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Federal Politics
Election 2015

Look Out! It's the Right of the Living Dead

Have the Reform and Canadian Alliance zombies risen? Evidence is mounting.

By Michael Harris 21 Mar 2015 | iPolitics

Michael Harris is a writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his ''unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.'' His nine books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare Ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, and three of his books have been made into movies. His new book on the Harper majority government, Party of One, is a number one bestseller.

Readers can reach the author at Click here to view other iPolitics columns by by Michael Harris.

Suddenly we're back to playing a game once popular in Canadian politics: Spot the Reformer.

Although it seems like ages since a protester drenched Stockwell Day in two quarts of chocolate milk, the evidence is mounting that Reform and Canadian Alliance zombies have crawled out of their shallow graves and are shambling across the landscape once more.

Let's start with the brain-eater-in-chief. Well-known cultural anthropologist and fashion consultant Stephen Harper recently pronounced that the niqab is ''rooted in a culture that is anti-women'' and that most Canadians find it ''offensive.'' The Federal Court, meanwhile, has ruled that wearing the niqab is a constitutionally protected right.

Conservative MP John Willamson offered his insights on the competition between ''whities'' and ''brown people'' for jobs. Not to be outdone, his caucus colleague Larry Miller invited people who insist on wearing the niqab to ''stay the hell where you came from'' (presumably he wasn't talking about Scarborough).

With burning bamboo shoots shoved under their fingernails by the PMO, both men apologized. The apologies themselves were as hollow as a cottonball after the boll weevil leaves. But words mean nothing to this government. Let's repeat that for emphasis: absolutely nothing.

Canadian Sniper

After reining in these latter-day incarnations of Myron Thompson and Betty Granger, Harper continued his efforts to turn back the clock. In a bid to channel a little Charles Bronson/Dirty Harry swagger in an election year, Harper gave a Saskatchewan audience a rationale for gun ownership in the countryside that, by Canadian political standards, was pretty novel: home defence.

His argument went like this: If you live a long way from the nearest police detachment, it might be handy to have a little personal firepower in case the bad guys show up to make your day. You know, like Texas -- where you can kill somebody for trying to steal your $30 Walmart DVD player.

So, yeah, a campaigning prime minister gave the green light to vigilantes -- much the way he did to Islamophobes, anti-First Nations bigots and anyone who hates environmentalists. Former Ontario attorney general Mike Bryant said Harper's words were a direct invitation to commit illegal acts.

''It's vigilantism,'' said Bryant. ''People are going to find themselves facing the criminal justice system and being charged with serious crimes if they decide to follow what the Prime Minister is suggesting.''

Ah, but this is Harperland, where the words mean what the man says they mean. The PM insisted it was ''patently ridiculous'' to interpret his words as an incitement to vigilante acts. Why? Because all he was trying to do was show that the Conservative Party of Canada was pro-gun owner, while the other parties are clearly anti-. The words themselves meant nothing; the sentiment was everything. As usual, most of the press corps assumed the supine position.

With these people, the need to forage for votes justifies anything and forgives everything. That's why Harper poses as the Canadian Sniper. That's why he dresses up ministers like Peter MacKay in t-shirts emblazoned with the Maple Leaf and an assault rifle. There are votes in them thar hills. To get them, the CPC needs to be the party of Wyatt Earp.

Despite the collective gasp from Quebec -- where grim memories of the Montreal Massacre have created a profoundly different cultural view of guns, gun ownership and gun registries -- the PM showed no remorse for his eruption of Bronsonism. There was no apology or retraction this time -- just a fit of pique when someone had the gall to point out what his words actually meant.

The Red Scare treatment

Defence Minister Jason Kenney, Canada's five-star chicken hawk, is also getting in on the act -- possibly channelling his days as immigration minister. (Remember when his department used its own civil servants to pose as fake new citizens for a TV show on a network no one wanted to buy when the end came?)

The minister's latest exercise in tweet deceit came on International Women's Day. Kenney tweeted out a jingoistic lifter-upper about the campaign against ISIS -- accompanied by a photograph of a group of burqa-clad Muslim women chained at the wrist being led off to slavery by you-know-who.

Turns out the women were actually actors in a Shia Ashura procession re-enacting events that happened 1,300 years ago -- kind of like a Passion Play. According to the incomparable Glen McGregor, ISIS wasn't even around when the ceremonial photograph first appeared on the Internet.

The CPC's slow spiral back to the worst habits of its Reform days was also on display during the committee hearings on Bill C-51, a Trojan horse that, according to the polls, most Canadians are dragging into Troy with silly smiles on their faces.

There's a good reason why four former prime ministers, five ex-Supreme Court judges and an army of legal scholars have all been wailing the same warnings about C-51. When it passes, you will be no safer -- but there will be no such thing as peaceful protest, privacy or due process in Canada. (Not Justin Trudeau's finest hour.)

Critics of the legislation who testified before the committee got a rough ride. When the experts laid out the ugly implications of this ill-advised, unnecessary and probably unconstitutional bill for privacy and civil liberties in Canada, they got the full ''Red Scare'' treatment.

Joanna Kerr of Greenpeace was invited to explain why she was worried about an anti-terror bill if she's not a terrorist. Conservative MP Lavar Payne even wondered aloud if Kerr's organization doesn't pose a threat to national security. (Have environmentalists really infected the national fabric, Lavar? Somebody call the cops.)

Carmen Cheung, legal counsel for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, saw her legal objections to the bill brushed aside by Conservative backbencher Rick Norlock as ''rambling.'' Instead, Norlock stumbled through nearly six minutes of preamble before asking Cheung whether she's just ''fundamentally opposed to taking terrorists off the streets.''

L'air est connu. You're either with us or you're with the terrorists, with us or with the child pornographers -- the full flower of "Idiot Culture," the title of Carl Bernstein's great piece in the New Republic from 1992.

But the idiots weren't done yet. The ugliest moment to date in C-51's committee review process came from Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy. Instead of listening to what the executive director of the National Council of Muslims had to say about the bill, she waded into a matter that's still before the courts.

Ablonczy called on Ihsaan Gardee to explain his organization's alleged connection to Hamas, a defamatory allegation made by the PMO through Harper's mouthpiece at the time, Jason MacDonald. Gardee sued both MacDonald and Harper. The PM invoked parliamentary privilege to avoid testifying. Ablonczy used parliamentary privilege to repeat the PMO's slander. A nice demonstration of political courage, that -- taking cheap shots in committee while hiding behind the privilege of office. Very Bronsonesque.

Designed for Idiot Culture

The odd thing about this re-run of the Right of the Living Dead in the CPC is that it represents something Stephen Harper himself used to view with mortification and alarm. His original inspiration for muzzling MPs came from his days with Preston Manning.

Back then, a year's worth of work before a party convention -- not to mention the event itself -- could be blown apart by one unhinged Reformer ranting at the media about an Asian Invasion or Young Earth Creationism. Who can forget when Warren Kinsella produced a purple Barney the Dinosaur doll on Canada AM, proclaiming he was the only member of his species who had ever shared the planet with humans?

Now it's not really funny anymore. Harper has simply made the calculation that if the way to give a chameleon a nervous breakdown is to put him down on plaid, the way to win an election in our disappearing democracy is to offer Canadians only two flavours -- vanilla or chocolate.

That means hitting the hot buttons, over and over. Before oil prices tanked, greed was the button of choice. Now it's fear. It makes things starkly simple -- black and white, good and evil.

As simple as War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery… and Ignorance is Strength. It's a campaign designed for Idiot Culture. The only question is, are there enough idiots out there to put Harper over the top again?  [Tyee]

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