The Arrogant Autocrat: Stephen Harper's Takeover of Canada

By Mel Hurtig
Mel Hurtig Publishing, November 30, 2014, $19.95

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What kind of Canada will we have when Prime Minister Stephen Harper is finally finished in office? That is the question I have after reading The Arrogant Autocrat: Stephen Harper’s Takeover of Canada by Mel Hurtig.

Hurtig writes extensively about the damages Harper and his government have done and are currently doing to Canada and asks readers: “What kind of democracy do we have when the government suppresses and tightly controls information that is essential to good governance, violates long-held democratic principles and undermines so many of the processes that support democracy?”

Great question.

The Harper government has been in power since 2006 and was able to take advantage of our dysfunctional electoral system to seize a majority government in Parliament in 2011 with only 39.6 per cent of the vote.

This majority power has allowed the Harper government to systematically dismantle our democracy. The abuses of power are a laundry list of attacks and suppression: crippling or eliminating institutions, silencing dissent and controlling information, attacking marginalized groups and more.

The Harper government has been swift in this action against important institutions that don’t serve it’s agenda.

In 2012, it began a campaign through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and funding cuts, to disrupt and control the work of Canadian charities — in particular those working in the environmental field — by conducting audits on charities they deemed “too political.”

Between April 2012 and March 2013, the first of 10 political activity audits were initiated including five on environmental charities — Environmental Defence Canada, Tides Canada Foundation, Tides Canada Initiatives Society, Ecology Action Centre and Equiterre. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a policy think tank that provides an important counterbalance to conservative institutions like the Fraser Institute and the C.D. Howe Institute, is also among those undergoing the same process.

As of 2014, at least 52 political activity audits of Canadian charities were under way. The scope of the CRA’s review was broadened to include groups that fight poverty and human rights abuses, plus those promoting international aid.

According to Hurtig, “in addition to the chill imposed by the onslaught of political activity audits, the Harper’s governments’ defunding of programs and its amalgamation of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with Foreign Affairs and International Trade, has left many internationally oriented charitable organizations mere shadows of what they once were — if they continue to exist at all.”

For example, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was forced to shut down laboratories that used to monitor ocean pollutants due to budget cuts and has now left us with next to no federal government capacity to monitor the waters off our coasts.

Criticism of the Harper government’s attitude is now coming from international sources too.

In an open letter to Harper released in October 2014, more than 800 scientists from 32 countries, based at institutions ranging from the Harvard Medical School to the Max Planck Institute in Germany, decried “a rapid decline in freedoms and funding” for Canadian government scientists that made it more difficult for them to conduct research, communicate scientific information, and collaborate internationally.

“Canada’s leadership in basic research, environmental, health and other public science is in jeopardy…We urge you to restore government science funding and the freedom and opportunities to communicate these findings internationally,” read the letter.

These days in Canada, it also seems like civil liberties and economic equality are up for debate because Harper has continued to disenfranchise marginalized groups with oppressive bills and economic policies.

Hurtig has written extensively about this problem of income inequality in Canada — a phenomenon that has dramatically accelerated under Harper.

In The Truth About Canada, Hurtig notes that “the widening gap in salary and compensation levels among Canadian wage earners has aroused considerable attention and debate in recent years. But it turns out that disparities in wealth distribution — or more precisely, wealth concentration — are even more extreme than those of income distribution.”

He continues in The Arrogant Autocrat that “more of the jobs being created in Canada are part-time positions that offer inadequate pay and few benefits, and which leave workers ineligible to receive EI Benefits.”

In 2014 Tavia Grant reported in The Globe and Mail that “part-time work accounted for 80 per cent of net job creation in the past year” and that “part-time employees make up close to one fifth [19.3 per cent] of the Canadian workforce.” This results in many part-time workers citing concerns over job security, the lack of adequate benefits, irregular shifts and hours worked — all of which create stress and have serious implications for financial planning, child care, and educational pursuits.

This combination of too many part-time, low-paying jobs plus harsh cutbacks to essential social programs has created a perfect storm of inequality in our country.

According to Canada 2020, in 2011 “more than half of low-income households in Canada can be classified as ‘working poor.'” And the situation is not improving.

Reading the impact the Harper government has had on Canada will not be shocking to those people well-versed in Harper’s politics. But to those who are not, they will have to take a second look at Harper and how he governs Canada, and ask themselves: “Do I really want someone like this governing our country?”

Even elected members of Parliament are restricted by Harper!

This tight control on communication and information reaches beyond elected members of Parliament, government scientists, progressive charities and environmental organizations and right to the public — just think of the recent passing of Bill C-51 and its targeting of political activism in Canada.

In the Arrogant Autocrat, Hurtig does a great job of detailing the devastating impact of Harper. It should be read by everyone, but especially by those who wish to learn more about how dangerous Harper can be (and is) to Canada. 

It serves as a wake up call to all Canadians. Enough is enough; we need to reclaim our democracy and our country before it is too late. It is time to vote Harper out.


Christine Smith (McFarlane) is a Saulteaux First Nations woman, who hails from Peguis First Nation. She is a published writer and freelance writer for Anishinabek News on a regular basis. She has also contributed to other newspapers such as the Native Canadian,The Native Journal, Windspeaker, New Tribe Magazine, and FNH Magazine. She is a contributing editor with Shameless Magazine, and a contributing writer for the Toronto Review of Books.