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What’s good for Harper probably isn’t good for Canada

December 2011

It is difficult to understand why Prime Minister Stephen Harper is so gung ho on ramming through an omnibus crime bill that cements in place a number of policies that have failed miserably south of the border.

And at a time when a survey shows that 93 per cent of Canadians feel safe in their own home, and statistics show that crime rates (including violent crime) are dropping across the country.

Still, Harper wants to build more prisons, impose longer sentences and reduce the chances for parole. These draconian measures make punishment more important than rehabilitation even though we know that undue repression, far from halting crime, transforms minor offenders into hardened criminals.

As Lysiane Gagnon recently wrote in the Globe and Mail, Bill C10, with its provisions for mandatory sentencing, means the government is engaging in micro-management, as if judges were incapable of evaluating what kind of punishment fits the crime.

So far we have not said a word about the huge expense this “law and order” policy will entail.

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier, like Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, has objected to the fact that the Harper crime bill will raise the province’s fiscal burden by millions in prison costs—not to mention the social and human costs.

More and longer prison terms mean more school dropouts, more unemployment, more divorces, more family dislocation and more addiction.

The whole country will suffer from this retrograde policy.

While we are on Harper, did you see his latest move to “Harperize” Canada?

New documents obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act directly contradict Harper’s chief spokesperson that bureaucrats have not been directed to replace the words “Government of Canada” with “Harper Government” in departmental news releases.

Top former civil servants say the change marks a disturbing trend in the politicization of the bureaucracy—and breaches both communications policy and civil service ethics policy.

All this at a time when the House of Commons—normally a brake on the executive—has no permanent opposition leader and many of their front-bench people are spending time on the leadership race.

The decline of the House of Commons is a serious development. In a recent article in Maclean’s, Andrew Coyne wrote of the scenario for the reality that Parliament is dying: “Largely irrelevant, increasingly impotent, it is treated with contempt by those in power, matched only
by the indifference of the general public.

“The votes of MPs are essentially irrelevant, as indeed are MPs themselves.”

Let’s face it: Members are not accountable to their constituency organizations. They are not responsible to the Commons.

The fact is their very existence depends on the favour of the prime minister.

After all, they could never have run in the first place without the PM’s agreement.

If they step out of line, Harper will have no compunction in booting them out of his caucus.

This is not a healthy situation for our body politic.

We don’t want the political gridlock now on display in Washington, but nothing much will change in Ottawa until party members and riding associations demand it—until they insist their MPs be accountable to them, rather than to the leadership.

I am not holding my breath. Harper has an iron grip on power so nothing much will change for the next four or five years.

That’s good for Harper. Not so much for the country.



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