BY: Joan Baxter
My dearly beloved, but bruised and much-abused Canada,
I wish I were writing to you under better circumstances, and not when you are at such a low point in your history, so badly abused by the Harper Government. I can’t even say by the “Government of Canada”; that name has been stolen from you, replaced with that of the man who has taken you hostage.
Some would argue that because he was elected as prime minister, Stephen Harper can do what he wants with you. And if his regime wants to rewrite history, suppress science, reject reason, present lies as truth and war as peace, drag you back into the Dark Ages – to change you so much and in so many ways that you are no longer recognizable (as he threatened to do back in 2006) – that reflects the will of the Canadian people that elected the Conservatives.
But, I would argue, dear Canada, that this isn’t so.
Far greater and more than a government
You are far more and much greater than a mere government. You are a wonderful, amazing, magnificent and beautiful chunk of the planet. You are majestic expanses of land, water and ice. You’re home to countless species of plants, animals and other invaluable living things, and your human population is responsible for the good stewardship of all of that. You are a historical construct, with a constitution painstakingly designed to enshrine justice even for the poor and marginalized. Over many years our forefathers and foremothers raised you to nationhood, working hard to respect a set of democratic principles ensuring universal suffrage, education and health care, freedom of expression and association, and carefully crafting a set of institutions to serve as checks and balances and to ensure good governance.
I guess they didn’t see The Harper Government coming, or they would have put more of those checks and balances. Good governance would mean protecting you and your heritage, not tearing you to shreds, silencing critics, assaulting your public sector and your veterans, waging a war on nature and on all the laws needed to protect the ecological systems on which human life depends, and on all the laws needed to protect you from fascists disguised as democrats.
None of this is to say you were ever perfect, or even close to it. No nation or people ever is. Your record is blighted by some horrendous crimes against the First Nations, your original human inhabitants, and poor treatment of African Canadians, and in the last century, also on Jews, Chinese and Japanese immigrants. And in recent decades, despite making the right noises, no one would have described you as a guardian angel of the environment either. So yes, there were always lots of things that could have been better. Much better.
But you were trying and we were proud of you.
Before The Harper Government arrived on the scene, there were plans afoot to make yours a more just and equitable society, with a multi-billion-dollar program in the works intended to end aboriginal poverty, a national childcare and early childhood education program, and measures to ensure your extractive companies working overseas respected Canadian regulatory standards.
And you were likeable. You were polite, not belligerent on the international stage, widely respected as a strong supporter of multilateral peacekeeping efforts led by the United Nations. Even if you never did reach the 0.7% of GDP for international development assistance that the Pearson Commission recommended, once upon a pre-Conservative time we could count on seeing your red maple leaf affixed to just about any good international cause that needed support.
You were largely respected as a fairly honest broker, not too partisan and definitely not a grandstanding thug of a nation when it came to sensitive international issues. Think Israel and Palestine.
If the world thought about you at all, it was often as a very big and very cold country of warm-hearted and nice people. Some people I met overseas even suggested that you might be a little bit boring. And I would always reply, “There are far worse things to be than boring.”
In 2000, “I am Canadian” beer ads boasted about these things made Canadians proud of you, so proud that we festooned our suitcases and backpacks with the maple leaf, hoping to be noticed as the “good guys” we mostly really tried to be.
Next to some of the planet’s war-mongering bullies, next to long lists of nations struggling to achieve democracy, stability, justice, equity and human rights, you looked pretty darn good. Your standard of living was always right up there with the northern European and Scandinavian countries, alongside which you generally topped the list of the world’s most liveable and equitable nations.
Harperism begets Harperland
Strangely, Stephen Harper loathed what you were. Speaking to some of his Conservative American friends in 1997, Stephen Harper derided you as “a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it”. What kind of man hates a nation that cares and shares? What was it about you – a successful, wealthy and peaceful nation – that made him seem so angry?
