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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Harper’s Inferno

Published Thursday October 1, 06:46 pm
How Canada’s most malevolent Prime Minister sent this once-great country to Hell

Photo Credit: Illustration by Steven Whitworth

 "This miserable way is taken by the sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise. They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart. The heavens, that their beauty not be lessened, have cast them out, nor will deep Hell receive them — even the wicked cannot glory in them." ― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” — John F. Kennedy, based on an interpretation of the preceding verse.

Just lately, I bragged that Planet S writers could hurl 10,000 words of scorn at the worst prime minister

in this country’s history without breaking a sweat. Turns out that’s not entirely true. First off, we sweat a lot when we’re writing about our execrable PM, because he is a despicable and loathsome creature, and the topic gets us worked up.

Second: newspaper pages don’t hold as many words as we’d like, so you’re only getting 6200 or so. Trust us, we could’ve written a lot more.

Still, 6200 words is a lot to read. To make it easy on you we’ve organized it into eight digestible verses you can peruse at your leisure. Want to power through the whole thing in one shot? That’s cool, too! Brew a nice cup of tea and take this newspaper into the bathroom for your morning meditation. Some might even irreverently suggest the bathroom is the best place to read Planet S. Maybe! But it’s sure as hell the most fitting place to read about Prime Minister Stephen Harper. /Stephen Whitworth

 

Canto 1: Facts

I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.” ― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Planet S ran an article in 2012 on the imminent closure of the Experimental Lakes Area in Northern Ontario. It’s a world-renowned research station where scientists conduct tests in a natural environment. The federal government was defunding it, planning to sell off its facilities and setting a guard on the road leading in to keep those pesky environmental scientists out.

This was one year into Harper’s majority government.

The ELA was eventually saved thanks to the intervention of the Ontario Government and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. But at the time, stories about government scientists being ordered not to speak to the press or share their work with their peers were becoming quite common. The phrase, “Harper’s war on science” was starting to spread.

 

As part of that piece, I spoke to Andrew Weaver, then a professor at the University of Victoria. He’s one of Canada’s foremost climate scientists and is now also the Green Party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head in British Columbia. I asked him about the kind of damage Harper was doing to government science in this country:

It’s a bit of a ‘last one turn out the lights’ situation happening,” he said at the time. “There’s some people who’re losing their jobs. And there are some people who are getting out while the going is good. And it’s really not a good situation for Canadian society because it creates a stratification whereby you have those who are willy-nilly making decisions — and who cares what the ramifications of those decisions are, there’s no monitoring in place.”

The situation seemed pretty dire back then. It’s only gotten worse.

Turns out, Harper wasn’t just shutting down or defunding dozens of science facilities and programs — a hit list conspicuously heavy on the environmental sciences — he was also cutting a swath of destruction through Library and Archives Canada’s system of government libraries: closing their buildings, laying off their expert staff, subcontracting out their services to for-profit corporations and destroying their materials.

The Harper government was literally burning books.

And it was doing so with wanton disregard for the law. For instance, it ordered the RCMP to destroy the long gun registry data even though that data was subject to an Access To Information request. And just as the information commissioner was about to lay charges against the RCMP for this, Harper slipped a law into an omnibus budget bill retroactively making the gun registry data immune to Access to Information laws, thus absolving the RCMP of any wrongdoing.

It’s a dangerous precedent that will make it easier for the Harper government to retroactively revise any law it finds inconvenient.

But most egregious of all, Harper ended the Long Form Census and replaced it with the voluntary National Household Survey which, with response rates under 70 per cent, is considered by most statisticians to be so unreliable it’s all but useless.

Muzzled scientists, closed research facilities, a library system under siege and a statistically irrelevant census. This wasn’t just an assault on science that might produce results inconvenient to the oil industry or the resource extraction sector. This was an attack on information itself.

