Saturday, 12 April 2014

My Canada does not include Stephen Harper

There are three things I prize as a Canadian.

Three things that set us apart from the other nations of the world.

Three essential elements of the Canadian identity.
  • The right to vote
  • Equitable universal healthcare 
  • The CBC
When Mr Harper's party was elected in 2006 he said "You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it." Over the course of the last few months, he's worked pretty damn hard to fulfill his promise.

Let's start with the so-called Fair Elections Act - an act written in response to the robocall disaster which almost immediately morphed into an act that will limit the role of the Chief Electoral Officer and disenfranchise voters. Although voter fraud has never been identified as an issue in Canada, the act will eliminate the vouching system which has allowed generations of students, transient workers, aboriginal people and the homeless to participate in Canadian democracy. The Chief Electoral Officer suggests this could disenfranchise half a million voters. In the past two federal elections, my daughters were university students and had no photo ID showing their current address-yet they both voted. The only valid photo ID students are likely to have is a driver's licence. Since many young people move from place to place, and since they are notoriously poor, are they going to pay for a new licence every few months-so they can vote?  In the last federal election, just over 60% of Canadians voted.  In 2000, voter participation for first time voters was 22%. Why would we want to marginalize young people any more than we already do?

The role of the Chief Electoral Officer will also be changed under the Fair Elections Act. Previously, the officer was "mandated to ensure that the electoral process is as accessible as possible to Canadians. This is key to encouraging voter participation." Elections Canada has also played a significant role in getting out the vote and promoting the concept of voting with young people. As a teacher, I have been very pleased to participate in the Youth Vote sponsored by Elections Canada and to direct my students to their very useful website that provides helpful instructions to new voters. Under the new act, Elections Canada, the one agency in Canada tasked with encouraging people to vote, will no longer be able to do so.

Now to the dissolution of the Health Accord. According to a recent poll by the Association for Canadian Studies, 94% of Canadians say universal healthcare is the most important source of Canadian pride. The Health Accord,an agreement between the feds and  the provinces to ensure equitable and universal access to healthcare among the provinces, expired at the end of March and there is no intent to renew it. As a northern Albertan, I have already been denied that right, but at least the Health Accord gave me some assurance that I could receive access. Now, it will just be up to my province and its notorious ineffective bureaucracy known as Alberta Health Services. Readers of this blog will know how I feel about that.

Finally, the CBC. In a country as vast as Canada, expecting private contractors to provide media coverage in all regions is absurd. The CBC has been highly effective, in my opinion, in uniting Canadians by creating a sense of the Canadian identity and a forum for Canadians from Bonavista to Grise Fjord. Yet Harper's Conservatives aim to dismantle this important Canadian institution with a death by a thousand cuts.

In 1997 Harper described Canada as a Northern European welfare state, ignoring the fact that Northern European welfare states like Norway have consistently been ranked at the upper end of the UN Human Development Index while Canada has fallen seven places since his election, down from number 4 to number 11.

Critics of Mr. Harper have noticed that Canada is losing its identity as a nation that values the collective good to that of a rogue reckless petrostate. Up until now, the term "petrostate" made me think of nations like Libya and Iraq- untrustworthy nations that could do whatever they wanted because they had the finances to turn up their noses at their citizens and the rest of the world.  But now I think about Canada.  Are our institutions, indeed the very fibre of our nations, being warped by our dependence on oil? Are our elected officials more accountable to big oil than to voters, because that's where their revenue comes from?  

It's MY Canada too Mr. Harper. I want to be able to recognize it when you are through. My ancestors worked for generations to build the country I love. Immigrants come here for the combination of freedom and equality that has evolved as a result of our collective values.