Minority Report

Minority report
In their first year in power, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives managed to undo years of work that came before—rejecting the Kelowna Accord, scrapping the national daycare program and turning their backs on Kyoto. Lest we forget, here are eight reasons to turf the Tories the next chance we get

BY Mitch Moxley
Photography by Lyle Stafford/Reuters
THIS MAGAZINE » January-February 2007

Harper’s makeover campaign largely failed. Attempts to make him look likeable were awkward and often ridiculed. During the fingerpainting photo-op with kindergarteners, for example, the old Stephen Harper—stiff and bitter—shone through. A youngster with gooey fingers approached the Opposition leader, eliciting the response, “Don’t touch me.”

“The West is in,” trumpeted the Calgary Herald after Election Day 2006, when Canadians gave the Harper Conservatives a trial run in government, a slim minority to punish the scandal-plagued Liberals. It was heralded as a new era in Canadian politics. Harper was able to take a party born of western alienation and broaden its appeal to a national audience. The Conservatives ran a disciplined campaign, pitching Canadians a party that was centrist and moderate, led by a man who had softened and evolved. Many Canadians bought it.

Call it a bout of temporary insanity. Over the past year, the puzzle has come together, piece by piece, revealing a party far to the right of the Canadian mainstream. The Conservatives have attacked social programs, enraged supporters of same-sex marriage, abandoned Kyoto, and more. It hasn’t gone unnoticed: polls show chances of a Conservative majority growing slimmer by the day. That’s good news, because a Harper majority is a frightening prospect. “On almost every front you look at, Harper has proceeded with a right-wing agenda,” says Toronto Star columnist and author Linda McQuaig. “And that is with a minority. With a majority government, it would be this on steroids.”

1. THEIR ROOTS ARE SHOWING

Meet Stephen Harper: Canadian neo-con, policy wonk extraordinaire and the most right-wing prime minister this country has seen. A brief history lesson: Harper entered politics in 1984, in his mid-20s, as an aide to Tory MP Jim Hawkes. Before long, young Harper grew disillusioned with the Mulroney Conservatives. He quit in 1987, but was soon recruited as chief policy officer to Preston Manning, founder of the Reform party, a grassroots populist movement out of Alberta that arose from frustration with Brian Mulroney’s attempts to give Quebec “distinct society” status. Taking its cues from Manning’s father’s Social Credit party, Reform’s main goal was to drastically limit the role of government in public life. Harper ran for the House of Commons with Reform in 1988, losing badly to his old mentor, Hawkes, before winning the seat in 1993. He soon grew tired of party politics, frustrated he wasn’t able to freely speak his mind. He resigned his seat in 1997 to lead the National Citizens Coalition, a far-right, anti-government lobby group. In 2002, he returned to the political arena to lead the Canadian Alliance, the party formed by the 2000 merger between Reform and some Progressive Conservatives. Leading up to his election as prime minister, and during his first months in power, Harper was able to successfully present himself as moderate and appeal to middleclass voters. It’s instructive, however, to take a look at Harper’s ideological roots, from which he has never strayed too far.

Harper is a product of the so-called Calgary School, a clique of academics from the University of Calgary. Members include historian David Bercuson, and political scientists Barry Cooper, Rainer Knopff, Ted Morton (also a politician) and one of Harper’s closest advisors, Tom Flanagan—all of whom share an affinity for free markets and small government.

The group’s most famous figure is Flanagan, an American-born professor who was Harper’s national campaign director in the 2004 election. After studying at Notre Dame and Duke, Flanagan accepted a post at the fledgling U of C in 1968, and in the early 1990s became involved with Manning’s Reform movement. No stranger to controversy, he set tempers ablaze with his book First Nations? Second Thoughts, in which he dismissed Canada’s Aboriginals as merely “first immigrants” and argued for their assimilation. Another Flanagan work, an introductory political science textbook he co-authored, was removed from Ontario’s list of approved textbooks because of alleged biases against Jews and women.

The Calgary School has striking similarities to the American neo-conservatives who have the ear of George W. Bush (think World Bank president and Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz). Both the Calgary School and U.S. neo-cons have been heavily influenced by Leo Strauss, a one-time political scientist at the University of Chicago who is considered a founding father of the neo-conservative movement. Strauss, who died in 1973 and has gained a weighty posthumous reputation, was deeply suspicious of democracy, arguing that the public is not capable of making intelligent political decisions. Neo-cons, both American and Canadian, use democracy to turn citizens against their own liberties, says Shadia Drury, a Strauss expert and political philosophy professor at the University of Regina. Drury, who worked alongside the Calgary School until 2003, warns that Canadian neo-cons want to remake Canada in the image of the United States. “Their values are not Canadian values,” Drury says of Harper and his pedagogical influences. “Fortunately, Canadian values are still too much on the side of freedom.”

