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As Parliament resumes on this #J28 global day of action, we present 28 reminders of what people across the country and around the world are mobilizing against.
1. Attacks on democratic rights: Harper's way or the highway
The Court Challenges Program, which provided funding for Canadians to defend their Charter Rights, has been shut down. Extremes were taken to crush protests at the G-20 summit. Harper also appealed a Canadian Federal Court decision asking the United States to repatriate Canadian Omar Khadr from Guantanamo. Harper has never spoken out against the judicial travesties at Guantanamo.
Harper moved against NGOs, independent agencies, watchdog groups, and tribunals who showed signs of differing with his intent.
2. Omnibus bills
Budget Bills C-38 and C-45 contained many important and negative measures, such as major changes to environmental assessment regulations and cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This is the first time large omnibus bills have been used to pass a federal budget.
3. Medicare weakened
Block funding is now provided to the provinces for medicare without national standards being required. There is a real danger that we will have a mixed variety of services across the country with a possible “race to the bottom” in regard to national standards.
4. Suppression of research
At the Justice Department, the Harper Conservatives admitted they aren’t interested in what empirical research tells them about some of their anti-crime measures. At Environment Canada, public input on climate change policy was dramatically reduced. A report by the Commissioner of Firearms saying police made good use of the gun registry was deliberately hidden beyond its statutory deadline, until after a vote on a private member’s bill on the gun registry. The most controversial measure was the move against the long-form census.
5. Right to use information obtained by torture
Canada’s national police force and the federal border agency have the authority to use and share information that was likely extracted through torture. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued the directives to the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency shortly after giving similar orders to Canada’s spy service.
6. Access to information curtailed
The government’s information commissioner has mused publicly whether the federal “access to information” system would survive. Prohibitive measures have included the elimination of the giant data base CAIRS, delaying responses to access requests, imposing prohibitive fees on requests, and putting pressure on bureaucrats to keep sensitive information hidden.
7. Lapdogs as watchdogs
Watch-dogs -- an ethics commissioner, lobbying commissioner and others -- have been put in place who are more like lapdogs. One example was integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet, who was pilloried in an inquiry by the auditor general. During her term of office, 227 whistleblowing allegations were brought before Ouimet. None was found to be of enough merit to require redress. The Prime Minister’s Office saw to it that she left her post quietly last fall with a $500,000 exit payment replete with a gag order.
8. Food security
Mr. Harper declined to set up any meetings of Cabinet with the UN Right to Food Envoy. The Envoy declared there were 900,000 Canadian households and up to 2.5 million Canadian individuals whose food supplies were not secure.
9. Prorogations and contempt of Parliament
Other governments have prorogued Parliament many times. But Harper’s prorogations were seen as more motivated for political gain than others. His second prorogation, 16 months ago, brought thousands of demonstrators to the streets.
Harper refused a House of Commons request to turn over documents on the Afghan detainees affair until forced to do so by the Speaker, who ruled Harper was in breach of parliamentary privilege. More recently, he refused to submit to a parliamentary request on the costing of his programs. Unprecedented contempt of Parliament rulings followed.
Harper brought in a fixed-date election law. PMs no longer have the advantage of setting election dates at their own choosing. But in 2008 Harper ignored his own law and went to the Governor General to call an election.
10. Scorn for Parliamentary Committees
Parliamentary committees play a central role as a check on executive power. The Conservatives issued their committee heads a 200-page handbook on how to disrupt these committees, going so far as to say they should flee the premises if the going got tough. The prime minister also reneged on a promise to allow committees to select their own chairs. He issued an order dictating that staff- ers to cabinet ministers do not have to testify before committees.
11. Canadian Wheat Board axed
This regulatory board has been disbanded against the wishes of the majority of wheat growers.
12. Foreign workers exploited
Canada has shifted from a country which treated immigrants as equals to a nation that rents its workers from among the world’s poor and sends them home when we are done with them.
13. Muzzled Scientists
Scientists are restricted from giving media in- terviews and speaking freely about their research.
14. Climate and environmental failure
The Kyoto Accord has been abandoned. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act will be replaced with a weaker version without public input. Environment Canada staff is being cut by 845 of 6,973 full-time people by 2014/15. Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences cut has been cut at a time when global warming is a serious threat. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Cuts Grants have ended to 37 organizations doing research in northern Canada on climate change and other scientific areas in biology, hydrology, and zoology.
15. Cuts to information and election oversight
Elections Canada, the Privacy Commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s offices have all received funding cuts.
16. Media curbs
Harper never held open press conferences, limited media access to the bureaucracy, and had his war room operatives, using false names, write online posts attacking journalists. In one uncelebrated incident in Charlottetown in 2007, the Conservatives sent in the police to remove reporters from a hotel lobby where they were trying to cover a party caucus meeting. All government communications are vetted by PM’s office or the neighbouring Privy Council Office. Mark Tushingham from Environment Canada was barred from giving a talk about his book on climate change -- even though it is a work of fiction. The muzzling policy has extended to the military leadership of the Canadian Forces.
17. Privatization in Canada's National Parks
For over 125 years our national parks have been publicly owned and operated. Under Harper, there have been serious staffing cuts and moves to contract out operation of the three hot springs in the Canadian Rockies. A recent government decision has given Brewster International the right to build a private tourist facility in the glaciers of Jasper National Park, despite enormous public opposition.
18. Old Age Security changes
Old Age Security eligibility will increase from age sixty-five to sixty-seven even though actuaries say the current programme is sustainable.
19. War instead of peace
Harper’s government has moved away from peacekeeping and disaster relief toward an emphasis on battle missions. His present stance and decisions regarding Iran are unabashed war-mongering.
20. Treatment of returning soldiers
Medical, psychological and long-term care and support services for troops have been reduced. Many veterans are feeling scorned.
21. Katimavik abandoned
Funding has been cut for Katimavik, our renowned programme to engage youth in social justice and other community building initiatives.
22. Curtailed grants for birth control in developing countries
Harper has stopped grants to international organizations with birth control programmes in third-world countries.
23. CBC cuts
The public broadcaster has suffered ongoing cuts.
24. Weakened financial oversight of government
Eighteen federal agencies including the National Research Council, the Transportation Safety Council and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will no longer be subject to audit.
25. Weakened regulations to push tar sands pipelines
The Harper government has removed protection of endangered species and their habitat when approving pipelines, by amending the Species At Risk Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. They have also gutted the Fisheries Act by re- moving habitat protection provisions. Eliminating the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
26. The patronage machine
One of the latest examples was the appointment of Tom Pentefountas as deputy chair of the CRTC. His only apparent qualification was his friendship with the PM’s director of communications.
27. Slashing the public service
The public service has been stripped of many of its policy development functions and reduced to the role of implementation.
28. Afghan detainee scandal
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor got caught misleading the House, had to apologize, and later resigned. On the same file, the Conservatives terminated the work of Peter Tinsley, the Military Po- lice Complaints Commissioner, whose inquiry was getting close to the bone. It was this same file which played a large role in the prime minister's decision to again prorogue Parliament.
Kel Kelly is a community organizer and facilitator.
This list was originally published in Watershed Sentinel and is reprinted here in a different format. This is only a partial list.
Photo: Scott Neigh / Media Coop