Why were we so afraid of a Harper government? Legislation dictated by religious ideology? War on the homos? Slashes to social programming? A US-style prison system?
Just 15 months into his mandate, and in a delicate minority Parliament, he’s doing all those things — and more. Harper and his cabinet have been slowly — quietly — changing the way Canada is run. But many changes don’t get headlines, because they don’t require legislation to pass through Parliament. That’s because government policies can be changed directly from the Prime Minister’s Office — and policies affect the kind of Canada we live in much more than legislation does. That Canadians haven’t noticed — or else are willfully blind — proves it really has been a con job.
Starting on April fool’s day (not an accident) and for the next two months, xtra.ca brings you a countdown of 60 of the ways Harper is reshaping Canada in his own image.
#1: STAY OUT OF OUR PRIVATE LIVES, MR HARPER
Earlier in this list, we gave you two indications that under Stephen Harper we’re trading the protection of our privacy for the police state. For instance, Conservative MP Joy Smith introduced a private member’s bill to allow the Feds to censor the Internet and monitor users. (See reason #9.) A private member’s bill is unlikely to see the light of day, fine, but Harper indicated in 2006 that the Conservatives are planning a massive bill to allow authorities to monitor telephone calls, e-mails and Internet activity through mandated “access points”.
We also reminded readers that Conservatives were looking for a way to bring back so-called preventative arrests — the indefinite detainment of foreigners in Canada without a trial — a measure so invasive it was struck by the Supreme Court Of Canada. (See reason #14). But that’s not all. They’re also looking for ways to bring back “investigative hearings”, a way of conducting pseudo-court proceedings without the standard rules of law governing them, rules like the defendant’s right to hear the evidence against him.
Meanwhile, a Conservative no-fly list is set to take effect Jun 18, which Canada’s privacy commissioner calls “a serious incursion into the rights of travellers in Canada, rights of privacy and rights of freedom of expression.” Among the flood of concerns unanswered by the Feds are questions about how the information was gathered and who it will be shared with. Analysts say that it represents a trend away from identifying threats based on what a person is doing and toward identifying threats based on who a person is and who they have associated with.
They also want to hand CSIS a wad of new cash, ostensibly to strengthen its operations outside of Canada (read: spying). CSIS and the RCMP (both of which fall under Creationist-drawler Stockwell Day) have a terrible historical record with the gay community. They are organizations that were frequently used to find and harass members of the queer community over the last 60 years. We also know that where there is minimal judicial oversight, government departments have no incentive to stop harassing gays — just ask Little Sister’s bookstore, engaged in a 20-year court battle to stop customs from detaining the books they import.
Canada, under Stephen Harper is set to become a surveillance state — and soon — which doesn’t bode well for Canada’s minorities of all stripes.
Gary Kinsman, a sociology professor at Sudbury’s Laurentian University, told Capital Xtra in November that queers were still seen as suspicious and “security risks” by the state. Kinsman has written extensively on the history of the state’s harassment of Canada’s gays and lesbians.
“Video surveillance is used to police private or intimate acts that may take place in these state-defined public places. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, and continuing in some places, the police used video surveillance to charge men for having consensual sex in washrooms.
“The police can still use criminal code sections like ‘indecent act’ and ‘bawdyhouse’ charges against us for the consensual sex we engage in. Queer sex is still constructed as more indecent or obscene than similar hetero sex. In these situations video surveillance can still very much be used against us.”
THE TOP 60:
#60: PARTISANS CLOG JUDICIAL SCREENING COMMITTEES
Conservatives made headlines in February 2007 for controversial appointments to the board that recommends new judges. Over half the appointees surveyed had obvious Conservative connections. They included twice-defeated Conservative candidate Mark Bettens, a firefighter with one year of school at Cape Breton University and no discernible expertise in law. It also included Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s best friend, John Weissenberger, who later resigned from the committee to take a job on Parliament Hill. The other half? Many of them have argued that the courts are “too activist.”
Considering that most gay rights were earned in the courts rather than in the House Of Commons, Canada’s queer community has cause for concern. If this were Harper’s only act of political interference, it alone could help re-shape this country over time. But as you will see from future installments on this list, Harper’s increasing stranglehold on the judiciary — which comes directly from the Prime Minister’s Office with or without a majority — may prove his lasting legacy.
#59: VIC TOEWS SNAGS JUSTICE PORTFOLIO
Prisoners’ right to vote, gays’ right to marry, women’s right to choose: the former Manitoba justice minister has spoken out against them all. That made Toews a bad choice for Harper’s first federal cabinet if he wanted to appear more moderate than Liberals has painted him as. But Toews was a good choice for cabinet if he wanted to thank his social conservative voters for handing him the PMO — which is exactly what happened on Feb 6, 2006.
Ironically, Harper’s association with social conservatives like Toews has both brought him to power and handicapped his chances of winning a majority. Judge a person by the company they keep — and Harper’s company includes the like of Vic Toews.
#58: ANTI-GAY LAWYER PROMOTED TO COURT OF APPEAL
On Sep 20, the Prime Minister appointed David Brown to the Ontario Superior Court in the Toronto area. Brown represented anti-gay and anti-abortion views in a handful of court cases and wrote legal documents on the “sanctity of life.” Freedom of choice groups were understandably miffed.
Just because the next Supreme Court judge isn’t set to retire until 2013, doesn’t mean that Harper can’t wreak havoc on the provincial appeal courts. Enough appointments like Brown and Canada’s equality battles could indeed be in jeopardy.
#57: CAN I GET ONE THAT SAYS ‘IDEOLOGUE’ ON MY BACK?
Stockwell Day says it’s ridiculous to provide a tattoo parlour in a prison. Why would good, hard-working taxpayers spend their money on “I heart mom” tats for crooks? Day was commenting on the decision not to renew a one-year six-prison pilot program that cost $600,000 to run for the year ending Sep 30, 2006. Not on my watch, he said.
If you’ve ever been inked yourself, you know about the sterilization checklist a tattoo artist goes through before she sticks you. In prison, no tattoo program, no sterilization. The result is new infections of HIV and Hepatitis C in prison — a place where years of neglect has led to staggering infection rates.
