Within weeks of being elected in 2006, Stephen Harper limited access to his government, by both the media and the public. He closed down a searchable database that provided easier access to information, and forbid any questioning of his ministers, without his approval, and even then questions had to be presented in advance.
Time magazine found Harper's actions so disturbing that they published an article on it: Controlling the Message. In the piece, Alasdair Roberts, a Syracuse University public-policy professor, asks, "How can the average Canadian make a judgment about whether their government is being well run if they don't have access to the information?"
A very good question, but what Roberts may not know is that since that time, things have only gotten worse.
Harper's office has been taking their own press photos, creating their own videos (Taxpayers on hook for $1.7-million as PMO rolls out video, By Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press, December 08, 2009), and have made most media events by "invitation only".
They scripted their response to accusations of detainee abuse as early as 2007, causing one NATO official to suggest that Stephen Harper's office used a "6,000-mile screwdriver" to oversee the denial process. Canada became the only country with troops in Afghanistan, not to have an independent media, and all news of the war, was directed from the PMO.
They have created a 200 page manual that caucus members must use to disrupt Parliamentary committees and a Purple File where embarrassing information requests are kept and dealt with directly by Harper's team.
None of this is surprising to those of us who have tracked Stephen Harper's career from Reform Party policy wonk to leading the National Citizens Coalition.
The annual gathering of the Writers' Union of Canada took place in Ottawa in June, with many former chairs on hand to offer memories of their time in office. Susan Crean remembered encountering a young, blue-eyed politico at a constitutional conference in Calgary in 1992. When the man learned that she had co-authored a certain book about American domination of Canadian and Quebec politicians, the man responded: "You should not have been allowed to write that book."We recently learned that Harper has added another very disturbing element to his message control. He will now be censoring the RCMP. Our RCMP.
The man: Stephen Harper. Crean never forgot his words, but especially the word allowed. The room full of writers in Ottawa issued a gasp. Crean later elaborated on the encounter. "Harper spoke to me first and asked if I had written 'that book.' I asked which one, and he mentioned Two Nations, which I wrote with Quebec activist/sociologist and well known independentiste Marcel Rioux. ... Harper was clearly still angry about having had to read it at university. In his view, I took it, the book was treasonous. I was so shaken by his words, and his open hostility, that I immediately left the dining room." (A less proud country, By Lawrence Scanlan, Straightgoods, August 9, 2010)
The Star obtained a copy of a new communications protocol that requires the RCMP to flag anything that might “garner national media attention” to Public Safety Canada. Everything from “media advisories, news releases, background info, media lines and talking points for spokespersons and senior officials/members” must be vetted.Is there anything left that would make Canada not a totalitarian country? If you know of something please share it with me, because this is very frightening.
Statements by RCMP members who appear before parliamentary committees would likely be massaged by the federal government beforehand, as the document clearly defines a “major event” as “an incident, event, announcement, and/or speaking engagement likely to garner national media attention.”
Ursula Franklin -- the celebrated physicist, pacifist, author and Companion of the Order of Canada -- recently spoke to CBC Radio's The Current. She had survived a Nazi death camp and come to Canada hoping for better. Now 88, Franklin is "profoundly worried about the absence and erosion of democracy in Canada." (Scanlan 2010)