Tag Archives: stephen harper

The Harper Kremlin

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 Chrétien 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. Chrétien 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.

Harper: Embarrassing and Defeatist

I remember the exact moment when I no longer thought Mel Lastman’s antics and gaffs were funny. On April 24th, 2003 he appeared on CNN during the SARS crisis and infamously criticized the World Health Organization, saying “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t know who this group is. I’ve never heard of them before.” Suddenly, with the whole world watching, having a leader so out of touch with reality was profoundly embarrassing.

Today at the United Nations, Stephen Harper, who is now violating both international and domestic law, continued to embarrass Canada in front of the world. Jim Johnston unpacks one of his more perplexing statements:

As I listened to the report on CBC of the Prime Minister’s speech on climate change, I heard a reference to his belief that market forces will lead to technological innovation which will eventually lead to solving the climate crisis.

What market forces is he talking about? The market forces I see operating are that people and corporations will buy the cheapest power available, irrespective of CO2, GHG or the impact of depleted uranium. The enlightened few may pay more for clean energy, but the market force is predominantly “fueled” by price. These same market forces drive manufacturing and assembly operations to the countries with the lowest labour cost, irrespective of worker conditions and human rights.

Market forces can be used to advantage through tax shifting, cap and trade mechanisms and well designed programs, such as R&D funding for alternative energy development and commercialization. The Prime Minister is missing the point that without these measures, the market will continue to do exactly what it has always done, consuming the unvalued portions of our habitat – particularly clean air and fresh, clean water.

Economic fundamentals say that the price point drives both the supply curve and the demand curve. Without changing the price points, market mechanisms will not solve the problems that face us today. In fact, the market mechanisms based on “free” air, “free” water, “free” ecosystem and “free” garbage disposal are what got us into trouble in the first place.

I also came across this post by Lord Kitchener’s Own which contains some very helpful highlights from a David Suzuki Foundation report [pdf] outlining how much further along other countries are in doing the “impossible” and implementing Kyoto. There’s a long list, and, well…

To me, Iceland is the most shocking indictment of Canada’s failure. Under Kyoto, Iceland was actually permitted to INCREASE their emissions to 10% above their 1990 emissions, while Canada committed to a reduction to 6% below our 1990 emissions. Since then, Iceland has reduced their emissions to 2% below their 1990 levels, while Canada’s emissions have increased to more than 30% above 1990 levels. So, Iceland’s target was 10% ABOVE 1990, ours was 6% BELOW 1990, and Iceland is currently WAY closer to hitting OUR target, than we are to hitting theirs!!!

And no, their economy hasn’t even been destroyed. I’m as surprised as you are.

New Low

It’s no secret that I don’t have a lot of love for Stephen Harper, but yesterday he sunk to such a new low that even I was surprised.

For the past few days, opposition parties have been asking the government questions about the handling of Afgan detainees because, well, there’s mounting evidence that we may be implicated in their torture, and because when they asked defence minister Gordon O’Connor about it he — what’s the term again? — “mislead” the House. So, you can see why they’d be concerned.

Harper responded by saying that, just because they asked those questions, those MPs obviously cared more about Taliban prisoners than Canadian soldiers. He subsequently refused to apologize. In other words, not only has “you’re either with us or against us” migrated to Canada, somehow concern for human rights is now anti-Canadian.

Speaking of which, I will remind you today, on World Water Day, that under this government Canada still refuses to declare water a human right. (So, what is it then? A privilege?)

I used to think comparisons of Stephen Harper to George Bush were exaggerated and unfair. Not any more.

Bush Melting Faster Than Harper, Slower Than Arctic

I’m back in Toronto after a Christmas-family-tour. One stop was to visit my Gomma and Pappa (the names us grandkids call my dad’s parents for reasons that have never been clear to me), who gave me some new clippings. One was all about polar bears, and highlighted the fact that over the past few decades the thickness of the ice in the arctic circle has thinned by 40%.

I read a lot of statistics and, recently, I’ve just been letting them wash over me like noise. Otherwise, they become overwhelming and even debilitating. My Pappa’s disbelief, however, caused this one to stand out. Actually, you might describe his reaction as outraged. I was somewhat surprised to hear this man in his 80s demand to know why SUVs aren’t illegal. He kept asking me to write a letter to the Globe and Mail, “telling Canadians to wake up.”

I tried to comfort him with the good news that, in fact, we now see daily stories and op-ed pieces about the climate crisis. Exactly one year ago, I told him, I was in an election campaign where I felt like I still needed to convince people that climate change was real. If we had another election campaign today (or, say, in March), I’d be able to assume that most people recognize the threat and move on to advocating for specific solutions. That’s a huge step forward, I argued. Pappa remained unsatisfied that we’re moving quickly enough.

Today’s announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that he agrees with my Pappa and believes polar bears are “threatened,” and that this threat is a specific result of climate change, is a good sign. It’s also an embarrassing one, since it means that the Bush administration has now done more to acknowledge the science of climate change than Stephen Harper.

It’s not Canadians that need to wake up, it’s our government.

The good news in all of this is that in our next federal election you’ll see all four national parties making the environment an issue (something that none of the three status quo parties did effectively in the last campaign). The environment has (finally!) become an issue like health care and education, in that everyone can agree it’s important (critical, in fact). It won’t be enough for a party to say they “care about” and “want to protect” the environment. Politicians will have to demonstrate they have solutions that work. That’s where I believe the Green Party has credibility the other parties lack.

We’ll have to move quickly though. Not just because we’re running out of time, but because my Pappa deserves some good news.