The costs of preventing new HIV and Hep C infections otherwise caused by homemade tattoo equipment in prison is a pittance next to the cost of treating either — $20-25,000 a year. But then, it’s not about the money, is it?
#56: HILL JOB FOR FOCUS ON THE FAMILY PREZ
It lasted less than a year, but Darrel Reid’s appointment sent shivers up the spines of even moderate Conservatives. He was the head of Focus On The Family Canada from 1998 to 2004, an ideologically anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-abortion group with connections to the leaders of the US Christian right. He became then-environment minister Rona Ambrose’s chief of staff in September 2006.
Focus On The Family Canada is headquartered in Langley, BC and founded in 1983. It is affiliated with the leading US evangelical Christian group, Focus On The Family headed by James Dobson. Though the Canadian organization has traditionally enjoyed little influence outside of rural enclaves and evangelical churches, the US parent is seen as a major influence on the Republican Party and politics generally. Reid was gone by late January, meaning he lasted four months or less.
Oh, religion. As you will see from this countdown, religious zealots have had Harper’s ear since he started in politics. Facing facts, religious communities have had a hand in voting for him and paying for his campaigns: should we be surprised that he’s beholden to them?
#55: HARPER TEARS UP KELOWNA ACCORD
The 2006 budget first. Three months after Stephen Harper won his minority victory in January of 2006, Mike Harris-era MPP cum finance minister Jim Flaherty unveiled his budget. It was largely perceived as a stay-the-course budget, garnished with 25 narrow tax breaks. Spending was mostly intact, but there was an $800 million hole where phase one of the $5.1-billion Kelowna Accord was supposed to be. The agreement represented the largest payout to the First Nations in Canada’s history. About half that amount was allocated instead and Flaherty called it a “down payment.”
Tensions — already brewing — erupt in Caledonia, a small town in southern Ontario. Residents, shocked at the anger and violence of the First Nations protesters, can’t wrap their minds around why. The town’s residents gear up for a fight; several counter-protests draw hundreds of residents within a hare’s breath of rioting.
A year later, Caledonia is still unresolved. A private member’s bill calling on the government to honour Kelowna — introduced by the man who inked Kelowna, former prime minister Paul Martin — passed Mar 21 with the support of the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP. But private member’s bills cannot allocate money in the budget, so the bill has no teeth. Indian affairs minister Jim Prentice says no, so that makes twice.
#54: CONSERVATIVES SHUT OUT BLACK AND BLUE
Montreal’s Black and Blue Festival used to receive federal dollars as part of its regional economic development program. The weeklong event attracts 10,000 participants and generates millions of dollars in spinoff revenues. Tourism puts more money in the federal purse than the municipal one, hence the regional development spinoff.
But the organization, which was awarded over $47,000 last year for the amount of business it generates, was not told the cash was cut until a week before the event. The event went on full steam ahead just the same, with highlights including the jock ball and leather ball.
The reason for the federal change of heart? It’s not a family festival — a logic which can be used to shut out almost any gay event in the country, however family friendly it actually is.
#53: GAY MARRIAGE DEFEAT WAS TO BE FOLLOWED BY RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION BILL
It was at the height of the rhetoric surrounding Harper’s failed attempt to re-open same-sex marriage in the fall of 2006. We knew it would fail. They knew it would fail. But what bone we they going to throw the social conservatives after failing to repeal our right to our corner of the marital bed? (More on gay marriage later).
An Oct 4 leak suggested that the Conservatives planned four-part legislation aiming to protect religious groups and believers from prosecution for human rights violations against gay men and lesbians. The Globe reported Harper is planning laws that would: allow businesses to refuse services to gay and lesbian organizations; allow churches to refuse to rent halls for gay and lesbian weddings; allow justices of the peace to refuse to marry same sex couples; and protect people who speak out against gays and lesbians.
Harper hit the rough, denying a Defence Of Religion Act was in the works, but according to an Apr 2 story, the Globe And Mail now has proof that it was in the works and that former justice minister Vic Toews was personally involved with its planning.
To those who say the Conservatives aren’t utterly beholden to Christian lobbyists, we say the proof is in the pudding.
#52: HARPER IS NO GOOD IF YOU LIKE MUSEUMS
Or any kind of culture really, unless the military counts.
First we heard, the Museum Assistance Program was canned. The $4.5-million program was small potatoes — and recently replaced with a $5-million 2-year program to hire summer students, which the Canadian Museums Association calls an initiative “stemming more from electoral preoccupations than from an analysis of the museums’ priority needs.”
Then we noticed that the Portrait Gallery Of Canada had been left out of future federal budgets entirely. Mothballing the portrait museum may be a bad idea, but cutting the already meager federal assistance to museums nationwide is worse for those that don’t live in Canada’s Capital Region.
Now the program that helps museums put their pieces on tour is closing its doors. The program — good for anyone who thinks museum’s acquisitions are too centralized in Ontario — will shut down in less than a year.
Heritage minister Bev Oda has reneged on her commitment to a comprehensive national strategy for preserving Canada’s museums, a plan she supported as heritage critic. Why? Is Harper waiting for a majority so he can axe federal contributions entirely?
#51: WHY DO YOU WANT TO GET HITCHED? FEAR.
When the Conservatives were polling behind the Liberals — despite the sponsorship scandal — we were cool as cucumbers. That was December 2005. Then it began to look like a Conservative government in the first days of 06.
And in the final days, pundits were predicting a Conservative majority government.
Gays got scared. Harper had promised to try to repeal gay marriage. Hence, the gay Harper-shotgun wedding was born, making the weekend of Jan 20, 2006 one of the busiest weekends for gay nuptials since the practice was legalized.
Around the xtra.ca offices, we’re not big fans of marriage to begin with, so that Harper actually encouraged some of us to tie the knot doesn’t sit well with us.
And of course, Harper’s very real ability to give the gay community a collective ulcer is one more reason he gets a failing grade.
#50: HARPER HAS NEVER ATTENDED A PRIDE PARADE
Dear Mr Harper,
Do you feel saddled with an unwarranted reputation? Do you feel misrepresented by folks like us who consider you to be a Neanderthal SoCon ideologue? Would you like some advice — free! — on what you can do to change your image?