Maclean’s published a report on the Harper government’s war on data last month titled “Vanishing Canada”. It’s an essential read in the lead-up to the election as it’s one of the most thorough examinations of how, even if Harper loses on Oct. 19, he will leave behind a public service that has had its institutional memory lobotomized.

The author, Anne Kingston, notes how by effectively killing the Long Form Census, Harper’s government has destroyed one of the foremost research tools in the country and broke a 75-year chain of data that revealed much about how the country has grown and changed. She also notes how the new voluntary survey will skew the data itself. Poor families, immigrants, rural and aboriginal communities are the least likely to participate in the National Household Survey, and as a result they’ll wind up being under represented when the responses are tallied up.

That’s a disaster for government departments and NGOs hoping to use that information to design policies and programs to help these people.

But for the government? Once you start erasing those groups from your data, it becomes easy to pretend you’re an administration that’s expanding the middle class and ending poverty.

Of course, the Harper government claims the war on data isn’t happening, despite ample and convincing evidence to the contrary. They say that theirs is the most open and honest government in history.

And they can say whatever they want because in wake of this engineered amnesia, this annihilation of Canada’s information heritage, all that remains are guesses and fantasy, and the fictions deployed by Harper’s spin doctors and propagandists will stand alone, uncontested, because there’s so little left to check them against. /Paul Dechene

 

Canto 2: Women

'O Lady of virtue, thou alone through whom the human race exceedeth all contained within the heaven that has the lesser circles, so grateful unto me is thy commandment, to obey, if 'twere already done, were late; no farther need'st thou ope to me thy wish. ―Dante Alighieri, Inferno

They bribed breeding Canadians with a retroactive and taxable child benefit payment around the time the last election was called. This time? It looks like the Conservatives must be hoping women just don’t think too hard about the way they’ve run things in the last four years.

According to (what’s left of) Statistics Canada, a woman working full time in Canada can expect to earn 20 per cent less than a man in the same field. This number is greater for Indigenous and immigrant women. University-educated women in the public sector earn $0.82 for every dollar earned by a university-educated male employee in Canada. Data from 2004 show that a decade ago, those University-educated women in the public sector earned $0.89 for every dollar their male counterparts earned and in 2006, Indigenous women earned 54 per cent less than men.

Why are we going backwards?

Ah yes. Rather than attempt to address this wage disparity, the Harper government decreased the budget for the Status of Women Canada by more than 35 per cent. The Conservative government aborted the fledgling National Child Care Program and replaced it with a taxable allowance for children under the age of six of a whopping $100/month. Since the average costs for full-time daycare for preschool children in the past decade has risen from around $500/month to more than $700/month, that money hasn’t gone very far. Nor does this wasteful policy address Canada’s very real wage gap between men and women.

Those cuts to Status of Women, by the way, meant that more than a dozen offices and crisis centres across the country had to close. The Native Women's Association of Canada has had its troubles with the Conservative government and it’s no secret that Stephen Harper doesn’t seem very interested in providing justice for what many refer to as a human rights crisis — missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Of course, there is the income-splitting ballyhoo that “the majority of Canadians” will benefit from. In this case, “majority” seems to mean two-parent families earning more than $140,000 collectively.

It’s about as much a “majority” as the “majority” that voted for the Conservatives in the last election, which Harper won with 39 per cent of the vote.

Maybe the Conservatives have a casual disdain for women. Maybe they don’t care about gender and they just want all of this ‘equal rights business’ to just go away. In the last election, the Conservatives ran 68 female candidates out of 307. This time around it’s worse; only 64 of 329 candidates are women (compared with 140/329 NDP candidates, 106/328 Liberal Party candidates, and 60/174 Green Party candidates).

