Harperland: Why the federal Conservatives need to stop it, already

All illustrations by Ehren Salazar


What happens when those in power have a disdain for facts? What happens when evidence is secondary to dogma, and the voices of scientists become irritating sounds to be ignored?


You get the Conservative Party ideology, and it’s running rampant on Parliament Hill. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the party’s ideological approach has become all the more evident, pardon the pun, when they got their long sought-for majority government in 2011.


Since then, there have been drastic cuts to social services. The destruction of the long-form census ridded the country of valuable information. And its policymaking has kept the most marginalized on the fringes and the most privileged front and centre.


The following opts for evidence-based approaches to illustrate the consequences of the ideology plague on a social, economic, and environmental level.



“What I worry about is those that suggest that austerity should be abandoned. I think that’s a road to ruin quite frankly.”

— Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister



While the bigwigs in Ottawa had the luxury to spend most of this season debating outrageous expense scandals in the Senate, more than 3.5 million Canadians struggled to make ends meet, living in poverty.


After seven years of aggressive cuts, low-income Canadians are starting to feel the consequences. Getting rid of social support and employment programs was an attempt to cut the deficit, but now millions of citizens lack the spending power to keep the Conservatives’ beloved economy afloat.


You see, Harper and company work from a deep-seeded conservative belief that tax cuts, particularly to corporations, create more jobs. Unfortunately, these jobs are usually minimum wage, while the corporate tax rate is the lowest of all the G8 countries. What remains is a weak and disappearing middle class.




Focus on the family? Nah.


Without national childcare or housing strategies, families become further entrenched in poverty. The government cut $1 billion to childcare in March 2007 and replaced it with a $100 per child allowance every month. Criticizing the need for a national plan, former Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said, “It’s the Liberals who wanted to ensure that parents are forced to have other people raise their children. We do not believe in that.”


Sorry, dear Conservatives, you can’t make drastic program cuts forcing both parents to work and then try to preserve an outdated concept of a nuclear family. Unfortunately, that generous $100 child allowance cheque you cut every month just doesn’t, well, cut it.



House of pain


On top of that, Canada remains the only G8 country without a national housing strategy—something that was scrapped during the Liberals’ reign in the mid-1990s. One in four Canadians is paying more than they can afford for housing and estimates for the country’s homeless population range from 150,000-300,000.


Take notes guys: income disparity will only hurt your protected economy.



“This is Stephen Harper’s Republican economic theology at work — supply business with cheap and pliant labour, even as our corporations remain among the lowest spenders...on recruitment, retention, training and skills development.”

— Haroon Siddiqui, The Toronto Star



The situation doesn’t look great for those wanting to move to Canada either. Former Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Jason Kenney left a mess in his wake when he was reassigned earlier this year.


Nearly 350,000 permanent residents wait to receive Canadian citizenship. Delays have only increased by Kenney’s crackdown on residency fraud and his complication of the citizen application process. 


He decided to initiate an investigation of the application procedure to catch all those evil fraudsters. To date, only 19 citizenships have been revoked out of 8,000 files reviewed. Well done.


It’s that Conservative ideology creeping up again, favouring blind belief that newcomers must be trying to cheat the system over rational thought, and Kenney—especially Kenney—can’t escape its pull.


Oddly, with this crackdown is a simultaneous increase in temporary foreign workers. Kenney brought in hundreds of thousands of workers, while the economy slowed and Canadians struggled to find employment. However, the program no longer leads to the permanency and hope of citizenship it once did.


“Canada’s immigration policy is indeed disgusting: it is premised on the exploitation of humans,” wrote Syed Hussan in a letter published in Rabble.ca. “Most immigrants that arrive in Canada, do so as temporary workers, without full rights. We pay taxes but cannot access basic services, and we live in fear, knowing that a singly ‘wrong’ move could mean deportation or worse.”


Temporary foreign workers are hired as cheap labour and become further marginalized as unemployed Canadians grow hostile.


