2015

What Has Stephen Harper Done that Any Other PM of Canada Hasn’t Already Done?

Maybe this is a question you ask yourself because, oh, I don’t know, you’re excessively partisan, or you’re not paying attention. (Pardon my glibness, I’m just very…frustrated. Maybe I need to start again…)

Take 2:

Maybe you say to yourself, “I really do not understand why so many people are against Harper?” or you say “People who are opposed to Harper exaggerate so much” or you say “The Senate scandal is hardly as bad as the Sponsorship scandal” or some variation of that. And you intend upon voting Conservative in the upcoming election. Well, a facebook user has compiled a useful list as to why you should not vote Conservative, because this government is not like any other. Please read it:

 

I have been asked recently by some of my Conservative-Party-Loyal friends why I would ever support someone other than Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. “What has he done that every other politician hasn’t?” I am asked. Well, in the interest of keeping my promise, here is a short list. I apologize for the obviously partisan [well, not party-loyal to any party, but the focused on what Stephen Harper has done to dissuade me from his consideration] nature of the post:

* Stephen Harper Found in Contempt of Parliament

For refusing to disclose information on the costing of programs to Parliament, which Parliament was entitled to receive, the Harper government became the first in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament. This alone is a big deal. Even the Speaker of the House found it indefensible.

* Against Court Order, Refusal to Share Budget Info

Even though it lost a court case and was ordered to comply, the Harper government nevertheless still refused to share 170 times reasons and impacts for cuts with Canada’s independent budget watchdog, mocking Parliament’s right to control the public purse.

* Conservative Cabinet Staffers Granted Immunity from Testimony

A PMO edict absolved, or claimed to absolve, political staffers from ever having to testify before parliamentary committees.

* Conservatives Falsify Reports and Documents

Among documents deliberately altered in the writing or the quoting by the government: CIDA document by Bev Oda’s office on Kairos; the Senate Committee Report on the Duffy affair; a report by former auditor general Sheila Fraser on financial management.

* Repeated Duplicity in Afghan Detainees Controversy

Among the abuses: Parliament was misled and denied documents. An inquiry was shut down. CPC MPs attempted to discredit diplomat Richard Colvin whose testimony diverted from the government’s line of denial.

* Repeated Duplicity on Costing of F-35 Fighter Jets

An auditor general’s report revealed serial deceptive practices used by the Conservatives in misleading both the public and especially Parliament on the projected cost of the fighter jets. Additionally, after the government agreed to review the purchase, perhaps even open it up to competitive bidding, the committee chosen by the Harper Government reported (18 months later) that the review will recommend buying the same plane, on the same terms — without competition.

* CPC Minister Lies, Blames Statistics Canada for Killing Long Form Census

Under fire for Conservatives killing the long form census, Industry Minister Tony Clement falsely stated that StatsCan backed the idea and assured the voluntary substitute would yield valid statistical data. Neither was true, outraged StatsCan sources confirmed, such that the head of StatsCan publicly refuted the lies about his statements and support, stepping down in protest as well.

* Conservative MP Lies to Parliament, Later Admits He Lied to Parliament

As opposition members claimed the Harper government was out to rig election rules in its favour, Conservative MP Brad Butt rose in the House of Commons to say why the bill was needed — all the voter fraud he had personally witnessed in Nova Scotia. Weeks later he rose again to say his statements had been entirely false. Delivering his strained apology, he failed to explain why he lied in the first place.

* Conservative House Leader Admits to Mockery of Question Period

Criticized far and wide for farcical answers in question period, Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to Harper, made a tearful apology for abuse of the democratic process, in this case for having pretended to repeatedly hear “Iraq” as “Israel.” He continued to fail to answer questions by instead giving spurious and “comedic” answers, however, as time went on.

* Harper Maligns the Supreme Court Chief Justice

The Prime Minister took the unprecedented step of alleging inappropriate conduct by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. Facts undermined the credibility of the PM’s position.