Maybe the reason Stephen Harper's Conservatives are shutting women out of politics is because women won’t run for office for them? /Cenobyte

 

Canto 3: The Environment

And lo! towards us coming in a boat; an old man, hoary with the hair of eld, crying: “Woe unto you, ye souls depraved; hope nevermore to look upon the heavens. I come to lead you to the other shore,

to the eternal shades in heat and frost. ―Dante Alighieri, Inferno

In 2014, The New Republic, a venerable American liberal publication, declared Stephen Harper and Australia’s then-PM Tony Abbott the world’s two worst climate villains. In 2013 at the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, the Climate Action Network awarded Canada a Lifetime Unachievement Fossil Award for “long-standing efforts” to obstruct a meaningful global climate treaty. In 2012, EcoJustice gave the federal government a C- for not living up to the principles of the Species at Risk Act.

And, of course, in 2011 Canada became the first nation that had ratified the Kyoto Protocol to pull out of that international agreement.

Canada achieved all these dubious accomplishments — and many, many more — since Harper won his majority government. It would take a huge pair of brass ones then to pretend like none of this happened and try to spin the Conservative record on the environment into something respectable.

But spin they do.

For instance, one of Stephen Harper’s favourite talking points on the environment is that greenhouse gas emissions have dropped under his administration, all without imposing any kind of carbon pricing. It’s one of those factoids that’s superficially true but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

The drop in emissions is mainly the result of the 2008/09 recession which saw a global decrease in demand for fossil fuels. It’s the one upside we’re seeing from the collapse of oil prices: it’s a sign people aren’t burning up quite as much oil. Unfortunately, as soon as the country came out of recession in 2010, emissions steadily started to rise once again.

Meanwhile, as the federal government had failed to make any meaningful moves to reduce carbon emissions, the provinces picked up the slack. British Columbia had carbon pricing in place from 2007 to 2012, and Ontario began shutting down its coal-fired power plants in the early ‘00s — closing its last one in 2014.

In other words, Harper’s government literally did nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but they’re trying to take credit for the drop.

But taking credit for action they never took on the environment is about the only way this government will get any credit on that file.

In truth, Harper’s response to climate change and other environmental challenges doesn’t even score a satisfactory. When Canada shows up to UN Climate Change Conferences, we’re the only kid who goes home without a participation ribbon.

Here’s an in no way exhaustive list of the Harper government’s signs of contempt for the environment:

Canada withdrew from the UN anti-drought convention — the only country to do so.

Legislation was changed to remove provincially regulated pipelines and tar-sands processing plants from the list of projects that require environmental review.

The Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act were weakened, removing requirements for impact assessments and restricting public participation in assessment hearings.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council reallocated more than $15 million in grants marked for basic research to industry partnerships and it ended support programs for the Kluane Lake Research Station and the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

The federal government cut funding for the Experimental Lakes research area in Northern Ontario (which was ultimately saved from closure by the Ontario government).

The federal government refused to renew funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences in 2010.

Funding for the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory was allowed to run out in 2012 and it’s been operating on a shoestring budget since then.

The federal government cut Environment Canada’s budget by $222.2 million in the 2011-12 budget and cut 400 jobs from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2012, dismantled the Smokestacks Emissions Monitoring Team and eliminated Environment Canada’s ozone monitoring department in 2012 on its 20th anniversary.

Changes made the Navigable Waters Protection Act mean it will no longer apply to 99.9 per cent of Canada’s lakes, rivers and other bodies of water — which amounts to over 2.5 million waterways. They will still be protected by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Fisheries Act, but, as noted above, those acts have also been gutted.

It’s hell of a record but it’s hardly surprising. Harper has always hated environmental legislation and environmental research.

His entire governing manifesto has been about empowering and protecting markets — and damn anything that gets in their way.

As Donald Gutstein, adjunct professor of communications at Simon Fraser University explains: “Scientific understanding of the environment is an obstacle to the market. Harper is very clear, and I have a whole chapter [in Harperism] about why he got rid of the long form census and why he’s firing scientists and shutting down libraries. It’s because Harper believes scientific understanding leads to central planning and central control, whereas only the market with its millions of independent decisions can really make the best decisions.”

