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LOEWEN: Is Canada losing its Mind? PM Harper’s anti-intellectualism

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
March 11, 2015 - 8:13 AM

Canada is beset by a scourge in our present day; and it stems from the attitudes and pronouncements of our federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The scourge is that of “anti-intellectualism.”

And citizens expecting informed thinking to guide policy-making decisions had best begin examining the current style of governance in this country before casting a ballot later this year.

Some readers might find this an egregious slur that I am levelling against a Prime Minister who is generally regarded as a pretty sharp dude, and an even sharper political strategist.

But I beg to differ.

By the end of this column I trust that you too might begin to look askance at many of the directives of our present federal government and perhaps begin to evaluate the Harper government in a new light.

In 2010, the Harper government decided to scrap the long-form census.

To the casual observer this might not have seemed like a big deal. After all, many who would be compelled to fill out this form might have objected to the detailed nature of the exercise and the time it would take to complete.

But the information gleaned by Statistics Canada from the long-form was indispensable, not only to government itself, but also to the business-class and academics generally.

You see, the long-form census gave Canadians information, and lots of it. Detailed information about every region of the country, demographic information, economic information. From the information gleaned from successions of long-form censuses, one could chart trends within the various metrics amassed in the data. For policy-makers at the government level (not to mention entrepreneurs in the private sector thinking about starting a new business in a particular region) StatsCan information was always considered central in importance in an effort to craft nuanced and progressive policies that could positively affect the country as a whole.

But it’s gone, the long-form census. And we are the poorer, intellectually and otherwise, for it.

Regrettably, scrapping the long-form is not the sole instance of vapid anti-intellectualism on display by the federal government.

Anti-historicism is another hallmark of PM Stephen Harper and his governing Conservatives. Even before the scrapping of the long-form census, PM Harper articulated a stunning rejection of Canada’s history while addressing the Pittsburgh G20 Summit of 2009. 

In an effort to appear investment-desirable to the rest of the wealthiest nations on the planet, PM Harper revealed the true sycophantic nature of his brand of hucksterism when he pronounced one of the most objectionable lies uttered by one of our elected ministers in history. To wit:

There are very few countries that can say for nearly 150 years they’ve had the same political system without any social breakdown, political upheaval or invasion. We are unique in that regard. We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers, but none of the things that threaten or bother them about the great powers.

It should go without saying that this is utter nonsense. In fact it is a terrible lie.

The settler-colonialist history of this country is absolutely foundational. Without the initial collaboration with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and their subsequent colonial disenfranchisement from the capitalist spoils of Empire, Canada would not exist.

Much credit must go to Metis scholars Dr. Howard Adams and more recently Dr. Glen Coulthard, and even that ubiquitous man-of-ideas, John Ralston Saul, for unpacking the long history preceding the present day’s many impasses when it comes to dealing with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Don’t count on the federal Conservatives under PM Stephen Harper, however, to give credence to such detailed studies. Horror-of-horrors, doing so might amount to “committing Sociology.” And THAT, dear reader, is something that PM Stephen Harper will simply not countenance. 

In the government-by-fiat that has been Stephen Harper’s long tenure as Canada’s Prime Minister, we have witnessed an erasure of what we once may have thought were Canadian values: a sense of fair-play, a strong Parliament that debates important policy changes and the creation of sound new laws, a sense that our rights to personal freedom of expression and rights to personal privacy would be fiercely protected.

Instead, we have witnessed a government that will not listen to the findings of scientists. We have also witnessed the erosion of the ability to truly oversee new policies as they come into being through those awful omnibus bills that are so lengthy and jargon-filled that even Conservative Members of Parliament do not have time to read them. 

PM Harper hates a world that is not black-and-white, a world that has infinite shades of grey.

But this is the world that we live in, despite a Prime Minister’s ideological objectives. And the commitment of Sociologists and other academics and activists is precisely what Canada needs at a time when the stakes affecting our collective future are so great.

Studying our complex issues sociologically reveals the roots and the true character of the problems that we face.

Abandoning historical- and poltico-sociological-analysis allows anti-intellectuals like our current Prime Minister to look at individual instances of injustice without seeing them as symptomatic of larger issues that would help to define them and possibly open the debate to ways in which, for example, facts like systemic racism in Canada might be addressed from a policy standpoint. 

Without sociology the world can be set in black-and-white terms.

Those in opposition who might wish to critique the government’s so-called “Law and Order” agenda can be branded as not tough on crime. This despite the countless studies by qualified criminologists that would contradict virtually every single edict that the federal government has announced since taking majority control of the House of Commons.

Opposition critiques of anti-terror Bill C-51, inherently unconstitutional in many of its parts, can be rejected by PM Harper as examples of the opposition being unconcerned about the so-called “jihadist terroristic threat” from within and without.

But this is the intellectual terrain of our current federal Conservative government under Stephen Harper. A world where even the Holocaust can be trivialized and used as yet another fear-mongering justification for the instigation of an odious anti-terror Bill like C-51. It’s a world where you’re either with us of you’re against us, according to PM Harper.

Well I am against “us,” I guess. And you should be too. Because we cannot afford to be led by a government that rejects reason, history, and the magnificent intellectual arsenal that Canada possesses to illuminate the problems that we all share in a world terribly distracted from the heavy-lifting that history demands of us at this time.

Before we can be accused as a country of “losing our minds,” we’d best reject a government that seems to want to make up history and reality itself as it sees it through its own dubious ideological lens.

— Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)

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