In the meantime, Canada’s new point system puts more weight on an immigrant’s fluency in French or English and how applicants’ qualifications match Canadian credentials. Read: western Europeans, as critics have pointed out.



“The Prime Minister’s disdain for women’s equality is one of the most dramatic examples of his wider assault on democracy.”

—Murray Dobbin, Rabble.ca



Women make up another marginalized group that haven’t escaped Harper’s steely blue eyes where everything he looks at turns into funding cuts.


Most recent has been removing funding to six organizations that study how government policies impact women’s health. The Women’s Health Contribution Program, which supports the work of four research centres and two communications networks, lost $2.85 million earlier this year. The contribution program went beyond clinical research and focused on how specific policies affected women’s health, according to Anne Rochon Ford, the executive director.


Further, funding has drastically been cut to the Status of Women Canada—which provides advocacy, research and lobbying on behalf of women’s groups—and Harper has actually moved backwards in terms of pay equity between men and women. The Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, introduced as part of the 2009 budget, included criteria that would allow public sector employers to consider “market demand” in determining compensation. It meant higher pay for men, even if the work was of equal value.





Oh, baby


Then there’s the abortion debate. Harper has managed to suppress opening up a national discussion— despite some not-so-quiet Conservative backbenchers—as he knows full well the damage it could have on his popularity. Still, he didn’t include abortion in Canada’s G8 maternal health funding, making his actions on an international stage speak more to what he isn’t doing nationally. The World Health Organization states, “Complications due to unsafe abortion procedures account for an estimated 13 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide, or 67,000 per year.”



“What Canada needs to do is take a look at the American experience. We are turning away from mandatory minimums and Canada would make a big mistake in following in our footsteps.”

—Tim Lynch, CATO Institute



After 1991, crime rates in Canada fell consistently, and in 2012, it reached its lowest levels since 1972, according to Statistics Canada.


So of course, it only makes sense for the Conservative government— due to their obvious struggles with evidence—to enact its tough-on-crime bill, otherwise known as Bill C-10: Safe Streets and Communities Act.


It includes measures such as mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders, tougher sentencing for young offenders and makes it possible to deny work permits to people who are vulnerable to exploitation such as exotic dancers or low-skilled labourers.


Opponents criticize the costly measures, as Canadians are paying $5 billion more a year on the criminal justice system since the Tories were elected in 2006.


Evidence (the nuisance!) challenges Bill C-10’s effectiveness, stating it hurts the most marginalized. A Pivot Legal Society study shows it has disproportionate negative effects for people living with drug dependence, Aboriginal people and youth in or leaving the foster care system.




Even watching The Wire could help at this point


Those most likely to be incarcerated under mandatory minimum sentencing are low-level drug traffickers—youth, low-income people or those working to pay for a habit. Guess what? Higher ups in the organized drug trade don’t bat an eye and those positions are replaced immediately, leaving no effect on the level of crime.


“A policy of punishment, incapacitation and stigmatization has replaced one premised on the prospect of rehabilitation, restoration and reform,” said Justice Melvyn Green of the Ontario Court of Justice. “Severe penal responses to crime do not make our streets any safer. If they did, the United States would be the safest country on the planet. Prisons breed criminal behaviour.”


The “draconian” bill is more about exacting revenge, almost Biblical- style, rather than deterrence and rehabilitation, according to Green.


Harper painfully wants to be like the U.S., but even Washington recently admitted to tough-on-crime’s shortcomings and costs. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this past summer.


The U.S. has urged Ottawa to learn from Washington’s mistakes. But like a stubborn little brother, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson remains tough on crime. It could take years for Canada to finally grow up.



“I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

— Prime Minister Stephen Harper 



A smoker quits smoking through controlled doses the addiction It’s a process of nicotine until is eliminated. universally accepted as effective.


So why, when the same process is applied to illegal drugs, is it received with such backlash?


