Conservatives suppress democracy: RoboGate, dangerous words and a scarier worldview

Published in | February 25, 2012 | Circulation: 200,000 unique monthly readers

Riot police are an increasingly present symbol of repression of dissent. Photo by David P. Ball

“Let’s not talk about statistics. Let’s talk about danger” — public safety minister Vic Toews

Once again, Canadians are up in arms about the latest scandal exposed about our government in Ottawa. This time, there is glaring evidence to suggest election fraud targeting dozens — maybe more — of the swing ridings across the country in last year’s election. It could become, as the NDP’s Pat Martin suggested, “the largest electoral fraud in Canadian history.”

But, as I argued in the Vancouver Observer this week — Online spying, “foreign radicals” and faux patriotism: Conservatives bare draconian teeth — we need to look at the larger picture if we’re going to succeed in stopping the government’s anti-democratic agenda.

Thanks to an excellent election post-mortem by Matt Peters and Ryan Boldt last year, we know that the Conservative Party won by a very narrow margin in dozens of ridings, in some cases beating out NDP and Liberal candidates by only hundreds of votes (some within dozens).

The scope and breadth of RoboGate has yet to be known, but every day more ridings are reporting robo-calls and deceiving messages from the 2011 election. Could the Conservatives have, in fact, stolen their majority victory?

Even before what I call RoboGate (or, as other media have coined, ‘RoboCon’), we had a litany of abuses –from the Conservatives pleading guilty to illegal election spending (the ‘in-out’ scandal), to being found in contempt of Parliament, pork-barrelling millions in G20 cash into cabinet minister Tony Clement’s personal riding, and deploying military brass to find dirt on opposition members.

But a scan over current federal legislation on the books shows an insidious and systemic rightwing worldview — one that threatens Canada’s (potential for) democracy.

With Kenney’s Bill C-4 now repackaged into a rights-stripping new refugee law, families seeking protection in Canada not only face Australia-style mandatory, indefinite detention (which is illegal under our Charter and international law, and led to detention centre riots Down Under), but fingerprinting and biometrics as if asylum-seekers are criminals. Add to that Toews’ online spying bill and draconian omnibus crime bill — which jails pot growers longer than pedophiles — and you have a picture of what real danger looks like.

Public safety minister Vic Toews’ controversial labelling of online spying opponents as supporters of “child pornographers” last week earned him the ire of the public — and the hacker group Anonymous, which retaliated by publishing the name of his alleged mistress and former babysitter of his children (Stacey Meek, now a staffer for two Conservative parliamentarians). Touché.

But Toews’ remarks are not out of line, any more than Prime Minister Harper and natural resource minister Joe Oliver’s “foreign-funded radicals” attacks of months prior in smearing tar sands pipeline opponents and immigration minister Jason Kenney’s vocal disdain for No One Is Illegal and so-called “queue-jumping” refugees.

Across the board — whether it’s using dirty tricks to get elected in the first place, smear attacks on opponents and critics, or legislation that will completely undermine human rights and civil liberties — the Conservatives are fundamentally reshaping Canada’s future. We were all warned, yes. But we still have a lot of work to do to convince average Canadians of that fact.

If we, as progressives, Leftists and people of conscience, are to confront and stop the Conservatives — and create a more just, sustainable world — we need to move beyond simply expressing shock and outrage every time a cabinet minister utters something offensive, and look at the whole package. And we need to go beyond demanding resignations to spreading a systemic critique in our communities.

Toews hit the nail on the head when he uttered before a Senate safety committee last month that he doesn’t care about statistics, but rather about danger. Exploiting public fears of pedophiles, terrorists, foreigners and radicals — in other words, of constant danger itself — is the conservative movement’s bread-and-butter.

But it also reveals a window into their irrational and illogical worldview, where even in solid majority the government sees the Devil behind every bush — ripping pages from both Christian Evangelical circles and Cold War McCarthyists.

Accurately assessing this ‘danger’ worldview — and why it appeals to voters in the first place during a global financial crisis, alongside increases in overt racist hatred like we are seeing — is crucial to defeating the government’s attempts to suppress democracy. Let’s not mince words — that’s exactly what they’re doing.

But it’s also what every state tends to do — if its citizens are not vigilant and vocal in the face of the real danger of expanded state power, which always goes hand-in-hand with citizen surveillance, anti-immigrant racism and law-and-order ideologies.

We see Toews back-pedaling like crazy over his child pornographer remarks and even hinting at amending some of his leglislation. That only happened because of a monumental public opposition — and we’re not just talking about old-fashioned letter-writing, but a whole range of tactics from protests to internet hacking to whatever else people can creatively come up with.

We don’t need to wait until 2015 to get rid of this government. Nor should electoral reform or cross-party cooperation be our only target, as valuable as those might (or might not) be. With mainstream Canadians questioning the most egregious of Conservative smears and strategies, it’s an opportunity to broaden the conversation.

So let’s all cut the righteous surprise — it’s time to mobilize.

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