May 3, 2011
Harper Finally Earns Canadian Trust
So. Canada now has a Conservative Government. A Conservative majority government. For five years Canadians dodged it, never trusting Stephen Harper quite enough to give him full control of the reigns of a historically left-of-centre nation. But something has happened. Today we have a Conservative majority and while most people I know seem completely devastated by this outcome, it certainly implies that some number of Canadians think Harper has proven that he deserves the keys to the house. So let’s look at that.
What exactly has Harper done to earn the trust of Canadians after a five year run? Looking back:
The political climate of 2005 was hot. The Liberals were in trouble due to the sponsorship scandal which in short, saw government money being misused for the sake of more or less buying votes. Sheila Fraser, Canada’s Auditor General, revealed the scandal and The Gomery Inquest gave us the details.
After a non-confidence vote led by the Conservatives, we had an election in January of 2006. As a result of cashing in on the Liberal scandal and a healthy dose of moral outrage, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won a minority government. The Liberals remained the official opposition by 21 fewer seats.
At the time, two major points of the Conservative platform were:
There were other issues, (health care, gun registry, social issues) but for the sake of brevity I’m going to focus on these matters.
Regarding that trust. Let’s visit a brief timeline of Harper’s government since he took over in 2006.
May 2006: Harper shuns the Ottawa press gallery and vows to speak to media on the road who “want to ask questions and hear what the government is doing” because “the [Ottawa] press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government.” Yes, the Ottawa press gallery had asked the Prime Minister of Canada questions about his policies.
December 2008: To avoid a non-confidence vote, Stephen Harper convinced Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue parliament, shutting the Canadian government down until late January. It should be noted that this was immediately following a second election in which Stephen Harper took his second minority government, and was now trying to ram through some policies that he knew would not be popular with the opposition. Without a majority win and a lack of support for his policies, it seemed as though he had decided to pull his hockey net out of the game and take it home.
December 2009: Exactly one year after his first successful prorogation (and quietly, the day before New Year’s Eve,) Stephen Harper phoned Michaëlle Jean to request a second prorogue, so he could “consult with Canadians about the economy” until March. Oh, and it was time for the winter Olympics, too. That’s right, he phoned in the request to suspend parliament, and Jean gave it to him for a second time. Many Canadians were not impressed.
In what had to be a total coincidence, the rest of Canada was awaiting a report on Canada’s handling of detainees in Afghanistan, and Canada’s role in their torture there, although Harper was pretty sure Canadians didn’t care. Even the American conservative magazine The Economist couldn’t help but point a finger at the auspicious timing of the prorogue.
The Afghan Detainee Issue:
By this time it was becoming clear that Stephen Harper’s 2006 platform had been little more than moral banner waving after the Liberal scandal. After denying any involvement of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, it soon became clear that Canada might in fact have violated human rights laws there. Here is a more concise timeline of that matter.
After claiming they would champion the cause of whistleblowers by means of real protection, the Harper government was quick to silence Richard Colvin’s testimony about the handling of Afghan detainees. Since then, Colvin has faced numerous obstacles as a result of trying to tell the truth.
It’s not a good sign when the integrity commissioner you appoint to field whistleblower complaints in fact buries reports. When this audit was revealed, she stepped down and was given a $500,000 severance package, which might require a subsequent audit.
Unfortunately, the report on the integrity commissioner was barred from release until after the 2011 election. Also unfortunate was that an audit into inappropriate G8 spending (in which Conservatives spent millions in public funds in their ridings- see Tony Clement below) and the Afghan Detainee report were also suspended until after the election. These big issues might have had too much sway in people making an informed decision about who should lead their democracy.
Christiane Ouimet, the integrity commissioner of questionable integrity is not the only questionable person from Harper’s party. Let’s have a quick look at some of the company he keeps:
Bev Oda: MP Durham
Minister for International Cooperation
Says she did not intentionally mislead anyone when she denied changing the wording of a letter that denied funding to a charity who supported abortion. She was found prima facie in contempt by the Speaker for having lied, but parliament was dissolved before she could actually be found in contempt. None of it matters though when people reelect you anyway, as she was. Go Oshawa.
