The Droz Report


A spectre is haunting Canada

The main issue of this election is personal

'This government is willing to sacrifice Canadian soldiers to bring democracy to Afghanistan and Libya. But it cavalierly dismisses democracy at home.

'Cynics hold that Canadians don’t care about such abstract matters, that as long as our bellies are full we will put up with anything. We shall see. The cynics have been surprised before.' — Thomas Walkom, in The Toronto Star, March 25, 2011.

By Geoffrey Dow
Managing Editor, True North Perspective
Originally published at Edifice Rex Online

Photo by The Phantom Photographer; image manipulation by Geoffrey Dow.
Photo by The Phantom Photographer

It's been a week since the Conservative government of Canada (also known as "The Harper Government", about more of which anon) was finally defeated in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper had decided to roll the dice and put Thomas Walkom's claim that Canadians do care about such abstract matters as integrity and democracy to the test.

Having survived two and a half years, there was no great surprise that the government was defeated on a motion of non-confidence; what was (or should have been) a surprise was that that motion also declared that the Harper government had not just lost the confidence of the House but that it was in contempt of Parliament, an historically-unprecedented occurrence.

Some have no doubt argued that the charge was strictly political — and maybe it was — but sometimes the strictly political is based in reality.

In this case, the opposition had insisted — quel horreur! — that the Harper Government provide cost estimates for its proposed "anti-crime" bills (I use the quotation marks deliberately, and will return to Harper's "tough on crime" posturing in a future column). Contemptuous of Parliament indeed, the government of the Prime Minister Who Would Be President simply refused to tell the House of Commons — and by extension, the people of Canada — what the new prisons and guards, etcetera, would cost, insisting the measures be approved on faith.

Such a patently unreasonable stance can only mean that Stephen Harper wanted the election, no matter how much he protests otherwise. Harper was gambling that he could campaign his way into that ever-elusive majority government at last — at which point, if it happens, the gloves will come off and the spectre haunting Canada  will solidify into a very real neo-conservative nightmare.

Not Progressive, nor really Conservative

I usually rail against journalism that treats politics as a horse-race. I don't give a damn who is sleeping with whom or even care much whether I think I would like to hang out and share a beer with my MP or the Prime Minister. I want a campaign to be about policies and ideas, not personalities.

A note on auctorial bias

Do I use extreme rhetoric? I do.

You might as well know my bias up-front.

For example — and for the record — see Conservatives at the gates! from 2006, The worst of both worlds: Harper's Trojan Horse, from 2009, and from last year, Harper's wages are fear and Dominion of fear.

I believe a majority government led by Stephen Harper would be an unmitigated, neo-conservative disaster for Canada, one that would pillage our economy, hack away at our civil liberties and further the destruction of our environment.

And, to forestall accusations I am only a Liberal shill in disguise, I am no fan of Michael Ignatiefff, either. See Lies, damned lies and the apprenticeship of Michael Ignatieff.

But there are times when character is the major issue in a campaign. There are times when it is the person, not the stated policies, that are that with which we voters need concern ourselves. There are times when there is good reason to believe that at least one of the major contenders is, quite frankly, lying through their teeth about their intentions.

This is one of those times.

There is good reason to think that Stephen Harper's apparently relatively moderate Conservative government is a political werewolf in sheep's clothing. Not to put too fine a point on it, Harper's instincts are those of a fascist thug, and his hidden agenda would see this country transformed into an authoritarian dystopia at best.

Hidden agenda?!? I hear you cry, What hidden agenda?

Give him credit. Harper has worked hard to lull Canadians into a false sense of security. No heavy attacks on the welfare state or medicare; no major attempts to roll back women's rights or to rescind same-sex marriage; no significant in general; no significant reduction in immigration or sneaky attempts to get God back into the schools; not even a try to rescind the right of homosexuals to marry.

A casual observer could easily be forgiven for concluding that Stephen Harper is a changed man and that the government he leads is little different from Progressive Conservative governments of old. And that people like me are hysterical alarmists, finding non-existent fascist bogeymen behind the Harper style and the few bones he has tossed to his reactionary, mostly fundamentalist Christian, base.

