Harper's lousy, pre-election summer: A review

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Stephen Harper at the World Economic Forum. Photo: World Economic Forum/Flickr

After having his way with Canadians and our political system for four-plus years, cracks have begun to appear in Stephen Harper's carefully constructed tower of power. His minority government, elected by just one in five potential voters, is looking, well, pregnable. In other words, democracy -- that too-long-hijacked concept -- is starting to happen once again.

Yes, the Conservative power tower, which once loomed solidly over Canada, apparently invulnerable, and its often-arrogant inhabitants, have been rocked more than once recently. The structure is showing so many fault lines, it's difficult to know where to begin itemizing them -- but I'd love to try.

Here in Kingston, Ontario, 24 citizens were arrested Sunday and Monday for attempting to prevent the government from destroying our two local prison farms. Since a majority of Canadians, according to The Globe and Mail, support these successful rehabilitation programs, I'm sure I could hear a loud cracking sound in Harper's power tower as people here were being bullied and incarcerated.

Related to that in a way was the announcement of a G20 class-action lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board and the attorney-general of Canada on behalf of other Canadians bullied and incarcerated -- which promises to keep Harper's summit of human and civil rights abuses in the spotlight. The suit comes while most Canadians still recall with disgust the government's profligate spending -- more than $1 billion on security and a "fake lake" at the summit, a secret five-metre law meant to keep protesters away from the security fence (a law that later proved to be non-existent), and the largest mass arrest in the country's history.

At the same time, the military "trial" of Omar Khadr has begun, and Canada is sure to become even better known as the only western country which hasn't repatriated its Guantanamo-held citizen. At the same time as trials are going on in The Hague over the abuse of child soldiers, the federal government supports the prosecution of a Canadian national who is one such victim. The freeing of Khadr's older brother by an Ontario Court of Justice judge because Abdullah Khadr's human rights were abused in a "shocking" manner was also a blow to the tower. Do I hear more cracking sounds?

Again on the prison theme -- an obsession with the tower dwellers -- was Stockwell Day's silly statement about the increase in "unreported crime" as the Tories' excuse to expand the number of cells across Canada by 2,700 at a cost of billions of taxpayers' dollars. Harper's new incarceration obsession is proving a hard cell to taxpayers and supporters of civil liberties (and is bound to chip away at the tower's facade).

The long-form census abolition has also been a critical disaster for the tower of power ideologues. More than 300 citizens' groups, businesses, and provinces have spoken out against that issue. The federal court has just announced that it will hear a francophone group's arguments for an injunction against the cut as soon as possible. But Harper -- Mr. Jail-Expansion -- insists he doesn't want to imprison Canadians who don't fill out the form.

Recently, internationally respected economist and former chief statistician at Statistics Canada, Dr. Sylvia Ostry, told the Couchiching Summer Conference on public affairs that the whole idea was "ridiculous" and "shocking." Tory fortifications were already shaken by the fact that StatsCan chief statistician Munir Sheikh had already exhibited enough guts and principles to resign rather than being compromised by the issue -- and the government. Industry Minister Tony Clement's appearance before a parliamentary committee defending the cut looked shabby in comparison. He has since been accused of lying about the consultation process by Bob Rae.

No wonder the prime minister hid inside his increasingly faulty tower for most of the summer (witnesses report that he didn't look tanned when he emerged). He continues to duck the media -- ineffectual and right-wing though many of them are. At his recent caucus meeting -- the location of which was top secret even the day before, he had little to brag about other than keeping Karla Homolka away from a pardon and successfully entertaining international leaders, including the Queen. Small mercies.

I'm sure I also detected a weakening in the tower's structure with Stockwell Day's weakening of affirmative action policies. This, of course, came in the wake of the Tories' G20 refusal to support abortion as a tool of maternal health, funding cuts for women's groups across the country, and that awful Tory senator, Nancy Ruth, who told activists to "shut the fuck up."

