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STEPHEN HARPER RUNNING SCARED IN THE PLAYGROUND OF DRAGONS

I love my country too much to be a nationalist. – Albert Camus

All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers…. Each one owes infinitely more to the human race than to the particular country in which he was born. – Francois Fenelon

Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling? – Bertrand Russell

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on the human face – forever…. And remember that it is forever. – George Orwell

Frank A. Pelaschuk

THE PREY

As tragic as the deaths of the two soldiers were following Harper’s declaration of joining allies in the war against ISIL in Iraq, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent mowed down in a Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec parking lot and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo gunned down while guarding the National War Memorial on Parliament Hill, the events proved fortuitous for Harper and his gang. That is not to suggest Harper or any member of his party would have wished the deaths, I have no doubt they were as appalled and heartbroken as all Canadians by what happened. But they are also seasoned pros; opportunities are not to be ignored. As much as all of us would have it otherwise, nothing can be done to spare the soldiers or their families. With celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the First World War and Remembrance Day just a few weeks away, if any benefit could be gleaned from what happened, Harper and his gang would certainly prove themselves up to the task in running with it; they are not shy or tactful folks.

A few days after Harper had announced Canada’s entry into the war against ISIL in Iraq, he and his crew began to warn Canada had come under the sights of ISIL extremists. Their language was alarmist and demeanour somewhat smug as if to suggest the threats somehow validated them as members who had joined the big leagues even though our contribution, including Harper’s warmongering bluster, is modest and conditional. When in fact Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo were murdered, opponents to Harper might have been forgiven for wondering if he had been sitting on God’s lap; on the surface, his alarming claims of a possible terrorist offensive appeared to have been borne out. Or so Harper wanted us to immediately conclude, prepping those watching question period in the House October 20th. That morning, Canadians learned a hit-and-run driver had struck two soldiers, one of whom had died; there was a chase and, as the day wore on, we learned the driver had been shot and killed. In the House, Harper was asked by a Conservative backbencher if he had been aware of a possible terrorist attack. At the time, no one was fully apprised of what had happened. That did not deter Harper and the Conservatives who were eager to raise the spectre of terrorism and the possibility of a terrorist act on Canadian soil; they wanted to ensure Canadians had little doubt that what had happened had been a terrorist act though there was as of yet no evidence of terrorism. All that was known was a soldier had been killed and another injured. That was enough for the Conservatives. The police were guarded most of the day neither confirming nor denying the suggestion. But the seed had already been firmly planted. While Harper and his crew had been premature and irresponsible, the murder nevertheless provided Harper an opportunity that must have seemed heaven-sent and which he could exploit; he had no compunction in doing so. The second murder, that of Nathan Cirillo two days later, appeared to seal the deal: another soldier dead, shot twice. What more proof did Canadians need that terrorists had not only struck but struck at the very heart of our government! But had they? Were these acts really the product of terrorism and a terrorist movement or simply the criminal acts of two very troubled men operating on their own? Apparently, both had become bewitched by ISIL and its brutal, bloody atrocities committed in the name of Islam. That does not make them part of a terrorist group. The sad fact is the killers were misfits, loners, ill and unstable men who along the way began to believe society had failed and rejected them. Apparently they found in the ISIL blogs and videos something that appeared to answer their needs and feed their anger and justify their desire to retaliate. Whatever it was, the two killers, independently, responded violently and irrationally in retribution against society by targeting innocent Canadians who happened to be soldiers. They did not murder because of ideology or religious fervour but rather because they were deeply disturbed and deeply angry, perhaps seeing in the uniforms or in the Parliament buildings, the symbols of a society that had turned its back on them. Who can now really know? That doesn’t excuse them, but it may help explain and understand why they did what they did. Canadians should know this and understand it. But it is not this aspect with which Harper and his gang trouble themselves. As Harper once proudly admitted, Conservatives “…don’t practice sociology”. They prefer to concentrate on the fact that these two men had read from the Muslim scripture, were fascinated by ISIL, and had murdered two soldiers who had done them and no one harm. To extrapolate from this that they were terrorists and acting on behalf of an ideology is lazy thinking and allows for excusing this government’s failures and neglect of a large segment of society. For the Harper gang, examination of root causes of discontent, preventative action and rehabilitation are beside the point; it’s the punitive aspect of law and order they most care about (unless it’s one of their own). Moreover, this plays better for Harper with the public than acknowledgement that there might be a systemic failure in our society and governance that makes inevitable such terrible events. Who wishes to admit to apathy, to willful indifference, to active neglect, and to the misery of others, what right do they have to be so angry when, as the Conservatives are quick to tell us, we live in the greatest country in the world. We do, in one of the greatest countries at any rate, but how much greater without the Conservative boots on the necks of those less fortunate as they widen the gap between those who have and those who don’t. It’s easy to judge but what do we know of their stories? Shouldn’t we care enough to at least attempt to find out more before we condemn? I’ve heard it said that most of us are one pay cheque away from the street. With that in mind, hold back on your judgement of those less fortunate than you. You could as easily be among them.

