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Harper faces blowback, but doesn’t blink 

By J. F. Conway
Conway is a University of Regina political sociologist and the author of The West: The History of a Region in Confederation and Debts to Pay: The Future of Federalism in Quebec

harper-faceTrust in Harper’s leadership slips further, Nanos survey says

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Mar. 21 2013

The Harper government is in trouble. A Nanos poll conducted recently reported a slow downward slide in Tory support during the previous months, bottoming at 31.5 per cent, 8.1 per cent down from the 2011 victory. Seven in ten Canadians were not happy with Harper’s reconstruction of Canada. But what does all this really mean?

toomanyprisonsHarper’s Canada, as laid out in two omnibus budget bills, is a very different Canada from that Canadians embraced for years:  it is a land ruled by a shrinking and mean-spirited government, rushing to imprison people, curtailing regulatory protection of the public interest, bloody-mindedly callous about the environmental consequences of unregulated economic growth, eager to strut arrogantly on the world stage rattling its rather small sabre. 

The Idle No More movement, led by a new generation of activist aboriginal leaders, astonished many becoming a lightning rod for opposition to Harper’s new world.  The movement grew like a wild fire thanks to a sophisticated use of social media as an organizing tool.  idlenomoreThousands were mobilized in a campaign that lasted weeks, stretching into months.  They hit the streets on Parliament Hill and allacross Canada.  Highways and rail lines were blockaded.  Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence began a highly visible hunger strike on Parliament Hill, demanding a meeting between the Chiefs and the prime minister.  The protest focused on six laws described as a “termination plan” for traditional treaty rights, including an attack on the collective and secure ownership of reserve lands.  Deep anger was expressed about laws degrading the protection of the environment, most urgently the draconian reduction in federal protection of Canada’s waterways. 

The movement was stonewalled by Harper (though he was finally forced to meet the chiefs, promising nothing), and most media coverage was largely negative, yet public opinion polls reported strong majority support for the movement among Canadians. Officers of Parliament and dozens of federal civil servants became more openly critical of the laws and their consequences. 

  • The Budget Officer of Parliament, Kevin Page, took the government to court over a failure to divulge full, timely budget information. 
  • The Federal Environment Commissioner informed Parliament the government’s measures failed to protect the health of Canadians, and the environment, from the pollution risks associated with the resource boom.              
  • The Office of the Correctional Investigator issued a special report, the second such unusual step in 20 years, expressing concern about the new laws leading to an abrupt rise in the incarceration of aboriginal Canadians.  
  • Lawyers employed by Ottawa leaked information the government was knowingly adopting a number of laws in the full knowledge they constituted violations of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The first such high profile example was provided when a B.C. judge ruled that Harper’s human smuggling law was too broad and sweeping and constituted a violation of The Charter.  Legal scholars predicted many more of Harper’s laws faced similar fates.
  • Leaked emails exchanged among civil servants, including scientific experts and enforcement officers, revealed the cuts to Environment Canada would prevent enforcing regulations protecting Canadians from carcinogenic pollutants and monitoring clean air and water standards. 
  • The closure of the world-class federal freshwater research station was a severe blow to their ability to monitor and preserve water quality. 
  • Changes in  environmental laws and regulations will allow mining companies and oil developers to cancel regulatory permits requiring compensation for lost fish habitat.  Enforcement officers shared e mails expressing concerns about the cuts to all programs essential to protecting public safety: safety standards for air, water and rail travel; and the inspection of food, drugs and consumer products.
  • Deeply embarrassing for Canadians, the United Nations’ Right-to-Food Envoy publicly criticized Canada for laws and policy measures increasing hunger and poverty in Canada. 

Since Harper’s ascension to prime minister Canada began a downward slide on the UN’s measures of public well-being, measures which had, in the past, put Canada near the top of the list.  In an interview making the front page of the Globe and Mail, former prime minister Jean Chrétien lamented Canada’s lost status on the world stage. 

Another blow to Harper’s reputation was delivered by the Commissioner of Elections Canada’s recommendation to the Director of Public Prosecutions that charges be laid as a result of the investigation of the Robocalls voter suppression scandal.  The first charged is Tory election staffer Michael Sona.  More charges are expected.

Yes, the Harper government is in trouble.  But that won’t stop him.  He has a majority of trained seals guaranteeing his dictatorial power until the next election.

Will Harper's usual scare tactics -- the looming economic catastrophe only he can manage; the dangers of those soft on crime and terrorism winning and failing to take a hard line against evil in all dangerous guises -- succeed? Will sufficient numbers of Canadians be bamboozled into helping Harper's hard right base win another slim majority? It is up to us, the voters.

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