August 15, 2010
I’m always wary of the words like “fascism” and “dictatorship.” People on the left have a tendency to use such terms too casually, which simply erodes their power. So when I find myself deeply disquieted by the attitudes and actions of the Harper government, I’m not in a rush to apply those names.
And yet… At what point in the 1930s should Germans or Italians have begun to use those terms, and to treat their own governments with distrust and suspicion.? Hitler was democratically elected, after all — with a minority government — and then employed what one commentator calls his “blend of political acuity, deceptiveness and cunning” to transform Germany’s feeble democracy into the murderous Third Reich.
At what point did the majority of Germans — who were not Nazis — definitively fail to stop him? And what should they have done? And how would Canadians recognize a similar moment in our own country, if one should occur?
I am not saying that the Stephen Harper is another Hitler, even in embryo. But as I watch his masterful and ruthless manipulation of his situation as a minority Prime Minister, I am certainly struck by his “blend of political acuity, deceptiveness and cunning.” He dodges defeat by proroguing Parliament — not once, but twice. When the Supreme Court rules that his government has infringed the Charter rights of Omar Kadr, he ignores the Supreme Court. He treats politics as a perpetual state of total war. He loads up his budget bill with all manner of contentious, non-budget items, and dares the Opposition to defeat the bill and precipitate an election. The smaller parties might accept the dare, but the Liberals — never a party of principle — are terrified of an election, so they become Harper’s enablers.
Since the Liberals are jellyfish, the true opposition must come from outside Parliament. A petition now circulating begins, “Since 2006 the Government of Canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices, and has eroded the protection of free speech, and other fundamental human rights. It has deliberately set out to silence the voices of organizations or individuals who raise concerns about government policies or disagree with government positions. It has weakened Canada’s international standing as a leader in human rights. The impact and consequences for the health of democracy, freedom of expression, and the state of human rights protection in Canada are unparalleled.”
All true, and you can find the petition here. I’ve signed it, and I hope you will, but it’s too general to be very effective. Fundamentally, it calls on the Harperites to be nice and play by the rules. Fat chance.
But that, perhaps, is the importance of the census brouhaha. The census is an unlikely flashpoint, but the issue once again reveals this government’s sneakiness, and its preference for ideology over information. And it turns out that accurate census information is important to a far wider range of interests than the government ever suspected. Furthermore, a courageous public servant was prepared to resign over the issue. This is an odd point to be drawing a line in the sand, but if that’s where the push-back begins, so be it.
Fundamentally, Harper doesn’t like Canada very much. It’s too liberal, too loose, too polite. It values community as much as commerce. The Prime Minister wants Canada to be harder, more aggressive, less forgiving, and he has set out to make it so — whether the country likes it or not. That doesn’t make him a fascist, but it doesn’t make him much of a democrat either.
As Lawrence Scanlan recently wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, “Our government freely spends tax dollars on prisons, police and war machinery, while insisting ‘taxes’ is a dirty word.” He reeled off his own list of embarrassments. “The tar sands, our pathetic stance at the Copenhagen conference on climate change, the prison farms/super prisons debacle, ongoing asbestos mining, the shift from peacekeeper to major player in a dubious war, Afghan detainees: what’s appalling, and indeed what has perhaps enabled all this, is our apathy. And there’s a price to be paid for apathy.”
Yes, there is. This is the way your own government steals your country. Just ask the Germans.
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Silver Donald Cameron is host and executive producer of the environmental web site www.TheGreenInterview.com. His new book, A Million Futures: The Remarkable Legacy of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, will be published by Douglas and McIntyre next month.