This week in The Canadian Government Does Stupid And Bad Things

Everybody who spends even a little time following federal politics in this country will quickly realize that Stephen Harper is a combative human being. He sees things in terms of sides, and if you’re not on the same side as him, then he will try to crush you, plain and simple.

This week alone was rife with examples demonstrating that disagreement won’t be tolerated. Harper’s mean streak was on full display in the government’s desperate attempts to keep child soldier and torture victim Omar Khadr in prison. He deployed attack dog and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, who not only smeared Khadr, but also accused the judge who authorized Khadr’s release of not considering his (alleged) victims.

It’s a sign of how tired and well-worn this fear-and-terror rhetoric is getting that even the Calgary Sun wasn’t buying it.

Opinion columnist and unrepentant bigot Ian Robinson, who describes his attitude towards the War on Terror as “Kill ’em all, let God sort them out”, had this to say:

And has Blaney ever heard of the concept of an independent judiciary?

You know, the kind where judges make decisions based on the merits of cases rather than political influence?

But we shouldn’t blame Blaney.

He’s serving the famously vindictive Stephen Harper, who, as we discovered recently, likes to have his picture taken with Canadian special forces troops overseas.

And publish them.

Thus putting the troops at risk.

All in the service of making himself look tough. [my emphasis]

When you’ve lost the Calgary Sun…

But enough sentence fragments – we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. It turns out that Harper’s disdain for independent review of his government’s actions extends far beyond the Khadr case. The Toronto Star this week detailed ten different cases of watchdogs and senior bureaucrats who have been forced out of their position during Harper’s time in government:

Howard Sapers, the outspoken correctional investigator of Canada, is the latest to join the involuntary exodus. He was a strong advocate for mistreated inmates. He highlighted the disproportionate number of aboriginal prisoners in the system. He asked why so many people with mental disorders were behind bars and why so many prisoners were released without adequate supervision. He warned that federal prisons were overcrowded and underfunded. “An ombudsman’s role is to comment on maladministration,” he said.

Sapers will be relieved of his responsibilities as soon as the government can find a replacement. Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney provided no explanation, other than noting the fact he had served for more than a decade. Canada’s last corrections investigator, Ron Stewart, served for 26 years.

(The Toronto Star oughtta get a trademark on that signature tone of understated snark that they use to poke at people.) The most egregious examples, IMHO:

Peter Tinsley, who chaired the military complaints commission, was axed after he brought to light allegations that Canadian soldiers handed over Taliban captives to Afghan authorities knowing there was a high chance they would be tortured.

Richard Colvin, a senior foreign affairs official who testified that he was hearing similar accounts from diplomats in Afghanistan was subjected to a vicious public attack by senior ministers of the government. [Seriously, click that last link – it’s worth it just to see Peter McKay look like his head is literally going to explode!]

In other words, and yes I know that this is old news but it’s worth remembering, when the government was confronted with evidence that Canadian forces deliberately turned prisoners over to torturers, they fired the people who made the evidence public.

And that’s the way they act whenever somebody points out any inconvenient truth – they shoot the messenger.

So while we don’t yet know for sure who’s behind, for instance, the sudden and unexplained dismissal of Dr John O’Connor, sole physician in the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewayn, it just might have something to do with this:

Twelve years ago, [O’Connor] diagnosed an unusual number of cancers of the bile duct in the tiny northern hamlet of Fort Chipewyan, located downstream of the oil [tar] sands…

He also noted higher-than-average rates of other kinds of diseases, as well as persistent reports from local hunters and fishermen of unpleasant changes in the wildlife in the region – such as dead and disappearing muskrat, and fishes with strange deformities. He wondered if these circumstances had to do with the pollution from the oil [tar] sands companies. [My fixes]

Dr. John O’Connor’s data was challenged by Health Canada and public health officials in Alberta, and he was threatened with loss of his license because he had raised “undue alarm”.

Eventually he was cleared of all charges and complaints, but the process, which took several years to resolve, changed him forever.

Now, just when he thought it was over, he received an abrupt notice of immediate termination, which effectively leaves the isolated and cancer-stricken northern community without a doctor.

