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THE HARPER GANG: VILE ACTS BY VILE BODIES

Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light? – Maurice Freehill

It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favour of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for any public office. – H.L. Mencken

Frank A. Pelaschuk

PIERRE POILIEVRE: THE MINISTER FROM 1984

The government’s recent backtracking on the vicious, mislabelled Fair Elections Act offers little comfort for opponents of Bill C-23. After months of stonewalling and fighting tooth-and-nail to keep it as it was, “perfect” in Pierre Poilievre’s twisted Orwellian world, the calculatingly partisan Minister of Democratic Reform announced on Friday, April 25, the government would be willing to consider amendments. On the surface, that sounded good. The Ottawa Citizen in its April 28th editorial (A Better Fair Elections Act) was quick to praise the Harper crew saying, “the government wisely responded to criticism…” and “The ability to change to one’s mind is a sign of maturity and the government should get credit for it,” Why? What have I missed that the editors of the Citizen did not? To my mind, the Citizen was far too quick and far generous in its praise as well as far too forgiving of Poilievre and the rest of the gang who, in bringing forth this Bill in the first place, revealed themselves yet again as uncooperative, arrogant, intractable, untruthful, inane, loutish, incompetent, buffoonish, asinine, slanderous, and anti-democratic. Harper and his gang do not possess enough respect and decency for Parliament, Parliamentarians and the public to even offer pretence of a show of courtesy by consulting with the opposition regarding proposed changes to the Elections Act. That is extremely worrisome when one considers how expansive and significant the proposed changes are to the fundamental right of Canadians to vote; if allowed to stand as is, Bill C-23 would not only affect all voters, many of them negatively, it would also rig the game and entrench, simply by making it easier to do so, widespread cheating, not by voters, as Harper would have us believe, but by political parties, especially those with money.

But Poilievre, that partisan weasel, could not even bring himself to do from the start what was right and decent and honest. For almost three months, Poilievre, backed by the Harper gang, refused to consult with or listen to, the voices of opposition to his party’s updating of the Elections Act. For almost three months Poilievre, on behalf of his government, ignored the warnings and pleas of citizens, scholars, lawyers, and past and present Chief Electoral Officers that the Bill was bad and badly needed fixing if not scrapping altogether. This is the same government that for almost three months extensively and selectively quoted (and misquoted) from a report by Harry Neufeld, former B.C. Chief Electoral Officer, to bolster support for its allegations of voter fraud. According to Neufeld, the Tories were less than truthful in their interpretation of his report, cherry picking items out of context to frame their arguments. As Neufeld pointed out, there was no issue of voter fraud but, rather, concerns of Elections workers poorly trained to perform their duties properly. Poilievre and others in the Tory ranks, most notably Brad Butt ignored all this ploughing ahead with their game plan while they continued to misrepresent the report by Harry Neufeld. In fact, the only fraud perpetrated has not been by voters but by Harper’s gang. Not only did they misrepresent Harry Neufeld’s report, there was Conservative Brad Butt who stood in the House testifying before the cameras how he had witnessed with his own two beady eyes opposition campaign workers scooping up Voter Information cards discarded by apartment dwellers which were then turned over to others who would pass themselves off as the voters named on the cards. Butt, confirming the aptness of his name, even did a little bit of bad acting, demonstrating how the cards were discarded and picked up. The thing is, Brad Butt finally ‘fessed up: it never happened; was all a big, fat lie.

So why did he do that? Clearly it was to strengthen Poilievre’s suggestions of widespread voter fraud, which, so far, he has failed to support with numbers or evidence. Again, with this band of scoundrels, this is not surprising; in fact, it is predictable. Lying and misrepresentation appears to be the norm with these vile Conservative bodies, as routine as their habit of smearing those who oppose them. Look at how they treated Neufeld and his report. But, if unsurprising, if predictable, what should concern Canadians is that Poilievre, with the assist of loutish blowhard Dean del Mastro, himself now facing four charges for breaching the Elections Act, had, from the days when the robocalls began to be investigated, embarked in what appears to be a vindictive, vicious, personal vendetta against Elections Canada and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand. Of CEO Mayrand and his criticisms of Bill C-23, particularly regarding the move of the Commissioner of Canada Elections to the Department of Public Prosecutor, Poilievre had this to say in a recent appearance before a House of Commons committee defending his “Fair” Elections Act: “It is no surprise the CEO would like to remain in charge of the commissioner. He is fighting to retrain his power, making some incredible claims, and inventing some novel legal principles to do it” (Annie Bergeron-Oliver, iPolitics, April 8, 2014). He also went on to assert that Mayrand wanted a bigger budget and less accountability. In early March of this year, Poilievre had challenged Mayrand’s impartiality, accusing him of “wearing a team jersey”. These are incredible accusations for a sitting Member of Parliament, especially the Minister of Democratic Reform, to level against a member of a government agency charged with the role of government watchdog on behalf of the public. This is how one vile Minister of the Crown represents Canadians; he smears the reputations of others with impunity, without shame and without evidence. On what basis did Poilievre make these charges? None but pure bile and utter gall. What made it even more offensive was that Poilievre could not even disguise his contempt for Mayrand, Elections Canada and the public. He made it abundantly clear in the House that it did not matter what its advice, Elections Canada was answerable to Poilievre, not Poilievre to them. That is true; he is Mayrand’s boss, but this is no way to treat a public servant who has done no more than his job in looking after the best interests of Canadians. It is also true that Elections Canada and Poilievre both work for Canadians; when one body is charged with looking after my interest while another his political interests, I know whom I trust. The attack against Mayrand was deeply offensive, mean-spirited, and personal and appeared meant to attack his credibility and integrity. That is low, even for this particularly partisan and nasty member of Harper’s team. Unfortunately, such abuses are not unusual or unexpected from any member of Harper’s thuggish gang.

