Prime Minister Stephen Harper in effigy at an anti-prorogue rally in Ottawa, Jan. 2010. Photo: Greg Pang/Flickr

The following is designed not to insult or ridicule the Harper Conservatives — it is to show accurately and honestly why the Tories shouldn’t run or represent Canada. Stephen Harper promised to “change the face of Canada” so drastically we wouldn’t recognize it. He has succeeded and Canadians must decide if that is really what they want.

Money mismanagement

• In 1993, Mulroney’s Conservatives chalked up a $38 billion deficit. By 2006, Martin’s Liberals turned this into a $16 billion surplus. Now, Harper has given us a $55-plus billion deficit.

• To raise funds, the Tories promoted the HST, which moves the tax burden from corporations to consumers, increasing the cost of essentials like food and heat. The Ontario government has admitted that this will cost citizens at least $500 a year per family.

• In 2011/12, Harper is introducing more corporate tax cuts which will cost $5.6 billion annually, creating a smaller revenue base for the country. On the other hand, Harper’s Income Trust “betrayal,” will result in a $2 billion a year tax “leakage.”

• Also, don’t forget the $75 billion bail-out package for banks with no closed tax loopholes or tightened regulations required. Harper’s Toronto G-20 Summit was the Austerity Summit where world leaders promised to chop their deficits in half by 2013. Because the Tories don’t have a majority, they can’t yet cut education funding and raise post-secondary school fees (students already have crippling debts) as in the U.K., but they have made it clear they will make major cuts if and when they can.


Fossil fuel fools

• Harper and Company earned a reputation for heavy-handed stonewalling during the UN Climate Change negotiations in Copenhagen. In Cancun, they lobbied against an extension of the Kyoto Accord — which they have continued to ignore in spite of the 2010 weather horrors, estimated to cost $220 billion globally.

• They also claim they can’t bring in cap-and-trade legislation without U.S. co-operation. They will go ahead with “equivalent” regulations if and when our neighbour does. Now that Obama is ready to cut emissions, we shall see.

• We can’t forget that the Reform — now Conservative — Party was connected to the Petroleum Club in Calgary. Harper intends to spend massively, expanding Alberta tar sands production — in spite of resulting CO2 emissions (100,000 tonnes daily), forest clearances the size of Florida, Athabaska River pollution, and toxic tailing ponds.

• Calgary-based Enbridge, responsible for the Michigan river oil spill last summer, wants to build the Western Gateway pipeline to bring tar sands oil to Canada’s west coast. One way to cut down on fuel use is to retrofit homes. Harper let the home renovation tax credit expire on Jan. 31, 2010.

• A report revealed that Environment Canada scientists are being muzzled on the subject of climate change. They have been prevented from attending conferences, their websites closed down, and the role of National Science Advisor dropped.

Tortured nation

• Over the crucial moral issue of torture, Harper has played what one observer called “political dodge ball.” When allegations that the government allowed the Afghan National Directorate of Security to torture war prisoners first went public, Harper called the governor-general on Dec. 30, 2009, and simply shut down Parliament for 22 days to avoid the controversy.

• Also, the contract of Peter Tinsley, chairman of the Military Police Complaints Commission, was not renewed when it expired in Dec. 2009. Tinsley says Harper’s refusal to extend his term, so he could finish investigating the alleged torture of detainees in Afghanistan contributed to a “chilling effect” on cabinet-appointed watchdogs.

• More stonewalling and what some saw as “contempt of Parliament” led to an extraordinary ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken, condemning the government for a breach of parliamentary privilege because it refused to release uncensored documents. Thanks to Harper’s manoeuvres, however, the torture issue is now lost in the complexities of an ad hoc parliamentary committee.

Weapons obsession

• The government is buying 65 “problem-plagued” F-35s stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin through an untendered contract worth $9-billion — an amount which excludes roughly $7 billion more in maintenance costs. That’s $16, or according to some sources $21 billion, of our tax dollars — the largest military procurement in Canada’s history. The auditor-general has warned that there could be cost overruns and delays.

• Alan Williams, former assistant deputy minister of defence for materiel, has testified that: “The procurement process is out of control and has degenerated into handouts for the chosen beneficiaries.”

• As for smaller weapons, the Tories pushed hard to end the long-gun registry, even calling pro-registry police a “cult.” Marty Cheliak, the RCMP chief superintendent and a strong proponent of the registry was suddenly replaced as head of the Canadian Firearms Program because the position was bilingual. Harper said the termination was a “staffing issue” and “not a political matter.”

• When an RCMP evaluation of the registry concluded that it was an “important tool for law enforcement,” operating efficiently and cost effectively, the government held up the evaluation’s release to the House of Commons, saying it was being translated.

• In related matters, RCMP morale is down since Harper appointed an abrasive William Elliott to head the force; the term for Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP was not renewed after he criticised the force.

Not smart on crime

• Crime rates are down and the population is aging, but the Harper government claims it must introduce tougher laws, incarcerate more Canadians, and spend $9 billion for more prisons — some of them American-style super-prisons — because of an increase in “unreported” crime.

• One-third of the 54 bills introduced by the Conservatives over the past several months are related to crime. The Parliamentary Budget Officer predicted a price tag of $7 billion to $10 billion for the cost of passing Bill C-25 alone, which eliminates the two-for-one credit for time served.

• A new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives think-tank says that harsher prison conditions, longer sentences, and more crowded prisons will increase the chance that criminals will re-offend. Already, prisoners have to wait too long for rehabilitation programs and are being crowded into cells contrary to United Nations standards.

