There is only one word to describe Party Of One, award-winning journalist Michael Harris’ massive and powerfully written biography of Canada’s 22nd prime minister.
In the space of less than a decade, Canada has been transformed from a parliamentary democracy where the government of the day answers to the people through their elected representatives in parliament to a northern banana republic where parliament is daily frogmarched to the drum beat of Just One Man.
The book’s most trenchant quotes come from two former officers of parliament.
In incisive and frank analyses in separate interviews with the author, Canada’s former commissioner of information, Robert Marleau, and former Commons speaker, Peter Milliken, have sounded the alarm to Canadians that their democracy is under full-scale attack.
Said Marleau: “Mr. Harper has not played within the rules. Having attained absolute power, he has absolutely abused that power to the maximum.”
Said Milliken: “Harper can’t go much further without making the institution dysfunctional…In fact [the House] will have to be returned to its former state by someone if we are to have a democracy.”
The Harper government’s ongoing assault on Canada’s parliamentary democracy spurred the NDP’s Broadbent Institute to construct what it has entitled “The Definitive Ranking of Ridiculous and Misleading Conservative Names for Bills.”
A quick glance at some of the titles would lead sane readers to ask whether they’ve arrived in some Kafkaesque parallel universe or whether the Conservatives simply want to ensure Canadians know exactly in just how much contempt the government regards them.
“The Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” homes in on already-outlawed practices such as polygamy, forced marriages and honour killings.
“The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” has had a long and winding road beginning with former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in 2012. In the ensuing years, it became ever clearer to Canadians that the act’s purpose was merely a smokescreen to unleash all manner of Orwellian snooping on Canadians’ privacy. In its headline, the National Post, hardly a left-wing critic of the Harper Conservatives, ominously warned that the “Online surveillance bill will put electronic prisoners bracelets on every Canadian.”
The episode also resulted in the former justice minister, now a federal judge, see his name go down in the history books for claiming that Canadians had only two choices, they “could either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
Sobering and downright creepy as the whole affair was, some Canadians tried to introduce levity into their government’s bizarre and authoritarian habits by introducing an online spoof urging Canadians to “tell Vic everything.”
The government’s trademark authoritarian spirit was carried forward in yet another try by the government to keep close watch on Canadians. With a similar Orwellian title of Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, the bill carried forward much of all the previous snooping provisions. But instead of ending cyberbullying – its declared purpose – it gave the government yet more draconian new surveillance powers.
Few will forget the firestorm unleashed by another authoritarian decision by the government to rip out the heart of Canada’s internationally-respected democratic election law. The country which once held the gold standard in the drafting of rules for – and monitoring elections in – emerging democracies under United Nations auspices, tossed away its widely acclaimed global democratic leadership to impose the glaringly self-serving “Fair Elections Act”.
As Canadians soon discovered, it was drawn up with just one purpose in mind – to advantage only one party, the incumbent Conservative government.
It borrowed copious leafs from the U.S. Republicans’ dirty tricks playbook and other similar and successful voter suppression and voter harassment techniques normally associated with Latin American dictatorships. According to the post-2011 election investigations, the Conservatives achieved their goal. Applying their huge financial resources and state of the art polling techniques, they used phone banks across all five time zones throughout all 24 hours of Election Day to direct voters to hundreds of the wrong polling stations across the country.
At least as worrying was the Conservatives deliberate assault on Elections Canada and determination to cripple the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure fairness and transparency in future elections.
They have even denied him the right to speak publicly to encourage Canadians, especially young Canadians, to vote.
With his ability to identify and call out electoral fraud all but terminated, Marc Mayrand was obliged to stand aside while, according to recent calculations, the outcomes of the 2011 federal election in several hundred ridings from coast to coast are now regarded as suspect.
But the Conservatives achieved their purpose – capturing a narrow, but still fully empowered, majority.
Armed as the Conservatives now are with almost unlimited power – and money – to legally “fix” future elections in their favour, Canadians can expect an identical, if not worse, outcome in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Harperites scarcely even bother now to hide their outright contempt and enmity towards science. Their slavish cossetting of Big Oil has led to the gutting of almost all of Canada’s environmental laws. With the laws went Canada’s long-admired but now virtually erased, leadership in science and the environment. That erasure included the firing or layoff of many of Canada’s world renowned scientists and the literal ripping up and burying – in landfill sites of all places – decades of irreplaceable scientific information.
Are we back at the book-burning stage in Canada? Apparently, nothing, absolutely nothing, can stand in the way of Big Oil, the Harper government’s entire raison d’etre.
In yet another of its “false flag” legislative ventures, a bill entitled An Act Creating One of the World’s Largest National Park Reserves” was launched at the same time the government cut its Parks Canada staff by more than half in the Northwest Territories alone. Meanwhile, the government continued to allow mining for zinc within the watershed of the South Nahanni River on the edge of Nahanni National Park.
Then they gutted the Canadian Environmental Act, the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Act and the Species At Risk Act.
With its Parliament in shambles, its democracy turned inside out and upside down, Canada has gone from a first-world democracy envied around the globe to a reviled petro-state governed by a dictator in all but name.
And all within less than a decade.
Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.
She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.
She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.