How Will NDP Leadership Candidates Approach Foreign Policy Debates?

How Will NDP Leadership Candidates Approach Foreign Policy Debates?
At the party s first leadership debate last weekend there wasn t a single foreign policy question despite a host of contentious recent party positions on international affairs.

Certainly at a time when the mainstream media is giving prominence to militarist voices, many members would be keen to hear the four candidates positions on military spending. The party s 2015 platform said an NDP government would "meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations." ndp leadership debatePeter Julian, right, speaks as Guy Caron, left, Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton participate in the first debate of the federal NDP leadership race, in Ottawa on Sunday, Mar.12, 2017. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)

In addition to backing Stephen Harper s budget allocations, the NDP aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $40-billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion).

Defence critic Jack Harris bemoaned "Conservative delays" undermining "our navy from getting wanted equipment" and the platform said the NDP would "carry forward the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to ensure Canada has the ships we need" even if this naval build-up strengthens Canadian officials capacity to bully weaker countries.

It would also be good to know the candidates views on the Trudeau government repeatedly isolating Canada from world opinion regarding Palestinian rights. In November, for instance, Canada joined the U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN motions titled "" and "persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities." One hundred and fifty-six countries voted in favour of the motions, but the NDP stayed silent on the UN votes.

The grassroots would also be interested to know the candidates views on Ottawa ramping up its military presence on Russia s doorstep. The NDP backed the 2014 coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe. During a 2015 election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called for stronger sanctions against Russian officials and last summer NDP Defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of ratcheting up tensions with Russia. Alongside ongoing deployments in Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops will soon be deployed to Latvia while the U.S., Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

It would also be good to hear the candidates speak out against diplomatic efforts to promote mining interests abroad or Ottawa signing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs) to protect mineral corporations in Africa.

Maybe being perceived as outside the mainstream political consensus -- fresh ideas and promoters of open debate -- is exactly what the NDP needs.

But party insiders don t want to discuss foreign policy because there is a substantial gap between members views on the issues and what the dominant media considers acceptable. The party s grassroots would be open to reducing the $20 billion (plus) military budget and withdrawing from NATO. A good number would also be concerned about stoking tension with Russia and a new poll confirms that NDP members -- and most Canadians -- are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society s call for boycott.

Fundamentally, party insiders do not want to rock the foreign policy status quo boat. The media backlash that would result from adopting progressive foreign policy positions terrifies the NDP establishment. Even debating the subjects mentioned above would drop the party s stock in the eyes of the dominant media.

But maybe that s a good thing. Maybe being perceived as outside the mainstream political consensus -- fresh ideas and promoters of open debate -- is exactly what the NDP needs.
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