Stephen Harper’s Assault on Democracy

Last November, hundreds of delegates from across Canada gathered in Ottawa for the 93rd Annual General Meeting of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC). Discus- sions focused on the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ongoing cuts to programs and services that continue to jeopardize the security and well-being of Canadians and cause needless anxiety among affected public service employees and their families, many of them in the National Capital Region.

The government’s relentless assault on public servants and their unions and its use of questionable means to change laws is putting the health and security of Canadians at risk. Food safety, environmental protection and sound budgeting are at the top of a long list of casualties as evidence- based decision making loses out to the ideologically-driven decisions of the Conservative government.

The Harper Government cut 19,200 civil service jobs – roughly 6 per cent of the total federal workforce – while outsourcing over $3 billion to private companies with no accountability, security clearances or oversight. They also cut The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the First Nations Statistical Institute, the National Council on Welfare and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science (all highly respected for their evidence-based research and analysis). Cutting these four agencies only saved $7.5 million, while the cost to Canada’s international reputation is immeasurable.

In a clearly undemocratic and bullying process, the Harper government then bundled 68 non-budgetary measures and laws into one omnibus budget (Bill C-38) and used its majority in the House of Commons to ensure that no single item could be opposed

or changed. The hypocrisy is nothing less than profound. In 1994, during his first term in Parliament, Harper spoke in the House against such omnibus bills, saying they were “undemocratic.” He argued that Bill C-17, a 1994 omnibus budget bill from the Chrétien government, was contrary to democracy. Harper said: “In the interest of democracy, I ask: how can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?” He implored the Speaker: “You should rule it out of order and it should not be considered by the House in the form in which it has been presented.” It seems that what Harper views as undemocratic is a matter of who is in power. Certainly, his recent actions amount to a disdain of Parliament and abuse of the democratic process.

This winter, Harper’s most pointed attack against unions so far was realized in a whipped majority vote. Bill C-377, if passed by the Senate, will require onerous reporting of union financial information for all to see, and, because this bill amends the Income Tax Act, it applies to every union in Canada. Not only does it require unions to submit financial statements, but it also asks for a detailed list of all transactions and disbursements, along with the name and address of the payer and payee, and the purpose, description and specific amount of the transaction. This is an astounding request coming from the most secretive and controlling government in Canadian history, which is abusing its privilege in elected office as a means to cull private information from political adversaries.

It is now crystal clear that an attack on organizations that respect the democratic process is this government’s next move. Take democratic labour unions, for example. The Conservatives and their right-wing buddies attacked these democratic institutions with the intent of trying to convince Canadians that these unions and their leaders are the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth and Canadians are just not buying it. As if frustrated, Conservatives are now upping the ante: Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton) has proposed legislation that would allow employees working under federal jurisdiction to opt out of joining a union and paying union dues. This anti-labour legislation, if passed, would make the federal government a right-to-work jurisdiction just like Kentucky, Georgia and Texas. Lower wages would follow for highly qualified workers who now earn a decent wage and a respectable living.

What is even more bizarre is that Poilievre is promoting this legislation while most residents in his riding work for the federal government and have benefitted greatly from democratic public service unions. Many of them are PIPSC members! And Poilievre, whose entire career experience is as a politician, seems to think that by taking away workers’ rights, the economy, his constituency and the country will be better off. I have to question if his lack of real- world experience is showing with the introduction of this bizarre ideological and mean-spirited bill. One thing is for sure: in 2013, PIPSC will not stand on the sidelines and watch further assaults on labour unions, as real damage is being done to programs and services that Canadians depend on in communities right across this country.