* Conservatives Engage in Abuse of Process with Omnibus Bills

Harper’s party pushed legislation through Parliament via omnibus bills, the scale of which Parliament had never seen. Such bills are widely condemned as an abuse of the democratic process, because they blend and bury so many controversial laws within one dense package. Harper himself once railed against them, and his born again love for them made his own MPs queasy. Referencing such bills, former auditor general Sheila Fraser said that “Parliament has become so undermined that it is almost unable to do the job that people expect of it.”

* Harperites Deliberately Sabotage, Stymie Committee System

Conservatives used tactics such as barring witnesses, closure, time limitations, and in camera sessions to an extent rarely, if ever, witnessed in Canada. In their early days in power, top Conservatives prepared a handbook instructing committee chairpersons how to obstruct proceedings.

* Harper’s Own CPC MPs Protest Muzzling

In a caucus known for his tight discipline, in 2014 some members finally rose up to contest being censored at question period by the Prime Minister’s Office. Former Conservative backbencher Brent Rathgeber turned independent and published a book, Irresponsible Government, decrying anti-democratic practices.

* Conservative Bill Back-Dates Bill To Before Bill Was Enacted to Protect Mounties from Potential Criminal Charges Against Access To Information Violation

To protect the RCMP’s acceding to demands from the PMO to illegally destroy records early, the government made an old bill come retroactively into force before it had actually been passed by Parliament.

* Harper Minister Caught in Advertising Scam with Public Funds

The Globe and Mail revealed that Harper’s chosen Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre commissioned a team of public servants for overtime work on a Sunday to film him glad-handing constituents. The vanity video on the taxpayer dime was to promote the government’s benefits for families.

* Access to Information System Impeded

Many new roadblocks have been put up by the Harper Conservatives. Former Information Commissioner Robert Marleau concluded that having obtained absolute power, the prime minister “has absolutely abused that power to the maximum.”

* The Silencing of the Public Service

The PMO took an unprecedented step in instituting a system wherein the bureaucracy has all its communications vetted by the political nerve centre. The policy contribution role of the public service is significantly reduced. Complaints from insiders allege that the Privy Council office has become increasingly politicized. In particular, science and scientists have been controlled and impeded in their communications, especially but not exclusively in preventing information on climate change.

* Loyalty Oaths Imposed on Public Servants

Archivists and librarians were made to swear strict oaths of allegiance and were hit with restrictions on freedom of speech that editorialists of the right and left described as chilling, as they are not being applied to the crown or the nation, but to the party and politicians in power, and are expected to apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

* Harper Government Sued by Justice Department Whistleblower

Time and again the Harper government propose bills that end up being shot down by the courts, prompting critics to say such legislation is more about making political statements than lasting policy. The wasted efforts bothered senior justice department lawyer Edgar Schmidt so much he finally sued the government for breaking the law by inadequately evaluating whether proposed bills violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He was promptly suspended without pay.

* Conservatives Block Accreditation for Opposition MPs

In another example of partisanship taken to new heights, the PMO blocked opposition members from being accredited for international environment conferences and from visiting military bases.

* Clampdown on Freedom of Speech of Diplomatic Corps

Ottawa’s diplomats must get all communications approved from Conservative political operatives. Under Harper, the country’s ambassadors are hardly heard from any more. In a recent speech, former United Nations ambassador Stephen Lewis said our political culture under the Conservatives has descended into “a nadir of indignity.”

* Marine Science Libraries Decimated

The Harper government’s downsizing of federal libraries included sudden closing of seven world famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans archives. A leaked memo revealed the destruction and consolidation would save less than half a million dollars. Scientist patrons of the libraries, who witnessed chaotic chucking of rare literature, called it a “book burning” with no logical purpose other than to restrict environmental information. The Harper government claimed vital works would be digitally preserved, but never provided a plan or cost for doing so, nor any proof it had happened. No scientists interviewed by The Tyee believed digitizing would or could replace what was lost.

* Harper Government Denies Khadr Basic Rights

Defying court rulings, the Conservative government refused to accord Omar Khadr basic rights such as access to media. Editorialists of right and left persuasion described the move as unbefitting a democratic government.

