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A Catalyst for Conscience

Canada, The U.N. and the China Trade

Beryl P. Wajsman

26 September 2004

“We rise to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that we do not acknowledge, we will never abide by, and we will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan


Many Canadians were troubled recently by the sight of our Prime Minister speaking before a near empty General Assembly hall in New York. Further adding to their angst was the sight of Robert Mugabe receiving several ovations to a nearly packed house some time later. The surprise of our fellow citizens’ would be funny if it were not so sad.


Mr. Martin went to the U.N. and scolded it for failing to react to the Sudan crisis and for offering too little too late at moments of humanitarian peril. He spoke the truth. Unfortunately he spoke too little too late.  The real world bears no resemblance to Maurice Strong’s global catechism.


The posturing on the world stage propagated an image, but where was the courage at home to advocate the truth. Where were the words of support from government officials at the many demonstrations for the devastated of Darfur? And why has our Minister of Foreign Affairs refused to call the horror in Sudan by its proper name…genocide!

Our leaders still cling to bankrupt and foolish notions of multilateralism expecting to reap some reward from the Third World in greater trade dollars. One can only hope that the U.N. visit taught a lesson. Our national voice is muted. Our national vision dimmed. The hypocrisy of mouthing platitudes in Ottawa and purpose in New York strips both of authenticity. The theocratic tyrants and despotic dictators that dominate the world body laugh at our impotence and applaud their fellow murderer.


As an industrialized power that profits from cheap labour and resources from so many countries where oppression reigns, our most basic responsibility is to offer hope to those enslaved millions. Yet, sadly, we just continue to toe the line.


We are about to be faced with an even more serious challenge to our national will. It is a challenge that will test how much of our future will be mortgaged to expediency and how much of our honour will be sacrificed by timidity. Our response will determine whether we have the resolve to build a culture of conscience where the common weal is our most precious commodity, or whether we will sell ourselves to the highest bidder.


One of China’s giant state corporations, China Minmetals, is making a bid to buy Noranda Mines and Falconbridge Nickel, considered by many the crown jewels of Canada’s resource sector. It is an attack upon one of the few areas where Canada has a demonstrated international industrial leadership. If China is successful it will mean the loss of Canadian jobs and the continuation of an attack on the world steel and metal industries which one of the world’s great tyrannies has been attempting since the beginning of the year. For everyone's edification, China Minmetals reports to the Metallurgical Mining Management Bureau of the Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China. China’s aim is to wrestle these sectors to the slave levels of its own domestic industries.


Ottawa’s response has so far been a deafening silence.


When Canada began the expansion of its China trade in earnest in the late ‘80’s the hope was that an important by-product of economic exchange would be increasing democratization. Nothing of the sort happened. Since Tien-a-Min Square there have been few attempts at liberalization. Fewer attempts still by successive Canadian governments to even broach the subject of human rights. The excuse was always been that our economic ties were too valuable to risk. This has simply been a lie.


Half of every dollar China spends in Canada is subsidized by Canadian credits and guarantees through government entities like the Export Development Corporation. The only benefit China has provided is a cheap labour pool to undermine Canadian wages. Big business is very happy. Canadian workers are getting thrashed. In June of 2005 the protective tariffs against Chinese textile exports will be dropped. The most conservative estimates are that 30,000 Canadian jobs will be lost by mid-2006. The government’s response has been a terse statement that the Canadian textile industry will have to “re-invent itself” in niche markets.


If we really want to effect a reality, not just an image, of Canada as a caring and compassionate country we would do well to remember some history. The most significant American influence in breaking the Soviet bloc was not Ronald Reagan’s call to Leonid Brezhnev in Berlin to “…tear down this wall!” It was Sen. Henry Jackson’s bold initiative in the late ‘70’s that cut-off the Soviet Union from most-favoured nation trading status and all credits and subventions until it stopped its persecution of political dissidents. Within a year of its passage the Jackson-Vanik amendment had achieved significant reductions of Soviet persecutions and prosecutions and the beginning of its second year saw the first important numbers of dissidents leaving for the West.


Canada can never affect China in the same manner by itself. But Canada’s allegiance to that group of nations that practice multilateral deceit and economic duplicity has sent a message that dictatorships can literally get away with murder as long as the money flows. Last year China executed over 20,000 “enemies of the people” in dead-of-night assassinations or following star chamber proceedings.


Business leaders always like to draw a connection between free markets and free societies. Where is the inherent protection of either when dealing with a Communist dictatorship? Noranda’s President said that he is attempting to “…crystallize value for shareholders…” Well, the main shareholder happens to be Brascan and they are doing quite well thank you. We would prefer to see political and corporate leaders as concerned about catalyzing conscience.


It was only twenty years ago that this nation’s leaders put high bars to any foreign capital that sought control of Canadian resources. And it was only twenty years ago that Montreal’s own Committee for Soviet Jewry, and its allied committees for justice for all Soviet dissidents, captained the strategy for the world’s mobilization to free the oppressed of that era’s great tyranny. Yes, it was from here--not New York or London—that the course of battle for universal humanity in that struggle was charted.


In this very dangerous world nations do not have the luxury of acting without restraint of consequence. When posturing replaces purpose and platitudes trump principle people get hurt. At home and abroad. Millions of them. And guilt will be assigned. It will be laid at the feet of those nations whose governments were so devoid of moral compass they could no longer tell right from wrong.


That moral compass was clearly defined a generation ago by a man who laid down his life for it. When we see wrongs we must try to right them. When we see suffering we must try to heal it. When we see injustice we must try to stop it. It’s all about looking out for the other guy. A pledge to engage in common cause with all those whose struggles are reflective of mankind’s transcendent yearning for redemptive change. Canada should learn that it’s the right thing to do.


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