Thursday, June 26, 2014

Have the Conservatives Finally Learned Their Lesson?

The federal Conservative government has been pulling its horns in lately:  witness the low-key way the Enbridge pipeline approval was announced recently and how Conservative MPs ducked the media;  the better late-than-never overtures for environmental cooperation with U.S. in late 2013; and the opening of an office for First nations consultations surrounding the Enbridge proposal (“too little too late,” according to BC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip) in May of 2014. The great victory of the Chilcotin Nation announced by the Supreme Court on June 26, which recognizes their aboriginal title to over1,750 square km, should help to ensure that the federal government recognizes the futility of its ways.

Does this mean that the government has finally recognized the error of its ham-fisted, counter-productive ways,  and is turning a completely new leaf?  I wish I could say yes, but the evidence points to the contrary.  After having added these two sorry chapters to the book How Not to Get a Pipeline Built, the government has continued to chip away at the historical standards of acceptable conduct with one abuse of power after another.  The prostitution bill is written not in compliance with the Supreme Court’s attempt to protect prostitutes’ constitutional rights, but as a pretext for imposing new restrictions and making the sex trade even more dangerous by driving it further underground.   Similarly, the cyber-bullying bill sneaks a number of measures into the law that are unrelated to the root cause of bullying and teen suicide:  measures that would make it even easier for police and other political authorities to obtain your personal data from telephone and internet providers. The appointment of Daniel Therrien as the new privacy commissioner and the attempt to appoint Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court; the determination to proceed with the F-35 contract despite a rise in price from $9 billion to $45 billion, still without open competitive bidding.  The notorious Bill C-38 Omnibus Budget is still being implemented, gutting thousands of environmental assessments. The forced backtracking on the so-called Fair Elections Act and the Temporary Foreign Workers laws are hardly reassuring:  they still bear the marks of the chronic audacity that gave them birth.

Thus Harper continues to pursue the limits of what he can get away with, to the detriment of Canadian democracy. The current overtures to natives and to environmentalists are simply reluctant, tactical retreats.  At bottom, being a citizen is no more difficult , and no more easy, than training a pet, raising a child or being a wise consumer. You can either punish bad behavior, sending the signal to all political actors that standards of truth and parliamentary appropriateness must be raised, or you can reward bad behaviour, sending the message that standards are to be lowered.  That is the choice we face in 2015.

Mark Crawford is a former public servant and now teaches political science at Athabasca University. He can be reached at


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