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The dead end of Canadian nationalism

February 13, 2012

From climate justice to good jobs, movements need to avoid the dead end of Canadian nationalism, which blames economic and ecological problems on Americans. The results are xenophobic slogans distracting from Canada’s 1% and ignoring indigenous sovereignty.

There is a long history of Canadian nationalism on the left, which incorrectly sees Canada as an oppressed colony of the US. This perspective ignores Canada’s colonial history, its oppression of Quebec, and its role internationally as a leading imperialist nation.

Left nationalism applied to the tar sands presents it as a problem of “foreign-owned oil companies” taking Canadian resources. These xenophobic statements play into common racist rhetoric against immigrants and refugees, and ignore that “our land” is in fact indigenous land. Seeing “foreign-owned companies” as the problem can lead to the conclusion that the tar sands are fine as long as they are confined to local production, which ignores the catastrophic impact on indigenous communities and the global climate.

Left nationalism in the labour movement frames the Caterpillar lockout of London workers as a “foreign corporation destroying Canadian jobs,” and claims the Rio Tinto lockout of Alma workers represents “foreign corporations invading our country.”

But claiming that austerity is the result of companies being foreign-owned mischaracterizes corporations and ignores their dependence on the state. Canadian companies are just as greedy, and have a long history of demanding concessions. American companies could not get away with their austerity plans without Canada’s 1%—which provides corporate tax breaks, legal injunctions against pickets, and a police force to enforce them.

Stephen Harper gave tax breaks to Caterpillar and gave the go-ahead to corporate takeovers in London and Alma. Rio Tinto can only operate with government-owned hydroelectric plants, and their board of governors includes the Canadian president of McGill University.

But McGill workers represented by MUNACA sent solidarity messages to Alma workers, and American workers joined London workers against Caterpillar. The Occupy movement has been an important challenge to nationalism, and now there is a greater understanding that ecological destruction and austerity are the result of the global 1%. The solution is resistance and solidarity amongst the 99%.

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