* Illegitimate Prorogation of Parliament, Twice

Prorogations are a legitimate procedure that can be abused depending on motivations. The Harper government provoked 60 protests across Canada and beyond its borders in 2010 after shutting the legislature’s doors to escape condemnation on the Afghan detainees’ file. It was the second prorogation in a year’s period.

* Undue Interference with Independent Agencies

Command and control system was extended to meddling in bodies like National Energy Board and CRTC whose arms-length autonomy is significantly reduced. A special target was the Parliamentary Budget Office, which was hit with condemnations and budget cuts for its critical reports.

* Billions Borrowed without Parliament’s Permission

The auditor general sounded alarms about the “prodigious” growth and size of federal borrowing. Those billions in “non-budgetary” spending used to get Parliament’s oversight, but no more. The finance minister can borrow what he wants without Parliament’s permission. Why? A loophole buried in a 2007 Harper omnibus bill.

* Lapdogs Appointed as Watchdogs

The most controversial was the case of former Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet. Her office reviewed more than 200 whistleblowing cases. Disciplinary action followed on none of them. Ouimet’s own angry staffers blew the whistle on their boss. The auditor general foundOuimet intimidated her employees, took “retaliatory action” against them and may have breached their privacy, all part of the Harper appointee’s “gross mismanagement.” Ouimet was paid more than $500,000 to leave her post.

* The ‘Harper Government’ Labelling Deception

Public servants were told to use “Harper Government” instead of “Government of Canada” in publicity releases. The Conservatives denied it was happening — until internal memos revealed by the Canadian Press revealed the denial to be without basis.

* Conservatives Place Party Logos on Government of Canada Cheques

Once “caught red-handed,” they backed off. The federal ethics commissioner, adopting the exasperated tone of an adult lecturing a child, noted: “Public spending announcements are government activities, not partisan political activities, and it is not appropriate to brand them with partisan or personal identifiers.”

* Record Amounts of Partisan Political Advertising, on the Public Purse

Several media reports told how the Conservatives used taxpayer money for partisan political advertising in record quantity, costing the public treasury $750 million since Harper became PM. In one instance, the Tories spent lavishly on ads for the promotion of a jobs grant program that had yet to be made public or presented to parliament or the provinces. Even more nakedly partisan, a mailed blast, charged to the taxpayers, targeting Justin Trudeau.

* Government Muzzles Science Community

Top scientists came under such heavy monitoring by the Conservatives that they staged “Death of Evidence” protests for being denied freedom of speech. The Conservatives sent out chaperones or “media minders” to track Environment Canada scientists and report on them. Continued and repeated silencing of scientists and scientific dialogue continues.

* Like Never Before, Limits Placed on Media Access

Journalists have been hard-pressed to recall another time when controls put on them were so tight. At the Conservatives’ 2013 Calgary convention, reporters wrote of being harassed and penned in at every turn by the PMO’s command and control system. In his book Killing The Messenger, journalist Mark Bourrie charts the many examples of new limits on freedom of speech introduced in the Harper era.

* Harper’s Team Tries to Ban Journalist for Asking Question

Veteran TV cameraman Dave Ellis covered a Harper speech about oil to a business audience. Though media had been instructed no questions allowed, Ellis posed one about charges laid against a Conservative MP. The PMO tried to punish Ellis and his network by kicking him off covering Harper’s trip to Malaysia. After media hue and cry, Harper backed down and Ellis went.

* Suppression of Research

In the gun registration debate, incriminating research and documents such as a Firearms Report were deliberately withheld from the public. While ramping up their prison building, Conservatives suppressed related research and studies contradicting their political priorities.

* Protesters Put under Blanket Surveillance

According to a leaked memo, as part of its command and control approach, the Conservatives have approved a system wherein all advocates, protesters and demonstrations can be monitoredby authorities. The Government Operations Centre has requested federal departments to assist it in compiling a comprehensive inventory of protesters. Security specialists have called it a breach of Canadians’ Charter of Rights. Conservatives have moved to give CSIS even more powers than the spy agency wants.

