Politicization of private interests – Baird did yeoman’s work for private monopoly interests as Canada’s jingoist Foreign Minister putting Canada on war footing against their competitors. Baird is continuing on the same career path but with more lucrative rewards. GEORGE ALLEN
On March 25, Stephen Harper’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird was hired by the Barrick Gold monopoly to sit on its international advisory board. Canada’s conflict-of-interest legislation theoretically prevents cabinet ministers from negotiating future employment while in office. Baird’s resignation from Parliament only took effect on March 16, yet everyone is to believe that the Barrick offer was made during the nine days between March 16 and 25. The Hamilton Spectator reported on March 30, that while Baird was in charge of Foreign Affairs, Barrick sent a lobbyist to discuss international relations, mining and trade with him several times, most recently in May 2013. Baird’s compensation has not been announced but former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the chair of Barrick’s international board, makes about $1 million a year.
On March 30, the Canadian Pacific Railway monopoly hired Baird to sit on its expanded board of directors for which he will receive an annual salary of $235,000.
Then, on April 2, the Globe and Mail reported that Baird had been hired as an adviser for Hong Kong and Canada-based billionaire Richard Li. Among the holdings in Li’s empire are the Pacific Century investment group, Pacific Century Regional Developments Limited and another telecommunications firm, PCCW Limited. Li had previously bid for large stakes in Bell Canada and Air Canada but was unsuccessful.
Far from leaving government to pursue a “post-political career,” facts show that Baird’s service to the private monopolies is part of the government’s politicization of private interests and how the state has been turned over to those interests. As a rule, the neo-liberal state which dismantles the public authority is run by and for the private monopolies. Baird served those interests during his 25-year career as an Ontario MPP, federal MP and in federal cabinet posts. Baird did yeoman’s work for these private interests as Canada’s jingoist Foreign Minister putting Canada on war footing against their competitors. Baird is continuing on the same career path but with more lucrative rewards, bringing all the experience of the state to assist private interests to better overcome and smash public right and uphold monopoly right in Canada and around the world.
The experience of the Canadian people fighting under the conditions of the Harper government and the monopoly dictate it has unleashed; and the experience of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America defending themselves against the monopoly right of Canada-based private monopolies show exactly what Baird is up to and its significance.
Harper Government’s support of railways’ monopoly right
What might be Baird’s credentials to join the board of CP Rail? Baird served as Harper’s Minister of Transport between October 30, 2008 and August 6, 2010.
Furthermore, CP and other rail monopolies have had the full backing of the anti-worker Harper government. On May 31, 2012, the government passed back-to-work legislation to end the nine-day strike of 4,800 CP Rail locomotive engineers, conductors, yardmen and others. It did so using the pretext of national security and the “fragile economic recovery” to criminalize the right of CP Rail workers to resist the company’s demands to gut their pensions and retiree health benefits, and to back up their demands for safe and healthy working conditions and scheduling. Similarly on February 15, the Harper government was preparing to pass back-to-work legislation against 3,000 striking CPR locomotive engineers and other rail workers but the strike went to arbitration the following day.
This is part of the neo-liberal agenda of the government to see that monopoly right trumps public right, where public safety in communities traversed by rail lines is to be managed as a “cost” to the monopolies, such that they be given a free hand to establish and enforce their own demonstrably lax safety regulations.
Harper Government’s role in promoting Barrick Gold
Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation is the world’s largest gold mining company by output, with projects in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Zambia. Peter Munk, whose family escaped Hungary during the Second World War on Rudolf Kastner’s train, founded Barrick as a privately-held oil and gas company but after huge financial losses, took the company public in 1983 as a gold mining firm. The name was changed to Barrick Gold Corporation in 1995, and since then Barrick has grown through takeovers of other mining companies, both in Canada and abroad. Munk retired as CEO in April 2014 after failed negotiations to merge with U.S. mining giant Newmont but his son Anthony is still a Barrick director. Barrick has struggled in recent years with financial losses and high debt levels and its stock trades for less than half what it did in 2012. On February 18, Barrick announced a fourth quarter net loss of $2.85 billion.
Barrick’s international advisory board is made up of 10 external advisors from the ruling circles who meet to advise the board of directors and management on “geopolitical and strategic matters.” Brian Mulroney chairs the board, which also includes former U.S. and German defence officials; a former prime minister of Spain; former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich; and Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida, brother of former U.S. President George W. Bush and a potential Republican presidential candidate. Past board members include George H. W. Bush, another former U.S. President and former head of the CIA, and international financier Nathaniel Rothschild.
Baird and the Harper government have some very cozy connections with Barrick. In August 2012, Baird leapt to the defence of Harper’s former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright when Wright was asked to account for lobbying reports that stated he had contacted Barrick three times in May 2012 to discuss “international relations and international trade,” a reference to Barrick’s operations in Argentina. Wright has known Peter Munk for years and is godfather to Munk’s grandson. Baird was also lobbied directly by Barrick on May 16, 2012. Wright’s contact with Barrick resulted in an investigation by the Ethics Commissioner initiated in November 2012.
In May 2012, Baird attended a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Nature in honour of Barrick’s $1 million contribution to the institution. In May 2013, Baird was the main speaker at the Munk School of Global Affair’s conference to promote regime change in Iran. In January 2014, Baird was one of the Canadian politicians who met with Canadian business leaders, including Peter Munk, at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Also noteworthy is that four and a half months after Baird became Foreign Minister on May 8, 2011, it was announced that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was “partnering” with Barrick on a project in Peru, a country where the mining monopoly faced growing protests. CIDA agreed to fund the project 50/50 with Barrick, while the private U.S. evangelical NGO World Vision would manage the project. The Harper government announced the subsidy as a “corporate responsibility project” to “reduce poverty.” In fact, its real purpose is a pay-the-rich scheme to give direct financial aid to a private monopoly to fund its foreign mining project. The CIDA-Barrick project is part of the Harper government’s neo-liberal strategy that includes privatization of the host country’s development through a foreign company, with a foreign NGO usurping the role of the sovereign state. The Peruvian people were not fooled by this phoney “aid agreement” and continue to protest Barrick’s mining practices.
