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STEPHEN HARPER’S PURSUIT OF IGNORANCE

“All too often, we hear stories of veterans who are ignored or disrespected by government. What a shameful way to treat men and women who risked their lives to defend Canada. This shame will end with the election of a new government.” – Stephen Harper

“Tyrants have not yet discovered any chains that can fetter the mind. – Charles Caleb Colton

 Frank A. Pelaschuk

STEPHEN HARPER’S SEARCH FOR LOVE

No doubt, when he visited Israel for a week this month with his entourage of 208, the trip of a number of them funded by taxpayers, Harper must have thought he had indeed entered the promised land. He was not only warmly welcomed, embraced and loved upon arrival, he was embraced and loved even more lavishly when he spoke in the Israeli Knesset offering his unequivocal, stentorian support of the Jewish state. He lapped it all up, of course, in hopes, perhaps even believing, that this event and his reception might be sufficient to cause those at home to forget the Senate and other scandals. For a week at least, Harper could imagine himself a leader and take comfort in the knowledge he was widely loved – too bad it wasn’t by those at home.

The putative purpose of the trip was to promote commercial interests, which tie in neatly with Harper’s economic agenda, as well as peace and security. From the outset, however, it was clear the trip had more to do with the political fortunes of the conservative party than in improving Canada’s standing in the Middle East as honest broker. And while the trip did show Harper at his best and most shrill in his support of Israel, it was also most telling of his narrowness of vision and of the smallness and pettiness of his nature. Those who support his fixation on the economic agenda will be favourably disposed to Harper and believe the trip to have achieved some measure of success. Others will not be so generously inclined. This is a man, after all, who could not extend a gracious hand towards Canadians in the Arab community by including them in the entourage. And though this was ostensibly a trip to promote Canadian interests, the man who leads this nation is so small, so petty, so partisan, he could not bring himself to include members of the opposition parties; it was the folks who matter most to the fortunes of the conservatives, community and business cronies and friends with deep wallets who were invited as well as family members and conservative MPs and senators. It would be nice to know for how many, and for whom, taxpayers paid the tab and at what cost.

In reality, the trip to Israel was just another way for Harper to cut-and-run again from all his troubles; he had little doubt that his strong support of Israel would earn him glorious public adulation from the Jewish community; perhaps it would be enough to silence his critics or woo back those wavering supporters. It was also the perfect photo-op but not to be discussed, suggested, or even hinted at until conservative Mark Adler inadvertently blew it when, denied a chance to have his picture taken with Harper and other Jewish dignitaries at the Wailing Wall, he was recorded crassly grumbling, “It’s an election…this is a million dollar shot.” Hubris and ambition writ large. “It’s an election”…that about sums the totality of the true meaning of that sojourn for Harper and his gang. Later, Adler would say the media didn’t get the joke. Maybe not, but his voters did.

While many have justly praised Harper for his strong support of Israel, many others were puzzled and as justly disturbed by his failure to voice his own government’s concerns regarding Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land. According to our own Department of Foreign Affairs, Development and Trade, Canada sides with the UN in condemning the settlements. Even so, while in Israel, Harper had remained largely silent on this issue. As in so many other occasions, he had missed an opportunity to demonstrate not just leadership, but near statesmanship. But he’s a midget with a rather grandiose image of himself and his achievements. Instead, he barked, hectored, and wagged a finger brushing off opportunities to openly declare Canada’s position on the illegal settlements. Though he didn’t say it, the suggestion of criticism from others bordered on anti-Semitism. Said he to a question regarding the settlements: “Any attempt to have me, while present in the Middle East, single out the state of Israel for criticism, I will not do.” Why not? How deep and sincere is the friendship that cannot withstand scrutiny and criticism especially when scrutiny and criticism are called for?

But if Harper was hoping for an end to his troubles, with his Israeli trip and the six weeks away from Parliament for the winter break, how he must have suffered, perhaps disturbed to the point of nausea, upon learning about Mark Adler’s simple and single-minded goal of seizing the moment for a photo-op. Surely Harper could have done better. Did he, even if only for a trice, ever reconsider the size of the contingent and its makeup of friends, families, supporters, and moneyed backers? Did he even, if only for a trice, have doubts of the propriety of such a large, partisan gathering? Had he thought and reflected, even if only for a trice, he might have won some over had he displayed a bit, just a bit, of generosity and inclusiveness rather than adhering to shoddy partisan showiness aimed at garnering support at home with his tough talk and apparent trade gains? Generosity from such as Harper and his crew is such a rare commodity that it might have gone a long way towards redeeming the image so many have of him as niggardly, petty, and mean-spirited. But that is not Harper’s nature.

