Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are being asked to consider that Stephen Harper has changed since 2008.
A tall order. OK — That’s an understatement. It’s an exceptionally tall order. Leopards don’t change their spots. And people like Stephen Harper don’t change who they fundamentally are. But because we should consider the possibilities, let’s take a look at what has changed since 2008 when this was a man who could not be trusted. Since 2008, Stephen Harper and his government became the first government in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament. One of the most respected Speakers in the history of the House of Commons found him and his government in contempt.
This was not merely parliamentary machinations as the Conservative leader would have Canadians believe. This is serious stuff.
But Stephen Harper says Canadians don’t care about the fact that his government was found in contempt. Well, I happen to think that Canadians do care about democracy, and the institution of Parliament and the prime minister’s apparent lack of respect for it.
Since 2008, he prorogued Parliament twice in 13 months in order to avoid democracy.
Since 2008, after promising to increase the budget of the Parliamentary Budget Office, his government instead froze Kevin Page’s budget after the watchdog contradicted or set the record straight on the cost of the war in Afghanistan and on the deficit. Despite a small budget, Kevin Page consistently does his best to give Canadians the facts, sans political spin.
Since 2008, four high-ranking Conservatives, including two senators, have been charged with election fraud. Stephen Harper called it an “administrative” error. Elections Canada and the federal court disagreed with him.
Since 2008, despite previous claims that the Senate was a waste of space, money and air, Stephen Harper has continued to stack the red chamber with his cronies — some of whom, like Fabian Manning, are now running in this election. (By the way, bets are being taken on George Street over which Conservative candidate loser will get the Senate lottery if Harper wins a minority or majority — shudder the thought — on May 2.)
And what about his priorities since 2008? Billions of dollars, including $6 billion this year, in corporate tax cuts that mostly benefit wealthy corporations like banks and oil companies, and do little, if nothing, to create jobs; $30 billion for new fighter jets and billions to pay for its so-called tough on crime agenda. All the while, a mere $1 billion would eliminate seniors’ poverty in Canada.
In 2006, Stephen Harper committed, in writing, to our province, to “remove non-renewable natural resource revenue from the equalization formula to encourage the development of economic growth in the non-renewable resource sectors across Canada.”
He went back on this promise when he changed the equalization formula in 2007. This prompted the Danny Williams-inspired ABC campaign in the 2008 election. The Conservative broken promise is estimated to have cost our province and its citizens about $1.6 billion.
That money would have built a lot of schools, paved a good number of roads, created a lot of child care and early learning, helped restructure the fishing industry, and even contributed to the cost of the Lower Churchill development.
Since 2008, the Harper government wasted a stunning $1.2 billion on the G20 Summit in Toronto, turning the city into a police state for 24 hours, resulting in the arrest of nearly 1,200 Canadians, the vast majority of whom were merely exercising their democratic rights of freedom of assembly and expression.
Since 2008, his government continues to weaken our democracy by silencing civil society organizations which depend on government funding to do their work, the work of making the world a better place.
Since 2008, Harper and his government cancelled the long-form census despite outrage and pleas from those who like to have the facts before making decisions.
And what of that little episode with Bev Oda and a few changed documents tabled in Parliament?
Then there’s Bruce Carson, a former top Harper political aide, who was convicted of five counts of fraud before going to work for the prime minister and is now being investigated by the RCMP for other alleged criminal behaviour. Carson’s lawyer says he told the PMO of his criminal past.
And what of Harper’s attack on women’s equality? That certainly hasn’t changed since 2008; if anything, it has become more vicious. Then there is his politics of division and fear and wedge. But that’s another whole column.
As political commentator Lawrence Martin has said, Stephen Harper doesn’t see political opposition as a legitimate part of governance, but as “an obstacle to be barely tolerated and overcome by whatever means possible.” Martin, author of the best-selling “Harperland: The Politics of Control,” noted recently that “the Harper government, even with a minority, has governed as if it had a majority, and with a majority will likely govern as if it ruled a one-party state.”
And yes, since 2008, Stephen Harper did verbally promise, during this election, a loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill project.
It appears Stephen Harper has changed; he’s changed for the worse. He’s more autocratic, more anti-democratic, more controlling, more contemptuous of Parliament and people, more abusive of the power that has been entrusted in his hands as prime minister.
This election is indeed about hope and fear. Hope for our nation and fear of what Stephen Harper will do with it if he gets a majority. And like in 2008, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can make a difference with their votes.
Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column returns April 23.