Thursday, March 22, 2012

While We Were Sleeping

Some pretty fundamental -- and frightening -- changes have gone on while we were sleeping. The voter suppression scandal is only the latest in a long list of abuses which have flourished under Stephen Harper. Michael Harris catalogues them:

How quickly and efficiently Canadian democracy has been soundproofed.

By turning the committee system into a backroom show, the Tories have pulled the wings off the average opposition MP. If he doesn’t fly in committee, the backbench MP doesn’t fly at all.

Rival political parties have seen their public funding cancelled in the name of free market principles that give an immediate and maybe irreversible financial advantage to the Conservatives.

Parliament tries to hold the government to account but that is impossible without timely and accurate costing of government programs, which the government, of course, withholds. So instead there is the daily screaming match called Question Period that only paid professionals and near relatives can watch.

Non-governmental agencies have been punished by fiercely partisan government funding decisions.
Cabinet ministers rather than departments now decide which studies get published, a ploy which carries the handy benefit of never having purely ideological government policy embarrassed by the facts.

Scientists have to raise their hands and ask permission of political toads in ministers’ offices before speaking about their work. Remember when you had to do that in Grade Three to get a pee break?

And Canadians have slept through it all, more concerned about their pocket books than democracy. Perhaps, Harris writes, we have reached the point which Lewis Lapham lamented in his book The Wish for Kings:

He opined that the ruling and possessing classes had decided that the practice of democratic government was both a risk and a luxury that they were no longer willing to finance. And he wondered about the value of free expression to people so frightened of the future that they preferred the reassurance of the authoritative lie to the truth. And why insist on the guarantee of so many superfluous civil liberties when everybody was having enough trouble just holding on to a job?

It can all slip away so easily -- while we are sleeping.


thwap said...

You're an English teacher Owen. Am I right to call it "ironic" that the self-interested apathy of many Canadians, more concerned about their wallets than their democracy, is actually misguided because harper and Flaherty are the worst guys they could possibly have looking out for their economic well-being?

(Feel free to correct my punctuation too. I slept through all that stuff in high school and I regret it.]

Owen Gray said...

Your use of "ironic" is right on the money, thwap. The word has two meanings -- one of which is "a surprising turn of events."

It really is ironic that Canadians have put their future into the hands of Harper, Flaherty and Company. After all, they have a track record.

By the way, my grade six teacher back in Montreal once wrote in my notebook, "Cannot spell, cannot parse. Needs help -- if possible."

If she ever knew I earned my living teaching English, she would be certain the world had gone to hell in a hand basket. I slept through her English classes.

kirbycairo said...

I too fought against the machine of English class. With a learning disability and terrible trouble spelling, I went through my school career in "remedial" English classes. The only thing that saved me was that I liked to read despite the trouble I had with it. And that was in the US in the days when there was little consideration of the challenges that some kids faced. (On more than one occasion I was told I was "stupid" by teachers because I had trouble spelling.)

I am sure that all of those teachers would be surprised to know that I ended up with a Master's degree in English and have published a biographical work on two of my favorite writers!

Anonymous said...

Do a majority of Canadians wish the country to re-define itself as Christian Nationalistic? After the farcical tactics & results of our last election.. and the behavior of The Harper Government, the rest of the world must believe so. I myself am having trouble separating the evangelical religion, the oil lust, the money, the arrogance.. its like a sort of toxic spill.

Owen Gray said...

I taught all kinds of students over thirty-two years, Kirby. Some were very bright and needed no help from me.

But, each June, my greatest satisfaction came from seeing kids who I knew had struggled -- really struggled -- receive their diplomas.

And it always seemed to me that those kids did just fine in the world.

Anonymous said...

Not sure that I agree with the statement: "And Canadians have slept through it all, more concerned about their pocket books than democracy".

However, I could agree with SOME Canadians being more concerned with their wallets and voting for this party. Unfortunately, there are a sufficient number of voters in this group to elect this government (Robocalls/live vote suppression calls apparently helped too from what we are seeing now).

The basic problem we have is that the 61% of the non Conservative votes are split three ways (four ways in Quebec). Therefore, unless the NDP and Liberals wake up and realize that it is just a numbers game, and form a coalition or at least an agreement not to run candidates against each other, we will have Harper in power because of our FPTP electoral system.

Harper's support is rock solid and consists of three main groups: (a)those who support him because of ideology (they include the homophobes, the xenophobes, the "Christian Taliban", rednecks, etc.), (b) those who are on the gravy train (actually, the longer any government stays in power, the larger this particular group will be), and (c) the disconnected/ ignorant/ stupid votes, part of the group you identified above as being more concerned about their own pocket books. This latter group is also the most susceptible to untruthful negative attacks ads, such as "Just Visiting" and the one we are currently seeing on Bob Rae. However, this is also the only one of the three groups that is potentially capable of being convinced to change their vote for the Harper party. I suspect the first two groups (ideological, gravy train) comprise some 20-25% of Harper's votes. After all, when Campbell won only two seats, the Conservative popular vote share was still about 18%, as I recall.

The problem is that the FPTP is an outdated system that was designed to provide a real majority (defined as more than 50% of the votes for a single party) in a two party system. We need some form of proportional representation.

Owen Gray said...

These folks have no idea, Anon, of the damage they have done to Canada, both domestically and internationally.

And they really don't care about the mess they will eventually leave behind them. They have poisoned politics; they have poisoned the environment; they have poisoned the future.

The longer they stay in office, the bleaker the future becomes.

Owen Gray said...

I agree that we need some form of proportional representation. Unfortunately, merely pointing out that most democracies are coalitions will not win the argument.

It will take a de facto NDP-Liberal (or vice-versa) coalition to bring about those changes.

If Canadians can see how the vehicle rides and how it works, they'll but the mechanics in place to make it happen.