Friday, November 27, 2009

Harper's war on watchdogs

First it was Kevin Page, casting too beady an eye on Conservative government spending. Appointed amid much fanfare by the government to the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer, created by the risibly-named Federal Accountability Act, Page has been relegated to flunky status in the Library of Parliament, with a tiny budget and no authority. His treatment by the Cons has been so mean-spirited that even conservative commentators have been moved to protest.

Then there was Peter Tinsley, the courageous head of the Military Police Complaints Commission, due for the chopping block next month, apparently for doing his job too effectively as he tried to investigate Torturegate. His inquiry, which he has done much to get underway, has still not left the starting gate, because of endless procedural obstacles thrown in his path by the Harper regime. Given recent revelations about the government's complicity in torture, it's not hard to see why.

Now we have Paul Kennedy, in charge of the relatively toothless Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. He's being given the heave as well. Apparently his work, which included a good dig into the Dziekanski file (his report on the matter has not been released, and may never be*) was upsetting to the law-and-order types in government--even if he presently has the power only to make recommendations. However, he had money for research, which he deployed well, and consequently had those funds slashed. He fought hard, perhaps too hard, to keep that budget, and managed to retain a little over 80% of it. He's now, it seems, paying the price.

Once again the Harper minority government has let the mask slip, giving us a foretaste of what a Conservative majority might hold in store for us. These successive acts of muzzling and euthanasia reveal a regime that hates and fears accountability, one bent on the politicization of "independent" agencies and offices (e.g., the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Elections Canada), and one that favours an untrammeled military and national police over the rights of citizens here and human rights abroad.

This is an increasingly dangerous government, an out-of-control government, flexing its muscles in the face of a weak Opposition, and giving us all a sneak peek at its Maximum Program. Following hard on the heels of another outrage--a gross breach of Parliamentary privilege, to be dealt with on Monday--one is left wondering: how much more dirt is this gang scrambling to keep under its now-bulging rug?

*UPDATE: My pessimism was unfounded: the report was released on December 8.

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