A government with no moral authority, a democracy in the balance, and a brewing struggle between the state and its people: Canada in 2012.
Two summers ago, a lot of things we said about this government—then a minority—centered around its perceived slide towards authoritarianism. By July 2010, the Harper Conservatives had suspended parliament twice, both times out of naked self-interest, suggesting that the canary in the coal mine of Canada’s democracy was clinging with one claw to life. This was before the defunding of KAIROS, and well before Harper’s alleged attempts to isolate and vilify opposition to his agenda, referring to certain environmental organizations as “enemies” of the “government and people of Canada.”
And as we’ve learned in the last month, all of these abuses predated the most egregious charges ever brought against the Tories’ failed sense of accountability. In late February, a Postmedia/Ottawa Citizen investigation revealed that several ridings, many long-held Liberal strongholds that fell to the Conservatives, had reported misleading automated calls before the election, all telling voters that their polling stations had moved. In many cases, the “new” polling stations were on opposite ends of town, outside their supposed ridings. With voters scattered and the process obstructed, it’s a form of electoral fraud, and in some way or another it looks like members of the Conservative Party were involved.
This past Sunday, several hundred Torontonians gathered to protest those robocalls and demand a full federal investigation of the matter—calls the Tories have so far rejected.
Where we are in 2012 shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Politically, the signs and symptoms have been evident for a long, long time. But as with any government for whom transparency and democracy are anathema—which is pretty funny with this group, all things considered—it’s often been the most visibly heavy-handed repression that bespeaks everything we may not want to know about the Harper Government.
We now have a majority government that barely falls short of maligning environmental activists as terrorists, the same government whose ministry of public safety permitted a surveillance campaign of political activists before the G20 that set records for law-enforcement excess in Canada. And even when hanging by a minority thread, we’ve had a government that nonetheless managed to manipulate the system to ensure its own survival—and effectively declare Canadian democracy moot in the process. It is a government aided by institutional violence.
The Tories’ handling of the recent allegations of electoral fraud reveal the ultimate hubris of this government, and are an ultimate assault on Canadian democracy. “Robogate” makes the police-state chicanery of the Montebello and G20 summits the tip of an eerily deceptive iceberg, hinting at but not fully illuminating the power-hungry depths to which this newly minted majority, or some members thereof, will sink.
“In 14 ridings,” wrote Postmedia’s Michael Den Tandt, “Liberal supporters reported receiving misleading calls from live people.” This is in addition to the 18 ridings—everywhere from Guelph to Prince George—that reported confusing automated messages before the May 2 general election, each from a call centre under Conservative employ, each claiming that polling stations had moved to inconveniently far-flung places. When all ridings were reported, the Conservatives had finally taken Parliament, locking down four years of unfettered rule with the magic 166 seats. “According to Bob Rae’s latest count,” Den Tandt continues, “the tally of affected ridings, for Liberals alone, is 27.”
166 seats—the critical number. “That’s a margin of 11,” Den Tandt concluded. “That means the legitimacy of the Tory majority is in question. It’s simple math.”
This weekend, that’s something thousands of Canadians from every corner of the country rallied to remind this government. Collectively, it was an exercise in staying on message that comes at a necessary time, considering the coverage that has filtered down through our national media over the past few days. Muddling the issue, headlines at the CBC indicated that Liberals, too, have used robocalls in the past, as if the use of an automated calling service is the real problem. It’s not. The problem, categorically, is that it appears we have a government whose complete deficit of accountability extends to democracy itself, using a resource familiar to all political parties—robocalls—to confuse, deflect, distract, or otherwise obstruct voters. To “lock the doors of Parliament,” as the late Jack Layton said of Harper’s prorogation, is one thing. But to suppress democracy at the grassroots level, among the people of Canada itself, is the one unforgivable crime against democracy that a government can commit. It reflects contempt for a nation which put its trust in you, and if there’s anything Harper has in spades, even before he had any political relevance in this country, it’s that.
Exhorting Canadians to take action, Sherif Azer, assistant secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and an influential force in the 2011 revolution that brought down Hoszni Mubarak, was the last speaker at Sunday’s rally. It was fitting. Joining the message shared by speakers like LeadNow.com’s Matthew Carroll and Fair Vote Canada’s Wayne Smith, Azer encouraged Canadians to change the system, suggesting that what Canada needs is a “Canadian Spring”—a sentiment we first heard from Brigette DePape last June. “Many people died where I come from just to give a lesson to governments,” Azer said, “that the power of the people will prevail one day. My message for the governments is never underestimate a demonstration, never underestimate the legitimate demands of the people.”
Or perhaps it was another speaker who said it best, all the way back in 2005. “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”
That speaker was Stephen Harper, and he was right. But in 2012, his government isn’t “rapidly losing” that moral authority. His government has lost it altogether.