Sunday, September 16, 2012

Anti-Harper Narrative Hits a Bump

I feel a little embarrassed for Canada’s media elite.

For the past few years many of their number have been carefully crafting a narrative which cast Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a wannabe-dictator, or as a New World Mussolini, or as an Attila the Hun impersonator.

What I mean is, they told us again and again that Harper and his minions were intent on eroding Canadian democracy and squashing human rights.

Scary stuff!!

But then something happened to upset their apple cart.

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation - a group that believes “freedom, democracy and human rights are the fundamental values that give nations of the world their best hope for peace, security and shared prosperity” - announced it was presenting Harper with its "World Statesman of the Year" award for being a champion of democracy.


If Harper was such a despot, why is he getting this prestigious award?

Something clearly didn't make sense.

Thankfully, after this award was announced, the Harper detractors came to their senses and apologized to the Prime Minister and to Canadians for their exaggerated fear-mongering about Harper’s agenda.

Ha, I'm just joking.

Of course, what they really did was attack the Foundation.

A case in point is the Toronto Star’s Bob Hepburn who recently wrote a column explaining why The Appeal of Conscience Foundation was wrong to honour Harper.

It begs for a rebuttal.

Unfortunately, as it’s so chock full of logical fallacies and ridiculous arguments a simple letter to the editor could not do it justice.

Accordingly, I have reproduced the column in its entirety with my commentary  in bold.

Check it out:
Stephen Harper’s democracy award a sad joke on Canadians
by Bob Hepburn

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation will give Stephen Harper its World Statesman of the Year award for being a champion of democracy.

With great fanfare, an international organization has announced it is honouring Stephen Harper as its World Statesman of the Year for his work as a “champion of democracy, freedom and human rights.”

Harper will accept the award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which was created by a New York rabbi in 1965, at a reception on Sept. 27 in New York City.

Harper won the award largely because of his support for Israel and his criticism of Iran.

Clearly, though, the foundation either blatantly ignored or didn’t know that Harper is arguably the worst prime minister in history when it comes to defending democracy and human rights in Canada.

Translation: The people who give out this award must be complete morons who probably don’t even subscribe to the Toronto Star or watch CBC TV.

Oh and calling Harper the "worst prime minister in history when it comes to defending democracy and human rights" is so absurdly over the top, it's laughable. What about Mackenzie King’s human rights record when it came to Japanese-Canadians during World War II or what about Pierre Trudeau invoking the War Measures Act?

Indeed, Harper’s record of abuse of democracy here at home over the past few years makes a mockery of his award as Statesman of the Year.

It’s a sad indictment for the foundation, which according to its website “believes that freedom, democracy and human rights are the fundamental values that give nations their best hope for peace, security and shared prosperity.”

In the past, the foundation has bestowed its award on some of the world’s top leaders, including former prime minister Jean Chrétien. The foundation also boasts a distinguished board of trustees and advisers, such as former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

I suspect Hepburn Googled the phrase, “Past winners of Appeal to Conscience Foundation Award,” hoping to find the award had been given out in the past to people like Richard Nixon or August Pinochet or George W. Bush, so he could then slam the group as a bunch of right wing zealots. Imagine the massive disappointment he must have felt when he saw Chretien listed as a past recipient!!  Were the Foundation people ignorant when they gave him the award?

Since he became prime minister in 2006, however, Harper has systematically assaulted democracy in Canada, overlooking — and in some cases condoning — clear cases where our democratic institutions and traditions were undermined.

So outraged are Canadians by Harper’s actions that many of them have started to fight back to save our democracy, launching letter-writing campaigns, tweeting politicians, signing petitions and joining local and national organizations promoting citizen engagement.

Yes indeed, “tweeting politicians” and “signing petitions” are sure signs of massive national outrage!! The anti-Harper Revolution must be just around the corner. On the other hand, there are subtle signs Canadians are actually less than outraged with the government’s agenda. One such sign, which Hepburn may have missed, is that Canadians recently gave Harper a majority government.

Harper’s record of abuse and assault on democracy and rights in Canada is long and well documented.

In April, his government killed the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights & Democracy), which for 24 years had promoted democracy and monitored human rights around the world.

In 2010, Harper slashed funding for the Canadian Human Rights Commission so deeply that the agency had to close its offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax.

In 2009, the prime minister approved cutting funds to Kairos, an organization of church groups that advocated for human rights, after it criticized Israel for bombing a Gaza health unit.

