plan for a North American Union under US control. 


The plan is to create a borderless North America removing barriers to trade and capital flows for corporate giants, mainly US ones.  It also wants to guarantee America free and unlimited access to Canadian and Mexican resources, mainly oil, of course. That will assure US energy security while denying Canada and Mexico preferential access to their own resources henceforth earmarked for US markets. Finally, it wants to create a fortress-North American security zone encompassing the whole continent under US control.  The scheme, in short, is NAFTA on steroids combined with Pox Americana homeland security enforcement.  It’s the Bush administration’s notion of “deep integration” or the “Big Idea” meaning we’re boss, what we say goes, and no outliers will be tolerated. 


Stephen Harper and Canadian business leaders endorse the plan. Canadian businesses will profit hugely leaving the country’s energy needs ahead for future leaders to worry about.  Today, it’s only next quarter’s earnings and political opportunism that matters.  McQuaig notes how Canada’s elites want to push the envelope further by giving more tax breaks to business and the rich while cutting social spending for greater global competitive opportunities.  It’s heading for the way it is in the US with a growing disparity between rich and poor economist Paul Krugman calls “unprecedented.”


It led to a Citigroup Global Markets 2005 report describing the developed world divided in two blocs – an “egalitarian” one made up of Europe and Japan and “plutonomies” in the other one.  There the US, UK and Canada are cited as members where wealthy elites get most of the benefits and the disparity between rich and poor keeps getting more extreme.  McQuaig mentions journalists like Murray Dobbin saying resistance to the US empire is futile and promotes “pre-emptive surrender(ing)” to it.  McQuaig thinks Canadians in their roots have other ideas being “neither anti-American nor self-adoring – just resistant to bullies, on both sides of the border.”  But given the state of the world and how Canada today is closely aligned with Washington, ordinary Canadians

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