Deconstructing Canada: why Canadians don’t care

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Canada still seems the same. There’s a blizzard coming, the schools are closed and the kids are at home yet again as I write. But the Canada we know and love is changing, and changing rapidly.

Apparently the change now comes down to two words: Stephen Harper.

Harper’s new Canada is a more politically and geographically divided place. In this Canada, the “have” provinces get to keep a more of their resource revenues. Federal transfer payments to “have not” provinces flatten or fall while “have” provinces prosper. And the West and Quebec now cooperate to reduce federal control over their affairs, while the rest of us wonder about national unity.

This new Canada has a lot to do with the new world. As we run lower on fossil fuels, the big money and big politics follow the bouncing ball. In Canada’s case the ball lands on the vast tar sand and natural gas reserves in Western Canada.

Which explains Canada’s reduced role in offsetting climate change, as we saw when the Harper-controlled Senate killed the Climate Change Accountability Act last November, even though the bill— aimed at reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent less than 1990 levels—had been passed by the House of Commons.

NDP leader Jack Layton declared it “a very sad day for Canada, for the environment, and for the role of Canada on the international stage in dealing with the crisis of climate change."

But Canadians no longer play within the bounds of international fairness they once helped shape. The latest example is the Harper government’s politically-motivated reduction of international aid funding to Kairos, a move that landed cabinet minister Bev Oka in the hot seat.

But that pales in comparison to allowing Canadian forces to hand over our prisoners to Afghan forces, and in the case of Omar Khadr, allowing a 15-year-old Canadian citizen and alleged under-age combatant in Afghanistan to be held without rights and tortured by U.S. forces for seven years in the Guantanamo Bay military prison. The Canadian government—including the preceding Liberal government—did not meet its constitutional duty to petition the U.S. for Khadr’s extradition to Canada. That’s not the kind of Canada we learned about in school.

This begs the question of why we’re in Afghanistan in the first place, supporting America’s venture to secure the region and siphon off Iraqi oil.

Then there’s the $9 billion purchase of U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets, a move that some experts claim will provoke the Russians to challenge Canadian Arctic sovereignty. Could it be there’s more oil up there?

And Harper’s tougher stance isn’t just international. Punishment is a bigger deal at home, too. Even though crime has decreased by 22 percent since 1999, the practice of offsetting one day of pre-trial jail-time for two days of jail-time after conviction was eliminated last year, and the Tackling Violent Crime Act introduced harsher minimum sentences for gun-related crimes. These two bills are expected to increase the number of inmates by at least 3,400 over the next three years.

To house them the Harper government is expanding 20 prison facilities over the next few months—at a price of $2 billion. Do we need them? According to Harper, “Does it cost money? Yes. Is it worth it? Just ask a victim.” Yes, but with crime rates falling, why is our government promoting fear and spending our money on prisons—and spending less on reintegrating offenders?

Perhaps there’s a business case for it. The Harper government is sticking to its promise to lower corporate taxes to 15 percent next year. But the tax cuts will rob the public coffers of $12+ billion a year by 2013–2014—ongoing.

The majority of Canadians disagree with corporate cuts, including Jack Layton who says, “With 1.5 million Canadians still unemployed, growing inequality and with seniors’ poverty doubling since the last round of service cuts, now is not the time to spend another $12 billion on corporate tax reductions.” So, facing the prospect of high unemployment long term, maybe Harper is simply preparing for us an increase in crime.

Okay, but does all this add up to a deconstructed Canada? Yes, when one looks at the erosion of civil rights. The $1 billion Canadians spent on the G8 conference in Toronto last August resulted in house raids without warrants, police abuse and mass roundups leading to over 900 people arrested, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, all tacitly sanctioned by the Canadian government.

And why don’t Canadians care? First, Harper currently controls the discourse, so we’re paying attention to his issues, not our own. Second, he tends to use the force of his office—and not parliament—to invoke change. Third, the opposition parties haven’t offered a more rational vision for the future. Finally, since the financial meltdown, we’re all more interested in keeping what we have rather than fighting a government that seems quite capable of turning on us—if we’re not loyal supporters.

This “new Canada” is beginning to look a lot like a buffed up version of Bush-league America. And that seems distinctly unCanadian to me.

Comments

  1. Well said !!!

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  2. Thanks. It's colder, crazier Canada at least from this POV.

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  3. Agreed, well said. Re-posted in light of the "Canadians don't care" video clip making the rounds.

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  4. So I wonder if you think that being told that we don't care will in fact generate some creative, productive anger that will in fact result in an ability to beat the sense of being overwhelmed so that we can act to regain the Canada we want?

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  5. Thanks anon.

    Zanna, sure, I'd love to goad Canadians into waking up. Do I think it's likely? No. The countervailing forces are too dominant—right wing US media saturation, a Canadian public that's too into electronic and commercial diversions...an aging population, apathy and fear...and an ever-more confident media-and-power-savvy ruling class.

    That said, there is a strong undercurrent of discontent in this country that will, at some point, make itself known I believe.

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  6. Gerald,

    "...there is a strong undercurrent of discontent in this country that will, at some point, make itself known I believe..."

    I think this pretty much sums it up! In the course of human events most of all of the points you have made and any I could make inregards to the USA are pretty much current events.

    It takes time for reality to sink in, it takes a trigger to bring this under current to the surface, and it takes leadership.

    Right now I believe we have just realized that our boat is taking on water and we have grabbed for the first thing we could find to start bailing out the water....

    Eventually we will grab a bigger bucket but eventually we are going to realize that no bucket is big enough....

    Change does not happen logically and it always seems to occur just when you have lost all hope...

    Our current situation in Afghanistan as a representation of our fear of muslim extremists is not working and the events in the Middle East will make our current ways even less satisfactory as time goes on.

    But when you don't have a clue what to do but you have to do something you usually end up doing the wrong thing first, second, third....

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  7. The undercurrent of discontent has been formally accommodated by successive US administrations. There's the REX 84 concentration camp network already in place for such a contingency—in the extreme. Also the Patriot Act and more recent legislative erosion of private speech and free public speech under the Obama watch.

    So the public-private sector inverted totalitarian system is in place, just waiting for a trigger (much like the Middle East was waiting for a 911), only this time it will be domestic, as you point out.

    The American public is just waking up to the hangover. Yes, a bucket (of Advil) won't be enough to bail out this boatload of brain damage.

    But the actual solution is very simple. The people—left, right and center—have to take back their government from the global corporate elite. Once that direction is set, the American people must begin rebuilding their productivity base to replace fossil fuel.

    That's it. Two steps.

    To accomplish those two strategic steps will take a million tactics and a billion logistical moves. But the journey must start with the first step...

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