* Rights and Democracy, Other Groups, Dismantled

In a show of brute force, the Montreal-based group Rights and Democracy was pole-axed for its alleged political leanings and eventually disbanded. Organizations like the church group Kairoswere de-budgeted or dismantled for political leanings. Nuclear Safety Commission head Linda Keen was dumped. Among the complaints cited by the PM was that in her distant past, she had some Liberal ties.

* Harper Government Spied on Aboriginal Critic, ‘Retaliated’

Aboriginal child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock was spied on by the Harper government, and when she arrived for a meeting with other First Nations leaders at the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs only she was barred entry. Finding Blackstock had been “retaliated” against by a ministry official, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal awarded her $20,000 for pain and suffering.

* Revenue Canada Targeted to Attack Charities

Not all charities, just the ones that don’t seem adequately aligned with the Harper brand. Enough to include many environmental, aid, human rights and free speech charities that banded together to push back against what looks like a politically motivated witch hunt. When an investigation into whether there was PMO coercion became possible, Revenue Canada instructed all staff to destroy all text message records, against standard procedures.

* Conservatives Use Unheard of Tactic to Force through Anti-Union Bill

Conservative senators went to the unprecedented extent of overruling their own Speaker. What could be so important to break Senate rules? A bill pushed by Harper that is almost certainly unconstitutional for its privacy invading measures forced onto unions, unlike other groups. Latest in a steady stream of Conservative attacks on organized labour in Canada.

* Harper Smears Liberal Sikh MP, Insinuating Tie to Terrorism

When Liberals opposed a 2007 Conservative plan to extend anti-terror legislation, Stephen Harper singled out Grit MP Navdeep Bains, seeming to suggest that Bains’ party was motivated by a desire to protect Bains’ father-in-law, Darshan Singh Saini. A recent news story had claimed Singh Saini was on a list of witnesses sought by the RCMP for its Air India investigation, but provided no proof he was involved. In the House, Liberals erupted with outrage and Bains asked, in vain, that Harper apologize.

* Veterans’ Advocates Smeared

Medical files of Sean Bruyea, a strong advocate for veterans’ rights, were leaked in a case that privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart described as “alarming.” Veterans Affairs Canada ombudsman Pat Stogran was dumped after criticizing the government.

* Conservative Convicted on Robocalls Scam

Tory operative Michael Sona was given jail time for his role in the robocalls scam. The judge indicated more than one person was likely involved. In another court judgment in a case brought by the Council of Canadians, the ruling said the robocalls operation was widespread, not just limited to the Guelph riding. Donald Segretti who did dirty tricks for the Nixon White House told a Canadian reporter his skullduggery didn’t go so low as to run schemes sending voters to the wrong polling stations.

* Harper’s Ex-Parliamentary Secretary Jailed for Breaking Election Law

Dean Del Maestro was one of Harper’s favourites. As his parliamentary secretary, the PM frequently used him as an attack dog to allege misdeeds by opposition members. Del Maestro was given a jail sentence in June for his own election spending violations, which is to say, cheating.

* ‘Reprehensible’ Dirty Tricks Campaign against Irwin Cotler

Conservative Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled his party’s own tactics in running a surreptitious misinformation campaign in the riding of the highly respected MP were “reprehensible.”

* Election Violations Prompt Resignation of Cabinet Member

Peter Penashue, another Harper Conservative was compelled to step down over election spending violations.

* Harper’s Office Deploys Interns for Dirty Tricks

In one instance that brought on allegations of Nixonian tactics, junior PMO staffers in the guise of normal citizens were sent out to disrupt a Justin Trudeau speech.

* Citizens Ejected from Conservative Rallies

Tory operatives hauled out citizens from a Harper rally in the 2011 campaign because they had marginal ties to other parties. A spokesperson for the PM was compelled to apologize. Problem fixed this time around: Only fully vetted Harper supporters will be allowed, by invite only, to attend the PM’s campaign stops. If they have a ticket.

