Opinion

Stephen Harper, Serial Abuser of Power: More Evidence

Canada's most ethically corrupt government? You be the judge. Second of two.

By David Beers and Tyee Staff and Contributors, 6 Aug 2015, TheTyee.ca

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Stephen Harper became the first prime minister in Canada's history found in contempt of Parliament. His government refused numerous requests by members for key budget information. Photo: Ben Stansall, Associated Press.

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[Editor's note: Since this was published, citizens helped The Tyee compile a bigger, more up to date list. Read it here.]

The previously published first half of this omnibus of Stephen Harper's sins listed 31 instances of laws broken and ethics pummeled. Some happened during elections. Others were in relentless service of policing and polishing the Harper "brand."

Today we focus on how Harper has willfully misgoverned -- 28 ways the PM and his team have lied, flouted rules and stymied democracy to achieve political and ideological ends.

Please help us out. As you read, if any abuses we've forgotten come to mind, either make a note in the comments thread after this piece or send us an email at editor@thetyee.ca, subject line Harper Abuse List. We will fold what we get into a final, single version as a handy reference for the campaign. That runs Monday.

Thanks again to a few friends of The Tyee who researched and helped with this list.

PMO Tied to Senate Hush Money Scandal


An RCMP affidavit reported widespread involvement by PMO staffers in a secret payment to Senator Mike Duffy to try and make a political problem go away. The Senate expenses scandal brought on allegations of a cover-up, a breach of the public trust, and a whitewashing of a Senate report. The PMO was found to have hand in the altering of a damning Deloitte audit.


Harper Found in Contempt of Parliament

For refusing to disclose information on the costing of programs to Parliament, which Parliament was entitled to receive, the Harper government became the first in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament.

Against Court Order, Refusal to Share Budget Info

Even though it lost a court case and was ordered to comply, the Harper government nevertheless refused to share 170 times reasons and impacts for cuts with Canada's independent budget watchdog, mocking Parliament's right to control the public purse.

Conservative Cabinet Staffers Granted Immunity from Testimony


A PMO edict absolved political staffers from ever having to testify before parliamentary committees.

Conservatives Falsify Reports and Documents

Among documents deliberately altered in the writing or the quoting by the government: CIDA document by Bev Oda's office on Kairos; the Senate Committee Report on the Duffy affair; a report by former auditor-general Sheila Fraser on financial management.

Repeated Duplicity in Afghan Detainees Controversy

Among the abuses: Parliament was misled and denied documents. An inquiry was shut down. Tories attempted to discredit diplomat Richard Colvin whose testimony diverted from the government's line.

Repeated Duplicity on Costing of F-35 Fighter Jets

An auditor-general's report revealed serial deceptive practices used by the Conservatives in misleading the public and Parliament on the projected cost of the fighter jets.



Harper Minister Lies, Blames Statistics Canada for Killing Long Form Census

Under fire for Conservatives killing the long form census, Industry Minister Tony Clement falsely stated that StatsCan backed the idea and assured the voluntary substitute would yield valid statistical data. Neither was true, outraged StatsCan sources confirmed.

Conservative MP Admits He Lied to Parliament

As opposition members claimed the Harper government was out to rig election rules in its favour, Conservative MP Brad Butt rose in the House of Commons to say why the bill was needed -- all the voter fraud he had personally witnessed. Weeks later he rose again to say his statements were false. Delivering his strained apology, he failed to explain why he lied in the first place.

Conservative House Leader Admits to Mockery of Question Period

Criticized far and wide for farcical answers in Question Period, Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to Harper, made a tearful apology for abuse of the democratic process.
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Harper Maligns the Supreme Court Chief Justice


The Prime Minister took the unprecedented step of alleging inappropriate conduct by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. Facts undermined the credibility of the PM's position.

Conservatives Engage in Abuse of Process with Omnibus Bills

Harper's party pushed legislation through Parliament via omnibus bills, the scale of which Parliament had never seen. Such bills are widely condemned as an abuse of the democratic process, because they blend and bury so many controversial laws within one dense package. Harper himself once railed against them, and his born again love for them made his own MPs queasy. Referencing such bills, former auditor-general Sheila Fraser said that "Parliament has become so undermined that it is almost unable to do the job that people expect of it."

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'Parliament has become so undermined that it is almost unable to do the job that people expect of it.' Former auditor-general Sheila Fraser on Harper's omnibus bills.

Harperites Deliberately Screw up and Stymie Committee System

Conservatives used tactics such as barring witnesses, closure, time limitations, and in camera sessions to an extent rarely, if ever, witnessed in Canada. In their early days in power, top Conservatives prepared a handbook instructing committee chairpersons how to obstruct proceedings.

