The Munk Debates is probably the least impartial host imaginable for a foreign policy debate

This coming Monday, the leaders of The Big Three Parties will gather in Toronto once more for the latest in an interminable series of talking-point recitations and statistical manipulations falsely marketed to the public as “debates”.

The latest such “debate”, hosted by the Munk Debates, will focus exclusively on foreign policy. And as observant critics have pointed out, the choice of host for this debate is pretty problematic. The Munk Debates is endowed by Peter Munk, founder and former CEO of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold-mining company and a serial abuser of human rights, indigenous rights, labor activists and the environment.

Munk himself is a particularly despicable person – you can read some of the more objectionable things he’s said at – but like most billionaire criminals, he enjoys wide respectability among this nation’s elite. And the advisory board of the Munk Debates is packed with people close to him, including his son, Anthony, and Janice Stein, the former director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Peter Munk and his cronies haven’t been shy about interfering in the political process before – for instance, in 2010, when a bill was before Parliament which would have imposed more stringent standards on Canadian mining companies operating abroad, Peter Munk lobbied aggressively against it, and then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, denying rumours he had been offered a job by the Munk School, encouraged his members to miss the vote on the bill, which was narrowly defeated. Shortly after Ignatieff’s disastrous defeat in the 2011 election, he was – surprise! – hired on by the Munk School as a professor. Cozy, eh?

Or then there was John Baird, who up until a few months ago was Minister of Foreign Affairs. Just this past January, he announced a $9-million endowment for the Munk School of Global Affairs. Just weeks later, he announced that he was stepping down from Parliament and joining the Barrick Gold international advisory board, which is headed by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

And that doesn’t even get into the fact that Peter Munk was a major donor to Thomas Mulcair’s campaign for the leadership of the NDP.

(For more on the Munk School’s interference in Canadian federal politics, and particularly Canadian-Iranian relations, see this excellent and well-researched article by Sakura Saunders, who is a perennial thorn in Peter Munk’s side and the editor of several sites devoted to Canadian mining issues.)

Canada is headquarters to three quarters of the world’s mining companies, and resource extraction abroad often embroils our nation in controversy. Including the subject of foreign mining in a debate on foreign policy would seem to be a no-brainer, given how central mining is to Canada’s economic and trade policies. But it’s extremely unlikely that the Munk Debate moderators will even consider bringing up the subject on Monday night.

Which is a shame, because up until now, the major parties have been completely silent on issues of mining injustice.

Toronto’s Mining Injustice Solidarity Network has launched a campaign to get mining issues on the agenda at the debate, or at least to draw attention to their exclusion; you can check out their Thunderclap campaign here. There will also be a protest outside of Roy Thompson Hall on Monday night before the debate itself, featuring a fifteen-foot-tall Peter Munk puppet(!), which sounds like a great time and which you can find out more about here. Kudos to these folks for working tirelessly to draw attention to the horrific abuses committed by Canadian mining companies all around the world!

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