Saturday, May 11, 2013

After A Period of Silence ...



I took this blog offline after the 2011 election for a lot of reasons.  However, after the last few weeks of happenings on Canada’s political stage, I have decided that I must speak out.  I am angry, I am upset, and above all I fear that our current government is dragging Canada down a political path that will be disastrous for us all.

Let me start out by asserting that the Harper Government is rapidly evolving into a form of fascist government.  I know that I am using strong language here, but it is necessary in my opinion to pull people from their lethargy.  Some will no doubt dismiss this as simply violating Godwin's Law.  However, I ask that you bear with me, for the legacy of the Harper Government's actions since coming to power in 2006 are becoming inescapable.

Borrowing from Wikipedia’s article on early 20th Century Fascism:

Fascism (pron.: /ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism[1][2] that came to prominence in mid-20th century Europe. Fascists seek to unify their nation through a totalitarian state that promotes the mass mobilization of the national community,[3][4] relying on a vanguard party to initiate a revolution to organize the nation on fascist principles.[5] Hostile to liberal democracy, socialism, and communism, fascist movements share certain common features, including the veneration of the state, a devotion to a strong leader, and an emphasis on ultranationalism, ethnocentrism, and militarism. Fascism views political violence, war, and imperialism as a means to achieve national rejuvenation[3][6][7][8] and asserts that nations and races deemed superior should attain living space by displacing ones deemed weak or inferior.
More and more, we see the Harper Government taking an increasingly authoritarian approach to things.  This is not just happening at the Federal level, but there is considerable evidence of it happening at the provincial and even civic levels of our politics where agencies which are philosophically allied with Harper’s Conservative Party are acting to provoke and implement programs of their own.
Authoritarianism
What do I mean by authoritarian?  Consider the following:
  1. Harper has been very hostile to the idea of Climate Change for years.
  2. Since coming to power in 2006, Harper has withdrawn Canada from the Kyoto agreement. ( http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canada-formally-abandons-kyoto-protocol-on-climate-change/article4180809/ )
  3. Without any discussion of the matter in the House of Commons, Harper pulled Canada out of a global treaty on desertification.  http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/03/29/un-calls-harper-governments-decision-to-pull-out-of-anti-drought-treaty-regrettable/
  4. More distressing, Harper has gone out of his way to constrain what Canadian scientists are allowed to say in public.  http://www.canada.com/technology/Critics+instructions+Environment+Canada+scientists+Montreal+conference/6500175/story.html  This latter model is particularly worrisome when we consider that “media minders” only pop up in reference to states like North Korea ( http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/18/health/north-korea-science-diplomacy ) and the former Soviet Union.
  5. Under Harper, the National Research Council of Canada has been directed to focus on “commercially applicable” science.  In itself, this is an interesting move as it demonstrates an unusual level of political involvement in the NRC’s activities - more so than in the previous 30 years.  It is significant because it signals that Harper’s government is willing to impose upon the decision making processes related to science directly rather than using a more appropriate arms-length model.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2013/05/07/technology-nrc-business.html  
  6. In the 2013 budget, Harper has asserted more direct control over the CBC and other crown corporations.  Traditionally, Crown Corporations are allowed to operate more or less autonomously.  Harper taking a more direct role in it is unusual, but in the case of the CBC may serve an important aspect of Harper’s agenda.  ( http://www.hilltimes.com/news/politics/2013/04/30/budget-bill-gives-harper-cabinet-new-powers-over-cbc/34566 )
It is my opinion that all of the above strongly suggest a degree of authoritarianism in the Harper Government that Canada has never seen or experienced before.  When combined with a “get tough on crime” agenda based on US Republican policies of the early 2000s, it is difficult not to perceive an overbearing desire to restrict and limit things within a very narrow political focus.  
There were similar bills in the 2006 and 2009 parliaments, but they failed to pass before Parliament was dissolved.
Cult of Personality
Harper’s authoritarian streak also surfaces in the attempts by the Conservative party to develop something of a “cult of personality” around Harper.  Ever since coming to power, announcements of government actions are labelled in the form “The Harper Government announces ...”  ( http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/30/harper-government-harperization_n_1121897.html )  
Building on that, we find other examples of Harper trying to build a cult of personality around himself, at least within his party.  ( http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=9c6b53f6-f0a2-4eca-93bb-559023144731 , http://www2.canada.com/windsorstar/news/editorial/story.html?id=d4695b5d-736d-4dc4-aff5-171532aec089 )  Somewhat sarcastically, one might wonder just how you build a cult of personality around something which clearly Harper doesn’t possess.  However, that is not my point at all.  It is the creation of that cult of personality by Harper and his allies that we need to pay attention to, as it is another key aspect of Harper’s authoritarian streak.  It also enables members of his caucus to fly below the public radar when it comes to the creation of legislation.  Consider, for example, how much crime legislation is coming from Harper’s back benches.  ( http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/08/tories-back-private-members-crime-bills_n_3240603.html )  Not only does this legislation play into the radical “tough-on-crime” nonsense that the US has finally started to figure out doesn’t actually work, but it is coming in through legislative lines that are not as closely monitored as the front bench of the governing party’s cabinet.  
