Jan 2006 – Sept 2008
In part three of our series examining the things that Mr Harper and his supporters have done that impacted our democracy we cover the period of “Canada's New Government” tm which lasted 2 1/2 years before Harper declared it “dysfunctional” and called a new election in direct contravention of his own fixed election date legislation. It was highlighted by Harpers attempts to control the press and his refusal to answer anything but pre approved questions and the oppositions attempts to hold the government to account without bringing about an early election.
On 23/1/2006 the Conservatives under Harper were elected to a minority government, the inherited a Federal budget surplus of $13.8 billion from the Liberials.
Just two weeks later David Emerson, elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway, crossed the floor to join the Conservatives and was promptly appointed to cabinet as Minister of International Trade. It was clear that this had been negotiated before the election. Harper also appointed a private business man to cabinet, Michael Fortier had not been elected as a member of the House of Commons nor was a Senator at the time he was appointed. He was appointed to the senate by Harper a month later.Shortly after coming to power the following directive was issued:- "As per the Minister's Office, effective immediately, the words "Canada's New Government" are to be used instead of "the Government of Canada" in all departmental correspondence. Please note that the initial letters of all three words are capitalized. Thank you for your cooperation."
This was dropped after an email exchange with a Natural Resources scientist who refused to comply became public, in following years the branding dropped all reference to it being Canada's government but became Harper's personal fiefdom.
21 April 2006 Speaking before the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set out the Government’s priorities and its conception of open federalism.
“Canadians want their governments to work for them,” said the Prime Minister. “They are fed up with the spectacle of turf wars and squabbling over money. They want their leaders to work together to deal with real-life priorities.”
In November in a further effort to appease the Quebec voters, Quebecois were formally declared a nation with most MPs voting for the motion. The conservative caucus was told to vote for it or be expelled. Harper's Intergovernmental Affairs minister Michael Chong resigned from his position over this issue.
On Dec. 12, 2006: Commons passes Conservatives' Federal Accountability Act, which tightens political donation rules, provides for a parliamentary budget officer, and offers more protection for whistleblowers. Parlimentary Budget Officer Kevin Page was later to become a thorn in Harpers side when trying to keep the Harper Regime accountable for their budget spending and projections. Amongst other things this promised to ban institutional and large personal donations to political parties and:-
- ensure that positions of public trust cannot be used as
stepping stones to private lobbying;
- provide real protection for whistleblowers who show great
courage in coming forward to do what is right;
- strengthen the capacity and independence of Officers of
Parliament, including the Auditor General, to hold the
Government to account; and
- increase the transparency of appointments, contracts,
and auditing within government and Crown corporations.
In January 2007, less than a month after Stéphane Dion had been elected leader of the opposition the Conservatives unveiled a series of persistent and unprecedented personal attack ads upon the Liberal leader. At the time former NDP leader Ed Broadbent said:-
"It's reprehensible politics for the Conservatives to be portraying Stéphane the way they are, It's never fair for the attack to be personal.”
These were to continue throughout the ensuing year and the practice of using negative ads to demonize the opposition outside of election periods was to become standard practice for the Harper Regime and continues to this day.
Also in Jan Environment Minister John Baird put the brakes on government attempts to examine the capacity of public institutions to deal with effects of climate change. Under his previous tenure as president of the Treasury Board, his officials suspended all payments on pledges for United Nations work to protect the environment. This included payments to the United Nations Environment Programme and to international treaties such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
May 3, 2007: Commons passes Conservatives' Fixed Election Dates Act, which provides for elections every four years unless a government is defeated in the Commons. Harper would ignore the law the following year.
During the second vote on the budget Conservative MP Bill Casey voted against the budget in protest of the treatment of the 2005 Atlantic Accord on offshore revenues. He was removed from the Conservative Caucus afterwards as was Conservative senator Anne Cools for voting against it.