Hey, here’s a crazy idea: how about you march in a Pride parade? It could really help you in the polls.
Case in point: the June 2004 election could have been a cakewalk for the Conservatives. Crippled by the release of the Gomery report, the Liberal image was utterly tattered. But you guys couldn’t shake your Sister Mary Margaret image of prudery. When you skip out on the rainbow festivities, you’re sending a message that goes well beyond the outskirts of the village, a message that speaks to all people who want a tolerant, progressive head of state.
Toronto? June 24? See you there?
#49: SO MUCH FOR EXTRA ACCOUNTABILITY, MR HARPER
The Conservatives’ much vaunted plan to open government operations to greater scrutiny has strings attached.
Public government reports and polls now take six months to be released, according to an Aug 1, 2006 Conservative policy change. That compares to a three-month delay under the Liberals, meaning Canadians have to wait twice as long for the reports they paid for.
It’s especially underhanded to double the delay during a precarious minority Parliament. Polling information is time-sensitive for political parties gearing up for an election and reports that show how the government is doing could be instrumental in the timing of a federal election.
#48: STOCKWELL DAY PUTS PARDONS UNDER REVIEW
When someone says “sexual offences”, people get their backs up. But consider the police’s reputation over the last 30 years. They love to charge gay couples and hook-ups with committing ‘indecent acts’ — especially for encounters that are casual, involve more than two people or are in semi-private or public places. Consider the hundreds of bathhouse patrons who have been charged as found-ins of a bawdy house.
Public safety minister Stockwell Day announced in February that he is reviewing a process that allows people who have been convicted of a crime to clean up their criminal record. It’s a relatively straightforward application to strike some convictions from appearing on police checks, which are often used for employment or travel purposes. Day says he especially wants to target “sexual offences”.
For gay men, a group that has faced systemic harassment by the police, this represents a major setback — so get your pardons soon, boys.
#47: HARPER PAYS LIP TO ENVIRONMENT
A $2000 tax break for those who buy fuel-efficient cars may sound like a good idea: after all, David Suzuki says that the biggest personal environmental decision someone makes is about transportation. There’s no doubt that hybrids are a more environmentally-sound choice than simple gasoline models. But should we be driving at all?
There’s no incentive in Harper’s budget to take public transportation, bike or live close to your work. For Canada’s queer community, highly urbanized as it is, the plan may actually discourage downtown living, allowing suburbs to mushroom while downtown cores rot. Given that Harper is continuing the 15-year tradition of starving Canada’s metropolises, how are hybrids any help?
#46: MESSAGE TO WIFEY: STAY AT HOME
At least two recent announcements by the Harper government are designed to keep women at home. The first was the 2007 budget, which disproportionately rewards married couples where one partner earns most or all of the income. These breaks shift the trade-off for women who are already at home in the direction of staying there — and even rewards partners who work part time for quitting to stay at home.
The second is the $1200 child care benefit for children under six. While doing virtually nothing for those moms who work — where can you find child care for $25 a week? — the plan was a hit with those already staying at home with their kids. When it one nearly universal approval from ultra-con so-called family values leaders last fall, one had to wonder what they were actually applauding: tax breaks or social engineering?
#45: CBC KAPUT AFTER HARPER MAJORITY
Canadians have been given all the warning signs that the CBC is on the chopping block if Harper gets a majority. In May 2004, he raised doubts about the future of those parts of the CBC where there is a commercial alternative in particular, its English TV arm and CBC Radio Two. His comments have been echoed by his caucus, including cabinet minister Tony Clement, who questioned the necessity of the CBC during the party leadership convention.
Given the Conservatives’ aversion to regulation and the ongoing CRTC drama, a Conservative majority could spell not just the end of the CBC, but the gradual shriveling of the Canadian cultural production industry, putting hundreds of art fags out of work.
#44: MANDATORY SENTENCING CATCHES ANAL SEX LAW
A bill that purportedly cracks down on criminals who get off too lightly could land those convicted of having underage anal sex in jail.
The bill, introduced in May 2006 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, would keep judges from issuing conditional sentences for nearly 100 offences, including manslaughter and sexual assault with a weapon.
It also catches mail theft, cattle theft and section 159 of the criminal code — the prohibition of anal sex under the age of 18 or in groups of more than two people. Although the law has been struck down in five provincial jurisdictions, Canadians are still being prosecuted under section 159, usually in connection with other charges.
Conditional sentences keep those who are not a threat to their community from entering the harsh prison system. Harper’s bill catches all crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years or more, including the anal sex law. Way to go, Harper.
#43: HARPER RAILS AGAINST JUDGES WHO STRIKE ANTI-GAY LAWS
During the 2006 election, where Stephen Harper eked out his minority, the Conservatives rarely went off script. Why? Because when they do, they put their foot in their mouth. Harper, known for his extreme care for “messaging”.
January 18, 2006 was of the few times he went off-message when he derided “activist” judges to reporters on the campaign trail. Later, he was hammered by journalists and he half-retracted his comments. “Some are, some aren’t,” he said at the time.
Canada’s gays and lesbians have relied on the courts to strike down anti-gay laws because Parliament has been not just slow to move but deliberately inert. Now in Conservative hands, an inert Parliament is the best we can hope for. We need brave judges more than ever.
#42: $22 BILLION, UNSPENT, USED TO PAY DOWN DEBT
We’re one of the only countries in the world doing it. By any traditional economic measure, when an economy like Canada’s stops adding to its debt, the debt shrinks. The debt-to-GDP ratio shrinks. The comparative debt load shrinks (compared to other nations, or compared to other industrialized nations). Economists have traditionally held that balancing the federal books is the best way to handle the debt.
Still, after a billion dollars in ideological cuts last fall and handouts to stay-at-home moms this spring, Stephen Harper has decided in February that the best use for $9.2-billion of federally-collected taxes is to sink them into the debt.
That’s less than six months after earmarking another $13.2-billion for debt reduction in 2006.
That’s at a time when over 90 per cent of Canadians think we should be doing more for our poor. That’s when cities, squeezed by years of federal and provincial off-loading, are scraping the bottom of the barrel to pay for basic services. Taxing Canadians and putting the money into debt reduction is silly — this is a two-strikes-you’re-out game.