I think that I have established fairly clearly that Harper himself is a strong authoritarian, and in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Wikipedia article on the subject ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarianism ).
Ultranationalism
Harper diverges somewhat from the “classical” notion of a fascist when it comes to the notion of ultranationalism ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationalism#Ultranationalism ).  However, that is more of a consequence of Canada’s history and nature than anything else.  Canada is an exceptionally diverse nation with a young history.  It would be extremely difficult to foment the kind of ultranationalism that existed in parts of Europe in the 1930s here.  However, it would be foolish to imagine that Harper has not moved to foster a kind of nationalism in Canada that is quite different from what we have experienced to date.
Consider the Harper Government’s changes to immigration policy which have placed a great deal of authority over immigration directly in the minister’s hands, which guarantees that the entire process is politicized from the start, but also enables Harper to politicize the discussion around immigration in a unique way.  ( http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/hassan-arif/harper-immigration_b_894373.html , http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2011/04/20/dont_vote_conservative_immigration_lawyers_warn_newcomers.html )  The Harper approach has led to a degree of propagandization of the discourse on immigration that strongly echoes the xenophobia seen in the USA with respect to “illegal aliens”.  This plays strongly to an approach of building a sense of national “exceptionalism” that excludes those who do not arrive here “through the front door”.  In doing so, it serves as part of Harper’s move to make Canada’s discourse more nationalist in nature.
Another plank of this has been Harper’s constant pounding of the military drum.  Whether that is cheesy photo-ops of himself in Afghanistan or the playing up of the War of 1812 ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/06/14/pol-war-of-1812-bicentennial-federal-events.html ) Were this but a singular event, one might be willing to write it off as simply different priorities.  However, it is not.  On CBC Radio 1 in Calgary on May 9, 2012, listeners were treated to a breathless interview with one of the few surviving veterans of the Dambusters bombing mission in WWII. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Chastise )  Normally, such interviews are reserved for the November 11 Remembrance Day ceremonies, and unless someone happens to have died recently are not typically in the news.  Coming on the heels of Harper’s legislating more direct political control over the CBC, one might well imagine that we will see more and more of this in the coming months. 
Arguably, from a policy perspective, Harper is not promoting ultranationalism, but rather something closer to Civic Nationalism ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationalism#Civic_nationalism )  However, that merely means that he is forging a new style of fascism based on the realities of Canada at this time.
Foreign Policy
Harper’s foreign policy approach is interesting in terms of how it plays into the nationalism discussion.  
First of all, the “Israel can do no wrong” policy is highly disturbing as it allies Canada irrevocably with a country that is rapidly becoming a pariah on the world stage itself.  ( http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2013/05/11/baird_and_canadas_mideast_policy.html , http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/02/13/Zip_Bairds_Lips/ ).  In doing so, it serves to further isolate Canada on the world stage.  Similarly, Harper’s hostile approach to participation in the UN is also isolating Canada ( http://www.timescolonist.com/cmlink/gmg/canadian-press/news/canada-won-t-trade-foreign-policy-for-un-security-council-seat-baird-1.143649/ ).  What Baird calls “prinicpled policy” is really just bafflegab for a rigid, dogmatic approach to foreign affairs.  Harper started early with a rigid, inflexible approach to foreign affairs in 2006, ( http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id=ae0a032b-7a10-484a-a839-440680e52617 ) and it has continued.  His recent trade negotiations with China have reflected this, by failing entirely to protect Canada’s economic interests, and in some respects exposes us to even greater risks than certain aspects of NAFTA do.  ( http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/01/john-ivison-opponents-turning-up-hysteria-over-trade-deal-with-china/ , http://business.financialpost.com/2012/10/31/china-deals-would-leave-canada-a-resource-colony-opponents/?__lsa=429a-4e39 , http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/canada-china-fippa-agreement-unconstitutional-treaty-law-expert-says )
I see this as playing into a zero-sum game on Harper’s part which is designed to isolate Canada on the world stage in such a manner as to ensure that there is a great deal of public criticism of Canada outside of our borders.  Naturally, he would play on this in such a manner as to play up the idea that Canada is being marginalized on the world stage and use that to build up a form an nationalism not unlike what happened in Germany in the post-WWI years as a result of the isolation and restrictions that the Treaty of Versailles ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Versailles ) created.



