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KELLIE LEITCH AND STEVEN BLANEY: BOTTOM FEEDERS AND THE POLITICS OF DIVISION, PART TWO

Populism is folkish, patriotism is not. One can be a patriot and a cosmopolitan. But a populist is inevitably a nationalist of sorts. Patriotism, too, is less racist than is populism. A patriot will not exclude a person of another nationality from the community where they have lived side by side and whom he has known for many years, but a populist will always remain suspicious of someone who does not seem to belong to his tribe. – John Lukacs

 

There is a limit to the success of conservative populism and the exploitation of “little guy” or “silent majority” rhetoric, and it is very often reached because of the emaciated, corrupted personalities of the demagogues themselves. – Christopher Hitchens

Frank Pelaschuk

Part One, of course, began when Stephen Harper called the last election. His was an era of governance in a league of its own when it came to trolls, bottom feeders and sewer rats. A few of them, but not enough, were turfed out with the last election. Among those was Chris Alexander, the Conservative minister of immigration who, perhaps suffering from the pressures of office, began to show signs of a increased brittleness of character over time occasioning exhibited by unbecoming outbursts of impatience, partisanship, meanness, and anger before finally becoming unhinged, most notably when pressed by Carol Off host of CBC’s As It Happens June 11, 2014, with this question: “What has happened to the 200 government-sponsored refugees from Syria that you’ve committed to bringing into Canada?” Rather than responding, as he should have, the furious Alexander hung up on Off and the radio audience. For many, this was exceedingly strange behaviour from one who had earned a respected reputation for his many years in the Canadian Foreign Service and as Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

Later, in October 1, 2015, during one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history, just days before the vote was cast, Alexander stood shoulder to shoulder with Conservative MP Kellie Leitch in Ajax, Ontario, to announce that the Harper gang would create an RCMP task force to enforce the mouthful Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act pushed through by the Conservatives. Further, appearing to almost salivate with anticipation by the prospect, they announced the Conservatives would also create a special snitch line to assist the RCMP to stem the massive wave of Barbaric Cultural Practices perpetrated by – well, we all know who. Evidently Harper and gang feared that 911 emergency lines would be overwhelmed by reports from vigilant Canadians once they were made aware of the extent and the dangers posed by those immigrants lurking behind closed doors. Conservatives had their bogeyman and they weren’t about to let it go unnoticed.

Perhaps it is indicative of the company they keep that gave impetus for the need of the legislation but the only barbaric practices I am aware of are those practiced by politicians of the ilk of Leitch, Alexander and the rest of the Harper gang for whom no dirty trick was too dirty or too vile to not be employed whether forcing through legislation or while running for office. Not only were the Conservatives eager to pander to the worst in us with innuendo and by exploiting our ignorance and fears, they were the very instruments fomenting the ugly spectre of racial and religious intolerance while, at the same time, suggesting a morally superior worldview possessed by Canadians, particularly Conservative Canadians who apparently love Canada more than I do.

YOU WANT TEARS? I’LL GIVE YOU TEARS

In April of 2016, the election over, the Liberals victorious with a massive majority and the Conservatives replacing the NDP as official opposition, Kellie Leitch appeared on CBC’s Power and Politics offering what appeared to be a brave attempt to shed a tear while voicing regret for her role in the snitch line debacle. Her words and demeanour struck me as sincere and warm as the love Donald Trump holds for ordinary blue collar working stiffs and, apparently, for women. If those watching believed it bad theatre and the only things authentic Leitch’s phoniness and hypocrisy, their suspicions were validated when she launched her Conservative leadership bid October 15th with the hallmark of her campaign: she would toughen up the screening process by ensuring that all immigrants interviewed (again we know to whom she refers, don’t we?) harboured “anti-Canadian values”. Now this may appeal to the dunces who live in perpetual fear, hatred and are proud of their ignorance, but the proposal is impractical and unworkable as well as vile. It would not only delay the immigration process but, surprise, the interviewee, particularly with something to hide, can simply lie.

So what values are we talking about? What would Leitch accept and not accept? Clearly in a celebratory mood over the Trump victory, she proudly reaffirmed her “platform” during the first candidate debate for the leadership. With the exception of Steven Blaney, another leadership aspirant and of the same stamp as Trump and Leitch, other candidates vying for the same position quickly disavowed Leitch’s proposal as impractical, unworkable and just plain wrong. It doesn’t matter. She pushes on as she did in the second debate November 13, mouthing similar lines employed by Trump talking about “elites” in politics and the media. On that day, following the debate, she abruptly left without taking questions from the audience as scheduled to attend a family crisis from the day before (a series of alarms triggered by a faulty system). Her campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, the man responsible for the success of the vile Rob Ford, made this observation, “This is how the left operates and we know that” (National Post, Nov. 14, 2016). Do we? I have questions regarding that event myself but it made good play and gave Leitch more publicity. I felt I had seen this movie before. That movie happened when Trump was briefly ushered off stage because of a perceived threat. As an audience member attempted to pull out an anti-Trump banner, someone hollered, “Gun!” The brave but foolish protester was beaten for his efforts. If this is all she and her manager have to offer in the way of originality and a platform, she will almost certainly capture the attention of trolls, the imbeciles who derive great pleasure in scapegoating others, who point fingers (as did Kouvalis), who whine about being “victims”, who likely may even believe her an “outsider”, and who see biases in every opinion not shared by them. Everyone’s out to get him or her, the media has rigged the game and the Muslim threat is pervasive in Canada. Such as these is fodder for Kellie Leitch and Steven Blaney; having had many years of practice with the Harper team they are quite willing to roll in the filth of blame, harassment and just plain meanness. Leitch will have the added advantage of being coached by expert Kouvalis who evidently knows all about such. As with lowlifes everywhere, when opportunity knocks, however odious, they will seize upon it. The opportunity provided by Trump’s victory cannot and will not be squandered.

But which is the real Leitch? The one pushing the snitch line, or the one struggling hard to shed a single tear on CBC, or the one sneering at the “elites” even as she holds fundraisers at $500 a plate, or the one who so quick to congratulate Trump and his “exciting message” to Canada? Probably all and none of them though I would guess the hypocrite, phony and opportunist fits more comfortably than the individual struggling to offer some sign of shame or regret. She’ll be what she has to be for the occasion and if that means talking out of three sides of her mouth, she’ll find a way to do it.

Now I have merely touched upon Steven Blaney and for good reason; I see in him a lesser threat than Leitch. His platform is similar to hers. He is most notable for being one among many of Stephen Harper’s “yes” men. As public safety minister, he introduced C-51, the Conservative anti-terrorism bill that jurists, scholars and ordinary citizens believed was too wide-ranging and heavy handed as to threaten the security of the very citizens the Harper gang claim to want to protect. The Liberals at the time expressed some concerns regarding aspects of the bill and the NDP rejected it outright. Thus far, the bill stands as is. It’s strange how the allure of power corrupts and erases all concerns one may have possessed when in the role of opposition. The bill provides little oversight of CSIS and raises the possibility of criminalizing advocacy and peaceful disruption under the banner of “economic terrorism”. It also allows CSIS power to act within and outside of Canada for any perceived threat with limitations so ill defined and sweeping as to raise the spectre of abuse for almost any act ranging from civil disobedience to idle expressions suggesting agreement or sympathy for some of the concerns raised by those deemed terrorists. Under the Act, judges will be asked to issue warrants not only on the grounds that evidence suggests an act has been committed or reasonable grounds that a search of a place will provide evidence of commission of a crime or evidence of the possibility of an act being committed. Judges must not only look at evidence but now be oracles as well. For those citizens travelling abroad, there would be no assurance of privacy or that information would not be shared with foreign agencies. There is also the very real possibility that innocent Canadians will be placed on no-fly lists on mere suspicion (or dislike). For individuals wishing to challenge the no-fly status, they must prove that the safety minister acted unreasonably. As well, the minister can hold these challenges before the court in secret. The government needs not prove its case but the accused not knowing his accusers or the evidence must prove his innocence. That’s hard to do under C-51. Now, this man, much like Leitch, offers as the highlight of his leadership bid a single issue: he would ban the niqab for those voting, taking the oath of citizenship and for those working in the public service. If the courts move to strike down the measures, he would invoke the notwithstanding clause a section in the Charter that allows federal or provincial legislatures to exempt certain basic freedoms.

If Blaney has ever had an original thought, I have yet to be convinced. He was Harper’s loyal stooge and now he’s just a stooge harbouring the same winning-by-any-means mentality adopted by all bottom feeders, including rival Leitch who appears to be garnering considerable attention. That’s not a good sign for Canadians.

But what about that other member, Leitch’s snitch line sidekick who lost his seat and is now running for the Conservative leadership? What does Chris Alexander make of her campaign? Well, he seems to have regretted the snitch line effort; it was not the strategy for the time, evidently. He slammed her during the second debate November 13 for importing anti-immigration Trump-like ideas. Said he, “I don’t think it is right to import, for crass political purposes, the genuine anger that Americans are feeling and to say we have the same situation here. We do not” (CBC News, Nov. 13, ’16). As well, he did go after Blaney saying he didn’t believe in bans on clothing or in Blaney’s threat to use the notwithstanding clause on this issue. My, how things have changed; who would have guessed that last year? Perhaps a year out of office allowed him time to rethink his position? Perhaps. Politics is, after all, often the practice of shifting positions and accommodation; people do learn, grow and change. However, when shifting positions is just a strategy for winning, and far too many politicians concern themselves only with winning, such changes are often fleeting and unreliable demonstrating that politics is also mostly the practice of hypocrisy. The Conservatives and Liberals are masters at the game and they have fooled the voters every time.

BOTTOM FEEDING AS A WAY OF LIFE

It was the Conservative party under Harper that, most disturbingly, campaigned by raising the ugly spectre of racial and religious intolerance, blaming the media, stoking the flames of fear as wedge issues. We saw how it worked for Donald Trump.

But why has politics descended to where it has? Is it all the fault of those seeking office? I think not. We are willing dance partners, one side eager to lead and the other to follow. So we sink to exploiting fear, despair, ignorance, anger, rather than elevating ourselves. We have ignored and drowned out the voices of reason to such an extent that we can no long trust them viewing them with suspicion; it is much easier to trust the honeyed words of the charlatan validating our biases than the staid voices of reason that don’t. We expect less of politicians because we have accepted the view there is no possibility of better than what is offered to us. That is our fault. Trudeau was elected on the promise of being better. He isn’t and will not be. Oh, yes, there are glimpses of what he could be, but they are simply that, glimpses of possibility. With each day, he disappoints even more.

