3 min

Beware of silver-tongued Conservatives

Harper suddenly a champion of human rights, my ass

In advance of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference in Vietnam in November, it looked like Chinese president Hu Jintao was all set to freeze Prime Minister Stephen Harper out of the clique of nations lined up to kiss the burning ring of China’s rapidly emerging market.

Hu didn’t want to talk about China’s abysmal human rights record with Harper, but in a pre-election effort to at least appear like a true champion of the people, Harper insisted.

“I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide, and we do that, but I don’t think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values,” Harper told the Canadian Press Nov 15. “They don’t want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar.”

And Hu did meet with Harper in the end. Harper called the discussion “very frank,” but said he didn’t think it was appropriate to reveal specific details of what the two men talked about.

“If you run out of private discussions every 10 minutes and give a play-by-play of everything that was said, nobody will have a frank discussion with you,” he said.

The Chinese just called the meeting “quite brief.”

It was an admirable and inspiring performance, for sure, by the prime minister of a minority government looking to eclipse a Liberal leadership convention in the press as an election approaches. Just as Canadians were left momentarily speechless at Harper’s nation-within-a-united-Canada stunt, we’re left bewildered as this social conservative economist suddenly beguiles us with his concern for social justice.

Harper wants us to believe that the Conservatives are champions for human rights, that they’ve got the solution to the national unity chestnut, that our financial future will be secure under their stewardship and even that they have a plan to cure cancer.


It was less than a year ago when, during his first meeting with US president George W Bush, Harper posed instead as a champion of softwood lumber. There were no reports then of talk about human rights or the importance of protecting Canadian values from the whims of the almighty dollar; just that the Americans were welcome to keep $1-billion of the illegal duties on Canadian softwood they’d collected since 2002.

By July, Bush and Harper were so chummy, Bush had taken to calling the Prime Minister “Steve.”

“If a guy buys 85 percent of our exports, and wants to call me Steve, that’s okay with me,” Harper told a Calgary crowd on Jul 11.

Bush told reporters in March that he and Harper shared “mutual values” and “respect for human life and human dignity.” He didn’t say that those common values of respect and dignity inexplicably include a specific exclusion of marriage rights for queer people.

During that love-in, there was nary a peep from Harper on the Bush administration’s crusade in Iraq or the vast but unknown number of civilian casualties in that conflict. Harper hasn’t expressed any trepidation about the Bush administration’s choice to suspend habeas corpus rights for anyone suspected–no matter how flimsy the evidence–of terror. Harper hasn’t asked Bush to please refrain from torture, or suggested that curbing the privacy rights of Americans might be in conflict with Bush’s relentless freedom-and-democracy rhetoric.

Harper hasn’t spoken about the Bush administration’s obvious incompetence in reaction to Hurricane Katrina or its horribly irresponsible runaway spending; two examples of how poor Americans wind up shouldering the consequences of the administration’s hopeless greed and incompetence.

And let’s not forget that Harper has committed Canada to a war in Afghanistan until at least 2009.

“Four years after the end of the brutal excesses of the Taliban government, Afghan authorities supported by the US-led coalition, including Canada, are still jailing teenagers convicted of homosexuality and women accused of adultery, eloping or running away from their husbands,” read a February Canadian Press report.

I wrote to Conservative defence minister Gordon O’Connor after I read that.

“I am confident you will appreciate how distressing this revelation must be to Canadian women and members of the queer community,” I wrote. I attached a few simple questions:

“If the Taliban’s political foes have been released from Afghan jails, why not gay people and women?” and “How can the Canadian government reconcile what are considered human rights abuses at home with the role of Canadian troops abroad?”

And, three months later, he wrote me back. But he didn’t answer any of my questions.

“International law provides for the transfer of detainees to other national authorities as long as the detaining power is satisfied that the receiving national authority is willing and able to apply the appropriate legal standards,” he wrote. “The Government of Canada has every assurance and confidence that the Government of Afghanistan is applying those standards.”

So, I can only infer that, for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, “appropriate legal standards” don’t include protections for queer people or women who choose their own paths. And as for Harper’s objection to Chinese human rights abuses, there’s just not one shred of sincerity or credibility to be found in his words or actions.