A rise in the rate of unemployment must also be shaking the foundations of the tower. No wonder the Tories are admitting that recovery from the recession is still "fragile." I found it very imaginative that Harper convinced G20 leaders to cut their deficits, after he has increased Canada's radically in what was obviously a ploy to buy Action Plan votes. The fact that Canadians have not taken the bait must be causing real frustration.

And there is ousted cabinet minister Helena Guergis, who recently launched not-so-veiled threats at her former fellow-tower types after being cleared of allegations of criminal wrongdoing. "I know that I'm not being 100 per cent complimentary, but I think you know I could say a heck of a lot more. If I were inclined to be that kind of person, I could be on the attack, I really could."

Is the tower built on quicksand?

Added to this, we've had the WikiLeaks fiasco, as tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO documents went public on-line. One crucial piece of previously unheard of -- and possibly covered-up -- information was that four Canadian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan by an American missile in 2006. At first, those in the tower refused to comment (were they shaken?), but finally spoke up offering a simple denial that our soldiers were killed by our main ally.

An aide to Defence Minister Peter McKay stated: "At all times the Canadian Forces have been open and forthright with the families of our fallen soldiers and the Canadian public about the circumstances relating to death in Afghanistan." But such pronouncements from the damaged tower are sounding more and more hollow.

There was also the leak that the intelligence service of Canada's ally Pakistan has been working with the Taliban. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon insisted that the government has been totally transparent regarding the war in Afghanistan, declaring from the tower: "We haven't misled the Canadian public in any way, shape or form."

Speaking of things Wiki, a spokesperson for the Defence Department admitted recently that computers in its research agency were used to tamper with the Wikipedia entry about the government's decision to spend a ridiculous $18 billion on new fighter jets. In an act of what Wikipedia called "vandalism," criticism of the purchase was removed and glowing praise by Michael Ignatieff added. It's unbelievable -- or desperate -- what the tower people will do these days!

More damage came with the unprecedented exposure of senior RCMP officers' serious complaints against William Elliott, the civilian commissioner appointed by Harper himself. The government managed to smooth over the controversy somewhat with an independent "workplace assessment" -- which, typically, won't be made public.

The problem is that they chose Reid Morden to do the smoothing -- the former CSIS director who defended the erasing of more than 150 wiretap tapes relating to suspects in the Air India bombing.

In their narrowing, paranoid world where statistics are manipulated or hidden and false information is planted, the tower was beginning to look more like a Dutch dike with lots of fingers plugging various holes.

For me, the first crack of any import, appeared with the courage of Richard Colvin, Canada's second-highest ranking diplomat in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. His November 2009 allegation that detainees handed over by the Canadian Forces to Afghan interrogators had probably been tortured -- since this was standard operating procedure -- frightened the tower crowd so much they cancelled parliament (again).

But in early 2010, Harper's fortress in the land of unaccountability was weakening. Proroguing wasn't popular -- and they haven't recovered from their drop in polling results. Later, when the detainee issue was brought back to the House of Commons, Speaker Peter Milliken did the country a great service by ruling that MPs had a right to see pertinent evidence regarding torture allegations. A big cracking sound must have echoed through Ottawa.

Did anyone else find Harper's recent mini-cabinet shuffle -- described by one reporter as a "semi-annual event" -- rather odd? It was supposedly precipitated by Government House Leader Jay Hill's decision not to run in the next election -- but Harper insists there isn't going to be an election very soon.

It did, however, give Harper the chance to put partisan pit bull John Baird, disliked by many, in the House Leader position. Obviously, the tower dwellers are going on the offensive when parliament is reconvened - backs to the cracked walls.

Of course, the Tories, locked ever more securely in their lofty leaning tower, are saying that their low poll numbers are a reflection of Canadian apathy in the summer. After the prison farm destruction, I, for one, am going to make these seasonal dog days last much, much longer. We have come closer than any time in recent history to one-man rule. It's time to evict the supreme tower dweller and let the whole edifice come crashing down!

Kathleen O'Hara is a journalist who has worked in television, radio, and print. Her book Lost and Found in London will be out this fall. 

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