Sunday, April 19, 2015

For Those Who Value Democracy

After watching Pierre Polievre make the Sunday rounds extolling his government's achievements, it would be easy for the politically disengaged and ignorant to conclude that the Harper regime is the greatest thing since the proverbial sliced bread. By Polievre's account, his government has put more money into the pockets of 'hardworking Canadians' than any other in Canada's history. What's not to like about TFSAs (a leg up for both working and retired seniors, according to trickster Pierre), income-splitting and new pending budget measures for seniors. All is well with the world.

Except that it is not. Scratch beneath the surface of such self-serving rhetoric and you will find a profoundly anti-democratic regime with barely concealed contempt for those who hold differing views, that latter considered one of the most important elements of any society that deems itself healthy and dynamic. The regime has used every trick at its disposal to demonize those dissenting voices as it extols a consumer-driven politics meant to turn us into a people who embrace mediocrity and absence of bold vision.

Although I have written about it many times, the Harper-directed CRA witch hunts make for a good illustration of the profoundly intolerant and anti-democratic nature of the Harper regime.

Steven Zhou writes:
If a democratic system thrives on participation from a civil society free to express itself without state intervention, then Canadian democracy could use some help these days.

Citizens who band together into groups that push politicians to engage a problem should, in theory, be a vital aspect of democratic decision-making. Yet the Harper administration, in its infinite political wisdom, has devoted millions of taxpayer dollars via Canada Revenue Agency, formerly Revenue Canada, to, in effect, target groups that are critical of federal policies.
The statistics paint a damning picture:
The CRA launched a series of 60 audits in 2012, and, tellingly, the targeted organizations all seem to espouse views that don't fit so well with the Harper agenda.

These 'political-activity audits' have primarily targeted environmental groups, human rights organizations, and labour-backed think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Meanwhile, more conservative-minded groups like the Manning Foundation or the Fraser Institute have not faced such aggression from the CRA. Many of them have also, like their leftist counterparts, participated in 'political activities.'
And this pattern holds true for the CRA's latest target:
[T]he latest charity to be targeted in a significant way is the United Steelworkers' Humanity Fund, a labour-backed organization that has supported food banks and disaster relief initiatives for over 30 years.

It has donated about two per cent of its annual revenue to the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an umbrella organization that advocates for more accountability in the Canadian mining sector, among other things.

This support for the CNCA, an organization that hasn't shied away from its political purposes, is apparently what the CRA is zeroing in on. The fund has often butted heads with the Harper administration over labour issues, and wants more oversight of Canadian mining practices abroad, which, according to its president Ken Neumann, is primarily why the CRA began auditing the group's finances last year.
The intended purposes of such audits, of course, are to provoke both fear and self-censorship:
Such audits can certainly disrupt an organization's day-to-day operations significantly, but this kind of trouble isn't the main reason why these intrusions are bad for Canadian democracy in the long run. Targeted organizations that are forced to go through the lengthy auditing process can, whether the government intends it or not, become examples of what not to say or do in the Harper era.
One can hardly blame other charities if they decide to interpret the current inquisitorial atmosphere as being politically motivated. This means that if they want to keep their charitable status, practicing a degree of self-censorship may end up being totally rational. This is an anti-democratic development almost by definition, and it hardly matters whether a particular agenda is behind it all, though the available evidence suggests that Revenue Canada's choices aren't exactly politically neutral.
Will such practices, profoundly inimical to democracy, be noted by average Canadians, or will their vision be blinded by budget baubles designed to cultivate the selfish part of their natures?

I don't know the answer, but I do fear it.

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