What happens when the smartest man in the room (by his own estimation) proves too clever by half? What happens when a one-man band puts on a third-rate show? What happens when a "brilliant strategist" is so full of uncontrollable resentment and meanness that he keeps getting himself in trouble by interfering where he has no business?
Whenever it appears that Stephen Harper may be closer to that elusive goal of majority government, along comes Stephen Harper to remind suspicious Canadians they're dead right to be suspicious. That's what the Bev Oda fiasco is really about.
Every time I hear Michael Ignatieff shrieking at the Prime Minister to fire Ms. Oda I want to scream back: THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BEV ODA. Of course she baldly lied, just as Jason Kenney lied about Kairos policy on Israel and Tony Clement lied when he claimed Statscan approved his crusade against the long-form census. This government lies as routinely as it maligns, and it never apologizes. But Ms. Oda, like Messrs. Kenney and Clement, is just the organ grinder's monkey. Any CIDA minister would have been in the same boat. She just follows orders. And it's those orders in the Kairos case that remind us of the real Harper agenda.
The issue here is the reversal, by Stephen Harper, of a 60-year consensus shared by all previous governments about the central role of civil society in Canada. Every previous government has funded civil society groups and NGOs even when they espoused policies that contradicted the government's own. Governments might have done so grudgingly and not as generously as some of us hoped. But it has been one of the quiet glories of Canadian democracy that our governments have often backed groups that criticized them or had competing priorities.
No more. With Stephen Harper, you either buy the party line or you get slapped down. That's what happened to Kairos (now ironically receiving proper recognition for its terrific work over the years - eat your heart out, Jason Kenney). That's what happened to the Canadian Council For International Co-operation and Match International. That's what happened, with little media attention, to an astonishing number - in the many, many dozens - of other worthy organizations. (An exact figure will soon be posted by Voices, an important virtual coalition of organizations and individuals formed precisely in reaction to the Harper government's attacks on civil society organizations. I am an enthusiastic supporter.)
Never mind that, politics aside, most of these groups were also doing crucial humanitarian work. Never mind that Kairos was working with violated women in the Congo. Never mind that many de-funded organizations were promoting maternal and child health, ostensibly Mr. Harper's big personal cause. Yet because they also pursue issues that Stephen Harper will not abide - human rights for Palestinians, women's equality, climate change - they are anathema in his eyes.
The same is true of the international human-rights organization Rights & Democracy. Suddenly, all of its good work around the world counted for nothing compared to small grants it gave to three groups, one of them Israeli, defending the human rights of Palestinians. It's important to remember that R & D was created by Brian Mulroney who chose Ed Broadbent as its independent president. Not to romanticize, but those were the days, and they're dead as a dodo. So dangerously single-minded is Stephen Harper about punishing dissent that he hasn't hesitated to wreck R & D, an institution that had enhanced Canada's reputation wherever people embraced human rights and democracy.
Mr. Harper's devotion to the Israeli government not only dictates what groups he chooses to fund. It dictates much of his foreign policy. Canadians were shamed in recent weeks by the Prime Minister's refusal to demand the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, mindlessly mimicking the position of the Israeli government. There they were, standing outside history, that tiny gaggle of governments who failed to embrace one of the liberating moments of our era: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Algeria, Israel - and Canada.
And then a clueless Stephen Harper wonders why Canada lost its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
No one has ever fathomed Mr. Harper's blind obeisance to the interests of the government of Israel. Is it genuine conviction or a brazen attempt to woo a few more Jewish votes? Who knows. Political opportunism, after all, is not beyond Mr. Harper's strategic toolkit. Look at all the trouble our reigning political genius is getting into on the other end of the political spectrum from the NGO world. Having alienated much of civil society, he's now succeeded in making his natural business allies distinctly antsy as well, even while he's gifting them with billions of dollars in tax cuts. This takes a certain special skill.
On foreign-investment issues, Mr. Harper's cherished laissez faire dogmas have been discarded like so many insubordinate NGOs. His handling of these cases has been so erratic and opportunistic that UBS Investment Research - which boasts that it "draws on its 150-year heritage to serve private, institutional and corporate clients worldwide" - recently warned that foreign investors "may begin to perceive Canada as not 'open for business'."
Then only last week, Maclean's magazine asked: " Are the Tories bad for business?" The answer is as unexpected as the question: "Over the past two years, there have been repeated cases where Ottawa has stunned investors with populist decisions that took precedence over sound policy. The moves raise the question: is … Stephen Harper actually hurting Canada's reputation as a stable and open market for business and investment?" Maclean's then quotes Stephen Gordon, a professor of economics at Université Laval: "Clearly we're not Russia, but then again, we're not the Canada we used to be, either."
Hold on - we're somewhere between Russia and the good old Canada of yore? That's some accomplishment in five years. Look at Stephen Harper's record.
He silences whistle-blowers and punishes dissenters.
He treats Parliament with open contempt and brazenly lies when found out.
He suspends Parliament at the first sign of political risk.
He makes a mockery of the accountability and transparency he loudly demands of everyone else.
He makes lying to parliament just another tactical device.
He fakes his budgets by refusing to cost new initiatives.
He transforms vital watchdogs of democracy into mushy lapdogs.
He unleashes ministers to attack judges who make unwelcome decisions. He personalizes attacks on his "enemies".
He blithely smears other parties, groups and individuals as anti-Semitic.
He is impervious to the democratic spirit that has galvanized hundreds of millions of people to stand up for freedom.
He makes major economic decisions on the basis of their impact on his electoral fortunes.
Makes you wonder why Canadians aren't yet out on the streets in the millions. Instead, Michael Ignatieff demands that Bev Oda be fired.
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