Hostility to Liberal Democracy
Harper has a long track record that speaks to a level of hostility to liberal democracy as it is practiced in Canada that needs to be brought forward.
First, and foremost, we cannot ignore the infamous “Dirty Tricks Manual” that his party created in 2006-2007 which instructed Harper’s caucus on how to undermine and disrupt committees and parliamentary legislative activity in the House of Commons so that matters could not be meaningfully debated.  ( http://www.thestar.com/news/2007/05/18/obstruction_handbook_leaked.html )
Then we must also consider Harper’s repeated use of Proroguing Parliament for political purposes.  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prorogation_in_Canada ).  In 2008, Harper violated his own “fixed election dates” law by triggering an election a mere 2 years into his term.  ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2009/09/08/democracy-watch008.html )  This is important because it rendered moot a law that was at the cornerstone of Harper’s claimed agenda to improve Canada’s electoral system, but it also represents in stark terms the contempt which Harper holds for laws which would bind his actions - even if he wrote them.
Then, during the 2011 election, it became clear that dirty tricks were being played to divert voters to polling stations which did not exist, or otherwise make it sufficiently frustrating to vote that they would not bother doing so.  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Canadian_federal_election_voter_suppression_scandal )  To date, only one set of criminal charges has been brought forward on this, but given that the Harper Government has moved to restrict Elections Canada’s ability to investigate these matters, this comes as little surprise.  
That the voter suppression tactics were most often aimed at voters known to be unlikely to support the Harper Conservatives, it seems quite reasonable to add this scandal to the list of items that demonstrate an active desire on the part of the Harper Conservatives to undermine Parliamentary Democracy in Canada to such an extent that its very validity may come into question.
Economics
Harper is a study in contradictions when it comes to economic theory.  In principle, he claims to be a “laissez faire” free market fundamentalist.  Yet, his actions speak otherwise.
In many respects, he seems to be fostering a new kind of economic oligarchy in Canada that is atypical of fascism’s historical forms.  Economically, others have pointed this out quite clearly.  (  http://nor-re.blogspot.ca/2012/12/democracy-or-oligarchy.html
How precisely Harper’s fascism and an economic oligarchy will coexist is an interesting puzzle.  But it is one which I suspect will become more clearly understood over time.  I think that the current emphasis on suppressing science that calls into question such economic activities as Alberta’s Oil Sands is an indication of it, and one that should trouble Canadians as it strongly suggests that our politicians are being driven by powers behind the scenes.   ( http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/yan-roberts/omnibus-harper-oil_b_2474752.html
Conclusion
No matter how I look at the situation unfolding in Canada, the parallels between the Harper Government and the historical notion of Fascism seem inescapable.  The consequences for Canada will be enormous, and we must recognize that once Harper (or his allies) are no longer running things, it will take years to correct the damage being done.

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