Elections are such infuriating spectacles that sometimes one doesn’t know which obscenity to utter first. But I’ve decided to aim my initial outburst at the Harper Tories.
I cannot vote for them. I just can’t. They should be my natural choice but their coarse, vindictive, proudly unprincipled cynicism must not be rewarded with electoral success, regardless of the consequences.
Let’s start with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first major campaign pledge: to make the home renovation tax credit permanent if he is reelected. If it were economics, it would clearly be bad economics, aiming to “stimulate” one of the few sectors of the economy doing so well it already has the government worried about a bubble.
Americans have traditionally looked to Canada as a liberal haven, with gun control, universal health care and good public education.
But the nine and half years of Mr. Harper’s tenure have seen the slow-motion erosion of that reputation for open, responsible government. His stance has been a know-nothing conservatism, applied broadly and effectively. He has consistently limited the capacity of the public to understand what its government is doing, cloaking himself and his Conservative Party in an entitled secrecy, and the country in ignorance.
This is not an election like any other. What’s at stake is nothing less than the integrity of Canada’s most fundamental features — the justice system, the electoral system, the public service, the tax system and Parliament itself — all of which Harper has relentlessly assaulted and would complete the job of reducing to his personal playthings if only enough people could be kept deep enough in the dark to give him one more majority.
Just when I thought I’d seen everything … along comes ‘Jesus’ Harper.
Not that the Cons haven’t made more than a few strange jumps in recent weeks. Dumping the traditional television debates. Agreeing to keep Elizabeth May from alternative debate venues like the Munk School (the Harper government gave that group $9 million in federal funding; I’m sure there’s no connection). Proclaiming that we haven’t slipped into another recession — even though we have. Retaining sanctions against Iran, yet still hoping for some of the Ayatollah’s business. All gobsmacking stuff.
But comparing Stephen Harper to Jesus? Even John Lennon would have to admit that’s a little weird.
As Harper’s own information commissioner told me as I was writing my book on the Harper government, Party of One, the PM is not an honourable gentlemen in the traditions of the Westminster parliamentary model. Robert Marleau said that Harper had abused his absolute power absolutely. And despite making a lot of promises about renewing accountability and transparency in government, he said, Harper had done “nothing” to advance those issues.
The Harper Decade – Pam Palmater: Harper’s 10 Year War on First Nations
In ten short years, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has set the relationship with First Nations back a hundred years. While all past governments have had a hand in the colonization and oppression of First Nations, the Harper government stands out as one of the most racist and aggressive governments that First Nations have had to work with in many generations. His government’s pattern of victim-blaming, racist stereotyping, and using misinformation to vilify First Nations leaders in the media has led even the most reserved voices at the United Nations to conclude that Harper’s actions have put “social peace” at risk. It should be no surprise, then, that Idle No More, representing the largest, most coordinated social protest movement in Canada, arose during Harper’s regime.
At 92 years old, Harry Leslie Smith has seen it all.
He rummaged through garbage to find food during the Great Depression. He worked for pennies at just seven years old. He fought for Great Britain in the Second World War, and he immigrated to Canada with little more than the clothes on his back.
He witnessed the rise of democracy, freedom, social justice and the welfare state. But now, in his opinion, he’s witnessing its decline.
“I should be able to look back and see great social progress since I was born,” he said. “But I don’t.”
On Monday, I lost my right to vote in the next federal election. So did some 1.4 million other Canadians, many of whom moved abroad to pursue their careers.
They are aid workers, teachers, business people, entertainers. More than a few names on Canada’s Walk of Fame were just deprived of part of their Canadian-ness because they followed their careers across a border.
Section Three of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons.” It follows that those of us without a right to vote feel a little less like citizens now.
There was a time when Conservatives would scoff at, or at least be embarrassed by, a huge expenditure, especially those considered to be an aggregate of the welfare state. However, I truthfully cannot remember when that might have been. After seven consecutive deficit budgets, adding over $200 billion to the national debt, including the single largest deficit in Canadian history, this Conservative Government is clearly not embarrassed by spending taxpayers’ dollars in large quantities.
However, you would think that there would remain some principled elements within the Conservative Party, who would see through the blatant and shameless self-promotion of having the minister wear a partisan branded shirt, having other ministers fan out all across the country to make comparable announcements, all on the eve of a national election, in which the polls, although tight, show the Conservatives trailing. Apparently, not.
