I’m trying to summon up some human compassion for Canada’s health minister, Tony Clement, in the sense that I acknowledge him as an actual human. But as for compassion, the well is dry. Dust sifts through the air down there. Cicadas hop; the dry grass sings.

The man has publicly damned not just drug users but the doctors and nurses who support Vancouver’s safe drug injection site, a relatively cheap and effective clean-needles way to make life less bad.

What is he saying, that Staphylococcus aureus has a positive health outcome because junkies die faster? If junkies must have needles, let them harbour Clostridium tetani!This latest attack on an attempt to mitigate the market forces that kill hundreds of drug users in Vancouver each year is part of the Conservatives’ continuing efforts to make Canada follow the disastrous neo-conservative path that has destroyed the quality of American life.

Yes, that same sourly triumphant neo-con campaign that has made a once-great nation contemplate a sudden decline, its currency sinking, its military ventures emptying its coffers, its bridges and banks collapsing, its Big Food sending poison directly to the bowels, its citizens unlettered, its monster homes abandoned and its journalism a waste of time.

I keep imagining Stephen Harper standing in front of the mirror in the morning and reciting, Coué-like, “Every day, in every way, I get more and more Republican.”

Follow the wreckage

I’d get all biblical about the foolishness of Canada following the U.S. into disaster, but I can’t. It isn’t tragic; it’s just embarrassing.

The neo-cons had their sickly moment in the sun. Now they scuttle away by night. So why is Harper creeping after them, trying to recreate the American disaster in this country in 2008? It’s so last century.

Here are the signposts of disaster, copied from the Republicans:

1. The nationwide outbreak of listeriosis from meat from a Maple Leaf meat-packing plant is an event familiar to Americans.

Leaked documents reveal that the Harper government has been planning to copy the Americans on meat inspection, allowing the meat packers, rather than federal officials, to inspect their own operations. You can find it all in Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, the book that served as the Silent Spring of the America hamburger.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was neutered, industry took over and meat was being sent out contaminated with “fecal material, hair, insects, metal shavings, urine and vomit.” In 1993, more than 700 people were made sick by tainted Jack in the Box burgers, 200 people, mostly children, were hospitalized and two died.

By the way, Tony Clement was a senior minister (under Mike Harris) when the Walkerton E. coli outbreak occurred in 2000. Seven people died and 2,300 people became ill.

2. The demonization of abortion in the U.S. has been successful. If McCain wins, which he probably will, abortion will doubtless be banned. The Supreme Court of Canada has made that impossible here, so the Conservatives, along with their activist Christian allies, are using tactics learned from the southern U.S.

Alberta MP Ken Epp’s Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, has passed second reading in the House of Commons. Effectively, it makes the fetus a “person.”

Pro-life legislators did exactly the same in several U.S. states. I watched news footage of a poor Missouri woman who shot herself in the stomach being arrested for murdering her “child.” Even the cops taking her from her hospital bed straight to prison looked horrified by their task.

The Canadian Medical Association has condemned the bill. No wonder Tony Clement was mad at them. The fun begins.

Want more?

3. The Conservatives are deregulating cable companies and telecommunications in general. Bell, Telus and Rogers will soon be able to change their phone rates without prior regulatory approval. Didn’t deregulation work wonderfully in the American airline industry, a haven of public safety, pristine flight scheduling and contented workers.

Here in Canada, we have some of the highest cellphone costs in the world. We hate our cable companies, which bully us, but we have no alternative. Our television is dreadful. And increasing deregulation will make it worse. Haven’t we been through this, people?

4. Canada is now seeing political attacks on judges, including a recent complaint by the religious right against the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada for something she did not even do (vote to give the Order of Canada to Dr. Henry Morgentaler).

Harper wants candidates for the Supreme Court to be questioned by MPs. The wave has begun. Now, an Ontario NDP MPP has complained to the Judicial Council about a judge who made what turned out to be a dreadful decision in a child custody case. We have a procedure for when courts fail. It doesn’t involve politicians.

In the U.S., judges have increasingly become political pawns. We’re headed this way, too, and it’s repellent.

5. Ottawa’s recent cuts to book publishers, travel grants for writers, symphonies, dance troupes and museums are a huge blow to artists trying to reflect the country they live in. We have a small population with a government that has always cheese-pared the arts, but the anti-intellectualism of the Harper government is naked and new.

Don’t rite books, don’t reed them. That’s the American model: a poorly educated population trained to distrust the “elite” (people who can read road signs).

So Canadianish

6. The main responsibility of a government is to protect citizens from violent death (to me, that includes listeriosis). We do that with our gun registry; the U.S. government does the opposite by practically forcing guns on its citizens.

But it’s arguably an even greater responsibility to forecast, to look to the future for danger and advantage. No one else can perform this function. And here is where Ottawa continues to fail, as it has with preparing for climate change.

A leaked report concludes Ottawa is neglecting even to survey and assess Canada’s water. We need national forecasting of water availability, and that means mapping groundwater reserves and devising strategies for dealing with the consequences of falling water levels in the Great Lakes.

Weirdly, the U.S. government is doing an excellent job tracking its groundwater, especially the aquifers it shares with Canada. That’s because the U.S. drought has begun, and ours hasn’t yet. Why can’t we think ahead?

Changes are coming. With an American-style government, we are prepared for absolutely nothing. As the smart half of the U.S. rebels, why are we so tame, so timid, so Canadianish?

This Week

You likely won’t have heard of Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. The people he’s writing about don’t read; they’ve been hectored not to. And the people who do would wince at such a painful exposé of the rednecks of Winchester, Va., et al.

Bageant, a web columnist, a Michael Moore without the sentiment, moves back to his hometown after 30 years and tells us about the American underclass. By that, he means peasants. Just because it’s rude to call people “peasants” doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate. These people were made into Wal-Mart serfs. They are at the point where they don’t even think they deserve education, safety and health care. Read it and tremble for your grandchildren’s future. In fact, advise your kids not to have any.