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Harper's party of thugs, liars, cheats, crooks -- and Christians

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Do any of the alleged Christians who support the government of Stephen Harper have any trouble with the fact that his government is the most morally corrupt party in Canadian history? Does their fantasy that he will end abortions sometime in the future allow them to rationalize what he does on an almost daily basis that violates what most people accept as Christian values?

I have always suspected that Stephen Harper became an evangelical Christian to enhance his ability to reconstruct Canada on the U.S. model of free markets and minimalist government. It would fit with his military-like discipline and end-justifies-the-means approach. He knows that most Canadians are not naturally free-marketeers eager to dismantle the Canadian activist state. But wrap it up in Christian clothing and presto, you have a core of 20 per cent who will follow you anywhere.

I have tracked Harper's political career for 20 years and for the first part of that period I also tracked Preston Manning. The two men present an interesting contrast. Manning really was a Christian and I always found it interesting that while he would bend the truth to the breaking point and was a master practitioner of what I called calculated ambiguity (able to deliver totally different messages in the same statement) he never in my experience actually lied.

You had to know how to corner him to tell the truth but if you could (almost no journalist ever even tried) in the final moment of the sparring he would not lie. I once called into a talk show and tried to get him to admit he supported a GST with no exemptions. He had garnered probably 40 per cent of his party's membership in the early ‘90s on his opposition to the GST but I knew that he actually supported this tax -- as all neo-liberals did.

In fact, he had invited Sir Roger Douglas, the man who transformed New Zealand into a free market wasteland, to speak at the party's biggest policy convention in 1990. He actually introduced him by highlighting the fact that he had introduced a value added tax with no exemptions. That he could get away with this while opposing the GST at the same time was a testament to the sway he held over his adoring membership.

On the talk show in question I kept pushing him to tell me his position (the party was debating its GST policy at the time). He kept dodging and weaving, avoiding the question until finally the host got fed up and said "Come in Mr Manning, it's a straight forward question." There was a long pause and then he said it, "Yes, I would prefer a GST with no exemptions." I thanked him for informing Saskatchewan voters that he would put a tax on their groceries.

I can't say for sure whether a government run by Preston Manning -- a man who changed Canada without ever being prime minister -- would have run a government significantly different than Harper's. And his notion of Christianity promoted wealth accumulation as a way to get to heaven and Manning would have had no problem with the current huge gap between rich and poor.

But I somehow doubt he would have committed fraud in an election campaign, systematically abused his power to muzzle watch-dog agencies, or produced a book for his MPs on how to sabotage the work of parliamentary committees.

The contrast in styles has often been given as the reason Harper left the Reform Party. I think it may have been a contrast in ethics. Manning wasn't willing to go as far as Harper wanted to go. Harper went directly from the Reform Party to the National Citizens Coalition, the most ferociously right-wing lobby group in the country. Harper said he really enjoyed it because he wasn't restricted in what he could say or do.

Now, it seems, the National Citizens Coalition, founded to rid the country of Medicare, is running the country.

The situation is so alarming that almost every week there is some new revelation. Just as the Oda lying spree was dying down for a few days, the Canadian Press finally (after 18 months) got detailed records from the office of the discredited Integrity Commissioner, Christiane Ouimet. This is the individual who suddenly resigned just before the auditor general delivered one of the most damning reports she has ever written, denouncing Ouimet for stonewalling on almost every complaint about wrong-doing in the Harper government (along with bullying her own staff).

Now the details are out and they paint a picture of incredible corruption -- even if only a fraction of the allegations by whistle blowers turned out to be true. The released documents show that 42 of the 228 cases involved (logged between 2007 and 2010) alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars. Many involved counseling public employees to break the law. Fifty fell into the category of "gross mismanagement" and fully 60 alleged that acts of Parliament had been contravened and almost as many -- 58 -- involved the punishment of people who tried to expose wrong-doing. It was precisely this kind of political terrorism that Ouimet's office was supposed to reign in.

This behaviour makes Bev Oda's lying barely visible on the ethical breach scale. It is tantamount to criminal negligence and raises the questions about the conversations that took place between Ouimet and the prime minister - or at least the PMO. Was there an explicit understanding that she would protect the government from any and all embarrassment? If you look at the number of complaints actually investigated it is hard to avoid that conclusion.

Of the 228 cases that came across her desk just seven were followed up by actual investigations. Five ended with no finding and there two still undetermined when Ouimet quit. A former commissioner stated that about 20% of complaints were normally the subject of formal investigations - in other words the normal number would have been about 45, not seven.

On Friday four senior Conservative officials were criminally charged with fraud and other charges relating to manipulation of the election funding rules that apply for federal elections. This is an old issue. When first brought up by Elections Canada, Harper responded in typical pit-bull manner and the party actually sued Elections Canada. They won a narrow victory -- but only in relation to whether Elections Canada could withhold election rebates from riding associations. The court ruled the matter had to be settled

The scheme saw the Conservative Party launder money through riding associations and then spend it in the national media campaign. It allowed the party to spend up to a million dollars over the $18.3 million legal limit. It was such a sleazy operation that some of the 68 riding associations involved balked at the scheme because they knew it was wrong. Now the case is in the hands of the special prosecutor's office -- the same one established by Harper to delve into the Liberal sponsorship scandal. If found guilty the four senior Conservatives could do a year's jail time and be fined $25,000. That's how serious it is. And the reward for fraud and cheating the system? Harper appointed two of the miscreants -- Doug Finley, a former party campaign manager and Irving Gerstein, a major Tory fundraiser -- to the Senate.

This is not just the contemptible behaviour of Stephen Harper and his political storm troopers. The Republicanization of Canadian politics is well-advanced and none of this is new or surprising. But what does it say about the nature of the so-called fundamentalist Christian community in Canada and of the rest of the base that the Conservatives are able to count on?

The fact is that fundamentalist Christians actually believe that government violates the will of God. When Stockwell Day (the Christians' man in cabinet) ran a Christian school in Alberta years ago, its curriculum included this assessment of democratic governments: "[they] represent the ultimate deification of man, which is the very essence of humanism and totally alien to God's word." Those believing that government is essentially the devil's work don't lose sleep or a little lying or fraud. It's the will of God.

What about the rest of that 35 per cent who stick with Harper? Are they unaware of the record and is that a reflection of the media's failure to give this history of misdeeds its proper weight? The media treats each incident as if they are stand-alone and almost never draw the obvious conclusion that this is a rogue party and a corrupt government.

When Harper first came to power he treated the media with contempt and for a while it looked like they would re-double their efforts to cover his government's actions. But within a few months the media instead became even more compliant and deferential, showing that bullying works. Now we have come to expect softball questions from the likes of Peter Mansbridge who in a feature interview never even tried to make this law-breaking law-and-order prime minister accountable.

Part of the picture is simply a general decline in moral and ethical standards, a sort of leaking into civil society of the greed is good, anything goes, amorality of the corporate and financial world. Lying and cheating to get ahead is the new normal. Not for everyone, to be sure, but apparently for enough of our fellow-citizens to keep this wretched wrecking crew in office.

Which raises the question: Where are the real Christians when we need them?

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