Those who thought the Harper government would ease up a bit after winning a majority were wrong. Noblesse oblige is out, or, rather, was never in. If anything, the Harper government is more bullying, scornful of dissent, intent on controlling every utterance, contemptuous of the media and determined to carry on political war at all times and by all means.
The Conservative war machine engaged in what House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer called this week “reprehensible” conduct in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal. There, the Conservatives hired a firm to phone voters and tell them that Liberal MP Irwin Cotler was thinking of resigning.
This rumour was completely false, but it spread doubts. It was undoubtedly designed for the ears of Jewish voters, who are plentiful in that riding and who’ve been moving en masse to the Conservatives, who’ve lined up what passes for a Canadian Middle East policy with every desire of the Israeli government.
The notion that Mr. Cotler has been anything but a devoted supporter of Israel throughout his life is insulting. But so far has the Jewish community swung behind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s view of the Middle East that Mr. Cotler stands accused by Conservatives, unbelievably, of not being supportive enough of a state he loves.
This kind of ethnic politics is omnipresent in the Conservatives’ calculations. The finger-wagging of Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself before the Commonwealth conference against Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-dominated government played wonderfully among Toronto’s Tamils. Obviously, the Conservatives have targeted yet another ethnic group for harvesting, and are bending Canada’s traditional policy of trying to bring groups together for domestic political gain.
In the Commons, the government is using closure repeatedly. Faced with an adverse decision from the Federal Court against its legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, the government waved the ruling aside and said it would proceed.
Speaking of judges, the Conservative chair of the parliamentary witch-hunt committee into the CBC and its expenses – a committee egged on by the ravers at Sun TV and its owner, Pierre Karl Péladeau – had the audacity, presumably born of a mixture of ignorance and arrogance, to insist that a judge whose ruling displeased him be hauled before the committee to explain the ruling.
Still with the courts, the Quebec government asked for the records of the soon-to-be-abolished long-gun registry. The government so dislikes the registry that it wants to expunge every trace that it ever existed, the way certain authoritarian governments airbrushed from old photographs people whose views they didn’t like. As a result, the Quebec government is taking the Harper government to court so it doesn’t destroy the records.
Information is as tightly controlled as ever. Everything runs through the central information machine in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Hill Times recently documented how the number of information officers had exploded under the Harper government. Its job is to conceal as much information as possible and to make public only bits of spin. Civil servants are still under strict orders not to provide information to people outside the government without the written consent of the central authorities.
At the United Nations climate conference in Durban, by way of telling illustration, The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York reported that the Canadian room was closed, in contrast to the rooms of other delegations. Opposition critics on the environment weren’t invited. If they wanted to attend, even as parliamentarians, they had to pay their own way. They would undoubtedly have chastised the government, for that is what opposition MPs do, and that’s why the government didn’t extend invitations.
Speaking of dissent, the Parliamentary Budget Officer issued another report on the state of the deficit. His report did not jibe with government assertions. The Finance Minister just said the PBO is “wrong” and carried on.
We might have thought that, with the prospect of four more years in office, the government might be somewhat less paranoid, controlling, doctrinaire and relentlessly partisan. Forget that naiveté.