In 2006, Harper’s government severely chopped funding to Status of Women Canada, resulting in the closure of 12 of the agency’s 16 regional offices. Also in 2006, the Conservatives shut down the Court Challenges Program, which had worked on behalf of the rights and equality of women, immigrants and gays and lesbians by helping to fund court challenges to discriminatory laws.

OK  Hepburn’s proof to bolster his preposterous claim that “Harper is arguably the worst prime minister in history when it comes to defending democracy and human rights in Canada” is essentially that the Harper government cut a bunch of bureaucratic budgets.  But in a democracy doesn't the duly elected government have the right to set spending priorities. Maybe the money cut from Kairos went to fund hospitals. Would that be wrong? My point is no government agency has a right to unlimited tax dollars. Resources are scarce; choices must be made. Besides, since when does democracy depend on a bloated government bureaucracy?

 At the same time, Harper orchestrated two controversial prorogations of Parliament in less than a year, became the first prime minister ever to be found guilty of contempt of Parliament, and approved the distribution of a handbook on how Tories can disrupt committee hearings, such as by barring witnesses with potentially damaging testimony.

Sorry, but prime ministers have the constitutional right to ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. So why is that undemocratic? Here's another question: Did Hepburn think it was  undemocratic in 2009 when three Opposition Party leaders plotted to create a "Coalition"so it could replace the government without benefit of an election?

In addition, Harper and his cabinet have flagrantly ignored freedom of speech and information tenets by muzzling senior bureaucrats, withholding and even altering documents, launching personal attacks on whistleblowers and lying to voters.

Also, there’s the anti-democratic robocall affair in the 2011 federal election, with allegations of voter suppression by the Conservatives. The Federal Court of Canada will start hearings into the allegations on Dec. 10.

Boy, if launching personal attacks and lying to voters were signs of despotism, then every prime minister in history must also have been a dictator.  And correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t a Liberal MP engage in voter-suppressing robo-calling in the last election? Heck, didn't even Liberal media darling Justin Trudeau use the phones in this manner? Does that make the Liberal Party an enemy of democracy too?

Note: Hepburn leaves out instances when Harper won victories for human rights, such as when he disbanded the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, which infringed on the economic rights of Western grain farmers.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point for officials at the Appeal for Conscience Foundation if they want a more complete picture of their 2012 award winner.

Canadians understand that they should never take their democracy for granted. Given that, the foundation should have known that anointing Harper, who has displayed such a casual disrespect for democracy at home, as its World Statesman of the Year would be seen as a sad joke on all Canadians struggling to protect their democracy.

I will resist the urge to call this column a "sad joke."

Obviously, it’s too late for the foundation to revoke the award. But Harper could at least have the decency to be a bit contrite when he officially accepts it.

Hepburn is right about one thing. Citizens must never take democracy for granted. That means we absolutely must keep an eye on Harper and his government. Indeed, I have no confidence in any party to truly protect my rights and freedoms. The nature of government, after all, is to chip away at our rights. And the Harper government is no different, I have certainly  taken it to task when it has threatened freedom. Yet, let’s please be realistic. When it comes to human rights and democracy, Harper is certainly no more dangerous than any other prime minister of the past 100 years or so. My point is, it’s OK to criticize Harper for his failings, but just leave out the over-heated, partisan hyperbole. Or at least for the sake of consistency use similar language when talking about other political leaders.

Otherwise, you might just get embarrassed. 


Anonymous said...

Good on you for taking Bob Hepburn on.
One of your many great posts.

Rich said...

This Andrew Hepburn id he wants to show that he is an unbiased reporter then he should be high lighting all the failings of other leaders and their parties; How com he seems to praise Jean Chretien on his nomination but neglect to high light that it was Jean Chretien and the Liberal party that was convicted on stealing 40 million tax payer dollars during the sponshorschip scandal. This bunch of crooks were ordered to repay the 40 mil by the Gomery Commission in 2005/2006 to date in 2012 not a cent has been repaid by the liberals. It was Chretien, Martin that promoted trade with China for the sake of Maurice Strong with no regard for the Human rights abuses going on in China. To the editors of the Toronta Star please control the garbage that your reporters write.

Anonymous said...

Appeal of Conscience Foundation.. is a pet foundation recognizing politicians for being good lapdogs for their pet causes.