“Don’t bother me with facts, son. I’ve already made up my mind.”
Foghorn Leghorn, the animated rooster, Warner Brothers cartoons.
And so spring election fever begins with a frenzy of Ignatieff attack ads, alternating with Canada Action Plan infotainment commercials, a hypnotic media campaign of character assassination and confusing, paternalistic benevolence, orchestrated by Harperland.
A 200-page Conservative playbook of how to obstruct parliament was leaked to the press by a National Post journalist in 2007, and online, polarized discussions currently rage about it and how much of an impact it has had these last few years. There are those who defend Harper at all cost, and those who are horrified by his one-horse-town despotism, and it seems the divide between the two sides is deepening.
These online forums will have to debate a new and very serious historical precedent — the Conservative Party may be the first party to be held in prima facie contempt of Parliament for obstructing a comprehensive review of their prison platform. Last Wednesday, they slammed down a 45-cm tome on the Speaker’s desk — an epic volume which prices 18 new crime bills at $631 million and 2,700 additional places in new prisons at $2.1 billion. This is estimated at only 55 per cent of the true cost of the tough-on-crime legislation according to Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget watchdog.
The cost of the other 45 per cent is flagged as sensitive in the Purple File, hidden away from the prying eyes of journalists under the Access to Information Act. The Conservatives in Britain would no doubt like to repeal their 21 crime bills introduced under Tony Blair — their cost far outweighs their societal value, even in the unequal “Big Society” they now call home.
When the RCMP opens this Purple File, designed to alert the ministers to potentially embarrassing requests made under the Access to Information Act, and in which media requests for Public Works projects are buried, perhaps many more Canadians will begin to question the militarization of Canada over supporting social infrastructure, and whether the Conservative Party strength lies in economic budgeting, as they maintain. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has made an “Alternative Federal Budget,” which is worth a close read, as it reflects the political will of the majority of the Canadians as indicated in online polls.
Sixty-five fighter jets, $2-billion for prisons, the $1.4 billion subsidy to oil, gas and coal companies, and an 18 to 15 per cent cut in corporate tax rate versus hospitals, schools, and environmental protection — the price tag alone of purchasing already outmoded F-35s at $29.3 billion is close to the cost of upgrading public infrastructure nationally. All of these costs will be added to the current deficit of $56 billion, a deficit incurred by Conservatives after the surplus $13 billion left by the Liberals in 2006. Upon forensic examination of the Purple File and the Playbook, wider electoral confidence in the transparency and economic of the Conservatives may finally be held in contempt of the electoral purse strings, if not the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As a hobby, I monitor online comments debating contentious political articles to see what the chattering classes are saying. Although, through a series of articles by George Monbiot, I am armed in advance with full knowledge of divisive “astroturfing” – the use of planted provocateurs paid for by the Conservative Party, and other rightwing parties, to provoke online fights — I have a hoot and a holler seeing the west, upper Canadians and the east duke it out, and the west reiterating their inalienable right to pollute by defending the tar sands.
Harper has admitted to paying a new media firm $50,000 a year to refute progressive remarks online, and the Conservatives have admitted to monitoring Facebook as well, no doubt to add directives to their Playbook. Harper has never pretended to represent any other constituents but those in the west, and oil, gas and coal companies. Just try to head democracy off at the pass, online western cowboys, left pundits are waiting.
It is also time to refute Harper’s callous insistence on March 15 that that a spring election should not be called by MPs, due to the fragility of the economy shown by the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear crisis in Japan. Japanese-Canadians deserve a formal apology from him for this remark.
The wild west of the G20 has not been resolved through a public inquiry, despite over 100,000 Canadians signing petitions and voicing their outrage on Facebook. Harper’s MPs have stonewalled this request repeatedly, no doubt following the guidelines of their Playbook to deflect, disrupt and filibuster parliamentary debate and due process. As pointed out by NDP MP Libby Davies, the Conservatives have created a dysfunctional parliament to prove their point that a minority government cannot govern, and support their quest for a majority. Online, in the streets, and in parliament, democracy is in peril.
Across the country there has been a statistical decline in crime rates since 1999, and there is no need for prison spaces, in which the annual cost of housing a prisoner in Canada can run anywhere from around $52,000 to $250,000 per person, depending on the level of security at the facility.
As a pacifist, and a proponent of non-violent resistance, I believe violence begets violence. As the G20 attracted the Black Bloc like metal filings to a magnet, and the government almost certainly trained agent provocateurs to burn police cars in order to justify the $1.3 billion price tag, high-level government corruption brings crime to the street as the division between the rich and the poor, and the corporate state and civil society, becomes a lightning rod for conflict.
During the G20, the police told protesters that “it was no longer Canada,” and given carte blanche. What resulted? Racist verbal attacks on protesters’ ethnicity, 40 people in cells designed for 15, separate corralling of gay men and lesbians into cells two-by-four feet, and incidents such as a young woman held down by her throat, in the back of a van, as she was manhandled by male officers.
When the mainstream media finally covered the G20 in the CBC documentary “You should have stayed home,” Gillian Findley’s central paradox and title implies that we need to do nothing but sit on our hands in front of the TV, watching our rights slip away into unmarked vans. Upon closer viewing, this Fifth Estate documentary was a fair and accurate accounting of the free rein given to the police to deal with the protesters by the government. Kicked off by the 233/10 five-meter Fence Rule, pushed through by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty at the last minute, these educated young protesters, well-versed in the vagaries of International Monetary Fund and World Bank tactics, were the first line in defense — they were canaries in the coal mine, and their harsh treatment was intended to be a warning signal for future political dissidents.
If many Canadians chose not to actively defend the G20 protesters, and our right to assembly as fundamental to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, perhaps an increasing number of Canadians will think that they should protest the gross abuse of taxpayers’ money. If our civil rights are intangible — mere abstractions of our Charter — perhaps the line-by-line accounting in these Purple Files will prompt widespread electoral outrage as the RCMP examines the self-assigned right of the Conservative government to deny the media’s and Parliamentary speaker Peter Milliken’s requests for full disclosure of the Purple Files for fiduciary accounting.
The militarization of Canada was evident during the G20, yet has been easily discounted by those who did not bear witness to a week-long state of martial law in downtown Toronto. It is these Canadians who should be entreated to join the discussion about democracy, the police state, and parliamentary due process as the Purple Files are made public. This polarization of online opinion should be bridged to account for economic facts, and democratic accountability, and to carefully reconsider the disruptive conduct of the Conservative Party, and its obstructive agenda, the likes of which has never been seen before in the House of Commons.
If you do not agree with the prime minister — and I believe that the thoughtful majority of Canadians will not as the Playbook is resurrected and the Purple Files are divulged — there will be places ready for dissidents in the new prisons, just as the temporary jail was constructed during the G20 to isolate and disempower young, law-abiding protesters. The increasingly aggressive Conservative policies for the militarization of Canada, complete overriding of parliamentary process, and erosion of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms will guarantee more Canadians will be targeted. And this week, if opposing parties do not contest the safeguarding of the prison platform in the Purple File, and analyze the Playbook play by play, they will fail their supporters and the Canadian parliamentary system.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those protesters who stood up against the G20, and were overwhelmingly found “not guilty” by the courts, and we will owe a similar debt to those who unveil the constitutional duplicity of the Conservative Party.