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July 15, 2015

Harper Damages Enumerated

Reuel S. Amdur

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The Canadian Charger lists "20 reasons to say no to Harper." Mel Hurtig, in his new book The Arrogant Autocrat (Vancouver, Mel Hurtig Publishing, 2015) goes well beyond 20. He is perhaps best known for his opposition to foreign ownership of our economy, the takeover by foreign multinationals, but in this book he decries "Stephen Harper's takeover of Canada."

In an omnibus chapter, wherein he talks of omnibus bills, he gathers together those and various other measures taken by Harper and the Harpercrites that leave our democratic system “broken.”  He talks of control of information.  He cites former Tory backbencher Brent Rathgeber’s charge that MP’s have been “reduced to cheer-leading and barking on command.”  Hurtig lists top civil servants fired or not renewed in their posts because they were doing their job, for example Linda Keen, the Nuclear Safety Commissioner who shut down the facility at Chalk River over safety concerns.  The government overrode her and kicked her out, but soon after, the plant had to be closed down after all.

  1. Tell us again, Mr. Harper, why it was necessary to kill the long form census?

Later in the book he discusses the harm done to government at all levels, business, and urban and social planners by the killing of the long form census.  It was essential in locating the placement of new schools, identifying pockets of poverty requiring special attention, locating likely sites for retail business development, and on and on.  Now gone.  The replacement voluntary census cost more and is of far much more limited value.  Hurtig says that Munir Sheikh, head of Statistics Canada, resigned in protest over the cancellation.  That is not quite correct.  In fact, he resigned because the then-Industry Minister Tony Clement said that Shekh had assured him that replacing the compulsory form with a voluntary one was acceptable and adequate to produce an accurate picture.  Sheikh was simply not prepared to accept Clement’s lie about him, when he knew full well that the cancellation of the compulsory form was and is disastrous.  Hurtig uses Caledon Institute’s President Ken Battle’s term to describe Harper’s war on statistics—datacide. 

The author devotes chapters to the Harper government’s failure to address climate change and to his destruction of scientific resources.  For example, there was the elimination of the important research collection of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the slashing of the ranks of scientists in the public sector.  And of course there is the matter of muzzling scientists who are left unable to speak publicly about their research without explicit permission from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). 

Hurtig also takes aim at Harper’s ignoring the issue of poverty.  Much of the issue relates to insecure employment—part-time work, on-call work, contract work.  Work, rather than a job with benefits and security.  Worse than doing nothing, the Harper government itself is part of this problem, using temp agencies and taking staff on contract rather than hiring them outright. 

While the general impression of the Harper administration is that he is providing good economic stewardship, Hurtig demurs.  “According to the WEF (World Economic Forum) and the Conference Board, Canada is performing well below the highest ranked countries on key economic indicators such as productivity and innovation.”  One reason for the shortcomings on research and development and innovation is Hurtig’s bugaboo foreign ownership.  He quotes union economist Jim Stanford, who points out that “most multinationals do their research and development at home near their head office.”   Hurtig also lambastes Harper for a fixation on the tar sands and oil industry “at the expense of other areas of the economy.” 

As for the elimination of the deficit, he notes that some of this is due to fire sale prices on assets to raise funds.  He also cites Liberal MP Ralph Goodale’s assessment of Harper’s stewardship:

“In 2006, he was handed a steadily growing economy which had generated 3.5 million net new jobs, declining debt and taxes, a decade of balanced budgets, annual surpluses at about $13 billion. . . .  That’s what Mr. Harper had to work with—the most robust fiscal situation in the western world.  And he blew it in less than three years.” 

Hurtig continues, with Goodale, saying that “Stephen Harper put the country back into deficit “before (not because of) the recession which arrived in late 2008.”

The author has a solution to the problem which is Harper—proportional representation.  He points to the serious distortions that first-past-the-post creates.  In the meantime, he calls for a coalition government if needed after the next election should there be a minority government, to keep Harper from continuing his program of slash and burn.  We almost had such an arrangement till Michael Ignatieff pulled the plug on it, hobbling us with more years of reactionary government and mismanagement.  Ignatieff left us with this mess and then went back to Harvard.  When the Harpercrites said that he was “just visiting,” at least they got that right.  He will be just an unpleasant footnote in the history books. 

Two matters leave us unhappy with this excellent book.  One is technical—no index.  On the other hand, footnotes are plentiful, over 20 pages of them.  More serious is a factual error.

It is commonly maintained that Jean Chrétien kept Canada out of the Iraq war.  That is absolute rubbish.  As well as a handful of troops on exchange with the U.S. and the British, Canada also provided a rotation of generals in the war.  One, Ray Hnatyshyn, received a medal from then-Governor General Michaëlle Jean for his outstanding performance in Iraq.  Jean Chrétien, that sly fox, pulled a fast one. He at once placated Washington by aiding the illegal U.S. invasion while at the very same time making loud noises here at home about refusing to participate.  Most people fell for the sleight of hand, Hurtig among them.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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