I admit the evidence is circumstantial and I don't expect anyone who doesn't also agree without a good deal of work on my part. Still, there is evidence, and I think it's strong. I base my conclusion on historical patterns, and on those slips which reveal the Harper Government's true character. I can't prove that a Harper majority government would be a very different animal from the ill-mannered, but relatively tame beast we have known these past few years, but nonetheless I know it is true.

The evidence is right out in the open, if you know where to look, and remember not to look at the individual pieces in isolation.

  • The casual disdain for this nation's history and traditions;
  • the barely-suppressed, thin-skinned rage in the face of criticism and especially, of opposition;
  • the buck-passing and scape-goating of those in no position to fight back — I don't remember any government so quick to fire civil servants for simply doing their jobs;
  • the bare-faced lies, inside and outside of the House of Commons;
  • the bones tossed to his right-wing base — the billions for prisons and fighter planes, the arbitrary denial of funds to groups as diverse as Toronto's annual Pride Parade or Kairos Canada;
  • Harper's blatant hypocrisy in continuing to call Michael Ignatieff the "leader of the Coalition" (please see the video elsewhere on this page); and
  • lest we forget, a 50 billion dollar deficit, after a raft of corporate tax cuts by the "competent" Harper Government (which, let us not forget, was still gamely predicting a budget surplus long after the Great Recession was kicking hell out of economies world-wide.

'We're sure not going to run a deficit ... We will maintain a surplus in Canada and we will continue to pay down debt.' — Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, as quoted in the October 8, 2008 edition of The Globe and Mail

Harper launched his campaign with a typically cynical and dishonest — not to mention fundamentally hypocritical — broadside against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, "accusing" him of being the leader of a "coalition of Socialists and Separatists".

As we'll see, Stephen Harper has even less loyalty to the truth than do most politicians, for whom nuance and spin come as second nature. Taking his lessons from the neo-conservative operatives (not to mention Fox News) south of the border, Harper's campaign is one of smear and innuendo, as well as a shameless willingness to use the Big Lie.

By accusing Ignatieff of the "sin" of which he himself is actually guilty (he himself entered into negotiations with the NDP and the Bloc back in 2004), Harper hopes to hoodwink enough Canadians to give him his desperately desired majority — we'll see just how many of the people he can fool this time.

Fortunately, Harper's biggest enemy in that regards, is himself. Though he has often been credited, for some reason, as a brilliant political tactician and strategist, his five years in power has been a series of clumsy missteps that have seen the Master Strategist consistently revealing himself as a raging bully forever snatching defeat from the proverbial jaws of victory.

Whether or not we're paying close attention, most Canadians can't quite bring themselves to trust Stephen Harper. His thin skin, his bullying of the weak, his willingness — indeed, his eagerness — to lie when the truth might serve him just as well, all these factors serve as a reminder that Harper's values aren't Canadian values, and that hidden beneath the surface is an economist who still believes that Milton Friedman was right.

Coalition if convenient ...
Stephen Harper on coalitions in 1997. The full interview is here.

Which brings us to the competence question. The Conservative campaign, when it isn't slinging mud, is based on the claim that the Harper Government is the one best able to steer the Canadian economy through turbulent economic waters.

But the truth is, the Harper government hasn't been competent, it's been lucky. It came to office inheriting a $10 billion budgetary surplus and promptly went on an orgy of tax cuts (almost entirely for the wealthy) and spending increases, so that the balance was an actuarial error away from deficit even before the Great Recession walloped the world with the end-result of neo-conservative policies.

Only weeks before admitting a stimulus would be necessary, the "competent" Conservatives issued a budget which blithely predicted a surplus even as the rest of the world had been sounding the fire alarms for nearly a year.

I know, I'm making some serious accusations here: Fundamental dishonesty, incompetence and brutality; a rhetoric in support of family and community with policies that support the destruction of both; and a mentality that sees sin in weakness and virtue in strength, no matter how the latter is acquired.

I intend to back up these claims in subsequent entries throughout the campaign so, especially if you think I'm wrong about Harper, or if you're on the fence, please check back here — and feel free to argue with me or, even more, to correct any facts I might get wrong. Call me naive, but I think truth actually matters.