When you have politicians like Liberal Bill Morneau saying Canadians must lower their expectations, then you can be certain that those politicians who swept in on a wave of hope have never been with us. They have our vote. They, Conservatives and Liberals have always won using the same emotive words and methods touching upon our fears and hopes if for a different audience with one goal: to capture the vote. For 150 years they have broken with their supporters at every turn. Over time they have grown used to winning and trading places; at times, it is almost impossible to determine the difference if any. No wonder there is real anger and real danger; it doesn’t matter who is doing the promising, the only certainty is that the promises will be broken or abandoned eventually. So you go with the one you want to believe. Trudeau fed us the blarney about hope and expectations and the likes of Trump, Leitch and Blaney have gone the other direction continuing the dark journey initiated by the Harper regime. In the end, the working stiff is always left abandoned with, perhaps, a few crumbs thrown his way fuelling the anger the eventually turns to fury. But where is that anger directed? In Canada, it is never directed at the political parties that have governed this nation for almost 150 years. If it were, we would never have elected the same two parties for 15 decades when we have other options. Of late, it has become even more difficult because we have succumbed to our own unwillingness to question, challenge, demand, and expect better. The same political rats who have created this mess are always waiting at the gate to knead that fury and point the finger at someone else: it’s them who are to blame, the blacks, the Muslims, the Mexicans, the foreigners. Sometimes it’s the Welfare State they blame for having created the lazy welfare bum or the worker who wants too much but possesses the poor Canadian work ethic. No one accepts responsibility.

Leitch, and Blaney and their kind are always there to misdirect. They wish to be leader of their party and eventually of the country, but where were they during the Harper years of error and misrule? Where are the jobs they promised? What had happened to the good life, the brighter and better? They were too busy then, as Trudeau is right now, working on the bigger global projects, trade deals that really do create “wealth” but not for those at the bottom who are told time and again to lower their expectations, that the era of full-time jobs has passed, that workers must adapt, must share jobs, accept the norm of part-time work with more hours and lesser pay. Benefits? Forget it, you’re on your own.

Where were Leitch and Blaney when their government conspired with corporations to use the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to suppress wages by hiring outside workers rather than assisting Canadian workers with gaining a higher education or improving or learning new skills through free training? Where, in fact, is Trudeau? When he was in opposition, he was highly critical of the abuses of the TFWP. Now, the well-dressed phony has expanded the program.

So, really, what can we expect from Leitch or Blaney or the others campaigning for the Conservative leadership? Well, scapegoating if nothing else. I don’t recall one member of the Harper gang speaking out against the war against the two women vilified for insisting on their right to wear the niqab during the citizenship swearing in ceremony. Where were their voices of protest when the Harper gang got rid of the life-long disability pension for vets and replaced it with a one-time lump-sum payment? The Liberals and NDP bitterly opposed it and vowed to reinstate the pension but, of course, not surprisingly, the Liberals had broken that promise shamelessly adding salt to the wound by adding a few dollars extra to the lump-sum payment when all the vets wanted was their hard-earned due. But of course, who really ever believed the Liberals were all that different from Conservatives?

And where were Leitch and Blaney, or any of the Conservatives, when the nine veterans offices across the country were shut down. Liberals and the NDP had screamed bitterly and vowed to reopen them. Thus far, the Liberals seem committed to honouring that promise at least. For that, I commend them. But why did they have to make it in the first place? Leitch, who talks of Canadian values, clearly demonstrated what she meant by them by remaining silent on that issue too. Even now, where are Leitch and Blaney and others of the Conservative party when it comes to homeless vets or homelessness in general? Where are the Liberals? From neither party have there been cries of outrage or shame regarding the poor and most miserable among us. There are not even promises from the Liberals; it is all about the middle class. So, instead of fostering hysteria and bigotry, why haven’t Leitch, Blaney, and the rest been at the forefront working to find shelters for those unfortunates living, if that’s what it can be called, lives of poverty and desperation, many of them ill physically and mentally? It’s clearly not a winner for either party to concern themselves with the marginal. It’s easier to get elected by blaming rather than offering hope and promising for promises kept often come with a price. No, it’s cheaper and easier to get elected employing the Leitch/Blaney method. That’s their Canadian values.

There is nothing hopeful or redemptive in what they do or want; it’s about them, about playing to our fears and preying on the innocent and helpless.

Kellie Leitch wrote on her Facebook page, “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president. It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well. It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada” (Andrew Russell, Global News, Nov. 9, 16). On CTV’s Question Period with Evan Solomon, Leitch said she would be disappointed that people inferred she is a racist. One doesn’t have to infer. It’s there with her leadership platform and the snitch line she proudly rolled out with Alexander. She and Blaney are clearly targeting a segment of society from which to garner votes. No matter how one dresses it, theirs is a message appealing to the ugly face of racial and religious intolerance. And we see echoes of the legitimatization of such appeals with the increased incidents of racist posters asking “whites” to join the Alt-Right blogs and swastikas painted on sides of homes, business and mosques. The vermin, Clearly believing themselves granted permission by the messages of the Trump victory and of the bottom feeders, Leitch and Blaney, the vermin are emerging from the swamp.

Neither Leitch nor Blaney offer hope. Theirs is the opposite of hope, a concerted effort to avoid real ideas that are original, inspiring or that contribute positively to the health and well being of society. It is easier to blame, to tear down, to foment and fan the flames of ignorance, intolerance and mean-spiritedness. There is nothing authentic in what they do except their ambition and hubris. They have embraced the cheapening of politics to demonstrate how they are at one with the “ordinary” folks. It’s an act and some will pay for the ticket.

Hope? Better trust a cobra than either Leitch or Blaney for theirs is a poisonous mixture of anything, anywhere, anytime by any means. Shame and decency hold no place with them. Politicians have always been Democracy’s problem children. But what we see today had its beginnings long ago, long before the Conservative party under Harper embarked on that dark journey to cheapen themselves and politics with bigotry as the hallmark of their campaign. I expect many years of dark days ahead.

And the Liberals? Well, they are busy opening the doors for private foreign companies to invest in government infrastructure projects. Think the workers had it bad under Harper?

Well, that’s a topic for another time.

***

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

***

They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin

 

STEPHEN HARPER, AN EARLY VOTE, AND VETERANS BETRAYED – AGAIN

What difference does it make to the dead…whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy? – Mohandas Gandhi

To hate and fear is to be psychologically ill…it is, in fact, the consuming illness of our time. – H. A. Overstreet

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. – Marcus Aurelius

 

Frank A. Pelaschuk

The Dirty Game

I have asked this before, but I’ll ask it again: Do Stephen Harper and his gang, or any politician for that matter, believe in anything but the main chance? What do they value? Is it money only, power, recognition, admiration? Do any really believe the reasons they offer for seeking office: “I want to serve the public” or “I wish to contribute or repay my debt to society”? Or is everything that makes them what they are as politicians solely dependent upon the gains made and losses counted, but never acknowledged: What’s in it for me?

We have an NDP MP crossing the floor to the Liberals, leaving federal for provincial politics. We have Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party in Alberta and eight other members abandoning their party, their supporters and, presumably, their principles to join the governing Progressive Conservative Party of Jim Prentice. Said Smith of two defectors earlier: They had been “seduced by the perks of power”.

Do those words now make her blush; do they trouble her at all?

It’s been said that politics is a dirty game. I’ve even said it. Perhaps it is. But if dirty, it’s the players, and those who stand apathetically in the sidelines allowing it to happen that make it so. I do not believe it is politics that corrupts or even power but proximity, the corruption is already there, in the individual. For some, it doesn’t take much of a nudge for the worm of greed and lust and power to succeed at its work.

To me, Harper and his gang and all Conservatives of their stripe, are the foulest of all. They hold no loyalty, not even to what they say or promise or believe; what they discard today as not useful to their goals, they will reclaim tomorrow; in truth, they hold no belief but that of self-interest; they bend with every breeze and label it “flexibility”. Yesterday the Harper gang was the Reform party. Then they were the Alliance party. Then they swallowed the Progressive Conservative party with the assist of PC leader and backstabbing opportunist, Peter MacKay. They then spat out the progressives to become what they are today, the party of shifting shapes and constant betrayals.

They know exactly what they want but not who they are because they are hollow men and women, petty and vindictive self-aggrandizing opportunists. They believe the worst of everyone because they judge all others by themselves and their own behaviour. I will not trust them because I cannot trust them. The only thing I believe of them is that they are dishonest, deceitful, anti-democratic, hypocritical and amoral; some of the members more so than others but amoral nevertheless for all too often they defend the indefensible. I do not believe them because they themselves do not believe in anything except what can be bought, stolen or bartered, but only and always to their own advantage. For them, everything has a price, even principles and people; the first are easily sold, the second cheaply bought.

So, when Harper vows he will hold to his own election date of October 19th this year, I don’t believe him; he has never served the full term preferring to end it early when the gods and the gullible easily bought seem to favour him. Why not, particularly today, when he is apparently closing the gap between the Liberals and their youthful, inexperienced leader and appears to have a few things working in his favour. As we know, Harper is averse to taking real risks; a lot can happen between now and October. As it is, there are some issues that might give him pause. There is Dean del Mastro to be sentenced for election fraud sometime this month. Conservatives already lost one staffer to jail, Michael Sona, for his role in the robocalls scandal. Fortunately for Harper and in spite of the sentencing judge’s voicing of strong reservations in his belief that Sona had acted alone and that he, the judge, did not wholly trust the testimony of the chief witness against the young campaign worker, and despite calls from observers, politicians, and legal experts, Yves Côté, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, has decided not to pursue the matter. When Pierre Poilievre introduced the so-called Fair Elections Act, critics had predicted the move of Côté’s office, one of the outcomes of the Act, would lead to political interference. Once the investigative arm of Elections Canada, which is answerable to Parliament, the move of the Commissioner’s office to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutors, which is answerable to the government, fuelled these suspicions. Whether that was at play or not in his decision is not known and doesn’t matter. Perception does. Sona, a young staffer of 23 at the time, is held solely responsible and takes the fall. It stretches one’s credulity to believe that one so young would be given that much independence to act alone and in such a criminal manner without the knowledge of senior members of the Conservative Party. As if Sona and del Mastro were not headaches enough, there is the matter of Mike Duffy’s trial set to begin on April 17 of this year. This, too, might make Harper pause. If he waits for the October date, it could be he believes whatever fallout from the trial there is will not be enough to harm him. That wait could actually help him. However, if he believes the risks are too great and goes early, and I believe he will, it might lead to speculation that he’s worried and trying to forestall any resultant damage to himself and the party. As it stands right now, no one really knows what “good ole’ Duff” has in store for Harper though Duffy did make plenty of noise suggesting fireworks were in the offing. In the past, when staffers and MPs proved themselves no longer useful and, worse, liabilities, Harper has shown no compunction about throwing them under the huge, vindictive, Conservative bus. Doubtlessly still smarting from being abandoned and then denounced after proving himself as a fundraiser and merciless loyalist Conservative hack who personally and with gleeful gusto saw to the political annihilation of Stephane Dion, Duffy may yet prove to be the Harper’s most dangerous foe.

