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Is Harper the worst prime minister in history?

OWoN: We think this says it all.

When asked about Harper’s overall legacy, Ian McKay, a professor of history at Queen's University replies:

“I would say it has been an unmitigated disaster. I don’t think we've ever had a Prime Minister who’s failed to articulate, to the extent this one has, a vision of the country. He’s essentially ruled the country as a CEO and given Canadians zero inspiration. I would be hard-pressed to find one moment where Harper has made us feel proud of Canada.”

He is, in fact, just A Zionist Cabal tool and a Fool!

Illustration by Victor Juhasz for National Observer

Is Harper the worst prime minister in history?

National Observer
By Bruce Livesey
18 May 2015

Part One

“I think Harper… can be vindictive, certainly not always grateful for what people have done for him in the past… So you can say he’s ruthless, which is probably true… Maybe that’s a personal failing.”

– Tom Flanagan, former Harper adviser, campaign manager and University of Calgary political scientist

Five weeks after Stephen Harper won his majority government in 2011, Maclean’s magazine ran a story asking experts to name Canada’s best prime ministers. Harper ranked 11th on the list.

Stephen Azzi, a Carleton University historian who co-authored the Maclean’s piece, says he doubts very much Harper would have budged on the list if their survey were conducted today. “All of the prime ministers we consider successful have some major accomplishment they can point to – Harper doesn’t have that,” he explains. “His accomplishment first of all is winning power and staying in power and then there are a series of minor things that his supporters like. But it will be hard for future generations to remember him for these things.”

On the Maclean’s list, the prime ministers below Harper were either in power very briefly – such as Kim Campbell, John Turner and Joe Clark – or were otherwise forgettable, such as R.B. Bennett and Arthur Meighen. For historians, to be considered an important prime minister, you must leave behind a significant government program or legislative milestone – such as Lester B. Pearson when he created Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan, or Brian Mulroney with free trade and the acid rain treaty.

“When I think of the Harper government, what would be a lasting implication?” asks Dimitry Anastakis, a historian at Trent University. “There are a lot of takeaways the government has done in terms of diminishing the capacity of government. I suppose that is the legacy. I don’t think it’s a positive legacy — I think it is a very negative legacy.”

Even conservatives can’t point to major achievements. Tom Flanagan says with the exception of some criminal justice reforms, Harper has not delivered on social conservative issues, such as abortion or gay marriage, and didn’t end things like corporate subsidies. Flanagan does point to lowering the tax burden on Canadians as Harper’s biggest accomplishment – in particular the childcare benefit and tax cuts to parents with children. “I felt [the previous tax system] was unfair to parents raising a family,” he says.

On the childcare front, Harper scrapped plans for a national daycare program that Paul Martin had promised. And the childcare benefit and tax cuts don’t come close to covering the cost of daycare for an average parent.

But is Harper the worst prime minister in Canadian history?

Investigative journalist Michael Harris, author of Party of One, the bestseller about Harper’s tenure, believes so. “There is something very Stalinesque about Harper,” remarks Harris. “My bottom line on this guy is, he hates democracy. He doesn’t care about truth and cares only about the perception of what benefits him. In that way he’s way worse [than his predecessors].”

Naturally, assessing Harper’s legacy depends on your own politics: conservatives will view him more kindly than liberals and leftists. Moreover, Harper does not rule in the same environment as prime ministers of the past. “I say to people who say this is the worst ever – really? Ask any visible minority, aboriginal or woman how the government treated them before 1975,” says Duff Conacher, founder of Democracy Watch, an Ottawa-based civil liberties organization.

Still, given his longevity in power, and in regards to the fundamental things people grade a government on – such as the economy, democratic practices, the environment, corruption, foreign policy, culture, civil liberties – Harper’s record might very well place him as the worst prime minister in Canadian history.

His democratic record

When Canadian Press reporter Dene Moore asked to interview Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist Max Bothwell last year about a particular type of algae he studies, her request was denied. Out of curiosity, CP made an access to information request to find out why – and discovered that Moore’s simple request had generated 110 pages of emails between 16 different government communications staffers.

Why such agitation? The Environmental Law Association at the University of Victoria speculates that certain subjects are red-flagged within the government because they might be to issues important to the oil industry. And algae growth is linked to climate change.

If there is one area in which Harper is particularly vulnerable, it’s the charge that he runs one of the most undemocratic regimes in Canadian history – and has undermined and abused democratic institutions and procedures at every turn. In fact, he is the only Canadian prime minister to be found in contempt of Parliament, which occurred in 2011 after his government refused to release costs on certain programs to opposition MPs.

Photo of Prime Minister Stephen Harper by Danny Kresnyak

A more recent example is Bill C-51, the government’s anti-terrorism legislation, which critics say will criminalize free speech and allow government agencies to widely share personal information without any regard to privacy, while giving CSIS, RCMP and CSEC freer range to spy on whomever they choose. The law also allows these agencies to hold people up to a week in “preventative detention."

