Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stephen Harper And The Charter

Stephen Harper has refused to recognize the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a significant Canadian achievement. There are many reasons for the prime minister's ill will. Chief among them, Roy Romanow has said, is that Harper is on the wrong side of history. He harbours a burning resentment for the world of the 21st century. He has, according to Peter C. Newman, "the best medieval mind in the Commons."

Harper views the pluralism embodied in the Charter as heretical. Haroon Siddiqui speculates that Harper's refusal to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter is because:

It has advanced free speech, freedom of religion, women’s equality, aboriginal rights, English and French linguistic minority rights, gay rights and the rights of immigrants, refugees and multicultural minorities.

Or, Siddiqui writes, perhaps he hates the Charter because he sees it as a Liberal achievement:

The Charter was ushered in by a Liberal government — that, too, by Pierre Elliot Trudeau who was too French, too rich, too arrogant and too socially progressive for many conservatives. They loathed him. He, in turn, couldn’t care less what they thought, which made them madder still. Their hatred and his disdain made for quite a show.

But that view simply doesn't take note of the facts. Rene Levesque refused to sign the document. But if he had signed, he would have betrayed the raison d'etre of his party. What was more important was that none of premiers who signed the document were Liberals:

But let’s not forget that at the historic 1981 First Ministers’ Conference, which hammered out the Constitution, Trudeau won the backing of nine premiers, none of whom was a Liberal and as many as seven were Conservatives. Even Brian Peckford of Newfoundland and Sterling Lyon of Manitoba, who disliked Trudeau intensely, signed on. And it was a Tory premier, Bill Davis of Ontario, who helped broker the deal. 

The simple truth is that the men who repatriated the constitution -- with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- were men of far greater vision and generosity than Stephen Harper. When judged beside them, it is painfully apparent that Harper is a very small man.

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