My father and mother were born in Vancouver in 1909 and 1911, and lived in Canada all their lives. But like many others of Asian, African and aboriginal origin, they couldn’t vote until after the Second World War. Voting is the core of democracy.
And for me, it is a priceless right that doesn’t go away after an election. It includes counting on government to represent our interests, regardless of who we voted for. After being sworn in as prime minister, Stephen Harper was no longer just party leader and MP for Calgary Southwest but government leader for all Canadians, including those who didn’t support his party. Because of that, I have repeatedly reached out to him and his successive environment ministers, but have been rebuffed.
Rather than treating environmental issues as legitimate concerns, the government has demonized environmentalists as “radicals” and lumped us in with white supremacists, animal-rights extremists and anti-capitalists. It’s a familiar, if deplorable, diversionary technique.
We’re witnessing an erosion of democratic principles. When accusations arose that robocalls were used to misdirect people from polling stations, I was appalled that people here would attempt to undermine the very heart of democracy, using a tactic found in banana republics. Even more shocking was the absence of outrage from political leaders, especially Mr. Harper, whose party was the focus of the accusations.
Conservatives used every means to quash the legal suit brought by the Council of Canadians in six ridings where robo-calls might have tipped the outcome. When a Federal Court judge confirmed that fraudulent calls were made but could not determine their ultimate source or degree of influence, the Conservatives claimed victory! They may have avoided further investigation, but it was a blow to democracy.
Over the past eight years, this government has talked about law and order, but its actions appear to reveal a belief that laws are made to be broken – not by criminals, but by government. When Jean Chrétien ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, he committed our country to a binding legal agreement. Yet when Mr. Harper became prime minister, he withdrew from the protocol before sanctions would have been imposed for noncompliance. Canada effectively declared itself an international outlaw.
Shortly after assuming power, Mr. Harper’s government passed a law requiring set elections every four years. A few months later, it ignored its own law to opportunistically call one. When his government could have fallen in the face of a majority opposition, Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament. And when elected MPs passed the Climate Change Accountability Act in 2010, the unelected Conservative Senate majority shot it down. That isn’t sober second thought; it’s overriding the will of elected representatives.
As for the Senate, having campaigned to reform or abolish it, Mr. Harper has instead made 59 appointments to it, packing it with people whose qualifications seem to consist of wholehearted support for his agenda rather than the expertise required to serve Canadians’ interests.
Our current government’s policies are guided by ideology rather than facts. Its tactics include demonizing opponents, ignoring valid concerns and shutting down avenues of information. The list is long: cancelling the long-form census, ending the long-gun register, opposing safe-injection sites, muzzling scientists, shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area and climate-change research programs and more.
People appointed or elected to public office should understand that ideals and principles transcend party loyalty or political power. Politicians serve society. In return, we reward them with good salaries, perks of office and, above all, respect and gratitude.
My father taught me that we are what we do, not what we say. Stephen Harper may claim a commitment to the principles of fairness and democracy, but his actions show otherwise.
David Suzuki is a scientist and journalist.
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