Harper’s legislative steamroller predictable

It’s very difficult to stop an avalanche after it’s started.

It’s very difficult to stop an avalanche after it’s started.

Everyone knows that.  Thus, when I hear people say, “ See, I told you so – look out for Stephen Harper to show his true nature after he gets a majority,” I tend to agree because I was among the people predicting a steamroller legislative impact if the Tory leader was given this privilege.

Minority government numbers make things difficult for those in power.

Therefore it’s of little surprise to most that the Harper government, so shortly after its election victory, has promptly outlined plans for a range of controversial legislation that alarms a lot of people for many different reasons.

Among recent “trial balloons” and more direct legislative warnings are now-acknowledged plans, but still minus specifics, of intervention to change seniors’ benefits, as a part of cost-cutting.

Rapid poor reaction sent ministers of government scrambling to offset the alarm level, while not specifically back-tracking.

There has been even more severe red flag reaction to the announced introduction of intense internet surveillance legislation (claimed to be in pursuit of child pornography and other digital criminal activity.)

Critics rebut that the law could result in dangerous changes to previous individual internet privacy assurances.

Quite simply, thousands of Canadians see direct danger in the police having lawful technology to keep close tabs on internet surfing use. Forcing telecoms to divulge details on users’ ISPs, without warrants, opens too many doors, critics add.

Police have not done much in recent years to engender public trust. Privacy advocacy organizations are saying “no!” – this goes too far, too quickly and is not needed.

Government response, I fear, is muted, if argumentative – like Vic Toews’ “we need to protect children — if you don’t support our bill you are in league with child pornographers.” Simplistic stone-walling.

However, when a new Twitter information flow began to show the potential of personal attacks, Mr. Toews quickly agreed that government would listen to amendments from the opposition at the committee level.

Dirty, but effective! Toews did not respond to what he called “gutter politics.” More red flags went up on the “omnibus crime bill” – renamed by some as the “ominous” crime bill.

In part, Bill C-10 will changes several existing laws, create some new offences and introduces mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes.

It eliminates pardons and house arrest for some criminals and proposes a number of other changes, including reforms of youth justice laws.

There’s a lot to support in this bill, but it seems also to be attracting a significant tirade of condemnation.

Just today, (February 14) a Superior Court Judge in Ontario challenged the mandatory law, refusing to deliver a three-year mandatory gun possession sentence to an accused,  stating it represented cruel and unusual punishment and thereby creating a certain court review of the  law.

The new omnibus crime  bill has numerous more new mandatory minimum sentences, so watch the news for any further judicial revolt.

To say the Harper Conservatives remain calmly unswayed is an understatement.

Media’s so-called “uproar in the House” certainly doesn’t seem to have much impact on the government’s plans. To put it mildly, these plans envision a whole different future for Canada and for Canadians.

Our system of government does permit that, but I’m sure there are limits.

Additionally, Mr. Harper has hinted at legislative changes to shorten the environmental review processes for major projects (such as the XL and Northern Gateway crude oil pipelines) and the clamour is deafening and growing.

Mr. Harper’s cabinet has made no secret about its support for an “approved” pipeline, citing the need to diversify Canada’s energy exports. His recent Chinese visit saw numerous agreements and MOUs signed that surely will have an impact on the drive for a west coast oil pipeline terminal in Kitimat and tanker traffic in the Douglas Channel.

So any changes is this area will be under the microscope and will likely stir dramatic negative response from environment activists and first nations.

In today’s economy, the government must also cut costs and attack its deficit. So, to me, costly multi-million programs such  adding more MPs and Senators to “balance” representation in Parliament and the Upper House, equally high-dollar plans to add more prisons, as well as already-granted expensive contracts for new Canadian Navy ships, and now questionable plans to add F-35 fighter aircraft to Canadian Forces hardware, at unknown costs, do not seem to contribute to any needed longer-term efforts to reduce and eliminate Canada’s deficit, but remain prominent in the daily news.

So is discussion of major cuts to civil service employment, and thus government services, as a whole, which seem to be directed at eventually denting the deficit.

None of this points to a comfortable 2012-2013 for Canadians.

Government’s lack of hesitation to demonstrate power to limit debate and blunt use of its majority to assure passage of controversial legislation adds little assurance to taxpayers who don’t support hard-line right-wing ideology.

Prime minister Harper’s agenda is no longer as clear as it was in election night euphoria – and his declarations of focusing on elements “in the national interest” are under question.

 

 

 

 

ahewitson@telus.net

 

 

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