By Gerald Caplan
Globe and Mail
Dec. 16, 2011
Stephen Harper first became Prime Minister in 2006 and has already dramatically transformed the old Canada. But with no election due for four more years, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
It’s in the nature of true believers and ideologues to believe that any means to their sacred ends are justified. This makes them extremely dangerous people. It’s also typical of such people that they’re often motivated by unfathomable resentment and anger, a compulsion not just to better but to destroy their adversaries. These are good descriptions of Stephen Harper and those closest to him.
There was never a Trudeauland or Mulroneyland or Chrétienland, but as The Globe’s Lawrence Martin has made us understand, there is already a Harperland whose nature is quite apparent. Like the American conservatives whom the Harperites so envy, our government has concocted a new reality of its own that it is systematically imposing on the Canadian people. The values and moral code of Mr. Harper’s new Canada are clear.
A central tenet of the new reality is the repudiation of the need for anything as irrelevant as evidence, facts or rationality whenever they are inconvenient. As in cancelling the long-form census, without a shred of reason. As when Injustice Minister Nicholson defends his back-to-the-jungle crime bills by reminding us of a Harperland article of faith: “We don’t govern on the basis of statistics.” Or, as we now know, on the basis of the findings of serious experts both in and out of the government.
Jason Kenney can stand as a past master at inventing evidence to serve his unfailingly partisan needs. This is a man, after all, who has shamelessly claimed a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism in Canada contrary to all the facts. Just days ago, Mr. Kenney employed gratuitously inflammatory language when he created a crisis over a handful of women who wear a veil, and who are of course Muslim.
But lying is the very mother’s milk of Harperland morality. When you invent your own reality, you can also invent your defence. Just follow the distinguished careers of ministers Peter MacKay, Peter Kent and Tony Clement. Old joke: How do you know when certain politicians are lying? Their lips are moving.
In Harperland, hitting below the belt is standard equipment, as the dirty tricks used against Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler nicely demonstrate. Straightforward dishonesty as in the Cotler caper is just the Conservative version of free expression, as Government House Leader Van Loan earnestly explained. When the Speaker of the House brands the tactic as “reprehensible,” you know we’re no longer in Kansas, kids.
On the complex aboriginal file, Harperland blames the victims for their own wretched circumstances and blames local NDP MP Charlie Angus for not cluing in the clueless Aboriginal Affairs Minister. The minister’s assertion that the chief of Attawapiskat had accepted the government’s imposition of a ludicrously expensive third-party manager was, of course, immediately contradicted.
Harperland values demand fundamental changes in our governance processes – the outright attacks on trade unions, the unprecedented measures taken to silence critical NGOs, the muzzling of ostensibly independent federal watchdogs.
But the new values also reverse decades of cherished Canadian policies. Look at the contempt the Prime Minister shows for the United Nations, as described in a new paper for the McLeod Group by former Canadian diplomat and senior UN official Carolyn McAskie, “Canada and Multilateralism: Missing In Action”:
The Prime Minister says he has little use for the UN. ... After losing a bid for membership of the Security Council, many government members made disparaging comments about that “corrupt organization” and right wing press commentators referred to it as an organization run by “dictators.” Is this the Canada that played such a front-line role in previous decades? How can we behave in this childish manner, spurning a whole system of organizations critical to world peace, security and development?
To damage Canada’s reputation even further, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has gravely disappointed those who had high expectations of him as the country’s senior diplomat. Sadly, Mr. Baird has proved incapable of eschewing the cheap politics by which he demeaned the House for so many years, complete with endlessly-repeated spin lines that substitute on the world stage partisan slogans for real thought.
The new Canada is a place where militarism is given pride of place over peacemaking. Watching Defence Minister Peter MacKay taking bows at the Grey Cup game for Canada's part in the Libyan campaign, Globe columnist Lawrence Martin observed:
The blending of sport and the military, with the government as the marching band, is part of the new nationalism the Conservatives are trying to instill. It is another example of how the state, under Stephen Harper’s governance, is becoming all-intrusive. … State controls are now at a highpoint in our modern history. There is every indication they will extend further.
The University of Ottawa's Ralph Heintzman, who created and headed the federal Public Service Office of Values and Ethics, provides an important insight into what’s happening here: There is a “lack of sense of inner self-restraint on the part of the prime minister, a sense that it is some kind of war and therefore anything is legitimate, that it's quite acceptable for a prime minister to lie, for example, about how our parliamentary democracy works.”
Politics as war is exactly what former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan has long advocated. A Globe piece by Mr. Flanagan before the 2011 election was actually titled “An election is war by other means.” Mr. Flanagan also chose to compare the 2008 campaign to ancient wars in which Rome, the Conservatives, defeated Carthage, the Liberals, and “razed the city to the ground and sowed salt in the fields so nothing would grow there again”.
As Alan Whitehorn of the Royal Military College of Canada wrote: “This suggests a paradigm not of civil rivalry between fellow citizens of the same state, but all-out extended war to destroy and obliterate the opponent. This kind of malevolent vision and hostile tone seems antithetical to the democratic spirit, not to mention peace and stability.”
In fact like Mr. Harper, Prof. Flanagan seems to get a kick out of “destroying and obliterating” those he’s not fond of. When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was making news, Prof. Flanagan commented: “Well, I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something. … I would not feel unhappy if Assange ‘disappeared’.”
To a woman who e-mailed him objecting to his (presumed) flippancy, Prof. Flanagan responded: “Better be careful, we know where you live.” What would Freud have made of such kibitzing, I wonder? After all, the good professor has cited Machiavelli's odious comment that “fortune is a woman and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force.”
Ironically, if you want to hear from the other Canada, the former Canada, the one so much admired by the world, you should (and still can) listen to last Sunday’s interview on CBC radio’s Sunday Edition between host Michael Enright and Iceland’s President, Olafur Grimmson. There, in Mr. Grimmson, was the voice of humanity, thoughtfulness, pragmatism and commonsense. He is the perfect Canadian and would make the perfect Canadian prime minister. No wonder the masterminds of Harperland want to disappear the CBC.