Seen on the Internet next to a picture of Conservative Stephen Harper: “From 1939 to 1945 we fought fascists, why should we vote for them?”
The Conservative Party of Canada only pretends to be conservative. rabble.ca parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg recently laid out a series of reasons why they are not part of the Canadian Conservative political family.
The Cons and their leader are not fascists either. In fascism, the economy — labour and capital — is subservient to the nationalist state. In Canada, as in most Western societies, the state is subservient to corporate capitalism.
The real fascists (Mussolini in Italy, the Nazi party in Germany, Franco in Spain, or Salazar in Portugal) killed their adversaries. Party leaders were dictators. Bent on wielding total power over their societies, they achieved it; in the case of Franco, ruling Spain for 36 years.
Harper exercises one-man rule, but only so long as his parliamentary caucus allows him to do it. An election could remove his parliamentary majority.
The crypto-fascist political parties in Europe and elsewhere in the world today are right-wing populists, flaunting anti-immigrant, rabid nationalist, anti-Muslim policies. The extreme-right parties have most Europeans worried, given some minor success at the ballot box. In Canada and the U.S., rabidly right-wing figures hold high office.
The Harper Cons occupy most of the right-wing populist political space. Nobody is trying to outflank them on the right, the way that the Reform party did the Progressive Conservatives.
The analysis of American right-wing populism by eminent political theorist William E. Connelly fits the Harper Conservatives. Connelly writes about “the angry energy” coming from “the evangelical/capitalist resonance machine.” For Connolly, neoliberals and evangelicals bring out the worst in each other, and intensify opposition to environmentalists and equality activists. In his review of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, Connolly suggests that evangelicals (Harper is one) cannot imagine changes to non-human nature occurring in a universe made by God.
Sheldon Wolin, a revered political scientist, referred to the United States as an inverted totalitarian state, one where citizens have given up believing government can help, and where the common good ceases to animate political life.
Stephen Harper scares the hell out of anybody who can reason. He carries on as tyrants have since the days when Aristotle identified the three forms of rule prevalent in Ancient Greece: rule by one (monarchy or tyranny), rule by some (aristocracy or oligarchy), rule by many (democracy).
Frances Russell recently reviewed two books that have documented the Conservative leader’s attack on parliamentary democracy. In the House of Commons, the Harper Cons get away with committing outrageous acts against common decency and intelligence. Gerry Nicholls, a prominent Harper supporter, says that it is how the game is played: if Harper became Mr. Nice his adversaries would re-double their attacks.
What Nicholls does not say is that Stephen Harper has brought media manipulation to a new level. The prime minister announced Bill C-51, anti-terrorism legislation, at a Conservative party event. No opposition around to question him. No reporters’ questions.
The prime minister has the media to relay his message no matter how seriously his actions contradict the workings of democracy. Bill C-51 amounts to the government breaking the supreme law of the land. Here is how the Canadian Bar Association describes the rule of law: “in a decent society it is unthinkable that government, or any officer of government, possesses arbitrary power over the person or the interests of the individual.”
In C-51, the “unthinkable” has now been adopted in principle by the House of Commons, including the establishment of a quasi-secret police. While the parliamentary committee hearings are being hijacked by Conservatives anxious to quell criticism, the media coverage of C-51 and the Canada-wide protests against it remains “balanced,” when saturation coverage of the consequences of over-riding the Constitution is what is required.
The Ottawa Citizen reported how the Cons ordered government departments to track all protests, keep the information secret, and share it with partners. This kind of arbitrary exercise of power would never stand up to outside examination by experts, but the Conservatives simply bypass constitutional procedures and do it anyway.
This Harper Cons would have us believe that justice is well served by vengeance. Legislation aptly described by a right-wing columnist as the “throw away the key act” was introduced to fight crime. This pre-dates the Ancient Greek ideal of dispassionate examination of public affairs by citizens bent on ending the war of all against all that prevailed when vengeance ruled.
Given the need to shake the electorate out of its antipathy to politics, portraying Canada’s Conservatives as fascists may seem appropriate. That advanced study in political science is required to know why they are not says a lot about Canada today.
Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.