Harper once promised to “change the face of Canada” so drastically we wouldn’t recognize it. His goal is to make our country a model of small, weak government; powerful, deregulated corporations; increased unity with the US, and faith-based social conservatism. He seems to think the end justifies the means. We have to make sure the Harper Conservatives don’t gain power again.
Damaging Our Democracy
“… if this sort of conduct is allowed to stand … then it is not only this government that becomes a moral farce, but also Parliament, since it is Parliament’s job to police such things. And if the Parliament we elect can be so effortlessly mocked and defiled, then it is really us who have been as well.” - Andrew Coyne, Maclean’s Magazine, on the Bev Oda scandal.
"Stephen Harper is getting his comeuppance for five years of flagrantly violating the core principles on which he was originally elected … Legitimate policy questions are stalled, ignored or derided by blatant manipulation of committees, senators or parliamentary procedures … Far from championing integrity, the Conservatives have used every trick they can uncover to beat or bypass the rule book, while reacting to complaints by sticking their thumbs in their ears and wiggling their fingers." - National Post
And the coup de grace, the topper that ties everything together. Contempt of Parliament and, by extension, the Canadian people. On March 25, the Harper Conservatives were found to be in contempt of the Canadian Parliament for withholding budget information from the opposition. The opposition rightly defeated the government, leading to an election. - Ann T. Harper
100-Plus Reasons to Stop Harper Conservatives - Part I
1a) The Harper Conservatives campaigned on Transparency – to “lift the cloak of secrecy” on government. However, the Information Commissioner says this is the least transparent government when it comes to Access to Information requests – holding up the release of or charging money for material. The government even eliminated a key access data base. Canada’s international reputation in this area has dropped. Another way the Harper Conservatives avoid making information public is the excuse of “cabinet confidentiality.” Democracy dies in the dark.
1b) Peter Milliken, Speaker of the House of Commons, has ruled three times that the Harper government has appeared to breach parliamentary privilege (contempt). This is based on the concept of Responsible Government – the ruling party must keep Opposition MPs (the public) informed of what is going on. Often the Conservatives blame pubic servants for their problems. Several have been muzzled or fired. (See below.) On March 21, a parliamentary committee found, for the first time in Canadian history, that the Conservative government was in contempt of Parliament for refusing to reveal the costs of its fighter jet purchase, its Tough on Crime agenda, and its cuts to corporate taxes. (See below.)
1c) As in a court of law, contempt is a serious charge. The Government has contended that parliamentary procedure issues are a “distraction.” Harper has shrugged his shoulders saying: “You win some, you lose some.”
1d) In July 2009, Sebastien Togneri, then director of parliamentary affairs for Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, emailed the manager of the department’s access to information office about a media request for a report on the department’s real estate transactions. Togneri told the manager to release only one section of the report, Section 11. When she responded that the report had already been released, he told her to “unrelease it.” When this went public, Togneri, who lost his job, claimed it was an error in judgment and he didn’t understand the law. According to one media report, “…. he had no business interfering in the work of officials who are supposed to make decisions on what to release based on legislation, not the whims of brash political staffers … He couldn’t say who ultimately censored the report, which seems very curious. Other evidence suggests the interference by staffers was routine, and possibly directed by the PMO.” The RCMP is investigating.
2) Another closely-related promise: Accountability. Rather than face Parliament’s questions, Harper shut it down twice. An atmosphere of “trench warfare” has developed because the government often refuses to co-operate with parliamentary committees, withholding or falsifying documents. Conservative MPs even have a secret handbook on how to obstruct them, and staff members are no longer allowed to testify.
3a) Harper promised to open up our democracy. Instead, he has cynically done the opposite. Reformer-turned-Liberal MP Keith Martin says Harper has changed our system “dramatically” and made it hyper-partisan. The appointment of Conservative “pit bull” John Baird as House Leader illustrates this. The Speaker has had to rule three times against the Conservatives for breach of parliamentary privilege. Mere “parliamentary procedures,” responded Harper. “You win some, you lose some.”