God help us all if this madman is re-elected. /Paul Dechene

 

Canto 4: The Economy

The anguish of the people who are below here in my face depicts that pity which for terror thou hast taken.” ―Dante Alighieri, Inferno

The greatest trick Stephen Harper ever pulled was convincing Canada that the economy is the only election issue that exists.

Every mainstream media talking head has bought the line and even the leaders of the two main opposition parties seem to agree that every discussion and debate has to circle around to the economy. Larger values like compassion, fairness, justice, even ethics, have taken a back seat to talking points about tax cuts, balanced budgets and freer trade.

Harper has taken the nation’s anxiety over collapsing oil prices and Europe and Asia’s financial messes and is playing them like a piano. He’s ended his six-year streak of deficits with a small surplus budget for 2014/15 and another small surplus projected for 2015/16. Now he just has to point to those numbers and say, “These are uncertain times. Stay the course.”

And it’s ironic because it wasn’t that long ago that there was a large crowd of pundits predicting the Conservatives would have a difficult time running on the economy because Harper’s economic record isn’t very good.

In July, Unifor released a report showing how Harper’s economic record is the worst of all nine, post-World War II Canadian governments. Per capita GDP has barely grown on Harper’s watch while income inequality and household debt have shot up. On imports and exports, Harper let a $55 billion trade surplus dwindle to a $35 billion trade deficit.

All this happened while the unemployment rate sat at an uncomfortably high 7.1% — And that’s a number that’s hit young people the hardest. Since Harper took office, employment for people aged 15 to 24 has dropped three per cent. Conversely, workers aged 55-plus — the one age group that consistently votes Conservative — has seen their employment rate increase three per cent.

And while Harper likes to claim he has the best job creation record in the G7 — 1.3 million new jobs since the 2008 recession and 1.3 million more if he gets re-elected — he fails to mention that those gains aren’t keeping pace with population growth. We’ve actually seen a drop in the employment rate of 0.1% since 2008, while countries like Germany, the UK and Japan have seen their employment rates increase.

But Harper would very much like it if we only focused on the good numbers, gave him credit for his modest job creation record and his one small verified surplus versus the six others that were in the red. The bad numbers, aren’t his fault, he argues. They’re the result of titanic, globe-spanning financial crises like the 2008 recession, tanking oil prices and the collapse of the Chinese market.

All true. He’s faced a tumultuous time in office. But then, so does every Prime Minister. That’s why the history books are so thick. Every year there’s some new horrible crap to write about.

There have been six recessions since 1960, some longer and deeper than the one Harper’s faced. And every other Prime Minister has restored employment and GDP growth faster than Harper has. Sure, our recession was followed by a collapse in commodity prices and that has hindered any hope of a speedy recovery, but that only highlights how shortsighted it was for Harper to focus so much attention on propping up the oil sector in his bid to remodel Canada as an energy superpower.

In fact, the good governance that softened the impacts of the 2008/09 recession can’t be attributed to Harper’s management. Opposition parties forced him to spend federal cash to stimulate the economy while the Conservatives led a precarious minority government; since achieving a majority, Harper has been following the same austerity path that’s led to so much unrest in Europe. Then, softening the recession further were our stricter banking and mortgage laws, a series of large budget surpluses in the early part of the century and a healthy debt-to-GDP ratio, all of which were the legacy of previous Liberal governments.

Harper’s greatest achievements seem to be tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Canadians, and a laundry list of boutique tax credits and handouts targeted to curry favour with the middle class.

The grand result of his austerity plan is shifting the responsibility for keeping the economy moving down the pecking order. While the federal government will be able to boast about their healthy books, provinces are expected to pick up the healthcare tab for Canada’s aging population and take on debt to compensate for insufficient transfer payments. The national infrastructure deficit is now over $350 billion and growing and that bill is largely being paid for by municipalities through property taxes, borrowed money and whatever else they can beg from strapped provincial coffers.

And with public services disappearing and housing prices skyrocketing, those costs have to be covered by household borrowing.