THE TRAP

It is not surprising that Harper pounced with news of the murders: hadn’t he warned us?

That the murders and murderers were not linked, that there was no evidence of a concerted conspiracy was of any concern to Harper and those quick to accept what they had been prepped to accept. Two of our bravest had been murdered. But, once thrown out there as a possibility, it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle; if you were Harper, why would you wish to? The enemy was no longer over there but here, on Canadian soil murdering young, brave Canadians. How well it all played before the public; it was just the thing needed for a troubled, scandal plagued Conservative party lagging in the polls threatened by that upstart youngster, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Here, at last, was something Canadians could understand and rally around: Canada at war in Iraq, terrorists targeting Canada, terrorists killing two fine Canadian soldiers. That it happened days after Canada’s entry into the war in Iraq and with the centenary of the First World War and Remembrance Day just around the corner made it even better. So play up the threat, warn citizens of further possible attacks and while fanning the flames of fear, why not, while Canadians were in an angry, pliant mood, push for and rush through legislation expanding the powers of CSIS to eavesdrop, detain, and arrest without any clear defining of the terms of reference for doing so. And, just to make it more palatable, to make it that much easier for good, honest, decent citizens to step forward and report “suspicious” behaviour, perhaps the neighbour you don’t like for his anti-Harper comments, accusers, or informants if you prefer, will be protected, the accused unable to confront his accuser and the accuser granted immunity. This is not the first time Harper and his gang attempted to expand the powers of our spy agencies; previous attempts were in secrecy, legislation slipped into omnibus bills dealing with the budget without consultation of the public and its representatives in the opposition. Fortunately, a vigilant press and a vocal and scrupulous segment of society thwarted the government loudly exposing its dirty tricks and forcing it to retreat somewhat. But today it is evident the murders of soldiers and the Harper gang crying “terrorist” has made the public more amenable to the passing of new “anti-terrorist” laws even if it means more intrusive spying on Canadians and greater restriction in movement. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire may be how the thinking goes.

