Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stephen Harper Declares "I am Not a Crook"

There have been many comparisons made between Stephen Nixon and Richard Harper ... er ... I mean Stephen Harper and Richard Nixon, but our PM's latest performance in the House of Commons, has sealed the deal.

Move over George Bush. You are no longer Harper's favourite Republican.

Even before Stevie illegally taped a conference call of Jack Layton's and broadcast it to the media, many people were noticing the similarities between the two men.

Richard Nixon was the first to use the term "God Bless America" at the end of his speeches and Stephen Harper was the first PM to say "God Bless Canada" at the end of his, but the parallels are actually more profound.

There was an article in the UK Guardian, in April of 2008, that sums it up nicely.

The Canadian Nixon
Stephen Harper's feud with Elections Canada is just the latest front in his war against government institutions
Dimitry Anastakis and Jeet Heer
April 24, 2008

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is in trouble with Elections Canada, the government body that runs the vote in Canada. They've accused him of overspending in the last election and have even gotten the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to raid the Conservative party's headquarters to find incriminating evidence. In response Harper and his followers have lashed out against Elections Canada, accusing it of a partisan witch hunt.

The whole sorry situation shouldn't surprise anyone who has paid attention. Every prime minister has a modus operandi. Harper's is his utter contempt, shown not once but many times, for Canadian institutions. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that Harper simply sees many Canadian institutions - Elections Canada being simply his latest target - as illegitimate, not just in need of reform but worth attacking root-and-branch.

The historian Garry Wills once observed that Richard Nixon wanted to be president not to govern the nation but to undermine the government. The Nixon presidency was one long counterinsurgency campaign against key American institutions like the courts, the FBI, the state department and the CIA. Harper has the same basic approach to politics: attack not just political foes but the very institutions that make governing possible. The state for Nixon and Harper exists not as an instrument of policy making but as an alien force to be subdued.

Canadians have never had a prime minister who has literally made his career attacking and undermining the legitimacy of Canadian institutions.

Until now.

For instance, in his long-running
war against the media, Harper has taken every opportunity to de-legitimise their role in holding his government to account. He refuses to take questions. He speaks only to friendly media outlets. He claims that "national outlets" are biased.

Remember, this is a PM who does not let cabinet ministers speak to the media, and even hides the place and times of cabinet meetings in an effort to avoid questions from the fourth estate.

Along with the media, another of Harper's favourite targets is the Canadian court system. Conservatives love to attack what they call "judge-made law", which really means any decisions that conservatives don't like.

Take same-sex marriage, for example. In 2003, Harper condemned the courts for saying that marriage laws were unconstitutional. He even personally attacked Ontario judge Roy McMurtry, and claimed a Liberal conspiracy: "They put the judges in they wanted," to get the result, Harper accused, even though McMurtry was appointed by Conservative Brian Mulroney.

This anti-court animus is rampant within Harper's inner circle. His chief of staff, academic Ian Brodie, wrote that financially strapped and historically underrepresented groups such as women, ethnic and linguistic minorities, and gays, should have their court funding cut.

Presto - one of Harper's first acts in office was to cut funding for those very groups so that they could no longer make their case at the supreme court.

Then there is the Senate. Harper and his allies hate the Senate. A long-held bugaboo of Harper's Reform party roots, our prime minister never misses a chance to attack the Senate. He'd like to see the Senate be equal, making it even more undemocratic than it is now. Should Price Edward Island (population 130,000) have as many Senate votes as Ontario (population 12 million)?

Harper actually made comments in Australia, touring in his official capacity as head of our government, attacking the constitutionally legitimate Senate, to a foreign audience. Is this standing up for Canada?

Now, many Canadians would like to see the Senate reformed. This is a worthwhile goal. But in the meantime, all Canadians understand that the Senate is a part of our Parliament, created by the 1867 British North America Act.

But Harper has attacked the legitimacy of the Commons, even. After the 2005 same-sex-marriage vote passed, Harper claimed, as leader of the Opposition, that the result was not legitimate because it included the votes of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Of course, he did not question the legitimacy of those same votes when the Paul Martin government lost the confidence of the Commons. Harper wanted an election. As for the functioning of the Commons itself, the National Post's Don Martin famously uncovered the Conservative's "black book" of procedural dirty tricks, designed to slow parliamentary action to a halt. Another way to de-legitimise another Canadian institution: paralyse committees, have your committee chairs run out and refuse to bring things to a vote - especially when they bring the government into question.