But the signs that he will go for an early election are there despite the various scandals, the mishandling of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, the resignations of Peter Penashue, called by Harper the best MP Labrador ever had, for illegally accepting corporate donations during the 2011 campaign and of Bev Oda, forger of a government document, for padding her expense claims, twice. Harper staunchly defended both and, when he did finally accept their resignations, concocted an aura of virtue around their resignations. The thing is, they were caught cheating; there was no choice in their resignations and certainly no honour. But, in Harper’s world, not everyone pays a price for ethical lapses: the truth is made false, the false truth.

There is a whole list of offenses, enumerated in other posts, among them Shelly Glover and James Bezan, initially refusing to submit full reports of expenses during the 2011 campaign. Glover figured in another story in early 2014 when she was caught on camera attending a fundraiser in which were gathered members of the community who could possibly gain from decisions made by her ministry. When she saw the CTV camera, her alarmed reaction was, “What are they doing here?” Leona Aglukkaq did the same thing, sneaking through the back door of a hotel to attend a fundraiser. You can judge for yourself how proud they are of their actions. But ask yourself this: Was their behaviour ethical? Do they deserve to be re-elected?

So, how is it that Harper can be rising in the polls, when he and his group have persistently and insistently worked at corrupting our electoral process and debased our democracy? I’m not yet talking about the so-called Fair Elections Act but of the robocalls and the “in-out” schemes, the first attempting to keep voters from the polls and the second allowing for illegal transfers of money between various levels of the Conservative party which allowed it to spend more and make greater claims from Elections Canada (or, more precisely, from the Canadian taxpayers’ wallet). That netted the Conservatives a $52,000 fine; however, the plea bargain spared four upper echelon members of the party from facing the courts and perhaps jail time.

But these many attempts to subvert the electoral process, are mere child’s play to what Pierre Poilievre, the oleaginous minister of democratic reform, has managed to do with his rejigging of the Elections Act, now referred to (ironically by some) as the Fair Elections Act, that, along with the addition of thirty newly minted gerrymandered ridings, rigs the election game to almost guarantee the Conservative desired outcome: another win, perhaps even another majority.

Incredibly, this new Bill, C-23, seems to have raised barely a whimper of protest or outrage from the public. Why not? Not only does this bill threaten to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, it also denies the public the possibility of ever knowing of future Conservative (or even Liberal or NDP when and if they form governments) attempts at end runs around election laws. With the Commissioner of Canada Elections now in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutors, the government of the day could intervene if one of its members was under investigation. Who would know? Too, names of those under investigation for suspected voter fraud cannot be made public without the consent of the party investigated. Initially, when first introduced, the Act denied the Chief Elections Officer the right to speak of investigations or any matter; its role was to be reduced merely to notifying voters where to vote. That was changed after much howling from critics and then the public. We have already seen how Conservatives have behaved when it comes to flaunting the rules; with almost no possibility of prosecution or even exposure, there is no incentive (except one’s pride in one’s personal integrity) for Conservatives to behave any differently than they have in past elections. Nothing’s changed except for the voters; it will be harder to do so.

So how is it possible Conservatives are faring as well as they are? Have they forgotten Conservative Brad Butt standing in the House and pantomiming a concocted story in support of Bill C-23? That’s where he misled the House, that is, he lied in Parliament, about witnessing with his own two lying eyes how opposition workers scooped up Voter Information cards to be used by voters to pose as voters to whom the cards were addressed. It was shameful, dishonest. It was a fraud! And yet nothing, absolutely nothing happened to Brad Butt except to earn the scorn and contempt of those who understood exactly what he had done, the contempt he and his party displayed for the opposition and the House and democracy itself. Instead of condemning his vile, lying behaviour, Harper and his gang defended Butt.

So, a year-and-a-half of scandal, resignations, charges of corruption, rigging votes, and bribing voters with shiny trinkets, and still leading the NDP, the Official Opposition. I ask again: How can that be?

Luck, War, Terrorism, Fear

Apparently a good bout of luck and a forgetful and fearful populace helps. ISIS came along instilling fear in the West with horrific images of beheadings and mass slaughter easily lending public support for Harper’s joining Britain, France, the United States, and other nations in the war against terrorism. This one act, joining the war, immediately gave Harper the opportunity to stoke the flames of fear by raising the spectre of terrorism at home with the forewarning Canadians were under threat and that his swift (?), if conditional, response in joining the war was clear evidence that his government, under his leadership, with his experience, was the only government capable of ensuring the safety of Canada and Canadians. In other words: In time of difficulty (Harper’s gang would say “crisis”), you don’t swap horses midstream.

While some may have been sceptical about the danger posed to Canadians and not shy in voicing it, Harper must have been sitting on God’s lap for shortly after that dire warning, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was murdered, run down in a St. Jean Sur Richelieu parking lot and another seriously injured. The driver was later killed. Without having all the information, Harper and gang were already talking up terrorism in the House. Two days later, Corporal Nathan Cirillo was gunned down at the Canadian National War Memorial on Parliament Hill. Again, the killer was shot down, this time in the Centre Block of the parliament building. It appeared Harper’s warning had become reality; terrorists had struck at the heart of Canada.

But had they?

While it made for compelling news, high drama of live television coverage, as the second event unfolded on Parliament Hill, despite the wild speculations of two or more gunmen, it quickly became apparent this attack, too, was the act of a lone individual. In spite of the media’s hype and the Harper gang’s best efforts, it quickly became evident that both the murders of Vincent and Cirillo were not acts of terrorism but rather individual acts of desperation by deluded, extremely angry, deeply troubled, self-destructive young men using ISIS as justification for their mad, violent actions. That they had visited ISIS websites seeking and perhaps finding vindication for their rage and self-pity, apparently was enough for the Harper gang to label them terrorists rather than what they really were, troubled, suicidal losers. These were not terrorists; there was nothing in their acts ennobling of suggestive of a cause except the cause of sad losers in desperate straits. They were not fighting for some ideal or religious cause but rather out of vengeance for real or imagined wrongs done to them by a society they believed to have turned its back on them. For Harper and the gang, and those Canadians who live in constant fear of terrorists, aliens, and UFOs, none of this matters; unlike as in the past, when attempts to sneak online spying legislation into omnibus bills led to howls of protest, Harper and gang could now safely, with very little blowback, pass new laws granting CSIS greater power to spy on Canadians without any meaningful oversight. Not to worry, trust us says Harper’s Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney, Canadians will be safer than ever. But how can we believe a government that has attempted to subvert the electoral process and has made changes to the Elections Act that rigs the game in their favour? We can’t. Bill C-44 will allow CSIS the ability to operate outside of Canada and break laws on foreign soil and even spy on allies. It also grants protection to anonymous informants and promises harsh punishment to anyone revealing the identity of CSIS spies including those who break laws. Those protesting these moves as a threat to civil liberties themselves have reason to fear but less from terrorists than from their own government which, in the past, showed little reluctant in calling critics of omnibus bills sympathizers to pornographers and environmentalists as “radicals”, stooges to foreign interests. To Harper and the gang, all critics are the enemy, their patriotism suspect. Nothing works like fear and paranoia, especially when fuelled by one’s own government that has recently enjoined citizens to report “suspicious” behaviour. I can just imagine many people settling scores but offering up names under the protection of anonymity.

Recently, in an appearance on CTV’s Question Period with Robert Fife, Blaney uttered this trite homily: “There is no liberty without security.” At the end of this post you can read Benjamin Franklin’s response to that. It was written over 200 years ago. Blaney is wrong, wrong, and wrong again; There is no security without liberty. Unfortunately, the massacre in Paris, France on January 7th, of two policemen, a maintenance worker, and nine cartoonists and journalists working for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and a third police officer the next day, evidently in response to the magazine’s work including satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad has given Harper another chance to fire the flames of fear. Harper, not one to shrink from seizing any opportunity, however tragic, has attempted to draw a link, tenuous at best, between this event and what Canadians have experienced at home by inserting the sad reminders of the shootings in Sidney, Nova Scotia of three RCMP members, the hit-and-run murder of Patrice Vincent in St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Quebec, and the murder of Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa, Ontario. It says more about Harper than it does terrorism. But, if it works for him and we drink from the poisoned cup of fear, well, that says as much about us, doesn’t it?

In light of the brutal killings in Paris, Harper’s comments on free expression and the free press and democracy the following day are really hollow and self-serving; this is the fellow who refuses, unless it advances his own personal agenda, to meet with the press preferring to vilify them, refuses to answer direct questions in the House from opposition members preferring that he and all his members stick to prescribed scripts. He is the same leader whose members have labelled critics “radicals”, of siding with pornographers, and smeared Pat Stogran, Veterans Ombudsman, Kevin Page, ex-Parliamentary Budget Officer, and threatened diplomat Richard Colvin with jail time if he filed documents of involvement of abuses of Afghani prisoners before an investigative committee. He has proven himself leader of one of the most anti-media, secretive, anti-democratic governments we have ever endured.

So, why is he rising in the polls?

It is likely more than Canada’s entry into the war against terrorism and the deaths of two fine men that gives Harper the boost he presently enjoys. He ended 2014 with a budget surplus and immediately went on a spending spree, purchasing a military transport plane, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster, at double the purchase price, bringing to five the number of C-17s and making a commitment to procure four F-35 stealth fighters. When asked about the exorbitant transport cost, Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson huffed, puffed and squirmed without giving any reasonable response. But the promise of purchasing the F-35s is even more troubling. Canadians may recall that Harper and Peter MacKay, then minister of defence, during the 2011 election campaign had promised to purchase 65 of them quoting a figure of $9 billion. When challenged on that by Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Office, the Conservatives embarked on another campaign, that to discredit the PBO questioning his credentials and character by suggesting he was biased and politicizing his office. It wasn’t so; Harper and gang had done that. When Page’s term ran out, Harper, in a snit of pettiness, refused to renew his contract. Small, vindictive, and extremely telling. With the purchase of the four F-35s, revealed through a leaked Pentagon document, critics suggest that the move is not only rushed but also meant to force future governments into buying more F-35s because the commitment of even only four jets will require costly training and extremely expensive replacement infrastructure to house them. Harper and MacKay finally prevail if only in a small way – at first – but do so deviously and at who knows what final cost. We certainly can’t rely on the figures offered by this regime. By opening this gate and forcing Canadians into a commitment that may prove very, very costly, Harper and the gang has once again proven themselves deceitful and far from the best money managers since the world began by their own accounting. But where are the voices of anger, the moans of scepticism or the sneers of derision from the public? During the 2011 campaign, the public was either sleeping, sold a bill of goods or both when they re-elected the Harper gang. Were they still sleeping when this came out? But, what the hell, it’s only money and not theirs. Too, he now had a surplus thanks in part to service cuts and to the 35,000 public servants thrown out of work (presumably all the same “deadwood” Tony Clement of the $50 million slush fund spoke of last year) and Veterans Affairs which returned to the treasury $1.13 billion of unspent money allocated for veterans.

