“You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2006 election boast continues to echo in my head, more than eight long years after he uttered it. I can’t shake it, folks. His promise has become the political earworm that returns on the path of an ill-wind blowing in daily from the Nation’s capitol and I am powerless to make it stop.
You see, PM Harper was right: I don’t recognize Canada anymore. Do you? He has brought such radical change to Canada over his eight-year tenure as the country’s leader that I am beginning to have trouble even remembering what life in Canada before Stephen Harper felt like.
Granted, not everything was hunky dory before Stephen Harper whipped his new-fangled Reformatories into muzzled shape. Sure, we all tired of the abject corruption of the Jean Chretien-led Liberals. And before the Chretien dynasty, we shook our heads at the corruption and free-wheeling deal-brokering of the Brian Mulroney-led Progressive Conservatives.
But I don’t think we ever questioned whether our political leaders shared a certain vision of Canada with the majority of the electorate. I don’t think we ever wondered if our leaders loathed the very electorate that put them into office.
Fast forward to the present day and you’ll note some changes.
A couple decades ago Canada enjoyed a sterling reputation. We were welcomed to the UN with an envied seat on the Security Council. Internationally, the World community eyed Canada as a kinder and gentler version of our neighbours to the south. Canada stood as a beacon for fair-mindedness, international co-operation, as counselors for diplomacy before war. Our public education and our healthcare systems were seen as exemplars to be emulated. Our banks were solid and our prospects for the future looked pretty bright.
Of course, no country is perfect, not even Canada. Our systemically racist history of dealing with our First Peoples was roundly condemned internationally, and rightly so. So too our neglect of our environment raised eyebrows at home and abroad, our seeming satisfaction with stripping our corner of the planet of every raw resource without adding any value to these before fobbing them off to more industrious countries elsewhere. But we were beginning to see the light....
Kelowna itself became a place-marker in our evolution towards a more just society before PM Harper and his crew came to town. For a brief moment in time, Kelowna was the site of a historic deal brokered with our First Peoples.
Eighteen long months of consultation culminated in Kelowna at The First Ministers’ Meeting in November 2005. It’s impossible to believe now, but the Government of Canada, every single provincial premier, and the leaders of the five First Nations organizations signed a deal that would later be called the Kelowna Accord. It was a template to move forward on issues ranging from housing to education to economic development for Canada’s indigenous people.
The Kelowna Accord was the last time that I felt a surge of pride and hope for our young democracy. It felt good that Canada’s elected elites could forge a new path forward. It may even have averted recent fissures like Attawapiskat and Idle No More.
But Prime Minister Harper didn’t feel the same surge of pride and hope that many Canadians did at the time. Among his first orders of business upon becoming prime minister in 2006 was to rip up the Kelowna Accord and set back relations with First Nations by decades.
Of course, this was just the start of reshaping a Canada that the rest of us will no longer recognize when Our Man is done with Our Country.
A government-by-prorogation, the Harper-led Conservatives have gutted funding to Statistics Canada, making it even more difficult to analyze knowledgeably changes afoot within our country.
Additionally, the Harper-led Conservatives have: Sabotaged our efforts to deal with climate change; installed a more punitive carceral system and taken away discretion from our judiciary; neglected to keep the promise of cutting subsidies to oil companies; loosened restrictions on food labeling; weakened impact-study requirements for resource-extraction businesses; weakened the Press’ ability to question the government; gutted funding to the country’s much-loved national broadcaster, The CBC; and silenced the country’s scientists when their research findings run counter to government ideology.
So you see, it’s tough for a guy with a memory of Life-Before-Stephen to get nationalistically weepy over the sight of the maple leaf waving in the wind. I get angry instead. And I think you should get angry too. PM Harper has a vision for Canada; but he’s loathe to articulate it, and he’s damn well not gonna’ let one of his minions articulate it. One thing is sure, however: his vision is not mine, and I doubt that it’s yours. And this Canada Day, when the City Band regales us with the national anthem, I for one will begin singing it with a twist: “Woe Canada...”
— 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)gmail.com