"Your country [the USA], and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world."
- Conservative leader Stephen Harper, then vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, in a June 1997 Montreal meeting of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing American think tank.
Would Stephen Harper turn Canada into smaller version of the United States? The Bush administration certainly hopes so. An oft-quoted article by Partrick Basham in the Washington Times praised Harper as, "Mr. Bush's new best friend internationally and the poster boy for his ideal foreign leader."
That appraisal was based on Stephen Harper’s record on the illegal invasion of Iraq, his anti-environmental stance, and his social conservatism. It was not meant to be hatchet job on Harper. In fact the article was written in praise of Harper by a conservative columnist who works for a conservative think tank and printed in a publication known to be right leaning. Basham is Harper’s political ally, a friend in the neo-conservative sense of the word. Harper, desperately trying to separate himself from his record, immediately fired off a rebuttal pointing out that he had softened his view considerably on those issues.
In an article for The Globe and Mail Basham responded to Harper’s rebuttal saying "I had said that Mr. Harper was pro-free trade, pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative. His response was disheartening: He used evasions and weasel words to both affirm and deny every item on the list."
When your friends are accusing you of using evasions and weasel words, what does that leave your foes with? Well, many of Harper’s foes just quote what he and others in the Conservative Party have said. There are a few web sites dedicated to this. The Liberal Party runs StephenHarperSaid.ca, The Canadian Democratic Movement has a page of Harper quotes, and Brainy Quote also has many of Harper’s more memorable attacks on Canada on their site. The latest Liberal attack ads also depend heavily on things that have sprung directly from Mr. Harper’s mouth.
Harper’s tenure at the National Citizen’s Coalition (NCC)also raises many questions. According to a document at Stephen Harper Said, “Over its almost four decades of existence, the NCC has funded campaigns against the Canada Health Act, the Canadian Wheat Board, and allowing Vietnamese refugees into Canada. It has also campaigned in the courts against any attempt at electoral financing legislation that would limit third-party advertising spending during elections, such as that done by NCC itself. The NCC has spent millions of dollars funding campaigns aimed at impacting the outcome of elections. For example, it founded and funded Ontarians for Responsible Government, a lobby group that played a large role in electing the Harris government in Ontario. As few as four people control the organization and its self-reported $2.8-million dollar plus annual budget.”
There are many things that Harper has said over his career that point to him not having much respect, or even understanding, of Canada as a nation. From the so-called Firewall Letter, an open letter to Ralph Klein from Stephen Harper and other leading Conservatives urging premier Ralph Klein to back out of several federal programs, including the Canada Pension Plan, and build a firewall around Alberta, to statements that disparaged Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and Ontario. Perhaps, if Mr. Harper dislikes the rest of Canada so much, he should be running to replace Ralph Klein as premier of Alberta instead of trying to represent all of Canada.
It isn’t just Stephen Harper that has a record of saying things that go against the values and wishes of so many Canadians. The social conservatives and religious right within the Conservative Party has been very vocal in the past. An article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald suggests that the silence of social conservatives this time around is not an accident. When the Chronicle Herald questioned Conservative campaign volunteer Paula Henderson about two candidates who attended a meeting with a group opposing same sex marriage, Henderson replied, “We’ve been told by Ottawa that we don’t talk about that. That’s a dropped subject.”
Tom Barret, writing for the Tyee, has also questioned why so many Conservatives who were very vocal about their socially conservative views have become quiet this election. Barret points out that several Conservative candidates not only hold right-wing religious beliefs, but some are directly tied to groups like Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family’s Canadian wing is an off-shoot of the controversial US group led by Dr. James Dobson.
One Conservative candidate in BC, Darrel Reid, is a past president of Focus on the Family Canada and was backed in his nomination bid by Defend Marriage. Reid’s involvement with the religious right caused his riding president to quit.
The Conservatives under Stephen Harper have softened and obscured their contacts with the religious right and have done their level best to deny contacts with the Bush government and the Republican Party in the United States. They have simultaneously tried to move away from their past policies and suddenly become silent on issues that have been the driving force for much of the existence of the Reform Party, The Alliance, and the “new” Conservative Party. Many of these issues, such as same-sex marriage; abortion; deep integration with the US; and trade and economic policies that benefit big business to the detriment of working people and small business are the same issues that have driven one Republican campaign after another. Considering that the Conservatives sent a delegation to Republican National Convention and have many ties to the groups that have supported the Republican Party’s regressive social policies, it is very important that voters know where Harper and his party stand on the issues.
Recently Stephen Harper claimed to have evolved in his views over the last decade or so. It was only a short while ago that Mr. Harper told a Vancouver radio station that he had no intention of changing his views and that he didn’t believe in image make-overs. According to documentation on the Liberal website, Stephen Harper and other leading Conservatives have participated in fund-raising events for the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association. According to the document on the Liberal site, “On March 31, 2005, less than one year ago, Stephen Harper helped raise approximately $15,000 for a far-right, third-party social policy advocacy group called the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association (CASJAFVA) at a large fundraising dinner in Richmond, British Columbia. CASJAFVA lobbies governments on social policy issues such as same sex marriage and abortion and publishes a bi-monthly magazine advocating conservative social policies using reprehensible images, including caricatures of Prime Ministers Martin and Chrétien as Nazi’s pictured with Hitler. (PDFs of these magazine covers are attached below) The publication also includes extreme statements comparing same sex marriage to child molestation, necrophilia and torture.”
Since the Vancouver interview and the March 31, 2005 fund-raiser Harper attended, he has claimed to have changed his views on several issues, has undergone a major image make-over, and has gone out of his way to silence his candidates on issues when he knows those candidates have views that are at odds with many Canadians. Personal evolution over a decade may be possible for an individual, but such evolution over six months is highly unlikely.
In a party that promises to allow free votes over social issues, each candidate must be shown to have evolved, or at least be encouraged to express their views to the voters in their riding. Having a leader, who has made a point of assuming no responsibility for the way his party members vote, claim to have undergone a conversion simply is not good enough. If they are allowed to vote contrary to the official Conservative platform on issues like abortion, then each candidate must make it clear exactly where they stand on such issues.
It is time for the Canadian media to shine a bright light on Mr. Harper, his party, and their connections to right-wing religious organisations, the Republican Party and the Bush regime. The best interests and sovereignty of Canada are not promoted by religious lobby groups or their political friends in the United States. To ignore these ties would be Bush-league.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on January 15, 2006]
article for The Globe a...
Liberal attack ads
so-called Firewall Letter
article in the Halifax ...