2. WE DON’T CALL THEM “PROGRESSIVE” ANYMORE FOR A REASON

May 31, 2003: In a room at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Toronto, next door to the Tory convention, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay scribbles a pledge to rival David Orchard on a piece of paper. MacKay’s promise to Orchard, a PC veteran who held the second-most delegates, was that if chosen as leader he would not merge the party with the Stephen Harper-led Canadian Alliance. In return, Orchard promises the support of his delegates, ensuring a MacKay victory. Unfortunately for Orchard, in less than six months, MacKay shakes hands with Harper, and the Conservative party of Canada is born. “It was a remarkable takeover and theft of the Progressive Conservative party,” says Orchard, who went on to fight the merger in court. “Here we have a very narrow, ideologically driven [party] that’s connected to the U.S. religious right on a whole number of different issues. There’s an ideologically driven narrow-mindedness that was not part of the Progressive Conservative party at all.”

It was a defining moment in Canadian politics, and one often forgotten. The formation of the Conservative party of Canada marked the end of a moderate tradition of conservatism in Canada and replaced it with a U.S.-style version. Today’s Conservative party is very much a product of the ones that preceded it—Reform and Canadian Alliance. Some of the more inflammatory voices have been softened, but many policies and faces remain the same. Think of Harper’s obsession with building a new relationship with the provinces, and stripping the federal government of its responsibility for social services, or the party’s social conservative agenda and connection to the religious right. “The Conservative party, historically, always had a full spectrum of centre to far right. It was just that the centre was always fully in charge,” says Allan Gregg, chair of the Strategic Counsel, a national market- and publicopinion research company, and former PC pollster. “Now you have a guy in charge who comes from the more orthodox right wing of the party. This is a guy who leads that party with an iron fist. His way is the dominant way within the Conservative party.”

The Red Tory element of the PC party has all but disappeared. It may be called the Conservative party, but progressive it is not. “The media do them an enormous favour every time they call them ‘Tories,’ ” says Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. “They are not the Tory party.”

3. THEY’RE PLAYING DRESS-UP

Remember Harper’s summer 2005 makeover campaign? Sometime between the 2004 and 2005 elections, the Tories tried to transform Harper from a scary social conservative accused of harbouring a hidden agenda to a likeable dad and political moderate with broad vision and admirable determination. Suddenly images of Stephen Harper participating in events usually reserved for ordinary people appeared in print and on television across the country. Remember Stephen Harper clumsily throwing a football? Or Harper fingerpainting with children? How about the cross-country BBQ tour, when they dressed him up in cowboy hat and vest and sent him out flipping burgers? Happy times.

Harper’s makeover campaign largely failed. Attempts to make him look likeable were awkward and often ridiculed. During the fingerpainting photo-op with kindergarteners, for example, the old Stephen Harper—stiff and bitter—shone through. A youngster with gooey fingers approached the Opposition leader, eliciting the response, “Don’t touch me.”

Where the Tories did succeed, however, was in controlling the debate. In the 2004 election, the Liberals were able to run a campaign that successfully vilified Harper. In the last campaign, however, Harper turned the table, attacking Liberal corruption while staying strictly on message. This focus on controlling the message is a page out of the U.S. Republican playbook. In fact, the party had Republican help. In May, a group of Canada’s foremost conservatives gathered in Kanata, Ontario, to receive some words of wisdom from Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster and the brains behind the Republicans’ sweep of Congress in 1994. Luntz spoke to 200 members of the Civitas Society, a conservative group whose members include Harper’s chief of staff, Ian Brodie, as well as Tom Flanagan, a founding member.

Luntz, who has previously done work for Preston Manning, is a master of tailoring a conservative message and selling it to moderate voters. His strategy is called “language guidance”—the use of simple messages, which are carefully tested and often repeated. He advocates the use of key words, images, pictures and national symbols to deflect suspicion of unpopular policies. Instead of “tax cuts,” use “tax relief.” Tax code simplification as opposed to tax code reform. Don’t privatize a program, personalize it. And so on. Canadian Conservatives have made Luntz’s strategy their own. Think of the Tories’ “five priorities,” the oft-repeated insults about Paul Martin, and the “made in Canada” solution to global warming.

