A devastating first year of Conservative majority rule in Canada

The mainstream media is marking its report cards for the one-year anniversary under Harper Conservative majority rule. The bromides are calming—the Globe and Mail editorial gives the Conservative majority a positive spin—“more ups than downs”—while its reporter, John Ibbitson, wrote a piece nearly oozing with reverence for the prime minister.

It is clear we all have our biases. I only entered politics back in 2006 because I feared what a Harper minority government would do to decades of environmental law and policy. I have been very critical of the cuts to climate science, retreat from Kyoto commitments, and sabotage of climate negotiations internationally since 2006. But with that bias out in the open, I believe the last year has been the most devastating in Canadian history for parliamentary democracy, for charter rights, to collective bargaining and trade union rights, for evidence-based public policy, and for environmental law and protection. And, of course, the damage to climate policy was accelerated.

Here’s the evidence:

  1. Abuse of democracy: Every piece of government legislation introduced since the election has had time allocation applied to limit debate, smashing through historical records. Parliamentary committees have been meeting increasingly in secret. Omnibus legislation, forcing massive legislative changes through one bill, has been used, further depriving Parliament of adequate time to analyze and improve legislation. The auditor general’s report on the F-35 issue makes it clear that Parliament was not given accurate information about the cost of the fighter jets, even after the true cost was known within cabinet. No need to detail here the simmering scandal of electoral fraud and robocalls.
  2. Charter rights: The omnibus crime bill included nine separate pieces of legislation. Many sections involving mandatory minimum sentences arguably violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As well, the new refugee law, C-31, will require political refugee claimants arriving by boat (or anything the minister deems as “irregular entry”) to face automatic internment for up to a year without access to judicial review. This will include children between 16 and 18.
  3. Collective bargaining: The intervention by the federal Parliament into Air Canada labour disputes (twice) and Canada Post’s lock-out of its workers undermines labour rights. So, too, does the Conservative party-supported private member’s bill to impose more financial transparency on labour unions than on other professional groupings, such as law societies.
  4. Control of information: The Harper majority government has been the most closed and non-transparent in history. The number of people working in the Prime Minister’s Office has expanded, with its now over $10 million per year budget. Most of the PMO staff are described as “information officers”. Their job is to block access to information. No public servants or government scientists can speak to the media without permission; neither can they speak to MPs.
  5. Evidence-free decision making: Once again the omnibus crime bill must be mentioned. A “tough on crime” agenda was unhinged from the reality of falling crime rates. No amount of evidence from criminologists that mandatory minimums do not reduce crime rates, nor that it was unwise to pass the bill without estimates for the cost of new prisons, made a dent in the Conservative majority mantra that any opposition MP who objected was siding with criminals and showed no concern for victims. The budgetary cuts are now disproportionately targeting Statistics Canada. Who can deny that the Harper brand of Conservatism is an evidence-free zone?
  6. Assault on the natural world: The gloves are off. Harper and company have taken aim at environmental groups and First Nations opposed to the Enbridge supertanker scheme calling them “radicals” and labelling MPs who oppose the project as “against Canada”. While selling out our resources to China, without national security checks, Stephen Harper has promised Beijing the Enbridge project will proceed. In order to achieve this goal, come hell or high water, environmental laws are being eviscerated. And the sweeping changes are concealed in C-38, the budget implementation bill. The National Energy Board will now have jurisdiction over endangered species and navigable waters, if they occur in the way of any proposed pipeline. Meanwhile, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is repealed (under C-38) with an entirely new approach to replace it. The new law will restrict the study of impacts of major projects to areas “under the legislative authority of Parliament”—confined to fish and migratory birds. Where, in the past, an environmental review at the federal level was the most rigorous and comprehensive, new federal reviews would be a joke by Third World standards. The removal of habitat protection under the Fisheries Act is also part of the budget bill. So too, repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy Act. Meanwhile, $8 million has been freed up to harass environmental charities.

Canadians must not remain silent. It is not only one area of public policy or one ecosystem that is threatened. Canada, our values and our traditions, are at risk.

Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Originally published in the Georgia Straight.