Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Harper, the NCC and Democracy Watch

It’s time to set the record straight when it comes to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Court Challenges Program and Democracy Watch.

Left-wing critics have been trying to make the case that the Prime Minister scrapped the Court Challenges Program out of some sort vindictive desire to settle an old score.

Linda McQuaig, for instance, tried to weave such a conspiracy theory in a recent column.

Writes McQuaig:

One of the perks of being prime minister is getting to use your power to settle old scores and crush opponents.

This sort of vindictive motivation appears to lie behind the announcement by Stephen Harper's government last week that it's cutting the $5 million funding of the Court Challenges Program.

The program played a crucial role in defeating a legal case launched by Harper himself in 2000.
Harper was then head of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), an ultra-right, business-funded group. The NCC wanted to strike down a federal law limiting spending by groups like itself during election campaigns.

Democracy Watch, a citizens' advocacy group, wanted to preserve the law, seeing spending limits as crucial in preventing well-heeled groups like the NCC from unduly influencing elections. But Democracy Watch lacked the resources to fight Harper's rich business group.

Enter the Court Challenges Program, which was set up to counterbalance the advantage the wealthy enjoy in being able to finance costly legal battles.

The program provided funding to Democracy Watch and the National Anti-Poverty Organization, thereby empowering these groups representing ordinary citizens to challenge Harper's rich business coalition in court.

The case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, became known as “Harper vs. Canada“ — a prophetic name if ever there was one. In the end, the citizens groups, with funding from the Court Challenges Program, scored a stunning victory over Harper's business crowd.

Last week was apparently payback time.

I’ll ignore the ridiculous smear attack on the NCC and focus instead on the real problem with McQuaig’s argument.

She makes it seem as if the gag law legal fight consisted of only two sides, the big, bad, NCC against Democracy Watch a small “citizens’ advocacy group” that relied on government funds.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, if anybody was the underdog it was the NCC!

Yes we faced off against Democracy Watch in the gag law court battle, but that group was not our real opponent.

Our real opponent was really the political establishment. Arrayed against us in the Supreme Court of Canada was not only the federal government but also the provincial governments of Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario.

For every dollar we spent in this case our government opponents could spend many thousands.

In other words, Democracy Watch did not score a “stunning victory”. If anything it was a minor player in the legal drama. The NCC lost to the state.

So it’s absurd to think Harper would hold any sort of grudge against the CCP because of the gag law fight. Never at any time, did we think Democracy Watch was the real enemy, a nuisance yes, but not a threat.

Indeed, until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know the CCP had funded Democracy Watch in this case.

My advice to McQuaig and her other left-wing cohorts, is to go back to the drawing board.

I hope the next time they need to come up with an anti-Harper theory, that at least come up with something that's slightly rooted in reality.

1 comment:

Miles Lunn said...

Even though I support the Court Challenges Program its mandate ought to be changed. It shouldn't be allowed to assist those siding with the government since the government already has endless amount of money.

Besides didn't Environment Voters intervene on the side of the NCC and I believe they are generally a left wing group.