Parm Gill: MP Brampton – Springdale
“You need immigration help? Talk to Parm Gill.” As recently as last week, Gill has been accused of exploiting his connections with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to fast-track the immigration process for constituents, making him an obvious favourite with voters. Ethics or fraud? No, votes! Gill won his riding.
Jason Kenny: MP: Calgary Southeast
Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
Gill’s good friend also vehemently denies any underhanded deals despite calls for an investigation. There’s also this small matter… but who cares, because he won also.
Tony Clement: MP Parry Sound-Muskoka
Minister of Industry
Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario
If you remember the summer of 2010 when hundreds of people were getting arrested or beaten by G8 police on the streets of Toronto, you might remember the G8 itself. For that G8 event, millions were spent in rural areas of near-north Ontario, in Tony Clement’s riding. Some of the money was spent on G8 facilities, but most was spent on sites that international leaders would never even visit. Nevertheless, it made Clement’s constituents happy, as they demonstrated with his most recent re-election.
The irony is not lost in the case of the upcoming G8 report, that something smells oddly familiar of the ad scandal on which they brought down the Liberal government. Funny that the same outrage seems to be missing amid Conservative voters.
Helena Guergis: former MP Simcoe—Grey
Geurgis only gets an honourable mention for two reasons. One, she was most recently running as an independent in her riding (she lost to the Conservative representative) because Harper kicked her out of the party. Two, because she didn’t actually do anything, but was made to look dirty despite everything else that goes on in the Conservative party. I still don’t quite get this one. No one except Stephen Harper does.
Contempt of Parliament
Stephen Harper’s party is the first in the history of any commonwealth to be found guilty of contempt of parliament after he repeatedly tried to hide the true cost of a prison-expansion project in a time when the crime rate has been consistently falling. I’ve heard Conservatives say “well it’s only because the opposition voted for the charge.” Let’s be clear. While the opposition voted for the charge, it’s because there was substantial evidence that proved that there was just cause for a contempt charge. That’s why they were found in contempt. It was not a conspiracy.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
Of course it is. It’s always the economy. Everyone needs some scratch, especially those who don’t feel they have enough.
For the last two years we’ve been listening to Harper talk about his expert handling of the economy, and how he has to stay in power to save Canada from the rest of the world as it crashes around us. We’re consistently reminded of how the economy is doing wonderfully and how the employment rate is rising. Canada is pretty much an economic promise land for everyone, as long as the other parties don’t get control of the reigns.
Perhaps Canada’s amazing position is why Jim Flaherty consistently denied that there were any economic problems facing Canada in 2008. Right. Then, as the economic crisis worsened throughout 2009, Flaherty conceded that maybe there was a slight recession.
We’ve heard that employment has been on the rise in Canada. That might be the case if you want to go work at McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s because yes, involuntary part-time work is on the rise. So let’s not get too clickety-heeled about the economy yet, and try to stay pragmatic. It is, after all, one of the reasons I am working in Asia instead of Canada. How has the economy been for you and the people you know?
One of the reasons that Canada’s economy appears to be staying strong overall is due to rising global oil prices. We have a lot of oil. Oil is valuable. Harper is unbeatable throughout Alberta because he believes in the tar sands. He understands it, he supports it, he has been accused of receiving a considerable amount of funding from it. He is dismantling environmental initiatives in Canada, has scrapped commitment to the Kyoto Accord, and begrudgingly made an appearance at the Copenhagen Accord when Canadians protested the announcement he would not attend. In the end, he made no commitment.