Last year, Democracy Watch released its annual report card on the government’s performance, giving it an “F” on accountability and democratic reform. “The secret unethical lobbying, excessive secrecy, conflict of interest, and donations scandals in 2013, and the broken promises… make it clear that another Accountability Act is needed to close dozens of loopholes and clean up the federal government,” Conacher said at the time.

After Harper became prime minister, he introduced the Federal Accountability Act (FAA). But Conacher says that only 29 of the act’s 60 promised reforms were put in place (seven were then rolled back). “The biggest thing they did, which was really bad, was to break 31 other promises,” he says.

Conacher notes that Harper did make some positive changes, such as creating the parliamentary budget office, improving oversight of lobbyists, lowering the amount that corporations can contribute to federal parties, extending the Access to Information Act to more government agencies, and making it harder for parliamentary staff to get public service jobs.

Yet these have been offset by a laundry list of undemocratic actions, which include:

  • Proroguing Parliament four times, shutting it down for a total of 181 days. In 2008, Harper prorogued Parliament after opposition parties threatened to bring down his minority government. He did it twice more in 2009 when Harper claimed he wanted to keep Parliament in recess during the Winter Olympics (while opposition members felt it was to avoid investigations into the Afghan detainee affair)— and the fourth time was in 2013 after the opposition said he was avoiding questions over the Senate spending scandal.

  • Omnibus bills. Starting in 2010, Harper tabled a bill with 883 pages that included changes to Canada Post and environmental assessments. Since then, Harper has passed 10 more omnibus bills to circumvent debate in parliament, often making sweeping changes to laws and regulations. “All have been an abuse of process and shown contempt for Parliament by subverting its role,” editorialized The Globe and Mail last fall. “Major changes to policy and law that should have been examined by MPs have been pushed through with almost no debate, sometimes with disastrous results.”

One bill attempted to appoint Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court, although he was not eligible. In 2012, one of the omnibus bills, C-38, completely gutted Canada’s environmental laws, cut $36-billion from health care funding, weakened Canada’s food inspectors through job cuts, and made it harder to qualify for EI benefits.

  • Robocalling during the 2011 election. Michael Harris, in his book Party of One, calls it “Canada’s worst election scandal.” Just prior to election day, some voters across Canada received recorded calls that either told them to go to the wrong polling station, or were of a harassing nature, purportedly made by opposition parties. The targeted voters didn't support the Conservatives. Investigations revealed the involvement of RackNine Inc., a political consulting firm the Conservatives hired, and Michael Sona, a low-level Conservative party staffer who was sentenced last year to nine months in prison for his role. Two judges found that it was likely other senior Tories were involved.

  • Fair Elections Act. Last year the Harper government overhauled Canada’s election laws to deal with electoral fraud. But its critics soon labeled it the “Unfair Elections Act” because it weakened the power of Elections Canada, effectively muzzling the chief electoral officer from communicating with the public and MPs about investigations, and cut off the agency’s investigations arm, while polling supervisors were now to be appointed by the incumbent party’s candidate or party. (Elections Canada used to appoint them.)

  • Gagging scientists from speaking freely about their research. Numerous scientists have been prevented from speaking to the media, especially those researching the environment. The government has also been accused of sending “minders” when some scientists have attended international conferences, along with speaking points, to ensure they stay on message.

In 2013, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents 20,000 federal scientists, found that hundreds of their members said they had been asked to exclude or alter technical information in government documents for non-scientific reasons, and thousands said they had been prevented from responding to the media or the public.

  • Spying on environmental and aboriginal activists. Jeffrey Monaghan, a criminologist at Carleton University, has obtained documents from CSIS and RCMP through access to information laws that reveal how these agencies are spying on the environmental movement, especially those opposed to pipelines or who participate in National Energy Board (NEB) hearings.

These groups include Idle No More, Leadnow, ForestEthics Advocacy, the Council of Canadians, the Dogwood Initiative, EcoSociety, and the Sierra Club of British Columbia. The documents show how information on various groups is shared among the intelligence agencies and the NEB. They also revealed that twice a year, at the CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, top-ranking members of the RCMP, CSIS and the CSEC meet with oil industry representatives to brief them on the “threat” from environmental and aboriginal groups.

Photo of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Tsleil-Waututh elder Amy George protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion by Mychaylo Prystupa

  • Auditing environmental and civil society groups. In the 2012 budget, the government announced it was going to earmark $8-million so that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) could begin auditing selected charities. Seven environmental groups were soon targeted.

This sum has since been increased to $13-million a year and expanded to anti-poverty, foreign aid and human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, as well as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and United Church of Canada. Last fall, the Broadbent Institute issued a report that said these audits were politically motivated – because no conservative think tanks or groups had been targeted.

  • Taxpayer-funded political ads. This spring, Finance Canada is planning to spend $13.5-million on ads to boast about the government’s budget. The Toronto Star estimates that $500-million has been spent by the Harper government since 2009 promoting its programs – $75-million in 2014 alone. Finance spent $7.5-million on Economic Action Plan ads, Employment and Social Development spent $7-million on a skills initiative campaign, and the CRA spent $6-million on ads about new tax measures. Queen’s University political science professor Jonathan Rose told The Globe and Mail recently: “What’s so egregious is the blatant way that they’re priming the electorate before an election.”

