Sunday, October 12, 2008

Must-read: Haroon Siddiqi on Harper's frightened diplomats

I don't want to go off the deep end with Canadian election coverage, but political commentator Haroon Siddiqi's op-ed on Stephen Harper in today's Toronto Star is really a must-read. In it, he discusses how scared diplomats and commissioners have become to even speak off the record about their areas of expertise--after all, Harper's gov has fired and harrassed even arm's length agency heads for speaking truths that bother him. Here's a few choice excerpts:

Harper shares several traits with Bush. He can be excessively partisan: you're either with him or against him. If you don't back his disastrous and costly Afghan policy, you are unpatriotic, unfaithful to Canadian troops and an apologist for the Taliban.

He is secretive and authoritarian. He does not tolerate dissent.

As is well-known, he muzzled his caucus, including ministers, and the federal bureaucrats, including our diplomats. Never before in my 40 years of travelling abroad have I run into so many envoys at our embassies so fearful of giving even off-the-record briefings on the countries they are posted in. The John Manley commission on Afghanistan found this appalling, saying it has prevented our diplomats from representing our interests.

We also know what Harper did to the heads of three independent commissions who challenged him.

Linda Keen was fired as head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, hours before she was to appear before a parliamentary committee, over disagreements on the shutdown of the Chalk River reactor.

Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand was berated and taken to court for prosecuting the Tories for accounting tricks to get around the Elections Act limits on spending.

Peter Tinsley, chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, has been blocked at every turn from probing allegations of possible Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees.

"In each of these dust-ups," wrote professor Lorne Sossin of the faculty of law at the U of T, the Harper government looked "reckless, petty, arrogant, incompetent, paranoid, sinister and/or just plain vindictive."

Harper has also been accused of saying one thing and doing another. Almost all politicians are a bundle of contradictions but he seems more so than most.

As for Harper taking saying he'll do better on the economy than others, that also seems doubtful...

Finally, on the economy, Harper's shrill warnings that a Liberal government would spell doom for Canada ring hollow, given that he and Flaherty have blown a $12 billion surplus left by Paul Martin.

Harper and most conservative leaders talk of fiscal responsibility but end up emptying the treasury through massive tax cuts, mostly to corporations while resisting increases in minimum wages, and through high defence spending.

Brian Mulroney left a $42 billion deficit; Harris-Eves a $5 billion deficit and a record $111 billion debt; Ronald Reagan left a massive deficit and debt, while Bush turned a $230 billion surplus into a deficit of about $500 billion, and accumulated a debt of $10 trillion.

I hope that Canadians are able to remember some of this as they head to the polls on Tuesday. Calgary writer Gillian Steward's op-ed running on the same page contains a few choice reminders too: that Calgary Conservative MPs, namely, still tend to an anti-immigrant view of Canada. Being from Alberta, I hate the redneck label as much as anyone, but these guys have really stepped out of line.

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