The Right Honourable Stephen Harper assured Canadians that the G8 and G20 summit meetings brought the opportunity to demonstrate Canadian hospitality and leadership, with a hint that it might all lead to securing a seat at the table in the UN Security Council, among the big players, and perhaps with Stephen Harper in a starring role as World Leader.
Instead, Stephen Harper blew it.
He proved to be a laughingstock and an embarrassment to Canadians. Remember the Fake Lake?
Whether you saw him as a scheming megalomaniac or as an ill-advised puppet, the effect is the same.
He could have been a contender. But he threw away his eligibility as World Leader – let alone as leader of his own party – when he stubbornly insisted on holding the G20 summit in the heart of downtown Toronto. Concerned Canadians who showed up for peaceful demonstrations found – already in place – an intimidating fence and a highly visible police presence, striking symbols of a fascist state.
Harper and his team must go. More and more Canadians are moved to gather the evidence, and I offer a sample in this article.
York Prof. James Laxer wrote in his blog, “Reducing the normally vibrant city of Toronto to a comatose vegetable has not been a pretty sight. We have been treated to the methods of police state where there is no connect between the people and their supposed leaders. This must never be allowed to happen in our country again.”
In a Preliminary Report, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association noted that “police conduct during the G20 Summit was, at times, disproportionate, arbitrary and excessive … Over the next 36 hours, over 900 people (possibly close to 1000) were arrested by police – the largest mass-arrest in Canadian history. Media, human rights monitors, protesters and passersby were scooped up off the streets. Detained people were not allowed to speak to a lawyer or to their families. Arbitrary searches occurred in countless locations across the city, in many instances several kilometers from the G20 summit site. Peaceful protests were violently dispersed and force was used. In an effort to locate and disable 100-150 vandals, the police disregarded the constitutional rights of thousands.”
The Summits: Serious Exchange or Costly Photo-op?
The summits were ostensibly – first and foremost – to resolve the global financial crisis. Instead global leaders remarked on Harper’s financial irresponsibility in wasting over a billion dollars in unnecessary expense in a time when fiscal restraint is needed.
According to one report, “The G20 Summit was heavy on promises and lean on concrete action items, notes the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development. While the G20 expressed a strong desire to “close the development gap,” increase transparency, and tackle corruption and money laundering, there was a notable lack of language indicating an understanding of the interconnected nature of these different problems.”
James Laxer again: “Now the Harper government is back to putting ideology ahead of economic thinking. The Conservatives plan to continue lowering tax rates for corporations and the wealthy and they are determined to slash government spending, except for military outlays. Bash public servants, hold down their incomes, and cut social spending – that’s the recipe. If adopted by a large part of the world, it’s a recipe for depression.”
Echoing Laxer on June 28, Naomi Klein wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail headed, “Sticking the Public with the Bill for the Bankers’ Crisis:”
“My city feels like a crime scene and the criminals are all melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I’m not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop cars on Saturday.
“I’m talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night, smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by the world’s wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries with the bill.”
Then there is Harper’s ‘initiative’ on maternal health:
The Toronto Star’s Olivia Ward wrote an article headed, “Stephen Harper missing women’s health summit:”
“The … world’s biggest maternal health conference opens Monday with a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“But missing in action is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who, as host of the G20 conference in Toronto later this month, has made saving the lives of the half-million women who die each year in pregnancy and childbirth his core theme.
“The Washington meeting, titled Women Deliver, is timed to bolster the G20 agenda for pumping up funds for maternal health. There are 3,300 advocates and politicians attending from 140 countries, including the heads of major UN agencies, government ministers, parliamentarians, celebrity campaigners and former heads of state.
“It is a surprise that Stephen Harper didn’t come,” said Women Deliver president Jill Sheffield. “He and Laureen Harper were invited and they didn’t even reply. This is his legacy issue. We thought he might at least have sent a message.”
Harper’s absence from the Washington conference is being taken as another sign that women’s health is less important to him than lobbying for banking regulation.
Stephen Harper pledged $1.1 billion to a global initiative on maternal and child health for developing countries. He announced that G8 members have committed $5 billion over the next five years to the so-called Muskoka Initiative and that other countries will pitch in more than $2.3 billion for a total of $7.3 billion. By some estimates, however, at least $12 billion will be needed.
“Canada has far and away the strongest financial position, fiscal position, of any country that’s sitting around that table today,” Harper said. “[Maternal and child health] has been our flagship initiative for this particular conference. So, I thought it was more than appropriate that Canada lead with a disproportionate contribution.
Despite Harper’s show of generosity and compassion, the dialogue fizzled when it became clear that the aid was tied to accepting Family Planning, botched abortion being a leading cause of maternal death in Africa.
A summary of the other topics, which lead us to question Stephen Harper’s capacity for leadership, would have to include:
Harper’s Embarrassing Stances
Besides the maternal health debacle, there was Harper’s stance on the environment at Copenhagen; his stance on aboriginal rights, refusing to sign the non-binding United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and topping off the list we get Harper’s stance on Israeli Gaza blockade and supporting Israel’s apartheid policy.
Writing in Toronto’s NOW magazine, Andrew Cash says, “The dumping of our PM has become a new global mandate in the fight for economic and climate justice. Ditching Harper is a global justice issue, given his destructive world stage performance.”
Also in Now, Alice Klein wrote, “When he took on the G summits, Stephen Harper was obviously hoping to play out his inner white knight. He grabbed the G8/G20 for Canada so he could use his hosting heft to set the world right and put neo-con politics back at the centre of the world stage.
“I think history will see his performance as the last hurrah of a bygone era.”
“Watch out for South Korea,” she writes, “and in just five months it’s hosting the next G20 summit … That’s when a new financial regulatory system is supposed to be adopted.”
“And the issue South Korea is putting on the agenda, backed by the team of countries it’s leading, is development. Don’t expect the Asian nation’s perspective to have anything in common with Harper’s dumb maternal health propaganda … If you’re looking to see where new leadership will emerge on the world stage, the smart money is betting on Asia.”
Harper’s Broken Promises
Disregarding expense, Harper contravened his own commitment to set election dates.
He cut funding for women’s agencies such as Status of Women Canada (SWC), the federal commission with a mandate to promote equality for women.
He backtracked on stimulus grant for Toronto’s Gay Pride event.
“Running the most secretive and least accountable government in Canadian history after running on a platform of accountability.” This is just another [#30] of a fascinating website from blogger ‘Tootrusting’ in Nova Scotia. It’s labeled ”Stephen Harper’s Broken Promises – 100+ Reasons Not to Vote for Harper.” Some others:
The Harper government promised never to tax income trusts and then caused billions of dollars in losses to investors when they did.
Why did Stephen Harper promise to remove nonrenewable resource revenues from the equalization formula but then back out on the promise and even deny he did so?
Stephen Harper promised to station a 650-person rapid response battalion at 5 Wing Goose Bay and increase the military presence in St. John’s, only to do nothing of the sort.
The Conservatives, while in opposition and on the election trail, push for a full inquiry into compensation for those affected by Agent Orange.
Harper’s sudden proroguing of parliament on two different occasions to avoid having to answer tough questions stirred up a storm when it dawned on Canadians that they’d been had.
The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson wrote:
“The Harper government’s decision to have Parliament prorogued in the dead of Christmas week sets a record for taking out the trash.
“That’s the political term for a government dumping unwelcome or unpopular announcements at times when the news is likely to be ignored … Determined to short-circuit an investigation into how the government mishandled the treatment of Afghan detainees? Wait until the eve of New Year’s Eve – when MPs are in their ridings or down south, readers and viewers are few, and that day’s news is dominated by the picks for the men’s Olympic hockey team – and suspend Parliament.
“For anyone who believes that our governments should be honest, open and accountable, this is a travesty. But it’s devilishly clever.”
At present, now that Parliament has shut down for its Summer Break, how many promises – made or broken – will be remembered? How many distractions from the leader’s flaws will his team create?
Canadian political writers speak of Harper’s secret agenda, heavily weighted toward the right and theocracy.
Marci McDonald writes in The Armageddon Factor, citing his judicial appointments:
“By making a bureaucratic adjustment to the country’s judicial advisory panels, he had surreptitiously put in place a mechanism that allowed him to impose a long-term ideological stamp on at least a thousand federal appointments to the bench.”
Information Commissioner Robert Marleau [told](www.thehilltimes.ca/page/printpage/access-03-01-2010 House Canada) The Hill Times recently that the Harper government has been quietly drafting about 25 government policies that impact on the rights of officers of Parliament, and that it has been happening without their knowledge or input.
Harper ignores the vast majority of Canadians who oppose war in Afghanistan.
Harper ignores the majority of Canadian agencies and private citizens who oppose the closing of prison farms.
He ignores all of the Police agencies in Canada by shutting down the Gun Registry, despite their claim that it can save the lives of police and others.
Favouring capital punishment, Harper ignores the vast majority of Canadians who oppose the death penalty.
Harper’s Demonstrated Prejudice Against Women
Richard J. Brennan of the Toronto Star writes:
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been accused of systematically undermining women in this country by stripping their advocacy groups of tens of millions of dollars and targeting those critical of his government’s anti-abortion stance on the world stage.
“In the past two weeks, the federal government has ended funding to 14 women’s groups, including a non-governmental agency that was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for more than 30 years.”
Harper’s Demonstrated Prejudice Against Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered
His stance on same-sex marriage – now legal in Canada – is well known. During the G20, hundreds of arrested demonstrators were rounded up and incarcerated in a makeshift prison. It is, perhaps, no accident that thanks to Harper’s endorsement there was a climate in which Canadian citizens who appeared to fall in those categories were subject to verbal or physical abuse by their police guards.
Harper’s Ideology-driven Criminal Justice Stance
This is based on retribution, not rehabilitation and a belief in capital punishment.
- “It is the extent to which retribution is at the core of this man that strikes me as one the most disturbing aspect of his government, because it is so at odds with the values of the vast majority of Canadians.” - Murray Dobbin in The Tyee
Harper is Anti-democratic, Subversive
“Harper is trampling on democracy yet again with a new round of secret trade talks in Europe. People around the world are demanding tougher climate and health protections, not an expansion of discredited laissez-faire capitalism,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.
“We’ve seen firsthand how NAFTA has destroyed jobs, depressed working conditions and rendered governments nearly powerless to corporate interests. Canadians can’t afford to go down that path again.
“As a second round of Canada-European Union free trade talks wraps up in Brussels, Belgium today, Canadian civil society organizations are demanding full transparency from the Harper government, and a halt to negotiations while countrywide public consultations can be held,” says CAW National President Ken Lewenza.
Harper’s Lies or Misleading Statements
“Harper ‘lies’ about coalition details: Broadbent”
That’s the headline in the CBC report on the pending coalition talks by the NDP, the Bloc and the liberals.
In an interview with CBC News in Toronto, a furious Broadbent had harsh words for the prime minister, saying Harper was also trying to pit English Canada against Quebecers in his attempt to discredit the proposed coalition to replace him if the Conservative minority government falls.
“I’ve never seen the leader of a Conservative party, certainly not Bob Stanfield, certainly not Joe Clark, lie – I choose the word deliberately – the way Mr. Harper has,” Broadbent said.
Broadbent said Harper is conducting a “shameful operation” by trying to turn certain defeat in the House of Commons into a national unity crisis.
“I’m concerned I have a prime minister who lies to the people of Canada and knows it,” Broadbent said. “It’s one thing to exaggerate. It’s another to deliberately tell falsehoods.”
Harper’s Failed ‘Transparency’ vs. his Real Policy of Obstructionism
The Calgary Herald reported on the secret guidebook of ‘dirty tricks’ for Conservative MPs on how to unleash chaos while chairing parliamentary committees.
“Running some 200 pages, including background material, the document given only to Conservative chairmen tells them how to favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind business to a halt.”
Harper and his cronies have a record of restricting or denying access to information, avoiding media, changing subject if questioned, creating what CBC commentator Don Newman describes what he calls a ‘Climate of Suspicion’.
“Under the current regime, this climate of suspicion has worked its way down through the system to the other parties. As a result, spin has replaced substance, posturing has replaced policies, attacking opponents has replaced attacking problems pretty much across the board.”
In his message on 19 May 2010 Union President James Clancy wrote, “Harper’s divisive tactics are damaging Canadian civility and undermining democratic traditions… [Senator Ruth’s] blatant disdain for democracy is not an isolated Conservative incident. Rather, it is part of a disturbing culture of intimidation that pervades the Harper government.”
Andrew Cash writes in Toronto’s NOW magazine: “Ditching Harper is a global justice issue, given his destructive world stage performance … As local electoral politics takes a back seat to global activism on the streets of Toronto, a curious thing is happening. Through the white noise of government communiqués, obscene security expenditures and pork-barrel politics in cottage country, Harper himself has become an agenda item for those of us outside the security perimeter. The dumping of our PM has become a new global mandate in the fight for economic and climate justice.”
Harper’s Gift to Canadians
There is a bright side to this dark picture. As a result of the summit meetings, Harper and his team have shown their true colours. Murray Dobbin has a proposal for Canadians who are mad as hell.
Now what? What will the 25,000 people who participated in the demonstrations do in the face the assault on their fellow-citizens? Will they become active in organizations fighting for a better world? Will they donate $100 each to those organizations critical to defending democracy? ($2.5 million would make a difference.) Will the labour movement – still the sector of civil society best equipped to put resources into the struggle – finally take the situation seriously? Will they come together, call for a coalition to rid the country of the most dangerous prime minister in its history? Will enough people demand of the NDP that it actually defend democracy – instead of denouncing the violence as its only statement on the events did? Is the NDP even capable under its current leadership of understanding where we are and how to address the crisis?
I can’t think of a better wake-up call for all of us than the wanton violation of civil liberties and democracy that happened on the weekend. Calling for an independent investigation, demanding civil liberties be respected, denouncing the governments involved, raising money to defend those falsely charged – all of this is necessary.
But it is not nearly enough.
Steps to Take
- Use available social networks
- Write letters to newspapers, MPs etc.
- Write leaders of all opposition parties to let them know you want the Harper government out
- Join the opposition party appropriate for you
- Discuss this article with friends and forward copies to them
- Believe that together, Canadians can save our democracy
- Join the movement: Canadians Rallying to Unseat Stephen Harper (C.R.U.S.H.)
Dave Bennett is a writer and filmmaker. Now retired, he lives with his wife in Belleville, Ontario.