Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stephen Harper's War On Democracy

Stephen Harper is waging war on elections and also broader mechanisms of democratic engagement.

Harper has interfered in elections—violating election law spending rules in the campaign that won him a minority government in 2006, and committing voter fraud in the election that won him a majority in 2011. He also shut down Parliament twice (for which he was found in contempt of Parliament in 2011) and is disenfranchising voters through the "Fair Elections Act."

Information and science

Harper is also restricting the information people need to make democratic decisions. He prorogued Parliament to avoid an inquiry into torture of Afghan civilians, and killed the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System—which the Canadian Association of Journalists said would "result in the public only getting information the government wants it to know."

Harper has muzzled government scientists, requiring them to submit a "message event proposal" before any public appearance, and have their responses pre-approved. In 2009, Harper cut science research funding by $138 million. Over the years, Harper has halted environmental impact assessments on nearly 3,000 projects across Canada, and is shutting down federal libraries and climate change adaptation programs.

Harper has waged war on the national media, treating it like an opposition voice that must be silenced. Mary Agnes Welch, the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, stated that Harper has "built a pervasive government apparatus whose sole purpose is to strangle the flow of public information."

Civil liberties

At the same time as strangling public information, the Tories are strengthening the surveillance state through the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canada's version of the NSA. Of particular interest to CSEC and the RCMP are Indigenous, environmental, peace and civil liberties activists. Harper has tried and failed (four times) to implement mass internet surveillance, and allow the government access to private information without warrants or court oversight.

During the G20 protests Harper used $1 billion on the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history, part of his agenda to criminalize dissent. The cost of the country's federal prison system has risen nearly 100% since Harper became Prime Minister, growing from $1.6 billion in 2006 to $3.15 billion in 2013. Yet Harper eliminated funding for Sisters in Spirit, an internationally-praised organization dedicated to investigating 500+ cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Harper has also supported undemocratic regimes around the world—defending Israeli apartheid, supporting the military regime in Egypt and selling weapons to the Saudi dictatorship. Harper has participated in war and occupations to stifle democracy—from Afghanistan to Libya. While building 15 new warships at a cost of over $100 billion (part of the half-trillion dollar Canada First Defence Strategy), Harper is treating veterans like garbage—cutting essential benefits and discharging injured soldiers before they are eligible for pensions.

Policies and organizations

These undemocratic methods are connected to the undemocratic policies Harper has implemented—including axing a national child care program, and scrapping the Kelowna Accord with First Nations. These cuts saw the transfer of resources from the 99% to the 1%, including cutting $1.2 billion from child care and reinstating $1.4 billion in tax breaks and subsides to oil companies.

Harper's undemocratic policies are connected to his attacks on self-determination—defunding women's organizations advocating for equality, defunding Sisters in Spirit that investigates missing and murdered Indigenous women, and attacking unions that provide a democratic defence of workers. We need to defend the democratic organizations of the 99% in workplaces, campuses and communities to resist Harper's war on democracy.

This article appeared in the April 2014 issue of Socialist Worker.