• At the same time, six prison farms, one of Canada’s most effective rehabilitation programs, are being closed. Sister Helen Prejean, the U.S. anti-capital-punishment activist, warned about certain Tory members: “If they gain in ascendancy… you’d have a party in power that would put back the death penalty in a heartbeat.”

• While paying lip service for victims of crime, the Tories have cut the budget to Grants for the Victims of Crime Initiative by 41 per cent and Contributions for the Victims of Crime Initiative by 34 per cent.

International humiliation

• Canada wanted a seat on the UN Security Council, which would give it status, power, and influence, but it appears that the Harper government’s “I’m right you’re wrong” attitude alienated too many countries. It suffered what The Globe and Mail called “a stinging defeat” — which it then tried to blame on Michael Ignatieff.

• Canada was one of only four countries which voted against the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights when passed by the General Assembly in 2007. (That stance has since been reversed.)

• Harper has helped stop the UN from declaring asbestos a dangerous substance, and still promotes exports to poorer countries.

• Canada took a lead in preventing genetically modified seeds from being banned under the UN convention on Biological Diversity.

• Harper abandoned our internationally praised development partnership with eight of the poorest countries in Africa.

• Instead, he is focussing on Colombia — a militarized, right-wing country with government death squads.

• Harper’s comment that the vicious bombing of Lebanon in 2006 was a “measured” response and his unquestioning support of Israel has also raised questions.

• He has cut funding for UNRWA, the UN agency that provides aid, education, and other services to Palestinian refugees, and has opposed Iran on women’s issues while backing Saudi Arabia.

• Harper was also seen as disrespectful of the UN when he skipped out of a General Assembly meeting for a photo op at a Tim Horton’s donut store that had just opened in New York.

Big Brother

• Harper is a fan of philosopher Leo Strauss who believed an elite group should rule.

• The non-elected staff in the leader’s office controls tactics and strategies. To do this, the Prime Minister’s Office increased its taxpayer-paid funding by $1 million.

• Tory MPs, who should be speaking for their constituents, are muzzled. Harper’s central authority writes media releases and MPs’ often-aggressive statements and questions, laced with personal attacks, for the House. It also provides MPs with “talking points” on issues, so they won’t deviate from the party line.

• On a constituency level, unwanted Conservative candidates have complained of “smear” campaigns against them. Generally, those who don’t agree with the Harper way become victims of name-calling and what journalist Lawrence Martin calls “demagogic sloganeering.”

• CBC’s the Fifth Estate has revealed that 20 government departments are now involved in national “security,” along with CSIS and the RCMP.

‘I Make the Rules’

• Last spring, the Tories introduced a bill to stop refugees coming from certain countries. The bill gave Immigration Minister Jason Kenney the final say on who could enter Canada. This meant people were not “equal before the law.” Kenney would be the law.

• The bill did not go through, but the same principle of arbitrary ministerial discretion and inequality applies in Bill C-49, now before the House of Commons. In this case, the minister of public safety can declare any group of migrants coming to Canada a “smuggling incident” — allowing authorities to jail men, women, and children for a minimum of one year. Critics say this is against International Law and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

• Harper himself summed up the Tory attitude after being told that riding an ATV on a restricted airport runway was illegal, responding, “I make the rules.”

• Tom Flanagan, Harper’s former chief of staff and former campaign manager, a man who remains a mentor and long-time advisor, announced on CBC TV that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks should be “assassinated… Obama should put a contract out on him.” He also threatened a woman saying “Better be careful, we know where you live.”

Scandalous behaviour

• Former Public Works Minister Christian Paradis has denied knowing that a Montreal fundraiser he attended was organized by LM Sauve construction boss Paul Sauve and packed with industry heavyweights. Meanwhile, Sauve has told a parliamentary committee that the $140,000 he paid Conservative lobbyist Gilles Varin was probably distributed to various party officials.

• Sauve is convinced that’s why his company got the $9-million contract to renovate Parliament Hill’s West Block in 2008. “Because we paid, we received,” he said. The RCMP is investigating.

• The force has also been asked to investigate whether the Harper government illegally leaked cabinet confidential information concerning Taseko Mines — which may have led to insider trading of the company’s shares.

• As well, there was a taint connected to the fact that Harper dined with the head of Fox News in New York. Later, Harper’s former spokesman, Kory Teneycke, had to resign as political editor for Quebecor/Sun Media, which is setting up a “Fox News North,” after fraudulent names were added to a petition.

• There are fears that CRTC head Konrad von Finckenstein might be replaced by Quebecor’s Luc Lavoie, a Mulroneyite, compromising the commission’s independence.

Broken promises

• Prime Minister Harper campaigned on accountability and transparency. The Information Commissioner has found the Harper government the most secretive ever when it comes to Access to Information requests; one senior government aide was caught interfering with the process.

• There is an atmosphere of “trench warfare” and “disdain” as the government refuses to co-operate with parliamentary committees. Staff members, who should be accountable to the public, are no longer allowed to testify before them.

• Contrary to his position as an opponent of the unelected Senate, Harper used his new majority to recently stop a climate change bill passed by the elected majority in the House of Commons.

• Elections Canada is battling with a few former Tory candidates; police have raided their offices, over what are considered systematic attempts to hide national campaign expenses during the 2006 election.

Kathleen O’Hara has worked for the media, government, and non-profit groups. Her book, Lost and Found in London will be coming out this year. She is also a member of the Catch 22 Campaign, which is identifying ridings where the Harper Conservatives are most vulnerable in order to promote strategic voting.

Kathleen O'Hara

Kathleen O’Hara has been a print, radio and television journalist for 15 years. She worked as a producer for national programs, including “As It Happens” on CBC radio and “The...