A Researcher in Halifax
HALIFAX (October 15, 2001) – THE FORCES coming into motion against the latest US-led aggression in Afghanistan are demonstrating daily in many cities. This is bringing urgently to the fore the need to find ways of sharpening the edge of opposition so as to strengthen its effectiveness. In this connection, the New Democratic Party is playing a disruptive role. This starts with efforts to deceive those coming forward in the present anti-war movement into accepting the authority of the NDP as, at least, a parliamentary political guide, if not an actual leading force, against what the Chretien government has already done and proposes yet to do in the Bush coalition. When it comes to playing games of political deception and to ultra-opportunist betrayal of the mass movement at crucial moments, the NDP is extremely experienced and can be said to have written the playbook.
The oldest trick in the book is simply to hijack public forms and expressions of the movement for sectarian purposes. In this, the NDP has the support of the longest-established bulwarks of reaction, especially in the most Establishment wing of the mass media. Thus: on Sunday October 7, in the NATO port of Halifax, mobilization of materiel and 1,200 (of a total 2,000) personnel for the present war began. Meanwhile on its front page, a province-wide large-circulation newspaper, The Sunday Herald, reported the peace rally of the previous day. This event in the centre of the provincial capital’s downtown was accurately reported in TML as one in which denunciations of the US as the organizing centre of state terrorism, particularly throughout the Middle East, along other anti-imperialist declarations, earned the loudest and longest applause. But The Sunday Chronicle Herald reported this rally under the headline: “McDonough praises PM for resisting war mentality”, as though this event was for, or even about, the local member of Parliament. The CBC’s coverage similarly focussed on the leader of the federal NDP.
In the Halifax waterfront casino, anchoring one end of Ms McDonough’s constituency, they have a saying: “if you want to play, you gotta pay.” On October 2, McDonough openly joined the rest of the Canadian media and political elites in denouncing (as “unhelpful… exaggerated … rhetoric”) the remarks of Sunera Thobani, a former chair of the National Action Council on the Status of Women (NAC). (She had described US foreign policy as “soaked in blood.”) Since that moment, the media have presented, and granted Ms McDonough the franchise to present, her party as the “lone” opponent of Canadian participation in this present war outside of humanitarian assistance roles or a role decided by “international bodies.”
The rich have turned Halifax into a harbour for war. On Thursday, October 11, a fundraiser on the “New Politics Initiative” (NPI) staged in Halifax demonstrated the readiness of the NDP, as an agency of the rich, to try to bully into submission any actual anti-war voices not in its pay or on its wavelength. Judy Rebick, national campaigner for the NPI was debating with Maureen MacDonald, a local NDP establishment figurehead. They were carrying on in the tried-and-true demobilizing style: trading veiled insults over whose bag of tricks will be better for fooling people into becoming NDP voting cattle during elections. An audience member had the temerity to provide actual facts demonstrating the absence of any concrete example of NDP opposition to any specific act of the Chretien government committing Canadian forces for the present aggression. In nothing flat, those who had just been at daggers drawn immediately closed ranks. Each took the opportunity to issue fulsome praise for McDonough’s “courage” in “opposing war.” Rebick singled out McDonough’s statements as a “shining moment” on a par with the NDP’s vote in the House of Commons against the War Measures Act in 1970. (The NDP did vote against it, on the third reading, after voting for it on the first two readings to expedite its passage in the House of Commons.) Anything that might tarnish its brilliance was to be set aside. Speaking as a former NAC chair, Rebick called the “gang-up” on Sunera Thobani “unfair.” She “disagreed” with McDonough’s joining the chorus against her – but then hastened to detach the matter from any realities of the current war by declaring “that debate is for another time”!
These and other facts show how desperately concerned the NDP has become to cover actual deeds of war behind words about peace.
On Tuesday, October 9, McDonough and the party’s defence critic Peter Stoffer (representing a neighbouring suburban Halifax constituency) issued a “joint statement” in which they “completely back the men and women in the Canadian military assigned to the US coalition.”
