Lament for a Nation – Canada’s slide into colonialism

A version of this essay appeared in Sunmedia papers, April 20, 2013.

On Wednesday November 27th, John Baird officially redefined Canada to the world as a corporate shill.

Prime Minister Harper told Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade after the 2011 election that he wanted Canadian foreign policy to focus on foreign trade. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s new Global Markets Action Plan is the result of that order. But it isn’t all that new—it’s been developing ever since Bev Oda scrawled “NOT” on CIDA’s funding approval letter to KAIROS.

Actually it’s been developing a lot longer than that.

In 1965, George Grant published Lament for a Nation. In his eulogy for a sovereign Canada, he argues the Liberals got and held power by merging their political policies with the ambitions of corporate North America: “Liberalism is the perfect ideology for capitalism … even the finest talk about internationalism opens markets for the powerful.”

For Professor Grant, John Diefenbaker was the last Canadian nationalist. Yes, he cancelled the Avro Arrow, a fighter jet ahead of its time. It was too expensive to build, largely because the US refused to buy any. But when the US pushed the Bomarc missile on him, he refused to arm them with nuclear warheads.

It was a move mocked by the Liberals under “Mike” Pearson and booed by Bay Street. In the “Defence Election” of 1963, Dief was out and Mike was in. The Americans were happy and President Kennedy promptly sent over nuclear warheads for the Bomarcs.

Mr Pearson was an internationalist, and not just at the UN. What was good for GM was good for America—and Canada too, once Mike signed the Auto Pact. A few years later Pierre Trudeau yoked external affairs with international trade.

Brian Mulroney knew which way the corporate winds were blowing in the 1980s and promoted a Free Trade Agreement with the US. Guess who won the “Free Trade Election” of 1988?

The Liberals never again made the mistake of opposing international trade. In fact Jean Chretien embraced it and expanded it and renamed the Department that led it, Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He began signing free trade agreements with anyone with a pulse.

Mr Harper has gone several better than Mr Chretien. Since first elected in 2006, his government has entered into negotiations for over 50 Free Trade Agreements and Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (FIPAs for short), including the ill-considered China FIPA.

For someone who hates the Liberal brand as much as Stephen Harper does, it’s intriguing to watch him follow with such gusto the old Liberal agenda.

Our new trade partners include Mali, Tanzania, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and a whole lot of others. At this point in time, with our manufacturing sector in tatters, you have to wonder what it is we make that anyone wants to buy. Well, Columbia (one of the most violent countries in the world, especially if you’re a union leader) is buying shipments of high-capacity magazine assault weapons from us, even though they’re banned in Canada. That deal was inked by John Baird the day before 26 children and teachers were shot to death in Newtown Connecticut. And we’re still selling asbestos (also banned in Canada) to anyone foolish or desperate enough to buy it.

These countries have no serious investments in Canada. But our mining companies have billions invested in them.

It’s no secret that trouble dogs the heels of Canadian mining companies operating in the third world. A Tanzanian organization of lawyers claims 19 villagers were killed by Barrick Gold’s security guards and police between 2009 and 2010. In Papua New Guinea, Barrick has been obliged to institute a remediation program for women raped by the company’s security guards. HudBay Minerals Inc is being sued by the Maya in a Canadian court on charges of murder, gang-rape and assault.

Similar crimes, or if not crimes then popular opposition, are cropping up around Canadian mining operations in Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mongolia. According to Amnesty International, “Colombia’s Constitutional Court has identified 34 Indigenous nations that are in grave danger of extinction, amidst armed conflict that has been used as a cover for appropriation of their resource-rich lands.”

The FTAs and FIPAs Canada signs with these countries are making thing worse. Amnesty International fears the Canada-Colombia FTA could “fuel or contribute to grave human rights violations against those living in areas of economic interest.”

There are no provisions in these agreements for prior consultation with groups most affected. Clauses prohibiting expropriation of any kind and protecting investment so favour corporations that it is very difficult for a third world country to buck the wishes of a Canadian-owned mining company.