Canadians should reconsider this and do so very carefully. Such new, even more repressive measure should alarm all Canadians. It is too late to save Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent and it is too late to help their killers. But what of the future, the others like them out there? How do we protect our future victims? Do we continue to do as we always do, elect governments that simply ignore the ill and alienated? Do we turn a blind eye to the inequities of our society; do we just sweep them under a rug; do we continue to turn our backs on our own failings as members of a society to provide the understanding and care the marginalized need? Where will it end? What will be the determinants of who poses a threat? Do public expressions of dislike for police or loathing for political figures ignoring environmental ravages committed by corporations make one suspect? Do peaceful marchers decrying corporate greed and homelessness really signify would-be terrorists? What about the person who opposes Canada’s entry into the Iraqi fray? What is acceptable and what not in a nation that declares itself democratic and yet whose government rigs election laws that benefit a particular party and disenfranchises a particular segment of society? Must we embrace a government that asks its citizens to report any and all suspicious behaviour? Spying on neighbours and friends and family. What next? That has happened in the past, children denouncing teachers and parents, parents denouncing in-laws, churchgoers, atheists, and businessmen rivals. Humphrey Bogart once remarked of the witch-hunting House of Un-American Activities Committee, “They’ll nail anyone who ever scratched his ass during the National Anthem”. Is that the road we want to take? What is suspicious behaviour? Is it the person who is solitary, prefers his own company to yours? Perhaps it’s that homeless individual on your street haranguing passersby about the evils of society or claiming the CSIS is loaded with Martians? Or is it the student questioning the government’s indifference to poverty or the high cost of tuition? Perhaps it’s the environmentalist slamming Big Oil. What about the woman asking the government why it’s taken no action regarding the disappearances of aboriginal women? Experts claim the laws are already in place to combat terrorism. I believe that is true. They also claim what is needed is not more laws but a government spending more on resources to implement them. We have a government that spends freely on self-promotion but begrudges veterans the benefits to which they are entitled and considers those tossed on the wayside to be of little worth. Do we really believe Harper has set the right priority for Canadians?

The Harper gang is made up of a vicious, narrow, vindictive group of ideologues. It does not look for anything into the future except the next win. It is not Canada that concerns them but the free enterprise agenda: maximizing profits and keeping costs down. That they do not look beyond their self-interest and the interests of their cronies, that they refuse to consider a future without themselves at the helm, will ultimately lead to their destruction. Perhaps it’s just as well. If they did look into the future, would they like what they see? I think not. You can ignore people and their suffering for only so long. You can line the pockets of your friends and yourself and leave behind a wave of misery and broken humanity and believe yourself free, above it all. But you will not be free nor above it all. Too many people are being ignored, are being left behind, and tossed aside. Eventually, those ignored, spat upon, ridiculed and slapped down and neglected will have had enough of hunger and misery. John Steinbeck once asked, “Must the hunger become anger and the anger fury before anything will be done?” The Harper gang should think of that. Even the timid eventually fight back.

Terrorism may be a real threat in Canada. If not today, tomorrow. It need not be. Poverty in Canada is a greater threat than those like the two soldier killers. It has arrived long ago. It is real and entrenched. An astounding 21% of our children live in poverty. That is the real threat and that will be the real cause for fear tomorrow. Poverty can, and will, lead to anger and anger to fury.

We’ve all heard the Conservative mantra: Business creates wealth. Or the variant, which makes most people feel better because of the hope offered: Business creates jobs. Conservatives take it further. Corporate tax cuts attract even more business, which in turn creates more jobs, which, ergo, creates more wealth. That is the free-enterprising assertion, the Big Hook. But it’s an assertion not based on evidence. If tax cuts and deregulation really created jobs, Ireland would not have gone bankrupt a few years ago and no Canadian or American would be out of work. Tax cuts and tax grants. Conservatives ignore, wanting us to do the same, that tax concessions are almost always made under duress with threats of moving business elsewhere. Certainly the Conservatives are partially right: wealth is created; the profit margins of corporations always seem to grow. Unfortunately the jobs never materialize as promised and working stiffs today are only able to purchase as much as they did thirty or forty years ago. It’s the trickle theory working both ways: wealth flows up, piss rains down. Of course, the Conservatives might dispute that and continue to sing their lying song: Tax breaks equal jobs equal wealth. It’s their myth and we, idiots or hopeful fools that we are, buy it time and again without even a thought of examination. In previous posts, I’ve asked this: Are we that stupid? That crazy?

Even when they make a profit, free enterprising pigs squeal if the profit margin does not match or is less than last year’s. Immediately, this “loss” calls for “restructuring”. That is, throwing thousands of workers to the wolves. That’s what happened November 4th when Scotiabank announced it was restructuring to the tune of shedding itself of 1500 workers because of a bad investment; it still made record profits, just not enough.

