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Government by sneak: The preferred Harper Conservative response to thorny issues and hard-fought elections

Dean Del Mastro

VICTORIA, B.C.

Same-sex marriage advocates and poultry and dairy farmers might both be surprised to find they have so much in common, but as yesterday's news columns illustrate, both are targets of the government-by-sneak approach favoured by the Conservative Party of Canada.

Nowadays, as is coming to be well known, there has been a sea change in public attitudes about diversity and human rights in this country, and most Canadians have adopted a live-and-let-live attitude about who should be allowed to marry whom.

Not so long ago, using homophobic bigotry about marriage rights to stir up their social conservative base was a pretty good wedge issue for the Conservatives, helping them keep their so-con supporters motivated to vote the right way, and to keep their wallets wide open.

This, however, has left the Conservatives with a problem: they need to keep their so-cons sweet, but they also need to appear liberal enough not to alienate the majority of voters who have grown weary of homophobia and just want to move on to a more open society.

The solution hit upon by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his strategic brain trust? Pack the courts with social-conservative activist appointees who will push the government’s anti-gay agenda in a forum where the governing party won't have to answer for it to voters.

And so, as The Globe and Mail reported yesterday, "A critic of gay marriage has been promoted to Ontario's highest court -- the third such judge chosen by the Conservative government since December for the Ontario Court of Appeal." (Emphasis added.)

Not that anything about this has officially been made known. The appointment not actually announced by the government that made it, although The Globe was able to confirm it took place last week.

In other words, government-by-sneak.

The noise that North American conservatives have made over the years about supposedly liberal activist judges is ironic in light of the fact the most blatant judicial activism is set in motion and encouraged by right-wing Republican-inspired governments like the Harper CPC.

Meanwhile, on the same day the same paper reported that "Canada's protected dairy and poultry industries are in the crosshairs of the United States and other farm export powers as momentum builds toward a massive Pacific Rim trade deal."

Actually, this misstates reality in an important way. Canada's managed dairy and poultry industries are in the crosshairs of ideological market-fundamentalist Conservatives, right here in Canada, as they have been at least since Brian Mulroney was prime minister.

Conservatives hate the supply management system the Canadian poultry, egg and dairy industries use to run their industry, and for ideological reasons they would dearly love to destroy it.

But while it is true supply management does result in higher prices than in a mostly unregulated, corporate dominated market like that in the United States, the situation is not as simple as right-wing ideologues and corporations that dominate CPC policy like to pretend. They know there is also truth to the arguments about assured supplies, food safety and a fair return for farmers that the farmers' effective lobby has advanced as benefits of the system.

I don't want to argue those points because supply management as currently structured is a flawed system, although not as badly flawed as the quasi-theological market fundamentalism advocated by the CPC. The point is that because of the effectiveness of the farm lobby and the disengagement of urban voters when it comes to agricultural issues, the Cons have never been able to muster the coalition they need to simply dismantle supply management and tell the farmers to go to blazes.

So their tactic is to pretend to support supply management while using international trade agreements, which as we have all come to learn have more to do with promoting the neoliberal agenda than promoting trade, to undermine what they can't muster the political support to confront head on.

Have no doubt, when they conclude the political moment is right to destroy supply management outright -- as they did the Canadian Wheat Board, giving away its assets to Saudi and corporate interests -- they will do so.

We seem to be getting there. Leastways, with the dairy industry concentrated in Quebec, where the Cons have had a consistently hard time winning seats anyway, and secret negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership apparently on again, the Harper Government sees an opportunity to strike a blow for its ideology and its corporate sponsors without paying much of a political penalty.

The prime minister's comments today -- so sorry, it's an essential trade deal, don'tcha know? -- seem to suggest that is the point at which we have arrived.

In other words, government by sneak.

Meanwhile, speaking of chickens, in this case coming home to roost, sometimes the instinct to sneakiness goes wrong, as in past attempts by people associated with the Harper Government to ensure that they win the elections necessary to their program of neoliberalizing Canada to the point it is no longer recognizable.

Consider the sorry case of former Peterborough, Ontario, MP Dean Del Mastro, once the prime minister's handpicked chief denier of electoral-fraud and coverup allegations, sentenced to a month in jail today for electoral fraud and coverup. He was also banned from running for office for five years by an Ontario Superior Court justice.

Del Mastro, who is 44, has already filed an appeal in the case.

If I may be so bold as to make a couple of predictions, notwithstanding his jail sentence, Del Mastro has a good chance of never darkening the door of a Canadian correctional facility. The appeal will be dragged out until well after the fall federal election, and if the Conservatives win the vote but the appeal fails, he will be granted a pardon, as Harper has done before in similar circumstances.

This may be ironic in light of the Conservatives' supposed toughness on crime, the it is safe to assume they will be prepared to do whatever is required to win the election. Should something similar somehow happen again, well, next time there is bound to be someone like Michael Sona waiting in the wings to take the fall.

Seriously, what else should we expect from a party that specializes in government by sneak?

In that event, I expect they will look with less favour on the idea of an Orange Revolution in this country than in some others.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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