Stoffer commented: “While I would have preferred that the government act through the international body of the United Nations, I understand the decision made by the Prime Minister to deploy military personnel to the area and believe politics must be put aside and a united front must be presented in the House of Commons regarding this action.” (Brian Underhill, ‘New Democrats muster united front on war’, The Chronicle-Herald/Mail-Star, 10 October 2001)
This statement has two noteworthy features. Firstly, its signatories appear in their parliamentary capacities – as leader and defence critic. But what actually moved them to speak? Each has a large number of military personnel in their constituency, and the government has committed Halifax as its principal NATO port to be the staging area for its material commitment to this war effort.
Secondly, this “joint statement” was issued not by the NDP caucus as a whole, nor by the party’s internal governing body.
The NDP is evidently having as much difficulty obtaining unanimity within its own caucus as the US and Britain have within their coalition. Why is the NDP defence critic calling for a “united front” beyond the ranks of his own party? Could it be to paper over the deepening cracks in that caucus? Whatever the situation facing the rest of her caucus, McDonough herself blames the Prime Minister for placing her in an impossible position. On the one hand, she would like to continue to posture as anti-war in words (as federal leader of the New Democratic Party inside and outside Parliament). Now she also has to support this war, openly, in deeds (as the member from Halifax). On the day the bombing became public (Sunday, October 7), McDonough said
“she was deeply disturbed when she saw that Canada’s contribution went beyond what she had been told in private by Prime Minister Jean Chretien. She said that she had understood that Canada would limit itself to support services, but that Canadian troops are heading straight into action for an unlimited term. ‘Canada has made a commitment beyond what I understood from the Prime Minister,’ she said. ‘I was shocked.’ ‘‘ (Daniel Leblanc, ‘How do the party leaders feel about Canada’s role?,’ The Globe and Mail, 9 Oct 2001).
Clearly, she is a witting participant. Was she really all that unwilling? By her own admission, she had earlier given the Prime Minister a blank cheque. The government wrote in the amount, the Americans cashed it, and now she objects!
These are acts of out-and-out political prostitution. In line with this activity, meanwhile, the NDP has also become acutely concerned that its words of peace be in no way associated with words or deeds of an anti-imperialist character. It is trying to conceal this pro-imperialist posture and delay its exposure as long as possible. Thus, as the bombing began, Chretien briefed the other Canadian political party leaders, including McDonough. Did she use this opportunity even to demand an early recall of Parliament for an emergency debate? On the contrary:
“McDonough said Mr Chretien told her in a telephone briefing Sunday that there is no need to bring Parliament back early from the week-long Thanksgiving break for an emergency debate because the Canadian ships and planes would take 10 days to get ready to sail.” (Jeff Sallot, ‘CANADIANS HEAD OFF TO WAR: Operation Apollo mobilizes ships, aircraft and commandos,’ The Globe and Mail, 9 October 2001).
Clearly, the NDP is very sensitive to suppress even the appearance of opposition to anything the Chretien government is actually doing at the moment regarding this particular campaign of aggression.
McDonough has lately become fond of uttering the phrases “international bodies” and “United Nations” like some kind of mantra. This seems designed to suggest that she and her party stand so utterly, so profoundly, so spiritually opposed to American unilateralism that there is no need actually to spell out anything so petty as mere details or evidence of how or where they have actually been opposing it. This trick is very old and very sordid indeed: to appear so serene and so fully understanding among the people, as a cover for facilitating the people’s worst enemies in perpetrating the worst crimes against their present and future. The NDP has remained silent as the grave about continuing Canadian involvement in NATO and NORAD. The NDP has said nothing about the Chretien government’s decision to join other members of NATO invoking the “collective defence” provisions of its charter in support of the United States. The NDP has said nothing about whether it accepts or rejects the US administration’s blatant twisting of the “self-defence” clause of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter to justify retaliatory acts of aggression. The NDP has not even asked the Chretien government where it stands on this central issue of international law.
To end this war and Canada’s participation in it, what need or reason could there be for the present movement to detour into such a dark and desperate land of political prostitutes and bogus buddhas?
Source: TML Daily, October 15, 2001 – No. 185