So, who’s your friend? Big Business knows. Do you?

Even when things don’t quite work as promised and governments begin to take a hit from doubters, there’s always a bogeyman to call upon to distract the voting public. In the past, it was Communism. Today it’s terrorism. Harper and his gang are counting on us not swapping horses midstream during a time of crisis, real or of their making. But, just to make sure, just to be on the safe side, it might be wise to throw a few shiny baubles our way. So they do.

Between attending the funerals of Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent while continuing to stoke the fires of alarm and fan the spirit of hyper-nationalism (an extreme and unpleasant form of patriotism to which Canadians, thankfully, aren’t all that easily drawn) Harper and the gang made a “good news” announcement on October 30th. And it was all about the thing they really, really, really love: money.

THE BAIT

No doubt you have seen the images: Harper tieless, checked shirt open at the collar (indicative of openness, of being one of the “folks”), striding to and fro across the stage (thereby demonstrating a “take charge”, “can do” attitude) with a swagger (nothing wrong in showing a little braggadocio) before a crowd of Conservatives wearing pasted smiles and gazing in wide-eyed wonderment (all eager to applaud at cued moments thus confirming they were living, breathing dolls) while, to one side, a female “reporter” (representing the taxpayer funded faux “news” channel 24 Seven, which follows Harper everywhere and offers those who visit the government website, an endless supply of propaganda, fake “exclusives” and highly polished, if questionable, drivel), waits to ask softball questions. The news is momentous. Can an election be far behind? Well, yes, if Harper keeps to his own fixed election date of October 19, 2015. Harper had long ago embraced American-style politics with vile, mud-slinging ads; now he has gone the further step of starting the campaign a year early guaranteeing this to be one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history.

But, if you were watching him that day and if you were paying attention, you would have immediately understood two things: not only was this an election stump speech but also, if you were a single parent earning a modest income, if you were single, young, elderly, homeless, a student, ill, disabled, a veteran, there was absolutely nothing for you. It was all about Conservative values I guess, marriage, children, family values (that the NDP and Liberals don’t fully appreciate or condone), and healthy doses of hypocrisy. In fact, you would have immediately understood yourself to be one of the 85% of Canadian households (according to the C.D. Howe Institute) who would not benefit from the income splitting scheme Harper was proudly unveiling. True, the income splitting plan has been watered down because of loud opposition (including from the deceased Jim Flaherty, Harper’s finance minister) to its patent unfairness. But Flaherty’s gone and the plan, albeit not as Harper and gang envisioned, will go ahead. Immediately, those families with two incomes will get a $2000 tax credit. That leaves out all the rest and hits hardest the single parent. But not to worry. Lest you feel left out as a single parent, Harper also included news of a raise to child benefits.

Even with the increase in child benefits, Harper could not resist playing games. There is a catch. It is in how the Harper gang plans to implement the new benefits that most clearly reveal his contempt for voters, particularly those in the low-income bracket. In January of 2015, the child benefits will go up from $100 to $160 a month. However, and this might clue you into understanding what Harper and gang really think of you: households will not see the benefits until July, just three months before the next election. Then, every household with children will receive a cheque of $420 per child aged six to seventeen with a retroactive payment including the first six months (it makes a total of $720 taxable by year’s end). So, while you as a single parent with one child will receive a total of $720 a year, a two-income family will receive $2835. For 2015-216, the cost for the income splitting and child benefits will be $4.5 billion. Canadian families earning more than $140,000 will get the lion’s share of the benefits estimated at 43%. As a single parent, that must really make you feel good. Does that seem fair to you? Really? Now you know if you didn’t already, what Harper thinks of you. He and his gang believes your vote can be bought for $60 a month per child; just to be sure, he believes a one-time only lump sum, just before election of a gargantuan $420 per child will be enough for you to remember who to vote for when at the polls. Not only does he believe you can be easily bought, he also believes you to be stupid. Come next election, take the money then prove him wrong. It might help if, just before you cast your vote, you recall this Yiddish proverb: “God loves the poor but he helps the rich.” Conservatives do not even love the poor.

