Silver Donald Cameron

The Ugly Government of Canada

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 His new book, A Million Futures: The Remarkable Legacy of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, will be published by Douglas and McIntyre next month.

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10 Responses to “The Ugly Government of Canada”

  1. Adam Bell says:

    Thanks for the article and for the link to Voices. I’ve signed. You (and they) have articulated quite precisely why I stopped donating to the Conservative party after the first prorogation, and I had been getting increasingly antsy before that without really putting it so succinctly.

    Read Daniel Leger’s Column for more of the same, if you can:

  2. Karen Sloan says:

    Dear Mr. Cameron,
    You’ve certainly hit the nail on the head with your article.
    I started becoming concerned about Mr. Harper’s agenda when he had the word “Equality” removed deliberately from the Canadian Status of Women’s Act. This happened a few years ago with no fanfare or outcry from the media at all.
    Since then, I’ve been absolutely gobsmacked at what this minority government is getting away with, and the very obvious right wing agenda they are catering to.
    Even at the risk of friends labelling me as a left winged nut job, (I am a moderate), but have been stating for a couple of years my feelings, which are that Stephen Harper and his tightly controlled government officials are nothing more than a not so merry band of Fascists, a word I don’t like to throw around casually either.
    One only has to read the 14 points towards Fascism to see the comparisons with Harper’s government. Anyone can Google it to see for themselves.
    It’s a slippery slope, and I’m hoping more Canadians will wake up from the antipathy that Mr. Harper has boldly stated he counts on.

  3. George Lowe says:

    I could not agre more. We are in a sad state of affairs when we cannot trust one word that any of our Conservative members of parliament says.

    I have heard several commentors call our prime minister a liar. Could you ever imagine anyone saying this of Lester Pearso, Joe Clark, Paul Martin or Pierre Trudeau? (You might not have agreed with them, but you would at least be able to give them the credit for telling the truth.)

    Ken Dryden said it best: “I want my Canada back!”.

  4. Eric says:

    I am not sure how SDC’s indirect comparison of our Prime Minister to Adolph Hitler is related to your linked column unless you were comparing the border guards to Nazi’s. Granted the boarder guards work for the government but so does the RCMP officer who treated the sailor quite nicely in Canso. In any huge bureaucracy you are going to find people who overstep the bounds of courtesy and civility. That is one of the reasons we need to reduce the size of government as well as get more accountability into the system. I don’t expect many Canadians whether they be on the right, centre or left of the political spectrum would countenance the activity of the border guards. I am not sure who you have found politically to make a contribution to if anyone, however, I wish you the best in your search.

  5. Scott Trenholm says:

    Mr. Cameron, I read with interest your article. I certainly agree that Stephen Harpur is not an incarnation of Adolph Hitler. Hitler was actually a little more transparent. He ran as a facist and made it clear that he would dismantle the Weimar Constitution at the first opportunity. In the last election he won an astounding majority and carried out his promises. Harpur is not so forthcoming. Indeed a better analogy might be St John the Baptist. He came to prepare the way for one who was greater. So too does Harpur. Not deliberately, but certainly his erosion of the countries democratic institutions, his contempt for liberal democratic principals of human rights and individual freedoms and his willingness to ignore the supreme court establish precedents which will be uselful to a future demagogue. Just as Harpur would not be possible without the shadow of George Bush and the spectre of 9/11. So to will his actions make it possible for more ruthless and more competent leaders to gather power unto themselves. This of course is only one of many possible futures. Sadly though there are other considerations. Climate change can no longer be ignored. We are now tasting the first bitter drops of a very full poisoned chalice which we continue to top off. As hunger and water shortages become the norm over much of the globe we will see greater political turmoil and warfare. At a time when we need to reinforce international institutions to deal with these problems and national ones to preserve the rights of our citizens in a fair and balanced way, we must ask ourselves can we afford Stephen Harpur and the damage he is doing.

  6. Tony Stephenson says:

    I congratulate you on your column “So much for democracy (The Ugly Government of Canada) in the last Sunday Herald. I have signed the Voices petition.
    Your thoughts exactly echo what I have been increasingly thinking over the past year. Especially now with Harper’s Census decision which, is, in my opinion, deliberately aimed at rendering prevuiously accurate science untrustworthy, so that no one can confidently counter any of his positions by referring to statistical figures on crime, climate change, etc.

    I might add two other signs that, rather disturbingly, seem to mirror what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Firstly, Harper’s “War Roon, Information Centre, or what ever he chooses to call, it; which the Tories stated some time ago, if my memory serves me correctly, should be used by the media to filter all their news and opinions abouty the Federal Government. Think back to Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda! Didn’t that initially have exactly the same function? Secondly, the intention to build a great many new prisons. What did Hitler’s henchmen build in various locations in Austria, Germany and Poland?

    Add to the above Dan Leger’s Editorial in yesteday’s Chronicle Herald about the shocking treatment a veteran yachtsman received at the hands of the Canadian Border Services (Border Bullies).

    I begin to get the distinct impression that the Nazification of Canada is well under way.

  7. Adam Bell says:

    Now the long gun registry chief follows the veterans ombudsman.

  8. Dan Colborne says:

    Mr. Cameron, you’re being silly and alarmist. I too have issues with the government, but the democratic process will deal with them adequately. And, on the long form census, they are absolutely right.

    The issue is not the long form per se, but the intimidation used to create compliance among vulnerable segments of the population, particularly the poor new Canadians and aboriginals. This is citizen abuse, and the fact that we’ve been doing it forever, or even that we really, really, really want the info, is no excuse. I was quite astonished when I reviewed the questions on the 2001 and 2006 forms. Asking people if they’re in a same-sex common-law relationship (in so many words), or which of the children in the household were born out of wedlock (not in so many words but implied), is an invasion of privacy. If the government needs to ask these sorts of questions fair enough, but people who feel they’re too intrusive need to be free to decline to answer without any fear of retaliation. Demanding to know these sorts of things seems almost… well…fascist.

  9. sdc says:

    I agree that the penalties for non-compliance need not have been so severe (though they were never invoked, so this is a largely theoretical issue.) But a survey — and that’s really what the census is — is not an invasion of privacy if the results are not published in a way that can identify the respondent. And the census provides really vital information for understanding our community and shaping policies and programs to serve it, not just by the government, but by the schools, advertisers, marketers, planners and so forth. There’s a public good being served here that far outweighs the inconvenience.

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