Outrage or outrageous

Lana Payne
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As Stephen Harper soaked up the warmth of the people of the Irish Loop last week - a shock to his chilly demeanor - his apostles were busy hiding from a Parliamentary ethics committee.
By mid week, more than a dozen Conservative officials, including a few high-ranking ones, had refused to appear before the committee and answer questions about what can be at best described as the federal party's creative application of Canada's financing rules.
The Conservative Party has also been investigated by Elections Canada for the "in and out" financing scheme.
Under the scheme, the federal party transferred money into 67 local ridings, including Labrador, for advertising during the 2006 federal election.

Spending questioned
Elections Canada is questioning whether about $1.2 million in advertising expenses were legitimately incurred by local candidates or if it was just a way for the federal Conservatives to spend more money than the law allowed.
Under the scheme, local candidates claimed expenses for radio and TV advertising which they never purchased for themselves. If the party is found to have exceeded election spending limits, this would indeed be a serious offence.
Former candidates, including Joe Goudie who ran for the federal Conservatives in the Labrador riding, told the ethics committee last week that they felt used by the party.
While Goudie and others expressed outrage, Conservative officials were just plain outrageous, either by refusing to appear before the Parliamentary Committee or by rudely disrupting the proceedings. Their boss has called the hearings a "kangaroo court," but it is the actions of the Conservatives themselves that have given the hearings that appearance.

Bizarre notion
The prime minister's dismissal of the committee's work speaks to his bizarre notion of accountability and transparency, political planks in their 2006 election platform.
The actions of his officials have made a mockery of the federal Conservatives' key electoral promise to transform Parliament and government - making it more accountable and transparent.
This is after all the government that gave Canadians the Accountability Act.
And yet, it is becoming clear that the federal Conservatives are only interested in accountability and transparency on their own terms. Their 2006 election platform said the following: "Canadian families work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules - and they expect their government to do the same….Conservatives are taking action to rebuild public trust in Canada's institutions."
In fact, the opposite is the case. The federal Conservatives have consistently attacked Canadian institutions rather than rebuild trust in them. Parliamentary committees, the media, the courts and now Elections Canada have all been maligned by the Conservatives under Harper.
Trent University history professor Dimitry Anastakis says these attacks shouldn't surprise anyone.
In a commentary for The Toronto Star last year, the historian noted that despite leading a minority government, Harper has not been deterred from his real aim.
"Ultimately, all of Harper's policies are designed to dismantle the capacity of the federal government as a force in Canadian economic and social policy," according to Anastakis.
"While he is doing this under the radar, slowly and bit-by-bit, anyone who has listened to or read Harper's writings over the last 20 years knows this has always been his sole and abiding goal.
From his days as the Reform party's "wonder boy," to his time in the anti-government National Citizens Coalition, to his writing of the infamous anti-federal "firewall" letter following the 2000 Liberal election victory, Harper has espoused a patently anti-federal government ideology, akin to Republican dogma in the United States," wrote the historian.
In addition to undermining Canada by attacking its institutions, Harper has managed to do so by diminishing the country's fiscal capacity.
"Instead of using deficits as a reason to slash taxes, as Harris did, Harper and the Conservatives act just as George W. Bush did, using hard-earned federal surpluses as an excuse to cut taxes, which are, in essence, service cuts. In Harper's logic, having deficits or surpluses are a reason to cut taxes - it doesn't matter since the only goal is to cut taxes," writes Anastakis.
One has to wonder what Canadian institutions the Harper Conservatives are interested in rebuilding trust in.
It doesn't seem Parliament is one of them, as that institution hasn't been working very well as of late. It doesn't appear they were talking of Parliamentary committees since they often dismiss their purpose especially when they are controlled by the three opposition parties.
It certainly doesn't look like the Conservatives have restored any trust in the federal government's role in society.

Political bullying
Using bullying tactics to dismiss, attack or undermine the institutions of the country is not democracy, it's just bullying.
By rejecting the institutions that make Canada work, by slashing taxes to a point where the federal government's ability to nation build is virtually eliminated, the federal Conservatives and their leader have not stood up for Canada as they promised in the last federal election.
They have merely stood up for their own ideology which is as Professor Anastakis says more Republican and American than Canadian.
And this might be what Canadians ought to consider when they tune into this fall's federal election.
The Americans seem intent on getting rid of George Bush and his failed policies and ideas - why would we keep them in Canada?

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement.She can be reached by e-mail atlanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns Aug. 31.

Organizations: Harper Conservatives, Elections Canada, Conservative Party Parliamentary Committee Trent University The Toronto Star National Citizens Coalition

Geographic location: Canada, Labrador, United States

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