But if stonewalling, smearing others, and adopting that cloak of omniscient perfectibility for months were not bad enough, the conservatives in finally agreeing to concessions, could not even work up a pretence to generosity or fairness: the opposition would have only three days, from April 28 to April 30, to study and debate the amendments (numbers of which vary from 250 to 300) before the final vote May 1st. Three days. The government-loaded committee will determine the final look of the Bill, which, at its best, will have allowed opposition members of the committee only a cursory examination. Even as I write this, May 2, 2014, there has yet to be a result; apparently the deadline has shifted. Even if extended by a few days, the time-line to do a fair and complete assessment is still far too brief for that many proposed amendments. But this is Poilievre and the Harper gang at their sleazy worst. Democracy takes another beating.

As for credit for finally agreeing to some amendments regardless of how many or how substantial, if substantial? They will get none from me. Leave that to the Conservative Postmedia group. Rather, they deserve no credit but rather annihilation at the polls. They have made a mockery by rigging the game.

Doubtless, the Harper gang will agree to some suggestions by the opposition, perhaps make minor tweaks in others and, in still others, appear to be giving ground while still preserving what they desire. It will not be their integrity though, in truth, there was little of that to preserve. And whatever changes they do agree to, if any, from the opposition, they will no doubt loudly proclaim themselves true champions for democracy, the Party that listens. Of course, it will be a lie but the Conservatives do know their audience. Most don’t care, most are asleep, most will swallow any lie if repeated often enough.

HOLY MOLEY, AREN’T WE GOOD?

We know some of the changes the Conservatives are willing to make. The Voter Information Card is still gone. Vouching of a sort will be allowed, though those vouching and those being vouched for will be required to sign an oath with the person doing the vouching having also to offer proof of address. As the NDP critic Craig Scott suggests, this will still disenfranchise the homeless who have no address and are unlikely to find another to vouch for him, who does. It could also affect First Nations people, seniors, and students.

But the muzzling of the CEO remains in place, even though Poilievre claims he or she can say whatever they wish in interviews, releases or comments. However, he refuses to accommodate the opposition by putting it in ink. It stands as Poilievre initially outlined it: the CEO and Elections Canada cannot put out ads encouraging Canadians to vote. What is it that Harper and the gang fear? Who do they wish to exclude? Well, we know don’t we, those folks least likely to vote for them.

One good move is the elimination of the section that exempted from campaign expenses certain fundraising calls to donors who gave at least $20 in past years. Too, it extends to three years from one how long robocall companies must keep certain records. These are good moves. They have removed the right of incumbents to pick polling station supervisors. That is another good change, which will reduce the risk of biased outcomes should a dispute during voting or vote counts occur. However, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which was the investigative body of Elections Canada, will still be moved from Elections Canada, which reports to Parliament, to the Department of Public Prosecutors (DPP), which reports to the government. One can anticipate, particularly with this government, plenty of opportunity for political interference and abuse by the governing party. That’s not good. As well, the Harper gang still refuses to allow the Commissioner to compel witnesses to testify thereby greatly reducing the risk of those breaching the Elections Act being caught or punished. With little to no risk of punishment, candidates and political parties will feel emboldened to cheat. This, plus moving the Commissioner of Canada Elections to the DPP, appears likely to benefit some and not others. Members of governing regimes suspected of cheating might not be investigated as readily or as rigorously as those from opposition parties. With this Harper gang, that is almost a guaranteed certainty.

Too, it is unconscionable that parties will not have to provide documentation for electoral expenses. The Conservative Party, the richest political party in Canada, will clearly be the beneficiary of this missed opportunity for the Harper gang to do the right thing. As well, ant this too is unconscionable, Poilievre has in place another move to restrict the independence of Elections Canada: Elections Canada must now seek the approval of the Treasury Board before hiring staff or advisors. Just think of that. That’s the same Treasury Board whose president is Tony Clement most notable for his anti-unionism stance and for the 50 million dollar slush fund that went into his riding during the G-8 and G-20 Conferences in 2010.

