Tag Archives: Aristotle

Stephen Harper: The Third Kind of Prime Minister

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

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“When speaking of royalty we also spoke of two forms of tyranny, which are both according to law, and therefore easily pass into royalty. Among barbarians there are elected monarchs who exercise a despotic power; despotic rulers were also elected in ancient Hellas, called Aesymnetes or Dictators. These monarchies, when compared with one another, exhibit certain differences. And they are, as I said before, royal, in so far as the monarch rules according to law over willing subjects; but they are tyrannical in so far as he is despotic and rules according to his own fancy. There is also a third kind of tyranny, which is the most typical form, and is the counterpart of the perfect monarchy. This tyranny is just that arbitrary power of an individual which is responsible to no one, and governs all alike, whether equals or better, with a view to its own advantage, not to that of its subjects, and therefore against their will. No freeman, if he can escape from it, will endure such a government.” - Aristotle’s Politics IV.x.

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The Canadian political system is indeed a bizarre one. The Constitution was created as the ultimate compromise but the system it wrought is completely biased towards majority governments (if a government isn’t a bill passing machine then an election will be called until it is.) There are very few real checks and balances left as the Governor General/Senate’s power seems to have atrophied with all elements of parliamentary power in the hands of the Prime Minister. As the Aughts end Canadian democracy is on the edge of a cliff.

Prime Minister Harper has been slowly eroding democracy in this country. The Prime Minister’s war on democracy has had many battles on many fronts:

- In the 2004 and 2006 elections the Conservative Party of Canada ran on a platform of 5 points. This “platform” can barely be classified using that word. Their campaigns were extremely parochial and reduced the Prime Minister’s office and parliament to an institution that, according to the CPC, could only knock 1% of the GST or build a pair of ships to be sent to the arctic. The Conservative Party of Canada’s platform in the 2008 election was marginally more than a pamphlet. Stephen Harper released his “platform” a week before the election day. In all three of these elections the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois released detailed platforms. The Conservatives ran a substanceless campaign where they had the gaul to attack Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s policies while offering none of their own. During the campaign Prime Minister Harper and his ministers denied that Canada was even in danger of going into a recession. The Prime Minister should lead by example, ours has set an example but not a positive one. Stephen Harper has lowered the level of debate in Canada treating Canadians like they wont understand the complicated issues a Prime Minister has to deal with every day and by running attack ads against Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff while parliament was in session and the next election was not even on the horizon. These ads were not issue based but went after the character of both men. Stephen Harper has spent every second of every day working to merge himself with his office. This is why his actions have tarnished the office itself, though I do firmly believe that the Prime Minister’s office is durable enough to survive Stephen Harper’s tenure.

- In the 2008 post-election fiscal update Prime Minister Harper decided he would rather destroy his opponents by bankrupting them instead of dealing with the recession Canada was facing, or protecting Canadian jobs or defending the Canadian environment…

- Stephen Harper has chosen minister based on how they are able to stifle debate, or divide Canadians or in order to keep a riding during the next election. John Baird is known as “an attack dog” not “a competent minister.” Jason Kenney is lauded for working targeting specific ethnicities. The goal of the CPC is to divide Canadian against Canadian based on their ethnic background. The minister of Health came from a job where she had to manage less than a handful of hospitals and still she failed to do that properly. The Conservative Minister of Natural Resources described cancer as “sexy” after his government ousted Linda Keen a watchdog only doing her job. For a Finance Minister the PM chose a man responsible for a $6 billion deficit in Ontario. Failure is not punished in the Harper government, mistakes are not apologized for and accountability is spurned treated with contempt.

- The Prime Minister has normalized hypocrisy and failure. After lowering the level of debate he has compounded upon the cynicism that Canadians now feel towards their government. The PM spent 15 years attacking the Liberals for their senate appointments then reversed his position when he decided it was convenient. Not only did he go against his own word but the people PM Harper appointed to the Senate were not Canada’s best and brightest, the new Con Senators are political cronies of the Prime Minister.

- The Prime Minister weakened Canada’s economy with their irresponsible governing then denied that Canada was even in a recession. Michael Ignatieff forced Prime Minister Harper to actually include stimulus in their budget. After much feet dragging the Prime Minister spent the money in a flagrantly partisan manner. This was denied by the government then when the facts were released the government just gave a “aw shucks” smile. Not since John A. Macdonald has government patronage been abused in such a shameless fashion. The government should help those in need, not those in Conservative ridings. Stephen Harper doesn’t want to be the Prime Minister of all Canadians, just the Conservative ones.

- Prime Minister Harper has never formed a majority government yet he refuses to include the other parties in policy discussion.

- He has nothing but contempt for the media even though they have neglected to scrutinize his policies before he was PM and still protect his administration. Prime Minister Harper stages every one of his public appearances. Stephen Harper has lowered debate and standards but has refused to answer for his actions.

