Plenty of reasons to not vote for Stephen Harper

Lana
Lana Payne
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent the first week of the federal election campaign trying to convince Canadians that he is not a cold, ruthless, controlling, power-hungry, ultra-right-wing micromanager, but that he's warm, that he plays with his kids, that he can apologize without choking and that, most importantly, we have nothing to fear from him.

His past actions, statements and dogmatic ideology say otherwise.

The question is, will the extreme makeover work or will enough Canadians see through his attempt to hide his true self and his hard-right agenda?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent the first week of the federal election campaign trying to convince Canadians that he is not a cold, ruthless, controlling, power-hungry, ultra-right-wing micromanager, but that he's warm, that he plays with his kids, that he can apologize without choking and that, most importantly, we have nothing to fear from him.

His past actions, statements and dogmatic ideology say otherwise.

The question is, will the extreme makeover work or will enough Canadians see through his attempt to hide his true self and his hard-right agenda?

In this election, Canadians are being offered two distinct visions of our nation and the role the federal government ought to play in that nation.

The Liberals, NDP and Greens - no matter what you think of their individual policies - all believe government has a role to play in making Canada and the lives of its citizens better.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, covet a majority so they can dismantle, diminish and weaken the federal government. Tax cuts over collective action. This is bad news for the millions of Canadians who are not rich.

Because if you're not wealthy, you need the services government provides or funds.

But during this campaign, you will not hear Harper say what his real intentions are. He is smarter than that.

Polls say Canadians who are partial to Harper like his strong leadership style, his decisiveness. But these qualities in and of themselves are useless if the direction in which he is intent on dragging the country is just plain wrong and at odds with the values of Canadians.

Even if Harper is not being totally honest about his plans for the country, his record - which he seems to be running away from rather than on - speaks for itself.

Here are some good reasons Canadians should be worried:

His government has handed out more than $200 billion in tax cuts since coming to power in January 2006, mostly to wealthy Canadians and corporations. These choices have meant less money to build child care, or affordable housing, less money for food safety or health care. It means Canadians still sleep on the streets at night and seniors are still forced to choose between heating their homes and buying prescription drugs.

Excuse to cut

His government has blown more than a decade of consecutive surpluses, limiting the fiscal capacity of a future government. This is the excuse Harper, if re-elected, will use to cut programs and services, as slowing economic growth will mean less revenue into federal coffers. And we know he's not about to raise taxes on corporations to fill the gap, even though the share of our country's bill being paid by corporate Canada has dwindled considerably over the past two decades. Of course, Harper didn't even need the excuse of being strapped for cash to cut an array of important programs, like child care, court challenges or funding for women's groups and literacy organizations. He did that when federal coffers were overflowing.

He slashed $3.7 billion from child care and early learning programs, cancelling signed agreements with the provinces, costing Newfoundland and Labrador about $55 million in child-care funds.

He attacked women and their equality, not just by scrapping child-care programs, but by eliminating equality as a goal for the Government of Canada and by refusing to beef up Canada's pay-equity laws. His condescension towards women is made clearer when you look around him. His caucus has the fewest women - just 11 per cent - and none of the top cabinet posts were held by women. He has dismissed nearly every action that would improve women's equality in Canada.

His contempt for those who advocate for another Canada - a Canada where there is equality between women and men, where gays and lesbians are treated equally and where our arts community is free to express themselves without losing government support.

His cuts to arts funding, feminist groups and other advocates all say something else about Harper. It says he does not like to be challenged, that he is rigid and afraid of those who disagree with him. Harper's insecurity is producing a stunning democratic deficit.

Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush have too much in common. Harper would have had Canada in Iraq. He has continued to move Canada further and further away from its role as peacekeeper to a nation of war.

The prime minister, with his $10-billion broken equalization promise, prompted Premier Danny Williams' Anything But Conservative (ABC) campaign. Imagine what our province could have done with that cash.

Under Harper, individualism will always trump collective action and solutions. This is more an American value than a Canadian one. And for those who promote collective responsibility, like the trade union movement, there is plenty to fear if this prime minister gets a majority, including an attack on trade union freedoms.

Watch out

Employment Insurance. Watch out for this program if the Harperites ever win a majority. They have made no secret of their dislike for it and if they give in to the corporate sector as they have on so many other issues, it will be dismantled or, at the very least, seriously weakened, including the $3-billion maternity and parental benefit component of the program, which is constantly under attack by the business sector.

Weeks before calling the election, the normally tight-fisted Harper started spending like a drunken sailor, despite attempts to say his government was going to be different and would not buy votes with our own money.

The country's manufacturing sector has been burning under his watch and he and his government have done nothing to assist the tens of thousands of Canadian families who depend on it for jobs - unless you count the last-minute, too-little-too-late funding announcement for the auto sector. His reported comments to CEP union leader Dave Coles that people who lose their jobs can just go to Fort McMurray speaks volumes.

His government's unfettered expansion of the temporary foreign worker program. The modern-day trade in human labour is a recipe for abuse and exploitation. Numerous workers from other countries have had their human rights violated after being brought to Canada to work. And despite warnings about this abuse, his government has refused to place a moratorium on the program until proper monitoring and reporting practices are in place.

Harper's abysmal leadership on the environment and climate change. His refusal to take action to save the planet and his denial that there is an environmental inconvenient truth is an embarrassment for our nation internationally.

He broke his own election law; pulling the plug on his own government and sending Canadians to the polls for the third time in four years, because to do otherwise would have seriously lessened his chances of a majority.

While I didn't need any of the premier's encouragement to vote for anyone but Harper, I do agree with Williams' assessment - a Harper majority "would be one of the most negative political events in Canadian history."

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns Sept. 28.

Organizations: Conservatives, CEP union

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, U.S. Iraq Fort McMurray

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