By Kathleen O’Hara
( modified from Kathleen's January 5 rabble.ca article Ten reasons to oppose the Harper candidate in your riding)
Who is the most arrogant, controlling, and destructive Prime Minister Canada has ever had?
Forget about John A’s drinking and Mackenzie King’s talking to ghosts; for the campaign, the clear answer is Stephen Harper.
Stephen Harper runs our national government, but he doesn’t believe in government. Instead, he believes in a strong, aggressive military and locking Canadians up in US-style superprisons for even the most questionable of crimes with only the most basic necessities.
Harper and his generally submissive Cabinet don’t believe government should provide the nurturing, socially-responsible kind of government Canadians experienced as the social safety net and personal freedoms grew under Pearson and Trudeau in the1960s and 70s, and even John Diefenbaker in the 1950s.
Musical performances aside, our often-surly PM believes in the privatization of our government services, and feels that industry should be policing itself when it comes to food and air safety. And, like the right-wing National Post, Harper doesn’t approve of, and rarely even listens to, Canadians who hold views different from his.
Harper gives us environment ministers who don’t protect the environment, and ministers in charge of women’s issues who don’t recognize the needs of Canadian women. Our universal Medicare system, once a source of great pride in Canada, twists in the wind, while private corporations lobby and gradually take it over. The minister in chargeof international development greatly reduces our aid to Africa, the poorest continent on the planet, while launching damaging funding cuts to NGOs, such as KAIROS (the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives), and allowing unfounded lies about their work by Jason Kenney to go unchallenged.
For these and many more reasons, a group of independent Canadians who do believe in strong democratic values and good government came together about a year ago to form Catch 22, a cross-country grassroots campaign – working to convince Canadians in key battleground ridings to defeat the Harperites in the next election. They hope that people will vote strategically for whichever candidate has the best chance of defeating them.
This being the holiday season (this piece was penned a couple weeks ago - ed), many Canadians will be (belatedly) honouring The 12 Days of Christmas, a celebration of goodwill, joyfulness, and giving. However, in keeping with the aggressive culture of the Harperites, Catch 22 presents our list of the 12 most offensive actions taken against the Canadian people by the Conservatives during the past 12 months.
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1) Money Shenanigans – In 1993, Mulroney’s Conservatives chalked up a $38 billion deficit. By 2006, Chretien’s Liberals turned this into a $16 billion surplus. Now, Harper has given us a $47 billion deficit. In 2011/12, Harper is introducing more corporate tax cuts, which will cost the country $5.6 billion annually. Throughout his time in Ottawa, taxes on the rich have been reduced. > On the other side of the ledger, to raise revenues the Harper gang promoted the HST, which further shifts the tax burden from corporations to consumers. The Ontario government has admitted that this will cost citizens almost $500 a year per family. On the other hand, Harper’s Income Trust “betrayal,” will result in a $2 billion a year tax “leakage.” When other expenditures, such as new airplanes and massive prisons, are added in, the government in the days ahead can claim there’s a massive debt and that it can’t afford the kinds of social programs Canadians need.
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2) Rich Are Richer, the Poor Growing in Number – The top one per cent are “increasing their share of income at an historic pace, with wealth concentrated in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1920s.” Post-WW II policies, which helped better distribute income across society, have been dismantled since the mid-1980s after lobbying from corporate special interest groups such as the C.D. Howe Institute, the Fraser Institute, and others. At the same time, Save the Children – UNICEF – recently reported that Canada is falling behind other developed countries when it comes to the well-being of its poorest children. > We rank 17th among 24 industrialized countries in terms of material well-being — including family income and housing. The report said "it's a concern" that the inequality gap is very wide in Canada. >Even though seniors’ incomes have dropped for the first time in decades, leaked government documents suggest that Ottawa is going ahead with a controversial change to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors- in spite of the Prime Minister’s insistence the plan has been cancelled. > Also cancelled: the Kelowna Accord tohelp Aboriginal citizens receive higher standards of clean water, housing,education, and more. > Most recently, Harper flip-flopped on promised CPP enhancements, optinginstead for glorified savings accounts which provide no income security for retirees.
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3) Harper’s Rigidly-Controlled Stimulus Program Not Simulating– Harper’s $4-billion infrastructure stimulus fund had a single focus: jobs. But on that measure, a new survey of those who actually received the federal cash gives the program poor marks. A majority of those surveyed by the Parliamentary Budget Office run by Kevin Page reported the program had either a neutral or negative impact on jobs. >Harper wasn’t sure he would extend the program past March, 2011, but realized that half-built schools and sewers wouldn’t be popular. > In November, the good news from Statistics Canada was that Canada's unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a point to 7.6 per cent per cent, and the economy had created 15,200 new jobs. The bad news was that they were all part- time with no security or benefits. Also the unemployment rate dropped because 43,600 Canadians, mostly young people, had left the labour market.
