After squeezing a majority government out of the Canadian electorate Harper is ratcheting up his assault on our democracy. One of his first acts was to ram through Bill C-18 which undercuts the farmer-elected Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). A Federal Court judge found Harper had breached his “statutory duty to consult the CWB and conduct a vote”, a requirement under Section 47.1 of the 1998 legislation. Harper barreled on and now former CWB directors have called for an injunction on Bill C-18; and a class action suit is seeking compensation for damages to farmers. As Bruce Johnstone so rightly asked in the January 14, 2012 Leader Post: “What gives this government the right to seize farmer’s assets, sell them and pocket the proceeds, without paying any compensation to farmers?”
Farmers need a lot of financial support in their efforts to draw a line in the sand and show Harper that he can’t trample on the rule of law. The line may have to be drawn one community meeting at a time.
And this is starting to happen. On January 22nd nearly 100 people gathered in the Raymore Elks Hall to show their support for standing up for the rights of farmers. CWB members, a diversity of political party supporters and a wide-range of community leaders from 30 communities packed into the small hall. Ralph Goodale, Minister when the CWB was changed to give farmers a say, spoke last and spoke passionately. After speeches, questions, debate, lots of learning and a great supper, many people started donating $1 for every acre they farm to the farmer’s defense fund.
I was asked to talk about Harper’s assault on democracy, to look at the pattern of his rule since 2006. I was dumbfounded by the growing list of undemocratic acts. There was the proroguing of Parliament before the Vancouver Olympics to suppress information about complicity in Afghan torture. Bullying was already happening, as Harper warned the Law Clerk to conduct himself “according to government interpretation”. There was a constant misleading of Parliament to impose his rule: cuts to KAIROS, a long-stand ecumenical and international development group, were done deceitfully. Minister Oda claimed KAIROS failed to meet CIDA’s new guidelines; it was later found that someone in her office had inserted “not” onto the grant form reversing CIDA’s actual recommendation. Basic honestly was beginning to erode. Then Harper’s 2006 and 2008 Campaign Manager was accused of making “false and misleading statements” regarding overspending for attack ads used against the Leader of the Opposition.
Harper wasn’t just suppressing information required for a functioning Parliamentary democracy, he was starting to repress the inherent rights of Canadians. The government squandered $1 billion on the G8 and G 20 meetings; 20,000 police were brought in, 1,100 Canadians were arbitrarily held in detention centers, the vast majority of whom had no charge laid or were there under false arrest. Harper made Canada look like a banana republic.
The list continues. Harper obstructed international attempts to negotiate a climate treaty. Under his rule Canada became the only country to not repatriate its citizens from Guantanamo Bay. When Harper tied to get Canada a seat on the Security Council, his hostility towards international law was already well known. Canada, a pioneer of the United Nations, was soundly defeated by Portugal.
Harper steadily centralizes power. Though using populist rhetoric about accountability and transparency, he appointed an unelected party supporter to his Cabinet, eliminated an Access to Information database (CAIRS), and fired the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for trying to regulate nuclear safety at Chalk River. The Chief Statistician at Stats Canada was driven out because he spoke the truth about how the qualitative information from the Long Census Form was required for good governance.
Harper established rigid controls over Cabinet and civil service contact with the media. After taking $10 million in public subsidies for his election campaign, he threatened to abolish the per-vote public subsidy that keeps Canadian politics from being in the pockets of the rich, as in the U.S. Harper was found to be in Contempt of Parliament prior to the 2011 election. This was a first for any Prime Minister in the Commonwealth, yet another blight on Canada.
With the economic uncertainty following the 2008 financial crisis, Harper was carefully marketed as an Economic Strong Man who could rule decisively. This helped deflect attention from the $10 billion dollar surplus becoming a $50 billion deficit, the largest in our history. Harper branded the federal stimulus package, Action Canada, as a Conservative vote-getting machine and was trying to rebrand Government of Canada departments as those of the “Harper Government”. Most Canadians didn’t fall for this, but with 4 of 10 not voting and the opposition vote split several ways, Harper gained enough seats, mostly from suburban Ontario, to get his majority.
Harper is sometimes referred to as Teflon Man: nothing sticks. He has deflected criticisms of his anti-democratic legacy mostly by playing the politics of fear. He has barged ahead with his extravagant plan to build super-jails in a time of a lowering crime rate and a plan for super-jets (The F-35 Stealths) without any rational bidding process. This is perhaps a $40 billion combined cost, at a time when the government says it will cut $8 billion in spending.
Harper preemptively undermined the UN climate treaty process by announcing he would withdraw from all commitments to the Kyoto Accord, which had previously been endorsed by Parliament. Following a similar pattern, he preempted the National Energy Board’s hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline by attacking opponents as “foreign-funded radicals”. NGOs and First Nations were demonized while multi-nationals who would export thousands of jobs to China were in “the national economic interest”. This brings us back to the CWB, where the benefactors of Harper’s squashing of the rule of law will be the grain and transportation corporations to which farmers will be more beholding.
POLITICS AS WARFARE
While others in the world struggle and in some cases die to create democratic space for progressive reform, Harper systematically shuts down and closes off democratic processes so he can force through his corporate agenda. He skillfully manipulated the electoral system using attack ads, wedge issues like gun control and immigration, suppression of opponents and outright deceit. He’s no democrat in any sense of the term. What characterizes his politics is preemptive attacks: Syria’s dictator labels his opponents as “foreign-supported terrorists”; Harper’s slams his as “foreign-funded radicals”. It’s semantic warfare.
Harper and his circle of ideologues are angry at democracy for its tolerance for dialogue and compromise. They are angry at those who would dare oppose them; they prefer to strike first, with no apologies. Harper’s past political adviser, Tom Flanagan, has spoken of elections as “war by other means”; you fatally wound your enemies. Flanagan actually called for the assassination of Wikipedia activist Julian Assange. What kind of model is this for upcoming generations?
Harper sees politics as war. He sees sport as warlike. He wants the military to be at the centre of our political culture, while he undermines the very freedoms for which we ritually thank the military. Politics is not rivalry among citizen politicians; it’s not about political participation by farmers, workers, environmentalists, indigenous or other peoples to find the best methods of governance. It is a zero-sum game where winner takes all; where you rule by law not by the rule of law.
Saskatchewan Farmers have now drawn a line in the sand. The majority of Canadians do not like Harper’s anti-democratic rule. Will others soon join the farmers who have said “enough is enough”?
For more info or to donate go to: http://www.friendsofcwb.ca