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STEPHEN HARPER AND THE SHAMELESS CONSERVATIVE ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY

 

“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.” – Oscar Wilde

“After all, we have all eternity in which to despair.” – Enrique Vila-Matas

 Frank A. Pelaschuk

HARPER AND THE ART OF PETTY PARTISANSHIP

To really gain some appreciation of how shameless is Harper and his regime, just consider this: out of the 60,000 Diamond Jubilee medals handed out to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne, Tory hacks, partners, and supporters, including two anti-abortionist extremists who spent time in jail for their illegal picketing of abortion clinics, and Jennie Byrne, Conservative Campaign manager, as well as Lauren Harper, Stephen Harper’s wife, were among the recipients.

While even among Conservatives there may be worthy individuals whose contributions and achievements have been significant, there is something indecorous about a regime distributing these trophies to members of its own family: it stinks and is suspect, appearing to be more reward for services rendered on behalf of Harper’s Tory Party than for services and achievements in volunteerism, charitable works or contributions to the Sciences or Arts and Culture. Awarding medals to party loyalists, friends, and spouses, for no other reason than they are party loyalists, friends, and spouses, diminishes and taints in the most offensive way the honours given those who truly deserve them.

It is apparent that Harper and gang are willing to debase almost anything for purely partisan purposes. For example, we have recently learned that the Harper gang has determined that Canada must finally recognize veterans who served in the Second World War in Bomber Command operations in Europe. Now that is good news for those few remaining survivors if a little late after over seventy years of being ignored. Unfortunately, the new veterans’ minister, Julian Fantino, had determined that some of those very veterans being honoured, now in their late eighties and nineties, would have to wait a bit longer to receive their medals. Incredibly, the reason for this delay had to do with scheduling conflicts that would interfere with this government’s ability to exploit this to the max in photo ops! Fortunately, and not for the first time in matters involving veterans, the government and Fantino beat a hasty retreat after a public backlash of shock and anger. This is the same government of thugs that had clawed back the disability pensions of veterans, the same government led by Stephen Harper who had once said, “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.” Well, for Harper, those were just words as we now know. That claw back was an act that was despicable and indefensible. Nonetheless, he did say something that could become true and bears repeating: This shame will end with the election of a new government.

Let’s take him at his word.

HARPER & CREW: THE SHAMELESS BARBARIANS

Now Harper and his crew, whatever I might think of them, are not dummies. It is difficult to imagine that anyone in that party with a shred of self-respect might not be troubled by the optics of such blatant partisan largesse. Not a bit of it with this misbegotten group.

Over the years, Harper’s Conservatives have demonstrated an absence of a moral compass; with their absolute majority they are like untutored children who neither respect themselves or others enough to not undervalue or to not dismiss such simple constructs that make for good citizenship and sound governance: ethics, integrity, honesty, openness, transparency, fairness. Untutored, undeveloped, petty, mean-spirited, they are also sly and full of tricks; though outnumbered, they are the schoolyard bullies protected by a flawed electoral system that allows them to torment, threaten and abuse with a ruthlessness and shamelessness that suggests religious zealotry. Only Harper and his crew can save this nation and by God they’ll do it regardless of who opposes or questions the need for salvation.

The Conservatives have their hardcore band of supporters and they have their majority. That is enough – for them.

I suspect they seldom, if ever, are troubled by self-doubts or pause to reflect on some of what they do. If you have ever watched Power and Politics over the past year, you have seen the likes of insufferable Pierre Poilievre, Candice Bergen, Chris Alexander, Shelly Glover, and Kellie Leitch mislead, obfuscate, and point fingers rather than deviate from the script of the day to respond honestly and openly to direct questions and you know, just by watching them that, when it comes to the Conservative message, they have never had a moment of doubt, have never felt a need to reflect on how they come across: they are true believers and, as such, shameless in their adherence to the Party line. And it is their apparent inability to question, to doubt, to experience a sense of shame that most troubles me about these Tory dogmatists.