By staying on message and focusing the attack on the Liberals, Harper was able to deflect attention from his past. And what a past it has been. The Harper of the last election seemed to be an entirely different person than he’s been in the past 20 years—the one who has railed against universal health care, social programs and a strong federal government. No matter what he told us in the last election, Stephen Harper is no national leader.

4. THEIR CITIZENS AREN’T CREATED EQUAL

Considering the Harper Conservatives’ roots, the way they have governed should hardly come as a surprise. Once in office things went smoothly; Harper and his cabinet focused exclusively on its five priorities: the GST cut, daycare credit, health-care wait times, government accountability and crime. But since getting elected, the government has revealed the depths of its true colours, governing like a farright party, beginning with an attack on equality.

First, there was the cancellation of the Kelowna Accord, an agreement negotiated under the previous Liberal government to help bridge the gap between Aboriginals and other Canadians by earmarking $5 billion to improve education, housing, economic development, health and water services on reserves. Then, the government voted to reject the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN Human Rights Council. According to Angus Toulouse, Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, the Harper Conservatives have sent a message to Canada’s Aboriginal people that they do not care. “It clearly told us this government is going to step on the poorest of the poor, which is the Aboriginal people in Canada,” Toulouse says.

Native people are not the only target of the Harper government’s attack on equality. In September, the government lopped 40 percent off the budget of Status of Women Canada, an agency that promotes gender equality. And same-sex marriage advocates have long been a favourite target of the Conservative party. Harper himself voted against extending hate propaganda legislation to include homosexuality, and in the last election campaign said a Conservative government would hold a free vote on same-sex marriage.

Conservative opposition to same-sex marriage makes sense given the party’s religious base. The evangelical set considers Harper, a self-confessed born-again Christian, to be one of their own. “I want to make it clear that Christians are welcome in politics,” Harper said on the Drew Marshall Show leading up to last year’s election. “And particularly welcome in our party.” Some MPs come straight from the religious right. Stockwell Day once famously declared that Adam and Eve roamed with dinosaurs. David Sweet, MP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, is past head of the Christian group Promise Keepers Canada, which helps “men grow and mature into Godly men,” according to the group’s website. And Harold Albrecht, MP for Kitchener-Conestoga, once wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper saying, “These same-sex marriages would succeed in wiping out an entire society in just one generation.” Then there was the news that Justice Minister Vic Toews wants to table a Defence of Religions Act, legislation that would protect critics of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and ensure the right of officials to refuse to perform gay marriages. Many of the Canadian right’s fiercest opponents of same-sex marriage remain influential within the Conservative party. For example, Harper recently named Darrel Reid chief of staff to Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. Reid is the former president of Focus on the Family Canada, the Canadian branch of the U.S.-based anti-gay-marriage group. Reid has made a career out of fighting against equality for same-sex couples, and once said that the decision to legalize gay marriage made him “ashamed to be called a Canadian.”

“We have to connect the dots,” says Gilles Marchildon, executive director of Egale Canada, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transidentified people. “This is not a government that supports equality and justice.”

5. OPACITY IS THE NEW TRANSPARENCY

Among the Conservatives’ original five priorities was an accountability law to make government more transparent—a move Canadians welcomed in the wake of the sponsorship scandal. They tabled the Federal Accountability Act in April, which banned corporate and union donations to federal parties, cracked down on lobbyists, protected whistle-blowers and gave more power to officers of Parliament, such as the ethics commissioner and auditor general.

But Harper’s own administration has been anything but transparent. After taking office, the prime minister wasted little time declaring war on the media. He insisted members of the press gallery sign a list if they wanted to ask questions, he rarely participates in scrums and he often leaves the Parliament Buildings through the freight exit instead of the front door to avoid media attention. “Unfortunately, the press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government,” Harper complained to a London, Ontario, TV station, the same week two dozen reporters walked out of a Harper event after he refused to take their questions.

According to a national press gallery reporter, who spoke anonymously, interview requests with ministers are frequently denied or simply unaddressed. Reporters are also banned from the floor on which ministers hold meetings, and ministers rarely scrum after cabinet meetings, a common practice under the Liberals. “Everybody’s hands are tied from a journalistic point of view. It’s extremely difficult to get answers from this government,” the reporter says. “It’s Harper’s mandate to treat us like this and it’s not going to change. It’s very disheartening.”