If you are a voter from a two-income family and stand to gain while 85% of Canadians do not, it might be time to think about what you value when you vote. Instead of looking to have your pockets lined with money you really will not miss when others are neglected, could you not take a little time to reflect about what your role in society? Is it, as Harper would have us all believe: everything is reducible to dollars, that those who have deserve more, that the poor deserve to be poor. We certainly do not need the spectre of terrorism raised because of the acts of two disturbed, angry individuals. Nor do we need more laws to quell dissent, to silence critics, to arouse suspicion and fear. Laws are already in place. We do not need a leader like Harper who boasts about his “accomplishments” when they are, in fact, inconsequential outweighed by the damage he has inflicted on the largest portion of society. When he first became prime minister, the country had a surplus of $13 billion. In a few years he squandered it, much of it in tax cuts and tax funded self-promotion touting his Economic Action Plan and non-existent job creation through non-existent programs. He has cut 35,000 public service jobs, over three thousand from the Canada Revenue Agency. If there is any surplus, it was on the backs of those civil servants and low-income earners. As a consequence, billion dollar corporations and millionaire pikers are allowed to avoid paying taxes by funneling money to off-shore accounts while Harper has the now politicized CRA hound left-wing charities. Harper has cut services to veterans and closed down offices serving veterans while commemorating historic military achievements and loudly declaring his respect for our men and women who have served this nation. He has ignored the environment, lectured others on fiscal restraint and has almost bankrupted his own nation with tax cuts and giveaways to corporations. He has conspired with Big Business to suppress low-income wages and offer Canadian jobs to temporary foreign workers. He talks loudly of Canada’s contributions on the world stage and yet had for years ignored and condemned the United Nations. He has been bombastic and belligerent in his triumphalism and boastful of his support of our military personnel and yet parsimonious where it counts. Too many military families are forced into bankruptcy or on the brink because they must sell homes at a loss when suddenly relocated to another post; but military brass are often granted huge moving allowances when just moving a few blocks in the same town. We have an air force that has been neglected, the C-18s old, tired, due for retirement in 2015. Many of our ships are also old, out-dated, and ill-equipped, in desperate need of repairs and replacement. He ramps up the fear when he talks of terrorism but our military and police are wanting, their budgets slashed. Recently, the leaked pentagon document reviewed that Canada may purchase four F-35 jets. When Harper ran for the last election, he talked about buying 65 such jets. Originally he said the cost would be $9 billion. He lied on that. When challenged on that figure by Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Harper regime waged a smear campaign against him. Harper was re-elected with Canadians never learning the true costs of what those purchases would be. Figures have varied from $45 billion to $125 billion. Apparently, without fanfare, Harper set aside any plans to purchase the 65 jets with the exception of the four leaked by the Pentagon.

And because Harper has begun his campaign so far ahead of the projected date, voters might do well to remember and think of the following. It was Harper who appointed disgraced Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, and Pamela Wallin to the senate; they are the high-flyers who padded living and travel expenses. Duffy apparently was confused which of his homes was his principal residence. He also secretly accepted a $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright, Harper’s Chief of Staff, to repay the fraudulent claims. Conservative members of the Internal Economy Committee in the Senate altered the Deloitte audit to give Duffy a free pass for the transgressions. In April of 2015, he will be facing the courts. Perhaps, to forestall any bad news emerging from the trial, the Conservatives may call the election early. If that does occur, voters should ask why.

