Years ago, Bill Clinton ran a campaign in the US on the slogan, ‘ it’s the economy, stupid.’ Stephen Harper wants to make this election about the economy, too, but it’s increasing clear that it isn’t. Because if democracy doesn’t work, nothing works. Ask the people in Libya who are dying, not because of economic hardship, but because they want the freedom to choose their leadership. Our forces are over there right now, defending their democratic rights, even while our Prime Minister denies them at home.
“Rise up,” Michael Ignatieff implored supporters at a rally in Sudbury yesterday. “Rise up.”
There are people who have posted portions of his comments on Youtube out of context, claiming it was a Howard Dean moment. But when you listen to what he actually said, you can see why he’s worried and why we should all be worried, too.
Because he’s right. For too long, Canadians have sat on our hands and said ‘so what?’
We did nothing when Linda Keen was fired by the Conservatives as President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for trying to protect the safety of the Chalk River Nuclear site. We kind of shrugged when diplomat Richard Colvin testified that Afghan detainees were being tortured when they should have been under our protection, only to be called a liar and smeared by the Conservative government.
We said ‘so what?’ when Peter Tinsley, the Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission inquiring into those issues, wasn’t reappointed, shutting down that work. We didn’t seem to care when Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada, felt he had to resign because of lies the Conservatives told, claiming Sheikh supported the cancellation of the long-form census when he so clearly didn’t.
We didn’t do anything when Veterans Affairs Ombudsman Pat Stogran slammed an obstructive bureaucracy and a government that didn’t give a damn about our veterans. And we didn’t pay much attention when Sean Bruyea, another veteran who complained about that shoddy behaviour, saw his confidential medical records about the post-tramautic stress disorder he’d suffered in the services circulated to smear him too.
The polls barely moved when our Access to Information Commissioner resigned, saying the Conservative government had tarnished our international reputation for transparency. Or when the Harper government was found in contempt of Parliament for the same reason.
I think we started to take notice when Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s leaked reports into the G8/G20 also lambasted the Tories for their lack of transparency. And when we learned that her praise for the Liberal government’s management of security spending had been twisted and put forward to Canadians as if she had praised the Conservatives instead.
But it was when the Conservative government tried to stop students at the University of Guelph from exercising their vote, when the Prime Minister had the temerity to say that his concern, his reason for doing so, was that the ‘rules needed to be followed,’ that Canadians began to say ‘enough is enough.’
Parliament can’t make economic decisions if it’s denied good information. Independent public watchdogs can’t keep politicians accountable on money issues if they don’t get the information they need, either. That’s why Sheila Fraser’s draft report was so important. If you don’t get democracy right, you get pork-barrelling. You get money being funnelled into things like 100K gazebos and 300K toilets that aren’t needed because it’s a cabinet minister’s riding. If you don’t get democracy right, agencies that should be arms’ length get politicized, like the ones I’ve listed, where independent watchdogs were fired for doing their jobs.
I’ve been an election observer in the Ukraine where the police and military were arms of the government. I worked with the UNDP in Serbia, too. Believe me, once you put police representatives on judicial selection committees, it’s a small step to arresting 1,100 citizens engaged at the G20 without cause, or to having the police frog-march students out of a Conservative campaign rally because one has an NDP bumper sticker on his car and another has photographs of the Liberal Leader on Facebook.
It’s not about the economy. It’s about democracy. We’re Canadians: we’ve fought to defend democracy on every front that we’ve ever been called to, every time we’ve been asked, from the first World War through to the ones we’re in right now. It’s time for us to ‘rise up,’ alright. Yes, it is. To defend our democratic rights here at home.