A Liberal Canada

Canadians assess the aftermath of Harper’s political demise

Canada’s prime minister for the past nine years, Stephen Harper, led a charmed life until the 19 October federal election. Canada’s first-past-the-post elector system, where three parties — two left-liberal and one conservative — have split the vote election after election, allowed him to hold power with a third of the popular vote.

The traditional source of political power in Canada is the Liberal Party, but they lost power after a string of scandals and weak leadership a decade ago, and Harper, having captured the traditionally moderate Progressive Conservatives and inserted his radical right wing followers, used the electoral split to pursue a divisive agenda.

For pro-Israeli, pro-war, anti-environment, anti-science, anti-culture types, he was perfect. But for people concerned about human rights, the environment, promoting the arts and maintaining Canada’s reputation as a nation that promotes world peace, and is a haven for scientific development, he has been the worst prime minister in history.

Canadians finally woke up in alarm this summer, and the Liberals under the charismatic Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre Trudeau, produced a miracle, moving from third place with 19 per cent to 37 per cent in the final week, and on to 50 per cent on election day, winning a majority.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) “third-way” followers jumped ship in the last week, horrified at the possibility of giving Harper another term in office. Despite stubborn resistance by their leader, Thomas Mulcair, they did the sensible thing, individually opting to vote “strategically” in ridings where the liberal-socialist split might allow the Harperite candidates to slip in once again.

The devastation of the Harper decade is going to be very hard to reverse. It will be essential for the Liberals and NDP (and let’s not forget the plucky Green Party leader Elizabeth May) to work together in a “Battle of Britain” spirit to salvage something from the Harper legacy.

A few examples of how he has dragged the country through the diplomatic mud internationally since his election in 2006 include a long list of disasters. First, he signed a public security cooperation “partnership” in 2008 with Israel to “protect their respective countries’ population, assets and interests from common threats.”

Israel security agents now officially assist Canada’s security services to profile Canadian citizens and monitor individuals and/or organizations in Canada involved in supporting the rights of Palestinians.

At the same time, he introduced a novel foreign adviser, an Israeli military attaché, to his circle, and began serving up one diplomatic morsel after another to what most nations consider a pariah country. For instance, in 2010 he granted a new identity and passport to an agent of the Mossad who had been involved in the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010.

He banned British MP George Galloway from speaking at a pro-Palestinian rally in 2009, even though George Galloway was entering Canada from the US. Such bans on peace activists have only multiplied in the years since. A staunch activist on 9/11 ‘truth issues’, Kevin Barrett, was refused entry in June 2015.

Harper made Canada one of the few countries to oppose the successful Palestinian bid in November 2012 to upgrade its status at the United Nations from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state.”

For no apparent reason, he broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in September 2012 at the height of the Israeli mania to invade Iran.

He cancelled Canada’s participation in the Kyoto treaty on the environment in 2011, cutting his own miserly promise to reduce CO2 emissions by 2020 from 20 per cent to 17 per cent, and then doing nothing to implement even that.

Canada is a disgusting 15th out of the 17 largest countries in terms of CO2 emissions.

It was Canada’s turn to join the UN Security Council in a rotating regional seat in 2010, but UN members snubbed Canada, acknowledging the affront on Kyoto and the outrageous pro-Israeli bias of the Conservatives. Almost overnight, Harper reduced Canada to at best a laughing stock, at worst an international pariah.

He is loathed by 65 per cent of Canadians — as of election day, make that 80 per cent — not so much for these humiliations, but for his many domestic policies, which include a long list of miscalculations.

Among them, his gutting of scientific research and social welfare programmes, closing science libraries and undermining environmental protection laws.

He provided tax benefits in the first place to the wealthy, allowing him to cut social programmes (and scientific research).

There was also massive vote rigging in the 2011 election, ruled as a crime by a federal judge. Despite the ruling, the judge was unable to pursue the higher-up criminals (Harper being one), and only one underling was made a scapegoat and given a nine-month sentence. Harper also cut funding to government election outreach efforts, and tightened up identification requirements for voters, making it virtually impossible for unregistered voters to vote.

He also prorogued parliament at least twice to avoid certain defeat and the need to call a new election, becoming the first prime minister ever to be found guilty of contempt of parliament.

He flagrantly ignored freedom of speech by muzzling senior bureaucrats, withholding and altering documents, and launching personal attacks on whistleblowers. In a cynical Islamophobic thrust as his re-election campaign tanked this summer, he trumpeted the dangers of letting Muslim women take the oath of citizenship wearing a niqab, which he later included in a list of “barbaric cultural practices.”

Looking at his government’s impact on science, among Harper’s crimes, one of Canada’s top scientists, Chris Turner, says:

Stephen Harper’s Canada is a country, alone among democratic nations, that bars its scientists from discussing their work in public and sends spin doctors to ensure that message discipline trumps scientific fact even at academic conferences. It is a country where environmental advocacy is foreign and dissenting opinion is treated as treasonous.

Turner laments that scores of Canada’s top scientists have moved elsewhere to practice their ‘trade’. “Things got so bad I just had to leave. I am concerned about the bigger policy issues that are essentially leading to a death spiral for government science,” he told the CBC after he retired from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

I see that it is going to be a huge problem in the coming years. We are at the point where the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now, disgusted as I am with the way things have gone, and I don’t think there is any way for it to be recovered.

What possible explanation for this sadism is there? It may well be a personal vendetta. Harper enrolled in the University of Toronto’s elite Trinity College in 1978, and was ridiculed as a bumpkin. He dropped out after two months, suffering a mental breakdown, and went home to lick his wounds as a lowly clerk in Calgary.

He gained a BA in economics at the University of Calgary, and slowly worked his way up the political ladder in the staunchly conservative province, finally achieving the prime ministership in 2006, and beginning his slash and burn of Canada’s intellectual elite.

I wish I could say something positive in Harper’s favour, but his record has been abysmal, criminal. His electoral campaign recognized this: “You may not like me, but I’m great on economic matters,” was the finally desperate campaign slogan.

It is a lie, as his gamble on the tar sands turned into more than just an environmental disaster, with the fall in oil prices and the Canadian dollar losing 25 per cent of its value. Unemployment rates are the same as when he came to power a decade ago.

It is frightening to see how easy it is to misuse electoral democracy, letting a selfish, money-obsessed cabal destroy the country’s environment and social fabric. We can only look to Justin Trudeau to fight to renew his father’s legacy as one of Canada’s most illustrious politicians, one who was concerned about social justice, respected science and worked to protect the environment. Let’s hope Mulcair is mature enough to swallow his pride and work with Trudeau to save Canada.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.