3b) Generally, those who don’t agree with the Harper way become victims of what journalist Lawrence Martin calls “demagogic sloganeering.” Much of this nastiness is behind the scenes, but the pre-election HarperCon attack ads blatantly misrepresenting Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s words gave Canadians a glimpse.
3c) The non-elected staff in the Prime Minister’s Office oversee strategies, tactics, and what some call “propaganda and information control.” For this, the PMO has increased its taxpayer-paid budget to nearly $10 million annually.
3d) Harper’s central authority intimidates public servants and writes MPs’ media releases, statements, and questions – often laced with personal attacks – for the House of Commons. There is no spontaneous, unscripted debate. Conservative MPs, who should be speaking for their constituents, are provided with “talking points” on issues, so they won’t deviate from the party line. They have been labelled “pawns” of the leader.
4) On the constituency level, potential candidates have complained of undemocratic treatment and “smear” campaigns against non-Harper-endorsed contenders. Former Conservative MP Inky Mark recently sent the following letter to Manitoba newspapers, alleging there was no democracy in the riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette: “The Conservative Party nomination process again is a sham. There was no real open nomination to elect a real representative for the membership in the riding. For the second time Bob Sopuck has avoided an open and fair nomination process … to represent the party in the next general election. Brian Chita, current president of the riding is only a rubber stamp for the party. When will the 700 members of the Conservative Party in the riding get to choose their own representative? One must ask the question: What value is there having a membership in a party that doesn’t respects it’s membership? This lack of democracy at the local level is wrong. It has taken western society 700 years to take the power away from the crown and put it in the hands of the commoner. Today we have a system where the MP is appointed by the leader of the party, not the members of the party …”
5) In January, Harper expanded his cabinet – his executive – to 38 again, adding to taxpayers’ costs. MPs receive a salary of about $157,700 per year. Ministers receive roughly $75,500 above that, plus a car allowance worth more than $2,000. This runs contrary to Harper’s restraint theme and Finance Minister Flaherty’s impending bare-bones budget, as well as calls for public servants and citizens to make sacrifices to fight the deficit. It was Harper who made the size of cabinet an issue when he first took office. In 2006, he boasted that his first cabinet was only 26 ministers. This was a deliberate attempt to contrast himself with Liberal PM Paul Martin, whose cabinet had had 38 MPs. “My smaller cabinet and more streamlined cabinet structure are designed for work – not for show,” Mr. Harper said then. Now it’s big government for him; small for us.
6a) Contrary to his position as an opponent of the unelected Senate, Harper has appointed enough Senators to give the Tories a majority. During the 2008 Financial Crisis, he appointed 18 at once, costing already-strapped taxpayers $50 million.
6b) Harper has since used his majority to defeat a climate change bill with no committee hearing or debate. Not since the 1930s has a House of Commons bill been defeated by the Senate at second reading. The Senate’s historic role has never been to “veto” bills in this partisan way.
7a) In late 2010, a directive went out to public servants from the PMO and the Privy Council Office, which serves the prime minister, that “Government of Canada” in federal communications should be replaced by the words “Harper Government.” Most government press releases have made the switch, even Treasury Board Secretariat, which is supposed to ensure that “the criteria for creating an applied title include that it must: incorporate the word Canada or appear with the words Government of Canada.” Mel Cappe, a former PCO clerk warned that: “It is not the Harper Government. It is the Government of Canada. It's my government and it's your government … it's this subtle erosion of our understanding of the institutions of government that leads to a lack of credibility and respect on the part of the public.”
7b) According the The Globe and Mail public servants would not speak on the record about the above name change “for fear of retribution.” After all, Andrew Okulitch, a senior government scientist, was fired in 2006 when he rebelled against an earlier directive that the phrase “Canada's New Government” be used in government communications. When the firing was made public, Okulitch was reinstated.
8a) Harper summed up the Conservative attitude after being told that riding an ATV on a restricted airport runway was illegal, responding, “I make the rules.” Worse, Tom Flanagan, Harper’s mentor and former Chief of Staff, announced on CBC TV that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks should be “assassinated.” When a woman complained about this comment, Flanagan threatened her saying “Better be careful, we know where you live.”