STEPHEN HARPER AND THE ETHICALLY CHALLENGED

Perhaps Harper had a hint that not all would be as hoped for even before he departed with his crew of conservative supporters, toadies, and freeloaders with news of Shelly Glover’s latest foray into challenging ethical boundaries. This is not new territory for Glover. She is the recently minted minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages who, along with James Bezan, had refused to submit a full and accurate account of expenses for the 2011 election campaign which led, Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada, to recommend to Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House, in May of 2013, that both MPs be suspended until they filed the completed forms.  Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House, in a partisan move that has, of late, the appearances of becoming routine, sat on it for two weeks allowing both MPs to file applications in the Manitoba Queen’s Bench seeking to have the decision set aside. Eventually Glover filed a report that satisfied Elections Canada. The amount of overspending disputed by Glover was $2,267. Shortly thereafter, she was promoted to her present position. Nice.

But, even more troublesome for Harper, and certainly for voters and taxpayers, is the matter of a little fundraiser in Glover’s Winnipeg riding reported by CTV News January 17th of this year. This was held at a private house party attended by Glover and supporters and members of the arts and cultural community who stood to benefit from any favourable decisions she made towards funding their various organizations. Glover’s presence made it a clear breach of conflict-of-interest rules, i.e. a breach of ethics. Glover, apparently surprised and unhappy to see the news team at the doorway, is overheard uttering a surprised, high-pitched whine, “What are they doing here?” offering by way of explanation, sounding much like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she’d only stopped by “briefly”. Outside, Glover told CTV News that the gathering was of long-time Tory friends, though the invitation obtained by CTV clearly shows the invitation was specific to members of the arts/cultural community. The next day, clearly hoping to repair any damage she may have incurred, Glover notified CTV News that she had returned the money raised during the event and had told her riding association to never do anything similar again. She also admitted that some in attendance did deal with her office and that she had, perhaps in hopes of forestalling criticism, written to the Ethics Commissioner of a possible (?) breach of ethics. Shelly Glover had been caught. While she may not agree, it is fortunate that CTV News was there that night. Even though the sum raised was paltry (estimated at $1700), the clear breach of ethics is far from trivial. People who attempt to cheat on the small cannot be, nor should be, trusted with the big things. And Glover has attempted such twice. Which is something the minister of economic development for the north, Leona Aglukkaq, might think about. Again, it was CTV News in a January 28, 2014 article reporting that she was in attendance at a fundraiser held in her honour. As CTV pointed out, those in attendance stand to gain from the decision her ministry makes. In fact, one of the attendees was “Nellie Cournoyea, the former premier of the Northwest Territories and now the chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which received more than $200,000 in funding from Aglukkaq’s department.” She too claims she had done nothing wrong, yet, learning that that CTV News had staked out the hotel where the event was held; she sneaked in through a side entrance.

Perhaps this is the new normal, and another unsurprising low, for the conservatives in Harper’s gang. The only concern I have is how many such illegal fundraising events went unnoticed and unreported.

The truth is, the Tory list of such breaches is long and offensive. Ranging from allegations of resorting to robocalls to subvert the electoral process, to smearing opponents, to Senate scandal and fraudulent expense claims, to stonewalling Kevin Page, the previous Parliamentary Officer, regarding the costs of the F-35s, to stonewalling the present PBO, Jean-Denis Frechette, about the true costs of the savage cuts to the civil service, including the loss of 19,000 jobs, to false claims for spa treatments (that’s conservative MP Eve Adams), to allegations of accepting illegal corporate donations (conservative ex-MP Peter Penashue), to a forged government document and claim for a $16 orange juice (if you guessed ex-MP Bev Oda, buy yourself that same drink), to allegations leading to charges yet to be proven of exceeding election spending and donation limits as well as filing false claims (that’s conservative Dean del Mastro), to…well, you get the picture.

For far too many conservatives, ethics and integrity, honesty and truth, transparency and openness are foreign, perhaps even indecent, concepts. Certainly they have little interest in practicing what they demanded of others when in opposition.

But what can we say of even the best of them in the conservative group, and they are very few, about whom there has not been a whiff of suspicion of scandal or wrongdoing, a man widely and highly regarded by all sides of the House, Chuck Strahl?