Voters should also remember another Conservative who also believed she was entitled and who was twice forced to repay expense claims fraudulently made. Bev Oda was finally forced to resign because of public outrage over a $16 glass of orange juice. Nor should voters forget Peter Penashue who Harper called the “best MP Labrador ever had”, who also was forced to resign for accepting illegal corporate campaign contributions. Too, voters should be reminded the Conservative Party pleaded guilty of breaking election laws; they paid a fine of $52,000 thus saving themselves the embarrassment (if capable of such) of high level members facing prosecution. We have Shelly Glover and James Bezan who fought Elections Canada regarding overspending during the 2011 campaign. Glover finally submitted a full campaign expense report. She was promoted to a ministry. Early this year, Glover made the news again when attending a fundraising event in her riding where the guests were those who stood to gain from decisions made by her department. She later refunded the money, again no consequences for the minister who appears to have a penchant for ethical lapses. Voters should also be mindful of Michael Sono, the young Conservative staffer thrown to the wolves and facing jail time for his role in the robocalls scandal. And of course, no one should forget Dean del Mastro, who along with another nasty partisan, Pierre Poilievre, smeared Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand and Elections Canada for having the effrontery to investigate allegations of Conservative involvement in the robocalls scandal. Allegations later confirmed. Del Mastro was found guilty of three counts of voter fraud and overspending. He maintains his innocence but just hours before he was to be expelled as a member of parliament, he resigned his seat thereby saving his pension. And, of course, we have the aforementioned Pierre Poilievre, the minster and architect of the so-called Fair Elections Act, which allows the Conservatives to hold an advantage come next election by promising to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters and restrict the powers of Elections Canada to investigate voter fraud.

This is a party rife with bad people and bad behaviour.

When will you have had enough?

It is time Canadians refuse to accept Harper’s version of voters as easily led and bought, as too dumb and too self-interested and greedy. Let him know that you cannot be easily bought, that you do care about honesty, integrity and good governance. Do not let him convince you that the world out there is all menace and only he can save you from the bogeyman. It’s no truer than the myth that giving tax breaks to the wealthy creates jobs. The bogeyman does exist. It is Stephen Harper and the Conservative party.

The deaths of Vincent and Cirillo were tragic enough. But it does no honour to their memory to exploit their deaths by fomenting and xenophobia. Because a murderous, barbaric group of zealots in the Middle East running under the banner of ISIL have hijacked and perverted the teachings of the Qur’an, because some young Canadians have succumbed to ISIL’s vile lure, it is irresponsible, immoral, and dangerous to encourage public suspicion, fear and misunderstanding of Muslims. We must not succumb to panic and fear.

Instead, Canadians should concentrate on the rot in our own society and reject a government that refuses to excise it. Yes, there are enemies out there. But the greatest threat comes from what we refuse to acknowledge. Fomenting fear and mistrust to justify increased surveillance of its own citizens is hardly the work of a responsible, thoughtful, regime that respects democracy and nurtures its citizens.

For this regime, democracy and sensibility to the needs of the disadvantaged and troubled are ancillary considerations, distractions best left for another time and for another regime. Nothing must interfere with the agenda of boosting the economy – of the wealthy at least – and getting re-elected.

One day, almost certainly not in my lifetime, Canadians will have had enough of the kind of governance to which we have been subjected since Canada became a nation. We cannot tolerate the same game of cutting taxes, ignoring our infrastructure, of scapegoating unions and public servants and abandoning veterans and their families. We are a better people than Harper would have us be. It’s time Canadians really think about riding itself of this rotten crew. Going back to the Liberals is not the answer. For our whole history we have opted only for the two, Conservatives and Liberals. The game of simply batting the ball to and fro between two cheaters is boring. Canada needs something new and fresh. It needs a change. Set aside your fears, prejudices and doubts. It’s not a question of what can we lose, but rather, what we may gain.

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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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They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty not safety. Benjamin Franklin

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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.

One response

  1. I fear Harper has fallen completely under America’s view of the new order. That is not a good thing. The national debt is rising unchecked. War is always a great excuse to spend. Still believe America was looking for weapons of mass destruction?

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