8b) One of the worst examples of such an attitude on Parliament Hill occurred when international aid workers, whose funding was cut by Harper, gathered to protest Harper’s refusal to make available abortion and contraception in developing countries. “Shut the f—- up on this issue,” Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told them. “If you push it, there will be more backlash.”
9) In September, 2008, Harper ignored his own promise of a fixed election date and took Canadians to the polls for the third time in four years – just as major recession was unfolding. Ironically, he had advocated a fixed date so that prime ministers couldn’t call snap elections whenever the political tide seemed favorable. The Conservative 2006 campaign pledge had been to hold elections every fours years “except when a government loses the confidence of the House.”
10) The Conservatives are advocating elimination of the publicly-funded, per vote subsidy to political parties – in order to financially cripple the opposition. This form of funding was introduced to maintain fairness among the parties, and prevent them from being indebted to powerful individuals, corporations, or interest groups.
11a) Taxpayers paid $26-million from January to March this year for those ever-present Economic Action Plan radio and TV ads. Stretched over a year that would be $100 million, which is more than big corporations like Procter and Gamble, McDonald’s, or Tim Hortons spend. The dollar amount is partly because the Conservatives concentrated on expensive venues: the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and Hockey Night in Canada. Total Conservative government advertising cost taxpayers $136.3-million in 2009-10, including $53.2-million on the Economic Action Plan. “This is an absolutely obscene amount of money to be spending, particularly promoting an ‘action plan' with no action left in it,” said Liberal MP Mike Savage. (See below.) The four year total is $430 million. When apparently partisan, such government ads allow the Conservatives to sidestep Elections Canada ad limits – something other parties can’t do.
11b) Also, The Globe reported: “A flashy taxpayer-funded website was conceived as the ‘key component’ in marketing the Conservative government's Economic Action Plan, a secret memo prepared for Stephen Harper reveals. And right from the get-go, images and video of the prime minister were integral building blocks that pre-occupied programmers building the site, according to internal government documents obtained by The Canadian Press. Two years later, Canadians are still being blanketed with Economic Action Plan marketing, an all-of-government program designed to enforce ‘a single, consistent brand ... across all departments and agencies.’ Documents reveal it is part of a massive, centrally co-ordinated campaign – critics call it partisan propaganda – orchestrated out of the Prime Minister's Office at taxpayer expense.”
11c) Speaking of spending our money, the Harper government has handed out more than $6 million to
Quebec snowmobile clubs since the last federal election for trail grooming machines and other goodies. Meanwhile, the Newfoundland and Labrador club has warned that it might have to cease grooming its trails because of a lack of cash. In other provinces, snowmobile users have to pay for the upkeep and grooming of their trail systems through permit fees.
12) The Conservatives have used attack ads more than any party in Canadian history, Globe columnist Jeffrey Stephens observed. “Imagining that the Harper party wouldn’t descend to low blows by whatever means is, well, unimaginable … Of course, attack ads demean politics. Of course, they scare away potential entrants into politics. Of course, they prevent even a minimal understanding of issues. Of course, they induce greater public cynicism about politicians, thereby making everyone more skeptical about the role government plays in society. Of course, they reflect badly on those who use them. So why do we see them? Well, if they didn’t work, parties wouldn’t use them.”
13a) Not long after being elected, Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused members of the national media on Wednesday of being biased, and vowed to avoid them in favour of less hostile local reporters. Harper claimed that the Ottawa press gallery had decided to become the Official Opposition to his government. The day before, about two dozen journalists had walked out of a press conference because reporters were told they had to sign up US-style if they wanted to ask a question – and then Harper would choose whom to answer. Harper’s press secretary Sandra Buckler soon indicated that the PMO had other plans to control the flow of information to reporters and limit their access to government. The Toronto Sun's Alan Findlay pointed out that when government tightly controls access to information it escapes accountability by deliberately making it impossible to ask the tough questions. "Not returning calls, not holding press conferences, cherry-picking reporters for interviews -- all make it difficult to collect and scrutinize government information."