Tricks And Treats

But Harper was not done with doling out the dough. In October, he announced he would introduce Income Splitting albeit in a reduced form than originally promised, which will add another $2000 to the wallets of the wealthy, or about 15% of households. That this will do absolutely nothing for single parents, low-income earners and those abandoned homeless dying on our streets evidently doesn’t trouble this gang. The marginalized don’t vote.

It seems Conservatives really do live by the motto, “Those that have deserve more”. Even so, those families with children will still benefit, though it’s also true single parents and single income families will not do quite as well as those who really don’t need the extra $2000. As of January 1st, child benefits will go up by $60 a month. Unfortunately, especially for those single parents who had better not get all excited and start spending it on things they may need today, none of that money will come to them any time soon. No, the money is to be held in trust until July. Then, all eligible families will receive a cheque of $420 for each child. Just in case you have failed to notice, that wad of money will arrive just three months before the October 19th election date (that is, if Harper keeps to that date, which I don’t really expect, but he may surprise us all). Now the cynic in me says that Harper is sending several messages to those with children. One of them is that he hopes they will remember that big payday when they vote. He also hopes they will know to whom they should be grateful. He is also saying that he knows these folks can be bought easily. That’s probably true. He’s proven it in the past. He’s also saying they’re stupid. He’s proven that in the past, too; how many times is he allowed to poke them in the eye before they wake up and say they’ve had enough?

So, there he is, still in office with only 40% of the vote of those who voted. And how many of those who could vote actually did vote? Well, 61%. That means 39% were too lazy, too apathetic or too self-absorbed to make the effort. I’ve heard it too many times, “My vote doesn’t count” as justification for not voting. Are they imbeciles? That line of reasoning suggests they are. They are certainly irresponsible and as citizens contemptible.

Still, Harper was not through with handing out money by the end of 2014. He also promised $500 million to vaccinate children in the developing world. This is part of the $3.5 billion announcement Harper made in May towards maternal and child health care. I’m all for helping vaccinate children and promoting maternal and child health. But why not spend some of it at home when more children than ever go hungry? Why not spend more for the homeless, for the First Nations communities without proper housing and no potable water? Why is it that Canadian children go hungry every day, single mothers are forced to hold two or three jobs to feed their children and endure misery and debt because their wages are substandard, the minimum wages totally inadequate. In the past few days, people have been found frozen to death on our streets. For politicians, especially those Conservatives who believe generosity should only extend to those who already have, the excellent November 29, 2014 piece by Global TV’s 16X9 on child poverty, Generation Poor, should be required viewing. It would not hurt for every Canadian to watch it either and that it be compelled viewing in universities if not all levels of education. Perhaps there might be less judgement and more action when it comes to the poor. Twenty-five years ago, all political party’s agreed to bring an end to child poverty by the year 2000. Nothing has happened, more children than ever live in poverty. Perhaps it’s time we held accountable the Liberals and Conservatives and demand explanations for just one question: Why has poverty become an accepted fact of life? Nothing can excuse the public’s apathy. Even less can we excuse our governments continued indifference and inaction that create and ensure conditions whereby people die on our streets, children go hungry, and single parents struggle, without any assistance, to juggle jobs, family and simply existing. Let Harper explain to that thirty-two year old single mother on the program why all opportunities have been closed for her as she holds two jobs and cares for her family and is on the verge of despair. Or perhaps Harper can explain to that 16 year old, pregnant, scrabbling for food, homeless, so desperate to escape her home life she chose the street and without job prospects, why she should hope. What has Harper done for these people here, in his own country? He treats the meanest and saddest of us as fraudsters and conspires against them punishing them even more with punitive mandatory victim surcharges should they appear before the courts stealing to feed their addictions or alcoholism or for stealing a pair of socks. Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco struck down this legislation as unconstitutional, “so grossly disproportionate that it would outrage the standards of decency” (Andrew Seymour, Ottawa Citizen, July 31, 2014). Yes, by all means help others elsewhere as much as we can but not at the expense of our own people and certainly not to promote Harper’s image on the global stage.

But, if Harper is truly intent on helping, on making a contribution with money for third world nations, perhaps he should consider removing some of the restrictions on how the money will be used to best serve those in need. Those organizations that promote family planning, including the right to abortion, will receive no Canadian assistance. So victims of rape and child war brides will be forced to endure a lifetime of poverty, illness and misery or risk losing all assistance and likely death should they opt for abortion. If this is generosity, it is a cruel, inhumane, and perverse generosity that is not reflective of Canadians but a bigoted, blind and immoral Conservative parochialism that denies choice and makes generosity conditional with the imposition of Harper’s hypocritical “family values”. It is blackmail and it is indecent and degrades the humanity of the gift. What is accomplished by forcing a child to a lifetime of misery? For Harper and his mean-spirited group of hypocrites it is this: Accept our morality, take our help, and shut up. Nice folks all right. Still, he’s doing better in the polls than he has for some time.

Angry Vets And Fantino’s Spurious Announcement

But are gains in the polls, a war supported by the public and public acquiescence to anti-terrorist legislation, the introduction of income splitting, increased child benefits, and offering to support an NDP motion to compensate victims of the drug, Thalidomide, for long term needs along with hoping to avoid fallout from the Mike Duffy trial sufficient reasons for me to believe we will have an early election? Perhaps.

Perhaps it has something to do with the tumbling oil prices. For years, at the risk of ignoring all else, he has been fixated on the oil industry, the Keystone XL pipeline in particular, as the sole economic engine of the country. The apparent collapse of the industry and with it jobs and his hopes has him showing signs of bending, oh, ever so slightly, but bending nevertheless, when, recently, he spoke to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, albeit still quibbling, attempting to redefine such words as “levy” and “tax” with the rather commonplace “price” voicing his willingness to set a cost for greenhouse emissions. He is still against “job-killing” carbon taxes but is prepared to consider the Alberta model which “imposes a price on emissions for companies that don’t meet energy-efficiency targets. Those companies can also pay that money into a clean-energy research fund” (CBC post, Dec. 17th, 2014). Said Harper the equivocator, “It’s not a levy, it’s a price.” Well, a rose by any other name…. This is the man who, in early December of last year, said, “Under the current circumstances of the oil and gas sector, it would be crazy, it would be crazy, economic policy to do unilateral penalties on that sector.” So, when is it sound policy? Evidently not when the price of oil and gas were soaring. This man is incapable of backing down, of admitting he might be wrong, that perhaps others, scientists, educators, you and I might know more than he. Even when and if he retreats, and he hasn’t retreated on the carbon issue, it’s always to his own story, his facts and his reality.

Still, it was a concession, if even only a tiny one.

But then, too, after a year of snubbing Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, there was Harper making another concession agreeing finally to meet her in Toronto just before he was to attend the Junior Hockey game between Canada and Russia playing for the gold. In doing so, he silenced Wynne, perhaps appeased a few Ontarians and mended a few fences. When Canada won the gold medal and his day came to an end, he must have experienced something akin to a glow of a warm hug that made him believe he was magic, he was golden! because, earlier that day, before Wynne and the gold medal, he had made a move that almost all Canadians, particularly military veterans have been calling for: he had demoted Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. If Harper felt golden, if he believed he still had the magic touch, should we begrudge him?

Well, yes.

What took him so long? Why had he continued to support a man who had managed over eighteen months in the ministry to offend all veterans, serving military men and women (no doubt they could see the bleak future awaiting them and were second-guessing their choice of career) and almost every Canadian except the Harper gang who stood with him through thick and thin until thin and thick became too much. Even so, because of Fantino’s popularity in his riding and with his large Italian base and because he draws in a large amount of cash to the party of money, he still ended up with a soft landing returning to the post of Associate Minister of National Defence. Hardly a rejection. As NDP leader Thomas Mulcair rightly put it, it was a “half-hearted firing of an incompetent minister.” It was under Fantino that the New Veterans Charter changed the way injured soldiers were compensated. Instead of receiving pensions for life, as they expected and deserve, they have been dismissed with lump sum payments, which, on the average, will mean less compensation over a lifetime than for those who fought in previous wars. The move is offensive and dismissive: “Here’s your goddamn money. Now shut up and get out of sight.” And it was under Fantino, as most will recall, that nine veterans offices were closed. These were essential regional offices for members suffering from physical and mental disabilities. The Harper response: Need help? Drive to the nearest Service Canada centre. Too far? Too bad. Stressed, desperate, suicidal? You can always call Service Canada. Don’t do anything foolish while your waiting. Sorry about that.

For those who may have seen it on television, none can possibly forget the wife of a soldier suffering PTSD attempting to get answers and help for her husband as she pursued a fleeing Fantino down a corridor. Nor can anyone forget his snubbing of elderly vets by showing up late and then snapping and wagging a finger at a veteran for daring to call him up on it, “This finger-pointing stuff doesn’t work with me”. Clearly it didn’t. Fantino was as stone, immovable and as cold. Even then, he wasn’t done with poking the eyes of veterans.

Just days before the Auditor General’s fall report was to be released, a report expected to be damning in its criticism of the Harper gang’s shameful treatment of veterans, the Harper gang in the persons of Fantino and Rob Nicholson, Minister of National Defence, announced an additional $200 million for mental health programs for vets. The money was to be distributed over a six-year period. Surely this was good news. Surely this would lead to kiss and make up with veterans sucked back into the Conservative fold. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. The thing is, at it’s best, the announcement was misleading. At it’s worst, it was a scam, a good show with only part of the story, a photo-op that was mostly spin, no cotton but a lot of wool pulled over our eyes. Yes, there was to be $200 million for mental health programs. Unfortunately, it was to be distributed over a period slightly longer than the six years announced. The money would be spent over a period of 50 years! Now, when one considers this massive attempt to mislead veterans coupled with the $1.13 billion set aside for vets clawed back and returned to the public purse because unspent, it would be surprising to no one, except, perhaps Harper, if our veterans believed they had once again been victims of yet another betrayal. This, too, in the wake of Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s fall report which was, indeed, highly critical of the Harper regime’s treatment of veterans.

