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Stephen Harper, Unfit to Govern

Few are thrilled to have another election, but we must put it to good use.

By Murray Dobbin 10 Sep 2009 |

Murray Dobbin's State of the Nation column appears every two weeks in The Tyee and

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Cartoon by Ingrid Rice.

Anticipating another federal election feels like being in the movie Groundhog Day with the same players (save one) going through the same routines, everyone stuck in the same place, doing the same thing.  The two major parties are tied (according to the most reliable polls) at levels that are a long way off from majority territory. The NDP has learned nothing from the last two elections and the Greens are stuck at levels that mean they cannot possibly elect even one MP. Quebec will show its contempt for the whole mess by electing more Bloc members.

Despite all that, we need to take the opportunity to get rid of the most destructive and mean-spirited prime minister the country has ever had.

There is no good reason to wait as next spring or fall will simply see a longer list of victims of Stephen Harper's disdain for Canada and the whole notion of democratic government.

Malignant narcissist?

Quite simply, Stephen Harper is unfit to govern. Surely the only prime minister in Canadian history who has actually expressed contempt for his own country, Harper has demonstrated a disregard for the rule of law that should, in a rational world, disqualify him from leading any government. In Western democracies people agree to be governed by a small number of elected representatives on the basis of respect for the rule of law: that is, we agree to assign our power to a government of laws, not of men -- a principle first enshrined in the Massachusetts constitution by John Adams in 1780. In other words, we expect governments and prime ministers to respect the law and not run roughshod over it on the basis of personal preferences.

It seems irrefutable to me after 20 years of analyzing the career of Stephen Harper that he is incapable of providing democratic governance. Harper arguably shows some traits of what psychologists refer to as malignant narcissism, a dangerously heightened sense of self importance. Otto Kernberg, a leader in the study of personality disorders, describes malignant narcissism as "extreme self-absorption and insensitivity that often result in a trail of victims -- emotional wreckage left in the narcissist's wake." The victims Kernberg refers to are, of course, individuals, but in our case the principal victim is the Canadian nation -- its humanist accomplishments, its art and culture, the foundation of its science, its international standing and its democratic governance.

But there are, of course, individual victims, those individuals targeted for special contempt such as the numerous Muslim Canadians trapped overseas for various reasons and willfully abandoned by this government. Perhaps the most egregious and disturbing case is that of Omar Kadr, the child soldier who has languished for over six years in an illegal prison, without ever being convicted, in violation of international law, and despite two court decisions demanding that Ottawa repatriate him. 

Changing words that matter

But Mr. Harper simply cannot bear to recognize the legitimacy of the courts as a crucial branch of government unless he absolutely has to.  So perverse is Mr. Harper's attitude towards democratic governance, that he secretly had the language that the foreign affairs department can now use, changed -- replacing the term "child soldiers" with "children in armed conflict." A major shift in government policy was thus made by stealth, not only without any involvement of Parliament, but without any notice whatsoever.

But it didn't stop there. Embassy Magazine, which uncovered the secret documents involved, reported on other language changes, including "excising of the word 'humanitarian' from each reference to 'international humanitarian law,' replacing the term 'gender equality' with 'equality of men and women', switching focus from justice for victims of sexual violence to 'prevention of sexual violence.'" Observers of Canadian foreign policy say the changes water down "the very international human rights obligations Canada once fought to have adopted in conventions at the United Nations."

The PM's mini-crusade

The combination of Harper's signs of personality disorder and his fundamentalist Christianity has provided us with the most stark demonstration of his contempt for due process in this mini-Crusade against Muslims. It has garnered the most attention because most Canadians can easily empathize with the victims, in stark contrast with Harper's obvious disdain. And let's be clear: the decisions to do everything in the government's power to deny these citizens their rights could only have come from the Prime Minister's office. When the chief law-maker of the country flouts the law, he becomes a tyrant.

Scorn for Parliament itself is high on the list of categories of contempt. Harper's government simply declared that it would ignore the previous government's signing of the Kyoto protocol. We withdrew from the U.N.'s Durban anti-racism conference, again with no reference to Parliament. Harper eliminated funding for English language classes given by an Arab organization because it also came out strongly in support of Palestinian rights. He casually announced that he was simply winding down the long-gun registry, passed by Parliament, with no intention of bringing it back to the House of Commons for reconsideration.

To try to destroy a key part of the parliamentary process, Harper produced a 200-plus-page "guide" showing Conservative MPs how to thwart and otherwise frustrate the proceedings of Parliamentary Committees. One of the developments which no doubt prompted this sinister attempt at manipulation was a Commons Committee rejection of Gwyn Morgan, Harper's choice for a new public appointments chief.  Furious, he declared that he would simply end the reform process until he had a majority and could appoint whomever he wanted. While this could be dismissed as little more than immature petulance it is much, much more. 

Ditto his well-known confrontation with the Parliamentary press gallery in 2006. Harper angrily cancelled a news conference when reporters refused to accept his edict that the PMO would choose which reporters would get to ask questions. The depth of Harper's self-absorption was revealed in his bizarre efforts to get out his "line" for the day: his officials asked lobbyists and consultants to contact journalists with the appropriate messaging. This would be funny, I suppose, were it not so twisted.

Governing as if a majority

The thick guide on thwarting the House of Commons was just one feature of Harper's sneering disregard for democracy. Completely ignoring the long history of working minority governments, Harper doesn't even try to hide his scorn for the opposition parties which garnered 62 per cent of the votes in the last election. No other minority government in Canadian history has been so condescending. Harper has to compete in elections to get power, but his belief that 38 per cent of the vote entitles him to implement his whole agenda demonstrates his absolute scorn for the democratic process and for Canadians.

Canadian voters, his message seems to be, are just a bunch of fools who have to be periodically suckered so Stephen Harper can dismantle their country. If there was any chance that he could achieve power in any other way, one gets the ominous feeling that Harper would do so.

Harper has actually initiated two law suits again the Canadian government itself -- the non-partisan agency Elections Canada. These moves are unprecedented in Canada and probably the Commonwealth. Harper even has contempt for his own laws, nonchalantly ignoring his fixed election date law by calling an election last year to suit himself, when Parliament was not even in session (a move that is now being challenged in court by Democracy Watch). And when his government was threatened by a coalition of opposition parties, he simply prorogued Parliament to avoid a vote of non-confidence, another dubious first for a prime minister.

When the future of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan looked iffy in the House of Commons in 2007, Harper angrily declared that he would unilaterally extend the military's mandate for a year. (He got the mandate anyway, with the help of some right-wing Liberals.) This was the classic narcissist in action: absolutely convinced of his own superiority, he easily slips into a state of rage when someone -- anyone -- has the temerity to disagree with him.

Don't stay home, vote

The Liberals have decided that, to save face, they have to force an election. Well, whatever opportunity presents itself to rid the country of this prime minister should be taken up with energy and determination. No other result could possibly be worse. We already know what damage he can do even with a minority government. He is a threat to who we are as a nation.

One thing could get him re-elected: millions of Canadians deciding not to vote. Don't even think of being one of them.  [Tyee]

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