13b) Things got even worse. Harper has done his best to avoid the media, and, unlike past prime ministers, stopped entering the House of Commons through the front door. Instead, wrote Hill Time reporter Tim Naumetz in late 2009, he took a less direct route "...ducking down through a narrow hallway, behind the public gallery, atop the west side of the Chamber, down a small staircase, and then scuttling into the government lobby through a back door across from the House Speaker's Chamber.”
13c) Again in 2006, the Conservative government announced that journalists could no longer cover the repatriation ceremonies at CFB Trenton, Ontario, for soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Harper claimed it was out of respect for the families of the fallen, but some disagreed with him. Richard Leger, whose son had been killed in Afghanistan, said the decision should be left to the families. "I know, in 2002, it was a great thing for us to have the media there...," he told CBC Newsworld. Documents obtained later by the media showed that even some senior military officers had opposed the ban. The government reversed its policy and allowed families to decide for themselves.
13d) In early March this year, Harper and Ignatieff were invited to the Indian High Commission to deliver speeches about “The Year of India in Canada.” After Harper spoke, PMO staff asked reporters, photographers, and TV camera crews to leave, which they did – not knowing that Ignatieff would be speaking next! Although the PMO denied any wrongdoing at first, it finally offered a half-hearted apology.
14) According to Wikipedia, Kory Teneycke, Harper’s former spokesperson, is reported to be trying to start a witch hunt against liberal academics … At a conference, he was heard telling a student, “If you have a teacher or examples of teachers who are trying to jam lefty philosophy down your throat, please send me an email … I’d love to make them famous.”
15a) Not only teachers, but judges must be wary. Said one observer: “He unleashes ministers to attack judges who make unwelcome decisions. He personalizes attacks on his ‘enemies’.” In the past five years, the Harper government has replaced hundreds of the 1,100 judges who sit on superior and appeal courts in each province, as well as the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tax Court of Canada. A survey revealed that, in spite of his anti-patronage rhetoric, he has focussed on Tory candidates and supporters.
15b) Harper has accused the Supreme Court of being “too left-leaning.” By the end of this year, 8 of its 9 judges will be eligible for retirement, leaving Harper free to replace them. Said another observer: “The Supreme Court is a vital part of our Canada's system of government. There are few institutions that are free from the will of the Prime Minister, and the Supreme Court is one of them. If Harper does select judges based on ideological and political leanings, it may compromise the integrity of this institution.”
16) Since the last election in 2008, the Conservative government has appointed hundreds of "Conservative insiders" to the Senate, government boards, and agencies. The appointees include former cabinet Ministers, 17 former MPs, 45 past candidates, campaign workers, and top donors. Harper has also put people on advisory committees, designed to offer Parliament “unbiased” advice. This is impossible with partisan appointees.
17) Several of Harper’s cabinet ministers were in the Ontario Mike Harris “Common Sense Revolution” government – John Baird, Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty. (Do Ontarians realize this?) Mike Harris is now a “senior fellow” at the Fraser Institute, which is directed and funded by Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, and a web of right-wing foundations which are also supported by large corporations – the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Koch Family of Koch Oil (which backs the Tea Party in the U.S).
18) Writer Murray Dobbin: “The fact is that fundamentalist Christians actually believe that government violates the will of God. When Stockwell Day (the Christians' man in cabinet) ran a Christian school in Alberta years ago, its curriculum included this assessment of democratic governments: "[they] represent the ultimate deification of man, which is the very essence of humanism and totally alien to God's word." Those believing that government is essentially the devil's work don't lose sleep or a little lying or fraud. It's the will of God.” Day has resigned, but his influence will remain.
19) Mulroney failed to bring in the decentralizing Meech and Charlottetown Accords because patriotic Canadians didn’t want them. Now, Harper is doing the job less democratically under the guise of establishing a “new relationship with the provinces” – calling it “open federalism.” This push to chop up the country raises concerns for critical areas, such as social programs, the environment, transportation and other infrastructure, and, of course, democracy and national unity.