For many political observers, one of the most alarming changes Harper has ushered in is not even legislative: it’s the way in which political discourse is conducted. “They have a clear policy of dishonest spin on almost everything,” says Conacher. “They’ve done that far more than any other government in the last 25 years, which is to lie and stick to the lie.”

A recent example happened last week when the Prime Minister’s Office posted two videos online of Harper visiting special forces soldiers in Iraq, in violation of security protocols. When this was raised, the PMO first claimed the protocols had not been breached, and then claimed defence officials had vetted them, before they issued an evasive apology.

Michael Harris agrees with Conacher, saying “(Harper) is a person who does not believe in the truth… For the prime minister of a country where he’s setting the entire agenda and putting the signature across a whole government and where words don’t mean much, we are in a lot of trouble… He is the first prime minister who is a marketer, an aluminum siding salesman. He is not a truth teller.”

His economic record

This past March, in an article headlined “Why Canada’s economy is headed off the cliff,” Yale University economics lecturer Vikram Mansharamani argued that Canada is among the most vulnerable large economies in the world. With a high level of consumer debt ($1.82-trillion) that now exceeds GDP ($1.6-trillion), combined with rising housing prices and dropping oil prices, he concluded: “It seems our Crazy Canadian Coyote has run off the cliff.”

Stephen Harper has based much of his credibility on being a capable steward of the economy – supposedly the strongest in the G7 – and will likely be using this as a plank in his re-election campaign.

But what’s the real story?

“Five years of recovery and this economy is the weakest we’ve ever seen,” says Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “I think the majority of Canadians are worse off than they were in 2006 – they have not seen wage gains keep up with cost increases. And I think most people who have children are worried about their kids’ future.”

Tonya Richardson, 45, would agree. A vivacious single mother of a 10-year-old boy who lives in Toronto, Richardson lost her job as a job recruitment consultant this past February. Richardson says until 2008 she was earning up to $60,000 a year, but then lost about $15,000 of her income after the economy tanked and commissions declined. Now she’s receiving a total of $2,000 a month on EI. “It’s a tough (job) market out there,” she says. “It’s a really frustrating time – no one is getting call backs. Not having child support, and it’s getting to month three [without work], the stress levels are high.”

When he was elected in 2006, Harper inherited a booming economy. With commodity prices surging, the economy was growing at three per cent per year, with an unemployment rate of 6.6 per cent. The government was running a surplus of more than $13-billion, and net debt was $492-billion (and falling).

Fast forward to now and the unemployment rate is 6.8 per cent and climbing, with job growth anemic: only 121,000 jobs were created last year (three-quarters of which were temporary), which did not keep pace with population growth of 308,000. The commodities boom has cooled, in particular with oil prices plunging.

Harper has run deficits since 2008, and the federal debt is now $615-billion and rising.

But that’s not the alarming thing. In the five years prior to 2006, Canada’s manufacturing industries lost 200,000 jobs. After Harper was elected, another 400,000 manufacturing jobs vanished, with manufacturing as a share of the economy dropping from 16 per cent in 2004 down to 12 per cent last year. The high-tech manufacturing sector is in terrible shape, having shrunk to 1.3 per cent of GDP, making it one of the smallest in the developed world.

The loss of manufacturing is germane to how Canada’s economy is changing – and not for the better. In 2000, Canada had a well-rounded economy, with value-added products accounting for over 60 per cent of exports. But according to Jim Stanford, chief economist of the Unifor trade union, free trade and a strong dollar decimated Canada’s manufacturing base. Thus, notes Stanford, by 2010 value-added products had fallen by one-third, and “unprocessed or barely-processed resource products once again accounted for the lion’s share of total exports.” In other words, Canada was returning to becoming a country of “hewers of wood and drawers of water” – digging up oil and minerals for other countries to turn into products.

Oil sands aerial photo by Andrew S. Wright

Harper, as it turns out, was the worst person to become prime minister given these circumstances. As a follower of the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, Harper’s approach is not to interfere in the economy, except for cutting taxes. Thus, he deducted two points from the GST, and slashed corporate taxes from 22 per cent down to 15 per cent, and cut personal taxes.

But this made the government ill-equipped for the 2008-’09 recession: one estimate says tax cuts cost the treasury roughly $34-billion per year. Surpluses quickly vanished just when he needed to prime the economic pump. And as the recession deepened, he was forced to borrow money – thereby generating greater debt – to prevent a more severe downturn.

As manufacturing declined, Harper did not step in to rescue this sector. Instead, he placed his bets on the growing resource extraction industries, in particular oil.

Did this make the Canadian economy stronger or weaker?

By focusing on commodities, Canada was susceptible to a bust in commodity prices – in particular when oil prices tumbled last year. So, as the American economy is now taking off, the Canadian economy is sinking. “We entered the [2008-09 economic] crisis with the eighth-largest economy in the world,” says Yalnizyan. “We are now ranking 11th and sliding down that greasy pole as other countries move it up as they capture production – because they have lower costs and equally high investment in skills.”

