Our government makes us ashamed of Canada
Harperites' bully tactics and corporate ethics contradict Canada's national and economic values.
Dateline: Tuesday, December 15, 2009
by Ish Theilheimer
While the Olympic torch makes its way across Canada tugging at national pride, Canadians are being pelted every day with news that makes us feel shame internationally and a sense, at home, that the whole idea of Canada no longer matters.
A good example is the controversy that began with Richard Colvin's testimony to a Parliamentary committee about Afghan detainees. The government's initial response was to attack Colvin, a diplomat with an outstanding service record and an avowed supporter of the Afghanistan war. This reaction exposed the ruthless meanness of the Harper government and destroyed a lot of its credibility on Afghanistan and everything else.
The Harperites seem doomed to be brought down by the very meanness that drives them forward.
Harshness hurt the Harperites. Public opinion swung against them, even when they brought in top military generals to parrot the party. They were caught completely wrongfooted by hard-copy evidence in the form of a Canadian soldier's 2006 Afghanistan field notes, that conclusively disproved Peter MacKay's repeated claims that there was no documentation of Canadian detainees being tortured.
Someone had to had to walk the plank. The Conservatives appointed General Walt Natynczyk to the task. He was forced to change his story in humiliating, public fashion, saying he was suddenly given new documentation on the three-year-old file.
You can’t help but feel for the general. Like diplomat Richard Colvin or detainees handed over for torture, he appears to have been just another pawn sacrificed on the Harperites' strategic chessboard.
The Harperites could have quietly disagreed with Colvin, praised him as a dedicated public servant and shuffled him back to Washington. The story might have ended at that point. Instead, they were derailed by their apparently uncontrollable desire to smear Colvin and cause pain. They seem doomed to be brought down by the very meanness that drives them forward. Like the crack about artists at galas that lost Quebec for Harper in the last year's election, or last November's economic statement that targeted political party financing, the Conservatives exposed themselves once more as ruthless bullies.
A nasty attack-reflex can quickly undo a lot of Bollywood dancing and Beatles songs. The Colvin affair showed that the government has no heart, and totally undermined the PM's ability to lecture anyone about human rights when he visited China.
The Conservatives have stonewalled a public inquiry on the Afghan detainees matter because they know they can get away with it. This is true, technically, but polling shows the affair has hurt them badly among the constituencies they've worked so hard to win over — urban and suburban voters in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
And the time was awful. At the UN Copenhagen Climate Change conference, Canada is being held up to daily international ridicule, thanks to the Harperites. While the people of this planet are debating how to reverse the global catastrophe that's threatening our existence, Canada's representatives are stalling and obstructing.
This country, which used to be seen as an environmental leader — the Montreal Protocol brought world action to protect the ozone layer, for instance — now regularly receives derogatory Fossil of the Day awards. The whole world knows that our government is run by the tar sands lobby. Canada’s position that poor countries should equally share the cost of reducing pollution, when the rich ones have profited from profligately burning fossil fuels, can well be called immoral.
The Harperites have a very narrow agenda and anything that doesn't fit with it goes. For instance, on November 30, Bev Oda, the minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), cut all funding to KAIROS, "an ecumenical partnership working to promote human rights, justice and peace, viable human development, and ecological justice." In a brief phone call, a CIDA staffer told KAIROS its projects do not fit with CIDA's criteria.
As contributor Dennis Gruending points out, KAIROS has been a leader in humanitarian assistance, such as setting up a legal clinic to assist women in eastern Congo. This sort of work doesn't fit with the new Canada. Axing KAIROS works for the Harperites, because they see KAIROS as a funding source for left-wingers, like the Court Challenges Program (which they also axed). Settling political scores and undermining potential opposition matters more to them than victims of famine and war.
Nor does this government care about keeping Canada in control of its own economy. Straight Goods has covered the five-month old Vale INCO strike in Sudbury. In Timmins, international mining giant Xstrata shut down the Kidd copper and zinc metallurgical plant. Meanwhile in and near Hamilton, ON, the former Stelco steel mills, now owned by US Steel, lie dormant.
In each case, the Harperites allowed the sale of critical — and profitable — industries, to foreign corporate giants with no commitment to Canada and almost none to Canadian jobs. In the Xtstrata case, the company closed down just months after the end of a three-year jobs agreement it was forced to adopt. If these three international giants walk away from their Canadian holdings as they appear quite willing to do, many thousand manufacturing jobs will be gone forever, resulting in widespread suffering and devastated communities.
Another example of the Harperites profits-before-people approach is last week's government decision to overrule its own regulator and license the foreign-owned cell phone company Globalive. It is no accident that the lobbyist who sealed the deal for the Globalive was Stephen Harper's old friend and former policy advisor Ken Boessenkool. A key colleague of Harper during his rise to political power, Boessenkool left politics for corporate lobbying, and has successfully represented corporate giants like Taser International and Merck Frosst Canada.
Today there are news reports that the government could prorogue Parliament until March. This would let the Harperites avoid more fallout from Colvin and Copenhagen and give Cabinet ministers plenty of opportunity to bask in the glow of the Vancouver Olympics. The government would have more opportunity for self-promotion at taxpayer expense, without the inconvenience of answering to an elected parliament.
Medicare under attack in the USA? So what. Cultural funding? Who needs it. Public broadcasting? Ditto, ditto. Working multilaterally with other countries on key issues like the environment, agriculture, fair trade, or health? Not a priority. We've become a corporate-driven, military nation, and our bizarre regional politics make this unlikely to change soon.
How ironic, that while our athletes will be going all-out for Canada's pride, our government is doing so much to make us ashamed to be Canadians! What does make us proud is that millions of ordinary Canadians don't buy Harper's mean vision. They are working, through the environment, labour, and social justice movements to maintain Canada's role as a nation of people who care about others and their world.
Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.
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