A developed sense of shame is one of many characteristics that elevate man from his fellow creatures. To know shame requires a conscience, which allows us to recognize and experience feelings of unease, embarrassment and guilt with a readiness to atone. Unfortunately, far too many of us, and that includes those in politics, are incapable of experiencing embarrassment. When threats of exposure or when actual exposure takes place eliciting much public hand wringing and loud mea culpas, and we see examples of such in the news almost daily, what is often witnessed is not true remorse, not genuine signs of shame, but rather grief that one has been found out and fear of what comes next. However, for the shameless, as in the instance of Harper appointee Senator Pamela Wallin who recently repaid well over a hundred thousand for expense claims to which she was not entitled, there is no apology, no admission of wrongdoing, not even fear, but a clear display of grief, not for the taxpayers who were rocked and ripped off by members of the Senate, but for herself. In fact, this once much admired and respected journalist has tastelessly opted to play the role of victim. Here is part of her statement as excepted in the Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 14, 2013:

“I wish to make it clear. I was not treated fairly by the Deloitte review, which was not conducted in accordance with generally accepted accounting principle, nor have I been treated fairly by the Senate Committee. Evidence that casts doubt on the correctness of the amounts owing was either ignored or disregarded during the review.

Unfortunately, the Senate succumbed to a ‘lynch mob’ mentality. There was no regard to procedural or substantive fairness. I am disappointed and angry about the way in which this matter was handled, and any implication that I behaved dishonestly.”

Poor Pamela. Apparently she knows all about generally accepted accounting principles and yet somehow fell victim of the system. Well, you have to give her credit for chutzpah if nothing else.

It would be refreshing if, just once, someone in Harper’s coterie of sanctimonious hypocrites would just stand up, man up, and freely admit they had defrauded, lied to, cheated, and abused taxpayers: perhaps one of those Harper appointed Senators or one of those ex-ministers forced to resign for padding expense accounts or accepting corporate donations while campaigning; perhaps someone like Vic Toews who accused opponents to omnibus bills of “siding with pedophiles”; maybe Joe Oliver who called environmentalists “radicals”, or those members of the Conservative Party who attempted to subvert Democracy with robocalls and directing voters to non-existent polling stations or those who sought to skirt the rules regarding election campaigning with “in-out” schemes or who doctored campaign expense reports before handing them in to Elections Canada and now hold ministerial posts. But that is wishful thinking, for we have seen how Harper rewards those MPs who act contrary to the party line or wishes: they are dumped, thrown under that ruthless Conservative bus.

Even when it comes to investigating allegations of voter suppression, the Conservatives manage to imbue the process with a stench of rottenness. Why, for example, was the Conservative Party lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, in attendance at the Elections Canada hearings of witnesses into this issue? That this has only come out months after the fact raises serious questions about the independence of the hearing and of Elections Canada. Certainly there is a suggestion of intimidation, particularly since one of the witnesses was Michael Sona, the young staffer so cold-bloodedly discarded by Harper and the Conservative gang of thugs for his reputed involvement in this matter. To believe the Harper gang, this bright, capable but very young man was the mastermind of the plot to subvert the electoral process.

Do the right thing? Harper’s Conservatives? It will not happen, not voluntarily, and certainly not when there is no potential for political and/or personal gain. With this group, respect for the allure of power and all its corruptive promises are more enticing than the value of a good name. For politicians, especially of this stripe, the first natural instinct seems to be to evade, to deny, to lie, to distort, to point fingers, and, when all else fails, to cut and run. When such, as Harper and gang, do not value themselves, imagine how little they value those whom they represent.

However, even if any one of their member did resort to self-abnegation, to public mea culpas and grovelling admissions of guilt with pleas for understanding and forgiveness for “mistakes” (they are always mistakes, aren’t they?), such exhibitions would appear merely self-serving and unseemly and ring hollow. How sincere can any apology be after whatever offence is exposed by whatever means? Still, some try; sometimes it works; people buy into it.

