General · 20th November 2014
Canada is becoming a nation of fear. Threat is lurking everywhere. But the source is not terrorism. The fear now haunting Canada is a creeping and insidious sense of unease that has been rising almost unnoticed for a decade. It is now infecting the mood of the whole country.
Much of this fear is invented and unjustified, manufactured for political purposes. The Russians are going to claim the natural resources of our country's Arctic so we need a strong and resolute national government to protect our interests. Crime is making Canada a dangerous place to live — even though statistics show the crime rate has been falling for decades, attributed almost exclusively to fewer youth as our demographics shift to an aging population. Addiction, of course, is profiled as destroying society so the perennially ineffective “war on drugs” must be intensified, punishment increased, incarceration mandatory, and socially beneficial injection facilities such as Vancouver's In-Site subjected to exhaustive government legal challenges. An economically vulnerable Canada must rush to finalize those few multinational trade agreements that are still available. And any celebration or declaration of war, together with any publicity about a lurking enemy, always raises the level of useful fear.
The fear eroding Canadian comfort is difficult to articulate because it is the gradual accumulation of multiple events. In Parliament, it has been the cavalier use of prorogation, the omnibus bills that prevent the adequate examination of hidden legislation, the unprecedented closure on important debates, the so-called “Fair Elections Act” that makes a mockery of both “fair” and “elections”, the evisceration of the Fisheries Act, and the wholesale gutting of the country's other environmental safeguards. Related to these events are the hidden layers of the senate scandal, and the robo-call fiasco threatening the electoral process itself. Meanwhile, the government's numerous failed appeals to the Supreme Court suggest that only an apolitical judiciary stands between Canada's Charter and enacted laws that contradict Canadians' rights and freedoms.
Fear also haunts civil servants. Any escaped and uncontrolled information is deemed dangerous to a government that is attempting to micromanage message and image. Federally employed scientists are muzzled, their interviews curtailed, their movements supervised, their communication with the press carefully vetted, their scientific conclusions adjusted to be more ideologically appropriate, and their collaboration with other scientists handicapped by implicit or explicit censure. In federal ministries, the climate of anxiety and threat is so pervasive that employees are afraid to discuss their work, to innovate, or to deviate from explicit managerial directions. Closed research facilities and libraries create fear by propagating ignorance. Even librarians of federal institutions are fearful of speaking openly lest they divulge knowledge or opinion that conflicts with official objectives. An atmosphere of stringent control from the political top to the bottom of civil servants has now created sufficient intimidation that the result is self-censure, contagious fear and oppressive silence — a model demonstration of fear's political usefulness.
As for the public, innocuous non-profit organizations such as bird-watchers are being monitored to ensure they don't engage in political activity incompatible with the current government's agenda. Canada's spy agency has been collaborating with industry to thwart protesters who might object to federally sanctioned projects such as Alberta's tar sands and its associated pipelines of Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain and Keystone XL. The National Energy Board has been granted powers to promote these projects by overriding provincial, city and municipal laws. In the process, the NEB has set evidence parameters that are so dysfunctionally narrow as to prevent an adequate examination of the “public interest”, has allowed the proponents to avoid answering pertinent questions, and has compounded its conspicuous bias by eliminating the critical cross-examination of evidence.
Andrew Coyne, a noted Canadian political columnist, summarizes the situation nicely. “There is certainly plenty that is objectionable, even disturbing about this government: the unceasing partisanship, the peculiar nastiness, the crudeness, the expediency, the chronic secrecy and dishonesty. It picks fights needlessly, sees enemies everywhere, casts aside ancient parliamentary prerogatives as lightly as it does its own convictions, all for the single-minded, indeed obsessive pursuit of power.”
“The one thing it has not been is radical or transformative,” Coyne adds. “If the nastiness of its politics is the dominant impression of this government, it is in part for lack of anything else to identify it. It seems so pointless, all this poisonous effort for so little actual accomplishment, until you realize that is the point: the partisanship is in place of the policy, not in pursuit of it. The end is only power, and power is, with few exceptions, the only thing of consequence that this government has achieved” (The Vancouver Sun, Oct. 21/14).
A government that pursues power for power's sake manufactures fear. When power is its only objective, such a government becomes paranoid, devious and ruthless, so anxious for its own survival that it spreads its fear everywhere, so fixated on its own security that it is incapable of recognizing or responding to the real fears haunting Canadians.
The principal fear now seems to be environmental, a deep and creeping dread that is casting doubt and controversy on almost everything we are attempting to accomplish in this country. When this dread is not addressed or even recognized, people become restive, trust erodes, confidence falters, institutions are questioned, laws are challenged, social order is shaken, and the fear feeds more fear.