The Supreme Court of Canada has never been so important, regularly challenging the federal government on key issues and carving out a bigger role for itself in our national life.
Yet, with the appointment of Justice Russell Brown of Alberta to the top court, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has abandoned any pretence of openness and accountability in the process of selecting the country’s most senior judges.
For the third successive time, Harper has simply announced his choice, reverting to the old practice of making Supreme Court appointments the sole prerogative of the prime minister. This is perfectly legal – but it runs counter to a decade of attempts by all parties to make appointments more transparent, and to what the Conservatives themselves committed to doing in the early days of their government.
After all, the formula is simple: Wildly exaggerate the actual threat. Inflame the rhetoric. Blame Muslims. Brush aside issues of human rights. And strap in — while the votes flow your way. It is a clever way to distract voters from more immediate and genuine threats, such as climate change and the economy.
Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have racked up dozens of serious abuses of power since forming government in 2006. From scams to smears to monkey-wrenching opponents to intimidating public servants, some offences are criminal, others just offend human decency.
DUFFY – NOT JUST ANY HEEL; HARPER’S ACHILLES’ HEEL (HERE’S HOPING)
A UBC law professor who was the former lawyer for the Prime Minister’s Office says he was taken aback when Stephen Harper insisted that owning $4,000 worth of property in a province was enough to qualify a person to represent it in the Senate.
Benjamin Perrin began his testimony Thursday at Mike Duffy’s fraud, breach of trust and bribery trial, where the Crown took him through early PMO discussions around Duffy’s contentious Senate expenses.
Former PMO lawyer Ben Perrin said he believed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had personally approved the elements of a deal with Mike Duffy, which included having the Conservative Party “keep him whole” on some of the senator’s questioned expenses.
Mr. Perrin said he thought that was the case because of an e-mail from Nigel Wright, then Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, which said they were “good to go” from the PM on the deal. “My understanding from that e-mail was that the Prime Minister himself had approved the five points…” Mr. Perrin said.
The Mike Duffy trial is proving to have significant public value. With the thousands of e-mails tabled, it opens a window on the operation of the Prime Minister’s Office. It’s not as good as an oral record like the Nixon White House tapes. But it’s the next best thing.
Serial abuses of power are something that have long been suspected of Stephen Harper’s team. They’ve been written about in books and articles by some journalists starting many years ago. Other scribes have pooh-poohed the notion, saying it’s being too tough on the Conservative Leader. But with the text traffic, we get harder evidence of some of the activities. A trove of exhibit A’s.
Stephen Harper’s long-time close adviser, Ray Novak, knew from the outset about a plan by former chief of staff Nigel Wright to secretly pay $90,000 to cover Sen. Mike Duffy’s controversial Senate expenses, it was alleged at Duffy’s trial Tuesday.
Novak, through a Conservative Party spokesman, has denied knowing about the payment before it became general public knowledge. Harper has also repeatedly said that he himself was unaware of the payment, and that he fired Wright after he found out about it.
When an aggressive pre-screened Conservative supporter (wearing buttons for Ted Opitz and good old Doug Ford) verbally assaulted several reporters outside a Toronto Conservative rally on Aug. 18, it was a clear indication of cracking nerves among the support circle that have bet their fortune (some literally) on the continuation of Stephen Harper’s regime.
But there’s a clear driver to this scenario: Stephen Harper’s overall style and behaviour.
“What we have discovered is that the lines of communication and levers that are available to us on the House side, simply are not in place on the Senate side,” Wright says. “It was quickly apparent that Senator LeBreton’s office had little influence over what other Senators did and said, and limited reach into the Senate caucus generally.”
“Consistently, Senator LeBreton does not embrace the work of your office to bring communication and direction with the Senate closer to the model that we have with the House Leader and Chief Government Whip.”
Three months from an election, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has delivered an economic assessment that can rile Stephen Harper’s political election plans: It raises the prospect that the country is in recession, and that the federal budget surplus has turned to deficit.
It’s not just that the economy is so surprisingly weak that Mr. Poloz announced another interest-rate cut, the second this year. But that move, and the report that accompanied it, spread the notion of a worrying, across-the-economy stall, and undermined some of the symbols that the Prime Minister uses to bolster his most prized political asset: his reputation as an economic manager.
