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Punishing birdwatching songwriter ensures 'Harperman' a place in Canadian folk canon

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Tony Turner, who studies bird migrations in his day job, has been a fixture of the Ottawa folk community for years, writing and composing as a member of the songwriting collective Writer's Bloc since 1994. But recently, he's vaulted to national fame for "Harperman," a ditty that really does speak for itself. Go watch, and sing along with the chorus.

He's been suspended from his birdwatching activities (what is it with our overlords' fascination with birdwatchers, anyway?) and he's now under "investigation" by the commissars over at Environment Canada where he worked. The reason? He's been accused of breaching the public service Values and Ethics Code.

It's not likely that Harper or the PMO had a thing to do with this, although the song has probably attracted their attention by now. Rather, it's senior departmental officials, immersed in the new Harperian political culture, who know how to take cues. This sort of thing becomes systemic over time. A fish rots from the head, and so the corruption spreads, without direction needing to be given. Our "impartial" public service has become anything but, as illegal/unethical acts of loyalty to the Harper regime accumulate. And sometimes, even when exposed, they go unpunished.

It's different for dissenters. Pre-emptive action is taken to ensure their compliance with standards that have no basis in law. Public service workers are warned that they are, in effect, owned by the employer. And small fish are inevitably caught in the fine mesh of the government's ideological net.

The Supreme Court of Canada declared in 1991 that rank-and-file federal public service employees have the same political rights as other Canadians. And even a cursory reading of that Values and Ethics Code reveals that Turner had done nothing wrong. He separated his outside activities from his public service ones, to the point that few of his folk following were even aware of what he did for a living. His workplace duties had nothing whatsoever to do with political policymaking. The migration of birds, in fact, has to be about as non-political as it gets -- how can one track our avian friends in less than a fair and impartial manner?

But opposition to Harper is enough to invoke reprisals. And it was a sure thing that this creeping totalitarianism would attract support from that other alleged bastion of "neutrality," the Canadian academy. Here's Professor Donald Savoie, who hails from the University of Moncton: "In my view, regardless of what the Supreme Court might say, public servants should not become political actors, especially in the middle of campaigns. They are not political actors. We have political actors; they are politicians."

"Regardless of what the Supreme Court may say," forsooth. Who does this ivy-covered academic think he is?

In any case, the folks who decided to punish Turner had clearly never heard of the Streisand Effect. (Or had they? he asked mischievously.) Savoie moans, "The government risks giving this much more visibility than it warrants by launching an investigation. People will be on YouTube to look at this because they made it an issue."

Indeed. The Orwellian absurdity of this latest move to squelch dissent has rightfully gone viral. Sometimes the foolish exercise of brute power can engender ridicule rather than fear, and catalyze a joyful resistance.

And so we are seeing. On September 17, from coast to coast to coast, a national performance of "Harperman" by ordinary citizens will take place, at 2:00 p.m. eastern. Who'd a thunk it?

Rusty voice or no, I'm looking forward to that -- and to a repeat performance on October 20.

 

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