As outlined in the report, Veterans Affairs was not providing veterans the timely access to mental health services. The applications forms for disability benefits are extremely difficult to fill and some vets have had to wait up to eight months before they receive benefits. Many veterans have been forced to endure long delays in obtaining medical and service records and extensive wait times for mental health assessments, some waiting 3 to 7 years. Too, of the claims applied for, there is a denial rate of 24%. All of these suggest that Veterans Affairs is acting more like an insurance company than a much needed and deserved service. Interestingly enough, when the report was released, Fantino was nowhere in sight. He was in Italy attending a commemorative service. When asked about his absence in the House, his response was this: “In my world, ‘Lest we forget’ means something.” Does one laugh or cry over such a response? Were the vets amused? Is this how a government should treat the men and women who are asked to put their lives on the line when called upon?

Now there was a time when Conservatives might have been able to rely on the vote of military men and women, particularly veterans who, for some reason, appeared to blindly believe that Conservatives really did care for them. Well, it is true the Harper gang likes the pomp and circumstance of war, quite willing to spend on monuments and the pageantry of display as if lavish exhibitions of remembrance of wars past and present equals respect, honour or love. It doesn’t. It is almost as if this regime believes military service is its own reward and enough reward. It isn’t. It’s by one’s actions that we know a man, know were his values and his sympathies lie; it is easy to throw up monuments to heroes and mouth the words that make us feel good for a day and then wash one’s hands saying, “We’ve done our bit, here’s your tribute.” It is all show, of course, and rings hollow.

We have men and women killing themselves. One wants to weep. When will it end? In the Afghan war, between 2002 and 2014, 138 soldiers died in combat; in that same time span, more than 160 soldiers have killed themselves. The policies of the Harper government may well have contributed to many of those deaths. How many more will feel compelled to take their lives because the government they trusted has failed them? Harper’s choice of Julian Fantino as veterans affairs minister, was clearly a bad choice. What made it worse was Harper’s refusal to acknowledge he had made a mistake. Not only was Fantino incompetent, he was abrasive and offensive. He not only alienated veterans, those very folks most likely to support Conservatives, he managed to offend almost every Canadian. He, and the whole Harper gang, have disgraced themselves with their treatment of our veterans and of our serving men and women as if they were distant, unacknowledged, unloved, black sheep members of the family. I know if I was young and contemplating a career in the forces, I would seriously reconsider. Why should anyone be prepared to sacrifice everything, family, friends, even their lives, for a nation led by a regime that treats veterans as broken goods of diminished worth? Little wonder we see military men and women, mostly elderly, but not all, angered, in shocked disbelief, that they should be so ill-served by their own country.

Will the vets be happy with Harper’s replacement? Probably not. True, O’Toole had seen military service, but too many veterans and viewers have seen him when he was parliamentary secretary to the industry minister on CBC’s Power and Politics and CTV’s Question Period and other media bravely defending Fantino and the government’s handling of Veterans Affairs. It’s the same ol’ same ol’. A softer image is window dressing, nothing more, unless the message changes.

Even so, the Harper gang is doing better in the polls than they should, than they deserve.

How can that be?

Are you, those who vote for Harper and his gang, really that desperate for that shiny tax break, too blind to not see beyond the spin, to indifferent to the pain and needs of those without homes, without food, without hope? Are you that fearful, that cold, that self-absorbed, that greedy, that cheaply purchased? Or is it just something even simpler than that?

Do you really not care?

***

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

***

They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin

 

A GRIEVING MILITARY WIDOW’S OPEN LETTER TO STEPHEN HARPER

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

Frank A. Pelaschuk

On March 12, I received an email from Joan Carbage Larocque asking for help. While I do not know her, I knew of her. I had made a brief mention of her and her husband in my October 9, 2013 posting, Stephen Harper: Wolf Among Sheep.

She very, very briefly outlined some of her difficulties. I have no experience with the military but I did make some suggestions. Unfortunately, they were not all that helpful; she had already covered that ground.

Joan Larocque has been a grieving widow of a military man since 2005. Since that time, she has been looking for answers in hopes of finding closure and the solace of peace. She needs closure. Thus far, it has been denied her.

It is clear that her grief will never end but it is also equally clear that she feels that she deserves better, deserves some answers and a public apology for what she, her family and her husband’s memory have endured. I agree.

Because I want to help her in any small way possible, I suggested that she write an open letter, which I would post on my blog. Though the letter is addressed to me, and the few readers I do have, its most obvious target is Stephen Harper, the Department of National Defence, and Robert Nicholson, the Minister of Defence. It is they who can give her the solace she needs. They simply have to do the right, the decent thing. I hope they read her letter.

Our military men and women and their families have been badly treated by Stephen Harper and his crew. Perhaps their knowing a little about Cpl. Jacques Larocque and his loving wife might finally persuade them to help her and her family find that solace of peace she so desperately seeks and deserves. A little nudging from the public might help but, with this crew, one never knows. They don’t appear to listen to our veterans.

There are many other families out there who are suffering, who need our help and support, who deserve better from Harper and his crew than they have been receiving. Harper has spent millions in promoting Canadian military achievements yet has clawed back on services for the military. He plans to spend even more millions in celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation. It’s an absolute disgrace and nothing more than about promoting the Conservative brand through propaganda and mythmaking. The money could be put to better use, with modernizing military equipment, with better services for our military personnel and for our veterans and their families. Too many have survived wars only to lose the one within themselves. This government has failed them; too many military families are forced into bankruptcy. This government appears determined to deny there is a “social contract” with those who serve and have served us very well; it’s time Canadians returned the favour, let us honour the “moral contract” to treat our men and women better than we have. We can all help. Write to your MP. Better still, write to Stephen Harper. Or simply forward this post to him, to your MPs, and to your friends.

A Note: This is Joan Larocque’s letter. I helped somewhat with suggestions regarding spelling, punctuation and with clarification of matters that appeared unclear to me. That said, Mrs. Larocque had final say in all matters relating to her heartfelt words and it appears in whole without editorial interference.

A WIDOWS LETTER

by

JOAN CARBAGE LAROCQUE

You don’t know me, but I am a soldier’s wife. I would like to tell you and your readers a little about my husband and what he meant to me.

Cpl Jacques Larocque Born March 24th 1965 – died August 27th, 2005.

Jacques joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1982 in Montreal, Quebec at the age of just 17.  I met him in 1986 and we married the following year; together we raised four wonderful Children.  It was very apparent to me from the moment I met him that Canada and his career in the Canadian Armed Forces were a high priority in his life and that he was very passionate about serving.

He was a avid sportsman and hunter, participating in many sports teams for the CF (Canadian Forces) community.  We were posted often having lived in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, Trenton, Ontario, Gander, Newfoundland, Yellowknife, NT, and again Trenton Ontario all of which we enjoyed.

Jacques did a number of TD’s (Temporary Duty) on exercises and four deployments (volunteered) to the Middle East in Canada’s effort on Terrorism. When away, we missed him terrible but fully supported him. Jacques was the glue that kept my family together. My sons respected him as a father; our youngest boy was sure he had the “best dad” in the world and didn’t hesitate to tell everyone. He was very Nurturing to Our daughters and as well as being extremely protective. Daddy’s girls!!!

Personality wise, he was a quiet, soft spoken man that was passionate, dedicated and honourable; he was the perfect example of a decent human being. He volunteered at the schools the kids went to and assisted where he could. He helped strangers and neighbours/friends alike, with whatever and however he could. As a partner, husband and father he was made for all three roles and filled them with every bit of his soul juggling the roles he had in life with ease.  Always calm, always cool, a true peacekeeper. He was well respected amongst his peers as well and a true sportsman but with a competitive nature.

Jacques really had not been ill much of his life, we led a fairly healthy lifestyle.

Just turning 40 and on his forth tour of duty in the middle east in two and a half years, Jacques had returned home complaining about not feeling well, he had seen the MO (Medical Officer) three times and was diagnosed with acid reflux, each time but was not feeling any better. Though he was grey in colour when he came home, he told me there was nothing to worry about; the Military Doctors were treating the acid reflux with medication

When he died in front of my family, and me, I was in shock, he had acid reflux; you don’t die from acid reflux.  As a family we questioned the CF, we wanted answers. As a CF member you are only able to receive CF medical care, you do not get provincial health care. Therefore the CF health care services would have been the ones to answer our questions as to what happened to Jacques: How could a healthy man (according to the Department of National Defence), who had been fit enough for four tours of duty in a foreign country collapse and die just three weeks after returning home from what appeared to be the only medical issues he had: acid reflux?

The autopsy report stated Jacques  had two previous heart attacks and obviously devastating heart disease, blockages, chronic congestive heart failure, and angina I started thinking back In early 2000 he had been refused mortgage insurance, (just after he was first diagnosed by DND with Acid reflux) however DND assured us that the civilian medical facility that declined Jacques had no idea what they were talking about. Jacques, according to DND, was a fit and healthy man encouraging him to just ignore the civilian source: “there was nothing wrong with” Jacques. In Jacques’s medical file it was stated during the BOI (Board of Inquiry) that the outside civilian medical source refused to insure him because he was at a high risk for mortality because of his blood tests. Therefore in the last two months of his life, he was not only helping fight the war on Terror he was also fighting a war he could not win; to survive an undiagnosed heart attack at the same time; he didn’t have the tools.

When he passed, I was inconsolable, I was confused and heartbroken…I was lost and devastated…I was questioning everything.

The answers lay with his medical file and the DND. I begged the DND to let me see his medical file, to answer my questions. They chose to do a Board of Inquiry instead. At first they asked for patience and would speak with me once the BOI was complete, six months they said, then I would receive a copy of the file and a debrief. More then two years later, I was still waiting, I sent many emails; time and again I was told to wait.

I needed to know and to understand what happened, Jacques was my husband, my partner, my soul mate, he was in many ways my reason for living; I cried each and every day.

The pain I felt was overwhelming and paralyzing. I didn’t know what happened to him, all I knew is that he went over to the middle east healthy, he saw the DND Medical doctor three times because he was not feeling well; he came back a very ill man, and he collapsed and he died.

I tried and tried to explain to the DND that I really needed to understand what happened to him. He was my rock for over 20 years, he held me together.

After years of waiting, DND sent me a partial copy of the BOI and left out things like the executive summary and that is when the communication stopped. The one thing the BOI report made clear was that this death was NOT service related. They never spoke to me about what I had or had not received.  They did not respond to my emails or letters.