“We have slipped towards the status we held in the global economy about 100 years ago,” she continues, “but that is not actually enough to stay in the top tier of nations.”

Moreover, Yalnizyan says Harper has not developed an alternative renewable energy sector, the way China is doing. “We are not investing in that – instead we are subsidizing extraction and fighting over pipelines… We should be at front end of that [renewables] parade and we are not doing it.”

How has the average Canadian household fared under Harper? People like Tonya Richardson are falling out of the middle class: she pays almost $1,300 a month in rent, leaving her only $700 to cover food for her and her boy and other living expenses. “I have been living hand to mouth to raise my son,” she says.

In fact, under Harper, median income (after taxes) rose for the first two years after he was elected, and then plateaued (2011 is the last year statistics are available). EKOS Research surveys show that since the start of the 2000s, Canadians identifying themselves as middle class have declined from 70 per cent to about 60 per cent of adults. In a 2014 survey by Yconic, a Canadian company that conducts research panels with millennials, 43 per cent of those between 30 and 33 said they were still relying on financial help from family.

Meanwhile, the level of consumer debt has shot up from just under $1-trillion in 2006 to $1.82-trillion today, which means that for every $100 in disposable income, Canadian households owe $163 in debt (some economists say this is offset by the growth in Canadians’ net value in savings and assets and is not overly alarming).

While the middle class struggles, the rich have grown richer. According to figures derived from Canadian Business magazine, by 2012 the 86 wealthiest Canadian-resident individuals (and families) held the same amount of wealth as the poorest 11.4 million Canadians combined — or almost one-third of the population. The average wage in Canada increased by six per cent between 1998 and 2012 while the average compensation of Canada’s highest paid 100 CEOs increased by 73 per cent during that same period.

Moreover, Harper’s corporate tax cuts did nothing to strengthen private sector investment, which has been falling since 2010, while corporate cash or “dead money” has been climbing.

Stanford sums up Harper’s legacy this way: “Our R&D performance is among the worst of any industrialized country. So is our productivity growth. This is where the Harper vision is really vulnerable. They talk about free markets and business efficiency but the average productivity growth since Harper has come on is 0.5 per cent per year, and that would be the weakest productivity growth in postwar history… I would conclude quite strongly that Canada’s economic performance on a range of measures – job creation, income productivity, business investment, trade performance and even fiscal affairs – has been the worst of any government [since the Second World War].”

His environmental record

Back in 2002, when Harper was leader of the Canadian Alliance, he sent a letter to supporters saying “We’re gearing up for the biggest struggle our party has faced since you entrusted me with the leadership. I’m talking about the ‘Battle of Kyoto’ — our campaign to block the job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto Accord.” Soon after he won his majority in 2011, Harper pulled Canada out of Kyoto, the first signatory to do so.

Photo of Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Vancouver Board of Trade and climate protesters by David P. Ball

Despite that 13 of the hottest years on record have occurred since 2000 (and 2014 was the very hottest) Harper has fought every effort to impose climate change measures.

Thus, Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe — which produce an annual report card on climate change performance — put Canada 58th out of 61 countries in regards to its efforts to combat global warming, above only Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Australia. In 2013, these organizations said Canada “shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries.” Last fall, the liberal American magazine The New Republic called Harper and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbot “earth’s worst climate villains.”

During Harper’s tenure, emissions of greenhouse gases peaked in 2007 at 761 megatonnes, then fell during the recession, but has been steadily rising again, although still below 2007 levels. According to Environment Canada, while Canada accounted for 2.1 per cent of global CO2 emissions in 2005, it fell to 1.8 per cent in 2010 and is expected to fall to 1.6 per cent by 2020.

So why is Canada being cast as an environmental villain?

It’s largely because Harper refuses to sign any binding agreement that would force Canada to meet climate change targets and significantly cut greenhouse emissions. Last December, Environment Canada said that by 2020, Canada would be producing 727 megatonnes of CO2, which is far higher than the 611 megatonnes Harper targeted at the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009. The report said that emissions from the oil and gas sector would grow by 45 megatonnes between 2005 and 2020, nearly offsetting the 50 megatonne reduction expected in the electricity sector.

The reasons for Harper’s inaction are no surprise. For one, it’s long been suspected he doesn’t believe climate change poses a threat. But then there’s a purely political calculation: his party enjoys broad support in Alberta, and his economic agenda has been focused on developing the oil sands. “If you look at Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, Alberta emits more gas than Ontario and Quebec combined [although] 60 per cent of Canadians live in Ontario and Quebec,” says Erin Flanagan, an oil sands analyst with the Pembina Institute, an energy think tank.

The Harper government has also fought to get Keystone XL built, along with other pipelines accessing the tar sands. Because pipelines reduce the cost of transporting bitumen, they make the tar sands more viable for the oil industry, but also make it more likely that up to 240 billion metric tons of carbon could be released into the atmosphere.

In 2012, the government launched an unprecedented assault on Canada’s environmental laws when it introduced Bill C-38, mentioned above – an omnibus bill that put a halt to automatic environmental assessments of projects under the federal government’s purview.