- Stephen Harper has turned the word “taxes” into a swear. He has popularized his childish and Manichaean view that “all taxes are bad.” This is one specific example of the Conservative Party of Canada’s “no consequence” style of government that ignores the benefits of taxes: roads and clean air for example. Prime Minister Harper hates delayed gratification which is why he hasn’t invested in technology and innovation. This instills a sense of impatience/entitlement in Canadians. Prime Minister Harper has his degree in economics but his views don’t match reality. The Harper Government is responsible for the largest deficit in the history of Canada. This hurts our polity as people don’t pay attention to how horrible the CPC is at governing because they have to live day-to-day and it also causes Canadians to act irrationally (which also benefits Prime Minister Harper’s government.)

- In an essay he wrote way before he was Prime Minister, Stephen Harper wrote: “Although we like to think of ourselves as living in a mature democracy, we live, instead, in something little better than a benign dictatorship, not under a strict one-party rule, but under a one-party-plus system beset by the factionalism, regionalism and cronyism that accompany any such system. Our parliamentary government creates a concentrated power structure out of step with other aspects of society. For Canadian democracy to mature, Canadian citizens must face these facts, as citizens in other countries have, and update our political structures to reflect the diverse political aspirations of our diverse communities.” Instead of changing the problems he alleged the government at the time had he has cemented these problems in the government of Canada. It is as if Stephen Harper was outlining his own government years in advance.

- Parliament passed a motion for the government to release documentation regarding the Afghanistan prisoner abuse allegations. Prime Minister Harper ignored this. This was the will of the majority of the HOC and not only did Stephen Harper ignore an official bind request he has his MPs skip the relevant committee meeting so no work could be done. What if this was a confidence motion? Would Prime Minister Harper and the CPC MPs just show up to the house of commons and act like nothing had happened? Having already ignored his own fixed election day law this isn’t as outlandish as it seems. Andrew Coyne of Macleans says that Canada might (and should) have a constitutional crisis over the PM’s outrageous and arrogant actions here.

- PM Stephen Harper has micro managed every single cabinet position. This has ensured that his ministers take the fall (Rona Ambrose) while the public does not hold him culpable. This has narrowed each ministries focus and made them largely ineffective.

- Kevin Page: The Conservative government created the PBO position to make government more transparent. PM Harper has refused to fully fund Mr. Page and attack him when he does his job. Mr. Colvin and Linda Keen are two other watch dogs who were brutally attacked by the government, and time quickly proved them right. The Conservatives self-righteously campaigned on restoring integrity to government in 2006 and have rejected all of their principles in order to keep a stranglehold on power.

- Prime Minister Harper not only tries to divide Canadians on ethnic lines but channels Sarah Palin by accusing the Liberals of being “academic elitists” while he and the CPC represent “real Canada.” The Prime Minister changed his tune when he was trounced in Quebec, partially because of remarks he had made about Arts Funding.

- The CPC sent 10%ers to ridings accusing the Liberals of being anti-Semites. This is far beyond lowering the level of debate, it is throwing out the very concept of civil discourse which is one of the pillars of democracy. The Conservatives have also accused KAIROS (a very mainstream collective of multi-dominational Christian charities) of being anti-Israel and pursuing anti-Semitism. The Harper government has taken away funding from KAIROS and has been attacked by every other political party, members of the media, religious groups and other Canadians. Stephen Harper will spend Canadian’s tax dollars calling their enemies anti-Semites. KAIROS member churches include the Anglican Church of Canada, The Christian Reformed Church in North America, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, The United Church of Canada, The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Canadian Religious Conference, The Mennonite Central Committee of Canada and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

- The Canadian government abandoned Canadians being held in Africa. Stephen Harper spent millions and millions of taxpayer’s dollars keeping Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen arrested and tortured when he was very young, out of Canada. The Conservative Government was willing to cede Canadian Sovereignty to the United States to win a battle in their regressive and hurtful war on cannabis, a drug that is less harmful than alcohol. Stephen Harper not only disowned certain Canadians but will actively work to destroy their lives.

- The PMO recent sent a memo mocking Michael Ignatieff’s answer to question from one of his many many end of the year interviews. Michael Ignatieff is the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. He is PM Harper’s opponent but they don’t have to be enemies.

- During the 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute Prime Minister Harper went on television (the video featured above) and told Canadians “Stéphane Dion does not have the right to take power without an election.” This was false, dangerously false. Newspapers, scholars and every sane Canadian disagreed with the Prime Minister but the damage was done. PM Stephen Harper spoke to all Canadians during an unprecedented situation and spread disinformation. The PM and the CPC proceeded to use terms like “treason” and “coup d’etat” to describe a perfectly constitutional act that he himself tried to invoke to become Prime Minister when Paul Martin was PM and he was leader of the opposition. One is compelled to ask if Prime Minister Harper has even read Canada’s Constitution. Stephen Harper told Canadians that they directly elected the Prime Minister, which is false, and people believed him because “why would the PM lie?” Prime Minister Harper said that the Liberals weren’t elected and there was an election only a few weeks before. This was complete nonsense. If the Liberals had been elected to a minority government Stephen Harper would have called the Governor General every day asking to form a coalition government. The Prime Minister caused a constitutional crisis so he could punish woman’s groups and parties whose names didn’t begin with “Conservative.”