It is quite reasonable to assume that in his new position as a Barrick director, Baird will be shamelessly promoting this private monopoly which has been accused of human rights and environmental abuses around the world. Regular yearly protests have been held outside and inside its spring shareholders’ meetings since 2007. Many of Barrick’s abuses are well-documented on the Mining Watch Canada site:
- A settlement was announced on February 6 of claims brought by Tanzanian villagers alleging that African Barrick Gold and its subsidiary were liable, through complicity, for the killing and injuring of locals by police guarding the North Mara mine.
- New evidence was released November 27, 2014 that Barrick Gold’s dealings with victims of violence by mine security and police at mine sites in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania are primarily designed to protect the company from legal action, rather than to provide fair remedy for women who have been raped and men who have been hurt or killed by mine security.
- On June 5, 2014, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (an international initiative established in 1979) found the Canadian state guilty for its role in human rights violations in Latin America as a result of its efforts to spur, sponsor and protect Canadian mining investments abroad, along with five Canadian mining companies, including Barrick Gold.
- In May 2013, the Chilean government fined Barrick $16 million because discharge from its Pascua-Lama Mine contaminated the local water supply.
- In February 2010, lawyers for Barrick Gold threatened to sue Canadian publisher Talonbooks for $6 million in defamation if it published the book Imperial Canada Inc.: Legal Haven of Choice for the World’s Mining Industries by Alain Deneault.
- In February 2009, Norway’s Government Pension Fund dropped its shares in Barrick Gold as a result of Barrick’s questionable operations at the Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea.
- Throughout 2009 and into 2010, Barrick Gold’s Cortez Hills project in Nevada was the subject of litigation brought by the Te-Moak tribe that the project would cause visual harm to sacred Mount Tenabo and create a substantial burden on the Western Shoshone tribe’s ability to exercise its religion.
- In April and May 2008, Indigenous leaders from four countries opposing large-scale gold mining on their lands described the adverse impacts of Barrick’s operations, referencing Barrick’s tactics in “suppressing dissident voices, dividing communities, and manipulating local and national politics.”
- In February 2007, more than 3,000 people rallied against Barrick’s presence in the district of Quiruvilca in Peru protesting that the company reneged on jobs for local residents.
- On October 4, 2005, the provincial government of Marinduque in the Philippines sued Marcopper’s parent company, Placer Dome, for $100 million in damages due to massive environmental damage from the abandoned Marcopper Mine. Placer Dome was bought in 2006 by Barrick Gold and the lawsuit is still unresolved ten years later.
With his move from one department of the ruling elite to another, Baird’s role will be to use the international connections he made during his time in Harper’s government to try to “persuade” foreign governments to cave in to Barrick’s demands to set up profitable mines in their countries, ignoring human rights and environmental concerns. Baird’s joining of the Barrick Gold monopoly also fits right into Harper’s “New Economic Diplomacy” which centres on the direct involvement of privileged private interests in government. Just as members of the Foreign Service are to work directly to promote the global private interests of the most powerful monopolies within the United States of North American Monopolies, former members of the Foreign Service like Baird can do the same from their new positions within the monopolies themselves.
Baird’s direct employment by private industry at Barrick Gold and CP Rail and at the service of billionaires like Richard Li immediately after leaving Parliament shows once again the unity between officials of neo-liberal governments and the private business interests which they serve. It is another expression of the spurious neo-liberal conception that private business interests are one and the same with the public interest and the national economy, which must be rejected with the force of the people’s unity in action for a new direction for the society and the economy.
- See “Why Raoul Wallenberg? Who Was He? What Did He Do?,” TML Weekly, February 7, 2015 – No. 6.
- Munk’s charitable foundation donates heavily to University of Toronto where his money established the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Munk Debates. His foundation’s latest contract with U of T was shrouded in secrecy. According to Linda McQuaig’s 2010 book The Trouble with Billionaires, Munk’s latest donation of $15 million came with strings attached to ensure that the school would “fit with the political views and sensitivities of Peter Munk.” David Naylor, who was president of U of T when the Munk School was set up, was appointed an “independent” Barrick director in December 2013. For information on the formerly confidential “Munk Contract” with U of T, see “Ex-UofT President David Naylor gets named to Barrick Board of Directors,” Peter Munk Out of U of T, December 8, 2013.
- The founder of World Vision, Robert Pierce, used movies as his main marketing tool. With titles like “The Red Plague” and “The Poison of Communism,” they spewed anti-communist cold war rhetoric and promoted Christian missionizing as a counter to communism. Ian Buchanan, author of Armies Of God: A Study In Militant Christianity (2010), suggests that World Vision is effectively an arm of the U.S. State Department.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as well as many members of his caucus, are evangelical Christians and rabid anti-communists.
- Mining Watch report on Barrick, click here.
Source: TML Weekly Information Project, April 4, 2015, No. 14. The article has been slightly expanded for this publication with some photos added.
Endnotes by TS
On the direct collaboration between Baird’s Department of Foreign Affairs and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto to organize subversion of the Islamic Republic of Iran, including program funding, see on this website:
Louis Lang, “Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and Baird’s ‘direct diplomacy’ project,”January 23, 2015
Tony Seed, “‘Digital diplomacy’: Harper government’s new weapon for subversion,” March 29, 2014