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Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Forget tuition fees: If anything calls for a riot, it's Harper's stealth governance Add to ...

Want to hear a pitch for a movie? It’s sort of a 3-D sequel to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, except twice as weird and four times as depressing.

There’s a bill, called C-38. It’s driven to Parliament on forklifts retrofitted for maximum stealth. This bill, similar at 420 pages in weight and heft to a small pony, is delivered to dead-eyed MPs, behind whom stands the chief whip, taser in hand. The drool-drenched backbenchers nod in unison, and put the bill back on the forklifts for rubber-stamping further down the line.

What’s the film’s title? I’m calling it Canada.

We find ourselves at the cusp of one of those moments in history books (not that there are many history books in the countries where bills like C-38 are routinely passed): Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his legions are trying to shovel an omnibus bill, disguised as a budget, down the throats of sleeping Canadians.

Like the border of some Third World hellhole, C-38 is mined with things likely to go boom. There is a budget in there somewhere, but also wholesale “reform” of environmental policy, tweaks to the oversight of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., changes to pension eligibilities and Laureen Harper’s quiche Florentine recipe.

Good policies? Bad policies? Doesn’t matter. Properly, each of those items should be sent to committees and considered individually. That’s how our system is designed to work. What the Conservatives have engineered isn’t illegal, merely rotten – another in a long line of tricks defiling the democratic process.

Governments congenitally allergic to transparency, addicted to secrecy and horrified of debate? “Historically, not awesome,” to quote Robert Downey’s Iron Man.

In South Africa, where I’m currently based, the African National Congress shares with the Tories an unflinching belief in their divine right to rule. It has tried to make whistleblowing illegal, extort drivers in the Johannesburg area with an unfair tolling system and keep a murderous ANC crony at the head of the intelligence service. Each time, outrage in the press and the street – and often from within the ruling alliance – has been considerable. Here, people power makes the Man think twice.

But in Canada? Off the top of my head, Canadians have taken to the streets on several occasions. I think of the 1993 Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup win, when my Atwater neighbourhood was gleefully razed. We marched during the 1995 referendum, solemnly, meaningfully. In 2001, Canadian youth and their houseguests refurbished Quebec City because of a G8 buffet lunch.

In 2010, Toronto got a similar dose – apparently it’s Evil when there are more than two G20 leaders in the same place at the same time. Then we trashed Vancouver because, dude, we lost! Now, students in Montreal are going all intifada because their tuition is to be hiked $1,700 over seven years – 10 good shifts waiting tables at a St. Laurent bistro, if I remember correctly.

By those standards, commuters should be bemoaning the traffic disruptions caused by gargantuan anti-omnibus-bill marches. Yet the Official Opposition has yet to muster anything meaningful on C-38: The NDP has held a series of meetings; attendees included some party members, an activist and a guy looking for a veggie platter.

Like the rookie he is, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has deflected attention by uttering his superstitions about the oil sands draining jobs from other regions of the country. There’s plenty to criticize about Canada’s energy policy, but a bigger chunk of it happens to be hiding in the bill Mr. Mulcair should be filibustering. Pick your battles, man.

By not making this the issue of our generation, by not linking this with other efforts calling for responsible governance and respect for democratic institutions – and by not understanding that this trend is not just local, but global – Canadians are rolling over and playing dead.

Which is exactly where Stephen Harper wants us: on our backs, our tummies rubbed by the panacea of “stable governance” and “regulated economic growth.” Personally, I’d take a haircut on the vaunted stability for the privilege of living in a functional democracy.

Why does it take a visit from Angela Merkel, or lousy goaltending, to get us riled up? Why are we unable to understand the danger of a 420-page sucker punch to the democratic process?

Mr. Mulcair believes that Canada has “Dutch disease,” in which resource prices drive up the value of the dollar, hollowing out other sectors of the economy. Perhaps. Incontestably, we have what I’d call “Chinese disease,” in which the ruling party governs without opposition and input, hollowing out democracy.

If you don’t want a starring role in my 3-D Brazil reboot, may I politely suggest getting angry? Let’s at least try to keep C-38 out of theatres, and reduce it to a footnote in those history books that are currently on track not to get written.

Richard Poplak is a Canadian writer currently based in Johannesburg.

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