Preface: I am not a conservatively-biased person. I tend to swing towards far left of the political spectrum, but that doesn’t stop me from agreeing/disagreeing with issues on either side. I would also like to say that while I would not vote Conservative, I think that Harper is probably our best candidate for Prime Minister – he is a very shrewd politician and hasn’t had any major personal gaffes in his term in office (pretty amazing, especially considering the socially networked world we live in now). I’d prefer a Conservative-led minority government over one of the alternative parties taking power.
As a Canadian university student, it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that I frequently hear people espousing their denouncement of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policies. Most recently, a campaign has been going around campus called “Stop Harper’s Crimes Against Humanity”, and it’s hard to find someplace on campus where someone hasn’t plastered one of those stickers on the wall. Like I said in the preface, I don’t really like or support the Conservative party all that much, but the campaign left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth from the start – what supposed “crimes” has Harper committed? Of the small bullet-points listed on the sticker, none of them were “crimes” at all. Of course, this prompted me to actually check out their website and investigate for myself… and I’ve gotta say, my initial reaction wasn’t really challenged very much by the result.
The page lists the “Top 10 crimes against humanity” which Harper has committed, so I’ll go through each of these briefly. The first is the blocking of climate change bills and environmental destruction, which I actually find the hardest to refute. It seems as if the Conservative government does not care about climate change (probably because it’s a prisoner’s gambit), and doesn’t really give much ground on the issue. I won’t try to defend them on that issue. That said, this is clearly not a crime against humanity, unless you’re an environmentalist.
The second “crime” is probably the one I take the most offense to, that Harper is promoting “endless war”. This pretty much betrays a pacifist bias on the part of the campaign creator, Yves Engler. First, he complains that the Conservative budget increased military spending… which is kind of ridiculous to me, because it’s pretty much public fact that the Canadian army is poorly equipped and in dire need of the money. Unfortunately I can’t find a source to back this up, but when Canada deployed to Afghanistan, we didn’t even have desert camouflage to outfit out troops in. Our troops’ equipment has been a joke for decades as well, because of our role as a “peace keeping nation” throughout the Cold War era. Even if you are against war, I think it’s reasonable to not want our troops to get killed because we have poor equipment standards (not to mention that national defense is an ever-present, although not exactly pressing, concern). In addition, Canada really is historically a “warrior nation”: we participated in many major global conflicts since Confederation, so denying that history and branding the Prime Minister a criminal is just blatantly pushing a pacifist agenda. So no, Mr. Engler, as a Canadian I do not support your position on this “crime”.
The third point is similar to the first, that mining companies are destroying the environment. I don’t have an issue with the concern either, aside from the fact that it seems to me that this should be largely against the mining corporations themselves, rather than against Harper. I mean, sure he could legislate against them, but ideally this should be directed towards the corporations first. Again… not a crime.
The fourth point is that the government has lied about the War in Afghanistan. Again, this is a political issue more than anything else. Yes, the government said they would pull out of Afghanistan by 2011, but if they have not accomplished their mission, is there any sense in leaving until it was accomplished? Afghanistan was under the Taliban simply because the West pulled out of the country when it stopped being in our best interests (kicking out the Soviets), rather than educating the people and helping them. I think that leaving before we have actually helped them is a mistake, and will lead to similar problems in the future. Engler also mentions elements like Canadians killing surrendering Taliban and Afghan police raping children. To this, I say it’s the horrors of war… when you have a war, there’s so much bureaucracy that sometimes you can’t prevent police from raping people because it’s out of your jurisdiction. And when you and your buddies have been shot at by the Taliban for months, sometimes you shoot one that surrendered. Not to mention that PTSD and just plain insanity settle in as well, at which point I find it difficult to call Harper a criminal because, quite simply, war is hell. Clearly, Engler wants a transparent, pacifistic, open government, but I’m not entirely convinced that he represents nearly as much of Canada as he thinks.
The fifth point is a little murkier – the Conservative government’s support of Israel. Put simply, the entire situation in Israel’s a clusterf–k with no real perfect solution anywhere. That said, ever since becoming a nation, Israel has been constantly under threat of military attack. I fully support the right for Israel to defend itself, even if it is partly to blame for the attacks in the first place. With that in mind, I also fully support Palestinian statehood, and don’t understand why we can’t all come to a compromise on it. I’m sure there are more political issues behind the Israel-Canada relationship, but we are generally not privy to that information. This is one of those points that is murkier and, due to the nature of the very issue, there isn’t really a right answer. Harper’s inflexibility on the issue is troubling, but he is basically just supporting his ally. If anyone can be pegged with crimes here, it’d be Israel, not Harper.