#41: NORTH AMERICAN UNION PLANNED. BUT QUIETLY
Dozens of regulations are being quietly altered to help integrate Canada with our neighbours to the south. The problem is, almost no one knows about it and no one has been consulted.
Up for grabs is the Canadian energy grid, Canadian drug laws and federal food regulations. At a 2006 meeting in Banff, public safety minister Stockwell Day and defence minister Gordon O’Connor met with the military, political and business elite to discuss how to open the Canada-US and US-Mexico borders.
Notes obtained through US freedom of information laws outlines participants’ fears that further integration, similar to that of the European Union, would not be well received by the citizens. Their solution? Integration by stealth, with the harmonization of food, drug, transportation and energy regulations — which do not require parliamentary approval — as the first steps.
Who says that Harper is hamstrung by his minority government?
#40: MPS GROOMED FOR HOLY WORK IN SECULAR HELL
Picture a Miss Manners school for social conservatives, run by everyone’s favourite Reformer, Preston Manning. In Feb 2006, a few weeks after Stephen Harper plucked up enough seats to form a minority government, newly elected MPs and their aids gathered at an Ottawa Holiday Inn for a lesson in “diplomacy”.
Don’t abandon your beliefs but you must appear non-threatening, Manning told the recruits. It’s a message the Conservatives have taken to heart. You can let God direct the public agenda, he advocated, but don’t appear that God is directing your political work.
The theme of the workshop was “a sheep among wolves”, but the xtra.ca staff is sure it’s the other way around. Apparently, Manning went off his notes and stumbled into some claptrap about how us gays choose our lifestyle after a bad hetero relationship sours us. That’s bad — but his gaffe highlights the message he was trying to send the newly faithful: keep your mouth shut and just do it.
#39: TRANSPARENCY TALK IS JUST TALK
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s latest controversy is not over policy, but over make-up. That’s because Harper and his aides are refusing to say who foots the bill for his personal stylist, CBC make-up vet Michelle Muntean.
In the grander scheme, it hardly matters if the taxpayers are paying for Muntean’s services. An argument could be made that, as embarrassing as it is, Harper represents the public face of the nation to foreign leaders and the press.
So why won’t they say whose name is on the top of Muntean’s cheques? It’s part of the classic Harper double standard. He wanted access to all the details of Liberal spending when he was in opposition, but he’s been one of the most tight-lipped prime ministers in recent memory. If there’s nothing to hide, don’t be so mum, Harper.
#38: TORIES CONTEMPLATED ROYAL COMMISSION TO RE-EVALUATE MARRIAGE
It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a Royal Commission On Marriage And The Family returns a welcome report: suggesting that governments should get out of the outdated, sexist, religiously-rooted marriage biz, for instance. Leave it to churches to decide who to marry. (Maybe it would even end the tax incentives for getting hitched or reproducing, although we doubt it).
But that’s not what was being suggested in the fall of 2006, after the Conservatives had (predictably) lost their bid to reopen the same-sex marriage debates. Religious leaders like Dave Quist (Focus On The Family Canada) and Joseph Ben-Ami (Institute For Canadian Values) called for the commission. Both groups have claimed that gay parents are hazardous to children.
Putting us in the position of defending our parenting skills against junk science is not currently on the horizon. But given that Harper owes Ben-Ami and Quist for selling his other policies (the shoddy day-care plan, raising the age of consent, cutting up Status Of Women Canada — more on that later), we’re reluctant to rule it out.
#37: HOMOPHOBIC SLURS UNBECOMING OF PRIME MINISTER
It’s so grade four. Calling a classmate gay (or using a more colourful version thereof) is something we thought we left behind in the school yard. Certainly, if Stephen Harper were to stoop to that, he would be called a bad role model.
Alas, a cryptic comment to then interim Liberal leader Bill Graham has gone unrebuked. After coming back from the Asia summit last year, Harper was teased by Graham for having his photo taken in a silk Vietnamese robe. Harper responded that in contrast to Graham, he wears silk on the outside.
Not a big deal. But if he’s making gay jokes in the House Of Commons, what is he saying behind closed doors? Shame.
#36: GAY LAWYER SHAFTED BY HARPER HIMSELF IN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
It was a nailbiter, with the tiebreaking vote coming down to Stephen Harper himself.
When it came to pick a president for the new Conservative Party in May 2005, two candidates emerged, each garnering wide support within the party. One was gay Montreal lawyer with Progressive Conservative credentials; the other a Canadian Alliance vet, unilingual plumber Don Plett.
The party’s 18-member national council returned 9-9 secret ballot result May 21, which meant that party leader Stephen Harper had to break the tie. He picked the plumber, reminding the whole country once again that the bogey man in Harper’s past — his history of picking ideologues over moderation — is a spectre he’s chosen to reinforce over and over again.
#35: HILL JOB FOR FOCUS ON THE FAMILY PREZ: REDUX
Reason #56 bemoaned Darrel Reid’s appointment to Rona Ambrose’s office. He only lasted four months, we reminded you. But what’s much scarier is Reid’s promotion: he’s now in the PMO acting as the prime minister’s deputy director of policy and research.
Reid headed up Focus On The Family Canada from 1998 to 2004, an ideologically anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-abortion group with connections to the leaders of the US Christian right. Though the Canadian organization has traditionally enjoyed little influence outside of rural enclaves and evangelical churches, the US parent is seen as a major influence on the Republican Party and politics generally. Reid was gone by late January, meaning he lasted four months or less.
The prime minister of this country has the former leader of a reactionary religious group as his deputy director of policy and research. That’s right. It’s time to move to Norway.
#34: STOCKWELL DAY PONDERS HIRING MERCENARIES FOR AFGHANISTAN
We used to be so smug. That smugness just got a little harder to justify, thanks to controversial Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day’s recent musings on hiring a rent-an-army. The US has spent the last ten years privatizing its military operations. Scrutiny has become particularly intense since the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and the American system has been roundly criticized for its high cost, poor conditions and the companies’ lack of accountability to the public and its employees.
Now, Canada is considering the same with Day repeating the same derelect reasons as his American buddies. “To get the best system delivery at the best price, there’s a possibility for the private sector there.”