Turns out the trickle-down economics that Harper is so fond of doesn’t exactly work as promised. As taxes and government shrink, wealth doesn’t work its way down the system to the less and less fortunate — but debt definitely does. Harper has effectively downloaded all the taxing and deficit spending he doesn’t want to do onto lower orders of government and individual households.

But none of that matters. Harper is coasting on a decades-long project of the global conservative movement to associate themselves with fiscal prudence. It’s a notion that Harper’s bolstered here at home by spending $750 million of public money on advertising and message control to spin the idea that his government is best equipped to manage the nation’s economy. Doesn’t matter that his record says something different. In the public imagination, the word conservative means “wizard of the economy” in the same way that Googling equals “finding the information you want” and Kleenex equals “nose rag.” It’s a perception that won’t easily be shaken off by complex things like “reality.”

And that means, every time Mulcair talks about his balanced budget plan, every time Trudeau talks about infrastructure spending, and every time a political commentator says, “I think we can all agree this election is about the economy,” Harper smiles. His great trick has succeeded and everyone has been fooled. /Paul Dechene

 

Canto 5: Democracy

Of what it pleases thee to hear and speak, That will we hear, and we will speak to you, While silent is the wind, as it is now. ― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

When the Conservatives won their first minority government in February 2006, a major springboard was the Accountability Act which the party unveiled in November 2005.

The election hadn’t even been called,” says Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and visiting political studies professor at the University of Ottawa. “In fact, we didn’t even know there was going to be an election until late November when the NDP sided with the Conservatives to bring down the Liberals and cancel the Kelowna Accord, a national daycare program and a bunch of other things.

Harper came out a week before the Gomery Report [into the Quebec sponsorship scandal] was released and said ‘We know things are bad, and here’s 60 things we’ll do to make it better.’”

Hopes, at least among Conservative supporters fed up with years of Liberal patronage and corruption, were undoubtedly high. But from the start, the Harper government disappointed, says Conacher. “They only included 29 of the 60 measures in the Accountability Act. They also included seven measures that were huge steps backward in areas such as ethics and transparency.”

That was only a taste of what was to come, unfortunately. “Since the Accountability Act was passed in December 2006 there’s been example after example of dishonesty, excessive secrecy, patronage — there’s just so many examples I can’t even begin to list them,” says Conacher.

In August, The Tyee published a list of what it described as 70 assaults on democracy and law by the Harperites. From proroguing Parliament to avoid non-confidence votes, to omnibus bills stuffed full of legislative provisions that defy scrutiny, to a micro-managing PMO to numerous election violations that have seen MPs and party officials jailed to the elimination of per-vote subsidies for parties and the Orwellian Fair Elections Act which made money a much bigger player in elections and created unnecessary hurdles to Canadians voting, the Cons have really done a number on democracy.

Every election, says Conacher, Democracy Watch grades the parties on their commitment to the principles of fair, open and efficient government. “In 2011, the Greens got our best grade and their policies haven’t changed since. They got a B-, the Bloc had a C-, and the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP all received F.”

When I spoke with Conacher for this article, the parties were still unveiling their platforms. But he forecast the Liberals would be in line for a B or even an A-. That’s because in June the party released a 32-point plan to revitalize Canadian democracy. Highlights include changes to the voting and ID system, strengthening of access to information rules; merit-based appointments to cabinet, the Supreme Court and Senate; greater power for MPs and parliamentary committees, and restrictions on government advertising and party spending between elections.

With gaps in areas such as ethics, lobbying, whistleblower protection, political financing and watchdog enforcement, the platform wasn’t perfect. But it was a start. And Conacher expects it will resonate with voters.

Over the last 20 years, any party that has seriously set out a platform that cleans things up has either won the election, or won more seats,” says Conacher. “Harper didn’t do it in 2004, but did in 2006 and won the election. Wild Rose did in Alberta, and won more seats. The B.C. NDP didn’t do it in 2013, and didn’t benefit. In 2010, the New Brunswick Conservatives beat the Liberals — it was the first time a government there had been defeated after just one term since Confederation, and they did it by putting out the same platform Harper did in 2006.”

