What is happening to my country? I wonder if this is how my great-grandparents felt as they slowly became disenchanted with Mussolini's totalitarian leadership methods. Because I find what is going on right now to be seriously scary.
This morning, I was shocked to read the following opinion piece (quoted here in its entirety) from a Sun Media paper, which is normally sympathetic to Harper (they're the ones who are trying to create a Fox News North):
In just the past six weeks, this Conservative government has made bad decisions that have or are going to waste enough taxpayer money to fund the $4 million "deficit" of the prison farms for years to come.
At least $1 billion dollars was spent on the G8/G20. The cost of which, including lost tax revenue from business closures and more, will take months to learn. And now what will certainly be more than $600 million on a census that includes a useless voluntary survey that will potentially cripple a world-renowned government agency.
The G8 & G20 summits alone racked up more than $4 million in costs for each 20 minutes of the three-day affair. And to what end, exactly? Most of the work was done in the weeks leading up to the event by civil servants whose names we will mostly never know.
The voluntary National Household Survey, which is attempting to play the part of the mandatory long-form census of yore, has been decried as basically useless by most statisticians and professionals in the field including Statistics Canada's two most recent heads. Its bias will potentially permeate through all national statistical models and skew results for years to come.
All three of these decisions are bad decisions and, thankfully, two of them can be easily corrected. This government of mistakes needs to recognize that it has gone astray and reverse these decisions before it's too late: keep the prison farms alive and reinstate the long-form census.
The G20 came as a huge shock to me. I have no love for the Toronto riot police--I know from personal experience their tendency to overreact and power-trip--but even I was surprised and horrified by the experiences of peaceful protesters who were rounded up, incarcerated, brutalized, and even threatened with sexual violence.
This time the violence was actually reported in some mainstream media outlets, which is not usually the case for police brutality in this country. Usually it's glossed over if it must be mentioned at all. And then--despite the fact that most of the country now knew what a cock-up the whole thing was--Harper and his mouthpiece, Dimitri Soudas, praised Toronto police for the great job they did in keeping the summit safe.
We've all known for quite some time now that Harper muzzles his caucus and especially his staff. Between that, the fact that information being released by the government according to the Access to Information Act had slowed to a trickle, and Harper's two semi-unconstitutional prorogations of Parliament--and the underhanded tactic of making announcements at the same time as major hockey events, proving that he considers hockey to be the opiate of the masses in Canada--made me fear that Canada was slowly turning into the kind of dystopic dictatorship you usually only read about in scifi novels.
And then the Tories announced that they were getting rid of the long form census.
My first reaction, as posted on Facebook:
Just when I thought I couldn't dislike Tony Clement and the rest of Harper's minions any more... they pull some stupid shit like this. MAJOR CHANGES TO THE CENSUS. The long portion of the census will now be replaced by some weird-ass voluntary survey, and the data will NEVER BE RELEASED. OMFG. Not only will this result in a crazy bias in results, meaning that WE WILL NOT KNOW ACCURATE STATISTICS REGARDING THE ETHNICITY, DISABILITIES, EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION, OR INCOME of Canadians--information which policymakers and others use regularly to ensure that the majority of Canadians are benefited by their policies, information that potential immigrants look at before choosing to come here, information that it would just generally be nice to know--FUTURE HISTORIANS will know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about today's Canadian population on account of how even the voluntary information collected won't be released after 92 years the way census data currently is. And why? Because apparently the current census is an intrusion of privacy. WHAT THE CRAP EVER. I'm probably not going to be around in 92 years, I don't care if people see my census data, I WANT them to see my census data if it contributes to their general knowledge. You know who's really going to be the losing party here? GENEALOGISTS, who regularly use census data to find out information about their ancestors. And since there is a closet amateur genealogist in all of us (there totally is, admit it), this census reform is really hurting ALL CANADIANS.
I stand by that even more than before now that I've learned that the question of official language is also on the long form census.
