What would you do to un-Harper Canada?


Winner of the 2014 Atlantic Journalism Award for Commentary — Any Medium.

For as long as I can remember, Canadian politics has been a pleasantly diverting if meaningless game of rascal tossing. We pick one set of rascals to govern us and toss the last set out. After a while, those no-longer new rascals run amok. Can you say sponsorship scandal? Brian Mulroney? Need we say more? So we kick those rascals out, and let the old lot back for another kick at the governing can. Occasionally, we say a pox on both their sorry houses and elect enough neither-of-the-aboves to make things interesting without fundamentally altering anything significant.

When one rascal party replaces the other, the new government rarely revisits legislation the previous group passed. That’s because, until recently, all parties shared a traditional, transcendent understanding about who we are as a people and what we are as a country.

What was that consensus? Well, when Stephen Harper’s Heritage Department recently accidentally (it had to be an accident) asked Canadians what and who made them most proud to be Canadian — the Tories probably hoped for Stephen Harper, Afghanistan and the War of 1812 — it got a very Canadian response.

What are Canadians most proud of? Well, start with Medicare, followed by international peacekeeping and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not to forget multiculturalism, bilingualism and the Canadarm.

When asked which Canadian had inspired us the most, we ranked former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau number one, followed by Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox and the late NDP leader Tommy Douglas. Another departed NDP leader, Jack Layton, made the top 10. So did living Canadians like environmental activist David Suzuki, astronaut Chris Hadfield and Canadian soldier and former senator Romeo Dallaire. Stephen Harper was conspicuously absent. In fact, the only Conservative to crack the top 10 was Sir John A. MacDonald, the long-dead prime minister, who ranked eighth.

You won’t be surprised — the Harper government being the Harper government — that Canadian Press had to file a freedom of information request just to read the results of this taxpayer-funded online survey. It was initially compiled for use in the 2017 celebration of our 200th year of nationhood, but — again no surprise given those results — will now never again see daylight.

But, as the poll shows, there is a jangling disconnect between what Canadians say they believe in and the values Stephen Harper has enshrined in Canada’s laws and practices since his party won the majority of seats in the 2011 election.

The Tories did not win a majority of votes, of course. Thanks to the our first-past-the-post system, the balloon-like rise of Layton’s NDP and the pricked-balloon collapse of the Bloq Quebecois in Quebec and the rudderless Liberals everywhere, Stephen Harper managed to translate 39.6 per cent of the 61 per cent of votes cast — a sliver increase of less that two per cent from his previous minority — into an unassailable, do-whatever-the-hell-he-pleased mandate to change who we are.

Which he has done. He’s cut the netting from under our social safety net, slashed public services, done a 180-degree foreign-affairs pirouette from global honest broker to ideological barking dog, glorified the military while denigrating veterans, stealthily imposed a new unilateral Medicare funding formula to eviscerate national health care standards and download costs on to the provinces, imposed tough-on-crime legislation and mandatory minimum sentences despite evidence they don’t work, attacked the courts, eliminated the long-form census, muzzled scientists, destroyed important data, emasculated environmental protections, audited charities and environmental critics, cut taxes for the rich while leaving gaping loopholes for offshore tax cheats, gutted the CBC, passed Orwellian legislation like the Fair Elections Act to make elections anything but…

The list goes on. When I asked on Facebook recently “what a post-Harper government would need to do to undo Harper’s disastrous re-making of Canada,” I got close to 100 responses with at least three dozen different specific suggestions.

All of this means the scheduled 2015 federal election  should not simply be another rascal-changing exercise.

The 60 per cent of us who didn’t vote to radically change our country’s laws and values must now ask those who would seek to replace Stephen Harper not simply what they will do for our country but what they will undo to give us back our country.


This column originally appeared in the September-October 2014 edition of Atlantic Business MagazineThe magazine’s editors have set up a link where you can offer your own answer the question: What would a post Harper government need to do to undo Stephen Harper’s disastrous re-making of Canada? The website is open for your comments.

