Humanist Perspectives: issue 176: Mouammar Kadhafi and the Harper Brand

Mouammar Kadhafi and the Harper Brand
by Yves Saint-Pierre

he problem with writing an editorial for a quarterly magazine is that you can’t really comment on current events. By the time you go to press, things will have changed and what you had to say will no longer be current, or worse, will have been proven by unfolding events to have been faulty analysis. So I am particularly grateful not to have to comment on events unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East. Frankly, I’m not at all sure what’s going on or where things are headed. To what end and on behalf of whom are we participating in the bombing of Libya, at great expense to Canadian taxpayers? Is it, as the cover story would have it, to protect a Libyan population, legitimately protesting decades of abuse, from violence at the hands of an autocrat who exercises power by domination? By the time we go to press, perhaps we’ll have a clearer idea.
And now the Harper Conservatives have been found in contempt of Parliament and has fallen to a non-confidence vote. By the time you read this, the election will no doubt be over. Whatever the outcome, it is probably useful to remind ourselves of the profound contempt Harper has for Canadian democracy and for the Canadian people. If the other parties have done their job in the campaign, by now you have heard a great deal about the shameful performance of Harper on the environment, social programs, culture, scientific research, women’s issues, veterans’ issues, on the issue of accountability and transparency, etc. Indeed, if they have done their job, they have clearly exposed Harper for what he is, the most destructive and the least democratic PM Canada has ever had. I cringe at the thought that as you read this, and in spite of his most shameful record, he may be Prime Minister again. Whatever the outcome, life goes on in Canada and the world and it might be useful for us to consider what the Harper “brand” means. the organization of human affairs, disaster threatens from two sides, order and chaos.
As more enlightened observers than I have noted, in the organization of human affairs, disaster threatens from two sides, order and chaos. Forms of government that favour the exercise of power through structured consent serve to avoid both these threats. Democracy is one such form of government and the British parliamentary system, over several centuries, has evolved many clever ways of achieving structured consent. We who live under Westminster parliamentary systems are heirs to what is arguably the most brilliant form of democratic government ever devised by man. It is brilliant, for example, in the way it deals with executive power. In Canada, executive power is held by the Governor General. This power is largely symbolic but he/she does have ultimate executive authority nonetheless. While it is true that the Prime Minister does exercise some executive functions, it is as also true and most significant that the Prime Minister is “first among equals.” Equal, that is, Mouammar Kadhafi and the Harper Brand the organization of human affairs, disaster threatens from two sides, order and chaos. Editorial Humanist Perspectives, Issue176, Spring 2010-11 3 to other cabinet ministers and to all other members of parliament, our legislators, all of whom are hired by the people of Canada and paid by us to see to the country’s administration. It’s worth repeating: they are in parliament to serve the people who elected them, who pay them and whom they represent. When the Canadian government is working properly, it is a system that is as complex as the Canadian population is diverse and that operates on negotiated compromises, hopefully for the greater good.
Now, what happens when an autocrat ends up in the position of Prime Minister, an autocrat who wants to impose his order on the deliberately ungainly complexity of Westminster style parliamentary democracy? In a word, disaster ensues: Parliament twice prorogued when things were not going his way; (the otherwise capable and admirable, Michaelle Jean, has a lot to answer for here. She could have and should have refused to prorogue in the first instance and favoured the establishment of a coalition that represented the majority of electors); the partisan manipulation of parliamentary committees; the obsessively tight control of spin and the attempted control of the media; the ignoring of resolutions passed by majority votes in Parliament, resolutions representing the will of the majority of Canadians; the undermining and manipulating of oversight commissions and watchdog agencies. The list of this Prime Minister’s malfeasances goes on and on. Impelled by an obsessive need to exercise control in order to drive forward a right wing agenda, he has used means so extreme, illegitimate and insulting they should shock all Canadians who care at all about Canada and about our democracy. For a very thorough and fully documented account, see Murray Dobbin’s Stephen Harper’s Assault on Democracy available at: You may also want to consider the document Silencing Dissent: The Conservative Record on the CCPA site: record.
Finally coming home to roost, the imperative of global capitalism has resulted, ultimately, in the suspension of democracy in America itself.
The capitalist globalisation agenda, which places the imperatives of continuous-growth and corporate profits above all other considerations, is not promoted or defended by Canadian Conservatives alone. Nor is Harper alone in having come to the realisation that democracy is the enemy of global capitalist imperialism. That realisation and its outcomes are the fruit of a relatively long and complex historical evolution with ramifications in all areas of the world. Finally coming home to roost, the imperative of global capitalism has resulted, ultimately, in the suspension of democracy in America itself. Its eventual restoration, which would require good will and considerable effort from all sides, is in no way assured. Consider only that president Obama, even when he had majorities in both houses, never even brought up the possibility of repealing the Patriot Act. Those interested in the history of the demise of American democracy may want to read, among many books on the topic, Peter Dale Scott’s The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire and the Future of America and Lew Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency.
Returning to our situation, what are some of the ways these currents play out on the Canadian stage? As a dramatic illustration, let’s consider the G-20 summit in Toronto last June. The G-20, which, admittedly, was conceived by a Liberal Finance Minister and later Prime Minister, (also long-time CEO of Canada Steamship Lines and prominent member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives), Paul Martin, is made up of the Finance Ministers and Central Bank governors of the twenty richest countries in the world, EU representation and the managing director and the chairman of the International Monetary Fund and the president of the World Bank as well as a few other such notables of world finance. At the summits, heads of government are usually also present. The purpose of the G-20 is to manage the global economy.
It takes a billion dollars of security to protect them from groups of citizens legitimately demonstrating [...] for social justice human rights and the respect of Earth!
Consider who was present in Toronto last June, in addition to the good citizens. On the one hand we have the small group of mostly white men of the G-20, the majority of whom are unelected functionaries and businessmen, the self-appointed managers of the global economy. On the other side are huge numbers of citizens’ groups representing a broad range of causes and concerns: labour groups, anti-poverty groups, groups opposed to capitalist imperialism, environmental groups, women’s groups, GLBT groups, anti-war groups, anti-racism groups, and numerous other groups defending various aspects of social justice and human rights. Between them and the G-20 representatives are a security wall and an army of police that cost Canadian taxpayers one billion dollars for the three days of the summit.
Ask yourself, which of these groups, the G-20 or the protesters, better represents your interests? Then ask yourself, if these men of the G-20 are not stupid or unconscious, then what are they? It takes a billion dollars of security to protect them from groups of citizens legitimately demonstrating for various aspects of social justice, human rights and the respect of Earth! Clearly, they must see how massive is the opposition of ordinary citizens to their vision of global, economic management. Clearly, they must understand how profound and widespread is the hatred for what they represent.
How do they deal with it? This brings us back to their host in Toronto, Stephen Harper. His response was, and this is the kindest word I can manage, maniacal. His crazed obsession with order was allowed to run amuck. With the forced collusion of the administration of the City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario, he imposed virtual martial law and deployed an immense force of heavily armed policemen to protect the very small, immured group of “world leaders”. History has a name for “leaders” who impose their will from behind fortifications and ensure order through the deployment of massive military might, leaders who suppress legitimate dissidence with guns and bombs. I give you their host, their cheerleader, their devotee, Stephen Harper. The 2010 summit of the G-20 is a most apt representation of the Harper brand.
—Yves Saint-Pierre