Is Stephen Harper displaying fascist-like tendencies?
The stepped-up authoritarian, anti-democratic manner Stephen Harper conducts himself since obtaining his Parliamentary majority nine months ago raises serious concerns about how far right he is planning to push the country in his effort to forever change the face of Canada.
Harper hates many things about Canada—most of all the moderate liberalism that a majority of people have preferred over the years. He has adopted a ‘take-no-prisoners’ attitude, rushing ahead with destructive plans never before discussed in public, as well as doubling cuts to government compared to what he said before the election.
Elected with the support of only 25 per cent of eligible voters, Harper nevertheless is running roughshod over the wishes and interests of the majority 75 per cent of Canadians.
So, just how extreme is Harper’s behaviour?
In view of Harper`s behaviour of late, I think it’s time to look at Britt’s document again.
But, before proceeding, I want to say that I don’t think Stephen Harper is a fascist. His ideology is neoliberalism, which favours domination of society by laissez-faire capitalism. Interestingly enough, neoliberalism and fascism share some common characteristics.
Why raise this? It is important for the public to be well informed about the beliefs and practices of our government. Democracy is more fragile than we might think. And there`s no ‘law’ that will prevent our democracy from being taken away from us.
Below in italics are slightly condensed versions of Britt’s 14 components of fascism. They are followed by quotes from journalists and other sources concerning Harper’s actions and beliefs.
At the end of this post, you can rate Harper’s performance.
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes.
Lawrence Martin, iPolitics, December 2 2011: “To look now however is to see the dramatic degree to which the political culture is being reshaped. Patriotism pivots on pride in a resurrected military and morality-based missions. Pride in country is now linked to our refurbished armed forces and what Harper sees as moral crusades. National security, law and order, tighter immigration standards and bumper-sticker sports populism are among the features of a new right-wing nationalism. It is an accelerating trend and many Canadians worry that Harper, the anti-Trudeau, is taking it too far… .
“The Glorification of the Military: This is the new cornerstone of Harper nationalism. He boasts proudly that Canada is now a warrior nation and uses every opportunity to salute the armed forces. A recent report by the National Defence Department, in contrast to other years, says the Canadian identity should be shaped in good part by the military. It is 200 years since Canada was last invaded, but safeguarding Canada, says the prime minister, is his and foremost priority.”
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
The regimes viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
Jack Etkin, The Bridge, B.C., March 2011: “Mr. Harper is very likely a war criminal. In Afghanistan, he has forced Canadian troops to give innocent civilians to the Afghan police to be tortured. That is a war crime, but it is never mentioned by the corporate media.”
Alex Neve, The Toronto Star, January 3, 2011: “At the end of the day, what transpired within the official summits was overshadowed by the staggering assault on freedom of expression that played out on the streets of Toronto. It still seems impossible to imagine that more than 1,100 people were arrested over the weekend, the overwhelming majority of whom were involved in peaceful acts of protest or were just passing by.
Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen, January 27, 2012: “He (Harper) was never going to downplay China’s human rights abuses in the name of the “almighty dollar,” until it became useful to ardently court China as a customer for tars and oil.”
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.”
Lawrence Martin, iPolitics, December 2, 2011: “Less Tolerance. The Harperites, while not xenophobic, are less inclined toward multiculturalism and inclusivity than previous governments. They have imposed tighter immigration requirements, narrowed the definition of citizenship and blocked entry to war resisters and other unsavoury types. Their less than favourable take on the United Nations resulted in their being denied a seat on the Security Council.
“The Smearing of Opponents. A favourite Republican Party tactic, Harper Conservatives make frequent use of it with manslayer attack ads and demonization of critics, the latest example being their accusing NDPer Megan Leslie of treachery for opposing, on a Washington visit, the Keystone XL Pipeline. Demagoguery is a favoured tactic of right-wing nationalists. Harperites impugn critics of the military as being unpatriotic.”
Allan Woods, CanWest News Service, September 16 2006: “But Harper’s choice of reading material has disturbed even some of his own party members. The senior Tory recounted being told Harper had ‘read and mastered’ the biography and leadership style of Russia’s Communist dictator Josef Stalin, and said the prime minister has adopted some of the same tactics. ‘He plays people off against one another, he attempts to inspire fear rather than respect, he is unpredictable and he is 100 per cent focused on eliminating the opposition,’ the senior Conservative explained.”
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.
Murray Dobbin, rabble.ca, September 28, 2006: “In a CBC interview conducted as Parliament resumed sitting this month, Harper showed that he relished the fact that Canadian soldiers were war-fighting, and dismissed Canada’s peacekeeping history as virtual cowardice: (Harper) ‘For a lot of the last 30 or 40 years, we were the ones hanging back.”
404 System Error (Democracy Not Found), January 14 2012: “Canadians are being asked to spend between $16 and $21 billion of public dollars, according to Department of National Defence estimates, on these U.S.-built fighter-bombers, without a clear explanation of why they are needed for our protection. The Parliamentary Budget Officer says it could be $30 billion, and others have said that even this estimate is too low. The truth is: nobody knows for sure.
5. Rampant sexism.
Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country.
