Fear, politics and a Conservative majority

| May 4, 2011

Two years ago, at a conference on families, social policy and work-life balance, I was asked to write an op-ed piece about my research on the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

I agreed, but hesitated when it came time to submit.

The more I read about the tactics used against public servants, about the kinds of organizations funding various Conservative candidates (including at least one with ties to the U.S. National Rifle Association), and about the climate of disdain for political process, the more I began to wonder: what might be the retribution for publicly admonishing the ideas and policies of Prime Minister Harper's government? I was embarrassed to tell my colleagues that I was scared to criticize the Conservatives in a popular forum. I feared that the organized anti-choice movement might confront me, or worse, my kids. I feared that the deep divisions fostered by the Conservatives between rural and urban Canadians about gun control would elicit a response from someone confrontational, and in my imagination, potentially violent. I worried that my reputation would be attacked. I worried that my government would not tolerate dissent.

Monday's election showed that Canada in 2011 is very different than Canada in 2006. Take, for example, the federal leaders' debate. In 2006, the key issues were childcare, same-sex marriage and abortion. In 2011, the only time women were mentioned was in reference to their being killed by guns. While we did not see massive legislative changes in Ottawa over these five years, the institutions of governance are profoundly altered. The way judicial nominees are vetted has been changed because of Conservative mistrust of judges and their interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedom's equality provisions. The Court Challenges Program was axed. The organized voice for women in federal government was all but axed, and the word equality has been removed from its mandate. The prime minister has made the most senate appointments in Canadian history, entrenching a Conservative vision of the country. Government agencies such as Statistics Canada have had their methods questioned and changed on ideological grounds. The removal of the long-form census and its questions on unpaid work guarantees that women's work in caring for people is made invisible when services are cut. On questions of democracy (prorogation or contempt of parliament), we continually heard "Canadians don't care about that." Five years of electioneering seem to have made us so cynical that we expect little and are shocked by nothing.

I am more fearful than ever of the path ahead, and for its implications for critical voices. The next four year will bring huge changes. First: the Conservative vision for Canada --"open federalism" -- will remake the Canadian state. "Open federalism" is one way of saying: no national welfare state infrastructure, no national standards for social programs, and provinces/territories should just figure it out. In the U.S., this has worked out roughly as: my state competes with your state for the lowest wages, lowest taxes and "best" workfare or prison labour. It is a race to the bottom for workers, public services and quality of life, and it begins with the kind of decentralization a majority Conservative government will enact.

Second: socially conservative visions of family forms and morality will play a starring role. The Reform-Alliance-Conservative vision of family life does not support gender equality, child care or pay equity. Most families have two earners, and the poorest families are mothers with children; wishing we could go back to June Cleaver's time leaves the most vulnerable at risk for poverty and violence.

Third, recalling the 2006 leaders' debate: women's reproductive freedom will be limited. Seventy-five per cent of the conservative caucus are members of the parliamentary pro-life caucus. They have and will introduce private members bills limiting abortion. They have not yet been able to legislate on the issue here, but they made sure that our international maternal health initiative didn't let a woman in the developing world talk to a doctor about abortion. While the prime minister says the issue is not going to come up, under a majority, women's reproductive rights are not safe.

Kate Bezanson is a small business owner, a mother of two, and a professor of Sociology at Brock University, in St. Catharines, Ontario. She works in the areas of social and labour market policy, comparative and Canadian political economy, feminist and welfare state theory and international development.



Canada's youth have earned their reputation as slacktivists, they could have challenged Harper instead their inaction handed him a majority government. This is not Harpers fault this is a hell of our own making.   http://thegreenmarket.blogspot.com/2011/05/no-reprieve-for-environment-as.html

Those who have put out the people's eyes, reproach them for their blindness.

One of the reason youth stays out, is they are kept out in many ways.

To be honest, it would be better if Harper tried to block abortions in Canada, as that would force people to wake up. But he won't do it like that. They will do it through the backdoor trying to restrict those rights.

In think Harper will wait more than 5 years before he tries that, after trying to use advertising on the public, and stack the courts.

We are all going to find out soon enough.

Stephen Harper crows about his economic management, but

  • 1.5 million Canadians remain unemployed,
  • nearly one in ten people live in poverty, and
  • one-third of Canadians can't afford basic expenses.


Isn't dealing with such issues at the heart of what we look for in economic management? 


Stephen Harper won his majority by pitting Liberals against NDP in Ontario.    Liberals and NDP-ers need to work together and stop criticizing each other.
Divide and conquer only works if we are divided.   The future of our country is at stake

Looks like the Reform Party's privilege escalation attack has come to fruition:

1. Get into parliament and fill the power vacuum on the Right, left by the defeated PCs.

2. Change name to "Alliance" to unilaterally suggest there is an alliance between them and the PCs.

3. Merge with (take over) the PCs, even if it means cheating during the PC leadreship process (Remember how McKay screwed David Orchard?)

4. Become the new "Conservative" party, and everyone automatically calls them the "Tories", giving them new legitimacy in the public imagination.

5. Even still, nobody really trusts them yet because we all know they're really still the Reform Party, but the Liberals are so sloppy and confused that the Conservatives get minority after minority.

6.  Final stage: Try to look harmless enough so Canadians will give a Majority government to what is really still just the Reform party, enabling them to do virtually whatever they want.


As in any intrusion, once the're in and have unrestrained access, that's when the real havoc begins.

Kate, in the early days of the uprising a young Egyptian said that once you cross the fear barrier there is nothing that can stop you, there is no one who can conquer you, and you can't go back. Rallying words, dontcha think?



Have no fear Kate! These people are not omnipotent. They hold no real power we cannot take away from them... if we can ever be bothered.

Now is not the time to hide our beliefs or succumb to fear. We are in an ideological war here and silence is akin to surrender.


Keep writing your truth... No retreat, no surrender.



Excellent article. I've been a political junkie all my life, and have never
failed to vote in an election. However, I am so disgusted with the way things
turned out in this latest election, that I am not going to bother to vote
anymore. Our current first past the post system is patently dysfunctional,
and beyond broken.

But more to the point, I blame the opposition parties (and their leaders)
for putting narrow partisan political interest ahead of the broader national

The Liberals and NDP could have cooperated by not running candidates in key
ridings, and kept the Conservatives to a minority. Jack Layton traded real
power for his current position of powerlessness. I don't think he gets it --
the 'orange wave' that propelled him to Leader of the Opposition is neither
long-term nor broadly-based. The Quebec electorate can turn on a dime and
turf out the NDP just as quickly and easily as they did the Bloc. I can see
Harper ignoring Quebec, and starving Quebec of resources -- the NDP can rail
against it, but in the end, there is absolutely nothing they can do about it.

If indeed Harper goes about this strategy, he may help turn Quebeckers
against the NDP, but he will also impel them towards the separatist camp.
This will be utilized by the PQ/Bloc as yet another indication that Canada
does not care about Quebec, and that they would be better-off in an
independent state.

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