Part of me wishes Canadians would take a pass on the annual Auditor General’s report and part of me appreciates its value.

Each year the Auditor General tells the public how badly our federal government is doing with taxpayer money, an important means of political transparency and accountability that just happens to have a downside.

Politicians and journalists who pounce on this news simply reinforce the public perception — fanned by years of extreme conservative politics — that governments are inept, corrupt bureaucracies.

The downside is that it leads many Canadians to believe politicians aren’t worth voting for and government isn’t to be trusted.

That’s bad for democracy, it’s bad for our nation’s economic stability, and it’s bad for our health.

That said, this year’s Auditor General’s report has unearthed the astonishing news that our federal government has refused to approve a coordinated emergency health care response that’s been sitting there for six incredible years.

Canada did not learn a lesson from the SARS scare. It’s also not learning the lesson from the worldwide economic meltdown that has kept us mired in recession for a whole year with no clear end in sight.

Whether we’re talking H1N1 virus or a year-long economic recession, there is one common denominator here worth heeding: This is what happens when we elect politicians whose primary goal is to seek power in order to undermine the influence of government on public services which Canadians have long cherished. That has long been Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s goal.

He doesn’t talk about it now, while he’s still trying to gain a majority government, but Harper wants very much to change the nature of Canada as we know it.

Under his minority government, Harper has already clamped down on the free flow of information through mass media, created a reign of terror within the federal public service, cancelled a national child care program that would help keep people working at a time when we need all hands on deck, jacked up military spending to new heights, and embarrassed Canada on the international stage with his government’s denial strategy around climate change.

Now it appears the Harper government is bungling the nation’s current public health care risk with H1N1.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently released a report showing how the Harper government also bungled its economic stimulus program. Harper released funds too late in the game and massively under-invested, given the seriousness of the economic crisis.

It was just last fall that Harper’s Machiavellian political stunts threw Canada into a political crisis, an economic crisis, a national unity crisis, and a constitutional crisis.

But he’s nowhere near done.

A speech Harper gave in 1997, when he was vice president of the right-wing National Citizens Coalition, shows what our Prime Minister really thinks about Canada when the blue sweater comes off: he doesn’t like us.

Speaking to an American audience, he insulted our nation’s legacy of a strong social system: “Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it.”

He showed callous disregard for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who struggled to make the seven year long climb out of the early-1990s recession with this insult:

“In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don’t feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don’t feel bad about it themselves, as long as they’re receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.”

He warned Americans that Canada at the time was considering social changes that “would just horrify you” – such as embedding universal Medicare and women’s rights into the constitution.


So this is what happens when you get the phenomenon of self-loathing governments: An economic crisis that blows out of control. H1N1 virus vaccine fiascos that leave the vulnerable unprotected. Tax give-aways that empty government coffers, leaving Canadians unprepared for the financial turmoil created by health emergencies and year-long recessions.

The list goes on – in fact, the Auditor General is more than happy to itemize them in this year’s annual report.

In her role as Auditor General, Sheila Fraser has been known to bring down at least one federal government.

The jury is out on whether she can command a repeat performance.

There’s more – read the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ free online book on Stephen Harper’s first few years in office for the full story.

Trish Hennessy

Trish Hennessy

Trish Hennessy is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario office. Follow her on Twitter: @trishhennessy