Prime Minister Stephen Harper has of late embraced the ermine and purple of royalty. Much more on this in a moment, but first...
A recent post in the Globe and Mail disclosed some internal emails that sheds more light on the nature of Harper's skewed (and largely self-serving) notion of what it means to be Prime Minister. The chief of social media for Health Canada asked in a Nov. 30, 2010 email,
"Since when have we started making announcements as the 'Harper Government'?"
"Why is @healthcanada creating partisan 'press releases' and marketing them as non-partisan ministry news?"
"This was a directive I received from PCO."
"The existence of this draconian, Orwellian, unprecedented prerequisite to clear any and all public statements that might be picked by the media reflects, in my view, a level of micromanagement in the public service, a lack of confidence, trust and respect, and a commitment to total control of the message the like of which has never been seen before."
"Non-partisan departmental web sites switched to a Tory-blue motif soon after the Conservatives took power in 2006, and taxpayer funded Economic Action Plan website, signs and ads have blanketed the country since 2009 in a 'whole of government' exercise that is indistinguishable from the partisan Conservative pitch."
"There's a serious issue here and it's a deeply corrupting one for the public service. I would say that any public servant who's involved in communications activities of that type is in breach of both the Communications Policy and the Values and Ethics Code."
Beyond the re-branding of Canada in his own image, consider other initiatives planned by the "Harper Government". Recent news reports (here and here) indicate that he will re-introduce anti-terrorism laws that sunset in 2007 in order to further protect Canadians (this tactic sounds ominously familiar, if you follow even casually the American experiment in "democracy"). Harper said in an interview with the CBC that the major threat to Canada "is still Islamism". His proposal will give police the power to arrest suspects without warrant, and to detain them for up to three days without charges. In another, he would give judges the power to jail reluctant witnesses so as to encourage their cooperation. Such controversial law-and-order bills were off the table when Harper was in a minority position, but he now intends to push the legislative agenda of guns, prisons and increased powers to police. In response interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said the "Harper Government" is intent on,
"taking us on a forced march to the mid-18th century with their approach to criminal justice."In recent months Harper has pushed at the criminal justice system in several ways. He has, against all logic, signaled his intent to spend $billions on a massive new prison infrastructure, this at a time when crime rates are falling. His justice minister has demanded of judges apply mandatory sentencing guidelines that even the Americans have called out-of-step. And Harper has himself suggested that judges be more responsive to the government.
It is instructive that while Harper pushes get-tough-on-crime legislation, has demonstrated his own inclination to circumvent the rule of law. An issue that deeply concerns Canadians is climate change; Harper has not accepted the reality of the problem, or the science behind it. While the Harper Conservatives were still in minority, parliament passed the Climate Change Accountability Act, which called upon the government to establish regulations that would substantially reduce greenhouse emissions.
But the wily Stephen Harper chose to kill the bill in the Senate, where Conservatives are in the majority, by ensuring that the passage was debated when Liberal senators were away. This action demonstrates our prime minister's true regard for the concept of democracy, and it shows why he is far better suited to the role of king. Jack Layton called this action,
"One of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada. To take power that doesn't rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is a wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country."
Harper has returned Canada to a by-gone era with several actions to embrace the monarchy. Most recently he restored the "Royal" name to the Canadian armed forces, an action in a former colony largely indifferent to the queen as head of state (indifferent except, of course, when Kate and William are touring). This is part of a larger strategy to place greater emphasis on traditional symbols such as the military, ice hockey, arctic sovereignty, patriotism, and the monarchy -- see Jeffery Simpson's commentary in today's Globe and Mail. Symbols are vital to the style of governance envisioned by Harper's Conservatives. These symbols are necessary to advance his agenda to shift Canada's ideological centre from centre-left to centre-right. He must do this because, despite all his bravado, Conservative values are not yet Canadian values.
"He's trying to roll back the Trudeau revolution. Trudeau did a lot of things to upset traditional minded [evangelical?] Canadians, introducing more socialism, making government bigger and going after traditions like the military and the monarchy."Of course, you will know that the Liberals were displaced in the last election by Jack Layton's New Democratic Party which, by the very nature of the NDP, must give Harper uncontrolled gastric pain.
As you read the details of Harper's grand strategy, you cannot miss its parallels to the right-wing in America, with its focus on rolling back Roosevelt's New Deal, its emphasis on traditional values and its blind hatred for all things that smack (to them) of socialism. And it should not surprise you that the neo-conservative movement is alive and well here in Canada. To reinforce the point, Shadia Drury has an excellent and illuminating piece in the latest issue of Humanist Perspectives on this very subject.
And, most egregious, it is a plan that has no mandate from the Canadian people.
With a four year stretch of uncontested power ahead of him, I fear Stephen Harper will do tremendous damage to Canada.
Your musical accompaniment for the day: Dazed and Confused, Led Zeppelin; Led Zeppelin I. Enjoy.