His recent resignation as head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) just weeks after it was disclosed that, while still on the payroll of the federal government as head of SIRC, he had, in December of 2013, registered as a lobbyist for Enbridge with the B.C. Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists. One of his duties in SIRC was to oversee CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which routinely spies on Canadians and critics of this government including those activist environmentalists whom conservative Joe Oliver labeled “radicals”. CSIS also solicits “friendly” foreign spy agencies to do so on their behalf (they return the favour by doing the same for other countries). Here was Chuck Strahl, Mr. Clean, legally collecting salaries from a Federal Government agency meant to oversee an agency, which may keep tabs on the critics of the very pipeline company he lobbies for. Smacks of conflict-of-interest to me. The law, however, allows for those holding public office to lobby governments provided they are outside of the Federal Government. It may be legal, ethically it’s dubious. It stinks. It may meet the letter of the law, but does it meet the spirit of the law of the lobbyists’ own code of conduct?

In resigning, Strahl maintained he had done nothing wrong. He’s right. Nevertheless, for some, myself included, there is more demanded than merely doing what one is “legally” permitted. There is the smell test. Strahl should have known better, he should have behaved better. In politics, perception can be everything.

As for the resignation, well, it was a little late and only after a public outcry. From Strahl, I actually expected more; I liked the man. But I should have known better.

Even so, I don’t believe he’s mean. Unlike Harper and the rest of the gang.

STEPHEN HARPER LOOKS FOR WAR – AND FINDS IT

To find out how mean, one has only to look at Chris Alexander, former parliamentary secretary and still bobblehead promoted to Citizen and Immigration. Canada has set out on the dubious path of reducing the amount of health care available to refugee claimants from so-called “safe” countries. These are nations which Harper and gang have deemed to have no record of human rights violations and, because “democratic”, to be unlikely to produce genuine refugees. This is an arbitrary and cruel decision shortsighted, wrong-headed and totally without merit. One needs only look towards Hungary and the Roma experience in which the Roma, a minority, have been routinely persecuted, beaten, and murdered. Those asylum seekers from Hungary and other countries with similar questionable track records when it comes to treating their minorities will now be fast tracked, declared bogus and deported because of the built in bias associated with the label “safe”. The numbers will not be large, but sufficient to feed the ignorance and fear of bigotry of those who oppose immigration. Instead of appealing to the best in the majority of us, Harper and his gang pander to the worse in the least of us, the fear and ignorance that allows for scapegoating and justifies the denial of health care unless their refugee claims are accepted, the denial of a fair hearing, the denial of protection merely because it has been decided no nation with whom Canada trades can possibly commit wrong against its own people: they are democratic countries, they are friends, they are us only not quite as good, just and fair as we Canadians. There cannot be refugees from “safe” countries; they must be bogus, out to bleed dry the generous good will of the Canadian people. This is what Harper means by “economic diplomacy”. This blind adherence to an economic ideology is cruel, unfair and unworkable. While refugees are waiting for the process to carry out, will we really deny treatment to those who need it?

Apparently yes. Let’s look at our veterans and how Harper treats them.

In previous posts, I have written about Harper’s systematic attacks against war veterans. In the October 9th post of last year, I wrote the following but with spelling corrected:

But Harper and gang have not finished with disabled veterans. They are planning to shut down nine Veterans’ Affairs offices across Canada for efficiencies and economic reasons. Unfortunately, this is certainly not something the veterans want or need. In fact, this appears to be an act of aggression fraught with hostility towards them. Now, many of them have over the years needed and developed personal relationships with experienced people who heard them out and knew their stories and understood how to work with them. All that support and trust will suddenly end for many veterans. For the personal contact, some will have to travel long distances to meet with strangers who may not know their stories or their needs. Too bad, says Harper’s gang. Julian Fantino dismisses those concerns saying veterans will receive better service. He says veterans can call by phone, go on the Internet, or drive to the nearest Services Canada outlet to have all their concerns met. You can see by this how much Harper and gang really respect those men and women. For many of these good people, it is the loss of the relationships that will hurt the most when these closures take effect. For some, face-to-face sessions are crucial and, not wishing to dismiss Service Canada employees, no doubt overburdened themselves by Harper cutbacks, how many of them are trained to deal with the needs of disabled veterans?

On January 28th, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino was to meet with several veterans regarding the closures of eight Veterans Affairs Offices slated for this week (one has already closed). Aware he might be late, he cancelled the meeting sending, three MPs in his stead. Then, just before they were to hold a late evening news conference, Fantino made an appearance. By then the veterans were clearly, and rightly, offended, if not downright irritated, by Fantino’s cavalier treatment of them and let him know in no uncertain terms. Apparently insulted when one of the vets had the temerity to upbraid him with a scolding finger for his spectacularly bad performance, Fantino left the room. If he was attempting to win friends, he failed miserably. In fact, his response to their concerns was much as it was last October, and just as bluntly cold. “The decision has been made. We have found alternate accommodations that we feel will adequately address veterans and their needs” (National Post, January 28th, 2014).