#33: WE HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN HARPER’S POLITICAL GAMES ON GAY MARRIAGE BILL
It was an extraordinary circumstance when then-PM Paul Martin agreed to extend the spring 2005 session of Parliament to legalize gay marriage. Martin, no hero of the gay community, promised to pass the Civil Marriages Act before the house rose for the summer, but Stephen Harper had different ideas.
He was publicly rebuked for his ultimatum — he called on Martin to drop the marriage bill or face stalling on a budget allocation bill, which would have caused an indefinite filibustering stalemate.
The bill did get passed in an extended session, making Harper’s temper tantrums and failed attempts at bullying all the more childish, petty and homophobic.
#32: ATTACK DOG GETS $52M LEG UP
Billing himself as a victim’s rights advocate, Steve Sullivan has made a career out of fear-mongering, lobbying governments to adopt a throw-away-the-key approach to handling people who commit crimes. Recently, he spoke to the parliamentary committee considering the age of consent as a vocal proponent of hiking it. Naturally, he and the Conservatives have a lot in common.
The Conservatives created a new job for him in March: the Canadian victims of crime ombudsman. The job comes with a $52-million budget over four years. The Bloc and NDP have raised concerns with him because he’s a unilingual Anglophone, but we think they’re missing the real dangers of giving the conservative lobbyist and talking head a big promotion.
#31: CONSERVATIVE FREE MARKET OVER CONSERVATION: BATTERED BAIRD
Tackling how this country produces and uses energy would be too expensive, environment minister John Baird told the country, so we’re going to focus on dishwashers. David Suzuki calls it “disappointing” but others used less restraint.
The whole world seems to be on the same page about global warming for the first time, except for a handful of politicians — including the increasingly embarrassing John Baird. Look, it’s bad enough that he was on hand to defend cutting the court challenges program at the Tory press conference last fall (more on that later).
When Baird was given the environment portfolio, the media picked up on Baird’s reputation as a party yes-man, capable of defending even Harper’s sleaziest political moves.
#30: CONSERVATIVES TAKE OVER FERTILITY OVERSIGHT
The board that oversees stem-cell research and fertility research was filled in Dec 2006 with anti-abortionists and critics of embryonic-cell harvesting.
Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada is headed by former Nova Scotia premier John Hamm and includes no fertility experts. Instead, the 10 members of the board mostly have records of opposing the woman’s right to choose and the advancement of research initiatives that use what is considered by many to be a super cell found in pregnant women.
The agency was set up by the Liberals to enforce laws it passed in 2004. But the first overseers of the project are Conservative appointees — which probably doesn’t bode well for the organization’s efficacy.
#29: HARPER CANS MEDICAL POT RESEARCH
It is in the context of AIDS that our community is most familiar with medical marijuana. Research has shown pot’s effectiveness in relieving the nausea associated with multi-drug therapies and in slowing late-stage wasting syndrome. Others smoke up to shake drug side effects like insomnia and headaches.
There aren’t a ton of studies on medical marijuana. Therefore, Canada’s $4-million Medical Marijuana Research Program, modest as it was, was an important part of the global study of cannabis’s potential to alleviate some of the suffering associated with illness, in particular AIDS and cancer.
That is, until Harper killed the program in October 2006, part of dozens of tiny ideological incisions resulting in a $1-billion clawback. More on that later.
#28: HARPER KEEPS SUSTAINABLE CASH FOR HOMELESS OUT OF REACH, CHAMPIONS RELIGIOUS SHELTERS
Human resources minister Diane Finley announced that funding would be renewed just before Christmas 2006. But that funding isn’t stable, it’s only good for two years. Which leaves Canada’s shelters begging again in 18 months.
But Finley’s choice of venue for her announcement — a Salvation Army — shows the influence of Christians on Harper’s government, says Christian journalist Lloyd Mackey. The Salvation Army is a branch of the Evangelical Christian Church. They’re also anti-same-sex marriage, gay sex and even premarital sex.
The messaging is intentionally designed to re-enforce our mental picture of the kind of people who make up the Conservative faithful. It almost makes you long for the days when politicians were all slimy lawyerly types.
#27: CITIES GET ZERO IN 2007 BUDGET
City finances the province’s problem, Stephen Harper and the Conseratives said on the release of the 2007 budget. Having never seen a rural economic development policy he didn’t like, Harper’s attitude is two-faced and hypocritical.
Most urban advocates now agree that the federal government is a key player — if not the key player — in the bid to fix Canada’s ailing urban infrastructure. But the Conservatives have so far quashed calls for cities to collect a portion of the gas tax, among other things.
In the face of ongoing off-loading (feds to province, province to cities), cities have reached a crisis point, with both Toronto and Ottawa producing budgets that feature big black holes. So when are the Conservatives going to step up to the plate on cities? Or is it because he sees Canada’s big cities, where the overwhelming majority of gays live, as a haven for libertines, liberals and perverts?
#26: HARPER STACKS IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE BOARD
Plans by Stephen Harper’s government to load the Immigration And Refugee Board Of Canada with partisans lead its chair, Jean-Guy Fleury, to resign in March.
Harper had let vacancies on the 156-member board grow from 5 to 60, Fleury told Parliament’s immigration committee in April. It has also led to a “mounting backlog” of claims, he said.
But what’s worse, before Harper took power, the members of IRB were not appointed by politicians and now they are. Such policy is at the discretion of the PMO, so Harper doesn’t need approval to appoint the committee’s members.
#25: CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATES IN 06 HAWK GOD
Take, for instance, Vancouver-Sunshine Coast candidate John Weston. He seems like an ideal politician: he’s a well-educated lawyer, he speaks English, French and Mandarin, he’s got a broad, friendly smile.
He’s also big on God talk, to the point of leading weekly devotionals at his law firm. Like dozens of others, Weston is part of the wave of religious Conservative candidates who were nominated for the 2006 election. The ones that were elected (think MPs Jason Kenney and Cheryl Gallant, for instance) are scary — more on that later — but the ones that weren’t yet, well those are the ones who we’ll be seeing more of if Harper gets a majority.
If candidates like Weston and Christian Legal Fellowship president Cindy Silver join Kenney and Gallant, we could be in a very precarious position indeed.
