This isn’t Tom Mulcair’s NDP anymore. Last election campaign, in 2015, the NDP’s then-leader refused to call for cancelling Canada’s massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia, joining a general “cone of silence” on the issue.
At today’s official campaign launch in London, Ontario, Jagmeet Singh signalled a different course by taking a clear position that Canada should cancel the Saudi deal. This is significant because London is where workers at the General Dynamics plant build the LAVs that are being shipped to the repressive petrostate.
In response to a reporter’s question that framed the arms deal as an issue of jobs vs. human rights, Singh calmly refused to take the bait, “Those hard-working people should continue to have those contracts, here in Canada or in jurisdictions where there is not an oppressive regime like in Saudi Arabia. If there is any example of a time when we should be cancelling an arms deal, it’s with a country that is alleged to have committed the murder of a journalist, that’s involved in the ongoing killing of the people of Yemen, and that has been implicated in horrible human rights violations.”
Singh’s reference to a murdered journalist is about the case of Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi author and Washington Post contributor who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey last fall. At the time, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government said they would review Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Almost a year later, crickets. Last month civil society groups demanded an update from Trudeau on the Saudi deal review. Despite being put on the spot by Hasan Minhaj over the issue, there has been no update from Trudeau.
There is also a significant effort underway to have the Canadian Labour Congress take an active and clear stance against the Saudi arms shipments. In 2016, the CLC endorsed an open letter to Trudeau asking his government to rescind the “immoral and unethical” agreement with Saudi Arabia first entered into by Harper’s Conservative government.
Ricochet has reported extensively on the Saudi arms deal and Canadian military links with the Gulf states more broadly. This is an issue that deserves sustained attention in this campaign. It’s a good early sign that the NDP’s new leader is willing to tackle it head on.