Harper Crossed the RoboCon
I’ve been waylaid in posting further on the issue of narcissism by the latest political scandal to embroil the Conservative government of Stephen Harper here in Canada. It is perhaps the most outrageous scandal to date from amongst a long list, and may well be the undoing of the Harperites, if not even of the Conservative Party itself.
For those unfamiliar with the latest news from Canada, the RCMP and Elections Canada are presently investigating certain irregularities that occurred in (at last count) some 50 electoral ridings during the general election of last May, 2011, which returned the Harper government to office. In the federal election, Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party eked out a bare majority in Parliament with 39.6% of votes cast (and it’s amazing they even received that many). Although that figure is somewhat scandalous in itself — and has inspired a good deal of soul-searching about the broken state of our system of governance selection — it turns out that in many of the ridings there appears to have been a systematic and coordinated conspiracy to waylay, mislead, or suppress voters who might have been expected to vote against Mr. Harper and his “Conservative” Party (conservative being a general misnomer, here, and even a case of mistaken identity — if not identity theft perpetrated by the reactionary right).
The story was first broken by Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor in The Ottawa Citizen, and there have been further surprising revelations about the true scope of the campaign since then.
At present, the RCMP and Elections Canada are still investigating what some have taken to calling “Robo-Gate” (in honour of former US President Richard Nixon, nicknamed — appropriately — “Tricky Dicky”) but are not being entirely forthcoming with the evidence collected so far that might either indict or exonnerate the ruling Conservative Party of charges of interfering with the exercise of the fundamental democratic right of Canadians. All the evidence to date, however, points to either the Conservative Party, or someone affiliated with the Conservative Party and right-wing business interests, engaging in what is basically an act of sedition against the Canadian constitution through an organised effort to disenfranchise and dispossess large numbers of Canadians of their constitutional rights.
But, as many in the media have nonetheless pointed out, it does conform to a pattern of behaviours amongst this misnamed “conservative” faction — the Harperites — and right-wing business interests that has been consistent, as political columnist Lawrence Martin has listed them at iPolitics. Mr. Martin, who wrote an exposé of Stephen Harper’s political career and rise to power entitled Harperland, earlier even compared Prime Minister Harper’s style with that of Italian fascist dictator Mussolini — to be precise, to his reactionary, autocratic, anti-democratic, and anti-liberal attitudes (he reminds me more of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, rather). The Good Shepherd and his government (and his followers and supporters, one presumes) have enjoyed the dubious distinction of having been found in Contempt of Parliament (and therefore, of democracy) — a first in the entire history of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is equally reminiscent, indeed, of neo-conservative nihilism generally, evidenced by George W. Bush’s reputed dismissal of the US Constitution, too, as “a god-damned piece of paper”. This spirit, negative and destructive, seems to have infected the Zeitgeist.
And there is a certain “irony” (if not hypocrisy) in the fact that Canada contributes monitors to fledgling democracies in order to certify their elections. We may need to call upon others, now, to verify and certify our own.
There have been calls for a judicial inquiry and public hearing into the “robo-call” scandal, which hopefully may yet come about. But for the time being, Elections Canada, the RCMP, and the media will have to be relied upon to help us get to the roots of the scandal.
If, however, Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party should be proven to have engaged in sedition — in an organised, systematic conspiracy to infringe upon, dispossess, and disenfranchise Canadian citizens of their fundamental rights — what recourse might the democracy have?
First of all, the scandal is a blessing in disguise, since it has demonstrated publicly just how weak and ineffective our democracy’s safeguards are in the face of a determined and ambitious political clique with designs to subvert it. It is astonishing just how weak the electoral act and Elections Canada are to deal with attempted subversion of the democratic process, which is also reminiscent of the present phone-hacking scandal in the UK. Elections Canada does not have the necessary clout to bring such a malignant clique to justice, particularly if it should be discovered that the conspiracy was organised by the ruling party. Previous transgressions of Canada’s electoral laws by the ruling party have not been sufficiently prosecuted or penalised to discourage a repeat of the malfeasance, as detailed by Mr. Martin in his article from iPolitics to which I linked above.
Secondly, it is possible (and there is an Australian precedent) that the Governor General, who is representative of the Queen in Canada (although largely a symbolic figurehead) could dissolve the government and call new elections if the ruling party is convicted of sedition. It is possible that the Party could even be legally dissolved. This might be awkward, because the present Governor General was appointed by the Harper government, as has been a majority in the Canadian Senate (selected, probably, in order to be counted upon to faithfully and gratefully serve as Mr. Harper’s lapdogs and toadies). I’m uncertain of their loyalties and allegiances — whether they be to the Party or ultimately to the democracy, despite their often vain, flashy show of what they call “patriotism”, however perversely they might understand that. To date, their servility to the Harper line has been seemingly all too automatic, even if it comes at the expense of Canada’s erstwhile general interests and traditions.
Thirdly, there is a tendency amongst some in the Press to reduce the vote suppression campaign from a case of sedition to being a matter of mere “impropriety” or of “dirty tricks”, consequently obfuscating the serious nature of the crime. It is not “improper”. It is illegal and criminal conduct. Although it looks, at face value, as though these media pundits are concerned and disturbed by the voter suppression conspiracy, their approach — largely in the conservative-oriented press (not universally shared by Conservative functionaries and operatives, though, by any means) is to soft-peddle it. It is not just “dirty tricks”. It is sedition. And that is very serious when the sedition in question might be the work of the government and the ruling party itself.
“Tricks” there have been, indeed. But these are largely in the nature of “perception management” — the magicians and con-man’s trick of using “direction by indirection”. In the case of the Harperites, the favourite ploy is to loudly and publicly announce some new measure of government “transparency and accountability” (to general applause) even as they diligently effect otherwise to sow confusion, or to obscure and obstruct clarity and insight into the government’s real and actual conduct. The image trumps the reality — “perception is reality” being the operative guiding propaganda principle — and lip-service is very efficacious with much of the public in that respect. It is effective, sadly. As one former chief advisor to Mr. Harper, Tom Flanagan put it (who once made himself nefarious by suggesting, on public television, the assassination of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange) ““It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be plausible,…” (Macleans’ Aaron Wherry recalling “Great moments in candor“)
(Mr. Flanagan for some reason — for such is the state of reason today — still holds his professorship at the University of Alberta in Calgary. It may be a sign of the degeneracy and nihilism of our universities that they apparently no longer consider themselves — nor have the strength to serve as — the guardians of truth, reason, and enlightenment; those virtues hitherto remembered as having once been “Western values”).
Any Conservative found to be implicated in sedition, should such a finding come about, should probably lose their job and, to my mind, even have their property confiscated. They might learn to be thankful, then, for our country’s despised “liberality”. In earlier times, they would have lost their head or swung from the gibbet.
Some of them might even become the first residents and occupants of their own ambitious new prison system — a fitting irony and fate it would be, too.