Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Canada's federal government has eroded its democratic foundations

The federal Conservative party may have stolen last year's election through fraud, blatant lies, and illegal acts. Why is anyone surprised? This party has been attacking Canada's democratic institutions since it first achieved power in 2006.

The Conservatives spout the rhetoric of fiscal prudence and small government, but in practice their actions violate these principles. The federal government has grown significantly in the past six years. When the Liberals took power in 1993, they inherited a record deficit from the Progressive Conservatives. Over the course of their thirteen years as Canada's ruling party, the Liberals turned these deficits into a string of fiscal surpluses (though they made plenty of mistakes along the way). The Conservatives took power in 2006 and promptly cut the GST (a consumption tax, which almost every economist recommends should be the last tax to be reduced, not the first) along with other taxes. As a result, when the 2008 recession hit, there was no financial cushion. They also increased spending to unprecedented levels so Canada now has, once again, a record deficit.

Strictly on macroeconomic concerns, given its practice of wildly diverging from its "small government" rhetoric, how can fiscal conservatives (I am one) support the federal Conservative party?

But the Conservatives are guilty of far worse than fiscal imprudence. There is a crucial difference between a typical political scandal (sexual exploits, misdirected or mismanaged funds, abuse of power for personal gain) and attacks on democratic institutions. All parties seem unable to avoid the former. The Conservatives have not been immune to these, but their several destructive actions in the latter category over the course of their six years in power deeply concern me.

While all political parties waste taxpayer money while in power, the Conservatives have abused their authority to muzzle Canadian scientists if their findings contradict party orthodoxy - a qualitatively different offense. There is plenty to despise about the Liberal sponsorship scandal - but that breach of ethics pales in comparison to publicly slandering a civil servant who had the courage to expose the fact that Canadian troops were complicit in the torture of detainees by handing them over to Afghan security forces. The previous Liberal government spent a billion dollars to create a gun registry that should have cost two orders of magnitude less, but under a Conservative government Canada has abandoned its citizens abroad - examples include Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, and Abousfian Abdelrazik.

The federal Conservatives and the provincial Liberals turned Toronto into a police state during last summer's G20 summit. It is appalling that both parties were reelected.

The Conservatives destroyed the census as a valid research tool. In my view, for that reason alone they should be disqualified as qualified to run the country (though it seems an insufficient number of my fellow citizens felt similarly on May 2, 2011).

Finally, let's examine the behaviour of the Conservative party during the past three elections.
  • In 2006, the federal Conservatives illegally bought the election via the "in and out" scandal (to which they recently pled guilty and were fined a mere $52,000).
  • Calling an election in 2008 violated the Conservatives' own fixed election date law. 
  • For the first time in Canadian (and Commonwealth) history, the Government of Canada was found in contempt of Parliament on March 9, 2011.

In recent weeks, it has emerged that the federal Conservative party conspired to send automated messages ("robocalls") to Canadian households to suppress voter participation, targeting homes likely to vote for non-Conservative candidates. This is both deplorable and perfectly consistent with the party's behaviour under Steven Harper.

The Conservatives have eroded of our civil liberties, democratic institutions, and (the possibility of) fact-based public policy. How can the current Conservative party have anyone's confidence?

1 comment:

  1. Whilst I agree with you Leslie, that the current Harper govt has done some things I would consider deplorable. I would like to make one point regarding the GST...

    The GST was brought in by the progressive conservatives along with the original free trade agreement as a measure to curb the deficit which in Canada was increasing (with no small influence by the global recession.) Each were extremely unpopular at the time, and were fought against tooth and nail by the opposition (Liberals). It could be said that the GST was so hated my Canadians, that it may have lead to the death of the Progressive Conservative party which only won 2 seats in the following election.

    Chretien and his liberal party campaigned under the premise that the GST would be eliminated if they were elected, and won an unprecedented amount of seats due to it's unpopularity. He later reneged on this telling us that what he really 'meant' was to roll it into a national HST. The campaign was so clear that two of his top cabinet members actually left the party over it.

    The GST and Free trade agreement started to generate major revenue for Canada in the following years, magnified by the end of the recession. The point is it could be argued that the fiscal boom enjoyed by Chretien was more born from the PC long term plan than by the Liberals.

    Regardless, that doesn't excuse the fact that the current gov. should have cut it or not, nor am I saying the Chretien didn't have his own influence on the economy.

    I just think the whole GST thing is a perfect example of a parent forcing a child to eat their vegetables. Sure they taste horrible, and the kids will whine, but ultimately if we let them eat all the candy they want, the consequences are far worse than the splash of pleasure.