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4) Political Fossils are Fossil Fanatics – Canada appears to have the world’s worst reputation when it comes to combating climate change. Harper and Company earned a reputation for heavy-handed stonewalling during climate change negotiations in Copenhagen and more recently in Cancun. In Cancun, they lobbied against an extension of the Kyoto Accord– which has been virtually ignored. >They claim they can’t bring in “cap and trade” legislation without U.S. co-operation, knowing full well that the new Republican-led House of Representatives will stonewall any new US legislation. They will go ahead with “equivalent" regulations if and when Obama does. In the meantime, Canada’s unelected Senate, stacked with Harper appointees, killed Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, passed in the House of Commons, without a single committee hearing. > Harper will continue to spend massively on expanding Alberta tar sands production – in spite of resulting CO2 emissions (100,000 tonnes daily), forest clearances the size of Florida, Athabaska River pollution, and toxic tailing ponds. > Houston-based Enbridge, responsible for the Michigan river oil spill last summer, wants to build the Western Gateway pipeline to bring tar-sands oil to the West Coast. TransCanada is trying to buy off U.S. farmers and build the Keystone XL pipeline to bring that oil to refiners in Texas. > We can’t forget that the Reform - now Conservative - Party was founded at the Petroleum Club in Calgary.
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5) Censoring the Census Riles Canadians – The way the government has dismantled the mandatory national long-form census means that, until it is fixed,critics won’t be able to measure the damage Harper is doing to many important programs. This move was made over the objections of literally hundredsof Canadian organizations who use the long-census to measure and improve their programs and activities. > One of many civil servants mistreated by the Harper government was Munir Sheikh, who resigned as chief statistician after the long-form census was scrapped. But the real reason Sheikh resigned is because Industry Minister Tony Clement had given the impression that Sheikh supported the census changes. “It really cast doubt on the integrity of the agency,” Sheikh later told a House of Commons committee. “And I, as the head of that agency, cannot survive in that job.” > It is estimated that the new,voluntary census will cost $30 million more than the thorough, accurate one it is replacing.
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6) Boys and their Planes and Guns – The HarperCons are buying 65 F-35s stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin through an untendered contract worth $9-billion – plus an estimated $7 billion more in maintenance costs. That’s $16-billion for jets we don’t need. They claim the fighters are needed, in part, to face the Russians who sometimes fly too close to our airspace – without incident. > As for smaller weapons, the Conservatives pushed hard to end the long-gun registry, even calling pro-registry police a “cult.” > Marty Cheliak, the RCMP Chief Superintendent and a strong proponent of the registry, was suddenly replaced as head of the Canadian Firearms Program ostensibly because the position was bilingual. Harper said it was a “staffing issue” and “not a political matter.” > However, an RCMP evaluation of the registry confirmed that it was an “important tool for law enforcement,”operating efficiently and cost effectively. The government held up the evaluations before the House of Commons vote, saying it was being translated.
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7) Involvement in Afghanistan Becomes Farcical – The Canadian military was pushed into a combat role in Afghanistan by the Americans because we refused to help them during their illegal invasionof Iraq. While Canadians and others have died fighting the Taliban, some corrupt Afghans have stashed away billions they have stolen. >When Jack Layton suggested the West negotiate with the Taliban, Harper and Company typically attacked, calling him “Taliban Jack.” More recently the U.S., desperate to escape the Vietnam-like quagmire, has failed to get the Taliban to get involved in serious discussions. Now Harper endorses negotiations. >Meanwhile, as the Americans plan to begin withdrawing, life in Afghanistan is more dangerous and chaotic than ever.> With the latest extension of the Afghanistan mission, we will now be spending almost one billion a year to train Afghan police and soldiers. Peter Galbraith, former UN envoy to Afghanistan, says it will take many years to accomplish this. > Canada will also be paying $300 million a year or more now that it has lost its rent-free Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates.
