Liberal bullies on the hustingsAn old film about a Mexican revolutionary, Viva Zapata, came to mind as I was observing the Liberals' behaviour on the campaign trail over the past few weeks. At the beginning of the film the peasant leader Emiliano Zapata appears in a crowd before the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and dares to speak out. "Get his name," says Diaz. Near the end of the film, as Zapata has consolidated his power, someone speaks out against him. "Get his name," says Zapata--and then, realization flooding in, he removes himself from power and retires to the countryside. Would that the Liberals had Zapata's instincts.
In Montreal, a pro-Haiti activist, Yves Engler, was thrown into jail for four days for hecking Prime Minister Paul Martin about Canada's role in the overthrow of the democratically-elected government there. In Ottawa, Richard Mahoney, the Liberal candidate for Ottawa-Centre, threatened to sue a community newspaper, the Centretown News, for daring to mention his difficulties anent the lobbying game.
Now, even during an election campaign, the Liberals simply can't refrain from bully tactics. Power is their oxygen, brute force their only principle. From helping to prop up a puppet regime in Haiti to introducing legislation to permit close police surveillance of ordinary Canadians (giving whole new meaning to the well-known phrase "Just watch me"), this is the party that effectively put the entire country under martial law in 1970, introduced "anti-terrorist" legislation more recently that, in its initial form, would have defined unions as terrorist organizations, and was complicit in the rendition of Maher Arar to Syria. Martin's ignoble predecessor, Jean Chretien, personally beat up a non-violent protester, and his office authorized the use of pepper-spray and other police-state tactics against peaceful demonstrators at the APEC conference in Vancouver in 1997.
But traditionally, the Liberals have at least been tactful enough to keep their bullying out of election campaigns. Lying through their teeth to the electorate has sufficed. They campaigned against wage and price controls in 1974 only to introduce them immediately upon election, for example; they campaigned against the NAFTA "free trade" pact, only to sign the deal right after being swept into power.
At this point, though, even in a precarious minority situation, the old arrogance has reached a dizzying new level. Hecklers and critics beware: jail and lawsuits await you if you dare to stand up against the Liberals by exercising your right of free speech. And if this is what dissenters can expect while the electors, for a brief period, have some potential power of their own, just imagine what their lives will be like after the election.
Pace Buzz Hargrove, it's time for a change. Candidates should be under the microscope during a campaign, and they should expect critical things to be said about them. That's how democracy works, isn't it? But when desperate Liberals start running to the police and the courts because it's getting too hot for them on the campaign trail, maybe they should have the grace to reflect, as Steinbeck's Zapata did, that perhaps others are currently better suited to govern.