Since it got its long-sought after majority government last May, the Harper government has fast-tracked legislation that reflects its ultra-conservatism. This includes its crime bill which would see more disadvantaged Canadians imprisoned and fewer resources available for community-based crime prevention in an era of a falling crime rate. It includes its new U.S.-Canada border agreement which some observers believe could undermine ordinary Canadians’ privacy. And it includes Bill C-18 which would undermine the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).
The Harper government is using closure and limiting speakers at Committees to push its legislation through. It assumes that a parliamentary majority gives it the right to ram through whatever it wants; to remake Canada in its own image. Luckily the Harper government doesn’t control the courts or the media, though some supporters would like to obliterate the division of powers that provides for an independent judiciary and a free press, which is what fundamentally differentiates dictatorship from democracy. Canada’s democracy will surely be severely tested over the coming years of Harper rule.
KILLING THE CWB
When Bill C-18 was recently tested in the Federal Court, Judge Douglas Campbell concluded that Harper’s legislation breached the government’s “statutory duty to consult with the CWB and conduct a vote” among the farmers to be affected by the legislation. This meant the Harper government was breaching the rule of law, which wasn’t setting a very good example by those who regularly manipulate the fear of crime and staunchly advocate retributive law and order.
Harper’s Agricultural Minister, Gerry Ritz, however was intransigent, claiming the “Parliament of Canada alone has the supremacy to enact, amend and repeal any piece of legislation”, continuing “This is a fundamental feature of democracy”. The Minister totally missed the point. Judge Campbell wasn’t saying that the Harper government couldn’t bring in new legislation; he was saying that the way it was doing this breached existing law, specifically Section 47.1 of the 1998 Canadian Wheat Board Act which requires a vote by producers. The Harper government nevertheless plans to appeal the ruling and proceed to implement Bill C-18 as soon as possible. Damn the rule of law!
The same disrespect for the rule of law is shown in Harper’s international dealings. Just as the United Nations Durban conference on the climate crisis was getting under way, Harper’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, indicated Canada would soon withdraw from its obligations under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Kent said “Kyoto is the past” as though Canada’s global environmental commitments could be wiped from the slate at will.
The response was immediate with international observers saying Harper’s actions were at best “unhelpful” and at worst “belligerent”. Green Party leader and newly elected MP Elizabeth May called the Harper government a “global pariah”. When the Harper government carries through with its threat we will stand alone as the only country which ratified Kyoto and then pulled out. Our international reputation, which includes bringing countries together for the Montreal Protocol which led to a treaty to protect the ozone layer, will be further squandered; we will become an environmental rogue state.
Minister Kent argues that the failure to meet Kyoto targets of reducing greenhouse gases by 6% below 1990 level by 2012 is solely the failure of the Liberal government which signed the Protocol. Yet the Protocol was ratified by the House of Commons as a binding international treaty and the Conservatives have been stalling on climate action since they took power in 2006. Kent’s Parliamentary Secretary repeats Harper’s mantra that we “can’t disadvantage our economy”, which is exactly what Harper is doing by ignoring the mounting evidence that not acting will have untold effects on the social, economic and environmental security of our offspring.
The international community hasn’t been dissuaded by the Harper government’s reckless behaviour. After extending the Durban conference for 36 hours, a watered-down framework was finally accepted for future negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol. All emitting countries will start negotiating a binding treaty in 2013 to be completed by 2015 and take effect by 2020. Years of stalling, most notably by the Harper government has however left us all at greater risk. 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record and we are already on course to surpass a 2 C degrees average global temperature increase, the threshold atmospheric scientists say could lead to irreversible climate changes. Water and food insecurity would ensue.
Agreement was also reached to extend the Kyoto Protocol to fill the gap until the new binding agreement takes effect. And a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to assist developing countries convert to sustainable energy was also established. Minister Kent however refused to endorse either of these measures, which will further marginalize Canada from international action on the climate crisis.
The disrespect for the rule of law shown by Harper’s government is distressing. I sometimes have a sinking feeling when I think about a government such as this being “in charge” of our country. And this isn’t because I am a distraught partisan supporter of another party which lost in the May federal election, for I am not. It’s because history teaches us that if we aren’t vigilant about democracy, democracy can begin to slip away before the public catches on.
The distinction between the “rule of law” and “rule by law” is crucial. A government that thinks it can use raw power to impose whatever laws it wants, with little or no regard for existing law, will inevitably move towards authoritarian rule. After only six months the Harper majority government is beginning to look a little like a clique that had a successful coup, rather than a mature government that fundamentally embraces democracy.
Let us never forget that notorious authoritarian regimes are sometimes originally elected to power and democracy can be weakened by governments that go overboard to manipulate simplistic views. The Harper government spends much time building up the image of the military while slowly undermining the freedoms that we often credit the military with protecting.
The Harper Conservatives may have grown out of the Western Canadian Reform Party with its call to make the federal government more accountable and transparent. But Harper’s rule is now taking us in the opposite direction. The 30% of eligible voters who gave Harper his majority government may not have grasped what they were doing and they can’t be held personally responsible for Harper’s inclination for arbitrary rule. Nor can those who didn’t vote, though they also played a role in allowing Canada to get on this slippery slope. But, nor can any citizens now be excused for not closely watching what the government actually does, how it does it and what this will mean for Canada’s future. We can only hope more Canadians will wake up and stand up for Canada in 2012.
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers!