This summer, Catherine Lu decided to write up a list of reasons to vote against the Conservative Party of Canada in the current federal election. Over a period of 40 days, she came up with one new reason per day, which she posted to her Facebook page. In recognition of her labours, over the next few days we will republish them here:
Reason #10 (with a nod to Kurt Vonnegut’s classic short story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’)
‘This is a society that is transparent, open, and where people are equal.’
–Prime Minister Stephen Harper (February 2015).
The year was 2016, and all Canadians were finally ‘equal’ and living in a ‘transparent and open’ society. Nobody was not being watched by the government’s spy agency (CSIS). Nobody demonstrated against this Harper Government surveillance, and nobody even discussed strategies to thwart these Harper Government operations, at least not since 81-year-old protestor, Doreen Routley, was charged with engaging in an “activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada,” and “interfering with the capability of the Government in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.” Nobody could wear a niqab or a hijab or hockey mask while swearing the oath of citizenship. Nobody was getting government-subsidized dental care, not even refugees who survived torture, rape, starvation, or the drowning of their children. Nobody had dual citizenship since no one wanted to risk having their Canadian citizenship revoked. Nobody wanted to get promoted in their international career by working abroad for a few years, since doing so meant losing the right to vote. Nobody wanted to fall in love with a foreigner, for the same reason. Despite the forests dying, the oceans warming, and the land cracking from prolonged drought, nobody could find a government scientist who could be interviewed to talk about these problems. All this equality was due to the unceasing vigilance of the Harper Government that won the 2015 election. Nobody knew what happened to the ‘Government of Canada’, since that title had disappeared from all federal government communications, replaced by ‘the Harper Government’. Thanks to its efforts, all Canadians were finally equal, and nobody was prosperous or secure.
Canadians expect the people who assume public office to behave like grown-ups. If they don’t get their way, government leaders aren’t supposed to throw tantrums and try to destroy the institutions on which Canadian democracy is based. Yet, this is exactly what Prime Minister Harper did in March 2014, when the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s choice to fill a position on the Supreme Court, Marc Nadon, was ineligible because he lacked the specific, required qualifications to take the position. After the defeat came, however, the Prime Minister’s Office suggested (falsely) that the Chief Justice had tried inappropriately to intervene in the appointment process. Prime Minister Harper (and Justice Minister Peter MacKay) drew international criticism from the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) for their unfounded accusations, which constituted an ‘encroachment upon the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the Chief Justice’. As former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney put it, respecting the independence and integrity of the judiciary means ‘avoiding any slagging matches with members of the Supreme Court, starting with the chief justice.’ (Note: In describing the conflict as a ‘slagging’ contest, I believe Mulroney is using the term ‘slagging’ in the UK sense, of making insulting comments, and not in the US sense, in which, according to the urban dictionary, ‘slagging’ means to sleep with someone.)
Recent polls indicate that Canadians are nearly evenly divided between the Conservatives, the NDP, and the Liberals. In these circumstances, the October election could yield a minority government, where the ruling party would have to work with at least one other party to pass legislation and stay in power. Do Canadians remember what Prime Minister Stephen Harper did the last time his Conservative party formed the minority government? Instead of harnessing a shared concern for the country’s common good by facilitating healthy multi-partisan debate about important issues facing the country, Prime Minister Harper put Parliament in deep freeze (technically, called prorogation of Parliament). Not only once, but four times, since taking office in 2006. Proroguing parliament stops committee work and annuls all legislation pending before Parliament. In December 2009, prorogation killed the parliamentary committee trying to investigate the Harper Conservative government’s knowledge about the torture of Afghan detainees, and allowed the government to evade Parliament’s order to produce documents that could clarify the issue. In order to avoid facing up to the truth (that Canada’s ministers of defence and foreign affairs at the time may have been guilty of war crimes based on the principle of cabinet responsibility established at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial), the Harper government sacrificed 37 of 64 of the bills it introduced in January 2009. Even with a majority government in the fall of 2013, Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament for a month to ensure that ‘he won’t face opposition questions on the Senate expenses scandal for an extra month.’ If you want to ensure with the next election that the representatives you elect will be put in deep freeze at the convenience of the Prime Minister, so that they can’t hold government accountable for its actions, then do vote for Harper’s Conservative party.
Don’t you hate it when people in power don’t own up to their own mistakes, preferring instead to sacrifice their ‘subordinates’, the people who work so hard to cover the asses of their superiors? In June, when the Auditor-General was preparing to unveil a forensic audit of the Senate, flagging questionable travel and housing claims, Prime Minister Harper drew a bright line between the Red Chamber and the House of Common, saying that the Senate is a separate entity from the Commons, where he sits. So, Canadians are supposed to believe that the Prime Minister is not responsible for any of the rule violations allegedly committed by some the senators he appointed, including Mike Duffy. But what seems clearer than daylight from the emails released at the Duffy trial so far is that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was deeply involved in Mike Duffy’s Senate troubles and their problematic resolution. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself wrote a memo to his staff, directing them to change the Senate audit to be about expenses rules and not residency requirements. (Index# 0300093 in Crown emails, #127 and #146 in defence emails). Why? According to the Constitution, senators must be “resident” in the province for which they are appointed, as well as own property worth at least $4,000. The emails from the trial show that Harper decided to ignore inconvenient parts of the Constitution; he believed owning property in a province – not necessarily being resident there – was enough for someone to represent that province in the upper chamber, hence the Duffy appointment, which he made. Since Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, failed to wipe away the Senate mess for the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is now throwing him under the bus, saying, ‘These are the actions of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright. …You hold people responsible for their own actions; you certainly don’t hold subordinates responsible for the actions of their superiors.’ Which makes one wonder, who is the superior who should be held responsible for violating the constitutional rules for Senate appointments?
We all know by now how liberal Prime Minister Harper has been when it comes to meeting the constitutionally mandated residency requirements for Senators. But what about the residency requirements that determine the eligibility of voters to vote? You might think that the government would want to take a liberal approach there as well, given that only 61% of those eligible voted in the 2011 federal election, which is about 10-15% less than the voter turnout in the 1980s and early 1990s. One might think that a government concerned to strengthen Canadian democracy ought to want to do what it can to facilitate and promote more electoral participation. Instead, Pierre Poilievre – the Harper Government’s Minister of State for Democratic Reform – concocted the ‘Fair Elections Act’, which actually makes it harder for Canadians to exercise their democratic right to vote. For example, 3% of people who voted in the last election presented their voter information card (sent in the mail to each voter saying where to vote) as a very convenient way to corroborate their residency. This card now does not qualify as proof of residence. Who is going to remember that on October 19th? But most vulnerable to being disenfranchised are students who don’t have ID with their current address, anyone who has just moved, seniors who live in care homes, aboriginals, low-income Canadians who can’t afford the required ID, and the blind. About 1% of people who voted in the 2011 federal election needed to be vouched for: they didn’t have the proper ID, but a voter in their polling area could vouch for them so they could still cast a ballot. Vouching has also been axed, but due to widespread protest, the Harper Conservative government has introduced a more bureaucratized process, where someone who can’t prove a current address can sign an oath to where they live. If another valid voter signs a second oath, backing up the first voter’s address, the first voter is given a ballot. Which makes one wonder, did Mike Duffy have to sign an oath saying that he was a resident of Prince Edward Island, and was it Prime Minister Stephen Harper who signed the second oath backing up Duffy’s claim of residence?
According to the Minister of Democratic Reform, Pierre Poilievre, the elimination of vouching and the use of voter ID cards was necessary to crack down on individual voter fraud during elections. The only problem is that there was zero evidence of fraud by an individual voter during the last election. But there was another fraud committed by a political party during the 2011 election. Known as the robocall voter suppression scandal, it involved members of the Conservative party trying to mislead opposition supporters by sending them automated calls directing them to the wrong polling stations. During the investigation of the robocall fraud, a Federal Court judge determined that the Conservative party database known as the Constituency Information Management System, or CIMS, was likely the source of the contact information used. Eventually in August, 2014, former junior Conservative staffer, Michael Sona, was convicted of ‘having wilfully prevented or endeavoured to prevent an elector from voting at an election’. Judge Gary Hearn, who heard the case, said that Sona did not appear to have acted alone in sending the deceptive calls. Not surprisingly, 70% of Canadians now say that they are concerned that political parties, not individual voters, may try to “manipulate the outcome of future elections through illegal activities.” Did Poilievre’s ‘Fair Election Act’ (Bill C-23) equip Elections Canada with more powers to investigate such dirty tricks by political operatives? Not according to a group of academic experts who examined the bill: ‘Bill C-23 fails to provide the Commissioner of Elections power to compel witness testimony in investigating systematic electoral fraud such as the 2011 “robocalls” scandal. Witnesses with knowledge of fraudulent activity can – and regularly do – refuse to provide information to investigators. The bill’s proposed voter contact registry will not greatly enhance the capacity to prosecute fraud, and its increased penalties for fraud do nothing if investigators cannot prove crimes.’ Once again, the Harper Conservative government is making legislation to solve its own party’s problems rather than the problems that concern at least 70%, if not all, of the population.
