It’s hard to believe how much I used to agree with Stephen Harper when he was in opposition. Don’t get me wrong–I almost never saw things the same way as he did on matters of policy. But on process and Parliament, Opposition Leader Stephen Harper was absolutely right to call for more transparency and accountability, and, specifically, for the Prime Minister to respect Parliamentarians and refrain from centralizing power and stifling dissent. When the Opposition Leader became PM part of me thought, “oh well, at least we’ll see some positive action with regards to governance.” If you ever want to accuse me of being naive, there’s your proof.
Since being elected, Harper has made protester-choking Jean ChrÃ©tien look like the king of listening and consensus-building. After awhile, however, all of the evidence becomes overwhelming, and we forget old scandals as new ones take their place. In today’s Globe, Lawrence Martin reminds us of this damning chronology, saying that “in just 20 months, [Harper] has become master of everything he’s touched. To search the annals for another Canadian PM who accumulated so much cold-blooded authority in such a short time is to come up empty.”
- One of the first things Harper did was to eliminate the position of Deputy Prime Minister, kicking off the “storyline…of imperious control.”
- The Conservatives created a 200 page manual instructing committee chairs on how to disrupt and sabotage the mechanics of our democracy, including storming out of meetings if necessary (which, in time, they did).
- Last August, the government ordered the RCMP to remove journalists from the Charlottetown hotel lobby where caucus was meeting so that they couldn’t ask nettlesome questions.
- Unlike past governments, the Harper government does not reveal the dates of cabinet meetings in advance, making it next to impossible for the media to know to show up and ask questions afterwards and further ensuring that MPs will not be allowed to speak. Martin adds that “our diplomats are in the same boat. The extent of their gagging is also said to be unprecedented.”
- If journalists want to ask the government a question, they must do so from a pre-approved list. “Journalists got an early sense of what was coming when Mr. Harper tried to ban them from covering ceremonies for soldiers killed in Afghanistan.”
Looking over my past posts, I’m also reminded of when Harper said that questioning the government’s foreign policy amounts to having a “passion for the Taliban,” when he tried to hide a pay raise for senior officials, when he hypocritically appointed committee chairs instead of allowing them to be elected by parliament, when his government bought positive news headlines, etc.
Then, Martin explains, last week saw a rush of evidence to further substantiate our concerns about Harper’s leadership:
- Last week, only two cabinet ministers were allowed to speak to the media about the throne speech. All 123 of his remaining MPs were silenced, unable to represent those who elected them.
- Last week, we found out about plans to spend two million of our dollars on “robust physical and information security measures.” That’s code for a government-controlled media briefing centre where Harper would be able to more easily curtail the press’ pesky freedom. (These plans were abandoned and denied as soon as they were discovered.)
- Last week, accusations and evidence emerged that the Conservative party has been using a partisan party database to track government constituency work. There are a number of problems with that, the primary one being that it’s illegal.
- Last week, the duly elected executive in Bill Casey’s riding was told that even if Conservative members want him to be their candidate again, Harper will not allow it.
Then, today we learn that the elected riding president has been removed in accordance with Harper’s wishes. There’s also a report in today’s paper that under this government compliance with the Access to Information Act has “both slowed down and decreased,” a fact which “goes against the Harper government’s promise to bring additional openness and transparency to Ottawa in the 2006 election campaign.” This extreme centralization of power and interference with the media’s ability to do its job is perhaps more reminiscent of Putin’s Russia than any other “democracy.” Martin concludes with these words:
The march of democracy in this country is intriguing. Mr. ChrÃ©tien took a protester by the throat. This PM, who came out of the populist Reform Party movement, has practically the entire government by the throat.
It is fascinating, if not chilling to see his shrewd acts unfold. There are many who think his strategy, a sort of reverse glasnost, is succeeding. There are others who think that building his version of the Kremlin in Ottawa is not what the people had mind.