Conservative spokespeople have offered up a variety of finely-tuned bullshit to explain/defend this decision. The long form census is invasive, and the fact that it is compulsory abhorrent. (Bullshit! Of all the organizations collecting personal information about me, StatsCan is the one I worry about the least. Also--how long does it take to fill out the form, like half an hour?) People have been complaining about the lack of privacy. (Also bullshit, according to the Privacy Commissioner.) StatsCan said that the voluntary survey would provide them with enough information. (Bullshit! The head of StatsCan resigned over this statement. StatsCan said it would be theoretically possible to get statistically significant data from a voluntary survey as long as the sample size was big enough.) So many Canadians list their religion as "Jedi" that… actually, I don't think they explained why this justified cutting the census. (Also, the New Zealand census counts Jedi as second-most-popular religion, and they still have a census, so...) And--my favourite--Canadians won't notice, anyway.
Despite all the headlines and the backlash, there is a strongly held belief within the Conservative ranks that the census story has not penetrated the psyche of many average Canadians and will soon fizzle out.
"It's just another dead news-cycle story," said one Conservative MP. "Most people will look at it, and say, what's the difference?"
But it didn't quite work out that way, did it? Provincial governments are complaining. Just about every organization representing an "othered" group is complaining. Municipalities are complaining. Everyone and everything that deals in information is complaining. Impolitical has a (partial) list of 43 organizations who are against the removal of the census, and three that are for it.
The Official Languages Commissioner is investigating the issue and its potential impact on francophone communities outside of Quebec and New Brunswick. The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada is even taking legal action against the federal government over this issue.
And the Tories' idea of a compromise is to suggest making the official language question a part of the mandatory short form. Otherwise they remain unbudged.
Way to rule like you have a majority, Harper.
The Conservatives are no longer leading in the polls, but they are neck-and-neck with the Liberals. I'm surprised that they're still that far ahead, considering that literally the only person I know who actually supports Harper is my grandfather (the one who forwards me racist emails).
The third issue mentioned in the Whig editorial is the closure of the prison farms. Where I live, in Eastern Ontario, this issue is enormous. Everyone--LITERALLY everyone--is against the closure. Even at my nominally non-partisan place of work, where we're not allowed to talk about politics because we're technically agents of the federal government, my manager once suggested shutting down the site so we could all go to a local protest, and I'm not at all convinced she was joking.
The reasoning for shutting down the prison farms: the skills they teach (farming) are no longer applicable in today's world as they were a century ago when the prison farms were first founded; in a farm setting, there are more security issues and successful escape attempts; and the prison farms are posting a deficit.
Legitimately, farming skills are not in super high demand right now. But just learning new skills and putting in a day's worth of honest work can raise inmates' self-esteem and general desire to succeed without resorting to petty crime. It also gives them something to do with their time other than just watching TV or reading in their cells, which I would think probably reduces drug use and elaborate escape plots (inmates of maximum security prisons have spent a lot of time and energy whittling weapons out of toothbrushes and making hollow spaces in stacks of lunch trays).
Security was an issue at one of the prison farms, I think in Saskatchewan, where there were quite a few successful escapes. But here in Eastern Ontario, there are seven correctional facilities within a short drive of the city of Kingston, including maximum securities like the Kingston Penitentiary (where rapist and serial killer Paul Barnardo is held) and Millhaven Institution (where the brother was sent in the Tragically Hip song "38 Years Old"). It's safe to say that area residents are far more concerned about a recent security breach at the Pen and the fact that last week a Millhaven employee was discovered smuggling in drugs than they are about an escape from one of the minimum security prison farms.
As for the deficit issue--tell me, are any non-farm prisons making money?
As I type this, protesters are blockading the entrance to Frontenac Institution, as they have been since yesterday morning, to prevent cattle trucks from entering the prison and removing the dairy cows. Yesterday nine people were arrested at the blockade, including a 14-year-old girl and an 87-year-old woman, and a dozen more have been arrested today. Most protesters, including some of my co-workers who were at the protest yesterday, have said they would also be willing to be arrested for their cause.
