Friday, August 03, 2012

Harper and Flanagan are a couple of wusses

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his onetime sidekick Tom Flanagan are couple of wusses.

I say that because neither man seems willing to take on their ideological opponents in a fair fight.

If anything, they want to use state power to silence their adversaries.

And to me this is extremely troubling.

I come from an era when conservatives were willing and eager on take on the left. The group I used to work for -- the National Citizens Coalition--- certainly wasn’t afraid to tackle all comers.

During my 20 years or so at the NCC, we battled big union bosses, bureaucrats and politicians of every partisan stripe.

True, we didn’t win every tilt, but our opponents always knew they had been in a fight.

Indeed, the NCC of my day left so many bruises on so many sacred cows, the political establishment decided to strike back.

In 2000, then Prime Minister Jean Chretien enacted what we called a “gag law.”

This law had one purpose and one purpose only: to silence groups like the NCC during federal elections.

It imposed strict limits on how much money individuals or organizations could spend on “political advertising”, meaning the NCC could no longer freely or effectively express its views.

Of course, we tried to fight back. Under our then president - Stephen Harper -- the NCC valiantly waged a costly legal battle against the gag law all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Harper argued the gag law was an infringement on every Canadian’s right to free expression; he argued it would give professional politicians a monopoly on setting the election agenda; he argued it would have a chilling effect on democracy.

Alas, this was a fight the NCC and Harper didn’t win; the Supreme Court ultimately ruled the gag law constitutional.

It was a stunning loss for the NCC and an even bigger loss for freedom -- yet all hope was not lost.

In 2004, Harper, who by then was running for the leadership of the Conservative party, signed a pledge to repeal the gag law.

Yet six years have passed since Harper became Prime Minister and still he has not kept his promise to restore free speech to Canadians.

The gag law is still on the books.

And so Harper is now treating his adversaries the way Chretien treated the NCC.

Maybe like Chretien, Harper sees the advantage of a law which censors his opponents.

Or to put it another way, maybe he is just afraid of open, unfettered election debate.

And Harper isn’t the only Conservative displaying intellectual cowardice.

Tom Flanagan, an academic, a prominent conservative and Harper’s former campaign manager, recently wrote a column calling for Ontario to impose its own Chretien-style gag law.

Flanagan, like Harper, once opposed gag laws as attack on free speech.

So why does he support them now?

Well it seems he doesn’t like the fact that a union front group called “Working Families” spent a lot of money on ads in the last provincial election, urging voters not to support the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

To Flanagan this sort of advertising is wrong, which suggests he only believes in free speech as long as he agrees with what’s being said.

Of course, if Flanagan and Harper had confidence in the value of their ideals, they wouldn’t need to rely on gag laws.

They would be willing to put their principles to the test and let voters decide.

At any rate, Harper and Flanagan should come out and openly admit their fear of debate.

At least then they would be honest wusses.

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