Laura Wood, rabble.ca, January 24, 2011: “Harper dramatically cut the funding of what was Canada’s most important body for promoting gender equity, Status of Women Canada. Status of Women Canada provided advocacy, research and lobbying on behalf of women’s groups. The government closed 12 out of 16 regional offices of SWC and their operating budget was cut by 38 per cent. Changes were imposed to the criteria for funding for the Status of Women Canada’s Women’s Program that essentially barred advocacy and lobbying groups from receiving funding.”
Informal Feminism blog, February 27, 2011: “Another large change that Harper made was to cut the plans for a government funded daycare program. This is a program that had been in the works before Harper was elected to office, it allotted 5 billion dollars to fund a government run daycare program for Canadian families. Harper pulled this plan from the table and replaced it with a 2.6 billion dollar plan, which instead sends $100 dollars a month to Canadian families with children under six. This change in the plans was very dramatic and is another way that Harper’s conservative views are affecting women in Canada. By getting rid of the 5 billion dollar plan it makes it harder for women to return to the workforce full-time if that is what they want or need to do.”
6. A controlled mass media.
Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.
Lawrence Martin, iPolitics, December 2, 2011: “Central to right-wing nationalism is information control and it is one of this government’s major priorities. A vetting system of unprecedented scope requires all communications to be filtered through central command. Much is done to limit access to information in a government often criticized for its secrecy. Fifteen hundred communications officers are at work massaging the message to fit the governing agenda. Bureaucrats, including those at the Privy Council Office are pressured into becoming propagandists.”
Nick Fillmore blog, A Different Point of View… January 11, 1012: “First of all, newspaper corporations strongly support and benefit from neoliberal policies. Second, it appears that all major media companies in the country, with the exception of The Toronto Star, are on the Harper bandwagon. Many of the dailies occasionally criticize Harper for one thing or another, but to allow any of their journalists to describe Harper’s neoliberal policies in full would enrage the vindictive Harper. It also would send an alert to a public that does not realize that many of the things they dislike about the Conservatives are part of a bigger bundle.”
7. Obsession with national security.
Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
Carl Meyer, Embassy blog, May 25 2011: “Even as Canada’s new Cabinet was being sworn in to much fanfare on May 18, a number of other behind-the-scenes changes to the country’s governing structure were being introduced. Chief among these was a move to establish national security as one of the country’s most important foreign affairs priorities, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself overseeing the file.
“To that end, while the swearing in of the new Cabinet captured headlines on May 18, Mr. Harper also rolled out a new Cabinet committee structure. The most notable change was the creation of a new National Security Cabinet committee, chaired by the prime minister himself, which will “provide broad strategic direction for security and foreign policy related to Canada’s national interest” as well as oversee “Canada’s national security response activities.”
Murray Dobbin, rabble.ca, September 28, 2006: “Harper is even more committed to the idea of fully integrated armed forces as part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, a formal integration agreement between the three NAFTA countries that will see huge areas of government policy “harmonized,” including energy, water, drug testing, security, immigration and refugees and more.”
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.
The fascist and proto-fascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.”
Marci McDonald, The Walrus, October 2006: “But McVety (Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, one of the most outspoken players in this country’s religious right wing) and others on the religious right are equally convinced that Harper is one of their own. ‘We’ve got a born-again prime minister,’ trumpets David Mainse, the founder of Canada’s premier Christian talk show, 100 Huntley Street. They see him as an image-savvy evangelical who has been careful to keep his signals to them under the media radar, but they have no doubt his convictions run deep—so deep that only after he wins a majority will he dare translate the true colours of his faith into policies that could remake the fabric of the nation.”
9. Power of corporations protected.
Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests.
Jack Etkin, The Bridge, B.C., March 2011: “He (Harper) has done everything Big Business could possibly want in terms of environmental destruction with the Tar Sands and climate change, salmon farms, clear cut logging, removal of safety regulations, and everything else… . Stephen Harper is a corporate prime minister. He works 100% for big business; and they keep him in power to continue the job of attacking and selling out the rest of us.“
Canadians for Tax Fairness: “In the 1960s, the federal corporate tax rate was 40%. By 2007 it was down to 22% and further cuts lowered it to 18% in 2010. Even more cuts are planned, dropping the rate to just 15% in 2012. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the 2011-2014 cost for cutting the corporate tax rate from 18% in 2010 to 15% in 2012 is $11.5 billion—money that could be better spent on much-needed social programs.”
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
Since organized labour was seen as the one power centre that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.
Linda McQuaig blog, July 11 2011: “A key part of the conservative revolution has been undermining unions. David Doorey, a labour and employment professor at York University, notes that in the past 15 years, right-of-centre provincial governments have changed legislation in ways that make it more difficult to unionize. With unions weakened in the private sector, conservatives are turning their sights on the last bastion of union power—the public sector, where unionization rates remain a healthy 71 percent (compared with just 16 percent in the private sector)…The conservative revolution has thwarted Canadians in their desire to unionize to protect themselves in the ongoing class war.”
James Laxer blog, February 7 2012: “Keeping the government payroll to a minimum requires weakening unions, and maintaining a steady level of abusive comment against those who work in the public sector as overpaid, too secure and generally pampered, always a useful diversion at a time when people are figuring out how massively remunerated and under taxed the wealthy are. The Minister of Labour has the twin tasks of opposing unions and backing employers who want to shed labour, and hold down wages and salaries.”
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.
Murray Dobbin, rabble.ca, September 28, 2006: “Stephen Harper’s contempt for Canada and what it became in the decades following the Second World War is firmly on the record. Most of his comments — his sneering dismissal of our egalitarianism and sense of community — relate to social programs like medicare. He once declared Canada “…a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its…social services to mask its second-rate status.”
Dennis Gruending blog: Just ahead of the May 2011 election, Ottawa blogger Dennis Gruending compiled a huge list of progressive organizations that had their funding cut by Harper, including Kevin Page’s Parliamentary Budget Office, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Climate Action Network, and many, many more.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.
Murray Dobbin, rabble.ca, September 28, 2006: “ Combating crime is one of the “core” activities of Canada for Harper and all neo-cons.”
Lawrence Martin, iPolitics, December 2 2011: “A Strict Law and Order Regime. The government’s omnibus crime bill and jail-building program, and its hard line on drugs have pushed our criminal justice system further to the right than anyone can recall. Draconian sentencing standards that have failed in the U.S. are being instituted here. Civil liberties are down and state surveillance is up. Legislation will compel internet service providers to disclose customer information.”
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources.
Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, April 27, 2011: “In fact, the Bruce Carson affair is a much darker tale about the character of the Harper government and its abuse of the public trust. And it goes like this: Harper’s key political trouble shooter and problem fixer (Carson) gets lobbied for money for a new university think tank. He then leaves the Prime Minister’s Office and becomes executive director of that same think tank: the Canada School of Energy and the Environment. It’s mostly funded by a $15-million grant from the Harper government. The former senior advisor alters the school’s mandate to permit government lobbying and policy development on the oil sands.
“He then lobbies for more federal money, $25 million, and gets it. He also works for several of his former associates (three cabinet ministers) and directs a joint industry and government campaign to improve the image of the oil sands industry. With taxpayer dollars he openly runs a partisan Tory energy think tank. He even gives partisan Tory speeches to Tory audiences. In the end, the school becomes a clearinghouse for industrial energy lobbyists working hand in hand with the federal and Alberta Tory government.”
Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen, January 27, 2012: “Mulroney-style Senate appointments, the unsavoury Chuck Cadman affair, the creative use of G8 funding to help Tony Clement secure re-election, the inexcusable defence of an EI watchdog agency that has done no work, has nothing to do, yet has already cost the treasury $3.3 million, with no end in sight.”
14. Fraudulent elections.
Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.
Nick Fillmore blog, A Different Point of View…, November 16, 2011: “Referred to as the “in-and-out scandal”, Conservative Party staff used a series of wire transfers to move money from head office into and immediately out of the accounts of 67 of their candidates and back to head office to try to evade the spending limitations on the national campaign. An advertising agency, later issued invoices to the local campaigns. This tactic allowed the party to far exceed legal limits on campaign spending. It is very possible that the well planned $1.4-million burst of advertising that was purchased in swing ridings helped change the course of Canadian political history.”
Keith Jones, World Socialist Web Site, December 31 2009: “Yesterday’s proroguing of Parliament was certainly in the service of reactionary and anti-democratic ends: to suppress exposure of the Canadian state’s complicity in torture, bolster Canada’s participation in the colonial-style insurgency war in Afghanistan, and lay more favourable conditions for the coming to power of a majority Conservative government committed to waging imperialist war abroad and gutting what remains of the welfare state at home.”
The evidence speaks clearly for itself. It’s not just that we have elected a ‘poor’ leader. This is a leader who has a definite program to rob Canadians of their basic democratic rights and treasured values. He is going to cause irreparable damage. Now that we have a better idea of his qualities and his methods, we need to figure out how to stop him.
So how does Harper tally up?
I’ve ranked, on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 indicating how strongly Harper’s fascist tendencies are), my own impressions of Stephen Harper’s actions and policies. Please share your opinions and score in the comments section.
To keep things simple, just cut and paste the chart with my scores into the comments section and add your own scores.
Nationalism: (Nick: 5)
Human Rights: (Nick: 4)
Enemies as scapegoats: (Nick 3)
Supremacy of the Military: (Nick: 5)
Rampant Sexism: (Nick 3)
Controlled Mass Media: (Nick 3)
Obsession with National Security: (Nick 4)
Religion and Ruling Elite tied together: (Nick 0)
Power of Corporations protected: (Nick 6)
Power of Labour supressed/eliminated: (Nick 5)
Disdain/suppression of Intellectuals: (Nick 4)
Obsession with crime/punishment: (Nick 6)
Rampant cronyism/corruption: (Nick 3)
Fraudulent Elections: (Nick 4)
Nick’s total: 55
Nick Fillmore, previously an investigative journalist and producer with the CBC, is a freelance journalist and social activist based in Toronto. Check out his blog at nickfillmore.blogspot.com. Comments welcome at: email@example.com