In Canada, he keeps oil regulation slack, and provides major tax cuts to the oil industry under the argument of not damaging the economy or employment. He says Canada’s oil is “ethical oil” despite grave environmental concerns. As global environmental alarm about the Alberta tar sands grows, Harper doesn’t seem to hear it. Or he reasons that “he wants the global community to abide by the same rules.” Which, of course is an easy way to not do anything about it. When you are one of the world’s largest polluters, and one of the world’s strongest economies, you could be the leader of an initiative to make things better instead of sitting on your hands and suggesting other people do something first. That’s what leaders do.
Control. Stephen Harper loves control. That’s why he was so happy when he won a majority. Commentators noted his smile, and that they had never really seen it. He talked of “hope,” but hope is more than trickling economic growth. He said he will work with other parties. Of course he said it. He was just so happy to finally have control that he can’t wait to share it.
Apparently, Canadians trust him with that control.
We have some problems in Canada.
The first one is voter turnout. Perhaps a democracy has become too comfortable when people can afford to be disengaged in the political process of their country. When you can shrug, or decide you don’t like any of the candidates, or think they’re just all crooks anyway, or any other reason that might stop you from voting… and then you can still afford to live under the democratic umbrella that many countries do not share, you have to agree that you’ve got it made. To paraphrase Rick Mercer – thinking of countries like Libya or Egypt, you have to admit it’s kind of nice that we’ve never had to die for our democracy. We’ve never had to see anyone we love die for it – unless you know someone in the armed forces, and have seen them go out to various parts of the world to fight for someone else’s democracy. A democracy that we have the luxury of leaving on cruise-control.
The willingness to elect politicians mired in scandal is another. See above. Seriously, what’s up with that? Do Conservative supporters really care nothing about ethics or accountability?
So we know who’s not voting. Who IS voting? A huge portion of the voting population falls into the baby-boomer demographic. They’ve been around longer, they have more experience, a longer collective memory. Perhaps that’s what we call wisdom. Or perhaps it’s what we can’t recognize as bias. As times change, parties change. Countries and societies change. But if you have a romantic attachment to a party for what it represented to you or your father thirty years ago, if you’re one of the party faithful, would you stop to consider your views outdated?
I’m not claiming that all of the baby-boomers voted for Harper. I know a lot of them usually vote Liberal. But the Liberal vote was way down, and the NDP vote was up, largely thanks to Quebec, and a possible surge of young people who were first-time voters, or switched from Liberal. But more importantly, the Conservative vote was up. So it would seem there was some part of the otherwise Liberal vote who got scared of the idea of voting for the far-left NDP and instead went to the Conservatives. Yes, I am looking at you.
Someone had to have trusted Stephen Harper. A lot of people did. Not necessarily an actual majority of Canadians did, but a lot did. And I would love to know what you are basing that trust on. Because if it was you, baby-boomers, I know you have memory. You must remember all the things that the Harper government has been pulling in the last six years. So what was it? Bias? Your pension? The perceived less of three evils? Default loyalty to the Conservative Party? Come on. I don’t know how anyone could make that argument when looking at the (only partial) list above. And don’t talk to me about what a party might have done to you or for you thirty years ago. None of the parties are the same as they were thirty years ago. You yourself are not even the same as you were thirty years ago.
I don’t know what it was, or what led us here. I do know that Stephen Harper is motivated by two things; power and power. He’s a historical Prime Minister in many ways; a man of firsts.
First PM to ever prorogue Canadian parliament [EDIT: I was wrong. Chretien was also known for pulling this move,] first government of any commonwealth country to be found in contempt of parliament, and of course maybe the first to lead us into an ICC-led human rights investigation. Don’t you see your country changing?
He always says it’s about the economy, but I keep coming back to an old saying that early Canadians have passed down to us. Ironically, they come from the Alberta and prairie regions too. Long before Harper built a nest there, and long before we tore up the ground there for tar sands faster than we could build the machines to do it.
Only when the last tree has died
and the last river been poisoned
and the last fish been caught
will we realise we cannot eat money.
-Cree Indian Proverb
I hope to see you sometime after October 19, 2015, Canada.