OTTAWA — The opposition parties want to call Finance Minister Joe Oliver before a parliamentary committee for an emergency meeting to discuss the weakening of the Canadian economy and the government’s plans to return to a balanced budget.
Veterans Affairs Canada has been struggling to answer the thousands of phone calls it receives from current and former military personnel each month because of technical glitches, staff shortages and poor planning, newly released documents show.
Problems with the processing of new disability claims from injured ex-soldiers have also had a trickle-down effect by creating delays in other areas, meaning more veterans are waiting longer to receive support from the government.
A group of Canadian military veterans said they were denied access to a Stephen Harper event held at a legion in New Brunswick Monday morning.
Fabian Henry of the organization Marijuana for Trauma said that he and six other veterans heard Sunday night that Conservative leader Harper and Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole were coming to the No. 4 Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Fredericton.
His organization has four branches across the country. It is run by veterans aiming to help vets with post-traumatic stress disorder ease their pain with marijuana treatment.
Henry rounded up some other veterans, most of whom served in Afghanistan, and headed to the event to “shake a hand or do something to talk about veterans affairs issues.”
But when they arrived, some “guys in suits” said that was out of the question.
Last month, employees of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) were asked to fill out and sign a confidential conflict-of-interest document, part of a new code-of-conduct protocol that includes a mandatory training session and meeting with a manager. In itself, this is not unusual. Employers routinely require staff to disclose potential conflicts—financial or personal—that could compromise their ability to do their jobs.
What makes the 17-page “Employee Confidentiality Report” obtained by Maclean’sunique is that it classifies the civil servants’ behaviours—both on and off the job—by “categories of risk”: Red signals “high risk” of conflict of interest, yellow “moderate risk” and green “low or no risk.” The colour-coded model mirrors the terrorism threat-advisory scale created by U.S. Homeland Security after 9/11—except that the threat levels here apply to civil servants, many of them scientists, working for a federal department that oversees Canada’s earth sciences, minerals and metals, forests and energy, and identifies its vision as: “Improving the quality of life of Canadians by creating a sustainable resource advantage.”
After five months of glacial inaction in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s one-year deadline to establish protocols and guidelines for physician-assisted suicide, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has appointed a three-member panel to canvas Canadian opinion on facilitated final exits.
But two of the three members of the panels were interveners for the federal government during the Supreme Court hearing in in Carter et al. v. Attorney General of Canada and have been “among the most vocal opponents of physician-assisted dying in Canada,” so the exercise is “neither fair nor non-partisan,” charges Dying with Dignity Canada CEO Wanda Morris.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) launched a Charter Challenge against C-51 at the Ontario Superior Court this week, on the grounds that certain sections were unjustified in a democratic society. The two groups filed their challenge just weeks after the Anti-terrorism Act came into force on June 18 despite a widespread popular outcry.
“It’s disgusting, it’s enraging, it’s frightening. Rights aren’t taken away by the swinging of an axe, it is by teaspoon,” Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expressiom said.
As a researcher, I have been following with great interest and deep unease the ongoing story of the federal government’s fight to prevent federal scientists from freely sharing the results of their work.
This government has used a culture of fear— achieved by de-funding, and the strategic dismissal of key leaders— as a means to suppress the flow of information from federal scientists. This ‘muzzling’ of researchers has been noticed in Canada and indeed around the world.
It has even, astonishingly, become an election issue. When was science ever an election issue? Never before to the best of my knowledge — which shows how bad the situation really is.
For all of these reasons, I was highly suspicious, and unfortunately not the least bit surprised, to learn that Dr. John Wilmshurst, Resource Conservation Manager for one of Canada’s most precious natural resources, Jasper National Park, had been fired.
The former head of Elections Canada says Prime Minister Stephen Harper is “gaming the system” with an early election call and the result is parties with less money are politically disadvantaged.
“What it does is completely distort everything we’ve ever fought for, everything we’ve established as rules,” Jean-Pierre Kingsley said in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House.
Canada’s medical research community is reacting with shock and disappointment to the cancellation of a 30-year program to train doctors who see patients and work as scientists searching for new treatments.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is the federal government’s major health science research organization. Its MD/PhD program was launched in the 1980s out of concern over the lack of specialists who could move easily between the lab and hospital.
