National Magazine Award-winning journalist Mark Bourrie and Simon Fraser University’s Donald Gutstein have each set out to find the answer in two new books.
Bourrie, who lectures on propaganda and censorship at the Canadian Forces’ Public Affairs Branch, on media history and propaganda at Carleton University and on Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa where he is working on a Juris Doctor degree, has written Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know.
Gutstein, adjunct professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, has penned Harperism, How Stephen Harper and his Think Tank Colleagues have Transformed Canada.
Recent history in other western democracies demonstrate how amazingly easy it is to change a nation’s political culture. Margaret Thatcher upended Britain’s post-Second World War centre-left political universe for almost two decades, eviscerating most of the progressive social legislation passed by earlier Conservative and Labour governments.
Today, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have gone one step further, testing territory never traversed before in any modern western parliamentary democracy – attacking and subjugating parliament to march to its political agenda.
Since taking office in 2008, they have launched one brutal assault after another on all the basic tenets of parliament to the point they have abolished the core principle of parliamentary democracy itself – the supremacy of parliament.
In its place they have effected a genuine coup d’état, shutting down parliament at prime ministerial whim and convenience, shuttering committees, gagging MPs and jamming all legislation for an entire session into one annual outrageous 600-plus-page, everything but the-kitchen-sink, budget bill. And for the final insult, proroguing parliament at whim if it dares get in the way or challenge anything the government wants to do.
The point has now been reached in Canada that Canadians need to stop and reflect on how to stop what otherwise could well turn one of the world’s premier democracies into a banana republic.
Here’s a taste of Bourrie’s analysis from the book’s dust jacket:
“Ottawa has become a place where the nation’s business is done in secret and access to information – the lifeblood of any democracy – is under attack. The public’s right to know has been undermined by a government that effectively killed Statistics Canada, fired hundreds of scientists and statisticians, gutted Library and Archives Canada and turned freedom of information rules into a joke.
“Facts, it would seem, are no longer important….”
According to Bourrie, “trends have conspired to simultaneously silence the Canadian media and elect an anti-intellectual government that conducts business in private.”
Bourrie demonstrates how the Harper government suppresses facts that challenge the government’s policies or undermine its ideological-based decisions.
“Its propaganda machine is changing the way Canadians see their own country.”
In his book, Gutstein reminds Canadians that the post-war period was a time of great social progress throughout the western world.
“Social democracy and the welfare state were the order of the day, driven by values of social justice and collective well-being. A small group of neo-liberals, led by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Freedman, set out to undo all these progressive developments…”
Sixty years later, the global network of “free” (read far-right) market-determined social policies has made social democracy a fading memory throughout the First World, not to even mention the Second and Third Worlds.
Gutstein warns that this network of far-right think tanks spends upwards of $26 million a year to promote neo-liberal ideas in Canada alone.
Gutstein has some dire predictions for Canadians to ponder:
“Is Harper deserving of an ‘ism,’” Gustein asks. “I believe he is and hope to demonstrate in this book that Harper’s program will outlast his years as prime minister. The combined firepower of neo-liberal think tanks of over forty years has reshaped the Canadian climate of ideas to such an extent that it will take years – perhaps decades – for those views to change again.”
Gutstein goes on to warn that in addition to these ideological underpinnings, “Harper has fundamentally modified the relationship between state and society…the theme is simple: we must remove obstacles to a state governed not by duly elected officials but by market transactions, because economic freedom is more important than political freedom.”
Early on in the neo-liberal takeover of Canada, two bright and very ambitious neo-cons – Adam Daifallah and Tasha Kheiriddin – took over the job of refashioning Canadian conservatism into the hard-nosed, free-market-ruled economic propaganda machine now engulfing almost all the western world.
Writes Bourrie: “They, through their access to the media and their cachet that’s given to their expertise, can change the language of politics, and in so doing, change the way people think. Keiriddin, a lawyer, gave them some suggestions.
Advised Kheiriddin: “ For the Liberal terms ‘medicare’ and ‘public health care,’ substitute ‘state health monopoly;’ for the Liberal ‘social services,’ substitute ‘government programs; ’ for the Liberal ‘investing dollars,’ substitute ‘spending taxpayers money’; for the Liberal “budget surplus,’ substitute ‘amount Canadians were over-taxed.’”
It’s a clarion call to, in effect, hate government, celebrate Ayn Rand individualism and, like her, to destroy community and society in the service and celebration of raw power and fabulous wealth – for the fortunate few alone.
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.