All told, the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act were either repealed or simply gutted, while the NEB was neutered.

“So you can go through all the legislation that was changed… there’s a direct link to the long-standing requests of the oil industry to remove these environmental barriers to rapid resource development,” says Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based environmental group.

Indeed, the consequences were summed up by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who noted: “In Bill C-38, Stephen Harper canceled and gutted environmental laws brought in by Brian Mulroney. He’s now moved on to destroy environmental laws brought in by Sir John A. MacDonald.”

Overall, Harper’s environmental record has isolated Canada on the world stage. Last September, he refused to fly to a UN-sponsored climate change summit in New York attended by 120 world leaders, sending his environment minister instead.

Thus, it’s not surprising some observers see Harper hastening the demise of Canada as an admired nation state. When Christian Nadeau, a political philosopher at the Université de Montréal, is asked how Canada has fared under Harper, he replies:

“Overall, it’s worse off. Definitely worse off. We have a weaker democracy. We have a weaker social justice system. We have compromised the environment for many decades to come. So, Harper's is one of the worst governments we've ever had.”

Part One link

Is Harper the worst prime minister in history?

National Observer
By Bruce Livesey
June 7th 2015

Part Two

“Brian Mulroney was an appalling prime minister, appalling. But if I had to pick one prime minister over the other [between Harper and Mulroney], I would pick Mulroney.”

– Stevie Cameron, author of On the Take, the 1994 bestseller about corruption during the Mulroney years.

In the summer of 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders arrived at a swanky resort located two hours north of Toronto to take part in the annual G8 Summit. As it turned out, the resort lies in the riding of then federal Industry Minister Tony Clement.

At that time, no one knew that Clement had lifted $50-million from the public purse – money originally allotted by parliament for alleviating congestion at Canada’s borders – and spent it beautifying his Parry Sound-Muskoka riding on things like parks, walkways, toilets and gazebos. He would later claim the money was dispersed for the G8 Summit.

But when Auditor General Shelia Fraser investigated what happened to the $50-million, she could find little paperwork showing how it was decided the money be spent. Documents later unearthed through the Access to Information Act showed Clement was encouraging mayors in his riding to apply for this cash prior to the 2008 election – and used federal civil servants to help dole it out. The NDP later accused Clement of using the money as a “slush fund” to better his chances of getting re-elected.

Still, when the $50-million scandal broke in 2011, Clement was not dropped from cabinet or even reprimanded. Instead, Prime Minister Stephen Harper put him in charge of the Treasury Board – the very entity designed to oversee spending, ethics and accountability in government. That same year, the Conservatives chopped 92 auditing positions from the civil service.

“On the Clement case, team Harper’s strategy appears to be to simply ride out the criticism,” wrote Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin at the time. “Stonewall the media and the opposition until fatigue with the issue has set in and everyone moves on. It has worked in the past. It will likely work now.”

In fact, unlike his predecessors, Harper has seemed Teflon-like in respect to how corruption scandals have clung to him. Even the trial of Senator Mike Duffy has not dented his veneer to any great extent – although this may soon change.

Yet corruption is among the litany of reasons why Stephen Harper might go down in history as Canada’s worst prime minister (a case we began to make here in Part 1 of this two-part series).

A more recent example of Harper’s proclivity for corruption was buried in the 2015 budget. After the government got rid of the long gun-registry in 2012, the RCMP was ordered to destroy its records. By then, however, an access to information request for this data had been made. The RCMP eviscerated the information anyway – which is a criminal offence if an access request is being processed. Suzanne Legault, Canada’s information commissioner, recommended charges be laid against the responsible RCMP members – which included high-ranking officers.

But in its most recent omnibus bill the Harper government simply rewrote the access laws retroactively to erase the RCMP's mishandling of gun registry records – in order to protect these officers from facing criminal charges.

This, of course, sets a precedent of simply arbitrarily changing laws in order to protect political allies. According to Legault: “We could, for example, with this bill, set a precedent whereby, if there were findings of electoral fraud, the government could just pass a law and say: ‘No, these provisions never applied.'”

This kind of behavior is one reason Christian Nadeau, a political philosopher at the Université de Montréal and author of a 2010 book about Harper, Rogue in Power, says the Harper government is “an unjust government and an anti-democratic government… It’s a whole enterprise of rebuilding not only the institutions but the political culture in Canada. Ten years ago [the actions of the Tories] would be seen as something very bad and very unacceptable. But now what they’re doing seems normal.”

His corruption record

When investigative journalist Stevie Cameron – who wrote two books about the Mulroney era – compares Harper and Mulroney on their corruption track records, she says: “Mulroney was a crook and corrupt [but] I don’t think Harper is corrupt financially. I think he’s corrupt in so many other ways… I don’t think he’s interested in money. I think he’s much more interested in power and secrecy.”

Take the Senate spending scandal, which has so far embroiled Tory senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. Initially this story seemed straightforward – senators abusing the public purse by spending money on non-Senate related business and travel.

But what’s also emerged are the lengths Harper and his staff have gone to try and bury the scandal. First there was $32,000 allegedly offered by the Conservative Party’s fundraising arm to cover Duffy’s travel expenses. And then there was Nigel Wright, Harper’s chief of staff, ponying up $90,000 to do the same thing.

