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July 24, 2013

Harper's enemies list

The Canadian Charger

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In the days when Stephen Harper was a trusted lieutenant of Reform Party leader Preston Manning and an influential ideologue, trusted with vetting Reform Party political strategy, Mr. Manning was often characterized as paranoid but Mr. Harper himself escaped this label; until now that is.

In a move reminiscent of US President Nixon's “enemies list”, which preceded the Watergate scandal, Mr. Harper's Prime Minister's Office (PMO) asked Conservative political staffers to develop lists of “enemy” lobby groups, as well as troublesome bureaucrats and reporters to avoid, as part of preparations for incoming ministers named in a recent cabinet shuffle, according to leaked documents sent to numerous news agencies.

This “Us vs. Them” mentality and ensuing modus operandi is anathema to the way democracy is supposed to work.

Ideally, in a liberal democracy, conflicting opinions are debated and the best ideas for the nation emerge.  In fact, governing parties are often accused of stealing the opposition parties' ideas to form their policies. But that, of course, is assuming that the government of the day is looking after the interests of all Canadians, not pandering to corporate interests, as Mr. Harper's policies often do.

And as in the case of the PMO's  then-chief of staff  Nigel Wright's writing a $90,000 cheque to cover – and possibly cover-up – then Conservative Senator Mike Duffy's fraudulent  Senate expense claims,  when the misdeeds become public, Mr. Harper issues denials, whether plausible or not.

Mr. Harper’s government had previously distanced itself in 2012 from another internal strategy document, released through access to information legislation, that listed environmental and First Nations groups as “adversaries” and the National Energy Board – an independent regulator – as an “ally” in federal efforts to promote expansion in the oil sands sector, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

Because Mr. Harper is vehement in promoting the corporate agenda in Canada, it's no surprise that almost any vocal individual or organization that expresses concerns about this agenda could conceivably end up on his “enemies list”.

Brent Rathgeber, the dissident Independent MP who left the Conservative caucus this spring, said: “If you don't support the government and don’t support the government agenda, you’re maligned as an enemy.”

Sean Bruyea, a veterans’ affairs advocate who found out he was on an “enemy list” of sorts a few years ago, said he was disturbed by the reports of the “enemies list”.

A few years ago, in the midst of his fight for better compensation for war veterans like him who were suffering from post-traumatic stress and other illnesses, it was revealed that Mr. Bruyea's private medical and army records were circulating among hundreds of public servants and government officials.  In 2010, the Harper government apologized to Mr. Bruyea and granted him a financial settlement.

Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, representing scientists and professionals in government - including the federal civil service – said:  “It sounds like a very closed camp. Now it's about enemies and friends, not people who have different opinions. And that's really what they're: ' if you have a different opinion, you are the enemy.' “

While media commentators are expressing outrage over the recent enemies list, the list is really just a written manifestation of the way the Harper government conducts its business on behalf of its constituents, which obviously doesn't include all Canadians. 

The Liberal Party blog cities 12 examples of what it characterizes as “a dozen high-ranking watchdogs and public servants who have been fired, forced out, harassed or publicly maligned for refusing to put Conservative ideology before the public interest,” including Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer, who put a dollar figure to government promises, Peter Tinsley, Head of Military Complaints, who asked too many questions about Afghan detainees, and Munir Sheikh, Head of Statistics Canada, who defended the long form of the census.

Immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman doesn’t know if the Conservative government has an “enemies” list, but if they do, she figures she’s probably on it.

Ms. Jackman, a prominent immigration advocate, never met once with Jason Kenney during his five years at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and says the minister made it clear that if she attended stakeholder meetings, he would not. If a prominent figure such as Ms. Jackman is being shunned by Harper government officials, where does that leave the many Canadians who have concerns they want the government to address?

The Harper government has also in the past made its refusal to engage with some groups and organizations, such as unions and civil society groups, which, no doubt, pleased corporate power brokers. One need not wonder which group or groups have the potential to make Mr. Harper wealthy after he leaves politics.


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