The Conservatives fought hard to shut down Insite, Canada’s first safe- injection site, which employs a harm reduction approach proven to save people from fatal overdoses, reduce the transmission of deadly infectious diseases and connect drug users to addiction treatment. Ever since the Supreme Court unanimously overruled the government, the sulky feds haven’t made it easy to open up more such sites.



Like a sore loser, the federal government responded to the Supreme Court’s decisions with their Respect for Communities Act, which sets out a long and convoluted list of criteria an applicant must meet in order to open a safe-injection site. It includes providing information outlining the views of police, municipal leaders, public health officials and provincial health ministers, as well as documentation to show the site’s expected impact on crime rates.


Laws such as these prove that even though Harper can admit his approach isn’t working, he’s still not open to suggestions.


Last month, Health Minister Rona Ambrose made a swift decision—once again, based on little evidence—to end Health Canada’s authorization of doctors to prescribe doses of heroin to addicts when nothing else worked. The method had proved effective for users during the clinical trials.


Such is the Conservatives’ broad- brushed approach to drug treatment that even the more benign drugs such as marijuana are subject to harsher consequences. They love making fun of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for his admission to smoking pot and openness to discussing its legalization. But they don’t realize this mockery puts them out of touch with voters, as the majority of Canadians support the legalization of the drug.


Even Canada’s police chiefs support loosening restrictions against marijuana, recommending tickets instead of charges for pot possession, pointing to evidence that the cost to process a charge is high and a burden to the legal system.



“Climate change is a very real and present danger.”

— Former Environment Minister Peter Kent



So Canada’s doing a great job hurting its vulnerable while leaving corporations and relatively wealthy communities untouched, but how does it fare on an international scale? If you answered “not well”, you’re right.


It’s impossible not to talk about the environment in a discussion of Conservative ideology, as this is where said ideology has the most consequences.


Two years ago, the Conservatives backed out of the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement signed in 1997 that committed major industrial economies to reduce their CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels. Former Environment Minister Peter Kent insisted backing out would save an estimated $14 billion in penalties.


“What this is really about is the fact that our government is abdicating its international obligations. It’s like we’re the kid who’s failing the class so we have to drop it before that happens,” NDP Environment Critic Megan Leslie told CBC at the time.


We may have dropped the class, but did we find a credit elsewhere? You’re right again—not quite.



Hold the phone


Instead, it’s become increasingly difficult for scientists to communicate to the public, funding has been cut to important research facilities such as the world-renown Experimental Lakes Area and negative changes have been made to the Fisheries Act.


After all, why do you need scientists when you can just make up climate projections? The 2012 Environment Canada’s Emissions Trends report shows Canada is now halfway to its target of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions since 2005 by 17 per cent by 2020. However, just a year earlier, it was only a quarter of the way. How could it double progress in just one year, you ask? Between 2011 and 2012, the government made changes in carbon accounting practices. You guessed it, about two-thirds of the claimed progress can be attributed to these changes, not to actual changes in climate policy, according to Christian Holz, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada.


And then there’re the tar sands, the bane of every environmentalist’s existence. Alberta’s oil is a driving economic force, a valuable export and an industry ripe with jobs.


But here’s the rub. The tar sands don’t exactly help our fair Earth; in fact they do quite the opposite. The annual assessment of emissions trends ites tar sands emissions as the fastest growing source of carbon pollution in Canada, and they’re projected to rise from an estimated 34 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2005 to 101 million tonnes in 2020. 


The annual report—quietly posted on the department’s website as opposed to presented at a mid-summer news conference as in previous years—also appears to downplay the role of human activity in global warming, highlighting natural factors. Scary to think climate change denial disorder might be alive and well in Ottawa. 


Frightening still was the outcome of the Rio+20, the Rio de Janeiro Summit on sustainable development. Not only were there no solid commitments made, but leaders lauded this fact. “It does not have unrealistic, inappropriate binding commitments,” Minister Kent told reporters after the conference.


Considering we’re already feeling the effects of climate change in heat waves, floods and droughts—and they’re projected to get much worse in the near future—what’s so reassuring about a lack of commitment?

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