“Look, I’m not trying to make King a saint here. He was eccentric and uninspiring at best, creepy and soul-destroying at worst. But he effected massive change in the only sure way it has ever been done in Canada: through sheer endurance. Not revolution, nor even really evolution. More like erosion. Harper wants to make change on a similar scale and with similar patience. He will creep, not run, as far down the field as he can, then do what it takes to win again. And then, whether with a majority or minority, he will so govern as not to put Canadian conservatism’s long-term viability at risk. Often he will not even look like a conservative.” – Paul Wells

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Prorogation Round II:

Almost all the main stream Canadian newspapers have written articles confirming that Prime Minister Harper is once again considering proroguing parliament (here, here, here, here.) Prime Minister Harper’s reasoning is that he wants to shut down and reset the parliament and senate so any investigation of Afghanistan prisoner abuse is shut down, the opposition parties will lose the ability to hold the PM to account and Prime Minister Harper can stack the senate so he will have a majority on the committees (though it is actually the Governor General who appoints the senators.)

If the Governor General prorogued parliament (again!) the HOC wouldn’t come back in session on January 25th (as it is currently scheduled to) but would extend that break to March (after the Olympics begins in Vancouver on February 12th.) Prorogation would take away all of the perks MPs (in and out of government) get and would let PM Harper run the show and bask in the attention of the world (though if Copenhagen and his visit to China are any indication this could backfire.)

Stephen Harper is willing to force an election that would cost a minimum of $300 million, he is also willing to spend a minimum of $400 million a year keeping cannabis illegal and millions paying for Conservative hacks newly appointed to the senate. He doesn’t believe in spending money defending Canadian technology companies from being bought by government backed European companies or creating jobs.

Proroguing parliament would be a huge waste of money. The Harper government is becoming Canada’s “Do Nothing” parliament. If the Governor General did yield to PM Harper’s horrible idea 57% of the legislation passed this year would be killed as it hasn’t yet received royal assent (this includes 2 free-trade deals, all of the governments stupid crime bills and the piecemeal EI reform settled on by the NDP.)

Traditionally Prime Ministers didn’t name senators while parliament was prorogued by Stephen Harper broke with tradition last year when he did so.

The goal of prorogation is not only avoiding investigation of alleged torture and ministers actually doing work (which the Harper government is smart to avoid) but it would hopefully buy enough time for the CPC to distract Canadians, then roll out a budget that the other parties cannot support to force an election when the government is high in the polls after the Olympics (as the government in power usually benefits from the nationalism.)

PM Stephen Harper government loves to delay. He has done this for four years by not doing anything to fight climate change, he did this by denying the recession until he almost had power taken away from him and he did by not visiting China or India until the fourth year of his tenure as PM. Prorogation is just another delay tacit, one that wastes taxpayer money but more sinisterly stops a serious investigation into possible detainee abuses.

Conclusion:

Prime Minister Harper has ignored the will of parliament, he has ignored important government watchdogs (with horrible results), he ignores the media, the constitution, precedent, tradition, and the facts. As Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party of Canada he has diminished intelligent debate and civil discourse and spread falsehoods about the way Canada is governed. His has spent four years aggregating power to himself with no regard for proper procedure, the rules set in place by the Canadian Constitution while claiming to speak for a majority of Canadians that simply does not support him. He has been able to do this because of complacent opposition parties that the Prime Minister ignored at best and threatened with an election and called “traitors” at worst. The media has only now begun to question how PM Harper conducts himself, a decade too late.

Canadians are now way more cynical than they were under the Liberals. The Prime Minister’s Office is more powerful than under Trudeau or Mulroney. The opposition is more election wary than every, The media is more feckless and our democracy has been whittled down to a toothpick.

The Governor General has the power to refuse Prime Minister Harper’s request. There is no good reason for parliament to reset itself as there was no election and all the party leaders have publicly stated they want to avoid one and prorogation would waste even more time and money than Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government does when parliament is in session.

Governor General Michaëlle Jean needs to inform PM Harper that his days as “Our Benign Dictator” are over. Denying prorogation (a term than only the likes of us who are keen on parliamentary procedure knew until last year) doesn’t seem like the best way to bring down the hammer but to a child like Stephen Harper who has never been told he had to take his hand out of the cookie jar it would be a momentous scolding, one that has been four years coming.

Prime Minister Harper is willing to destroy democracy to stay in power, Canadians must not sacrifice democracy to remove him from power. It will be tempting to lop off limbs, hew bones, tear flesh and rip out organs to purge the Harper poison from our country. We must be careful that the cure is not worse than the disease.