Once the parties have released their platforms, Democracy Watch will issue its 2015 report card so voters can assess their various positions on democratic reform before they go to the polls. “We still have lots of watchdogs, so the situation isn’t dire,” says Conacher. “The problem is we have a bunch of loopholes and weak enforcement agencies. Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives have exploited all the weaknesses, and the temptation is for any party that’s elected to continue doing that.”

Conacher expects the Liberals to push their reform agenda as election day nears, and he’s curious to see how the NDP responds. “Trudeau has said repeatedly the party is setting out an honest plan that offers real change. If the NDP doesn’t respond, they’ll lose five to ten per cent of their voters because swing voters want this more than anything. They want it because they know they won’t get anything else unless everyone in politics is more effectively required to be honest, ethical, open, representative and waste-preventing.” /Gregory Beatty

 

Canto 6: Justice

Justice of God, ah! who heaps up so many New toils and sufferings as I beheld?

And why doth our transgression waste us so ? ― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

When it comes to court battles over the constitutionality of its legislation and executive decisions, the Harper government’s record isn’t much better than the Riders. In fact, 2W-11L might even flatter them.

One Supreme Court summary I saw had them at 2W-7L — and that was before the court unanimously struck down a Health Canada prohibition in June against Canadians using medical marijuana in non-smoked forms such as edibles, tinctures and teas.

The Harper government has also tasted defeat numerous times at the Provincial and Federal Court level (most recently, the niqab decision in September, permitting a Muslim woman to dress as she wishes to take her citizenship oath).

Prostitution laws, mandatory minimums for gun crimes, truth in sentencing and senate reform are other areas where the Harper government has been taken to the judicial woodshed.

The highest profile defeat was Harper’s bid to appoint Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court in 2013. A semi-retired federal court judge without standing in the Quebec bar, Nadon technically wasn’t eligible to represent Quebec on the court. But the government did some jiggery-pokery in an omnibus bill to make the appointment legal.

Not so fast, said the Supreme Court in a 6-1 ruling.

Both Harper and Justice Minister Peter MacKay (who’s not running for re-election) criticized the decision and accused Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin of acting inappropriately by “lobbying” them before the Nadon appointment. In fact, all McLaughlin did was advise them the appointment likely contravened The Supreme Court Act.

Provision was made for a Supreme Court in the original BNA Act that established Canada as a country in 1867. The act itself was passed in 1875. Under it, the court has the power to review all federal and provincial laws. And its judgments are regarded as the definitive expression of Canadian law.

In other words, the court is a hugely important part of Canadian democracy, and Harper and McKay’s unseemly attack on McLaughlin prompted a group of Canadian lawyers and academics to complain to the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists.

In its ruling, the ICJ held that the PM and Justice Minister had intruded on the “independence” and “integrity” of the Chief Justice.

Commenting on the decision, one of the backers of the complaint, University of Manitoba associate law professor Gerald Heckman said, “Judges have as one of their main roles ensuring that legislatures and governments and their officials act according to our law and Constitution. In doing that, they have to make a number of courageous and often unpopular decisions with social, economic and political dimensions that may attract the anger of the government in power. So it’s crucial that judges be protected and that they be perceived by Canadians to be protected from pressure.”

While the Supreme Court has long played an integral role in Canadian democracy, its scope of potential influence expanded greatly with the passage of the Charter of Rights & Freedoms in 1982.

Harper has a notorious disdain for the Charter. During his reign, both its 25th and 30th anniversaries passed without official recognition. “Harper hates the charter because it transferred power from Parliament to the people,” Michael Harris observed on iPolitics in June 2014. “There was a higher authority than the government of the day which he can’t accept.”

If the Harper government is re-elected, more legal defeats will surely occur. The Bill C-51 terrorist legislation, for instance, is extremely problematic with its major infringement of constitutional rights tied to freedom of speech, thought, association, liberty and more.