But what can one do with the shameless, those who claim victimhood, who believe that repaying what they were not entitled to in the first place is more than sufficient punishment and that, in doing so, however reluctantly, they have earned redemption if not the mantle of virtue? Perhaps all we can do is be awed at the magnitude of such extraordinary hubris.

HARPER AND THE ETHICALLY CHALLENGED

I began with questioning how the Diamond Jubilee Medals were handed out. This may seem a paltry issue to some, but it does illustrate what is symptomatic of the partisan rot that has infected this regime.

It is one thing to have members of the Senate and House who rip off taxpayers by making fraudulent expense and housing claims whether by “mistake” or with deliberation. And it is another thing for this government to shamelessly self-promote every day with its Canada Economic Action Plan ads to the tune of over $300 thousand, which are more about promoting Harper and his crew than about job creation. In fact, some of the Canadian taxpayer money went into advertising Tory programs and grants that don’t even exist. Probably most disheartening, at least from the Tory perspective, is the knowledge that this expenditure of funds has proven an absolute waste; that ads have flopped as Tory propaganda. No one is looking at them.

And if, for some, my pointing out some of the partisan nature of the Diamond Jubilee Medal distribution and the $300 thousand plus in self-promotion comes across as churlish, a curious focus on the relatively paltry, they would do well to recall what happened to MP Bev Oda. She was more than a minister who had, or had a staffer, forge a government document and yet had managed to keep Harper’s trust and support; she was also a repeat offender when it came to padding expense claims amounting to thousands of dollars and then being forced to repay them. Most revealing, it was only after public outrage for claiming a $16 glass of orange juice that Oda was finally forced to resign. Sometimes, it’s the seemingly small things that can trip you. Perhaps from this episode there is a lesson to be drawn: If you want to get away with something, go big; it appears that, for the Canadian public at least, there’s something chintzy and in your face about that overpriced orange juice that made the whole thing unbearable.

But there are other things that were not so trivial. There was Peter Penashue forced to resign for accepting corporate donations during his election campaign. Of him, Harper said, “This is the best Member of Parliament Labrador has ever had.” There was sanctimonious Dean Del Mastro, the loud, bullying Conservative defender in the House against those robocalls questions who has suddenly fallen silent due to troubles of his own with allegations of campaign irregularities. And we have Christian Paradis, still in cabinet, still supported by Harper in spite of several allegations of ethical breaches including political interference and spending a weekend with lobbyists at a retreat. There are more from others, Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin in the Senate with fraudulent expense claims, Tory senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen doctoring the Deloitte report on Duffy, Nigel Wright in the PMO, now gone, writing a $90 thousand cheque, and Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu facing allegations of attempting to obtain greater job benefits for his girlfriend and having to repay $900 for “mistakenly” claiming housing expenses to which he was unentitled. Harper threw his support behind Boisvenu pointing out that he was a “tireless supporter of the victims of crime.” While it is true that Boisvenu has suffered terribly with a daughter murdered and another killed in a road accident and deserves our sympathy, it does not entitle him a free pass on the allegations against him.

When accumulated, these and other breaches present an extremely disturbing picture of Harper and gang’s high tolerance for breaches of ethics. They are clearly untroubled by them, their concerns no doubt on loftier pursuits like ramming through the Keystone XL pipeline and worrying about the economy and fulfilling the promise to get rid of the debt just in time for the next election. It is astounding the number of “mistakes” Conservatives make in money matters and even more astounding that the public swallows that swill of them as fiscally responsible. I still want to know from the president of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement of the $50 million slush fund, what happened to the missing $3.1 billion from the treasury. If anything, these “mistakes” should lay to rest the myth of Conservatives, as they keep reminding us, as inherently superior fiscal managers.

HARPER’S TWISTED VIEW OF DEMOCRACY

But even all that pales to what should really offend Canadians. Harper and his gang pose a real threat to Canadian Democracy.