Correction: The original story inadvertently mis-stated the scheduled date of the next federal election. It is 2015. And the anniversary we celebrate in 2017; it’s the 150th. Math was clearly not my strength…


  1. Why is there a vogue in websites to publish text in light gray instead of black?
    Unless there’s a shortage of electrons, how about citing The Clarity Act and publish in black print just like the newspapers and books do.


  2. Let us not forget all these things when we go to the polls next year.


  3. Start by promising to reinstate the National Childcare Program which, if memory serves, was the first of a long list of cuts the Harper government made to undermine the development of social programs and public services. We could go on from there of course, so that there is sufficient and equitable funding to ensure that a whole range of social policies and programs in Canada are strengthened and the inequities between and within provinces that have developed in Canada over the past 25 years (starting I should add with the Liberal cuts to social programs in 1995), are fully addressed.


  4. Re-instate the long-from Census; do as they did in Great-Britain and codify all of our Parliamentary conventions so that the next Harper can’t pretend they don’t exist; subject ALL books of ALL political parties to annual, forensic audits; ban fund-raising of any kind for political parties; eliminate the political donation tax credit; re-establish public funding of political parties; create a new Crown Corp that takes care of all Government of Canada advertising (take it out of hands of PMO); make it mandatory that the Govt of Canada accept and follow the advice of Dept of Justice lawyers; make voting mandatory; give Elections Canada full power to investigate and compel testimony; make the Budget Officer a full, independent Officer of Parliament; mandatory 5 years jail AND a lifetime ban in politics and board of director membership to any elected official or senior public servant/advisor who betrays public trust; put a military procurement office in the office of the Auditor General (in fact let all procurement be done by that office).

    And that’s just for starters…


  5. Number one: to make sure we never again have a Prime Minister grabbing 100% of the power on 39% of the votes, implement proportional representation in time for the subsequent election.


  6. I agree with a number of the points, and would add my support to the idea that leaders who commit such atrocious anti-social acts, in the manner of Harper and CONs should be held criminally liable. It’s one thing to emphasize your political mandate/agenda though reasonable means. It’s quite another to impose actions, such as what has happened with each of the omnibus bills, with the G-8 and G-20 summits, and the unceasing public advertising against other parties (sans election date). My feeling is that unless we, as a whole country, start demanding our leaders to work together, we will leave ourselves vulnerable to another Harper down the road. It’s past time our country’s election practices evolved to something more fundamentally participatory for each and every citizen.


  7. Thank you for this great article. I would agree with all of the commentary sent in so far.
    I think a law should be passed that make leaders like Harper criminally for their actions; actions such as using tax payers monies to promote their agendas on TV programs such as 24 Seven and the destruction of so much research in libraries in this great country of ours. This is to name only two of so many destructive and dishonourable actions this Harper government has taken.

    I would love to see the Katimavik program reinstated immediately by our new government in 2015. What an incredible program this was, enabling young Canadians to meet, to work together for the common good and to visit other parts of this great nation. I would suggest that when this happens, visits to First Nations communities be included.

    Let’s unite to take back our country from this shameful Harper government and focus on a better, enlightened future at home and globally.


  8. First we fumigate. Then we change our electoral processes so that Canada never has another Harper sneak in the back door and govern by loophole and subterfuge and omnibus bill.

    Seriously, our electoral system must reflect the will of voters. Those who don’t care enough to vote should not be able to skew election results. We didn’t see this Harper coming: we must act to prevent another one.

    Never again.


  9. “The 60 per cent of us who didn’t vote to radically change our country’s laws and values must now ask those who would seek to replace Stephen Harper not simply what they will do for our country but what they will undo to give us back our country.” I asked this specific question of the Liberals, the NDP and the Green Party.

    The Liberals sent a form letter back saying how pretty Trudeau is. They followed up a couple of months later with a slightly more personal response, saying they opposed C36, disapproved the Northern Gateway pipeline, and ..something about the Senators.

    The Green Party has a clear platform on their website that lays out exactly what they would do to un-do the wrongs, but they also sent back a long email detailing what their plans were.