Do you know how painful it is to have questions, need desperately to have the answers? I wanted to understand so that in my heart and soul I could try to start mending and gain peace in my life. Instead, I was met by cold silence. I didn’t even get acknowledgements of my own efforts. I felt totally abandoned by the Military!

Disregarded like trash.

In 2008, I started to write to Minister MacKay, maybe if the department refused to respond to me the elected minister would. I was told the file was closed and he was not about to open it. COLD, CALLOUS AND UNCOMPASSIONATE. I was in pain, a pain I feel to this very day! Other days, I felt angry; Jacques was a servant of Canada, he deserved better. He was promised proper health care; he did not get that. I reached out to others for help in my plight: I had not been given closure; I needed closure.

I reached out to the DND Ombudsman’s office in 2010.  They started an investigation. They had questions. I spoke to them many times but again, no answers were forthcoming. One month led to the next, I would ask for an update. Still no answers.  It was apparent to me that DND preferred I “move on”

Jacques was my life for over twenty years. We planned to grow old together. How can I as his life partner have his life end and not know why. I knew how; he had heart disease for many years; acid reflux presents similar symptoms as heart disease, but acid reflux will not kill you; undiagnosed heart disease will.  But it takes just a blood test or a stress test to rule out the demon of heart disease, a test Jacques never got. That is right, no blood was ever taken; he was never tested for what killed him therefore in reality. HOW SAD IS THAT? Jacques had a treatable disease, but …

On the day the witness side of the BOI was complete in November, 2005, a rep from VAC called me to offer me a pension they felt I may be entitled to, I had no idea even what VAC was at that time. Within three weeks of application it was approved. I am in receipt of a “disability pension” from VAC.  In 2012, I was presented by DND at CFB Trenton aka 8 Wing with the Sacrifice medial and the Memorial Cross. DND was still stating that Jacques death was not service related when I was presented with these medals.

Through the access to information and privacy act (Dec 19, 2007) I was able to get a document (January 23, 2006) that stated under medical opinion “if this client had received different management there may have been a more favourable outcome. An assessment was provided at 100% in Jacques’s favour. The signature on this document was ED Callaghan Adjudicator.

In early 2013, I was so exhausted and frustrated with the CF and the MND office, that I contacted CTV news, I am not a fan of being in the public with my story, I tried to keep it quiet, but I felt I had no choice and told my story.

DND and VAC (Veterans Affairs of Canada), sister departments, looked at the same file, arriving at different conclusions. I wanted a consensus and I wanted answers to my questions. YOU CANT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!!!

The day CTV spoke to the MND office, I was to receive the call I had been waiting 7.5 years for. Peter MacKay, the MND at the time, had made a new determination Jacques death was service related. Finally. Finally. Now I would get answers to my questions and Jacques could rest in peace.

I emailed the Minister, thanking him and presenting him with my unanswered questions. Once again, the waiting started. I waited and waited. Silence from his office, I emailed again. I waited. Nothing.  Six months later, a cabinet shuffle, can you believe that? So I did what one would do. I emailed the new Minister of National defence. I received a response August 21, 2013 “In the case of your husband, the Board of Inquiry concluded that his death was not attributable to service. This determination has not changed, even after higher-level review.”

My husband’s death was no longer service related, you got to be joking. I thought I had already got the insult to injury, but no, no, this was incredible. How could these two elected officials treat a grieving widow and a family this way? Mr. Nicholson just came from the justice department, surely he could see the injustice in this case! I wrote him again. Silence. I sent the document of (August 21st, 2013) on to CTV News, and low and behold as they were airing the story Mr. Nicholson’s office calls me and stated that I misinterpreted his letter and that Jacques death is service related. I had misinterpreted?? Deep, deep breath. Off goes another email with the same questions related to Jacques’s death to see if I will finally get the answers after eight long, long years. That was October 2013, I didn’t even get an acknowledgement that my letters and emails have been received. Then the CF calls me for the long overdue debrief. On December 05, 2013 the debriefing took place here, in Guelph.

The delegated civilian and military members that met with me spoke ONLY of the first BOI which stated the death was not service related and would not take questions….and would not respond to the change of determination by MND (Minister of National Defence) Nicholson or his predecessor, Mr MacKay….surely the minister of Justice and the MND would understand a person’s need for closure, to have the questions with the loss of a loved one so dear to them that it exceeds words. If Mr Nicholson does not want to answer my questions in writing I have asked (Dec 05, 2013) for a meeting with him, one-on-one, him and I. Again that letter has gone unanswered, not acknowledged. Silence.

The DND Ombudsmans office tells me that it’s with the Minister, and they can do no more then that. The file remains open.

Of the 40 short years Jacques lived, 23 years of those precious years were in service to Canada. Don’t you think the MND can offer me a few short moments of one hour of one day so I can understand and come to terms with what happened almost nine years ago?

Lest we forget!

Joan, beloved widow of Jacques.

***

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

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

HARPER: THE BEAST IN HIM

Frank A. Pelaschuk

*   C.R.A.P. – Conservative/Reform/Alliance Party

CRAP – (noun) 1. nonsense, 2. dirt or garbage, 3. excrement, feces, interchangeable with Conservative or Conservative/Reform/Alliance Party

I dislike Stephen Harper. I dislike his gang. I consider them thugs and a threat to Canadian Democracy. From the first, behind a façade of stiff-necked amiability, Harper has revealed a sly, deceitful, churlish, ungenerous, controlling, petty, bullying, and brutal nature that threatens his office and our society.

Since he has taken hold of the Prime Minister’s crown, a rot has infected our Parliamentary democracy. This offends and fills me with disquietude. It should you, as well. As an elected member of parliament and as prime minister, he has defiled the office he holds, tainting the reputation of Canada and, with the assist of loud, angry, offensive, and ignorant conservative MPs, subverted and made a mockery of our electoral process. Though cited for contempt of Parliament, Harper has remained unscathed, unrepentant and the public largely indifferent. That he has a base of support as large as it is astounds me. How can so many be so blind, so indifferent, so…so dumb?

Not that long ago (yet an eternity to this voter), Harper ran on the promises of introducing an open, fair, honest and transparent government, a government that would rid itself of corruption, that would eliminate patronage and cronyism, that would reform the Senate. He gave us none of that. Instead, we now have one of the most closed, secretive, and paranoid governments in Canadian history, a regime that views every critic as the enemy, vilifies every environmentalist as a “radical” stooge of outside forces, and every dissenter as of  “suspect” patriotism. Patronage and cronyism is one of the hallmarks of his terms in office. He has appointed over half of the senators, all Conservative hacks, a few of them now under investigation for abuses in expense and housing allowances, one a pathetic has-been journalist who, averring he has done nothing wrong, refunds the money saying, “I hope it reassures Islanders and Canadians that the old Duff, the Duff they’ve known and trusted, would never do anything wrong. I would never knowingly fiddle anything” and another, appointed in spite of warnings that he could prove problematic, has been thrown under the bus not for what he has done as a Senator, but for allegations of repugnant actions in his private life. Patrick Brazeau, once useful as a trophy Indian Chief in the Senate, was now a liability and easily expendable.

Harper, eyes always on the main chance, is a master politician, no denying that. More than once we have seen how ruthless he could be against one of his own when he feels threatened, as we learned with his brutal discarding of Helena Guergis, once a Conservative bright light and Cabinet minister who suffered a public meltdown at the Charlottetown airport and, shortly thereafter, faced several serious allegations of misconduct, including allegations of a criminal nature by a “third party.” Guergis resigned from her post and was swiftly expelled from the Conservative caucus. No charges were ever laid against her but her reputation had been effectively destroyed by the way Harper and gang handled the affair. The merits of the allegations are of less concern than that Guergis appears to have been denied due process from her own Law and Order government. That episode was enlightening as well as disturbing. Then there was another thrown under the wheels, this involving a young staffer, Michael Sona, thus far the only one held responsible for the Robocalls incidents in which voters were misled and directed to non-existent polling stations. It is a pattern with Harper and gang; never acknowledge wrongdoing, blame others, point to the past wrongdoings of previous governments, never answer a question directly or honesty and, when you do answer, offer bafflegab or respond to another issue regardless of how irrelevant to the topic at hand. Failing all else, find a lamb for slaughter. Apparently it works.

TARGETS

But, if cruel to his own, Harper is even more so to those who stand in his way. With ruthless precision, towards fulfilling his vow to destroy the Liberal party, he has employed personal, cruel and misleading attack ads against Paul Martin, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff while ceaselessly campaigning for his majority. In that, he has been partially successful; the Liberals have been decimated. But they, at least, were legitimate targets, knowing the risks of entering politics though clearly overestimating their abilities while underestimating Harper’s and the ruthlessness of the machine behind him. Unfortunately, Harper and gang do not limit punishment or invective to political opponents. Every opponent and critic who may be heard by the media becomes “the enemy” and thus fair game. However distasteful and unethical their methods, one cannot deny their skill.

There was Pat Stogran, Veterans’ Ombudsman, smeared and vilified for daring to stand up to Harper and gang in defence of veterans who, for their service and sacrifice, were rewarded by an ungrateful Canada by having their disability pensions clawed back, a practice Harper fought hard to keep in place by fighting with veterans at a cost to Canadians of over $750,000. This from the man who 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, he lied on that, didn’t he, his government dropping the clawbacks only after a court decision on another case. Too, there was Linda Keen, of the AECL, smeared and fired for refusing to restart the ailing Chalk River reactor before it was safe to do so and ex-diplomat Richard Colvin who was threatened with prison time if he released certain documents during his appearance before a special committee investigating the abuse of Afghani prisoners. Intimidation, threats and dismissal; makes one proud to be Canadian, doesn’t it?

Another, Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a post created by Harper and gang, has over his tenure endured countless attacks against his person and reputation when he demanded that the government be more open and accountable. And when he suggested the government was holding back information on the F-35s, that the figures Harper presented to the public while campaigning for re-election were far too low, he was ridiculed and charged with partisanship or, worse, incompetence. It helped win Harper his long sought majority though later events would prove Harper a liar and Page right on the money when the costs were revealed to be quadruple Harper’s much touted deliberately misleading lowball numbers. Again Harper and thugs sought to wriggle out of their own snare offering excuses and double-talk with the hollow claim that “no money had yet been spent” on the jets. Only the gullible or truly credulous would believe them on this. Meanwhile, Kevin Page, honest, decent, brave and, yes, respectfully defiant in his quest for independence, had by now made himself a target of Harper, Flaherty and gang who missed no opportunity to publicly attempt to discredit him with suggestions questioning his competence and integrity. The dislike for Page by Harper and thugs is visceral, you can see it and hear it on TV whenever his name is brought up to one of the government gang. Luckily, as with Sheila Fraser, Kevin Page has an ally: the public trusts him. Unfortunately, with Page’s term over, it is likely the department will be quietly closed or, at best, gravely weakened by a compliant and innocuous Harper appointee.