Harperites might rail about unwarranted judicial activism thwarting the democratic will of Canadians (as expressed by the 39.6 per cent of the popular vote the Cons snagged in 2011, which translates into about 17 per cent of the Canadian population), but remember: Harper has been in power for almost 10 years now, long enough to have appointed seven of the nine judges.

This is Harper’s Supreme Court, and even it consistently finds that the government, in its zeal to ram through its agenda, is acting outside the law.

With Harper’s most recent appointee, though, the ante may have been upped. Replacing Manitoba’s Marshall Rothstein as one of two Prairie reps in August, Russell Brown (as a University of Alberta law professor) blogged Wild Rose-style on such subjects as federal spending in the provincial realm of health care (he’s agin it), third party restrictions on election spending (odious and objectionable) and human rights commissions (puritanical functionaries).

With a mere two years experience as a judge, Brown, at age 49, is eligible to sit on the court until 2040.

Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin, though, faces mandatory retirement on Sept. 7, 2018. And the question Canadians have to ask themselves is if they want Harper winning re-election and appointing her replacement? /Gregory Beatty

 

Canto 7: Foreign Policy

Cerberus, monster cruel and uncouth, With his three gullets like a dog is barking Over the people that are there submerged. Red eyes he has, and unctuous beard and black, And belly large, and armed with claws his hands; He rends the spirits, flays, and quarters them. Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Can the horrors and hell fire of Harper's Inferno be confined within our own borders? Of course not! Harper, in his 9 circles, err, nine years in office, has had a less than admirable record in foreign policy and affairs.

Where to even start? Perhaps with the scariest partnerships Harper has made: China. When elected in 2006, Harper criticized China's human right record and vowed not to sink Canadian values to their level simply for “the almighty dollar”. Then, sink he did. Harper allowed the Chinese oil company CNOOC to buy the Calgary resource company Nexen for an 'almighty dollar' amount of $15 billion.

Canada-U.S, relations haven't exactly been chummy. Harper promised during his 2006 election campaign to improve relations with the U.S., but his convos with President Brack Obama have been tepid, to put it nicely. Obama refuses to approve of the keystone pipeline, and Harper has closed many Canadian consulates in the U.S.

Reports says that phone lines between the an American President and Canadian PM have never been so quiet.

One way Harper has likened himself to the U.S. is with his fondness for war. Harper extended Canada’s occupancy in the war in Afghanistan for the first six years of his tenure. In those years, the military budget increased from $15 billion to $23 billion.

Harper has also had his nose in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Harper has been a staunch supporter of Israel, labeling Palestinians as “terrorists”. In 2012, Canada was the only one of nine countries in the UN to vote against Palestine achieving their own state.

But Harper doesn’t always disdain Muslims. Sometimes they have money, after all. In 2014, the Harper Government signed its largest ever arm export deal, $14.8 million, to supply armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia — a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world.

So what’s with all this war stuff? Isn’t Canada supposed to be one of the globe’s greatest peacekeepers? Well, in 2010, for the first time in history, Canada lost a vote at the United Nations to become a member of the Security Council. In addition, Canada was once the number one provider in the world of peacekeeping personnel. Under Harper? Canada has now fallen to an abysmal 68th on the UN’s peacekeeping contributors list. And this comes at a time when UN peacekeeping is at an all-time high.

Seriously, Rwanda is higher on the list than we are. By only about 50 times more peacekeepers.

Harper has also been panned for his policies on refugees and asylum seekers. His government not only denies them healthcare, but takes pride in detaining and deporting many of the “bogus” refugees. In the current Syrian refugee crisis, less than 2,000 Syrian refugees had been processed in the past year and a half, using security concerns as reasons to keep out many seeking asylum.

But Harper must’ve done something good in the last nine year, right? At the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Harper did tell Putin to “get out of Ukraine”. So we have that. /Nathan Raine

 

Canto 8: Civil Liberties

Of every malice that wins hate in Heaven, Injury is the end; and all such end Either by force or fraud afflicteth others. ― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Freedom” is an important word in the Harper Conservatives’ vocabulary. Market freedom is numero uno, of course. Religious freedom is another biggie.