In 2013, the Senate hired the auditing firm Deloitte to look into the expense claims of certain senators, including Duffy. When Duffy’s audit was finished, the report on its findings was diverted to the Prime Minister’s Office where it was revised before being sent on to the Senate. Two Tory senators assisted with the alterations.

“I always felt that the most important part of the Duffy fiasco is not the dubious expenses of a cheese-eating monkey like Duffy,” says journalist Michael Harris, author of Party of One, last year’s bestseller about Harper’s reign, “but the fact that the prime minister reached into the Senate in the middle of the forensic audit and got the published report before the Senate did and got changes through controlling the committee of internal economy… What we had was the act of undermining another body of Parliament in an outrageous way that goes to the heart of this guy’s psyche.”

What’s also been lost in the Senate scandal was the fact that senators like Duffy and Wallin were using their taxpayer-funded positions to bankroll their jobs as fundraisers for the Conservative Party. Duffy, in particular, was the star speaker at fundraising events and Tory riding associations across Canada. For example, in the summer of 2009, he hosted a $100,000 town-hall event for Harper in Cambridge, Ontario. He hosted a telethon hall for Julian Fantino in 2010 during the by-election that sent the former Toronto police chief to Ottawa.

Michael Bate, editor of gossip magazine Frank, has compiled a list of Tories charged with one crime or another since 2006, which includes Michael Sona, Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter, Devinder Shory, Peter Penashue, Saulie Zajdel, Rahim Jaffer, Dean Del Mastro, James Bezan and Nathan Jacobson.

“Comparing the Harperites to the [Chretien Liberals], I’d say they’re probably equal in appetite,” says Bate. “The Liberals had better table manners, a sense of how much they could get away with. The Tories just dig in with both hooves, like there’s no tomorrow.”

Other scandals of note during Harper’s tenure include:

  • The F-35 jet fighter contract. The plan was to buy 65 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters with the Tories claiming the price tag would be $9-billion to purchase and $7-billion to maintain. Yet the contract was never put out to tender – even though Canadian law requires this must happen for major defense purchases. A 2012 Auditor General’s report said the government did not conduct a fair competition or proper due diligence. Moreover, when the government signed an agreement with Lockheed Martin in the fall of 2006, unlike previous agreements, this one did not guarantee a minimum amount of production be done in Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper with F-35 model in January 2011. Photo from PMO archives

Soon the price tag became wishful thinking. The Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimated the fighter would actually cost nearly $30-billion over 30 years. The Harper government condemned Page, even though he was vindicated by estimates drawn up by the Auditor General. Page even said the Harper government appeared to be keeping two sets of books on the F-35 - one in secret, and another for the public. One other estimate suggested the total cost could be as high as $126 billion – or $110-billion more than the Tories originally said. Yet the Tories refused to answer questions about these estimates, and religiously stuck to the story the planes would cost less. Only after years of denial did the government shelve the order for the time being.

  • The in and out scandal. During the 2006 election, the Tories were accused of getting around spending limits by transferring money between the party and its riding offices. Having reached their $18.3-million spending limit, the Conservatives transferred $1.3-million to 67 ridings, which then funneled it back to the national party to spend on advertising. An investigation of this laundering was stymied by Tories sitting on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In 2011, four members of the party (including two senators) were charged for their involvement in the scheme – and the party forced to repay $230,198. Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, was listed among those involved.

  • Bruce Carson influence-peddling scandal. A former senior adviser in Harper’s PMO, Carson was a disbarred lawyer who had gone to jail for numerous charges of fraud prior to joining Harper’s inner circle. In 2012, Carson was charged with influence-peddling following allegations he’d lobbied ministerial staff at the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Development on behalf of his then fiancée (and former escort), Michele McPherson, who acted as an intermediary for an Ottawa-based water purification company H20 Pros. McPherson stood to earn commissions from any sales to First Nations reserves. Last year, the RCMP hit Carson with more charges of illegal lobbying.

His foreign policy record

Brian Mulroney gave an interview with CTV’s Power Play last summer where, among other things, he lambasted the Harper government for its record on foreign affairs.

“When Canada, for the first time in our history, loses a vote at the United Nations to become a member of the Security Council . . . to Portugal, which was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time, you should look in the mirror and say: ‘Houston, I think we have a problem,’” said Mulroney. “We’re in the big leagues... so we have to conduct ourselves in that way. We can’t be out-riders.”

Mulroney also chastised Harper for his poor relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, suggesting the prime minister doesn’t have the kind of close ties that allow him to call the Oval Office and ask for bilateral back-up. “If you can’t do that, you don’t have much clout internationally.”

Indeed, back in 2010, when Canada sought a seat on the UN’s Security Council and lost to Portugal – the first time in 50 years Canada had never gained a seat – it reflected how other nations had become appalled with Harper’s foreign policy.

First off, there was his move away from giving aid to Africa. In fact, under Harper, aid was increasingly doled out based less on need as much as economic opportunity for Canadian companies. In 2013, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was dissolved. Last year, Harper also announced he would prohibit Canadian funding for safe, legal abortions in poor countries.