Some agreements (the Canada-Colombia FTA for example) even oblige the host country to indemnify mining companies against political unrest. And if a nation passes legislation to protect the health and environment of its citizens it might find itself in a trade tribunal and on the hook for millions, even billions, of dollars in compensation (as did Canada when, in 1997, we banned a toxic gas additive called MMT made in the US).

We need to ask, as George Grant did in 1965, what should we lament? Well, our good regard in the world for one. But it’s more serious than that.

Mr Harper’s government has defunded or disbanded experienced non-government organizations with good contacts in other countries and a track record of solid development work. To take their place in the sensitive world of foreign aid and development, the Tories are hiring evangelical Christian organizations such as World Vision and Crossroads Christian Communications.

Among other works, World Vision helps people in the first world sponsor children in the third. On its website: “We are members of an international World Vision Partnership that transcends legal, structural, and cultural boundaries.”

Crossroads Christian Communications is a registered charity that also produces the TV show 100   Huntley Street. The “category” on their Canada Revenue Agency detail page is “Missionary Organizations and Propagation of Gospel.”

For me, if not for George Grant, there is nothing inherently wrong with mixing international trade with foreign policy. Unless it’s reeking with missionaries, rape, murder and predatory resource extraction.

If we didn’t have a colonial history before, we sure do now.

© David McLaren, April 2013

Conflict Gold: The statue towers over the main square of Segovia, Antioquia, one of the principal mining centers of Colombia. Segovia is the site of countless acts of violence in the past and a current, festering conflict between the traditional miners of the region and the Canadian multinational, Gran Colombia Gold Corp.

Conflict Gold: The statue towers over the main square of Segovia, Antioquia, one of the principal mining centers of Colombia. Segovia is the site of countless acts of violence in the past and a current, festering conflict between the traditional miners of the region and the Canadian multinational, Gran Colombia Gold Corp.

Conflict Gold in Columbia

Segovia and the area around the town has been one of Columbia’s gold mining operations since the time of the Maya. Gold was the catalyst of their destruction by the Spanish and it continues to be at the root of current conflicts. Left-wing rebel groups (FARC and the ELN) are both financing their battles with the government with gold.

In November 1988, a right-wing paramilitary group, with Columbian police and army watching, drove into Segovia and massacred 43 people and wounded 50 more.

The Caldas department of Columbia is another ancient mining centre. In 1946 the government set aside an area in the hills around Marmato for the many artisan miners in the town.  In 2007 the Canadian mining company Medoro Resources acquired a Columbian company to form Gran Columbia Gold and proposed to demolish the town and strip mine the gold.

The townspeople resisted, led by the local priest, José Reynal-Restrepo. However, in the summer of 2011 Gran Columbia told Reynal that the Archbishop had sold the church’s property in Marmato. In August, Fr Reynal left for Bogota to confirm the story.

That same month, August 2011, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Bogata to meet with Columbian President Manuel Santos on the eve of their free trade agreement  (signed in 2008) coming into effect.

In his speech, the Prime Minister said that Columbia had come a long way. “Colombia is a wonderful country with great possibilities and great ambition, and we need to be encouraging that every step of the way.” When asked about threats to human rights, he said, “We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons, and you are trying to use human rights as a front for doing that.”

On his way back from Bogota, on September 1, 2011, as he approached Marmato on his motorbike, Fr Reynal was shot to death.

Unrest in Segovia continues. In the summer of 2013, the “agrarian strike” embraced a wide range of people: teachers, labour unions, farmers. Among their varied demands are an end to the government’s crackdown on small miners and the cancellation of free trade agreements.

More to the story …

Violentology, a Manual of the Columbian Conflict (a TIME light-box feature):

In Columbia, New Gold Rush Fuels Old Conflict, New York Times, March 3, 2011:

The National Catholic Reporter carried a report on “The Assassination of Fr José Reynal Restrepo, however it has been removed and this note, dated September 30, 2011, is in its place: “Today After receipt of objections on behalf of Gran Columbia Gold Corp., we have taken down a column by Fr. John Dear, ‘The Assassination of Fr. José Reynal Restrepo’ pending further investigation.”


About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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One Response to Lament for a Nation – Canada’s slide into colonialism

  1. Munroe Scott says:

    David, you are so correct on so many counts — it is to weep.

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