Civil liberties, though, are another matter. There, the government has consistently narrowed the scope of democratic debate in the country to weaken political opposition to its agenda.

Bill C-51 is the most recent (and egregious) example. Passed this spring in the wake of two fatal attacks by self-styled “terrorists” last fall, the Anti-Terrorism Act was severely criticized for the scope it gave the RCMP, CSIS and CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) to spy on Canadians and limit their civil liberties.

Legal experts have said Bill C-51 is a solution without a problem,” says University of Saskatchewan political scientist Colleen Bell. “There’s plenty of provisions in the criminal code that can address these problems, and what this legislation does is loosen the standards of jurisprudence that are normally required in criminal law. In the process, it potentially casts a sweeping net over speech and information sharing.”

Security forces used to need strong evidence that a terrorist act was imminent to pre-emptively arrest someone to prevent it from happening.

Now, the burden of proof is they can arrest someone who ‘may’ carry out a terrorist attack,” says Bell.

Bill C-51 also broadened the definition of “national security” to include critical infrastructure and economic stability.

What is critical infrastructure?” Bell asks. “Is a road critical infrastructure? We know lots of indigenous protests involve blocking a road or [bridge]. You have to wonder if that can be captured under this umbrella.”

Sound farfetched? Well, when the government was ramming Bill C-51 through Parliament a leaked RCMP report surfaced that described in breathless terms a “growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement.” Greenpeace was one of the organization’s cited. Tides Canada and Sierra Club Canada were two others.

The report fueled critics worst fears about the heavy-handed nature of Bill C-51 as part of the broader Conservative agenda. “The government has shown itself to be invested in incredibly divisive tactics that undermine people’s democratic right to voice concerns about its policies,” says Bell.

One strategy has been to cast environmental groups who oppose pipelines and oilsands projects as being funded by foreign interests. That, unfortunately, feeds into the national security paradigm because it allows people to think it’s not legitimate democratic interests at home, it’s external groups with ulterior motives. They might not be terrorist in a real sense, but they do pose an economic threat to Canada.”

Lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression are supposedly protected under Bill C-51. But, again, given the Harper government’s reputation for ruthlessly squelching opposing viewpoints that “guarantee” is hardly comforting.

Since they won the 2006 election the Conservatives have systematically defunded advocacy groups that promote balance and fairness in Canadian society, enacted numerous election measures to boost the power of money in politics, and even given $13 million to Canada Revenue Agency to target progressive charities and ensure they’re not violating tax law by devoting more than 10 per cent of their resources to “political activities.”

PEN Canada, Amnesty International, the United Church of Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, Canada Without Poverty and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are some of the over 1000 charities that have undergone costly and stressful audits.

Even with the Syrian refugee crisis, we’ve seen this really bombastic rhetoric from the Conservatives about Jihadi terrorism being this really significant threat that needs to be countered both on the home front and then abroad through military operations,” says Bell.

At the same, she adds, the government risks fueling terrorism with some of its domestic and international policies.

Why someone would commit a terrorist act, whether it’s homegrown or not, is itself a question of social policy.

There’s obviously a deep sense of marginalization, or alienation, or opposition to imperialist activities by their government in other countries. Those are broader, longer term questions to think about in how we could create a more inclusive and supportive society that would make it less likely that people would want to undertake violent acts.”

Both the Greens and NDP voted against Bill C-51 and are committed to repealing it. The Liberals voted in favour, although they have promised to strengthen the Security Intelligence Review Committee which oversees national security operations.

That’s something for people to keep in mind when they go to the polls,” says Bell. “As much as electoral politics is fraught with more of the same no matter where you turn, there would be change on the horizon in this area in the event of an NDP majority, or even a minority if the Liberals agreed to work with them.” /Gregory Beatty

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