Regardless of how Harper and gang spin it, and they have, this is a government that has not wavered in it’s idée fixe of perverting democracy for its own end of obtaining power, clinging to power and wielding power like a bludgeon as they have repeatedly with their majority. The final result of the Fair Elections Act may satisfy some; for most, it will just be window dressing to distract from the subversion of the electoral process. We must not forget there will be 30 new electoral ridings in place for the next election and they will have achieved the Conservative desired goal of skewing the election results. That is the intent and usually the outcome of gerrymandering. It is expected that, based on the outcome of the last election, the Conservatives will gain at least 22 more seats.

Amazingly, and I have commented on all this before, the Canadian public seems barely interested. Harper is still seen as the best leader on issues regarding the economy and jobs. The scandals, his poor judgements, his deceitfulness regarding the costs of the F-35 jets, his bungled handling of the Nigel Wright/Mike Duffy affair, the numerous prorogations of Parliament, the scandals of padding expense claims by MPs, his penchant for limiting debate on his many omnibus bills, his refusal to listen, his refusal to admit to mistakes, his smearing of opponents, the ease and willingness with which he throws aides and friends under buses, appear not to affect his standing at all. The public, by and large, either too stupid, too self-interested, or simply too apathetic, is not interested in holding him or his party accountable. Ethics, integrity, truth, honesty, a sense of shame, can be made the least of concerns for the public for the price of a few dollars saved in shiny promises. Harper and his gang know this; they have relied on this. As long as Harper offers voters cheap, shiny promises and plays on cheap, irrational fears and picks on easy targets, he knows they can be cheaply bought. One cannot but fear how much Harper and his thugs will be allowed to get away with before the public wakes up and finally says it’s had enough. The Fair Elections Act, as it stood as Poilievre first envisioned it, threatened to entrench the very behaviour that led Elections Canada to investigate the robocalls scandals, the false expense claims made by members of the Conservative Party, the attempts to subvert the electoral process. Perhaps the amendments finally settled on will be enough and good enough to spare Canadians that, but they cannot be enough to let Harper off the hook: Poilievre could, and should, have simply consulted with others before starting down this dirty road.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: FOREIGN WORKERS AND THE EXPLOITERS

I would like to briefly touch upon the scandals surrounding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). I believe it wrong as it is; it is unfair to Canadian workers and should be scrapped. This is Jason Kenney’s baby and he must carry the can for this. Businesses have abused a program that was meant to fill skilled job vacancies but somewhere along the way has shifted to offering jobs for fast food chains and other low income positions that guarantee foreign workers 40 hours work week while putting more and more Canadians, who are not given such guarantees, on the unemployment lines. Some unions claim that even today, the government has made secret deals with 230 companies to exempt them from paying foreign workers what they pay Canadians. This in spite of the public outrage last year upon learning foreign workers were allowed to be paid at 15% below what Canadians were. If true, this government’s efforts to help increase the profit margins of their business cronies by the displacement of Canadian workers, must be met with the severest of punishments: total destruction at the polls. Some of those who hire foreign workers claim that they work harder are less demanding, and more reliable. That is code for more pliant, more accommodating and more fearful; if there are abuses, these workers are least likely to complain. Perhaps if workers were paid more, were assured of full-time employment without split shifts, and assured they would still have their jobs after 14 and 28 years of loyal service, there might be less reason for Canadian workers to move on. Unfortunately, for businesses, loyalty is apparently a one-way street. When a government, especially one as pro-business as this regime, makes it easy for companies to abuse Canadian and foreign workers without any real penalty, it is hardly surprising they do so. It is presently estimated that there are over 600 thousand temporary foreign workers. They are not all highly skilled workers I am willing to bet. This is sheer exploitation and must be stopped. I do not believe Canadians are lazy, useless, and too proud to take low income jobs; I do believe they are too proud to allow themselves to be treated as menials or forced into a life time of servitude as part-time workers, undeserving of even a full-time job and a wage that allows them to pay rent and feed their families and enjoy the small pleasures of life.

Harper and his gang have abandoned Canadian workers sacrificing them on the altar of profit. Instead of investing in Canadians by setting up training and apprentice programs, this government encourages businesses to hire from outside. This leads to exploitation and depressed wages in the low-level, low-income fields.

There is clearly something wrong with the TFWP. Companies get away with abusing workers and the program and Jason Kenney and the Harper gang continue to vow that those who do so will pay a price. What price? Nothing appears to happen. Employers still abuse workers while Harper and this sleazy gang sing praises to themselves extolling their virtues as money managers and (part-time) job creators.

Part-time jobs are not careers. Depressed wages are not roads to satisfaction or to a better life. But this is the future of many honest, hardworking Canadians. And for this, the Harper gang is mostly to blame.

It’s not the foreign workers who are at fault. No, those at fault are the dishonest, any-thing-for-a-fast-buck exploiters and a government that bends the rules that allows for that exploitation. If the offenders involved were not governments or well-known restaurant chains but individuals named Bullneck Machinegun Alfonso or Lenny the Weasel they might be investigated for racketeering.

Canadians don’t want to work? That’s a lie. Big business knows that and so does this Harper regime. As for those caught abusing the system: boycott.

Scrap this program. In order to do that, we might first have to scrap Harper and his gang of vile anti-democratic bodies.

***

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

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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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