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Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

At the editorial board

Margaret Atwood, uncensored Add to ...

And when I hear words like "strong and stable", which is what we're being offered, I think, What's the price? When are we going to pay for strong and stable?

Joe Stalin was very strong and stable. He made it through. Nobody actually succeeded in assassinating him. And he did that by bumping off anyone who looked close to being some sort of competition and through acts of random terror. So you don't want any of that. You don't want an autocratic one-person rule. You also don't want a blank cheque that allows any government to spend taxpayer's money, without telling us what it will cost. That is why this government fell, if I'm not mistaken. It was failure to tell the price. Insistence that a budget be passed for which the price was not being told.

So the other thing you don't want is secrecy. And every single autocratic government that you can mention in the entire realm of history, has always done secrecy. So I invoke the Star Chamber, I invoke the Bastille, I invoke the Inquisition during which you did not have to reveal who your refusers were.

And you don't want anything in which the judicial arm of the government and the government itself are the same thing. You want a separate justice system and you want, of course, a free media. Which is why we're all so interested in Journalists Without Borders. And why we track things like the recent disappearance of Ai Weiwei in China.

And really there is a long list of journalists, artists, writers, who have disappeared, been assassinated, been exiled, because that's what any self-respecting autocratic government always tries to get rid of. And you actually don't want a media that is an arm of the government. You don't want Pravda in a word. Their ways of dealing with those kinds of situations, that's when you get Samizdat and people who are expert in reading between the lines. But you cannot call any political system in which the media and the government are joined at the hip a free society. They have to be separate.

What else would you like to know?

Mr. Geiger: Just how does this apply to the election we're seeing?

Ms. Atwood: I'm worried about the secrecy, I'm worried about the lack of accountability, I'm worried about the one-man rule. And the one-man rule cuts two ways. Because if you're putting yourself forward as the leader, the only leader, and the person whose word goes forth from his mouth and runs throughout the entire kingdom - that's Assyrian.

Then you cannot also say, "I didn't know." If you're the all-seeing, all-knowledgeable, micro-managing ruler, you cannot then say, "I didn't know." Because in that case, you cannot proclaim competence in the same breath as you proclaim all-knowing.

Mr. Fine: The Bruce Carson story?

Ms. Atwood. Yes, has got even more to it now. And we all expect a certain amount of take-everybody's-money-and-give-some-of-it-to-your-friends. I mean, all governments tend to get into that sooner or later, and the longer they've been in power, the more they do it.

Because of the more lazy, arrogant and entitled they become. Entitled-feeling they become. But this was a bit early in the cycle they started behaving that way. The Muskoka Caper and the Carson Caper, you would expect that maybe in a government that had been in as a majority for eight years, not in a minority.

So, I say unto you, if they do this in the Green Leaf, what will they do in the Sear? That is a biblical quotation. That means, if they're behaving this way now, what happens if they get the total power? And I'm afraid it's the same as the political meetings. If you're with us, you're in. If you're not with us, you're very definitely out.

Mr. Fine: Where is he on the Dictate-o-meter? Harper?

Ms. Atwood: The Dictate-o-meter, it's a needle. So it points, up or down. You can be in a liberal democracy of a rightist inclination, you can be in a liberal democracy of a leftist inclination. He's pointing on the Dictate-o-meter further towards lockdown - so, further towards an autocratic one-person rule.

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