he American newspaper journalist H.L. Mencken once quipped, “Democracy is the theory that common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” Canadians’ complacency is in the process of getting us just that.
Given that last election about 40 per cent of eligible voters didn’t vote, and that the alternative parties split some of the vote, the Conservative “majority” is based, at best, on the confidence of about 27 per cent of Canadians. Now they and the rest of us are about to get it “good and hard.”
Change won’t come all at once, like the clumsy “blitzkrieg” the BC Liberals initially inflicted on us here a decade ago. The Liberals illegally shredded contracts and broke promises with tremendous gusto in their early going and then gradually pulled back from some of their more lunatic ideas, adopting a kind of steady, ongoing corruption.
By contrast, Harper is patient, chipping away at Canada’s former liberal consensus a bit at a time, applying lessons such as how best to use attack advertising from his Republican mentors in the US, and turning Canada into a neoconservative state modeled on examples provided by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and the two Bush presidents.
In previous parliaments (that unlike Harper’s most recent minority, were not dissolved because the party in power was found to be in contempt of parliament) prime ministers and their cabinets took at least some interest in public opinion beyond the editorial pages of their committed supporters.
However, the constitutional structure in Canada puts so much power in the hands of the prime minister that with a majority behind him in the House, Harper can do pretty much as he wishes.
The changes are starting to come pretty relentlessly: more corporate tax cuts, omnibus crime bill, dissolution of the wheat board, legislative interference in collective bargaining, expanded military spending, gradual defunding of health care, abandonment of environmental protection, and even potentially raising the age of Old Age Security eligibility, removing abortion rights and reinstating capital punishment.
The Conservative omnibus crime bill projects huge increases to legal and prison costs by implementing a plan even the American state of Texas, renowned for its law and order populism, found an expensive failure. In addition, Harper not only rid Canada of the long gun registry (against the advice of police chiefs across Canada), but also decided to destroy the potentially life-saving data it has collected.
Harper’s punitive interference in the Canada Post and the Air Canada contract negotiations betrays his basic contempt for legal collective bargaining.
Harper’s Minister of Finance recently met with provincial health ministers, not to discuss the financing of health care, but to deliver a fait accompli regarding how the Conservatives intend to manage this file. It would be more accurate to describe the plan as a gradual defunding of health care, a gradual diminishment that has become Harper’s trademark strategy.
Harper has pulled Canada ever closer to the United States, signing a North American security perimeter agreement that aligns our foreign policy more tightly to theirs. He is increasing defence budgets and promoting the militarization of the Arctic, and has committed Canada to spending billions of dollars on fighter jets we don’t need.
A recent Globe and Mail feature “Tory MP’s call to revisit rights-of-unborn law fuels abortion debate.” Here comes the Tory assault on a woman’s right to choose. Capital punishment, anyone? Given the overall direction of Conservative initiatives, it would not be surprising to see this issue pushed forward by a revenge-seeking Tory MP.
Harper does not support environmental protection. His government slashed the budget of Environment Canada by 43%, then followed up this move by proposing the removal of over 700 experienced scientists and researchers from the organization.
Only recently the Conservative government abandoned the already toothless Kyoto Protocol on climate change, making us an internationally despised nation. As for our local NEB hearings on the Enbridge pipeline, the decision to approve it has probably already been made.
Canadians asked for it. “Good and hard” is coming.
Al Lehmann is a teacher living in Terrace, BC.