Canada’s new McCarthyism: Searching for foreign interference? Look to the U.S. and NATO
U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. | Andrew Harnik / AP

Editor’s Note: Canadian mainstream media was sent into a frenzy Monday after a report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee, a parliamentary body, alleged that some lawmakers had helped foreign actors—primarily China, and to a lesser extent, India—interfere in political campaigns and party leadership races.

The report even claims that some unnamed members of parliament are taking direction from foreign diplomats to “improperly influence” their colleagues. Reminiscent of the Red Scare days of the first Cold War, the right wing in Canada is seizing on the allegations and pressuring the committee to “name names.”

In this guest op-ed, Dave McKee pushes back against the McCarthyite-style panic and argues that it’s true there is plenty of foreign interference in Canadian domestic politics—and it comes from the United States and the NATO military alliance it leads. McKee is the editor of People’s Voice, Canada’s leading socialist newspaper.

The panic over alleged foreign interference in Canadian politics has reached a frenzied level, with newspaper headlines now screaming of collusion and even treason.

The target of the current panic is China, but to really root out foreign interference, the government might want to look to Brussels and Washington, the physical and spiritual homes of NATO.

Alongside NATO’s military command, there is the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA), which provides an ongoing political exchange between NATO and legislators from its member states, including Canada. The PA is explicitly oriented toward government policy, working to ensure that legislation is consistent with and facilitates NATO’s priorities.

Parliamentary Assembly meetings include a prescription for everything from foreign policy to military spending and procurement to economic policy. The PA is an enormously powerful vehicle for NATO to draft and promote policy in what we think of as sovereign states.

Here are some examples of political and economic policy that have been framed, at least in part, through the NATO Parliamentary Assembly:

National Missile Defense—In the early 2000s, despite heavy U.S. lobbying and lots of support in Ottawa, polls showed that 52% of the public remained opposed to Canada’s involvement in the U.S. NMD plan. As a result, the Canadian government announced it would not participate. This was seen by many as a victory for democracy and peace.

However, in 2005, NATO launched its Theater Missile Defense program, which essentially was the same program the U.S. had proposed, and Canada pledged its support. An article from the Department of National Defence journal actually celebrated that NATO takeover of NMD was a way to deal with the lack of public support. So much for democracy…

Nuclear weapons—While this country is a non-nuclear weapons state, it is a member of an alliance, NATO, which maintains a first-strike policy for nuclear weapons. Canada is a member of NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, which is responsible for nuclear weapons policy…including implementing first strike.

Alongside that, Ottawa has decided to purchase the F-35 fighter jet, which carries the B-61 nuclear bomb. The issue of the F-35 has been in reports from NATO-PA meetings for years, specifically expressing concern over the lack of buyers.

So, through a procurement that the NATO-PA has been pushing on its member states, Canada is purchasing a nuclear weapons delivery system, which Canadian military pilots will use.

Energy resources—The U.S. military is the single largest purchaser and consumer of oil in the world, using 360,000 barrels per day. In the early 2000s, the U.S. Department of Defense identified energy resources for the military as a “strategic issue,” and it began to appear in reports from the NATO-PA. In 2007, there were suggestions that energy resources be understood to be a component of NATO’s “mutual clause,” which compels all countries to respond if one member is “attacked.”

Canada, with the third largest oil reserves in the world, came under significant pressure to ensure that its oil industry remained secure and accessible to the U.S. And, shortly afterwards, the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that peaceful Indigenous and environmental protesters who targeted the oil industry were terrorists, and dedicated increased police resources to monitoring, infiltrating, and shutting down their organizations.

Current Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took it a step further by buying one pipeline and sending militarized RCMP officers into Indigenous territory to ensure that another one would be built.

Of course, NATO isn’t the only factor in these kinds of policy decisions. But it’s a big one. And, unlike the Chinese government, NATO’s ongoing interference on a sweeping range of both domestic and international decisions is concrete and well-documented.

The difference, of course, is that Washington and Brussels are “our friends.” But as the saying goes, with friends like NATO, who needs enemies?

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the views of its author.


Dave McKee
Dave McKee

Dave McKee is the editor of People's Voice, Canada's leading English-language socialist publication.