On the road to the Harper government’s tipping point

Posted on March 9, 2011 in Governance Debates

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TheGlobeandMail.com – news/politics
Published Tuesday, Mar. 08, 2011.   Lawrence Martin, Columnist

It’s not the parts that count but the sum of the parts. Which invites the question: Is anyone doing the math?

Just recently, four senior Conservatives (including two senators) were charged with willfully exceeding spending limits in the 2006 campaign that brought the Tories to power. The “in and out” financing scheme came at the same time that Stephen Harper was promising a new era of transparency and accountability.

Just recently, we had the document-altering scandal featuring International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, who appears in the House of Commons for Question Period but refuses to answer questions on the matter.

Just recently, we had new revelations in regard to the government’s so-called integrity commissioner, the one who received 228 whistleblowing complaints and upheld not a single one. She left with a half-a-million-dollar severance package – and a gag order to go with it.

Just recently, we learned that the office of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney used ministerial letterhead to raise money for the Conservative Party. We’ve also seen a contempt of Parliament motion brought against the government for its refusal to disclose basic information on the costs of crime bills and on corporate profits. And we’ve seen the Conservatives release attack ads of such questionable quality that they were withdrawn.

Just recently, The Canadian Press reported that, in the tradition of l’état, c’est moi, the Prime Minister is insisting that “Government of Canada” nomenclature be changed to “the Harper government.” Some wag suggested the PM might want to change his own name – to Stephen Hubris.

Just recently, the PM appointed Tom Pentefountas as vice-chairman of the CRTC. Mr. Pentefountas comes equipped with two qualifications: his close friendship with the PM’s director of communications, and zero experience in telecommunications.

In this same time frame, we’ve seen what happens to those such as diplomat Richard Colvin and others who dare to speak out. At Veterans Affairs, whistleblower Sean Bruyea’s medical and psychiatric records were circulated in an obvious attempt to have him labelled a nutcase.

The recent math is eye-popping. But getting the full picture requires going a little further back. We recall the PM on the Afghan detainees’ file denying Parliament its right to see documents. The Speaker overruled him, pointedly suggesting that he might show more respect for democratic traditions. Before this, Mr. Harper had shut down Parliament, an act that brought thousands of Canadians to the streets to protest against what he was doing to their democracy.

In keeping with its obsession with secrecy and control, we recall the PMO’s muzzling of the public service and the diplomatic corps, its suppression of research containing data countering its ideology, and its efforts to impede the functioning of the access-to-information system.

The stifling of dissent featured such measures as the shutting down of Peter Tinsley’s Afghan detainees’ probe, the removal of the head of the RCMP Complaints Commission and the removal of the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission. There was the ransacking of Rights & Democracy, the disregarding of a fixed-date election law, the issuance of a secret manual instructing Conservatives on how to disrupt parliamentary committees, and a dozen other examples of authoritarian measures more befitting a one-party state than a 21st-century democracy.

During the Chrétien government years, I reported extensively on malfeasance by the Liberals. To do the math on the Harper government is to conclude that, while it has no sponsorship scandal on its books, it’s already surpassed its predecessor on a range of other abuse-of-power indices.

The government’s arc of duplicity is remarkable to behold. And there are more revelations to come. It may not happen in the next election, but there will be a tipping point and the PM and his ministers will pay the price.

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