Opinion

Don't Give Canada a Security Council Seat

Despite the PM's high-minded rhetoric, we haven't earned the spot.

By Murray Dobbin 27 Sep 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Murray Dobbin's "State of the Nation" column runs every other Monday in The Tyee and on Rabble, and he also publishes articles on his blog.

Stephen Harper's hypocritical performance at the United Nations, in aid of winning a seat for Canada on the Security Council, should be enough by itself for Canadians to rise up in unison and say we don't deserve it. Both the NDP and Liberals have said that the seat is for Canada, not for the Conservatives, and that Canadians should therefore support the bid. But if Harper is successful, we will all regret it.

It is not just that we don't deserve it -- more on that below. Harper wants this seat for a reason, and it has nothing to do with his phony reiteration of UN "values" -- none of which has he ever paid even lip service to.

No, Stephen Harper wants the seat so that he can assist the U.S. in whatever imperial adventures and world domination plans it rolls out. Seeing Harper shaking hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was truly repugnant, given Harper's unmatched and singular support for whatever Israel does. (Remember his "measured response" comment regarding Israel's laying waste to Lebanon? A more grotesquely disingenuous gesture is hard to imagine.) If Harper gets his wish, it will give him more opportunities to back Israel and support whatever action against Iran that the U.S. and Israel want, including bombing its nuclear sites.

Harper's Latin America stance

Canada under Harper has also shifted its foreign affairs attention increasingly to Latin America, a part of the world that it has hitherto virtually ignored. Did Harper suddenly eat Mexican food and change Canada's policy? Or is he still trying to please the U.S.? Our new focus on working primarily with Colombia, the most right-wing and highly militarized country in the region (virtually a U.S. military base), shows Harper's intent. The U.S., having lost control of its backyard, needs help from its "best friend." 

That could well include actions by the Security Council if U.S. intervention in Latin America escalates as many predict. Future Western interventions in Haiti could also attract the attention of the Security Council by way of Canada's and the U.S.'s neo-colonial project in that country. In all these misguided situations Harper will be there, ever eager to play his role of Yankee sidekick -- speaking for us whether we like it or not.

Paul Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic declared: "Canada must have a seat on the Security Council, it's in our DNA." Wrong. This would be just one more shame added to all the others Harper has heaped on the country. Providing Canada with such an honour given its recent record would be rewarding this country's worst behaviour internationally in its history. Canada needs to heal itself and undo the policies of this government before it can make any legitimate claim to a seat on this body.

Saying one thing, doing another

Harper suddenly adopted values he has vilified and ridiculed for virtually his entire political career, stating: "The UN's mission has grown over time, but its core job remains the same -- through peace and development, to build a better world. To prevent war and conflict, yet at the same time, to uphold what is right and to protect the weak and the poor from those who prey upon them." It's a wonder he could keep a straight face.

He portrayed his government as a team player, working to advance the values of the United Nations. A short trip through Harper's four years as prime minister demonstrates just how small the teams he was on really were -- wrecking crews of a handful of countries, opposing scores of others who were actually promoting human rights and social justice. Canada's actions reek of hypocrisy and crass corporate toadyism.

On the issue of indigenous rights, Canada was one of only four countries to vote against the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights when the General Assembly passed it in 2007. Harper still has not signed.

Asbestos is the greatest workplace killer in history, and the numbers are still increasing every year in spite of it being banned by all developed countries. This sudden defender of the UN and human rights has explicitly declared himself the champion of the Quebec asbestos industry, and has dedicated himself to ensuring that asbestos is not declared a dangerous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. His team? A handful of asbestos producing countries grateful for the cover provided by "liberal" Canada.

The UN "team" opposing the banning of terminator seeds -- sterile seeds that cannot be planted -- was even smaller. Canada joined with Australia and New Zealand in attempting to undermine the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. (The U.S. didn't even sign the protocol so couldn't join.)

And Team GMO? It has just three members, too -- this time Canada, the U.S. and Argentina, who together launched a successful WTO challenge against the EU for its banning of GMO food.

Petro-state politics

Team Africa-not? Sometimes Canada is a team all on its own -- as it was when Harper decided virtually overnight, with no negotiations, no warning and no apologies, to abandon its development partnership with eight impoverished African countries. These particular programs had received almost universal praise for their effectiveness. 

On human rights? In his UN speech Harper said: "These foundational [UN] beliefs... demand we seek justice, and uphold the human rights of all people." Well, maybe not all people. For the Harper regime it is strictly a matter of human rights à la carte -- they are only referred to if it is politically convenient and involves feeding his base. He occasionally mentions China and Iran and likes to bash Venezuela, but virtually never talks about rights when it comes to Gaza, Lebanon, Burma, Honduras, Columbia, or Saudi Arabia. 

Team Israel? Here Harper is obviously part of a slightly larger team -- but no less shameful -- and one he seems to want to lead. No other country, not even the U.S., has given Israel such open-ended and totally uncritical support, no matter what it does or how many innocent men, women and children it kills. In his speech, Harper claimed to support the Palestinian rights: "We welcome strongly the resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine." But Harper has said almost nothing about Israel's refusal to stop building new settlements -- a deal breaker for Palestinians. In Canada he eliminated funding for Kairos (the ecumenical group working on development and human rights in many countries around the world) for its Middle East peace work, stacked the board of Rights and Democracy (an arm's length international human rights organization) with pro-Israeli members, and withdrew funding from UNRWA, the UN agency that provides aid, education and other services to Palestinian refugees.

Enemy of a safe climate

The most notorious violation of UN principles is Harper's open contempt for the Kyoto Accord and indeed any serious effort to deal with climate change. Again, he has given Canada the dubious honour of leading the reactionary charge against progress. Canada was singled out by NGOs for special condemnation at the COP15 UN climate negotiations. Author and world commentator George Monbiot summed it up: "This thuggish petro-state is today the greatest obstacle to a deal in Copenhagen." 

How can Canadians honestly claim that we deserve a place on the UN Security Council given this appalling record (for which, by the way, the Liberal party shares some responsibility)? We are, like it or not, responsible for the fact that Stephen Harper is prime minister. It is our duty to kick him out of office and demand that the next government begin to repair the terrible damage done in the past four years. Then, and only then, can we legitimately claim a seat.

In the meantime, we have a duty to actively keep the Harper government as far away as possible from more power to degrade and offend the United Nations. We should be lobbying against Canada being given a Security Council seat.  [Tyee]

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