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This article was published 15/2/2011 (3334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a crowd of 600 party faithful celebrating the Conservatives' fifth anniversary Jan. 23 that he "loves" Canada. But Harper's "love" of the Canada he inherited often appears more like contempt.
There's his infamous 2000 "firewall" letter advocating Alberta semi-secede from Confederation, his derision of its "second-tier socialistic" status, his excessive and combative partisanship, his secrecy and control and his determination to graft U.S. patriotic and militaristic forms onto the Canadian psyche.
The prime minister's admiration for all things American is transforming the Canadian political process. Canadians now endure a U.S.-style permanent election campaign, perpetual attack ads coarsening public discourse, contempt for the institution of Parliament and authoritarian attacks on public servants, universities, charities, churches -- indeed, anyone who dares challenge Conservative thought and power.
Among the torrent of new political attack ads the Conservatives unleashed was one quite definitely not like the others.
Sombre and, yes, presidential, it features shots from all angles of Harper working alone late at night in the historic Prime Minister's Office on the second floor of Parliament Hill's Centre Block. A respectfully hushed announcer croons maudlin sentiments to lull Canadians into thinking this isn't an ordinary "first among equals" prime minister. He's our very own head of state. He's Canada's president.
Queen's University constitutional scholar C.E.S. (Ned) Franks said this is the first time he has seen a prime minister use his Commons office to record a partisan TV ad. The ad "runs against the idea he's the prime minister for all Canadians and presents an image of him as only prime minister for those who vote for him," Franks continued. "The responsibilities of the office go well beyond simply the people who vote for him or donate money to the party and that's part of the problem."
Another constitutional scholar, the University of Toronto's Peter Russell, agreed. "We've got to the point where this PMO is just too big, too large, too involved in policy, no role for it in the constitution, there is no precedent for it in Westminster, the mother of parliamentary democracy."
The ad, Russell warned, was the inevitable result of the politicization of the entire PMO.
The use of any federal government property or services by public servants for partisan or election campaign purposes is prohibited and regulated under federal law. But federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, a Harper appointee, rejected a Liberal request for an inquiry.
With his unprecedented commandeering of the Prime Minister's Office, Harper has out-Americanized the Americans -- and struck another blow against our constitutional tradition.
No U.S. politician, not senators, not congressmen, not even the president, can conduct fundraising, campaign ads or any overt political activity from Capitol Hill, the White House or federal buildings or facilities. The House of Representatives Ethics Manual prohibits the use of House recordings for "any political purpose."
Harper's attack on Canadian traditions doesn't stop there. The prime minister has his minions looking for ways he can appropriate the role of the Governor General as Canada's head of state to hand out honours and awards to Canadians.
He's already created the Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards. And he has been fighting his defence minister for two years to get one of the military's troop and cargo Airbuses repainted white.
Pollster Frank Graves told The Hill Times he believes Harper is trying to assume "symbolic office, similar to the president of the U.S., which is one of the things they have been shooting for."
In a telephone interview Monday, Graves, author of the multi-year rethinking government public policy surveys, went further. "I worry as a student of government and institutions that they are making changes to the institutional fabric that will make it very difficult for another government. It's going to be very hard to reverse the kind of institutional changes Harper has made to the courts, the public service, the elimination of policy and research, all these things that were pretty key ingredients as to how Canada was governed."
Frances Russell is a Winnipeg
author and political commentator.