Harper's Own MPs Protest Muzzling

In a caucus known for his tight discipline, in 2014 some members finally rose up to contest being censored at Question Period by the Prime Minister's Office. Former Conservative backbencher Brent Rathgeber turned independent and published a book, Irresponsible Government, decrying anti-democratic practices.

Conservative Bill Rewrites History to Protect Mounties from Potential Criminal Charges

To protect the RCMP, the government retroactively made an old bill come into force before it was passed by Parliament.

Harper Minister Caught in Advertising Scam with Public Funds

The Globe and Mail revealed that Harper's chosen Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre commissioned a team of public servants for overtime work on a Sunday to film him glad-handing constituents. The vanity video on the taxpayer dime was to promote the government's benefits for families.

Corrupt Conservative Cronies

The Senate scandal is just the latest eruption of crony corruption in Harperite ranks. Take Bruce Carson. He was a convicted fraudster before Harper made him a key advisor in the PMO. There, Carson was lobbied for money for a new University of Calgary eco-think tank. He then left the PMO to run the same think tank, converting it to an oil industry booster with a $15-million grant from the Harper government. The complex saga added one more criminal charge to others Carson faces for allegedly illegally working his connections with the Harper government.

Access to Information System Impeded

Many new roadblocks have been put up by the Harper Conservatives. Former Information Commissioner Robert Marleau concluded that having obtained absolute power, the prime minister "has absolutely abused that power to the maximum."


The Silencing of the Public Service

The PMO took an unprecedented step in instituting a system wherein the bureaucracy has all its communications vetted by the political nerve centre. The policy contribution role of the public service is significantly reduced. Complaints from insiders allege that the Privy Council office has become increasingly politicized.

Loyalty Oaths Imposed on Public Servants

Archivists and librarians were made to swear strict oaths of allegiance and were hit with restrictions on freedom of speech that editorialists of the right and left described as chilling.

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Watchdog lapdog: Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet sat on more than 200 whistleblower files before quitting. Her style? 'Gross mismanagement' concluded the auditor general.

Conservatives Block Accreditation for Opposition MPs

In another example of partisanship taken to new heights, the PMO blocked opposition members from being accredited for international environment conferences and from visiting military bases.

Tactic Borrowed from North Korea's Dear Leader

Ostensibly neutral public servants were used as stooges, falsely posing as new citizens in a staged Citizenship Renewal public relations exercise by the Immigration Department. Media critics had a field day comparing the charade to practices undertaken by North Korean dictators.

Clampdown on Freedom of Speech of Diplomatic Corps

Ottawa's diplomats must get all communications approved from Conservative political operatives. Under Harper, the country's ambassadors are hardly heard from any more. In a recent speech, former United Nations ambassador Stephen Lewis said our political culture under the Conservatives has descended into "a nadir of indignity."


Marine Science Libraries Decimated

The Harper government's downsizing of federal libraries included sudden closing of seven world famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans archives. A leaked memo revealed the destruction and consolidation would save less than half a million dollars. Scientist patrons of the libraries, who witnessed chaotic chucking of rare literature, called it a "book burning" with no logical purpose other than to restrict environmental information. The Harper government claimed vital works would be digitally preserved, but never provided a plan or cost for doing so, nor any proof it had happened. No scientists interviewed by The Tyee believed digitizing would or could replace what was lost.

Harper Government Denies Khadr Basic Rights

Defying court rulings, the Conservative government refused to accord Omar Khadr basic rights such as access to media. Editorialists of right and left persuasion described the move as unbefitting a democratic government.

Illegitimate Prorogation of Parliament, Twice

Prorogations are a legitimate procedure that can be abused depending on motivations. The Harper government provoked 60 protests across Canada and beyond its borders in 2010 after shutting the legislature's doors to escape condemnation on the Afghan detainees' file. It was the second prorogation in a year's period.

Undue Interference with Independent Agencies

Command and control system was extended to meddling in bodies like National Energy Board and CRTC whose arms-length autonomy is significantly reduced. A special target was the Parliamentary Budget Office, which was hit with condemnations and budget cuts for its critical reports.

Lapdogs Appointed as Watchdogs

The most controversial was the case of former Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet. Her office reviewed more than 200 whistleblowing cases. Disciplinary action followed on none of them. Ouimet's own angry staffers blew the whistle on their boss. The auditor general found Ouimet intimidated her employees, took "retaliatory action" against them and may have breached their privacy, all part of the Harper appointee's "gross mismanagement." Ouimet was paid more than $500,000 to leave her post.

What did we miss? Take a look at part one of this list here and if you think we left anything out, please share examples of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives abusing power. Make a note in the comments thread below or send us an email at editor@thetyee.ca, subject line Harper Abuse List.

Monday: We roll part one, part two and readers' suggested additions into one big omnibus of abuse by Harper and his people. Check back to find the final product and share.  [Tyee]

**Story corrected Aug. 6 at 12:50 p.m.

Read more: Politics, Federal Politics,

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