Out for vengeance

Russell Wangersky
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Every week, there’s proof of it: our federal Conservative government is the government of smallminded vindictiveness, a government willing to use its considerable majority powers to settles scores with those it doesn’t like or doesn’t want to listen to.

How vengeful are they?

It just keeps piling up.

This week, it was the latest shoe dropping on the CBC — right on the corporation’s neck. The federal Conservatives have never liked feeling the eyes of the CBC on their actions, and have regularly cut budgets. This time, it’s 650 people losing their jobs with the corporation, partially the result of a budget cut that can’t help but knock more eyes away from Tory actions.

Let the private networks pick up the slack, the Tories say. That’s the marketplace at work.

Nice trope, but the fact is that private networks often can’t or won’t do the work the CBC does.

I’ve worked in both public and private media, and I know the difference.

One thing I know for certain is that private media regularly doesn’t have the resources to take on involved and long-term investigative stories. There are also plenty of private media who don’t like to rock the boat of massive government advertising buys — the federal government’s multi-million Economic Action Plan advertising program is just one example of a fatted calf that many broadcasters love to have on their stations.

But the CBC cuts, as painful as they will be for many hardworking Canadian journalists and other staff, are only the tip of the vindictiveness iceberg.

No — iceberg’s the wrong term.

Most of an iceberg hides out of sight, underwater. The federal Tories aren’t even bothering with the pretense of hiding their actions anymore. Take the Fair Elections Act — it is a blatant attempt to stack the next federal election by disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters who, let’s face it, are more likely to mark an X for the NDP or the Liberals than for the Tories.

It’s also an attempt to allow bloated fundraising to operate under the radar, and make it more difficult to catch cheating politicians at the kind of dirty tricks — like fraudulent robocalls — that cropped up in the last election.

And no matter how unctiously the Tories try to frame it, there ain’t no altruism driving that particular bus.

The Hill Times was told by a Conservative member of Parliament that alterations to Elections Canada legislation that change its ability to investigate election crime was payback for the way the agency dealt with the robocalls scandal.

Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne wrote last week that the Fair Elections Act had an even more slimy gestation: “Stephen Harper’s former communications director, Geoff Norquay, suggested it was ‘vengeance’ for its successful prosecution of the party in the ‘in-and-out’ affair. The prime minister himself asked in Parliament about the bill’s effect on Elections Canada’s independence, mused about the need to ensure the agency is ‘held accountable for its actions.’”

But that’s not the only suggestion of tampering — what about the concept that federal access to information law is supposed to operate independently from politics? Then consider this report from The Canadian Press on Thursday: “The information commissioner of Canada has found evidence of systemic interference with access to information requests by three Conservative staff members. Suzanne Legault is delivering her second report following an investigation into cases that date back to 2009 in the office of cabinet minister Christian Paradis, who was Public Works minister at the time.”

Meanwhile, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has suddenly taken an interest in a whole bunch of social action groups, from environmentalists on down. Charitable agencies are having CRA auditors show up at their doors, launching expensive and complex audits of the agencies and threatening to pull their charitable status over claims of political activism.

Meanwhile, agencies more friendly to the Conservatives, like business think-tanks, chug merrily along, even when they admit their federal lobbying activities right on their websites.

This government doesn’t even bother to hide its dirty tricks in dark corners.

It wraps itself in the protective cloak of doing something nebulous about the economy, and then it does whatever it likes, however it likes. Even those who caught on the wrong side of issues just end up being rewarded — remember Vic Toews, who was all a-fluster about the need for secret police access to the Internet and claimed, “you can stand with us or with the child pornographers”? He’s on the Court of Queen’s Bench in Manitoba now, a judge.

Pocket-filling and the regular, blatant abuse of power.

Canada is bigger than this. And if it isn’t, it was — and it ought to be again.

Russell Wangersky is news editor of the St. John’s Telegram. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC, Conservatives, Elections Canada Canada Revenue Agency NDP Canadian Press Public Works

Geographic location: Canada, Manitoba

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Recent comments

  • Information-Based
    April 14, 2014 - 23:33

    Excellent article. The past seven years have brought to light the hideous imbalance in Canada's political system, and it's ability to be manipulated by those with malicious intent. The only possible first step to remedy this is for the opposition parties to recognize the greater good and resolve to work together to oust the Cons from power. Competition between Libs & NDP is meaningless and futile and maddening while the Cons destroy everything Canadians stand for.