Environmental protection ranks in the top five issues that concern Canadians in this election campaign. The basic scientific projections about climate change are now well known. Climate scientists have pegged humanity’s carbon budget at one trillion tonnes. Keeping carbon emissions below this budget would give us a 50/50 chance of limiting global warming to 2°C. Temperature change above 2°C is likely to trigger major environmental catastrophes, that could result in large-scale food and water shortages. World leaders know that action to reduce carbon emissions is urgent, since if we continue emitting carbon at the same rate as we are now, we will exhaust the ‘trillion-tonne carbon budget for the human race’ by 2040. As Canada’s contribution to fighting climate change, the Harper Conservative government pledged in 2009 to reduce emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels, by 2020. Environment Canada reported in December last year, however, that Canada was not close to meeting that commitment. Is it realistic to expect Canada to do better? Of course, it is! According to a report by leading scientists, engineers and economists, ‘Canada could shift entirely to renewable sources of electricity by 2035 and eliminate 80 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.’ To get there, the report recommends ending government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and implementing a national carbon-pricing scheme, either through a tax or a cap-and-trade system. The Harper Conservative government, however, has condemned any proposal for carbon pricing – either through direct levies or cap-and-trade plans. According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ‘it would be crazy, it would be crazy economic policy’ to impose any such plan on the struggling oil and gas sector, which is Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. It seems that Prime Minister Harper missed (or perhaps didn’t read) the memo from the Bank of England Governor (who used to be Bank of Canada Governor), Mark Carney, who told a World Bank seminar last year that the ‘vast majority of reserves are unburnable’ – about 75% of known economically recoverable fossil-fuel reserves – if the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C is to be achieved.
Here’s what I am waiting for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to say: ‘Dear Canadians, Last August, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s body was found in a bag in the Red River in Winnipeg. At the time, when asked about whether Canada should hold a national inquiry to identify and address causes of violence against Aboriginal women, I said that ‘it’s very clear that there has been very fulsome study … of these particular things. They’re not all one phenomenon. We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime.’ Today, I am here to admit that I was wrong. I understand that according to RCMP records, between 1980 and 2012, nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women and girls were murdered or went missing. And I acknowledge fully that it is the job of the Canadian government to make Canada safer for aboriginal women, who are four times more likely to be murdered or go missing than other Canadian women. Today, I admit that my government has failed miserably in this task, and furthermore, that we clearly don’t know how to accomplish this basic function of a legitimate government. So today, I am answering the calls – by Tina Fontaine’s family as well as the families of other murdered or missing aboriginal women, by Winnipeg’s police chief, by aboriginal, municipal, and provincial governments, by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – to establish a national inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. I agree with Winnipeg’s Chief of Police, Devon Clunis, that the disproportionate vulnerability of aboriginal women to victimization exposes ‘a deep social issue that needs to be addressed from a holistic community perspective.’ I also pledge at this time to engage the energy and resources of my government to start addressing the 94 recommendations of the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released on June 3, about which I have, until now, unconscionably, remained completely silent.’
Number of refugees from Syrian civil war (2011 to now): over 4 million.
Number of Syrian refugees the Harper Conservative government told the UN that Canada would accept by the end of 2014: 1,300.
Additional number of Syrians Canada has pledged to resettle by the end of 2017 (six years after the start of the war): 10,000.
Number admitted as of September 2015: 2374.
Bureaucratic processing time of completed refugee applications: from applicants in Turkey, 3 years and 9 months; in Jordan, 1 year and 7 months; in Lebanon, 11 months.
Number of dollars that Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board underspent last year for refugee resettlement programs: $25 million.
Annual estimated cost of Canada absorbing refugees’ transportation and overseas medical expenses, instead of being the only country in the world to charge interest to refugees on travel loans: $15 million.
Number of Vietnamese refugees that the Government of Canada, under Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark, announced that it would admit in July 1979: 50,000.
Number accepted by the end of 1980: 60,000.
‘For their contributions, the People of Canada were awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in 1986. This marked the only time the medal has been awarded to an entire nation.’
Reason #1 (with a nod to William Wordsworth’s Sonnet, ‘The world is too much with us’)
It was too hard to come up with a ‘#1’ reason not to vote for the Harper Conservative party, so instead I wrote this poem.
Catherine Lu is an Associate Professor of political theory at McGill University, and is currently a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).