As we close in on one year of Stephen Harper's majority, it is evident that this is a very special government. YOU are just not on its list of priorities.
It's not that this government does not have causes to which it is deeply committed: low taxes for business and the wealthy; the petroleum industry; military might; and prisons. If these are the government's positives, its negatives follow directly from them.
Keeping taxes low for the wealthy means holding down social, health and educational spending. The Minister of Health is not there to promote programs that would enhance health care, but to assure people that the Canada Health Act remains in place and that all will be well under the government's unilaterally imposed funding formula. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is there to make the case that the problems at Attawapiskat can be addressed by sending in a well-paid accountant-manager.
Keeping the government payroll to a minimum requires weakening unions, and maintaining a steady level of abusive comment against those who work in the public sector as overpaid, too secure and generally pampered, always a useful diversion at a time when people are figuring out how massively remunerated and under-taxed the wealthy are. The Minister of Labour has the twin tasks of opposing unions and backing employers who want to shed labour, and hold down wages and salaries.
Promoting petroleum means pushing up exports, which can only be achieved through the massive development of the Alberta oil sands. Petroleum is the sector to which this Alberta-centred regime has its closest ties. What's good for the oil sands is bad for the environment. Therefore, keeping environmental commitments as light as possible is a key goal, partially achieved through a constant barrage against environmentalists as job killers, and occasionally in moments of excessive overreach, as billionaire American socialists. In Harper-speak, oil sands greenhouse gas emissions are converted into manna from heaven. The Minister of the Environment has the job of promoting reverse alchemy: explaining how using clean water and natural gas to produce dirty oil is environmentally sound -- good for us all, planetary cod liver oil.
Expanding military might necessitates the building of F 35s and frigates, the price of admission for Canada into the Anglo-sphere. When Anglo-America next goes to war in the Middle East or Central Asia, the Harperites are determined to be there. They missed out on Iraq through no fault of their own, but inherited a military mission from the Liberals in Afghanistan, made it into Libya and are getting ready for Iran. Harper government ministers believe in hard power, the kind that kills. They are prepared to leave soft power to countries whose governments think a seat on the UN Security Council is actually worth something.
New prisons, along with F 35s and frigates, are as close to an industrial policy as the Conservatives allow themselves to get. Such spending forms solid links with major corporations, creates jobs of the kind that are especially good for photo-ops and provides a back door form of economic stimulus. This spending also plays to the central Conservative conviction that the human race is naturally divided into three cohorts: entrepreneurs (nature's fittest); wage and salary earners (nature's drones); and external and internal bad actors (nature's refuse). As social Darwinists, the Conservatives believe the first cohort does well with the carrot and the second responds well to the stick. In the absence of Social Drainol, the denizens of the third cohort should be eliminated or put behind bars.
If you are not among the very few on the Conservative positive list -- entrepreneurs, oil company execs, corporate lawyers, defence contractors, hedge fund managers -- then you are either a problem to be controlled or of no account. Actually, there is one additional grouping into which you might fall, that of non-wealthy potential Conservative voters. This is an important demographic, because even though the Harperites have succeeded in driving down voter turnout through their insistence that governments do nothing for you, there aren't enough privileged people to elect the Conservatives. For non-fat-cat Conservative voters there are causes to which Conservative politicians are allowed to lend support -- among them, the elimination of the long-gun registry, hints that an anti-abortion campaign could be restarted, suggestions that suicide materials could be provided for murderers in prison, and cuts to arts and CBC funding to flip the bird to effete Torontonians.
The Harper government cares about as much for YOU as Rome's rulers cared for the Vandals, who were, by the way, a perfectly decent ethnic minority who were slurred by the Romans.
This article was first posted on James Laxer's blog.
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