In one year, we can escape the locked gates of Harperland

by John F. Conway

illustration by Nigel Hood

politicsMark your calendars: on Oct. 19, 2015, the locked gates of Harperland will swing open for one short day, and we can vote our way out. If we don’t? The gate slams shut for another four years of government of the tarsands, by the tarsands, and for the tarsands, under the one-man dictatorship of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

There is real hope that this will happen.

Today, the Harper government is on the ropes. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have led the polls for months, with the Tories and NDP in close second and third positions. Commentators in the capitalist media, even those on the right (really, are there any not on the right?), say the people are sick and tired of this mean-spirited, arrogant and dictatorial bully. It’s time to toss the bum out of 24 Sussex.

As for Harper’s game plan? It’s in tatters. The Conservative leader staked his political fate on the economy, promising great things for Canada.

What have we got?

Unemployment is fixed at seven per cent (at least double that if you want the real figure, including those who gave up and dropped out of the labour force). Job creation numbers are pathetically low, and those that have been created are largely miserable, insecure McJobs. Cuts to Stats Canada have badly damaged its ability to produce trustworthy economic data. Harper closed down our foreign aid programs and turned the now-strings-attached money over to an agency to produce economic opportunities for Canadian business in needy countries. He went on an orgy of signing free trade deals with a lot of hype and bluster, culminating in the deal with the EU. You remember? Big announcement, lots of headlines heralding a glorious promise of billions, nay, trillions, and limitless numbers of jobs, jobs, jobs. Then, nothing. The deal is stalled. Some EU members, especially Germany, think it might not be such a good idea after all.

Remember Harper’s 2011 economic promises? Tax cuts, new markets the world over, pipelines galore to ship Alberta oil and gas to those new markets, a balanced budget, and big cuts in the federal civil service and to social and health program spending.

Oh, we got the tax cuts — well, some of us did. The rich and their corporations? They’re rolling in mountains of cash while our social and health programs shrink and young Canadians struggle to find a secure place in the economy.

Balanced budgets? Of course not — although Harper has stored up a huge surplus to try to deliver one in the spring. Does he think Canadians are too stupid to see through that plan?

Harper’s cuts to the federal civil service — 25,000 of them — wrecked our public servants’ ability to serve the public (which Harper doesn’t believe in anyway — there is no “public” with an “interest”; that would be “sociological”. There are only individuals in the market). He failed on the job promise. He denounced carbon taxes as “job killers”. Funny, but British Columbia set carbon taxes in 2008 and its economy has grown faster than the rest of the country’s over the last six years.

But Harper is not one to let facts or truth get in the way of either his right-wing ideology or his loyal service to the oil industry. He even failed on his pipeline promise, despite gutting the law in order to get swift approvals.

The fact is that Harper’s economic record is not only bad, it’s a disaster.

Many Canadians feel shame and embarrassment about the positions taken by our prime minister both here and abroad. He refuses to attend the climate change summit, apparently proud that Harper’s Canada is one of the world’s worst offenders on greenhouse gas emissions. He refuses to grant visas to Palestinian children wounded by the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza (which he repeatedly justified), so they could get medical help in Canada. He cut health coverage for refugees, only to have the courts remind him of his obligations of basic humanity.

He struts around the world uttering bellicose, war-mongering words about Russia and world terrorism. He isn’t helping anything, though. And while Harper sends our young men and women to fight a stupid, senseless war in Afghanistan, he abandons them when they come home physically and psychologically damaged — in the 12 years of Canada’s engagement in the Afghan war, more members of the Canadian Forces died of suicide at home than died in combat in Afghanistan. Many of the victims of suicide were veterans of that war.

Harper refuses to set up an inquiry into the missing aboriginal women because it isn’t a “sociological” problem but one of law enforcement. And yet, his simplistic law and order agenda — his first omnibus bill after winning a majority — is increasingly in tatters as judges across Canada find more and more of the measures unconstitutional. He tried to sneak around the constitution to get his favoured candidate appointed to the Supreme Court, and when he got caught he attacked the chief justice. (Government lawyers warned the prime minister that many of his law and order changes might be unconstitutional. They also told him his Supreme Court appointment was on thin ice, constitutionally. He didn’t listen. I wonder if those lawyers still have their jobs.)

Harper is out of step with the current concerns of most Canadians. As the 2008 economic meltdown recedes in memory, Canadians are less susceptible to being stampeded by an economic fear campaign — especially by a prime minister who has failed to deliver. Polls reveal that Canadians are more and more opposed to pipelines. They are worried about education, health care, and pensions (hello Canada, what did you think would happen when you cut taxes, slash programs, smash unions and gut the public service?) They are more and more concerned about climate change and environmental degradation.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Harper’s inevitable economic fear campaign, so effective in previous elections, will falter in 2015.

But Justin Trudeau as prime minister? Ugh! Yet more and more voters are joining the ABH (Anybody But Harper) bandwagon, and Thomas Mulcair and the NDP just haven’t got the numbers. Besides, would there really be much difference between the two choices to replace Harper? Fortunately I’ve got a decent NDP candidate to vote for — Erin Weir.

The Scots Will Rise Again

“No” won the day on Sept. 18, 55 to 45 per cent.

But the future belongs to “Yes.”

The Scottish referendum was not just a dream of independence for its own glorious sake. Behind that lay the dream of carving out a little nation of five million, free of domination by centralized power in Westminster. And that dream is not dead.

The “Yes” side made it very clear that this was a referendum on saving what was left of the slashed and bruised welfare state, especially comprehensive public health care, decent levels of income security and reliable pensions for those in their declining years. They also dreamed of undoing some of the damage to the welfare state, thrashed by neoliberalism for the last three decades.

That’s why “Yes” won Glasgow and Dundee, and that’s why the “Yes” vote was highest in areas of higher unemployment and lower average incomes.

Why does the future belong to “Yes”? An analysis of voting patterns by age cohorts provides the answer.

“Yes” won clear majorities in the following age groups: 16 to 17 and 25 to 54. “Yes” lost by a whisker among those 18 to 24 (school leavers worried about jobs?). “Yes” lost heavily in the 55 to 64 group (57 to 43 per cent) and was crushed among those 65 and over (73 to 27 per cent). Project Fear won. This time.

There will be another referendum, perhaps within a decade. Just as the initial move to devolution in 1997 set the stage for this referendum, the greater powers promised to win votes for the “No” will set the stage for the next. One in four “No” voters did so due to the last-minute solemn promise from the Tories, Labour, and the Liberal-Democrats that Scotland would be granted greater “political and fiscal” autonomy if they voted “No.” That promise may turn out to be fool’s gold in a unitary state dominated by a business class and a political elite hell-bent on shoving neoliberalism down the people’s throats.

The dream of new possibilities through independence is now abroad in day-to-day political discourse among the entire population in Scotland. It will not disappear.