The growing mobilization against Harper: Not your ordinary revolution

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Death of Evidence protest on Parliament Hill. (Photo: Council of Canadians)

Scientists. Doctors. Nuclear engineers. Academics. Researchers. Stephen Harper has a big problem.

He has ticked them all off. And they are not suffering their grievances or concerns for informed, fact-based public policy and decision-making, the environment, the health of Canada's most vulnerable citizens and the safety of all of us in silence.

No. Instead they are protesting, marching, disrupting government news conferences. They are mobilizing.

Last week, hundreds of scientists marched on Parliament Hill, condemning the Harper government's cuts to science and environmental programs and regulations or what they described as "the death of evidence."

Their website notes that the only specific evidence "Mr. Harper wants the public to know about is that which supports his political objectives and ideology. That’s not science, that's propaganda.”

Doctors, not your usual demonstrators, have continued to protest cuts to Canada's refugee health care program by interrupting news conferences and confronting federal cabinet members.

One of those doctors protesting last week was Dr. Philip Berger, chief of family medicine at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. Dr. Berger was reported as saying that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has cut health care for almost all categories of refugees, including medication for those who suffer heart attacks, or pregnant women. Dr. Berger said Conservatives should expect the actions by doctors to continue until the cuts are reversed.

Folks, this is not your ordinary revolution.

There were indications that Mr. Harper was indiscriminate with his agenda for the country last year when his government received unprecedented backlash (and from across the political spectrum) over the end of the mandatory, long-form census.

Academics. Public policy experts. Economists. Provincial governments. Almost anyone with a brain opposed the end of the mandatory long-form census, citing the loss of important data. Data needed for informed public policy decisions. All to no avail.

This is no surprise given how much this government has held facts and science in such contempt. In fact, not only are the facts dismissed, but the government is now purging the very programs and people who helped government with informed decision-making.

There is a growing list of Canadians who are denouncing the direction Prime Minister Stephen Harper is taking the country. It's not just unions, federal workers, or progressive civil society organizations raising the alarm.

Rather the list of those discontent, unhappy, horrified, saddened, appalled, mobilized into action is growing in size and diversity. Like doctors and scientists.

Even seniors, many of whom have historically supported the Conservatives, are questioning the government's actions especially since it decided to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security to 67.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull, the former president of the Canadian Medical Association, in a thoughtful column last week for The Ottawa Citizen, shared his growing concern for the nation.

With the planned cuts to OAS, refugee health care and employment insurance, to name a few, Dr. Turnbull said he now feared that "our collective legacy will be that of a lesser nation with an absence of strong, unifying core values." Dr. Turnbull, reflecting on the legacy we will leave future generations, wrote: "I realize that my good fortune is a product of the vision and sacrifice of those who came before. It was their legacy to us. I can only hope that we, as the current custodians of our collective identity, have the vision, courage and leadership to make those who will follow us proud of our enduring legacy to them."

Dr. Turnbull is not alone in his anxieties. In fact, the polls tell us that the vast majority of Canadians, including 84 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, reject the Harper government.

Some pundits say this is merely a hangover from 2008, when Premier Danny Williams led the ABC campaign. Those who say this under-estimate Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. They have also failed to understand the core values that hold the people of our province together. They are very similar to the values Dr. Turnbull referred to in his eloquent lament for our nation. Values like caring and sharing, compassion, fairness and equity. The very values that are under attack today.

But this is a prime minister and a government who have mobilized Canadians to take action, to protest, march and speak out. Canadians who would not normally do so. Canadians who care about the country, who care about how we treat the most vulnerable among us: the poor, the elderly. Who care about facts.

Last week, Canada's premiers will met in Halifax. Perhaps one of their biggest challenges is how, or if, the premiers as a collective can mobilize against Mr. Harper in some fashion.

Until now, Mr. Harper has, for the most part, ignored premiers and provinces. But the provinces have power. The premiers just need to figure out how they want to use it and whether they can agree among themselves how best to do so. This won't be easy, but it is not impossible. It will require courage and leadership and an understanding that Canada is truly great when we are more than the sum of our parts.

It's time for the premiers to start fighting back. And when they do, Canadians, the vast majority of us, will be with them.


Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.

An earlier version of this article was published in The Telegram and it is reprinted here with permission. 

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