Stephen Harper
© unknown
Stephen Harper
Like many people around the planet, Canadians spent much of this millennium's first decade mocking the US for being led by a group of war-mongering, anti-environment, Judeo-Christian fundamentalist, hypersecretive neoconservatives.

But since 2005, Canada has had its own version bunkered inside the PMO: the Stephen Harper neo-cons. Owing to particularly effective political craft, the minority government has successfully outmanoeuvred every political party in the country. And according to Yves Engler, author of books such as The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Harper's international swaggering has cost Canada its reputation and a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

But how?

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most materially rich countries on the planet, and has been under colonial occupation and genocide, neo-colonial dictatorship or war and civil war for a century and a half. Foreign companies, including Canada's First Quantum, have exploited the DRC's instability to win mining concessions; First Quantum drew UN censure for doing so. The DRC has since been attempting, against great odds, to put its house back in order, including by asserting energy sovereignty.

"The Harper government," Engler tells me by telephone from his home in Montreal, "tried to block debt forgiveness on the specific grounds that the Congolese government had retaken the concession, and despite the moral implications was going to back, a Canadian mining company which has a very questionable track record in the Congo.

"One of the UN-based reporters in New York said explicitly that a number of African countries were citing what the Harper government had done to block [the Democratic Republic of] Congo's debt forgiveness as one of the reasons they were antagonistic to the Canadian government. This was basically not reported outside of the business press."

Even with the gravity of the DRC case, are the Harper neo-cons really that much worse than the Jean Chretien/Paul Martin neo-liberals they drove out of office?

"They're more extreme," says Engler. "Tangibly what that means is a more open willingness to support anything that Canadian mining companies do abroad, anything that Israel does, and take hardline positions vis-à-vis the left wing governments in Latin America."

Yves Engler
© unknown
Yves Engler
When Engler addresses Edmontonians on January 27, he'll be discussing several other Harper provocations, such as repeatedly sabotaging international climate negotiations, maintaining aid to the Honduran government following the coup of its democratic president, militarising aid to Haiti, and gearing up for a war of aggression against Iran.

While Engler says that Canada's increasingly regressive international behaviour is partly in service of Canadian mining magnates and Harper's right-wing Judeo-Christian base, there's a more profound problem: the weakness or tacit agreement of Harper's parliamentary foes and the media. On domestic issues, "the Liberals and the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois are willing to put up at least some resistance - not as much as I would like to see - but when it comes to foreign policy issues, the Liberals and the NDP are willing to give a free hand," says Engler. "It becomes convenient for the Conservatives to pursue their most extreme vision. There's little sense among the decision-makers within the Liberals and the NDP that foreign policy issues have much consequence when it comes to elections. The dominant media heavily take its cues on foreign policy from the government."

Being a middle power, Canada does not bestride the world like the American colossus does; yet in some places, its feet can still leave craters. In 2004, US, French and Canadian-backed coup plotters overthrew the democratically elected Haitian government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The United States exiled him to the Central African Republic, although Aristide now resides in South Africa. Canada, says Engler, played Marc Antony to the American Caesar, and not only, prior to the coup, by starving the country of aid and funneling funds to NGOs so as further to weaken its government.
Aristide was taken out by US marines with Canadian troops standing by at the Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince," says Engler of the then-Liberal government's complicity. "The physical removal was really the culmination of a multi-year destabilisation campaign in which Canada played a fairly significant role, organising the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti in January of 2003.
That gathering organised Canada, France, the US and the Organisation of American States around a single criminal conspiracy: to overthrow the government of Haiti, place the country under UN trusteeship and disintegrate the Haitian army. As far as Engler knows, Quebec's L'actualité was the only North American magazine to report on the plot (on March 15, 2003) before its execution a year later.

Within the 13,000-strong UN occupation force, Canada has played a leading role for the last seven years, building and funding new police to occupy bastions of support for the ousted president. Those police have been "going into the poor neighbourhoods and massacring people. Thousands of people were killed in post-coup political violence, and Canadian hands were all over the scene. The Conservatives have broadly continued the anti-democratic, anti-poor policy of the [Liberals] in Haiti."

Haiti and the DRC, as Engler demonstrates, are simply two examples of how effectively the myth that Canada is exclusively a force for good, covers a lengthy history of internal colonialism and international bullying.