April 25, 2008

[Appeal] Harper, the Media, and the North American Leader's Summit

I wanted to share my discontent with the lack of coverage on the recent North American Leaders Summit in New Orleans. There has hardly been any coverage on the CBC website, which is a real shame in my opinion, given the potential for the CBC website to foment civic engagement in this country.

An internet search for the summit on CBC.ca brings up the following stories, considered "most relevant" by the search engine: a) a link to "Political Bytes", a blog from the CBC's parliamentary bureau with a few quirky anecdotes regarding the context of the meeting (absolutely nothing on content); b) an article about last year’s summit – which, as you may recall, was held at Chateau Montebello and was met by a determined group of more than a thousand protesters; and c) two dead link articles about this year's summit - you can't read them because they are no longer there! What's my point? We citizens are not being told what is being negotiated at these meetings. Furthermore, to find out even the most basic details of the summit, we have to go out and search for it on obscure blogs and sites that no one actually reads on a regular basis.

This is not good for democracy, though neither is it entirely the CBC's fault. This minority government has been playing a dirty game of media manipulation ever since Harper seized power with only 36% of the vote. The Conservatives are engaged in a web of political spin, carefully calculating every PR move from determining the exact timing of press releases (in order to divert attention away from unpopular issues) to outright refusing to talk to certain reporters (check out this video). You have to ask yourself what kind of dirt this government is trying to hide when it goes to great lengths to ensure only invited sympathetic journalists are allowed to show up at state-sanctioned press releases. But even worse – what kind of nation allows its “leaders” to sneak out of a hotel via fire-escape to avoid a media scrum that has been infiltrated by uninvited journalists? We need to raise a stink about the unacceptable wall of secrecy behind which the Harper government is hiding.

In addition to writing letters to the CBC News desk, I’ve taken it upon myself to try to find out what in god’s name Stephen Harper is offering to Bush on Canada's behalf at this summit. There are a few things that are obvious. For one, we know that Harper is pledging our country’s continued support in the empire’s so-called war on terror – which as we also know, is a war of terror that only serves to breed more terror in return. We play a major role in this American war through our “commitment” to Afghanistan, or should I say our commitment to warlord Karzai (the "mayor of Kabul") and his war against his Taliban enemies in Kandahar. So here we are, with 2500 Canadian soldiers armed to the teeth (facing a death rate of one soldier per month), engaged in "development projects" that help us turn the Afghan people away from terrorism. Little do we know the Afghan people think we are the terrorists, and they're going to use every tactic they can to get rid of us - the latest in a history of foreign invaders in their country. What are we doing there? Honestly? Other than watching the poppy industry grow and agreeing to do America's dirty work (which includes ratcheting support from NATO allies to join in the fight). The International Security Assistance Force has played a major role in relieving US duties in Afghanistan, thereby allowing them to continue to their mission of total human destruction in Iraq.

Second, we know that Harper is working hard to make our border with the United States more porous to items like money and commercial goods and now commodified resources, while agreeing to block the flow of drugs and people with brown skin (like arabs who are unfairly stereotyped as terrorists and Latin Americans who are characterized as job-takers). You have heard the horror stories of groups of Latino immigrants who die in the Arizona desert trying to make it to the US to meet up with their families and earn a living wage. But have you heard of the violence in Southern Mexico faced by Central American immigrants? It is an extremely dangerous journey often resulting in theft, incarceration and death. The American administration knows all too well that it's difficult to keep the border open to trade while being simultaneously closed to immigrants and drugs, so Bush has convinced Calderon (and Fox before him) to militarize the southern border with Guatemala and Belize to stop the hundreds of thousands of Central Americans who attempt the Northbound trek. In 2005, 240,000 illegal immigrants attempting to get to the US from Central America were arrested in MEXICO before even getting to the US border! Thanks to an increased military presence, the number of non-Mexican migrants trying to get into the US has dropped by more than two thirds in the last two years. In the meantime, we Canadians are doing our part to fend off the Arctic from grave threats to our sovereignty, such as Denmark. The result is what some are calling "Fortress America", one big hyper-militarized North American union with a continental security perimeter that allows only money and commercial goods (and the rich white men who control them) to travel in and out.

We also know, thanks to excellent work done by progressive interest groups such as the Council of Canadians, that the North American Leaders Summit is being used by the three states to further the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). As a post-9-11 corollary to NAFTA, the SPP has extremely serious implications for Canadian sovereignty - and yet we sit and watch it happening to us like a herd of cows lining up for the slaughter house. We already know the ways that NAFTA allows corporations to sue our government when it enacts health or environmental laws that cut into corporate profits (like when Canada was sued for $251 million by Ethyl Corp for banning a carcinogenic compound). NAFTA also locks in a proportion of the energy resources that we sell to the United States, making it extremely difficult to reduce energy exports for environmental purposes or to help deal with national shortages. The SPP takes it even further with clauses on continental regulation of agriculture and natural resources, prompting the Council of Canadians to argue that the SPP "will make independent Canadian policies on agriculture, the environment and energy impossible". Oh, and speaking of the environment, the people who brought us the SPP are also calling for an five-fold increase in energy production from the Alberta tar sands in order to help satiate America's desire for stable energy security (read "overconsumption problem"). Unfortunately, the tar sands gigaproject is perhaps the worst environmental travesty in human history. The very idea of using the equivalent of one barrel of oil and five barrels of water just to produce three barrels of tar sands crude is abominable.

If I may sum up my concerns in a final run-on question: What the fuck is our Prime Minister actually doing at these secret closed-door meetings with Bush and Calderon, and how many chips of Canadian sovereignty is he throwing on the poker table, and most importantly, why haven’t we Canadians heard anything about this from him in our publicly-funded media? Even a visit to the Conservative Party’s website yields nothing about the summit other than a few pictures of Harper, Calderon and Bush in their photo-op poses, shaking the hands of the few rare children who have actually been somewhat reintegrated into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

What did our Prime Minister have to say about regime change in Cuba and Venezuela? I want to read what our Prime Minister said about this in the news, not just an article mentioning that he will be talking about it! Don't we have a right to know how our tax money is involved in the long standing history of American imperialism in Latin America?

It is for these reasons that I am encouraging friends and family to demand more from our media, but more importantly, demand better from our elected officials. It's like we've forgotten that they're supposed to represent us and that we have the right to throw them in the garbage if they fail to do so. Well if one thing is clear from the New Orleans summit, it is that HARPER HAS FAILED, yet again, to act in the interests of the majority of Canadians. It's time we step in and stop the Conservative Party's secrecy and corporate cronyism, and bring in someone inspiring who wants to build a better world!


  1. You're right...it's a shame. A real shame.
    It's a real shame that we don't have a functioning democracy, in which people show up at the polls and vote on election day.
    It's a real shame that for half of the people who do show up and vote, their vote never really counts, thanks to our first-past-the-post system.
    It's a real shame that if you do vote, and by some miracle you voted for somebody who sits in office, the accountability of our elected officials seems to end there - we can expect dishonesty, not integrity.
    It's a real shame that, if we want to insist that our elected officials are held accountable, we have far too few means of finding out what they're actually doing in office.
    And maybe I'm being a pessimist here, but the biggest shame of all is the fact that, even if we did know what Harper had his dirty little fingers into down there at the North American Leader's Summit, most Canadians wouldn't care. We're too happy driving our SUVs home to the suburbs from our city centre jobs, too concerned about saving for that next great holiday destination, too occupied with what's on next on the tube...And that's a real shame.

  2. Thanks edmontonspy, I couldn't agree more (unfortunately)!