The names of more than 150 registrants listed on the much-vaunted “robocalls registry,” intended to prevent fraudulent calls to voters, will be kept secret until after the federal election.
The Conservative government created the Voter Contact Registry last year as part of the Fair Elections Act, in response to outrage over pre-recorded calls in Guelph that directed voters to the wrong polling location in the 2011 election.
The registry is now up and running but voters will have no way of consulting it to see if the calls they receive are legitimate until at least a month after the Oct. 19 election.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commissions (CRTC), which administers the registry, says it is prevented by law from disclosing the registry until 30 days after balloting.
“As the timing of the publication of the registration notices is specifically set out in the Fair Elections Act, the decision to publish the list after the elections was made by Parliament,” wrote spokesperson Patricia Valladao in an email.
“The nadir of Stephen Harper’s prime ministership came not during the Senate expenses scandal, but in the spring of 2014, when he got himself into a very public dust-up with Beverley McLachlin,” writes Ibbitson.
Harper alleged that McLachlin tried to interfere in the appointment of Federal Court Judge Marc Nadon to the top court — an allegation she denied and which drew broad support from the legal community.
Ibbitson writes that Harper’s criticism of the chief justice set a “dangerous precedent” and now ranks as one of his “most discreditable acts” as prime minister.
“Not only did he lose the fight; he tarnished his reputation and damaged what should be the sacrosanct separation of powers between executive and judiciary.”
BRIBERY, CRONYISM AND NARCISSISM
The federal government has funnelled 83 per cent of the projects under its signature infrastructure fund to Conservative-held ridings, according to an analysis by The Globe and Mail of the announcements made to date.
The New Building Canada Fund was first announced in the 2013 budget, but it has only been within the past few weeks – on the eve of the federal election campaign – that specific announcements have started to flow at a steady pace.
Is Canada’s finance minister, Joe Oliver, seeking economic advice from a scandal-plagued corporate honcho?
Oliver, who is also MP for the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, can’t be a happy man these days: Canada has slipped into recession again, blowing a hole in his hopes of balancing the government’s budget for the first time since 2007.
But Oliver’s mishandling of the economy might not be a surprise given the quality of the some of the people he relies on for advice – such as Rebecca MacDonald, founder and executive chair of Just Energy Group Inc., a $3.9-billion Toronto-based energy marketing company. Oliver appointed MacDonald to his Economic Advisory Council last summer.
Yet MacDonald is also a highly controversial figure within the business world, overseeing a company that is regularly pilloried for its unethical behaviour. “I am baffled by both the Oliver appointment and the (CP Rail) governance position,” says Dr. Al Rosen, one of Canada’s leading forensic accountants who’s investigated Just Energy and MacDonald.
OTTAWA — The charter rights of refugee applicants are being violated by a process that marginalizes, prejudices and stereotypes them based on where they are from, the Federal Court ruled Thursday in another blow to the Conservative government’s overhaul of the refugee system.
By denying applicants from designated countries of origin the right to appeal when their claims are rejected, the government violates equality rights enshrined in the charter, Justice Keith Boswell said.
A hugely expensive public contract to build an Arctic research station —promoted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper —went to a joint venture that included a company run by a Conservative Party insider with close ties to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the National Observer has confirmed.
An $85-million construction contract to build the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) was awarded in June 2013 to a partnership between EllisDon and NCC Dowland Construction —the latter is controlled by a prominent Iqaluit businessman, Greg Cayen, who has been a key planner behind Leona Aglukkaq’s two federal election victories.
Local media in B.C.’s Thompson Okanagan region scorched Stephen Harper on Thursday. As fire-fighters battling a wildfire near Kelowna were interrupted for a photo-op with the prime minister and Premier Christy Clark, Infonews.ca published a story under the headline “Man in blue suit thanks firefighters”.
Declining to cover the prime minister’s appearance as a straightforward news story, reporter Adam Proskiw instead reported on the disruption caused to firefighters by political appearances.
OH THE SCANDALS!
(Note they say “a few”)
OTTAWA—Here are a few of the scandals and controversies that Stephen Harper has weathered since his Conservative government took office in 2006.