The sixth point is another environmentalist one, relating to “dirty oil”, the tar sands. The obvious reason for the Conservatives to back this is money. If they can harness these resources, then Canada stands to make a ton of money and create a phenomenal amount of jobs (in fact, quite a few members of my own family have moved out west to work on the oil rigs – it’s big business). Yes, it’s going to hurt the environment, but I really cannot blame the Conservatives for not throwing away a cash cow, especially with oil reserves slowly drying up.
The seventh point regards supporting Middle Eastern dictators, something which also tends to be supported by the USA (to be fair, Harper tends to align quite well with American interests). This one’s tricky because, on one hand, ideally we should be promoting democracy (or something which is in the interest of the people anyway). On the other, democracies are typically dysfunctional, and the fear is that the people will vote in extremist parties which will be against the best interests of our governments (hence the fact that we support them in the first place). I don’t make a habit of it myself, but my parents were watching Sun News Network, and one of the Conservative pundits was lamenting this very thing as a consequence of the Arab Spring movement, saying that our interests in the region have now been lost. I think I’d prefer if a better solution could be brought about, but this point is more against conservative self-interest than anything else. This is another point I’m a tad murky about, because there isn’t exactly a good solution.
For point eight, indifference to Haitian suffering, I can’t really say much. I’m not sure why the Conservatives would want to prevent a Haitian peoples’ uprising, or would keep aid money away from them (in the news recently, they actually cut funding because they want to see the Haitian government distribute it to the people efficiently… or that’s what the official release says anyway). Since Engler’s page isn’t exactly the most unbiased source, I will refrain from making a judgement call on this issue. However, if he is actually giving the facts here transparently, then that’s pretty screwed up (but based on the nature of the information, something tells me that we aren’t getting the whole picture).
The ninth point is basically the same as the seventh, supporting Latin American coups. Although I’m less knowledgeable on the issue than I am with the Middle East situation, I’ll just say that my points in regards to the seventh “crime” stand.
The tenth point is once again in opposition to Engler’s pacifistic side, the Conservatives’ dislike for arms controls. In regards to the cluster bombs issue, Canada generally goes to war alongside the USA. If we didn’t put the condition into the treaty then we’d basically break it every time we supported them (because like hell the USA will ever stop using cluster bombs). In the end, the Conservatives just want weapons to defend their country with (or enforce their interests, let’s be honest), it’s not like they’re legalizing cluster bombs for domestic use. That is something I would oppose with flaming vitriol. So again, Harper is not committing a crime against humanity here, he’s not suggesting that we cluster bomb puppies personally or anything like that. In the end, he just wants less regulation on weapons in order to retain the Western status quo.
The page ends with a final “potential crime”, stating simply “War with Iran?” I think you know where I’m going with this: Israel and the USA are our allies, and it’s sensible for us to back them. I’m not entirely sure where I stand on the issue, but I can understand why we would support them in it.
In closing, calling these points “Harper’s Crimes Against Humanity” is just plain wrong for quite a few reasons. First, it’s hyperbolic, and really just makes you sound like a sign-waving lunatic, rather than someone with legitimate concerns about the way that Harper manages his foreign policy. Second, it places all the responsibility on Harper, a figure, rather than his party. If we went to the literal conclusion of this campaign, we’d throw Harper out of office. Of course, that wouldn’t solve anything – he acts based on the policies of his party, rather than dictating everything for himself. The campaign should simply come out and say as much. Finally, the campaign moralizes political values in most of its “crimes”. Engler is basically saying that unless you’re a left-wing, environmentalist, pacifistic and/or pro-Palestine thinker, then you’re morally objectionable and don’t represent Canadian values. It also is dangerously close to demonizing the opposition, a definite faux pas in a truly reasonable debate, and which doesn’t make Engler appear any better than, say, Sun News Network.While I have a lot of problems with the form of the government and democracy in general (which we can get into later), Engler espouses a pro-democracy ideology. However, the Harper’s Crimes campaign comes across as anti-democratic, like the losing party is just whining about how the one which was voted in came to power (the old “I support democracy, except when I don’t win” issue). By all means, this sort of page is a part of freedom of speech and is therefore encouraged, but I think they’re also a great danger when they contain misinformation and become one-sided and masked political grandstands like this one.