* Conservatives Make Campaign Event Attendees Sign Gag Order

Not only have Harper’s campaign handlers made his campaign events by invite only, they are forcing anyone let in to sign an agreement not to transmit any description of the event or any images from it.

* Conservatives Unfix Their Own Fixed Date Election Law

In 2008, Harper pulled the plug on his own government, violating his own new law, which stipulated elections every four years.

* Guilty Plea on In and Out Affair

The Conservative Party and its fundraising arm pled guilty to some Elections Act charges stemming from their exceeding spending limits in the 2006 campaign. The investigation cost taxpayers over $2 million.

* CPC Elections Bill Strips Power from Elections Canada

The Fair Elections Act also makes it harder for Canadians to vote as more ID is required. Nationwide protests in which more than 400 academics took part forced Pierre Poilievre to withdraw some measures in the bill because of their alleged anti-democratic bent.

* Harper Minister Smears Head of Elections Canada

In a bid to impugn his integrity, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre accused the Elections Canada CEO Marc Mayrand of being a power monger and wearing a team jersey.

* Copyright Grab for Attack Ads

CTV News found out Conservatives aimed to rewrite copyright law to let political parties grab any media content and use it for free in their ads. The impact, warned CTV’s Don Martin, “will be to cast a chill on every broadcast appearance” by MPs, commentators and reporters, who “must now be aware their views could end up featured in a political attack ad.” By asserting “unlimited access to the airwaves for propaganda purposes,” Martin said, the Harper government “could be seen as flirting with fascism.”

* Conservatives Use Terrorists’ Propaganda in Attack Ad Immediately After Making That Illegal

Harper’s party created a political ad incorporating music and horrifying images of doomed captives pulled straight from the Islamic State’s own promotional video. The target: Justin Trudeau, whose views on the risks and rewards of bombing ISIS differ from Harper’s. This immediately after making it illegal to spread terrorists’ propaganda even incidentally or accidentally.

* Canada Is The Only UN Member To Reject Landmark Indigenous Rights Document

CPC aboriginal affairs deputy minister Colleen Swords represented Ottawa at the United Nations assembly in New York, where Canada was the only nation to object to a non-legally binding UN outcome document which promotes indigenous peoples’ legal and political standing and participation in their various home countries. This after UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples found in the UN’s 2014 report that Canada’s relationship as a nation with its indigenous peoples continues to be an antagonistic rather than cooperative one.

* Prime Minister’s Office Charged in Court By Information Commissioner

Canadian Press submitted Access to Information request identified 28 pages of documents available, according to the Privy Council Office, but the PMO refused to allow access to 27 of the 28 pages, despite being legally obliged. The case has gone to federal court.

* Conservative Party’s Lawyers Declare No Responsibility Between Government And Combat Veterans.

In response to a lawsuit by Canadian combat veterans over the new Veterns Charter, wherein the veterans stated “The social covenant is this promise that our country, Canada, has promised service people they will be protected when they get maimed and their families will be looked after if they are killed,” the federal government responded that “At no time in Canada’s history has any alleged ‘social contract’ or ‘social covenant’ having the attributes pleaded by the plaintiffs been given effect in any statute, regulation or as a constitutional principle written or unwritten.” That the government has no obligation to care for wounded combat veterans. The lawsuit has been put on pause during the election, and will resume afterward.

* Department of Foreign Affairs Instructed To Meet Quota Of Terror

The Prime Minister’s Office instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs in April of 2015, with an election looming, to ensure a minimum of three Terrorism Warning media releases each week. The bureaucrats of the Department declined to meet the “odd” demand for a quota,

These are a number of things which help Stephen Harper and, through the “Harper” brand, the Conservative Party of Canada, stand out from other politicians and other parties current and historic.

David Beers has a more extensive listing of this list and more, over at The Tyee. His version of this list breaks 70 items. I am evidently more conservative than that, and consider mis-spending and pork-barrel scandals to be similar enough to previous governments to not be worth listing.

To the best of my knowledge, this was written by Andrew Aulenback.

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