In April 2007, The Globe and Mail published interviews with 30 men who claimed they were "beaten, starved, frozen and choked after they were handed over to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security" by CF members. It also revealed that it had received a censored report by the Canadian government on human rights in Afghanistan through an access to information request, and it contained "negative references to acts such as torture, abuse, and extra judicial killings [that] were blacked out without an explanation." This issue was to dominate 'debate' in the HoC for many months to come.
May 18 2007, After months of accusing the opposition of obstructing parliamentary committees it was revealed the the PMO had produced a 200 page handbook distributed to committee chairs on how to “frustrate, obstruct and shut down the democratic process." It reportedly advised chairs on how to promote the government's agenda, select witnesses friendly to the Conservative party and coach them to give favourable testimony. It also reportedly instructs them on how to filibuster and otherwise disrupt committee proceedings and, if all else fails, how to shut committees down entirely.
In September it was revealed that The federal government may be quietly privatizing and out-sourcing basic research needed for public policy and safety. Hundreds of Federal science staff were laid off and 17 federal departments and agencies were told to slice five percent of expenditures as well as cuts to federal public health and several other departments and organizations. Remember this is whilst a budget surplus still existed and the the economic 'downturn' was no on anyone’s radar and was a harbinger of things to come.
According to then-Conservative MP Garth Turner, who later left the party to sit as an independent, the Prime Minister told Conservative MPs: “We have determined a series of cuts, expenditure cuts, which will be announced. They have been determined. They are our position. And anyone [who] has got any problem with that—who says anything about it—is going to have a short political career.”
October 2007: News that Stephen Harper's staff is secretly working on a new $2 million government-controlled media centre is being seen by journalists as further evidence of the prime minister's obsession with control of the press. The MSM subsequently refused to use this facility and the project was shelved however this was the start of Harpers public appearances being carefully stage managed and restrictions upon reporters questions at such events.
About this time Stephen Harper declared his own unique vision of minority government, at a snap Parliament Hill news conference he essentially dared Liberal leader Stéphane Dion to trigger an election. After repeated confidence votes where the NDP and Bloc parties voting for the motions and the Liberal Party abstaining enough to avoid the government falling he cited Dion as making Parliament become increasingly "dysfunctional" and said "I’m going to have to make a judgment in the next little while as to whether or not this Parliament can function productively,"
He declared that voting in support of the following week's Throne Speech would commit any opposition party to backing all government legislation. Otherwise, he said, every such government bill will be a confidence vote. It was clear that his earlier statement that "It is the Parliament that's supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party.” was nothing but meaningless rhetoric.
Throughout 2007 it was clear that the Conservatives were making preparations for an early election.
In September Conservative Dick Harris, MP for Cariboo- Prince George, issued a news release naming failed Conservative candidate Sharon Smith as "the person residents of neighbouring riding Skeena-Bulkley Valley (whos Mp was New Democrat Nathan Cullen) should contact with concerns or issues with the federal government."
In Jan. 2008: Harper fires Linda Keen, “arms length” head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for doing her job and refusing to approve a restart of the unsafe nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont until repairs had been undertaken. They further reduced the GST to 5% prior to the February budget
On April 15, 2008: Elections Canada and RCMP raided Conservative party headquarters seeking documents on Tory election spending, eventually this led to the Conservatives being found guilty of breaking campaign financing rules during the 2006 election.
In May the government quietly announced it would no longer support the access-to-information registry used by reporters, researchers and ordinary citizens to hold governments accountable. This was partial responsible for Stephen Harper's office wining the Canadian Association of Journalists Code of Silence Award, for having "muzzled" cabinet ministers, civil servants, and, particularly, professional scientists and stalling and denying freedom of information requests.
Sept. 7, 2008: With various non confidence votes over the last year and a half not having passed, Harper ignores his own fixed election date law and calls a new election for Oct. 14. The voter turnout was the lowest in Canadian election history, as 58.8% of the electorate cast a ballot. Voter turnout further declined in subsequent elections.
Next up Parliament Prorogued