Gerald Caplan is an African scholar, former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power and Politics.
Stephen Harper made international news the other day when he ran into President Putin at a G20 meeting. "I guess I'll shake your hand," he told the Russian bear, "but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine."
So we now have the election-ready Mr. Harper – not only a "trained economist" into whose good hands Canadians can entrust their material well-being, but a bold, outspoken international statesman who stands up to bullies and speaks truth to power. If you don't believe me, ask his horde of zealous flacks.
But what gave Mr. Harper the moral authority to order Vladimir Putin around? Who in the world is he to be accusing any other head of government of improper acts? Imagine what Canadians might want to say to him if he ever agreed to meet anyone who wasn't carefully pre-selected by his handlers. Imagine what the Premier of Ontario might say.
If I ever had the opportunity, I would shake Stephen Harper's hand, but I'd sure have a lot things to say to him. Here are just a few:
You need to stop ignoring climate change. It's real. It's a crisis. How can you be unmoved? You call imposing regulations on the energy sector "crazy." Most of the rest of the world finds Canada's refusal to act on greenhouse gases crazy.
You need to stop sending billions of dollars in military supplies to Saudi Arabia. Last year you approved contracts totaling more than $10-billion to supply the Saudi royal family with military armed vehicles. Then you claim you care about human rights. Do you think those vehicles will be used to spread freedom and women's equality throughout the Middle East?
You need to stop betraying our veterans. Instruct the Department of Veterans Affairs that they have one month to get their house in order – or else. Make yourself the minister of Veterans Affairs to signal your serious intent. Why have you allowed this scandal to fester for eight years?
You need to stop appointing buffoons as your Parliamentary Secretaries. With your obvious blessing, each has brought the House of Commons into greater disrepute. Del Mastro (now thankfully gone), Poilievre (now thankfully silent), Calandra (now drowning in crocodile tears) – each has made a mockery of Parliament. You should be ashamed, but you seem to know no shame.
You need to put an end to those gargantuan omnibus bills, yet another means by which you mock democratic processes. Former auditor-general Sheila Fraser said that thanks to such bills, "Parliament has become so undermined that it is almost unable to do the job people expect of it." But you couldn't care less. Do you think you are a czar?
You need to stop being an indiscriminate cheerleader for Israel. Stop treating the Palestinian people as if they didn't exist and have no rights. Stop playing politics with ant-Semitism. Stop conflating anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the government of Israel. You clearly want to stifle all critics but you can't.
You need to stop enabling the Canadian Revenue Agency to intimidate or silence your critics. Politically-motivated tax audits are a Watergate kind of tactic that has no place in a democratic nation. Tricky Dicky Nixon is no role model for Canada.
You need to stop using public money to brazenly promote partisan messages. It's simply cheating. We know exactly how you'd scream if another government tried this same trick. Your double standards make Canadians cynical about all politicians.
You need to make an urgent priority of the plight of aboriginal girls and women. That's the real law-and-order agenda that Canada needs, not your pandering to your conservative base. Locking up unprecedented numbers of aboriginal women is not the way to provide them protection and security.
You need to reverse the crisis you have caused in the criminal justice and penitentiary systems. A merciless system that only punishes and fails to rehabilitate simply churns out even more dangerous criminals; even the United States is learning that. Condemning prisoners to solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. Despite your rhetoric, you violate human rights at the drop of a hat.
You need to stop treating refugees as if they were criminals and cheats. Stop trying to deny them health care and welfare. Recognize the wretched lives most of them have fled from. Open our doors to trapped Syrian refugees. Your Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander, has emerged as the meanest member of your mean government. He is the embodiment of the values you are trying to instill in Canadians.
In so many of these ways and more, the Harper government has made Canada an outlier among the community of nations. Many of these actions are simply inexplicable, like the refusal to join the world in restricting trade in endangered species. Stephen Harper doesn't know how lucky he is that President Putin wasn't more primed about the Canadian record over the past eight years. The Russian president might not have agreed to shake hands at all.