Harper’s Agenda: Fear and Loathing in the Great White North

The move by Canada’s Conservative government to extend for a year the bombing mission in Iraq, and expand it into Syria, won’t make much difference in the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State. But it will appease the arms industry, mobilize the party’s right wing electoral base, and poison the political climate.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign policy is largely about re-shaping the domestic agenda – for years to come. War in the East helps to fuel the flames of hatred and bigotry at home, and strike fear in the hearts of working people, especially social justice seekers.

By spending $122 million and bombing 53 targets, Ottawa is no closer to eliminating ISIS. Instead, it is treading the path that turned Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya over to ruthless, sectarian, reactionary forces. It also ensures more costly contracts for makers of military hardware and surveillance technology.

The ideological offensive, however, is priceless. For Canada’s ruling elite, that is. By distracting huge swaths of the population with security paranoia and islamophobia, the Conservatives sidelined discussions about job insecurity, tax giveaways to the rich, rising economic inequality, eroded pensions, long ignored child care needs, and the scourge of climate change. The diversion worked, for a while, and now shows signs of waning.

Harper continues to inflate the ‘jihadist monster’ – even as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says that Muslim terrorists are less of a threat than white supremacists. Lone wolf attackers are more likely to be radical right wingers than radical Islamists, according to CSIS. But Arabs and Muslims fit the profile Harper prefers to employ to rationalize more police powers and longer jail sentences.

His so-called Anti-Terrorism Act (C-51), condemned by the 36,000 member Canadian Bar Association for curtailing liberties without increasing public safety, casts a widening net. Its vague wording is a gaping snare, potentially for anyone who engages in protest that ‘undermines national security.’ Workers on strike, indigenous land defenders, and so-called ‘anti-petroleum ideologues’, take note.

Meanwhile, greater police spying, more frequent use of cop agents to disrupt social movements, and arrests increasingly made without due process, combined with mounting civilian casualties from CF18 air strikes abroad, will likely help ISIS to recruit – and round and round it goes.

This is the political treadmill for more war, more austerity for the vast majority, and many more lies. Remember the Fair Elections Act that made elections less fair? The Access to Information Act that made information inaccessible? The Privacy Act that invaded your privacy? The noncombat mission in Iraq that put Canadian troops in combat, leading to the death of one soldier, and the maiming of three others from “friendly fire” on an Iraqi battle front line in March?

To his credit, New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair condemned the extension of the war. He said in Parliament that an NDP government would end Canadian intervention in Iraq and Syria, and bring the troops home. If only he would similarly denounce the Zionist occupation of Palestinian territory and reverse his stridently pro-Israel stance.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau opposed Harper’s expanding belligerence, mostly on the dodgy basis that the mission lacks clear objectives. However, Trudeau and his Liberals are voting for repressive law C-51, they say, for fear of handing Harper an election issue. Such a principled opposition.

Fortunately, the parliamentary critics increasingly echo the changing mood of the population, which is questioning permanent war abroad, and challenging repressive legislation at home.

On March 14 over 90,000 people rallied and marched across English Canada and Quebec against Bill C-51. More protests are in the works. That is the best bet for changing the channel on Harper’s ‘fear and loathing’ agenda.

– By Barry Weisleder