Yves Engler: “People are confused on what Canada’s place in the world is”

Written by Shanthi Bell and Sophie M. Lavoie on November 26, 2018

Yves Engler (right) speaks with audience members at his Fredericton book launch on Nov. 19, 2018. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

Yves Engler’s latest book attempts to answer why Canadians think their country is a force for good in the world when the country has a long history of imperialist interventions. According to the author, Canada’s political left is partly responsible.

On November 19, 2018 at the Abbey Café and Gallery, Yves Engler discussed his tenth book, Left/Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada to a group of 30 attendees.

Engler’s book is “attempting to answer the small part of a question about why people think Canada is a force for good in the world.” After the talk, author Alain Deneault, author of Imperialist Canada Inc., provided a commentary on the presentation which generated a thoughtful discussion.

The first section of Engler’s book is a critique of the political Left, especially the national New Democratic Party (NDP).

Engler discussed how the NDP and its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, supported foreign policies such as the creation of the North American Treaty Organization, the Korean War (1950), the 2011 Libyan bombing campaign, and increased military spending since the early 2000s. They have also held, and continue to hold, anti-Palestinian and anti-Chavista views.

Additionally, Engler’s book examines the labour unions’ silence on foreign policy. According to Engler, labour unions “don’t challenge Canada’s foreign policy decisions.” The Canadian Labour Congress (over 3 million members) recently took out a 14-day supplement for Labour Day in The Toronto Star to show itself as a “progressive class-based institution,” but hardly mentioned foreign policy.

Engler also reviewed copies of publications produced by unions such as the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) in the archives. The publications revealed the buy-in of the unions to systems such as slavery in the 1930s in the Caribbean, through praising the efficiency of the fish exports. Engler said the CLC has “vicious anti-Palestinian history,” calling on Canada to sell arms to Israel in the past.

“Today [the staunch positions are] broken down” and some unions have more progressive stances, endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and educating the membership.

The third part of Left/Right exposes prominent and problematic figures on the Canadian Left and organizations such as research institutes. Prominent individuals critiqued in Engler’s book are Michael Byers, Walter Dorn, Linda McQuaig and Stephen Lewis.

The Rideau Institute, a ‘progressive’ Canadian think tank, promotes the work of Walter Dorn, for example. A “liberal in military circles,” Dorn advocates for more Canadian participation in the UN, through peacekeeping. According to Engler, Dorn’s positions usually whitewash Canada’s role military work, in Haiti, Korea, Congo, and other places.

For Engler, Stephen Harper’s government had aligned foreign policy to serve Canadian mining companies in Africa. Former Canadian diplomat Stephen Lewis has 37 honorary degrees and is “the man of Africa.” However, Lewis’ only criticism of Harper’s foreign policy was that “he wasn’t doing more Canadian benevolence.” Lewis did not make any criticism besides this, according to Engler’s research, and despite Canada’s paltry role in African foreign policy for years.

The fourth section of the book attempts to answer “why?”: why the Left has supported the imperialist foreign policies when it should be more critical. For Engler, nationalism is largely responsible for these positions: “Liberal left nationalism is tied into the idea of benevolent Canada.”

In his conclusion, Engler attempted to offer a new way forward for the Left. Although this is not the main goal of his work, Engler suggested the implementation of a “just foreign policy,” with ideas such as “do unto others as you would have done unto you” and a “first do no harm principle.” These ideas would go “against the ethos of Canadian foreign policy” which has a “do more ethos.”

Engler advocated for organizing to influence the Canadian government, “doing more of the good things that we are doing.” There are solidarity groups across the country but “they are too weak.” He indicated a need to “rebuild the left more generally.” Engler ended his talk by saying: “those of us who have freedom and privilege [have a] responsibility to do what we can” to influence Canadian foreign policy.

Engler’s visit to Fredericton was made possible with support from NB Media Co-op, No One Is Illegal Fredericton, UNB Prof. Daniel Tubb, UNB’s International Development Studies Student Association and the STU Canada Research Chair in Global & International Studies.

Shanthi Bell is a UNB Arts 3000 Intern with the NB Media Co-op studying psychology and media arts and cultures at the University of New Brunswick.

Sophie M. Lavoie is a member of the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board.


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