Fantino further reiterated the government position the veterans could seek assistance from any of the 600 services Canada offices across the country, they could go online or phone for assistance. Most Canadians, except conservatives MPs it appears, would recognize immediately that there is a problem with all three scenarios and poses definite challenges for suffering vets, especially those afflicted with severe physical and mental disabilities including PTSD. What would the training be for those working at Service Canada? Are veterans seeking and needing immediately and urgent attention expected to wait in line with other users seeking other services at these centres? How will that work? If vets resort to the telephone, how long are they expected to wait on hold when telephoning? What is an acceptable wait time for a person who is contemplating suicide or perhaps who may pose a threat to others? Ten minutes? Thirty? Forty-five minutes? Of course, vets could always use a computer. The fact that many of them may be too old to learn the skills, may be too damaged to use one even if they had the skills, or simply have no desire to use one, preferring, perhaps, to speak to a live, breathing professional, might pose a problem. One vet, at the news conference admitted to computer illiteracy. That was just one individual. He was the same vet who also regaled his audience with a story of contacting a Service Canada centre and being told he could expect to meet with someone in about 48 hours. He then asked what he should do if he was outside with a rope around his neck. There was a lengthy silence at the other end of the line. Finally the Service Canada representative gave the answer: “Call 911.” Now there’s a solution.

And what was the response to all this by the Harper gang? The vets, they suggested, were just dupes of the Public Service Alliance of Canada trying to preserve their jobs. That’s the Harper line; it’s an old one and it smacks of brutal condescension: the vets are too old, too feeble, too troublesome, too stupid, to have the ability to act, think, and fight on their own.

But no one’s laughing except, perhaps, those brutish conservatives who know, just know, they’ll have that balanced budget with even a huge surplus by 2015, just in time for the next election with promises of big, shiny goodies and more tax cuts. When that happens, all this will be forgotten. So they hope; so they believe.

Just think of this: In the last two months, at least eight desperate veterans committed suicide. How many more will be sacrificed to Harper’s agenda?

This is Harper’s great economic strategy. Sacrificing thousands of public service jobs, cutting services across the board, scapegoating veterans, unionists, immigrants and those on welfare. He has silenced our scientists, and the Department of Fisheries has closed seven research libraries across the country to centralize and digitalize materials containing what some have called the most comprehensive collections of data on fisheries and aquatic and nautical sciences. Unfortunately, some scientists expect much of this material to end in the scrap heap. An unidentified prominent research scientist, as reported in the The Tyee, said, “All that intellectual capital is now gone. It’s like a book burning. It’s the destruction of our cultural heritage.  It just makes us poorer as a nation,” (Andrew Nikforuk, December 9th, 2013, The Tyee). This is a move that seems clearly aimed at stifling any research that might conflict with the government’s own agenda regarding economic growth and development. This is a government so intent on achieving its goals of economic growth, balanced budget and tax cuts at all costs and any costs, that it is quite willing to have all of Canada race from the world of light to the darkness of ignorance and barbarism. Anything and anyone can, and will, be sacrificed. As if Canadians, particularly the vets, haven’t sacrificed, and tolerated, enough.

ONE STEPHEN HARPER QUOTE EVERYONE SHOULD KEEP IN MIND

If you can believe Harper in anything, perhaps it might be those words with which I began this post and which bears repeating: “All too often, we hear stories of veterans who are ignored or disrespected by government. What a shameful way to treat men and women who risked their lives to defend Canada. This shame will end with the election of a new government.”

Let’s take him at his word on this.

Harper is no hero. He is a small, petty, fixated individual with limited to no vision. A government without heart is just an insensate machine; it swallows people whole, grinds them to nothingness and then spits them out.

Remember the veterans next election. Remember the indignities and abuses they endured under Harper’s vicious governance.

Remember also those others who have had the rug pulled from under them by Harper and his gang. Think of those whom you may know who have fallen on hard times, who have lost their jobs and are now collecting unemployment checks and are now all looked upon as potential fraudsters. Think of all the homeless who may have died from hunger, cold, illness or from simple indifference and lack of care on our mean streets.

It is not all Harper’s fault, of course not. But he has made it worse. He has made it easier, acceptable, almost de rigueur, for conservative supporters to become just plain mean.

***

To the memory of the great Pete Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014) – Now there was a man.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine

About Frank A. Pelaschuk

Happily married to a great woman; moved to Ontario a few years ago from Richmond, BC. I am the author of two works of fiction, "Serpent in the Garden" and "Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories".

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