Would the world be better off if the NDP didn’t have the position of foreign affairs critic? I began thinking about this question after seeing a recent tweet from Heather McPherson calling on the Liberals and Conservatives to get tough on Iran.
As the third national party, the supposedly social democratic federal NDP rarely criticizes the Justin Trudeau government from the right on domestic issues. It’s uncommon for the NDP to call for the Liberals to increase privatization in healthcare, cut daycare funding, weaken the labour code, reduce assistance to reserves facing water advisories, etc. But on international affairs the party’s foreign affairs critic regularly pushes the government to be more aggressive against those in the crosshairs of Western imperialism.
Russia, China, Iran: more sanctions and war are not the answer
On the most important issue of the day the answer to whether the world would be better off without an NDP foreign critic is unequivocal. McPherson has been incredibly bellicose towards Russia, long before its brutal February 24 invasion of Ukraine. The NDP foreign affairs critic has opposed negotiations and diplomatic contact with Russia while criticizing the Trudeau government for not being more belligerent. I’m unaware of a single statement McPherson has made seeking to restrain military escalation.
McPherson has also supported confrontation with China. Two months ago the NDP published Canada’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy is a step forward; New Democrats will hold government accountable”. In approving the Trudeau government’s plan to ratchet up tensions with China, the NDP says “Canada can take steps to counterbalance China’s disruptive power.” McPherson previously called for Canada to join a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics and to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
On Iran, McPherson recently released a statement headlined “NDP MP calls on Liberals to explain their inaction on supporting Iranian protestors.” Despite the misleading headline, the statement is only about McPherson submitting a motion to the Foreign Affairs Committee to study listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. This does nothing to build solidarity with people in Iran, and only fuels more sanctions and war. Simultaneously, McPherson is silent on Israel/US bombings and other attacks on Iran.
As part of assisting US pressure campaigns targeting Russia, China and Iran, McPherson has repeatedly complained that the Liberals sanctions are insufficiently rigorous. But is Canada violating international law by applying unilateral coercive economic measures? Most countries and international law experts believe sanctions are only legitimate when approved by the United Nations Security Council.
Militarism and coups
On NATO, McPherson recently promoted Finland and Sweden joining a military alliance that’s launched aggressive wars in Libya, Serbia and Afghanistan. Prior to Russia’s invasion, McPherson also promoted Ukraine joining NATO.
On other military matters McPherson has taken more pacifistic positions. She’s criticized Canadian arms sales to Saudi Arabia and opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. But she’s been quiet about Canada’s recent F-35 purchase and plan to spend $100 billion ($350 billion over their lifecycle) on new fighter jets and naval vessels (officially it’s the NDP defence critic’s portfolio but the foreign critic regularly strays into that territory).
McPherson has also stayed silent on the 60, mostly indigenous, protesters killed since Peru’s elected left-wing president Pedro Castillo was ousted December 7. Ottawa immediately backed the removal of the president and deepened its ties to the usurper government.
McPherson has also been quiet (as far as I could find) about Canada’s multifaceted – if now largely dormant – campaign to unseat Venezuela’s government. During the 2021 election campaign the NDP said it believed Canada should downgrade its role in the Lima Group, which sought to overthrow Venezuela’s government, but the party’s previous foreign critic Helene Laverdière supported recognizing marginal opposition politician Juan Guaidó as president.
On Haiti, McPherson recently spoke out against a Canadian-led military intervention. But during the 2021 election the NDP endorsed the imperialist Core Group, a coalition of foreign representatives that heavily influences Haitian affairs.
A foreign affairs critic should criticize foreign affairs
On Palestine, the balance is clearly on the side of justice. McPherson has made multiple positive interventions, notably when she’s asked the Liberals why they reject Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International’s conclusion that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. The same can be said for strengthening regulations regarding Canada’s ecologically damaging and rights violating mining sector — although even on this issue McPherson has been fairly quiet.
On a handful of important issues, the NDP foreign critic contributes positively. On an equal or greater number of subjects McPherson’s positions strengthen Western imperialism. Since the political/media system assumes the NDP will be oppositional, its silence on an issue warrants a partial mark against having a foreign critic since it further marginalizes that subject.
In the lead-up to the party’s 2018 convention the NDP Socialist Caucus called for the removal of then foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière. But why have the position at all, as a purported “left wing” voice that continues to validate Western imperialism?
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