I consider myself fairly non-partisan, politically. I’d vote for any party with a platform that was rational. There is no such thing in Canadian politics, of course, so I am forced to vote for the party with the least irrational platform, but I hold no strong attachment or animosity to any particular political party. All parties disappoint me to some degree or another. Nevertheless, it seems I am finding myself more and more viscerally disgusted with the Conservative Party of Canada – and in particular, Stephen Harper – the more information I discover about them.
A few weeks ago, journalist and author Michael Harris gave a talk for the Waterloo region chapter of FairVote Canada. I happened to notice that the talk had been recorded and posted by Laurel Russwurm, via her GNU Social feed. I was curious what Harris was like in person, and what he might have to say on the Canadian electoral system (which is a topic I’m quite interested in), and spending an hour on that video seemed like a much better investment of time than watching CBC News, so I watched it.
In the end Harris spent almost no time talking about the electoral system or electoral reform. Instead he ended up telling several stories detailing what actually happened behind the scenes of a few of the Conservative political scandals “covered” by the mainstream media in the past few years.
I was mesmerized. My jaw dropped several times. Some of the stories I knew, of course – I knew that Harper, MacKay, and others had straight-up lied to Parliament and Canadians about the F-35 costs, for example, and of course I knew about the Duffy/Wright cheque shenanigans. But some of the other stuff he talked about floored me.
If there was one story that really startled me, it was the story of the Veteran’s Affairs offices that the Conservatives closed a year or two ago. I knew the story (I thought): to save some cash, the Conservative government shut down eight or nine VAC offices that were only serving a handful of people. Naturally, veterans were upset. It all seemed reasonable; it sounded like the Conservatives made a sane choice with tough political consequences, and paid for it in the public opinion.
What Michael Harris revealed (to me) was that the number of veterans being served by one of the closed offices was two thousand… and that was the minimum for a single location. The largest was serving four thousand veterans. That ain’t no handful! Not unless you got some fucking ginormous hands. Around 17,000 veterans were served by those offices, and a lot of the services they required were very specialized – not the kind of thing that could be offered at your average Service Canada location. And of course, the savings made by shutting those offices down was completely swamped by what the Conservatives had to spend in advertising to do political damage control – yeah, public money spent on what is essentially Conservative political advertising, which is hardly a new thing to anyone who’s been paying attention.
I’d given the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt on that file. As usual – as has happened just about every time I’ve assumed the best about them – once the facts came in, it turned out that trusting them was a sucker’s move.
Another story that boggled my mind was about the Chalk River nuclear scandal. Again, I knew the official/mainstream-media story: Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Chair Linda Keen refused to allow the NRU reactor to reopen over safety concerns, and was demonized by the Conservatives. Parliament forced the reopening of the reactor, and fired Keen. That was the story that was told, and it was bad enough… but the story behind the story is astonishing, and hilarious – especially what happened later (the part about the award was especially funny).
I raged at the Liberal Party for the sponsorship scandal, and wasn’t particularly upset to see them booted out of office (and later stomped down to third-party status by the NDP). But as Harris points out, the sponsorship scandal was – at maximum – a $200 million boondoggle (though I would say closer to $20 million)… the F-35 scandal alone was a $10 billion lie.
Check out the video yourself:
I hadn’t planned on reading Michael Harris’s most recent book, Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover, because I figured I already knew the story he was telling. I’m not so sure anymore; I’m going to have to give it a read and find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes.