Conservative leadership race, dog whistles and wannabe demagogues

The Conservative leadership race features dog whistle politics and wannabe demagogues
Conservative leader candidate, MP Kellie Leitch. Photo by Art Babych

The Conservative leadership race involves an unwieldy group of 14 candidates — only four of whom might be seen as fit for the office. They are former cabinet ministers, including the impressive Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt and Erin O’Toole, as well as Andrew Scheer, a former speaker of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, among them, only Chong is fully fluent in French. But each would encourage a bigger tent Conservative Party than was possible under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who came to politics through the hard-bitten Reform Party. Continue reading Conservative leadership race, dog whistles and wannabe demagogues

Where is Stephen Harper and what will he do now?

Stephen Harper has dropped out of sight. We're waiting to see if he has a passion to contribute anything positive in retirement.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Art Babych photo

Stephen Harper has vanished from sight in the past six months but his Where’s Waldo status may be about to change. Harper will address the Conservative convention in Vancouver late in May.  Recently he also spoke to Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other Republican super donors about how fractured political parties can unite.

In Canada, Harper last spoke publicly on October 19 when he conceded defeat in the 2015 federal election.  He resigned almost immediately as Conservative leader but remains an MP for the riding of Calgary Heritage. He receives a salary of $167,400 but could collect considerably more in pension each year if he resigned his seat. Continue reading Where is Stephen Harper and what will he do now?

White hats, black hats: The Harper government’s policy toward Israel

The Harper Record 2008-15
The Harper Record 2008-15

I have contributed, along with 35 other writers and researchers, to a book called  The Harper Record 2008 – 2015.  It is a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. My chapter is called: White Hats, black hats, the Harper government’s policy toward Israel. As you will see I draw the title from a simplistic comment made by former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (remember him?) I am providing here the introductory and concluding segments of the chapter. Continue reading White hats, black hats: The Harper government’s policy toward Israel

Harper’s hit list, Voices-Voix says Conservatives dismantling democracy

Former Justice Department lawyer and whistleblower Edgar Schmidt is suing his old employer.
Former Justice Department lawyer and whistleblower Edgar Schmidt is suing his old employer.

In March 2011 I posted an article to my Pulpit and Politics blog called Harper’s Hit List. The piece contained a list of organizations whose staff had either been fired, forced out, publicly maligned, or who had resigned in protest.  I did not do the original research but rather published what others had already assembled. That piece received thousands of hits and is by far the most popular item that I have ever posted. Clearly a raw public nerve had been touched, and that was while Stephen Harper was still leading a minority government.

Harassed and bullied

The coalition Voices-Voix has done a systematic job of documenting how organizations and individuals have been harassed and bullied by the Conservative regime, and has published an updated hit list.  It contains more than 110 case studies which the organization says, “’connect the dots,’ showing a pattern of actions by the federal government to silence critics, stifle debate, diminish knowledge, and dodge accountability.”

I will deal briefly here with just two of those cases but Voices has provided many others. Edgar Schmidt and Cindy Blackstock have both blown whistles on the Canadian government and received harsh treatment for daring to do so. Continue reading Harper’s hit list, Voices-Voix says Conservatives dismantling democracy

Years of scapegoating refugees haunts Harper Conservatives

Syrian refugees entering Turkey, UNHCR/I.Prickett
Syrian refugees entering Turkey, UNHCR/I.Prickett

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have spent years scapegoating refugees and it is coming back to haunt them in the 2015 election campaign. The Conservatives’ messaging has been derailed by the sight of hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe, and by the images of the lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi being carried from a beach in Turkey. There is a widespread call within Canada for action. Continue reading Years of scapegoating refugees haunts Harper Conservatives

Election 2015: “Lying piece of shit” episode inevitable

Spoof on man who accosted reporters at Conservative campaign event, Internet image
Spoof on man who accosted reporters at CPC campaign event, Internet image

During the federal election campaign in the autumn of 1965, dozens of students at my boarding school in rural Saskatchewan traveled in a big cattle truck to hear Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson speak in the Humboldt arena. The building was packed and Pearson gave a fulsome speech which was heard by anyone who showed up. Perhaps those were more innocent times. Or perhaps Pearson cared more about a vigorous democracy than some who have inhabited the office since then. Continue reading Election 2015: “Lying piece of shit” episode inevitable

Security versus civil rights Debating anti-terrorism Bill C-51

Stephen Harper announces anti-terrorism measures. PMO photo.
Stephen Harper announces anti-terrorism measures. PMO photo.

There’s an intense debate happening in Parliament and now in the streets over Bill C-51, which the Harper government says is needed to prevent terrorism on Canadian soil. The legislation provides sweeping new powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which collects information covertly on security threats and forwards that information to the RCMP. Bill C-51 proposes that CSIS be allowed not only to monitor individuals who the agency thinks pose a threat, but also to disrupt their activities in a variety of ways, including seizing passports and cancelling travel reservations. Bill C-51 would also provide the RCMP with new powers to make preventative arrest or detention of suspected terrorists and lower the legal threshold under which such arrests occur.

Caught in the web

What’s more, Bill C-51 would allow 17 government departments and agencies to share amongst themselves — and with security agencies — information that they collect about Canadians, including tax records and details of travel for business or pleasure. It’s something Daniel Therrien, the federal Privacy Commissioner, objects to, saying “All Canadians — not only terrorism suspects — will be caught in this web.”

The bill would also allow CSIS to counter any activity that “undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada.” That list includes “terrorism,” obviously, but also “interference with the capability of the government of Canada in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.” Does this mean that CSIS can disrupt aboriginal protests against pipelines or mining on their lands, or target trade union members engaged in a rail or postal strike? Government ministers insist that legitimate protest is exempted but critics remain skeptical.

“So-called experts”

In defence of the legislation, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that “the international jihadist movement has declared war” and Bill C-51 is needed to keep Canadians safe. The context here involves two domestic fatal attacks on Canadian soldiers by disturbed and lone-wolf individuals, as well other attacks in Paris, Australia and elsewhere. These acts, as deplorable as they are, can hardly be accurately described as a war.

The Conservatives accuse those who question Bill C-51 as being soft on terrorism and they mock as “so-called experts” those scholars, government privacy commissioners and ombudsmen who say that the bill goes too far in offending the privacy and civil rights of Canadians.

Harassing  Zunera Ishaqa

Meanwhile, the Conservatives continue to defend the prohibition of Muslim women from wearing the niqab, a face covering, during oath-taking at citizenship ceremonies. Zunera Ishaqa, a new Canadian, had agreed to unveil in private before an official prior to taking the oath but not in the public ceremony but she was refused. She fought the ban in court and won, but now, the government is appealing the ruling.

The Conservative Party at one point even used Ishaqa’s case as the basis of a fundraising letter to its supporters. More recently, Harper responded to questions about the government’s appeal by asking, “Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice that … frankly is rooted in a culture that is anti-women?”

Election prism

This must be seen through the prism of a coming federal election. The Conservatives laud themselves as good managers, but the economic news has been bad as of late: lacklustre job creation, an oil industry meltdown, growing inequality among Canadians and mounting consumer debt. As a result, the Conservatives’ new narrative is that only Harper can keep us safe from Muslim terrorists.

So what are we to do? For one thing, we can start treating rhetoric out of Ottawa with some scepticism. We can make our views known. We can also reach out to our Muslim neighbours. After all, this cannot be a pleasant time for them.

A shorter version of this post appeared on the United Church Observer blog on March 12, 2015.           

Manning Centre talkfest showcases “vapid conservatism”

MP John Williamson, foot in mouth
MP John Williamson, foot in mouth

Preston Manning fancies himself a big thinker and his recent networking conference in Ottawa was billed as an intellectual event for the conservative movement. But National Post columnist Andrew Coyne got it right in his column — the Manning conference was “vapid”. The Harper government has swallowed the movement and rather than talking policy the conference attendees showed themselves more interested in shilling for the Conservatives in preparation for the coming election.  Coyne says that the Manning event featured no fewer than seven sessions devoted to the use of social media and other campaign tools and tips. By my count nine federal MPs and cabinet ministers, not to mention premiers Jim Prentice and Christy Clark, were given platforms as conference speakers.

John Williamson’s clunker

The event, however, generated negative publicity when John Williamson, a Conservative MP from New Brunswick, put his foot in his mouth in talking about the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program. Williamson told the crowd that it makes no sense to pay “whities” to stay home while companies bring in “brown people” as temporary foreign workers. By the next day Williamson was hurriedly posting a series of tweets to apologize for his language. He is a former communications director for Stephen Harper and a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, the minister of state for small business and tourism, is a regular speaker at the Manning conferences. One wonders why since he has rarely made the news since being turfed as Foreign Affairs minister for leaving a bundle of cabinet documents at his female partner’s house in 2008. Perhaps Bernier, one of only four Conservative MPs from Quebec, was there as a nod to what has been a political wasteland for the Conservatives. Bernier is hardly known as an ideas man and chose to spend his time at the podium attacking Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his late father Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a former prime minister.

Oliver veers off script

Finance Minister Joe Oliver was there, too, ostensibly to talk about the economy. He abandoned his script, however, to warn about the dangers posed by Muslim terrorists and the wisdom of the Conservatives’ Bill C-51, which will potentially invade the privacy of Canadians in hitherto unimagined ways in the name of combating terrorism.

In fact, all cabinet ministers are veering off script these days, no matter what the topic at hand, to deliver a pat set of talking points about terrorism and how our fearless leader is the only one who can protect us from it. Welcome to the election campaign and expect to hear a lot more of this.

Conservative mismanagement

The terrorism-fearless leader trope has the added advantage of diverting attention from the economy, where the Conservatives squandered the billions of dollars in budget surplus left to them by the Liberals and then cut deeply into programs used by Canadians in order to reduce the deficit they had created. Job growth in Canada has been lacklustre at best and even the banks are saying that since the Great Recession poorly paid and temporary McJobs have replaced what was once full time and pensionable employment. Inequality among Canadians continues to rise along with alarming levels of household debt. Add that to a burgeoning trade deficit and a meltdown in the oil sector and one can understand why Oliver and the other ministers would sooner talk about terrorism and prisons than about the economy.

Working journalists?

The Manning Networking Conference failed to meet its public billing but the event received massive media coverage nonetheless. Several working journalists were listed on the agenda as speakers or moderators. One assumes they were paid for their efforts. The progressive Broadbent Institute will have a conference in Ottawa on March 26-28. Let’s all watch to see how much media coverage it receives.