Under Harper, Canada’s peacekeeping force has been almost eradicated. Once the world’s number-one provider of peacekeeping personnel, Canada now ranks 67th on the UN’s peacekeeping contributors’ list, or a grand total of 122 people. “We’ve gone from being a major contributor to a situation today where we’re an insignificant contributor at a time when UN peacekeeping is at an all-time high,” says Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute, an Ottawa-based foreign policy and defense advocacy group.

“Every indication of the Harper government is they have no interest in peacekeeping – which is part and parcel of their hostile attitude towards the UN.”

Harper has also displayed hypocrisy when it comes to China. When first elected prime minister in 2006, he routinely condemned China’s human-rights record and promised to not trade “Canadian values” for the “almighty dollar.” By 2010, Harper had changed his tune, allowing Sinopec, the Chinese petroleum giant, to buy a stake in Syncrude that permits it to decide whether its bitumen is refined in Canada or shipped abroad. Two years later, Harper did not stop the Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC from buying the Calgary-based resource company Nexen for $15.1-billion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Chinese president Xi Jinping in China, November 10, 2014. Photo from PMO website.

Moreover, there are pipelines that will send bitumen from the oil sands to China – including Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan – which the Harper government has wholeheartedly endorsed.

Even more alarmingly, Harper secretly signed the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China while attending an APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia in 2012. What’s the problem with this agreement?

China has invested over $30-billion in the Canadian energy sector alone, and its companies are significant investors in the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Yet the FIPA agreement would allow China to sue Canada if the pipeline was not built.

"Chinese investors can sue Canada for any actions by the federal government or the B.C. government (or legislature or courts) relating to Chinese assets connected to the [Enbridge] Northern Gateway pipeline," Osgoode Hall law professor and investment treaty expert Gus Van Harten told The Vancouver Observer last September. Van Harten argued that the deal was not only disadvantageous to Canada, but also potentially unconstitutional.

"More troubling, there is no requirement in the treaty for the federal government to make public the fact of a Chinese investor's lawsuit against Canada until an award has been issued by a tribunal. This means that the federal government could settle the lawsuit by paying out public money before an award is issued, and we would never know."

One small B.C. First Nation, the Hupacasath, issued a legal challenge in 2012 against FIPA, arguing that the deal threatened constitutionally protected Indigenous land rights, and that it was signed without any consultation. The Federal Court and Federal Court of appeal dismissed the case, claiming any claims of FIPA’s impact were “speculative.”

Despite widespread public opposition in Canada from citizens, First Nations and businesses, FIPA was quietly ratified in September 2014, locking Canadians into the deal with China until 2045.

Meanwhile, one of Harper’s most polarizing foreign policy causes has been Israel. As Israel has grown increasingly isolated due to its treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories – as well as building illegal settlements on this land – the Harper government has become one of the country’s most zealous supporters.

Since Harper became prime minister, Israel has invaded Lebanon – killing up to 1,125 Lebanese (as compared to 159 Israelis) and launched two invasions of the Gaza strip, the first in 2008-’09 that led to 1,434 Palestinian casualties (as compared to 13 Israelis) and then last year, leading to 2,139 Palestinian deaths and 11,000 wounded (as compared to 73 Israeli deaths and 556 wounded).

In 2010, when six Turkish ships set sail for Gaza to deliver 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to relieve Israel’s blockade, Israeli commandos stormed the boats in international waters and killed 10 activists.

Despite international condemnation over what was seen as Israel’s overkill in these instances, the Harper government has consistently rushed to Israel’s defense and been quick to brand Palestinians and their organizations as “terrorists.”

“From my personal point of view, I would have a great deal of respect for Mr. Harper if he had taken a more balanced view in that sphere,” says Bernie Farber, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress. “To drive wedge issues between the [Jewish and Palestinian] communities is not in my view the way to do politics in this country… We have to find things that bring us together as opposed to driving us apart.”

Harper at Western Wall in Jerusalem, January 21, 2014. CP photo

Harper has a close affinity with the current government of Israel, led by the hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu, although Netanyahu’s party won only 23 per cent of the vote in the most recent election. Moreover, during that campaign, Netanyahu pledged to never negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians and made thinly racist comments on the eve of the vote, saying “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” as a warning to voters to back his Likud party.

In fact, Canada has sided with Israel to thwart Palestinians efforts to have their own state: in 2012, Canada was only one of nine countries in the UN that voted against Palestinians achieving statehood. Since 2007, it has cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, voted against all UN resolutions recognizing the rights of Palestinians and complained bitterly when Palestine was admitted as a full member state to UNESCO.

Not surprisingly, Harper’s foreign policy has alienated Canada’s Arab and Muslim communities. The government doggedly fought to keep Omar Khadr behind bars, although he was only 15 when involved in a firefight in Afghanistan that led to the death of a US soldier. In 2009, the federal government cut its $1-million annual funding for the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) due to the organization’s criticisms of Israel.