Harper has also gone to great lengths to silence his ministers. What happens behind closed doors stays there, and the PMO insists ministers stay on message. An April 2006 scheduled interview between the National Post’s Don Martin and Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, for example, was cancelled because the PM didn’t want his ministers to stray from the Conservatives’ five priorities. In mid-October, Ontario MP Garth Turner was expelled for regularly criticizing his party’s policies on his blog, and Conservative Senator Anne Cools was yanked from three committees in September for asking hostile questions about the Accountability Act, according to a Post article by Martin.

6. IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

Stephen “Steve” Harper, Bush’s favourite Canadian, has been busy cozying up to the Americans since taking office last year. Hardly a surprise, since Harper has been advocating for closer ties to the United States for years. He has beefed up Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, committing troops for an additional two years, and has promised a $5.3-billion increase in military spending over the next five years. “Ideologically, the people who are driving the Conservative party—Harper and his entourage—are very much attuned to and aligned with the Bush Republican-style conservatism,” says Bruce Campbell, executive director of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in Ottawa.

Harper’s been ending his speeches with “God bless Canada” since last year’s campaign, but his emulation of the United States is more than just symbolic. Paul Martin’s Liberals laid the foundation for deep integration—the harmonization of U.S. and Canadian trade and border policies—and the Harper government has carried this agenda forward. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which lobbies government on behalf of big business, is spearheading the movement, arguing that the economies of the two countries are already so closely linked that most individual domestic laws aren’t needed. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but for several years, task forces, working groups, commissions and cross-border consultations have been taking place on both sides of the border with the goal of harmonizing Canada-U.S. programs and procedures. In September, for example, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day attended a top-secret meeting in Banff, Alberta, that discussed North American security and prosperity. The North American Forum was hosted with the help of the Canada West Foundation and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and drew corporate executives and government officials from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Reporters were kept in the dark about what, exactly, was discussed and who was in attendance.

Supporters of deep integration say it’s the only way Canada can stay competitive. Critics call it a threat to Canadian sovereignty that will lead to lopsided trade agreements and a loss of control of Canadian resources. Campbell notes that we are already feeling the impact of deep integration. Canada and the U.S. are at work integrating energy markets, and Canada is ramping up production of the Alberta oil patch to meet America’s growing energy needs. The bulk of Alberta oil goes to the United States, Campbell says, while the Maritimes and Quebec import about 90 percent of their oil needs and Ontario imports 50 percent. “It’s all about securing supply to meet U.S. energy needs,” he warns. “Here we are, this great energy superpower, as Stephen Harper likes to call us, and we’re importing 55 percent of our oil needs. That’s not an integrated national energy market.”

Canada has also followed America’s lead on the domestic front. In the area of crime and punishment, Canada has made a marked shift toward an American style of justice, with “serious time for serious crimes.” In October, Justice Minister Vic Toews unveiled his “three strikes and you’re out” legislation, which is based on similar U.S. legislation. The bill puts the onus on the defendant, proposing that anyone convicted of three violent or sexual crimes would have to convince a judge why he should not be classified as a dangerous offender. If he fails to do that, he faces a minimum seven years in prison before being eligible for parole (in contrast to the American law, Canada’s three-strikes legislation focuses on serious third offences only). The U.S. legislation has done little to deter crime south of the border and has cost an enormous amount of money. “A large amount of research in the U.S. has been overwhelmingly consistent in showing that these changes have no effect,” Tony Doob, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto, told The Globe and Mail last October. “Whether you bring in threestrike laws, or jump up and down and say ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ three times, it has the same effect…. The fact is that crime will sometimes go down. It has nothing to do with legislative changes.”

7. WELFARE STATE?

Last September’s $1-billion “trimming the fat” exercise was a subtle but definitive attack on social programs. The Youth Employment Strategy, which helped 50,000 young people find jobs last summer, was cut in half. The Conservatives also chopped $17.7 million off adult literacy programs, ended a $9.7 million program to encourage Canadians to volunteer and did away with the $5.6-million Court Challenges Program, which has funded legal action by human rights advocates.

The cuts don’t mark the end of the Canadian welfare state, but they do show a sign of what may be to come—major cuts, despite a major surplus ($13.2 billion in 2006). McQuaig points to the Conservatives’ withdrawal of $5 billion in child-care spending by the Liberals. “It had taken advocacy groups, women’s groups, decades to finally pressure and pin down government to set up that program,” McQuaig says. “The Tories just scrapped it as soon as they got into office. It’s absolutely, totally irresponsible.”

