Canada's civil servants fed up with Harper government's muzzles

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Here's more regarding my standing prophecy that federal civil servants, seething under Stephen Harper's repressive yoke, will spit out the full story between now and the election.

After my column of two weeks ago saying that the "Mother Canada" statue for Cape Breton Highlands National Park was a cook-up by the Prime Minister's Office served up through clenched teeth by Parks Canada officials, I got a call from a Deep Throat within Parks Canada saying "right on," but here's another one you might want to know about.

In 2010, a "legacy centre"' was opened at Cupids, Nfld., west of St. John's across Conception Bay, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first English settlement -- led by merchant John Guy of Bristol, England in 1610 -- in what is now Canada.

The centre cost some $4 million to build. Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, were there for the festivities, along with the prime minister and Peter MacKay.

A big deal, in other words.

There was only one problem, said my informant. There's not a lick of evidence that Cupids was the actual site of the John Guy settlement, although oral tradition tends to put it there. Parks Canada archaeologists produced internal studies on this, trying to raise the issue, but were snuffed. Never mind. Harper doesn't need facts.

And that's not all. Now, a scant five years later, there's a huge uproar in Cupids because the powers that be -- through the politically connected citizens group that runs it -- want the town of 800 to take it over. In April, there was a rowdy public meeting in which, according to CBC, a citizen and a councillor "nearly came to blows" amid accusations of official skullduggery.

In May, there was a referendum in which the proposal that the town take it over was soundly defeated. Citizens feared tax increases to maintain the centre and are apparently not happy that Harperist politics has disturbed the peace of their town.

Which raises an issue with regard to the Mother Canada statue, said my informant. After Harper and his friends have had their moment with it, who's going to pay for its upkeep? Good point.

Meanwhile, a spitting match has erupted over how the discovery of one of the lost ships of the fabled Franklin expedition in the Arctic was handled. This is supposedly one of the crowning projects of Harper's Arctic policy, laying down Canadian jurisdiction and poking the Russians in the eye. Getting political credit is the key to the whole thing. Now Paul Watson, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who was following the complaints of scientists about how the event was politically manipulated, has quit the Toronto Star after he was allegedly told to drop the story. But he's continuing to dig.

The details of the intrigue have yet to play out, but it looks like another Harper machination spinning out of control.

Further, an old friend I hadn't heard from for years dropped a line out of the blue saying he'd retired from the civil service early because he couldn't take it any more. His job was to publicize and promote the work of federal scientists -- obviously an impossible job in the bizarre Harperist world where scientists are muzzled. Before Harper came to power, he says, government of Canada communications documents spoke of a "responsibility" of public sector employees to communicate with the public. After Harper, the word "responsibility" quietly disappeared. Amen.

Meanwhile, a survey of top civil servants by the Public Service of Canada reports that 80 per cent of them feel they have been virtually reduced to the level of clerks, amid a deteriorating relationship with politicians -- Harper ministers have a tendency to blame civil servants for their own messes -- and "an air of distrust and disrespect"' that reduces their capacity to do their jobs.

Harper's problem with the "liberal state" had a certain resonance at its starting point -- too much bureaucracy getting ever bigger. However, Harper never had a good point that he didn't take to extremes. His solution was to take an ideological axe to the public service and swing wildly -- starting with his damaging blow to Canada's highly regarded long-form census shortly after coming to office, plus the firing of a number of heads of federal regulatory commissions and the micro-control of every aspect of the governmental machinery from the Prime Minister's Office. It wasn't just scientists who were muzzled. Even employees as non-controversial as librarians could no longer speak to library professionals without going through the stultifying ideological machine of Harper's office.

All of this will surely be biting back as the election approaches. Indeed, if we have any self-respect as a nation, it's surely one more reason to send this band of despots, jailbirds, ideologues and incompetents packing.

Ralph Surette is a freelance journalist in Yarmouth County. This column was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: flickr/ Stephen Harper

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