Conservative fundraising letters in recent months have disparaged Muslim women wearing niqabs at citizenship oath ceremonies, saying “they should embrace our culture” and “that’s not the way we do things,” and even referencing Al-Shabaab threats against Canada in their ads.

“For years the Canadian government had charted a reasonable, unbiased or not strongly biased attitude towards Muslims,” says Atif Kubursi, former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations and emeritus professor of economics at McMaster University. “But when Mr. Harper came there was a major shift.”

And then there is Harper’s decision to send fighter jets to Iraq to do battle with ISIS, costing $360-million this year. The Chrétien government refused to send troops to Iraq in 2003, recognizing it was a foolhardy venture. Moreover, evidence has since emerged that the American invasion so destabilized Iraq it helped give birth to ISIS and other jihadist groups. “I think [Harper’s bombing of ISIS] is a completely wrongheaded strategy that is ineffective, counter-productive and possibly playing into the hands of ISIS,” says Peggy Mason of the Rideau Institute. “Number one – the bombing campaign doesn’t work. And ISIS uses it to recruit people from all over the region – not just foreign fighters.”

In fact, the war on ISIS has also been used by the Harper government to whip up support for its draconian Bill C-51 anti-terrorism legislation, stoking fears about terrorist attacks on Canadian soil on the eve of the October election.

His cultural record

Stephen Harper has never hidden his contempt for the cultural sector. During the 2008 election he claimed that “ordinary people” don't care about arts funding and have no sympathy for “rich” artists who gather at galas to whine about their grants. By then he’d cut $45-million to arts and culture programs.

So it’s no surprise that the one main cultural institution Harper seems determined to destroy is the CBC. When Ian Morrison, the long-time spokesperson of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, is asked to characterize the Harper government’s attitude towards the CBC, he replies: “Number one – subterfuge. If there is a hidden agenda and there are 50 items on that hidden agenda, CBC is near the top.”

Morrison says during the 2011 election Tory candidates professed support for the CBC but promptly began “sabotaging” it once the election was over. Indeed, in his 2012 budget, finance minister Jim Flaherty immediately cut $115-million from the CBC’s budget.

Even before Harper became prime minister, the CBC was one of the most poorly-funded public broadcasters in the world. Canada’s level of government support for the CBC ranks near the bottom compared with that of other Western industrialized nations: A 2006 report showed that Canada stood 16th out of 18 nations in per-capita funding of public broadcasters, at $33 per citizen, compared with an average of $80.

At the time Harper became prime minister, the CBC’s operating budget was down to $1.1-billion (all figures in 2014 dollars) and peaked at $1.15-billion in 2007. Since then, it’s steadily declined and now stands at $929-million and is set to continue to fall. The CBC says it will cut 25 percent of its workforce by 2020 – or up to 1,500 jobs.

In 2013, the federal government surreptitiously placed the CBC under the Financial Administration Act, making it subject to review by the Treasury Board. This means the board can scrutinize how the CBC spends its money, in particular on labour. “The impact of that was to give the Treasury Board a supervisory role over management,” says Morrison.

Harper also stacked the CBC’s board with his political supporters. Since 2007, the CBC has been presided over by Tory donor and lawyer Hubert T. Lacroix, who used to work at the Canada’s most powerful corporate law firm, McCarthy Tétrault, as a business attorney. Lacroix has embraced, without complaint, every effort by the Harper government to downsize the CBC. Meanwhile, nine of the CBC board’s 11 members are Tory donors, most of whom have business or corporate law backgrounds.

The ideological shift at the CBC under Harper has been noticeable too, where pro-business shows have proliferated while investigative programs have been cut.

Harper has also attacked Canada’s historical institutions. In 2012, Harper chopped the budget of the national library and archives, making it more difficult for historians to research the country’s past. “The library and archives have almost been destroyed by this government,” says Ian McKay, a professor of history at Queen’s University. “The cuts to the archives were breathtaking – not cuts to some people but cancelation of whole programs. The things that got saved were anything to do with military history.”

Moreover, McKay says the Harper government has also changed our citizenship guide to reflect a narrow, pro-military and pro-business view of Canadian history, “very much emphasizing Canada’s role in war and [showing that] true Canadian heroes are warriors.”

Harper also changed the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa to the Museum of Canadian History, which emphasizes Canada’s role in military engagements. “They have taken a world-class museum facility and focused on a particular martial aspect,” says McKay.

When asked about Harper’s overall legacy, McKay replies:

“I would say it has been an unmitigated disaster. I don’t think we’ve ever had a prime minister who’s failed to articulate, to the extent this one has, a vision of the country. He’s essentially ruled the country as a CEO and given Canadians zero inspiration. I would be hard-pressed to find one moment where Harper has made us feel proud of Canada.”

Part Two link


  1. As a Canadian it is very sad to read what has been happening with my country.

    I remember the days when our government sent Peacekeepers around the globe to protect people; and we could be proud to be Canadians.

    Thanks Canauzzie for posting this article.


    1. From one Canadian to another,

      Canadians need to wise up to what this Tyrant has been doing, unchecked. Please send it to all your friends as I have.


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