Harperism is finally facing the end, and just in time

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It's election day and, at last, hope that what has to happen if this country is to recapture its integrity is actually about to happen: that Stephen Harper and his scurrilous despotism are about to get the heave.

If so, it will be just in time. The world is suddenly paying attention, and what it sees is not pretty -- one of the rocks of democracy and human rights in the world coming unstuck.

Astonishment is being expressed as far afield as India and Hong Kong. The U.S. magazine Esquire had a shock headline recently asking, "What the f*ck is going on in Canada?" Britain's The Independent, under a headline proclaiming that a "liberal nation's democracy loses its way," had an article by its prominent international affairs correspondent, Robert Fisk, who was here a few weeks and who, reciting the litany of Harperist nasties, observed that "it is impossible not to be struck by the near-insanity of the debates which will define the country for the next four years."

The ugly thing that hits global opinion first is the snitch line proposed by Harper for infractions of his "barbaric practices" law. Stuff that is already against the Criminal Code -- polygamy, forced marriage, etc. -- can be reported, which is code for: "If your neighbour is a Muslim, call the cops." Then there's the police state security bill, the citizenship-stripping bill, etc., etc.

Anything less than a clear Harper defeat and we'll be getting all this slapped back in our face. Four years of it and we'll be a sad case indeed. The world media's gaze throws into stark relief the failure of our own media (and pollsters and opposition parties) to challenge Harper on the fundamentals: his dictatorial ways and his contempt for democracy.

We've treated this campaign as a horserace between equivalent parties. It's no ordinary horserace, however, if one party is trying to rig the rules -- that is, the Harperist party has shown that it will corrupt the electoral process, the tax regimen, the parliamentary process and the rule of law itself if that's what it takes to win.

Thankfully, it seems to be not working. The 65-70 per cent of the electorate who want him out, divided among opposition parties, seem to be drifting to Justin Trudeau as the man of the hour, according to admittedly fickle polls. But there's more. The unprecedented crush of voters at the early polls seems to indicate that Harper's intent to suppress the vote to favour his party has backfired, likely to his detriment. And Trudeau has found the groove we usually associate with political breakthroughs as he gives barn-burning speeches to large rallies, contrasting "hope" and a positive path to Harper's fear-mongering and racially-tinted politics.

Two forces are worth noting. Harper's long-term plan was to shut out the "elites" -- academics, journalists, scientists, etc., who might know too much -- and cultivate the "common people" they once referred to as the "Tim Horton's crowd," people they figured were either distracted or ignorant of politics and thus susceptible to dog-whistle politics, or to being bought off with targeted tax breaks.

Despite the media's failure to properly nail Harper for his assault on the country's democratic fundamentals, a large swath of the "Tim Horton's crowd" seems to be getting the picture anyway. The sense that something is deeply wrong in public life can be understood instinctively without elaborate argument. My sense is that this is happening.

Also, Trudeau is wooing small-c conservatives. The conscientious ones are people without a political home. As even my barber says of the Harper party: "These guys aren't conservatives." They're in fact right-wing radicals. There's been a drift toward the exits ever since Harper swallowed the old Progressive Conservative party, with even former prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney standing outside the door. Over the past week, there's been a number of PC names across the country announcing their support for the Liberals. That's just the visible part. If there's a rush to the exits by conservatives disillusioned by Harperism on election day, it could be an important part of the outcome.

Conservatives who are sticking with Harper because he embodies their economic view of small government and low taxes are being suckered. Harper is not for "smaller government" -- he's for the destruction of government and the passage of its powers to large corporations along the lines of the extreme wing of the U.S. Republican Party.

Indeed, he may have done much of his dirty work in secret already. One of the more disturbing last-minute insights is from Kevin Page, the former parliamentary budget officer. He says any new government will likely find the public service a total wreck, with "services not kept intact" and "the process completely broken" as Harper "balanced" his budget by not spending departmental funds.

That makes getting Harper out all the more urgent. The job of repairing his damage, hopefully, starts on Tuesday.

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

Photo: Chris Yakimov/flickr

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