It is a truism that citizens of any nation can only be assured of a free society if there is a free press and an open, honest, and transparent government accountable to its people. Five years ago, Harper and thugs set out to restrict if not destroy the Access to Information database. In the process, his has become the most secretive, manipulative, paranoid, and ethically challenged regime in Canadian history. Canadians have difficulty in getting answers from anyone in government. Canadian civil servants and scientists have been muzzled under threat of losing their jobs and the previous Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, was stonewalled at every turn when trying to obtain documents regarding government expenditures and projections.

Access to Information is, as it should be, the hallmark of a free, open society. This is what people are willing to die for the world over. They do not sacrifice themselves for the right to vote, but for the promise carried in that right to vote. A vote in a dictatorship means nothing if the end result is the same old same old: the same old dictator, the same old secrecy, the same old abuses of human rights, the same old subversion of the electoral process. Citizens and journalists have a right, if not a duty, to be informed and to hold their governments accountable; that means governments, in turn, have a duty to be accessible, open, and honest to the press and its citizens in the full knowledge that they, these governments, will, and must, be held accountable. Except in the interests of national security (yes, there are exceptions even in a free society), and these exceptions must be rare, almost non-existent, a nation’s citizens and press must never be denied access to any, any, information pertaining to its governance. Governments do not have the right to keep from its citizens the true costs, for example, of government procurements. Governments do not have a right, to slip in legislation without informing its citizens and opposition members and allowing for debate. Yet Harper and thugs, notably Peter MacKay, then Minister of Defence, kept lying about the real costs of the F-35s during its last campaign. And Harper and his thugs created massive omnibus bills, which were rammed into law in which information and debate was limited and legislation passed without either the opposition or Canadians knowing what they were. This is a government that does not listen to its own citizens. Don’t believe it? Let’s take one example. The majority of Canadians supported the long gun registry. Even police chiefs across the nation supported it. Harper and thugs, however, preferred to hear and listen to special interests groups who make up much of the hard core base that supports the Conservative party. Again, there are more examples. Just look around, read the papers, look back. And remember.

When a government scapegoats members of society, as Harper and gang have, that government undermines all of society. When a government smears, spies on, and questions the patriotism of opponents, as Harper and gang have, that government undermines Democracy and poses a real threat to that society.

By its own admission, this government’s priorities have everything to do with the economy and jobs but little to do with better working conditions, raising the minimum wage, and improving the lot and well being of the poorest and meanest amongst us. This is the government that has consistently attacked workers and yet has gone out of its way to give every tax break, every benefit of doubt possible to big business including the hiring of temporary foreign workers for less pay and allowing, even encouraging, companies to ship jobs overseas. How do these measures better the lot of working Canadians and how do they improve the economy? Harper does not care about the health of the economy of individuals but rather the health and welfare of the economy of big business. Never forget that.

Look at Harper and gang’s efforts (at times extremely offensive in the form of Joe Oliver) on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline that may create many jobs but only for shortterm while certainly offering long-term gain for a very, very few. Theirs is the plundering Capitalist mentality of Al Capp’s General Bullmoose: What’s good for General Bullmoose is good everybody. It ain’t true, folks.

But for Harper and gang, Capitalism always trumps Democracy.

HARPER CUTS AND RUNS – AGAIN

By the time Parliament resumes, October 16th, Harper will have made just five appearances in the House over a period of six months. That is an absolute disgrace for a leader of any nation. After the spring session and over the summer, he has moved, like the sneak and snake he is, to prorogue Parliament for the third time. As in the past, it was to avoid answering questions and to rebuild his party’s fortunes. This is the regime that has worked tirelessly on behalf of Keystone XL and yet cannot bring itself to work on the business of governing Canada too fixated on its own problems than on the health and welfare of the nation.

H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.” Sadly, Harper gives credence to that sentiment. We can change that by heeding the words of Ralph Nader: “There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.”

Amen.

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

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