Harper an autocrat, not democrat


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Canada's democratic deficit has reached unprecedented heights.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2011 (4364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Canada’s democratic deficit has reached unprecedented heights.

Voters are expected to cast their ballots May 2 while two important reports key to the government’s honesty and integrity are being kept secret, leaving unanswered serious questions going to the heart of democratic transparency and accountability unanswered.

Did the Harper government misinform Parliament to win approval for a $50-million G8 fund that lavished money on dubious projects in a Conservative riding, as one version of a leaked auditor general’s report asserts?

Did Canada hand Afghan detainees over to torture, putting this country in breach of international law? As many as 40 per cent of the detainee documents have not even been collated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and given to the special parliamentary committee charged with examining them, columnist and author Lawrence Martin wrote on iPolitics.ca April 15.

One department official he quotes says: “They have not been assigned the proper resources to do the job.”

Why was disgraced former federal public sector integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet given a $530,000 severance settlement tied to a gag order last October after rejecting 220 whistleblower complaints?

In December, Auditor General Sheila Fraser issued a scathing report on Ouimet’s conduct.

Why hasn’t her successor, interim integrity commissioner Mario Dion, released the Deloitte audit he commissioned to examine those 220 complaints? It was completed at the end of March and, unlike the auditor general’s report, is not required to be tabled in Parliament.

Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher says the Conservatives could have avoided the $500,000 payoff to Ouimet if they had waited for the two reports. Conacher announced Monday that an alliance of more than 30 organizations is calling for the immediate release of the Deloitte report and noted that “keeping reports about past government actions secret is not a neutral act because it hides information voters have a right to know… The right of voters to know the full record of decisions and actions since the last election must be upheld… If the rule continues to be that watchdog agency reports cannot be released when Parliament is shut down, governments will continue to be able to use proroguing Parliament and calling elections as ways of delaying or avoiding accountability.”

Despite years of national hand-wringing over low voter turnout among Canada’s youth, Elections Canada decided, following complaints from the local Conservative campaign in Guelph, to prohibit all future on-campus special voting stations. The announcement came the same day the nation learned students were organizing “vote mobs” on 35 university campuses across the country to engage young Canadians in the democratic process.

So much for hypocritical hand-wringing. Among the many political “dark arts” arising from the shadows during election campaigns is the electoral technique known as “voter suppression.” If a party knows it can’t win on the strength of its own campaign and policies, it resorts to discouraging opponents’ supporters from voting.

Voter suppression and withholding crucial documents Canadians have the right to see before an election are only two examples of how Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are transforming and debasing Canada’s political culture. All politicians stretch the truth. But the prime minister continuously says things he must know Canadians know are simply false.

For example, Harper repeatedly trivializes the fact that his government was found in contempt of Parliament. When it happened, he shrugged it off, saying “You win some, you lose some.” Since then, he has taken to claiming it only happened because his opponents were able to gang up on his minority government.

The truth is, Parliament’s contempt finding ratified two historic rulings by the Speaker of the House — the first contempt finding in the history of parliamentary democracy.

Harper’s string of democratic abuses flows from his obsession for absolute control.

He orders his MPs to boycott or disrupt parliamentary committees if they criticize or embarrass the government.

He fires, forces out or publicly maligns heads of Crown agencies and ombudsmen who criticize government actions, call the government to account or stand in its way.

To date, the Conservatives have fired, forced out, harassed or publicly maligned 12 Crown officials including veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran, diplomat Richard Colvin and RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy.

He’s prorogued Parliament twice, once to avoid defeat and the second time to avoid its scrutiny.

Rather than risk embarrassing questions from citizens or journalists, he strictly controls and limits access to himself, even if it means throwing people out of rallies, refusing to answer or walking away.

These are not the actions of a democrat. They are the actions of an autocrat.

Frances Russell is a Winnipeg

author and political commentator.

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