Stephen Harper has displayed stunning disrespect for our democracy since becoming prime minister.
“How does Stephen Harper get away with it?”
That’s what a reader wanted to know after watching a rerun of a Rick Mercer “rant” on CBC about the Harper government’s spending of millions of dollars on blatantly political TV ads to promote tax breaks before they had even been approved.
“Isn’t that illegal?” the reader asked. “Isn’t it undemocratic?”
How does Harper get away with it, indeed?
Since he became prime minister in 2006, Harper has displayed a stunning disrespect for democracy in Canada, either approving or turning a blind eye to decisions that have undermined our democratic traditions and institutions and our faith in democracy.
Worse, this attitude has deepened since the 2011 federal election when Harper and his Conservatives won a majority government.
At last, though, with a federal election campaign now fully underway — unofficially at least — Canadians will now get their chance to let Harper, and all political leaders, know just how deeply they feel about our democracy and how important it is to restore our faith in it.
Over the years, Harper has taken advantage of Canadians’ waning interest in federal politics to implement his anti-democratic initiatives and to run roughshod over Parliament and campaign rules and practices.
How does Harper get away with dismantling the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, which promoted democracy and human rights around the world for 24 years?
How does Harper get away with cutting funding for organizations such as Kairos, a coalition of church groups that advocated for human rights?
How does Harper get away with introducing a fair elections act that was so unfair it should rightly have been called the anti-democratic elections act?
How does Harper get away with slapping gag orders on public servants and scientists, preventing them from speaking to the public?
How does Harper get away with letting cabinet ministers restrict freedom of speech and information tenets, withhold and alter documents, and launch personal attacks on whistleblowers?
How does Harper get away with slamming the chief electoral officer for doing his job?
How does Harper, who loves to tout federal-provincial relations, get away with openly snubbing the premier of Canada’s most populous province for more than a year?
How does Harper get away with blissfully ignoring Conservative election scandals, from the infamous anti-democratic robocall affair to voter fraud and election spending violations?
How does Harper get away with shutting down Parliament not once but twice for partisan political reasons?
How does Harper get away with spending more than $100 million in tax dollars on a series of TV ads about “Canada’s Action Plan,” with the newest ads boasting about tax breaks for families that had yet to be passed by Parliament?
How does Harper get away with praising a $200-million fund announced in 2013 to help struggling Ontario manufacturers for which not a dime had been spent nor a single job created by late last year?
How does Harper get away with unleashing $2.5 million in TV ads to champion a skills training program that didn’t exist at the time the ads appeared?
How does Harper get away with approving the spending of some $12 million to promote Canada’s 150th birthday — which will occur two years from now and for which no actual events have yet been planned.
Taken individually, all of these moves and decisions can be dismissed as one-off mistakes or transgressions.
Collectively, though, they point to a prime minister who doesn’t care much for democratic institutions and practices. Taken together, they also reinforce the reasons why there is a growing discontent and disconnect between citizens and the federal government.
While some pro-democracy groups have raised alarms in the past about Harper, most Canadians have just shrugged their shoulders, albeit in disgust. They are disengaged, discouraged by government scandals and believe politicians don’t listen to them and aren’t interested in the issues that are important to them.
But Canadians cannot take democracy for granted.
During the next 10 months leading up to the October election, voters can let Harper and other politicians know they they’ve had enough.
For all Canadians, the stakes are huge. That’s because this election may be the last real chance for years ahead to restore faith in our democracy.
Bob Hepburn’s column appears Thursday. firstname.lastname@example.org