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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is Stephen Harper a dictator?

Stephen Harper speaking on Canada Day (via wikipedia)
The question itself of whether Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a dictator is ludicrous. But it is a meme so pervasive among his obsessive opponents in the media, and low-information voters in certain Toronto and Vancouver areas dominated by the NDP and Liberals, that every now and then the facts need to be spelled out.

Is Canadian democracy threatened by the government suspending civil liberties? Are we soon to hear the mechanized din of tanks rolling along our boulevards and soldiers in our streets demanding information from frightened citizens like in some Third World dictatorship?

If that sounds like a familiar scene in Canada, it's because that was what happened throughout the province of Quebec and in Ottawa, under the orders of Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in October 1970, in response to domestic terrorism by Quebec separatists. Since then, the only thing resembling it was badly executed police tactics, directed by Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty's provincial government, intended to prevent violent protesters from getting too close to a meeting of world leaders during the G20 Summit in Toronto.

Canada is generally considered to be one of the best governed and most stable democracies in the world, and that status has only become more secure in the last nine years during Harper's tenure as Prime Minister. But you would think the opposite if you were to rely on the histrionic calumnies of his detractors who keep repeating the delusional lie that Harper is leading Canada on the road to a dictatorship.

I don't like many of Harper's policies. His insistence on keeping marijuana illegal is a silly, regressive platform that values the rights of individuals to make choices for themselves less than "social policy."

But that doesn't make him a dictator.

Have elections been abolished? Has the Supreme Court been disbanded? Has Harper's government taken any sort of legislative or police action to suppress public or media criticism or condemnation of it? Of course not. Yet the 'Harper is a dictator' trope that keeps popping up not only on facebook and twitter posts, but in what purports to be legitimate journalism.

We heard about the "muzzling" of government scientists. All that means is that government scientists are expected to behave in the same way as other civil servants, or indeed as any employee of any organization is expected to behave. People who are paid to gather information for an organization are not entitled to publicly release that information without clearance from the organization's leadership.  In the case of government scientists, there is frequently a political bias that will be attached to unverified and raw data, and so the government actually has a responsibility to ensure its accuracy before it is made public.

This isn't actually "muzzling" in the true political or scientific sense.  If you want to see that, you can look at corporations where people have been fired for expressing political views on their own time, or in hospitals and private corporations where verified research has been suppressed because it conflicted with the interests of the pharmaceutical companies that sponsored the research.

But in the case of scientific interest that was vital to the public well-being, the government knows it would be pilloried  if it had that information and didn't make it available once confirmed. As we continue to have a free press in this country, much of which, in what is not a hallmark of a dictatorship,  is openly hostile to the government, it's inevitable such information would come to light, and thus it's extremely unlikely we'll see the true suppression of public science.

Harper prorogued parliament, as did his Liberal predecessor Jean Chretien, and again came the cries from the Liberals and the NDP about "dictatorship."  But there was something particular about the last time Harper prorogued parliament. The Liberals and NDP attempted to organize massive rallies throughout the country to decry Harper. A facebook page was set up which accumulated over a hundred thousand members who proclaimed they would take to the streets to protest Harper's "dictatorial" move.

It turned out to be a bust. The grand sum total of people attending the street protests across the entire country was only a few thousand. Not only was it not representative of typical Canadians, it didn't even come close to equaling the number of registered members of the NDP.   More to the matter, when Harper prorogued government, his was a minority government. If his proroguing parliament for a few weeks was so offensive and "dictatorial,"  they could have immediately introduced a No Confidence motion when Parliament resumed and forced an election.

But they didn't for a simple reason. The Liberal and NDP leaders knew that Harper was popular and that he would do well in the polls. That's exactly what happened when the next election did come and Harper's Conservative Party won a majority government. A government decided upon by our democratic, electoral process.

And that's really what drives Harper's most extreme critics to histrionics. It's not that Harper is a dictator, but that he is far more successful at democracy than they are, and they can't fathom that it is because his ideas are being received by the electorate better than theirs.

Yet still we get nonsense in the media, much of which reads like a series of paranoid delusions combined with early symptoms of Alzheimer's, claiming we have a dictatorship in Canada.

Ironically, the people shouting the loudest about Harper being a dictator are frequently the same politically-correct fascists who try to shut down any expression of free speech which they find offensive.

If you want to find real totalitarians in Canada, one has to look no further than to the self-described "progressives" on university campuses who want to deny people an education for making what may indeed be offensive comments outside the school.

But it gets worse. The neo-McCarthyists of the political left who say "Harper is a dictator" are the same ones who said that the cartoons that motivated the Islamic murderers behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre should not be allowed to published because they would cause offense.

Some of the preposterous hypocrites who decry Harper as a "dictator" in Canada are proponents of actual Islamic dictatorships in the middle east, such as those maintained by Iran and the Palestinians.

If an independent judiciary is abolished, if the press is prohibited from criticizing the government, and if free elections are suspended by Stephen Harper, then I'll be out on the streets protesting his dictatorship.

But as none of that has happened or is ever going to, there's another way to effect a revolution in Canada to change government. It's called "an election," and the fact that we're having one this year is all the proof needed to demonstrate the foolishness and dishonesty of the people screaming about "Harper the dictator."


Anonymous said...

Do you remember that book called "The Friendly Dictatorship" about Chretien?

Richard K said...

Thanks for the comment. No, I did not, so I looked it up.


Of course Chretien was no more of a "dictator" than Harper. They both benefited from being in power at times when there was a weak opposition.

Which really means that the opposition parties should do better about whom they run. It's their inability to do that and the frustration at their own failure that spurs the silly rhetoric about "dictatorship." The Conservatives eventually got their act together and when the Liberals eventually get a competent leader, which someday they inevitably will, (although today is not that day,) then they too will be back in power.

Anonymous said...

And then there's "Justin Trudeau would want to make Canada a dictatorship" in the Prince Arthur Herald. http://princearthurherald.com/en/politics-2/justin-trudeau-would-make-canada-a-dictatorship-552

Richard K said...

Well, that's a petty silly article too. I don't have a lot of nice things to say about Prince Bonehead as a political leader, but his becoming der fuhrer is not one of my concerns.

I'm more worried that if given the chance, he'd turn Canada into the Bitch Stewie of the G8.