Canadian Debate Gate

Jan Slakov

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine if the federal government had given a million dollars to the Unist’ot’en camp to help them connect with other indigenous led groups across the world working to protect the earth. What if Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, had made the donation, then quit politics and gone on to spend time at the Unist’ot’en permaculture camp and healing centre? Imagine the outcry there would be from people who want us to export LNG and raw bitumen through Unist’ot’en territory.

Well, it turns out John Baird, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, contributed 9 million government dollars to the Munk School of Global Affairs and a few months later he was named to Barrick Gold Corporation’s International Advisory Board. The Munk School began with a large donation to the University of Toronto by Peter Munk, who was a founder, chairman and interim CEO of Barrick. The contract between Munk and the University of Toronto is designed to ensure, according to Linda McQuaig, that the school’s teaching will “fit with the political views and sensitivities of Peter Munk”. To get a taste of those sensibilities, professor and author Tony Hall reminds us that, “as Munk saw it, the US-backed installation of General Augusto Pinochet’s fascist regime in Chile was a good thing. Moreover the sexual assault by Barrick’s security police on women in Papua New Guinea was understandable in Munk’s opinion because, ‘gang rape is a cultural habit’ in that country.”

It gets worse: Long before it became public knowledge that Barrick had “[screwed] up the Pascua Lama project about as badly as any mining company has ever screwed up a major project”, according to the Financial Post’s Peter Koven, Barrick insiders Peter Munk, Brian Mulroney and George Bush, Sr. had unloaded their Barrick stock. Meanwhile, the pension funds of many Canadians took a big hit when Barrick’s stock prices went down….

Green Party supporters have been urging people to write to Rudyard Griffiths, the “Munk darling” moderator of the Munk debates, asking that Elizabeth May be included. I think it’s time for all parties to boycott this debate. Although there are problems with the way the traditional Consortium debates have been organized, we need those debates, as part of a fair election process.

In May, Stephen Harper announced he would not participate in the Consortium debates. Conservative spokesman Kory Teneyke referred to the media Consortium that traditionally hosts the leaders’ debates as a cabal. What hypocrisy! It seems clear that Teneyke has been involved in rigging the debates to favour Stephen Harper’s chances for re-election.

As investigative journalist Stephen Maher pointed out in a Power and Politics discussion of July 31, “if the Conservatives had thought that Thomas Mulcair might go to this [Consortium] debate without Harper going then they would’ve been taking quite a risk. Did they have some kind of informal understanding going back quite a ways?” There are certainly reasons to suspect that there was some agreement between the NDP and the Conservatives on this. For instance, in a Global News article of July 31, Leslie Young states: “Over the past few days, Conservative sources have been quietly predicting that Mulcair will not join – this prediction now appears to have come true.” And we know from the 2008 election that when the Consortium announced that three out of the 4 party leaders they had invited to the debate said they would not participateif Elizabeth May was invited, it turned out it was actually just Stephen Harper and Jack Layton who had said that. Following considerable public outcry Layton changed his tune, as did Kory Teneycke, and Elizabeth was included.

Now, in 2015, the rigging of the debates has become less blatantly obvious but much more pernicious. I agree with Stephen Maher that, in future elections, there should be some trust-worthy process for determining who will participate in and moderate debates. But failing that, for this election, we need to wake up to the way our democracy is being undermined, boycott the Munk debate and insist that the English language Consortium debate go ahead, with or without those leaders who have tried to scuttle it.

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Jan Slakov is a peace and social and environmental justice activist.

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