But if Page was an understandable and obvious target, others, less so, are not immune to Conservative hostility and control. In an act of breathtaking hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness, Harper, with the passage of Bill C-377, has demanded of unions what he and his government refuses to offer the public: full transparency and accountability. That unions already are transparent and accountable, matters not to Harper, his goal is to destroy them by imposing onerous and costly demands that they report all transactions over $5000 including salaries and pensions, and all itemized lists of costs of products and services offered by private companies and that the books be open to any union member who asks, something that unions already allow. Yet Harper makes no such demands on his government or of other organizations. If you are a unionist, Harper’s gunning for you, which will make some happy, those anti-unionists who, envious of your wages and benefits but not willing to contribute, would rather pull you down to their level than pull themselves up to yours.

Yet, if unions are targeted, so are government civil servants and scientists who have been muzzled and threatened with dismissal if they talk to the media without written approval. That should send a chill down you spine, as should this: staff at Library and Archives Canada is being trained in a code of conduct emphasizing “duty of loyalty”. That is, duty of loyalty to the government, to Harper’s government. As if they were his personal employees. This is extremely serious and smacks with more than a little of the odour of the McCarthyism of the Truman years when teachers and other public servants were required to swear loyalty oaths to the regime of the time. Even so, Harper and gang do not restrict themselves to intimidation of just civil servants, and scientists; they have also targeted civilians.

When critics from every walk of life stood up against the various omnibus bills, various members of Harper’s gang, Vic Toews in particular, were moved to declare opponents to the online spy bill, Bill C-30 (later scrapped) as standing on the side of pedophiles and criminals and were of questionable loyalty. It did not concern Harper and gang that the critics could have legitimate concerns, that there was not enough information, not enough discussion of the legislation slipped into the bills, that those sneaked in had little to do with the bills themselves and posed a threat to Democracy as well as infringed upon the rights of Canadians. Harper and gang limited debate and imposed closure. The opposition was forced to vote on Bills in which they, and you and I most certainly, have no clear idea of what was included, of who or what will be affected. Even for this government, this was a new low. But not the end of wallowing in the gutter.

Early on in his reign, in response to a question by a reporter, Harper had said, “…cut and running is not my way…” While that was in reference to Canada’s role in Afghanistan, he quickly cut and ran when he prorogued Parliament twice rather than face questions from the opposition regarding his budgets. I would suggest that not only is cut and running second nature to Harper and gang (i.e., blaming and cutting loose staffers and running at the first whiff of trouble), so is arrogance, pride, obfuscation, denial, finger pointing, belittlement, pettiness, and outright intimidation. As he has clearly demonstrated with prorogation, with the scrapping of the long gun registry, and with his omnibus bills, Harper is not one for listening to Canadians who disagree with him, especially to those in the majority who voted against him. With his majority, and in his arrogance, he is evidently of the belief that Canadians with opinions are best ridiculed as elitists and that all Canadians are best served if kept in the dark. It may work in the short term, but eventually this will catch up to him. One needs only recall the words of Thomas Paine: “But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.” In other words, truth will out. And it will.

THE GOLDEN

But, if Harper can be ruthless, he can be loyal, too. Recall his steadfast support of Bev Oda when she, or someone in her staff, forged a signed government document, inserting a “not” so as to take away approved government funding from KAIROS, a charitable group because Harper’s gang did not like its view’s on Israel. Recall how twice she had to reimburse the public purse for expense abuses. With so much against her, it is almost a sad commentary on us that public outrage over a $16 glass of orange juice is what finally brought her down. And remember Del Mastro, that angry, sanctimonious MP who thunderously impugned the opposition in his defence of the Conservatives in the so-called robocalls affair? Where is he, this man so suddenly silent, now that he, himself, is under investigation for campaign overspending? As one of Harper’s golden boys, the PM was quick to defend him and though Del Mastro has missed over two dozen sessions as member of the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee, he remains on the committee and Harper remains mum.

Another golden boy, Natural Resources Minister, Christian Paradis, has been investigated for similar serious lapses, including allegations of influence peddling regarding the awarding of a contract for the renovation of our Parliament building and revealing a serious lack of judgment by spending a weekend with a lobbyist. But, we have to take him at his word there was no lobbying of his office. Too, a former aide of his, Richard Walker, was dismissed for using his office credit card to pay for his trip to Las Vegas and another former aid, Sebastien Togneri, at Natural Resources, had restricted access of data to the media who had applied for it under the Freedom of Informations Act. But Paradis was not done. He was also investigated for his role in the relocation of an Employment Insurance Centre in his riding and for changing the formula to make it easier for private companies to avoid an environment assessment review. And we mustn’t forget the slap on the wrist he received after investigation for conflict of interest when he helped former MP Rahim Jaffer, now a lobbyist, and husband of Helena Guergis mentioned earlier, meet with department officials in an attempt to secure a government contract. But, even with all this, in spite of all this, Paradis still holds his position and remains one of Harper’s valued, trusted ministers. Even if all this is innocence, one must question his judgment and that of Harper for continuing to support him. So far, nothing seems to stick and one can only wonder: Is the public asleep?

Does anyone remember the nearly $1 billion bill for the G8 and G20 conferences for security, the mass arrests with only a handful of convictions? Does anyone recall Tony Clement’s $200K gazebo, the million dollar fake lake, the $50 million Legacy slush fund for his riding? This was the man promoted to presidency of the Treasury Board by Harper, the man who is to oversee major government spending. When concerns are raised regarding these matters, there is silence or accusations of muckraking by the opposition and the media. Do Canadians not have a right to have answers to legitimate concerns? Evidently not. And what about Jason Kenney’s usage of a government letterhead to fundraise, and Jim Flaherty’s use of his office to lobby for a business in his constituency? Small compared to other questionable conduct, but questionable conduct nevertheless. No repercussions for those good old boys, though a Kenney staffer (yet another in an increasingly long list of sacrificial lambs) resigned and the Speaker of the house did rebuke Flaherty. It pays to be one of Harper’s favoured few.

But let’s go back to the issue of overspending. It is not isolated. We have Peter Penashue, the MP from Labrador, “the best MP ever from Labrador,” according to Harper, this of the quietest and least memorable MPs ever. Penashue not only accepted corporate donations (illegal) and overspent during his campaign (illegal) but took over a month to resign when confronted by Elections Canada and, when he did (March 14, 2013), had, four days before, already set up a website to launch his by-election bid. Cynical, questionable, disturbing but not as disturbing as Harper and members of his crew campaigning on his behalf in the House fulsomely praising his stalwart services while blithely ignoring his errancy leaving pundits to speculate whether or not Harper was going to set the by-election date before Elections Canada offered its report on him (the betting is, Harper will call it early). So, for Penashue, apart from resigning and promising of pay back monies for an “error” by an “inexperienced staffer”, what are the consequences? Absolutely zero. Unlike with Guergis, no rush to judgement, which is a good thing, though the evidence against him is compelling and should be enough to end his political career. But not when Harper’s involved. He is going to be allowed to run with the full backing of Harper and crew while the likes of Pierre Poilievre, Candice Bergen and others praise him on Power and Politics for “falling on his sword,” for doing the “honourable”, “responsible”, thing (in resigning) or, in a typical move by this regime, sidestepping the issue by pointing fingers at the NDP for accepting illegal union contributions during their leadership campaign. Apparently, they are unable to understand that the last point is beside the issue, that it offers no argument for not punishing Penashue but, rather, an argument for doing something about the NDP and their issue. With a government that has been less than open and less than clean, such distinctions matter little. Conservatives know from experience that denial, delay, avoidance and mystification will eventually cause the public to tire of the issue and forget it. It’s worked before, hasn’t it? Meanwhile, Harper says that the voters are the best judges of whether Penashue was fit to be returned to office. Really? That may be true if Harper and gang just leave it at that. But, with this government, it’s a fair bet that nothing will be left to chance. Labrador will almost certainly receive a hefty infusion of public money between now and the day of the by-election with full credit attributed to Penashue’s “dogged efforts” on behalf of his riding. Yessiree, even as he’s running for office, a discredited MP, to Harper and gang he’ll always be  “the best-ever MP” and even more so should he be re-elected. They will believe it without irony or shame. The fact is, shame is something from which Harper and gang never suffer. Just look at the government web site and watch the ads on TV and consider his rebranding of the Canadian Government to the Harper Government. Public funds poured into one endless Conservative propaganda campaign of questionable merit, legitimacy and legality. This is his fiefdom and we are his subjects.

THE UNWASHED

Of course, we all know that when Harper speaks of getting tough on crime, he is certainly not talking about those MPs.  Nor is he talking about those Senators who falsely claim housing allowances and who pad their expense accounts for no other reason than they can and will with utter impunity. Whether illegally registering falls claims or accepting donations from corporate friends, all’s forgiven, especially in the Senate when, it appears, all you have to do is return the funds, apologize and “accept” responsibility. Sincerity is optional and it doesn’t matter that the apology and return of funds only came about because you were finally exposed as less than honourable. Of course, if you really accepted responsibility and had an iota of integrity, you’d resign from the Senate and, if a disgraced MP, lick your wounds and never run again. If you had integrity. But, for Harper and members of the Conservative/Reform/Alliance Party, integrity is as rare a commodity as shame and certainly not a requirement. We know by now that Harper has an extremely high tolerance for such indiscretions from those favoured sons and daughters in the Senate and his caucus.

Unfortunately, those collecting EI can expect no such leniency or tolerance from Harper or from Vic Toews, his Minister of Security, and Jason Kenney, his Minister of Immigration. Rather, you immediately move to top the list of suspected fraudsters, presumed guilty without benefit of hearing, any offer of evidence or sense of fairness. The same goes for immigrants who have had their refugee claims denied or rescinded simply because of a few honest errors on the application forms. Never mind that they may have lived, worked and paid taxes here for years. When that happens, you better pray you are not sick because you are immediately cut off from the Interim Federal Health Program and likely to be subject to quick expulsion (unlike many criminals who, knowing how to milk the system seldom suffer consequences). Too, after the release of an intelligence report suggesting that immigrant Hungarians are responsible for a spike in crime and fraudulent EI claims, Jason Kenney has warned that Romas seeking asylum will be turned away. If that is not racial profiling, what is? The Romas, persecuted for centuries, have suffered particularly at the hands of the Hungarians, including death, with some political leaders calling for their extermination. Yet Canada, without a trace of irony, has labelled Hungary as one of the “safe” countries.