#24: NEXT ITEMS ON GAY WISH LIST EVEN LESS PALATABLE TO CONSERVATIVES
They didn’t like the things we’ve been asking for so far: protection from hate crimes and discrimination, recognition of our same-sex nuptials, the ability to adopt kids. And let’s face it, those were pretty wholesome.
As Canada’s gay and lesbian activists turn their attention to the sex laws that target them, it seems unlikely that Stephen Harper is going to thaw to our demands.
Canada’s anal sex law, which has already been struck down in five provinces, punishes those who have sex with someone under 18 with up to 10 years in jail, even though the age of consent is 14 for everything else.
Then there’s the bawdy house laws which leave bathhouse patrons in danger of being arrested. Then there’s the outdated morality-based laws around prostitution. Then there’s the ongoing harassment of gay porn (and non-porn) at the Canadian border.
These issues are less white-bread but they’re just as important, if not more so. And with stick-in-the-mud Stephen in the PMO, we’re not likely to see anything budge.
#23: HARPER STRANGLES PRESS’S ACCESS TO PMO
Stephen Harper has never had an easy time with the press. After eking out his minority in Jan 2006 (a victory he owes in part to the mainstream media’s soft sell) Harper indicated that his office would not handle the press in the traditional manner.
Harper had been trying to soften his image, but the moody PM soon grew frustrated with how he appeared on TV and in the newspaper. Eventually, he took the extraordinary step of saying he wouldn’t speak to the Parliamentary Press Gallery — claiming they were anti-Conservative.
It’s puzzling that a man trying to stop appearing bitter would throw a temper tantrum of this scale. Or that a man who is unsatisfied with his media relations, would do something so utterly alienating to them. Smooth.
#22: REPEAL HATE LAW, CONSERVATIVE MP URGES
Stephen Harper voted against the addition of gays and lesbians to hate propaganda laws in 2004. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when Renfrew Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant said that the amendments should be repealed.
Gay civil libertarians have long suggested that the hate propaganda laws should be repealed wholesale — because the restrictions they represent unduly limit free speech. But Harper’s and Gallant’s arguments at the time lacked any understanding of our community. Harper said “the term sexual orientation is legally vague.” Gallant told reporters that the term included pedophiles, and that’s why it should be repealed.
She said at the time that the whole Conservative caucus agreed with her, but others in the party officially denied it. Whether or not the hate law is a good law, Harper’s and Gallant’s comments are telling, not just about their attitudes toward gays and lesbians, but also about how neither is willing to let a sleeping dog lie. So don’t expect to be left alone if the Conservatives pick up a majority during the next election.
#21: RCMP ARRESTING LEAKS
Oh, dear. Stephen Harper used to like whistleblowers so much. Now, he appears to be intimidating those in the public service who would rat him out.
Harper’s RCMP henchman led an Environment Canada employee out of his Ottawa office in handcuffs. Darling John Baird, the environment minister, defended the action as following up on a possible breach of the public services’ code of ethics. A spokesman from the Climate Action Network has called it “a witch-hunt.”
#20: FROM THEIR OWN MOUTHS
“In the 1950s, buggery was a criminal offence, now it’s a requirement to receive benefits from the federal government,”
-Garry Breitkreuz, Conservative MP, in 2000 in response to same-sex benefits Bill C-23.
“I want the whole world to know that I do not condone homosexuals. I do not condone their activity…. I think it is unnatural and I think it is totally immoral. I will object to it forever.”
-Myron Thompson, Conservative MP, 1995
“The fact is that homosexuals aren’t barred from marrying under Canadian law. Marriage is open to everybody as long as they’re a man and a woman.”
-Jason Kenney, Conservative MP, Jan 2005
-compiled by Julia Garro
#19: LIFTING THE GAY BLOOD BAN HOPELESS UNDER HARPER
In a recent interview with Capital Xtra, the out gay Minister of Health claims that resistance to lifting the lifetime prohibition on gay blood donors comes right from the top: from Health Canada. Despite his efforts, he says, there isn’t likely to be any changes of the policy in the foreseeable future.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have spent a good deal of time harmonizing their policies — including food and drug and transportation regulations — with the US. Since our neighbours to the south have just re-confirmed that their country’s blanket ban will continue, it stands to reason so will ours.
At least, with the current administration.
#18: HARPER’S FAMILY RHETORIC IS INSULTING TO QUEER PARENTS
The branding of Harper’s social conservative agenda as “family values” — as an excuse to trounce the rights of women, gays and the poor — is just another example of twisted Conservative logic.
In the wake of a 100-study analysis of the scientific evidence, he can’t deny what we knew all along: that gay parents are just as good, if not better, than straight parents. Harper’s fear mongering be darned.
And yes, we’re waiting for an apology from him. But we’re not holding our breath.
#17: ALL PARTIES SHIFTING RIGHT IN HARPER DAYS
Harper’s ideologically-driven policies toward minorities and lack of compassion for those who’ve ended up on the wrong side of the law is bad enough. But with Harper’s agenda-setting in full force, the Liberal, Bloc and NDP are sliding into his gravitational pull.
We’ve seen it on his age of consent legislation (more on that later). We’ve seen it with mandatory minimum sentencing. And that’s just the beginning.
Look, we’re not letting Canada’s other federal parties off the hook: we think it was wrong for the NDP to endorse the Conservatives’ three-strikes legislation. We think it’s insane that three parties who voted against raising the age of consent two years ago have all flip-flopped onto the HMS Harper. And we don’t want to mitigate the blame they have to bear.
But the government sets the priorities. Another government might choose to focus on, say, marginalized people, making the lives of the most vulnerable more tenable. Harper would rather build more prisons and push teenage sexuality further underground. Shame on all the MPs that are going along with it. But shame on Harper too.
#16: HARPER COMES UP SHORT ON COMPASSION
When THIS Magazine, a Toronto-based journal of the left, published a feature on Stephen Harper’s first year in power, writer Mitch Moxley claimed the Prime Minister was the first man to hold the post who despised Canada and its values.
It might be a bit of an exaggeration, but considering Harper’s focus has been on slighting the poor and marginalized — aboriginals, gays, women — we think he might have a point.