Which I guess just goes to show that if you’re gonna talk about the negative consequences of government policies cross Stephen Harper, you’d better be willing to lose everything. One can only wonder what hideous governmental misbehaviour we don’t know about because potential whistleblowers are too afraid of the consequences for themselves and their families to speak out.

On the other hand, if you’re solidly on Team Harper’s side, this government has shown it will go to outrageous lengths to protect you. For instance, the RCMP is in a spot of trouble – it turns out that as soon as the government introduced legislation to abolish the long gun registry in 2011, the Mounties started destroying all their records relating to it, not bothering to wait for the bill to become law.

Which is, y’know, illegal.

But never you worry, says Mr Harper:

The Harper government moved to retroactively rewrite Canada’s access to information law so as to prevent possible criminal charges against the RCMP, The Canadian Press has learned.

The unheralded change, buried in last week’s 167-page omnibus budget bill [which I just knew had more surprises in store for us!], exempted all records from the defunct long-gun registry and also any “request, complaint, investigation, application, judicial review, appeal or other proceeding under the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act,” related to those old records.

[…]

The date effectively alters history to make an old government bill come into force months before it was actually passed by Parliament. [my emphasis]

The article goes on to toss the word “Orwellian” around, and includes this unattributed-but-too-good-to-not-quote gem:

The government feels no one should face a penalty for being overly eager to enforce the will of Parliament before the legislation had been voted into law.

Which is a scary enough statement by itself. But when you consider the laws that Parliament has been considering lately…

I mean, did the Mounties consider C-51 a done deal the day it was introduced? Because that law gives them sweeping new powers. If they’re “overly eager to enforce the will of Parliament”, and that’s OK with Parliament, then I think we ought to be asking loud questions about what they’ve been up to lately.

One gets the sense, as the HarperCons slip in the polls and the minor scandals keep accumulating, that this government is in desperation mode. The legislature adjourns next month and won’t sit again until after the election, and it could potentially be a very long time before a Conservative government is in control of the House. So they’re trying to cross off all the odds and ends on their wish list, and everybody they owe a favour to is trying to cash in all at once.

They must owe the banks a solid, for instance, because just yesterday Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced that Canada is going to use NAFTA to sue the US government over the Volcker rule:

At a speech in New York City, Oliver said the so-called “Volcker Rule” in the Dodd-Frank Act reforming banking regulations goes against the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The rule, named after former Fed chief Paul Volcker, would forbid banks from engaging in a practice known as proprietary trading — when they invest using their own money, as opposed to their clients’ money — in certain financial instruments.

If your eyes just glazed over, don’t worry. The gist is that the Volcker rule was created to prevent banks from engaging in trades that go against the interests of their customers – but which may be profitable to those banks. Oliver specifically griped about banks’ inability to purchase Canadian treasuries, but the revocation of the rule would allow banks to engage in all sorts of potentially harmful practices, practices which many experts say contributed to the financial crisis of 2007.

Why would the Harper government use the NAFTA treaty to try to meddle in American financial regulation? Could it have something to do with the fortunes of RBC, TD, and BMO, all of which are increasing their American presence?

(Relatedly, Yves Smith provides an excellent summary of how Oliver’s move exemplifies the flaws with trade treaties like NAFTA and the proposed TTP and TTIP, which make it increasingly difficult for regulations on any industry to be sustained.)

If my thesis that the Harper government is trying to close off any major business it wants to finish is correct, then I think we can expect to see a few things over the next several weeks:

  • There’s currently eighteen vacant Senate seats. The Conservatives already have a substantial majority in the Upper Chamber, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Harper tried to pad that total by appointing several new Senators.
  • No Western leader has been more hostile towards Russia and Vladimir Putin, nor more supportive of the new regime in Ukraine, than our Stevie Harper. With that conflict looking increasingly frozen, and Russia’s influence in the east more entrenched than ever, look for Harper to meddle and stir things up somehow.
  • The new NDP government in Alberta is perceived as a major threat by the Conservative Party. Some move to undermine them would also serve the purpose of taking the wind out of the federal NDP’s sails.

I’m not saying and or all of these are bound to happen. But Harper is a score-settler and a big believer in revenge and in winning at all costs. If the polls keep looking bad for the HarperCons, watch out for some seriously panicked cornered-animal-type behaviour.

 

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