    The NDP sent back an email specifically detailing the changes they would make if in office. It was very specific and detailed.

    All in all, I would vote NDP in the next election. But as I live in Alberta, that vote would do nothing. I may have to vote Liberal, in the hope that some of my fellow Albertans also feel dispirited with the Conservatives. Only that way may my vote count towards getting this monster out of office.


    • Exactly my feeling. Almost exactly my experience asking “those who would seek to replace Stephen Harper not simply what they will do for our country but what they will undo to give us back our country.”


    • With proportional representation, Alberta Liberals would be represented. But as it is, in 2011 the NDP got 17% of the votes in Alberta (29% in Edmonton), the Liberals only got 9% (11% in Edmonton).


  10. One of the first things we need to do is overhaul our democratic framework. By that I mean our election laws, but also our Parliamentary procedures. Harper has pushed the envelope and used the loopholes in them to great effect. He has demonstrated their weaknesses and we need to address those.

    Too much is based on ‘gentleman’s agreements’ and on convention. By tossing those aside, Harper has made a mockery of those rules. We need to be more explicit and we need to put some actual penalties in place.

    As an example, more than one MP has been found to have lied in the House of Commons (you can call it mis-speaking, but “a rose by any other name” applies). Traditionally, or by convention, an MP discovered to have lied has offered to resign. If not, the PM asked for their resignation, though was not obligated to accept it. What did Harper do? he publicly praised his MP for admitting he lied!

    When speaking in the House of Commons, one is under oath (this is why Parliamentary Privilege exists). When one lies under oath in a court, the crime of Perjury has been committed and a jail sentence is not out of the question. We need to put similar penalties in place for lying in the House, not just rely on convention or the fact that those who sit there have the title “Honourable”. They need to live up to that title.


    • How about the possibility to be dishonourably discharged (not able to work for the federal gov. anymore, lose your pension, and pay for your legal fees)? Putting them in prison is going to cost us even more. Let’s at least save the dollars.


  11. First, let’s note that 2017 will be Canada’s 150th birthday, not 200th.

    That minor blip in this article notwithstanding, I would hope that the next government of Canada will systematically review every piece of legislation passed by the harpoons and revoke it. Where changes are needed that will strengthen social justice and environmental protection, including for our First Nations, the review process could be used to make those changes. The next step would be to phase out as quickly as possible, all subsidies for the oil patch and use those funds to invest in sustainable, minimally polluting energy production. And as all this is going on, when they get to the ‘Fair’ Elections Act, use that revision to change the first-past-the-post election system we have so that no one else will ever have the opportunity to foist their ideologies (don’t confuse me with the facts steve) on this nation. They will also reinstate the long form census.


  12. Please, PLEASE correct the error. The Federal election is in 2015 not 2016. It is bad enough we have to wait another year to rid ourselves of these morons!


  13. I don’t even know where to begin. The long form census is one thing. Sociology is important. Restoring EI would immediately help many Canadians. The Navigable Waters Act. There is just so many places that need restoration.


    • Apart from the usual economics / social issues (that *are* in dire need for serious corrections, most certainly) would you agree starting with issues closest to crossing a point of no return, then going for democracy strengthening issues?
      In my mind, the IPCC message is clear, with very long term consequences if global warming reaches 2 deg C, and the likelyhood of positive feedback kicking in. (Positive feedback is an unstoppable accelerating phenomenon.) We have very few years to curb CO2 emissions and cap CH4 (methane), and that mainly calls for stopping any coal-fired plant and leaving more than 80% of known world oil reserves in the ground (never mind exploring the Arctic for *more* oil). Only this issue will have you protect lakes & waterways, rebuild the network of research centres, limit/stop the tar sands & pipelines, strengthen laws & regulation (the cleanup cost of an oil spill in USA is 12x that of Canada, apparently mainly because of cleanup criteria), foster the industry of renewables & provide jobs, help shift the economy from a 3rd world natural resources economy to a higher technology industrial one.
      It helps a lot to think of the issues as intertwined, don’t you think. And we could do the same with democracy strengthening issues.


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