Consider the way he treats the criminal justice system. Mandatory minimums are a way to force compassionate judges into doling out bigger sentences. Raising the age of consent takes the power away from judges to look at the particularity of an individual case. And he’s beginning to stack the judiciary with those who agree with him.
Compassion and empathy? Look elsewhere.
#15: HARPER WOULD HAVE USED THE NOTWITHSTANDING CLAUSE ON GAY MARRIAGE
During the 2004 election, Stephen Harper wouldn’t say yay or nay on what became a hot-button topic: should the feds use the notwithstanding clause in the Charter to kill the Ontario court decision legalizing same-sex marriage?
He wouldn’t rule it out for two full years, saying that it’s not up to him to make those decisions because he’s not the Prime Minister. Of course, his refusal to put such talk to bed is part of what made us so scared.
Well into the 2006 election, at the televised French-language debates, he finally said no, not on gay marriage. Of course by then he was planning to re-open the issue at the Parliamentary level.
#14: PREVENTATIVE ARRESTS BACK ON THE TABLE
Thanks to Stockwell Day, Canada could renew controversial anti-terrorist provisions that give the RCMP the ability to make “preventative arrests” and hold secret investigative hearings.
They were part of an anti-terrorism law which expired in 2006. All parties except the Conservatives rejected both provisions in February, but if the government is bent on it, it could be come an election-triggering issue.
Which means more fear, more hatred, more intolerance this time around. Yuck.
#13: FEDERAL MEDDLING HANDS RIGHT-WINGER OTTAWA MAYORALTY
When Ottawa went to the polls in Oct 2006 to select a mayor, the incumbent’s reelection bid derailed — in the end Bob Chiarelli placed third with less that 16 percent of the vote.
Early in the campaign, the emerging frontrunner was an out gay man with largely progressive views. Alex Munter, a former city councillor and coordinator of Canadian For Equal Marriage, was buoyed by a platform focusing on the development of Ottawa’s ailing neighborhoods.
The Conservative candidate, millionaire businessman Larry O?Brien, said he would re-consider the $750-million project if he were elected.
Which is where the meddling began. Conservative Ottawa MP John Baird, as the head of the Treasury Board, announced he would not ink the deal (the Feds had pledged $200 million) until there was a new council.
Which gave O’Brien the boost he needed to edge ahead of Munter, and at the end of the month, Canada’s fourth-largest city got the most right-wing mayor it had seen in at least 40 years.
#12: ANTI-SEX PM TARGETS STRIPPERS
New legislation in the house in May proves that Stephen Harper’s anti-sex steamroller shows no signs of slowing down. After pushing through C-22, a bill to raise the age of consent to 16 from 14, his latest target is foreign strippers, which he claims will help curb “human trafficking”.
The bill, as the Liberals point out, is relatively unobtrusive, since less than 10 cases would have fit under its rubric in 2005.
It’s defiantly anti-sex. Importantly, it also infantilizes women as ‘vulnerable” and “helpless” non-agents in their own lives. And that makes the legislation, at least symbolically, the intersection of two of Harper’s most conservative mandates.
#11: HARPER REMAINS ‘PERSONALLY OPPOSED’ TO ABORTION
Stephen Harper has never said that he won’t end women’s right to choose. He’s certainly never said he would leave controversial second-term abortions alone. He’s never said he wouldn’t require, for instance, mandatory counseling for women who choose to end a pregnancy.
What he has said is “A Conservative government in its first term led by me will not be bringing in abortion legislation or sponsoring an abortion referendum.”
That’s what he told CTV in 2004 after his health critic, Rob Merrifield said mandatory counseling would be a good thing for women who get an abortion.
So. This is his first term, and he’s kept his promise so far. But shouldn’t we turf him before he gets to a second one?
#10: HARPER’S HUMAN RIGHTS ALLERGY
Let’s start — it’s so hard to pick just one place — with the allegations of the torture of Afghani prisoners. What’s become increasingly obvious over the last two months of media coverage is that the Stephen Harper administration simply didn’t care whether detainees’ basic human rights were maintained. It’s absolutely shameful that Harper and his cronies hadn’t looked into it until questioned by opposition.
About a dozen of the tidbits you’ve read so far highlight his dislike of human rights (especially to gays, women and aboriginals). He even declined to attend celebrations of 25 years of Canada’s Charter.
Human rights talk really upsets social conservatives. It’s hard to tell which part of the basic dignity of a human life they find so displeasing — equality for one, duh — but that allergy is one Harper has internalized, not just in his domestic policies but on the international stage too.
#9: TORIES HAVE WORST OF ‘BIG BROTHER’ INTERNET BILLS
This would make sense if we lived in, say, China. But the 39th Parliament has introduced not one but three private member’s bills designed to kill the anonymous free-market-of-ideas ideals of the Internet and mandate ISPs to keeps its customers under surveillance.
The bill introduced by NDP MP Peter Stoffer (C-214) would hold Internet service providers (ISPs) criminally liable for the material transmitted — a situation analogous to be Bell being criminally responsible for a death threat transmitted over its phone lines.
The Libs’ plan (C-416, introduced by justice critic Marlene Jennings) would force ISPs to integrate monitoring and data collection technologies into their “service” as a way to help police nab its users. It amounts to surveillance and interception of personal information with no judicial oversight.
Not to be out-done, Conservative MP Joy Smith introduced a bill (C-427) with such broad strokes it’s hard to know where to begin. How about content blocking? The minister of industry would be granted new powers to censor the Internet of material that falls into three broad categories: promotes violence against women, promotes hatred, or contains child pornography (and remember that Canada has one of the most far-reaching definitions of kiddie porn in the world). The minister would also have the power to open up data networks to searches on a whim.
Police state, here we come.
#8: SAFE INJECTION SITES IN JEOPARDY
Stephen Harper said in Dec 2006 that Vancouver’s Insite, a supervised injection site, won’t get its project extended until 2010 — instead, health minister Tony Clement announced a sunset clause date: Dec 31, 2007.
That follows comments made in 2005 that he wouldn’t use taxpayer’s money to fund the injection site, even though it would be a lot more expensive if these fellows contracted HIV or hepatitis C. Needle exchange programs and safe injection sites allow social workers and nurses access to drug users. The Vancouver site refers hundreds of people to counseling every year.
