Public Values

Harper's divisive tactics are damaging Canadian civility and undermining democratic traditions

Blatant disdain for democracy as displayed by Nancy Ruth not an isolated Conservative incident.

The pattern of intimidation is clear and without subtlety - James Clancy.by James Clancy

"Shut the f--k up."

This was the crude advice from Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth to women's groups concerned by the Harper government's maternal health initiative.

Some were surprised by the Senator's boorish attempt to stifle dissent.

Not me.

I think Ruth offered the pithiest, sharpest example yet of Harper's despotic style of governing over the last four years.

Her blatant disdain for democracy is not an isolated Conservative incident.

Rather, it is part of a disturbing culture of intimidation that pervades the Harper government.

Take front bench foghorn John Baird, for instance. As environment minister his standard approach has been to bully and bellow down any environmental advocate daring to question the government's policies to fight climate change.

Peter McKay is no better. As defence minister, he has led a vicious smear campaign against senior diplomat Richard Colvin, a dedicated public employee who has raised - with much courage - key questions about Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees.

We also have the hyper-partisan Jason Kenney. Any faith-based group differing even slightly with the government's pro-Israel policies in the Middle East has been demonized and accused of anti-Semitism by the bellicose immigration minister.

And these overbearing ministers merely echo the master himself.

Harper has personally fired, threatened and bullied so many agency and commission heads who have disagreed with him that it's difficult to keep track of them all ? Although you can read about the most recent examples here.

The pattern of intimidation is clear and without subtlety: Question any Harper policy and you will be punished ? often ruthlessly.

Canadians are rightly alarmed by the undeniable vindictiveness of the Harper style, the merciless manner in which he and his team attack anyone with an opposing view.

I think Harper has misjudged the mood of the country.

Canadians have an innate sense of fair play and expect the same of their politicians, especially the prime minister.

They understand in a deep and abiding way that toleration of dissent is fundamental to a democracy.

They are repulsed by the politics of personal destruction that characterizes American political debate and ? under Harper ? now increasingly colours the politics of Canada.

However, it is understandable that many concerned advocates and activists, fearing retaliation from the Harper government, are reluctant to speak out publicly.

Thankfully, the ballot box remains sacrosanct.

It is one corner of our democracy where Harper cannot deploy his ugly tactics to intimidate critics.

We are still able to vote in secret.

Hopefully, when the next election comes, Canadians will use the ballot box to deliver Harper and his unseemly government a ringing message.

We want no part of his poison politics or the destructive tactics that have become his trademark.

James Clancy is the president of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees - www.nupge.ca.

Posted: May 21, 2010

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