As well, if you are an immigrant coming across the border, you’re likely to be a target on a government approved, so-called “reality” show featuring members of The Canadian Border Services Agency showing “the situations faced daily by our front-line border officers,” according to Vic Toews. Evidently, the show’s focus is the targeting of illegal immigrants. One has to wonder to what those who appear on the show, had to agree. Not only is this show an invasion of privacy, it is exploitation, plain and simple, cheap, sensational stuff, meant to puff up Harper’s government as tough on illegals with the presumption, again, of those appearing on camera as conniving, dishonest abusers of our immigration policy. If that doesn’t concern you, maybe this will: How much of your money is being funnelled in this repugnant, scapegoating Harper-backed program? Well, Harper and Toews don’t believe you’re entitled to know.

Yes, Harper’s get tough on crime will appeal to most of us who harbour the lowest view of those who collect unemployment insurance, who are homeless and who commit crime. They are all lazy, worthless, good-for-nothing bums leeching off the good will and generosity of society. Harper panders to the worst in us, exploiting and exacerbating our fears, our bigotry, our ignorance. In his narrow world and that of his supporters, one size fits all and statistics and science are thrown by the wayside as useless tools when not meshing to their distorted worldview. So Harper would build more jails (but not let us in on the cost), he would impose harsher punishment (while still refusing to acknowledge that crime rates are down while fighting crime costs are up). Rehabilitation does not concern him. It’s all about punishment and revenge and the harsher, the more extreme, the better, he believes, because it will earn votes. It’s all about the main chance. He is not interested in the price you may pay when that prisoner, well punished but ill equipped to function in society, is released, as he one day will be. There is no thought for the effects on future generations of such a cold policy. Harsh punishment may satisfy the vengeful among us but is such short-sightedness good for society? Is it healthy, will it reduce crime, create a better, safer world? Harper, Toews, and the rest of CRAP have no interest in these issues. Their only wish is to placate us into believing they are doing something, anything. If that means demeaning, dehumanizing, and demonizing convicts, the mentally ill, immigrants, the unemployed, so be it. That such a view is neither right nor just does not matter. Harper and gang play to the worst in us. Clearly it works. Yet we must ask this: What cause is served when Harper takes away the annual fundraising pizza drive of inmates, a drive that raises over $150K for the needy? None, yet Harper has done that. I suspect it was because the prisoners reaching out felt good, felt they were making a difference, and prison is not about feeling good.

Canadians should pause and consider the treatment Harper and thugs offer natives, immigrants, the unemployed, and those on the margins, the homeless, mentally ill, and imprisoned as compared to their corporate friends for whom they lobby. While they dwell on this, they should also think of an old Yiddish saying: God loves the poor but helps the rich. With Harper, there is no pretence of loving the unfortunate poor, miserable, and troubled. Of all Harper’s people, these are the least cherished and least loved and, yet, the most utile: they are fodder for scapegoating.

STRAW MEN

It is not enough that Harper satisfies your needs and your wants, which apparently have little to do with the needs, wants and wishes of most Canadians. Lower taxes, less government, tough on crime. Is that all it takes to determine that a man like Harper is fit for office? Tax cuts represent a massive savings for business and the wealthy but, for the majority of us, they amount to savings of about the cost of a cheap television set or less. Is it really worth the price of a few paltry dollars to elect such a man? Are we that easily bought? Are we really willing to sacrifice our health care, our social safety nets? Are we really willing to allow our infrastructure to further decay, to risk the poisoning of our drinking water, to continue to allow our roads to collapse, and our citizens occasionally killed by falling debris from overpasses badly in need of repairs? One needs only look at Ireland to see how well tax cuts and deregulation has worked for its citizens. Do we really want to take that road? Today, Corporate profits and salaries of executives are the highest they have ever been and yet jobs are shipped overseas, workers and unions are under siege, and the purchasing power of the average Canadian worker is equivalent to that of the 1970s and 80s. Tax cuts work well for Big Business and those in the upper bracket, but why must the ordinary citizen bear the brunt as a consequence? Why do we continue to buy the myth of Conservatives as better money managers when, in fact, the reverse is true? According to the Ottawa Citizen (March 20, 2013), when Jim Flaherty took office in 2006 as finance Minister, there was a surplus of $13.2B. As of March 20, 2013, there was a deficit of $26.2B. So much for Harper and the myth of fiscal responsibility. But, if you ask him, he’ll blame it on the mismanagement of old Liberal governments and on outside forces. When it comes to blame, the buck never stops with Harper and gang.

Perhaps the most offensive thing about Harper and his crew of thugs, apart from their hypocrisy, is the extent of their hubris and smallness of mind. Because of their majority (which they intend to increase with the creation of 30 seats and a gerrymandered outcome), they act as a law unto themselves. Never mind that only 40 per cent voted for them. Even so, with that vast majority, they cannot stop themselves from acting in ways that demeans them and their offices. Earlier, there was mention of KAIROS being defunded by this government because Harper did not approve of its views. Yet, Crossroads, a Christian organization, loudly and virulent anti-gay, working in Uganda, a country which targets homosexuals, had its funding renewed by Harper’s government until, disconcerted by the outcry of rage denouncing the decision, Associate Minister of National Defence, Julian Fantino, promised to review the decision. Evidently, if you share Harper’s values, you’ve made a friend for life or for as long as you don’t make waves. And yet, in the spirit of meanness and pettiness, Harper and gang could not even set aside partisanship when, in holding a ceremony to honour volunteers from across the country, they had removed from the guest list all Liberal MPs who had been invited. It was a gesture so lacking in generosity, so blatantly political, that it discredits Harper’s office and forever brands him as “small”. Utterly without shame, there is nothing he and gang would not politicize to their advantage. Sometimes, as in this instance, it backfires.

Stephen Harper has cheapened our status in the world and cost us a seat in the UN Security Council. He has made a mockery of our Democracy and I believe him and his gang a serious threat to Canada and to Canadians. He frightens me more than any terrorist simply because his mind is too focused on the end game, holding on to power, serving his corporate friends, and making his mark regardless of the scars he makes on our lives. He is more interested in the health of Big Business than in the health of Canadians and Canada; under his regime, following the deaths of twenty-two Canadians from tainted meat and the poisoning of many others, Harper and gang deregulated the food industry reducing the role of food inspectors to that of rubber-stampers of in-house testing performed by meat producers. Health Canada, under Leona Aglukkak, has gone from respected organization to something resembling a corporate lackey. Scientists who have spoken up have been dismissed. Demands from Canadians for better food labeling have been ignored as well as demands that the food industry be compelled to reduce sodium amounts in what we eat. Aglukkaq prefers to rely on the “voluntary” approach with Big Business. Yeah, that will work; Big Business will always put the interest of consumers ahead of profits. At least, that is what Harper and gang would have you believe.

Harper and members of the Conservative/Reform/Alliance Party are crude, nasty, belligerent and utterly shameless. They appear to believe that no dirty trick is too dirty or too vile not to be exploited. Harper is a moralizer when it comes to the faults of others, a finger pointer and a blamer but has little patience for self-examination, doubt or for criticism and opposition. As for such lofty concepts as truth, honesty, ethics, integrity, decency? They are clearly not in the personal lexicon of Harper and gang who apparently deem them essential in others but a hindrance when applied to themselves and their goals. This is a man who believes with absolute certitude that he is right in all things and that everyone else who disagrees is wrong, a fool, and a personal threat, therefore the enemy. He is stubborn and wilful and will admit to fault or risk apology only if he believes it will enhance his image or further entrench his grip on power. He can, and does, lie to the public and he does so easily, without shame. He has the majority. He believes he has the right to do anything he wishes. So far, the voters, in giving him a free ride, appear to agree with him. Why?

THINK

I suggest that all Canadians watch Question Period and Power and Politics on CBC. When you do, you will almost never hear a direct response from Harper or gang to a direct question from the opposition. Instead you will hear contemptuous laughter, rude dismissal and ludicrous attempts to turn the table on the opposition with accusations having nothing to do with the original question in the first place. The only facts that count are Harper facts and everyone else should just shut up. You’ll seldom hear a direct, let alone honest, answer from Harper or members of his gang. And when a question is asked another way, the response is always exactly the same as the first, jeers, countercharges and, all too often, when Harper, Flaherty, Baird or one of the others makes what they smugly believe to be a particularly telling point, there is a mass rising from the gang and loud, sustained applause. The faces of those conservative backbenchers and ministers are, invariably, beaming, almost glowing, with the ecstasy of the sycophantic self-congratulating idolaters in the state of rapture. It is orchestrated and unconvincing except, perhaps, to the blind or true believer.

Too, almost daily, on Power and Politics with Evan Solomon as host, something similar happens, though it’s not as large and not quite as noisy as in the House simply because there is no entourage surrounding the representatives of the three major parties. Parliamentary secretaries of various ministers usually represent the government and they include Michelle Rempel, Kellie Leitch, Candice Bergen, Chris Alexander et al. While all of them are attractive in a bland way, to this observer they are thoroughly unlikeable reminding me of talking dolls who, when asked a question and wearing similar blank looks and vacuous smirks seldom, if ever, stray from the script loudly talking over their opponents often with sneering dismissal and much rolling of the eyes. As a consequence, the viewer is left dissatisfied if not enraged having learned nothing but hearing a lot of white noise. It is as if the recorder, when the string is pulled, has become stuck in a loop and the message of the day is repeated again and again word for word every time they open their mouths. It is a disheartening spectacle to witness the same evasiveness, obstruction, misinformation, character assassinations, and churlishness from those Harper puppets. The contempt these Conservatives hold for the opposition and for the viewing public is palpable. They really do believe we are all stupid, that we cannot understand what we are witnessing and that we deserve to be in the dark. Civility and decorum is no more a part of this government’s nature than is openness and transparency. The robocalls scandal and the Penashue escapade should be warnings to all Canadians to what extent the Conservatives will go to cling to power once they have snatched it. Watching Harper and his gang perform, and that’s what it is, a performance, is painful because you know you are not witnessing Democracy in action, but rather, a subversion of it by a divisive, secretive, contemptuous, hypocritical and controlling cabal who would have you believe it was otherwise.

Anti-Democratic. Smug. Shameless. Deceitful. Closed. Secretive. Brutally partisan. Small and ungenerous. They are not qualities to be admired and yet these are the things I see in Harper and they are not erased, nor his image softened, by his spirited rendition of a Beatles tune at a National Arts Centre fundraiser several years ago. The song, “With A Little Help From My Friends,” escapes irony because all too true.

No, I do not like him. I do not trust him.

Why do you? – March 28, 2013

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