Most disturbing is Harper's continued attacks upon Elections Canada. The recent raid on Conservative party headquarters is more of a reflection of Harper's disdain for Elections Canada than any supposed "vendetta" conspiracy-minded Conservatives might imagine. Harper's animus toward Elections Canada goes back years, as do his attempts to circumvent electoral law.

As head of the right-wing National Citizens Coalition (NCC), Harper fought for years against Elections Canada's laws around "third-party advertising". The NCC, a murky organisation that does not release its membership, brought a court case against Elections Canada, infamously named Harper v Canada. Though Harper lost, during his time at the NCC he took every chance to attack the legitimacy of Elections Canada and the country's electoral law.

As prime minister, Harper's shocking comments about Elections Canada's investigation of the "in and out" scam alleged by the agency are perhaps the most alarming outburst by any sitting prime minister. Desperate to take Canadians' focus off the Conservatives' allegedly illegal overspending during the 2006 campaign, Harper actually publicly criticised the head of Elections Canada for upholding the law over the non-issue of veiled voting (why didn't he attack the 80,000 people who voted via mail?).

This is unprecedented in Canadian political history. Never has a prime minister publicly attacked a non-partisan election official in such a manner, essentially for partisan gain. The same goes for most of his party, which this week accused Elections Canada of a partisan witch-hunt, being in bed with the Liberals and the media and any other number of tin-foil-hat conspiracies. Of course, unsurprisingly, Harper and the Conservatives have blocked every other effort to examine the scheme in Parliament.

But then again, no one should be surprised. If it's not the media, or the courts, or the Senate, or Elections Canada, it's the Wheat Board, the federal government's own spending power, the bureaucracy, the gun registry ... .

Canadians should rightly wonder why their head of government has such a problem with so many Canadian institutions.

Now it's 2009, and once again Stephen Harper is emulating his hero.

PM threatens Ignatieff with old tapes
`Every day that goes by he's more like Richard Nixon,' Liberal leader says after Harper comment
May 28, 2009
Richard J. Brennan

OTTAWA–In a move described as "Nixonian," Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested he would release potentially damaging videotapes of Michael Ignatieff after the Liberal leader called on Harper to fire Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

During question period yesterday, Harper told the Commons he had lots of videotapes featuring Ignatieff, raising the spectre of using them to discredit the opposition leader before and during the next election campaign.

"I cannot fire the Leader of the Opposition and with all the tapes I have on him, I do not want to," he said.

Ignatieff described the comment as the "most Nixonian" of Harper's many remarks to him. "Every day that goes by, he's more like Richard Nixon," Ignatieff told reporters.

While U.S. president, Nixon installed secret audio recording systems in the Oval Office, his cabinet room and at Camp David and surreptitiously recorded hundreds of conversations from February 1971 through July 1973.

"We are in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the Second World War and the Prime Minister ... is wasting his time listening to tapes of me," Ignatieff said.

Yesterday, Ignatieff called for Flaherty to be fired after he announced Tuesday that the federal budget deficit will be more than $50 billion, up from his projection of $34 billion earlier this year.

Ignatieff is the target of Tory political attack ads focusing on comments he made before he entered politics and criticizing him for living out of the country for 34 years.

"I will not be intimidated by the Prime Minister. I've got a job to do, which is to hold him to account," Ignatieff said.

The Conservatives are reported to have hundreds of hours of video clips of Ignatieff speeches and interviews and hope to mine a lifetime of his musings from his career as a journalist, author and public intellectual.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) told the Star all Harper has left is "mudslinging" to divert the public's attention away from "the appalling economic situation he's got all of us in.

"We have really stooped to a new low in Canadian politics if that's what it comes down to in the time of economic crisis," Martin said.

"His tone implied something sinister on Ignatieff. It is the cheapest kind of mudslinging because it invokes suspicion without any real substance."

So what tapes is he talking about? Lectures from when Ignatieff was teaching at Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. Clips from Ignatieff's Gemini award winning documentary? If there was anything that was actually incriminating in the tapes that Harper and the Conservatives have wasted time watching, he'd have broadcast it by now. He just has to finish cherry picking and splicing to make them fit his accusations.

Ironically when Harper's 1997 hate speech, from when he was with the NCC surfaced, his spokesperson said that his comments were made when he was a private citizen and that he no longer hated Canada.

When Tom Lukiwski's drunken video surfaced, he said that he no longer hated women and gays.

Apparently there are two sets of rules in Harper/Nixon world.

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