All you need to do is take a look at the pictures accompanying the media coverage to tell that these are not radicals, or even people who protest regularly. When an entire community--a community in a prison town, in fact--gets together to oppose something, you should probably sit down and think about it. People are not stupid. They have a pretty good idea of what works best in their own community.
Meanwhile, Stockwell Day is still an idiot. Probably in order to distract the (apparently stupid) Canadian populace from the census issue, Day announced the expansion of several prisons, including Millhaven, which is apparently going to become some kind of prison super-complex. A Walmart Superstore of a correctional facility, if you will.
When asked why the government was spending billions of dollars to expand prison capacity when crime is on the decline, and has been for at least a decade, good ol' Doris went on some kind of rant about how there is an epidemic of unreported crime in this country.
Now, there IS a StatsCan survey that says that reporting of crimes has gone down a few percentage points in recent years. However, it also reports that most crimes aren't reported because they're dealt with another way (eg. when your neighbour's son spray-paints something nasty on your fence, you make him repaint the fence rather than reporting vandalism to the police) or because the people involved don't think it's important enough to report to the police (eg. while fighting, someone punches you in the face, and you don't charge that person with aggravated assault because it was just one knuckle-sandwich, no permanent damage). The same report says that 94% of Canadians are confident in their personal safety.
Basically, there is nothing to justify this prison expansion.
Now, what can we take from all this? Some have argued that the Tories are arrogant, secure in their support, ruling like a majority, in order to "cover the fact that they are truly lacking when it comes to governing. Harper knows that without tight control over anything said in the media, they will very quickly be revealed as bumpkins." In a hilarious editorial, Dan Gardner argues that Harper is "liberating" himself from reality, much like the "truthiness" of the Bush administration in the US. By strictly controlling the dissemination of information, and getting rid of one of the most accurate and invaluable sources of information in the country, Harper is allowing himself to take the actions he feels are correct, such as expanding prisons, without letting those pesky little facts get in his way. Susan Riley remarks that Harper's "successes"--the things his government have accomplished which have not caused the majority of the country to despise him--have been very minor things: "a free trade deal with Colombia, a successful royal visit, reopening beef exports to China, restricting pardons for violent offenders. This is tweaking, not leading."
I find myself agreeing with all of these assessments. Since Harper usually acts without reference to how the country feels anyway--his ability to ignore protests, both in person, in the media, and in letter-campaign form, will probably end up being legendary--and controls his cabinet (not to mention the Governor General) with an iron fist, Parliament is getting more and more to be the Stevie Show. At first I thought maybe he was angling for more of a republican, presidential role--wouldn't he love to be the head of state--but now I'm thinking it might be something more, especially since he is now deliberately obfuscating the information that any good policymaker would find necessary. I know I've made jokes about Harper "not being dictator yet" in the past, but feeling the world kind of crumble around me these past few weeks, I'm starting to seriously wonder if that's actually what he's aiming for, or if this is just a ginormous power trip.
I'm sorry if this post seems like a giant flood of kind of disconnected ideas. I'm still trying to work through these things for myself, and trying to figure out if there's any way to get Harper out of office without a heck of a lot of gerrymandering. Next election--and I really, really hope that the Opposition can force one for this fall--I'm going to be out there singing "Raise a Little Hell" with the best of them, trying to get the youth vote (which, in my experience, tends to be left-of-centre) out to the polls.
RUBBER DUCKIE TIME!!!!
I can't tell if these duckies are hunting or in the military, but either kind of works. The Tories in their spare time--because we all know how much Peter McKay loves illegally wearing a Canadian Forces uniforms, and I bet all the cabinet ministers would like to put on some camo and scout out my housemate's herb garden, as these duckies are doing.