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8 ) Parliament Shut Down to Hide the Truth About Afghan Torture – When allegations surfaced that the Canadian government was aware that the Afghan National Directorate of Security was torturing Afghans handed over by our forces, the government simply shut down Parliament to avoid the issue. This 22-day prorogation angered hundreds of thousands of Canadians. More stonewalling on the Afghan file led to an extraordinary ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken, condemning the government for a breach of Parliamentary privilege because it refused to release uncensored documents. > Thanks to Harper's manoeuvres, however, the torture issue is now lost in thecomplexities of an ad hoc parliamentary committee. > Had the whole matter been aired properly, it is likely that responsibility for turning prisoners over to be tortured led at least as high as Defence Minister Peter MacKay. If this had been the case, MacKay should have displayed enough integrity to resign from Cabinet. > Meanwhile, the contract of Peter Tinsley, chairman of the Military Police Complaints Commission,was not renewed. Tinsley says Harper’s refusal to extend his term so he can finish investigating the alleged torture of detainees in Afghanistan contributes to a “chilling effect” on cabinet-appointed watchdogs.
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9) Locking up Canadians U.S. Style – Crime rates are down and the population is aging, but the Harperites claims it must introduce tougher laws, incarcerate more Canadians, and spend $9 billion for more prisons – because of an increase in “unreported” crime. > One third of the 54 bills introduced by the Conservatives in this last session of Parliament were related to crime. The Parliamentary Budget Officer predicted a price tag of $7 to $10 billion for the cost of passing Bill C-25 alone, which eliminates the two-for-one credit for time served. A new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank says that harsher prison conditions, longer sentences, and more crowded prisons will increase the chance that criminals will re-offend. > At the same time, six prison farms, one of Canada’s most effective rehab programs, are being closed in spite of support by a majority of Canadians. > U.S. anti-capital-punishment activist Sister Helen Prejean warned Canadians about certain Conservative MPs: “If they gain in ascendancy… you’d have a party in power that would put back the death penalty in a heartbeat.” Former top cop turned Harper Conservative MP Julian Fantino wants to be first to pull the switch.
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10) Canada Humiliated on the World Stage – The Conservatives wanted Canada to have a seat on the UN Security Council, which would give it status, power, and influence. But it appears that the Harper government’s “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude alienated too many countries. >Canada was one of only four countries which voted against the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights when passed by the General Assembly in 2007. (That has since been reversed.) > Harper has helped prevent the UN from declaring asbestos a dangerous substance under the Rotterdam Convention, and still promotes exports to poorer countries. > Canada took a lead in preventing genetically modified (GMO) seeds from being banned under the UN convention on Biological Diversity. > Harper abandoned our development partnership with eight of the poorest countries in Africa. > Harper’s comment that the destructive bombing of Lebanon in 2006 was a “measured” response and his unquestioning support of Israeli government policy also lost Canada support. > He also cut funding for the UN agency that provides aid, education and other services to Palestinian refugees.
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11) Power Against the People, Money Outthe Window – Under Harper’s watch, Canada saw the largest mass arrest in its history – 1,100 people. Police action at the Toronto G20 Summit was also one of the most violent in the country’s history. People were arbitrarily searched, humiliated, attacked with batons and rubber bullets, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, kicked in the face, and had bones broken by officers who had removed their badge numbers and name tags. After 800 people were held in hideous conditions in a makeshift prison for hours, most were either not charged or had the unfounded charges were later withdrawn. Several lawsuits are in the courts now. > The hundreds of millions spent on “militarizing”downtown Toronto, plus the ridiculous $2-million fake lake and all the trimmings was nothing less than a misappropriation of public funds, according to author Naomi Klein.
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12) Ailing Democracy Further Battered – Reformer-turned-Liberal MP Keith Martin is among many who say the former bi-partisan co-operation in the House of Commons is a thing of the past. Harper has changed our system “dramatically” and made it hyper-partisan. He’s put “partisanship over public policy.” The advancing of any new ideas is drowned out by mudslinging. It’s a “cultural change” – a “sick environment,” Martin warns. He has decided not to seek re-election. > 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 support a full range of maternal health policies, particularly funding for abortion in developing countries. “Shut the f—- up on this issue, ”Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told them. “If you push it, there will be morebacklash.” > Our political process is further eroded by the power given to non-elected staff in the Prime Minister’s Office. These staff members develop strategies and use heavy-handed controls to promote Harper’s agenda and go against the national public interest. > For this, the Prime Minister’s Office increased its taxpayer-paid funding by $1 million. > Conservative MPs, who should be speaking for their constituents, are muzzled. > Harper’s executive-rule attitude has been most blatantly demonstrated by the two prorogations – closing down Parliament when there is a threat to its power.
These are Catch22’s twelve picks of Stephen Harper’s most damaging ‘gifts’ delivered to the Canadian public during the past 12 months. Would anyone like to add to our list?
KathleenO’Hara, a campaign strategist with Catch 22’s organizing committee, has been a journalist in television, radio, and print, as well as a progressive activist, for several years. She thanks Nick Fillmore and GaryShaul of Catch 22 for their input.