In 2011, after two minority governments, he finally got the majority he had been waiting for. He ramped up the war he’d been waging on the healthy northern welfare state since he first came to power in 2006; everything he did was meticulously designed to destroy every vestige of your progressive self. His goal was to reshape you with US-Republican-style ultra-conservative political and social dogma. This he piggybacked onto the neo-liberal economic dogma of Friedrich Hayek, an ideology that pits little dog against little dog, while the super-rich bulldog walks away with the winnings. This adds up to something ugly that author David Gutstein calls “Harperism”.
But Stephen Harper can’t claim to have wreaked havoc on you all by himself. Even to get into power, he’s had a lot of help from many powerful kingmakers in corporate board rooms, particularly the oil and gas sector, in the think tanks they fund, and of course, in the mainstream media, owned by just a handful of powerful corporations.
Now even the CBC, your public broadcaster – led by a Harper-picked CEO and by Conservative supporters he’s appointed to its Board, and hurting from vicious funding cuts, has started offering you the same platform as do its corporate colleagues. The December 2014 interview that CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge did with Stephen Harper was more like a “foot massage” than serious journalism challenging him on what he had done to you, Canada.
It’s been nine years since The Harper Government began hammering away at your institutions, laws, justice system, statistics and science. It has been busy signing away your future, your resources and the right of future governments to protect your resources and your people in so-called “free” trade deals drawn up behind closed doors, which will benefit corporate elites and increase their wealth. Like a wrecking ball, The Harper Government has also has been bashing away at your global reputation. Harper’s Canada was the only nation that refused to accept the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Same thing at the UN Convention intended to prevent trade in endangered species where your delegates opted out of every one of the resolutions to protect 76 species – the only country ever to have done such a thing.
A new name of shame
In your name, Canada, The Harper Government pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, and the UN Treaty to Combat Desertification. Making a new name of shame for yourself, you’ve now become known as a climate “dinosaur” and the “Fossil of the Day” (and Year), an award you’ve won repeatedly at global climate change talks.
When I travel overseas, people sometimes ask me, “What has happened to Canada?” And I don’t know how to reply, except to invite them to read some of the books about the man and what he has done to you: “Party of One”; “The Canadian War on Science”; “Harperland: The Politics of Control”; “Rogue in Power: Why Stephen Harper is Remaking Canada by Stealth”.
Those beer ads that celebrated you as a good-natured giant of the north with a penchant for peacekeeping are long gone. They’ve given way to Tim Hortons ads that mock the idea that Canadians are polite.
The new ads rebrand you as a playground bully, a nasty and belligerent country of Conservative values, which, as John Doyle notes in the Globe and Mail, are captured in the obnoxious slogans. “Canada rules. We grind it out.” “We don’t care who agrees or disagrees.” “We don’t let anyone push us around.”
Jeez, Canada, is this really you? Do you really see yourself as a jingoistic land of loud-mouthed louts, of belligerent, bullying jerks?
I don’t believe it for a second. Which is why I am writing, to let you know that there are many, many of us that have not given up on you. As we edge towards the new year, an election year, I am hopeful that 2015 will be the year that the majority of Canadians will shake off the scourge of small-minded, short-sighted and mean-spirited Conservatism that aims to destroy all that you were … and can be again.
The Harper Government does not reflect the will of a majority of us. Remember, he won his “majority” with less than 40% of the votes that Canadians cast in the 2011 election.
Our first-past-the-post electoral system is antiquated and unfair, it fails to reflect the true proportion of votes a party receives. If your vote is not for the winning candidate, it’s not worth the ballot paper it’s written on. Creating millions and millions of voiceless Canadians. Maybe that’s why so few Canadians can even be bothered voting any more. So the electoral system is definitely something that needs to be fixed as soon as you’ve been liberated and have begun your healing process.
And healing is what you’ll be needing. This is our year to reclaim you, vote out The Harper Government, reform our electoral process, rebuild you with the values that represent the real you, and indeed civilization itself – tolerance, caring, sharing, openness, fairness and respect.
And that will make for a Happy 2015, dear Canada.