Cuts targeted to keep the neo-cons on top
by Frances Russell (Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press)
It’s every man for himself, the elephant said as he danced among the chickens. That was Tommy Douglas’s metaphor to remind audiences that government alone can redress the inherent inequality between the powerful and the powerless in society.
The elephant is once again dancing among the chickens. Critics of the Harper Conservative government’s $1 billion fat-trimming call it deeply ideological. The cuts overwhelmingly affect Canada’s most marginalized citizens. Most ideological of all is the abolition of the Court Challenges Program (CCP) and the Law Commission of Canada. Both have been advancing the rights of the vulnerable.
Despite their professed Christian beliefs, many theological and social conservatives have a strong survival of the fittest streak. They want a hierarchical society with heterosexual white males at the top. They despise “social engineering” and “judicial activism,” their epithets for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Theo-cons and socio-cons, like REAL Women, complain they’re the abused minority because they don’t get CCP funding. But the CCP was designed to promote equality and REAL Women has opposed every initiative on women’s equality. As Tommy Douglas might say, the elephant hardly needs help to dance among the chickens.
Now theo-cons and socio-cons have a powerful friend at court. Ian Brodie is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff and the intellectual arch-foe of the CCP’s affirmative action to promote the rights of French Canadians, women, aboriginals, gays, immigrants and the disabled.
Brodie devoted his career as a political scientist to attacking the CCP. In a rare interview in 2001, Brodie said Ottawa only funds a left-wing agenda. “They (the CCP) were in favour of extending language rights, whatever the claim was. And they were in favour of as stringent a feminist interpretation of the equality rights section as you could possibly have, to the exclusion of all others…They’re heavily funding the one side. It happens to be the gay-rights side, the pro-pornography side, the feminist side, the abortion issue. The government here is not acting as a neutral arbiter between competing claims of what social policy ought to look like in Canada. I’m outraged as a taxpayer…”
Both Brodie and Harper are graduates of the Calgary School, a group of University of Calgary political scientists including Tom Flanagan, another right-hand man to Harper, Barry Cooper, David Bercuson and Ted Morton. Neo-conservatives all, they follow the teachings of German-American political philosopher Leo Strauss.
Father of the neo-conservative movement, Strauss had a deep antipathy towards liberal democracy and its supposed moral relativism. He had a number of jarring beliefs: that society had to be governed by a small intellectual — and male — élite who would use “noble lies” to keep the rabble in check, that religion and fear must be used to control the masses and that perpetual war is humanity’s natural condition. Little surprise that Straussians dot the highest reaches of the current U.S. administration.
In a 2004 Globe and Mail interview, Shadia Drury, Canada Research Chair in Social Justice at the University of Regina and a leading expert on Strauss, warned that Straussian neo-conservatism arrived in Canada through the Calgary School and students like Harper and Brodie. A professor at the Calgary School herself for 27 years, Drury warned further that Straussian philosophy displays “a huge contempt for democracy” and exploits populist sentiment to strip away the rights of minorities and dismantle what is left of the welfare state. “They want to replace the rule of law with the populism of the majority.”
In a separate interview with the British-based Open Democracy website, Drury described why Straussians hide their élitist, anti-democratic impulses. “Secrecy is necessary. The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right — the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. (Strauss) argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons — to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the élite from possible reprisals.”
University of Calgary law professor Kathleen Mahoney, known internationally for her work on equality issues, says another Straussian diktat is that women must be kept inferior and certainly can never be part of the intellectual governing élite. Maintaining women’s inequality drives the opposition to abortion, Mahoney continues. Once women control their own reproduction, they can’t easily be held subservient to the male power structure.
Mahoney has been involved in human rights projects around the world and says the CCP “creates better law by adding tremendously to our understanding of rights and allowing a whole new group of people who had always been silent in the past to be heard in court, by governments and by the public at large.”
And that’s precisely why Brodie and Harper want to stamp it out. The CCP represents loss of power for those who rightly should wield it, she continues. “The attitude is that it is a terrible thing for the traditional “haves” to be displaced, to no longer be able to ride roughshod over the rights of everyone else.”
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