8. WITHER KYOTO

The Conservative record on the environment has been nothing short of catastrophic. Consider: The axed $1-billion Climate Fund has so far only been replaced by an incentive-based transit tax credit, which saves the average transit user a paltry $12 a month. The EnerGuide program, which helped people retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient, has been eliminated. The list goes on. The Conservatives have also forced layoffs at Natural Resources Canada and cut the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network. Their biggest crime, of course, has been to abandon Canada’s Kyoto Protocol targets. They’ve opted instead for the Clean Air Act, an initiative with the laughable target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (Meanwhile, the federal government continues to send $1.5 billion a year in subsidies to the Alberta oil patch.)

Perhaps most alarming is the Conservatives’ ho-hum attitude toward the climate crisis. Many environmental experts interviewed for this article say Harper and his advisors may not even believe in climate change, despite overwhelming evidence and the endorsements of a plethora of leading scientific organizations. For example, the scientific consensus on climate change is clearly expressed in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for policy decisions. The panel concluded that the scientific consensus is that the Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities. Another recent study, conducted by researchers at NASA, Columbia University and the University of California at Santa Barbara, found the world is the warmest it’s been in 12,000 years—and humans are largely to blame.

But the Conservatives aren’t buying it. In November, the government appointed University of Western Ontario physics professor Christopher Essex, a climate change skeptic and Kyoto critic, to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which controls $900 million a year in funding. Essex was one of 20 Canadian academics who signed an open letter to the prime minister in April that urged the government to scrap Kyoto, calling it an “irrational” squandering of billions of dollars. “There will always be people who say climate change isn’t happening,” says Dale Marshall, climate-change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “But the question is, what is the body of evidence telling us? Overwhelmingly the science is saying climate change is happening. There’s no real dispute in the scientific community.”

*

“There is greater reason to feel comfortable with Mr. Harper today,” a Globe and Mail editorial declared last January. “He has shown himself to be an intelligent man and one, in this last campaign at least, who has learned to master his emotions. He has gained control of a party inclined to fly off in all directions, moved it to the centre and proposed a reasonable if imperfect governing platform.”

Forgive us if we’re skeptical. “This is a guy who will never change,” says Murray Dobbin, Vancouver-based journalist and author of Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? “The notion that Stephen Harper would change his fundamental values is just delusional. He is still viscerally contemptuous of his own country, and I think that puts him in a unique position of any prime minister in the history of the country. I can’t think of any other prime minister who actually hated his own country.” After all, Stephen Harper is the same man who, only a decade before, was head of the National Citizens Coalition, perhaps the most virulently right-wing organization in Canada, a group that was founded to oppose publicly funded, universal health care. He’s the same man who has advocated a firewall around Alberta to protect itself from a hostile federal government. The same man who has mocked Canadians’ understanding of their own country and who has called America’s conservative movement an inspiration. This is the same man who has made a career out of consistently and ardently criticizing Canada and its values. “Canada is a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it,” Harper told the Council for National Policy, a right-leaning American think tank, at a June 1997 meeting in Montreal.

There is reason for optimism, however. Canadians’ dissatisfaction with the Conservative government is showing in recent polls. In a November CBC News and Environics Research Group poll, 29 percent of respondents said they would vote for the Conservatives if an election were held today, compared to 28 percent who would vote for the Liberal party—which did not have a leader at the time. Perhaps more tellingly, respondents said health care, the environment and the war in Afghanistan were the most important issues facing the country, while conservative pet topics— same-sex marriage, Canada-U.S. relations and government corruption—ranked near the bottom. That does not bode well for Conservatives. “Unless the Liberals are extremely incompetent after they choose their leader,” Dobbin says, “this will be the end of Harper.”

Here’s hoping.

*

Mitch Moxley is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, by way of Saskatchewan. His work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Toro, Geist, the Kyoto Journal and elsewhere.

continue reading source: http://www.thismagazine.ca/issues/2007/01/minorityreport.php


Remember, politics is a contact sport, like hockey, so please feel free to add quick contributions, observations and relevant information as a comment below!

Contact us if you would like to contribute to our collaborative efforts or would like to share/submit articles, data or additional content, feel free to add feedback, additional info, alternative contact details, related links, articles, anonymous submission, etc. as a comment below, via web-form, through social media outlets or email us directly and confidentially at: dumpharper [at] live [dot] ca


This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. and intend its use to be for education and instructional purposes only. Therefore, we believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use,” you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

ShareAlike Statement: https://dumpharper.wordpress.com/sharealike/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s