The site has also greatly reduced the number of overdoses in Vancouver’s troubled Lower Eastside. Because of federal regulations, Vancouver needed to get an exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs And Substances Act; Insite has widespread support in the city.
#7: HARPER SNUBS TORONTO AIDS CONFERENCE
“Sleep in, Steve?” became the rallying cry for the 20,000 activists, scientists and politicians who descended on Toronto Aug 13, 2006. The event was the largest AIDS conference ever held, and participants were demanding major contributions under the banner “Time to deliver.”
The fallout of Stephen Harper’s absence snowballed after the event’s co-chair Dr Mark Wainberg gave the PM a verbal spanking during opening ceremonies. The same day, Dr Stephen Lewis did a round of national TV interviews where he called Harper’s decision “a mistake” and “a slap in the face.”
This spring, a sheepish Harper announced a $111-million initiative to find an AIDS vaccine, an announcement he made in a photo op with billionaire Bill Gates, and was left defending himself against allegations he was vote-buying.
It was a chilling reminder of the ways Harper is living in his ideological head. It was a reminder of his refusal to deal with people in their everyday lives, his aversion to issues related to sex and drugs, and his lack of compassion.
#6: HARPER ALWAYS VOTES AGAINST GAY MARRIAGE
Sep 16, 2003: Harper votes in favour of a motion asking Parliament to do everything it can to preserve the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage.
Apr 12, 2005: Harper tried to amend equal marriage Bill C-38 to define marriage as between one man and one woman, while allowing gays civil unions
May 4, 2005: Harper votes against Bill C-38 at second reading
Jun 25, 2005: Harper votes against Bill C-38 at third reading
Dec 7, 2006: Harper votes to “re-open” the equal marriage debates
He lost all five of these votes. But then, he didn’t have a majority. His backward views on gay marriage come from a religious belief in the “traditional” and “natural”-ness of opposite sex nuptials, according to his Parliamentary speeches on the subject.
The staff at Xtra.ca aren’t too hung up on gay marriage. As lesbian literary icon Jane Rule says, “I’m not against people marrying if they want to, but I just wish they didn’t want to.”
Still, the consistent opposition we have faced from Harper on this issue is indicative of terrifying pattern of rejection of gay and lesbian issues.
#5: DOZENS OF MURDERED WOMEN DON’T FAZE HARPER
Many saw the murders of dozens of street prostitutes in Vancouver’s Lower Eastside as a call to arms. Out lesbian Libby Davies, who represents the troubled riding, called on the government to end the oppressive sex laws that left these women so vulnerable to attack. A parliamentary subcommittee on sex work toured the country and for the first time in Canadian history, MPs heard directly from those involved in the sex trade about what needs to be done to fix the patchwork of legislation.
As the trial of Robert Pickton began in BC, Harper made an announcement Jan 26. Dealing with prostitution is “a separate issue” from the trial, he said. While he said he reacted with “horror” and “outrage” at news reporting on the court hearings, he was unmoved.
Given that the release of the parliamentary report on sex work coincided with the start of the Pickton trial, there has been no better opportunity to date to take these laws off the books. But Harper’s squandered it.
#4: STATUS OF WOMEN CANADA OVERHAULED
When Stephen Harper made his first billion dollars in cuts, the operating budget of Status Of Women Canada was slashed by $5 million, or 40 percent. On International Women’s Day, $5 million was returned, with the Conservatives calling it new money.
As a federal department, Status Of Women Canada (SWC) was the only government arm to tackle inequalities at a national level. In that vein, the Women’s Program financed research and policy development through advocacy. The goal was to make substantive strides to reach equality at a national level.
Under the Conservatives, the word ‘equality’ is gone. The Women’s Program finances direct, local initiatives only, and advocacy and most research is unfundable.
According to the Canadian Feminist Alliance For International Action: “The current terms and conditions aim to provide “direct” and “local” assistance. This is very much based on a charity model which ignores the systemic issues behind the problem at hand. Instead of providing analysis and aiming for legal change the current approach privileges a case by case basis, almost as if women’s poverty and violence against women were exceptions, aberrations to the norm. This approach is not meant to result in any significant change and does not challenge the status quo.”
Maybe Harper likes the status quo, where women are concerned.
#3: HARPER CRIMINALIZES YOUTH SEXUALITY
You can only say it so many times before you have to reevaluate what’s going on. Nearly a dozen health, legal and queer experts appearing before the justice committee this winter told the Conservatives that raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 was dangerous. It will create extra barriers to accessing contraceptives, abortions and sexual health information for young people and it’s unlikely to change their behaviors.
With a bit of distance, it’s easy to imagine what the Conservatives would have thought about this argument: Yeah, so? The Conservatives appear happy that bill C-22 will limit young people’s access to condoms and abortions.
The bill has been condemned by every major gay and lesbian lobby group: Egale, the Coalition For Lesbians And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO), The Sex Laws Committee, The Committee To Abolish The 19th Century, The Canadian AIDS Society, Planned Parenthood and the youth-led Age Of Consent Committee.
The Cons have been trying to raise the age of consent for years, mostly through private member’s bills. The rhetoric used by the Conservatives suggests we might have to fight against raising the age of consent to 18 soon.
#2: HARPER NIXES CHARTER CHALLENGE CASH, LEAVING ACCESS TO THE RICH
Money from the Court Challenges Program helped the queer community win equal marriage rights through the courts in BC, Ontario, and Quebec. When government sent questions to the Supreme Court in 2004, Egale was there to help make the legal case that gay and lesbian marriage was a charter issue — with the help of the Court Challenges Program money.
The rationale behind the Court Challenges Program goes something like this: we have a Charter Of Rights in Canada. It protects Canadians from having their basic human rights infringed upon, whether by people or the government. But how can you even entertain the idea of equal treatment if those with big bank accounts take the issue to court?
Because Charter challenges affect whole communities, it was thought worthwhile for the government to help cover the costs of some challenges. Canada’s minority communities — women, queers, aboriginals, people with disabilities — stood to gain the most from the program.
Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government killed the program in 1992 but Jean Chrétien’s Liberals revived it two years later. Harper cut the program last fall, but this time we’re hoping history repeats itself.