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The Ghost of Stephen Harper still haunts Canadian politics

Posted on June 30, 2016 by Maple Creek

Here and There – Dominique Liboiron

Look! Did you see that? Over there! Something is lurking in the shadows of the federal government’s bureaucracy – it’s the ghost of Stephen Harper!
Canadians thought they’d seen the last of Harper when they voted his party out of office last October. A lot of people cheered his loss including the concerned citizen who wrote a political statement in black marker on the stop sign at the intersection of Jasper Street and Fourth Avenue in Maple Creek. The sign now reads “Stop Harper.” (Good job; I admire graffiti when it has a point.)
The Conservative defeat brought smiles to David Suzuki, too. With Harper no longer in power, Suzuki and his science camp buddies thought top-level researchers employed by the feds would be able to speak to the media once again. It turns out that’s not the case.
Many public sector employees bristled at the Harper-imposed gag order not to talk to the press. Communication with reporters was restricted to approved channels and the content was controlled and sanitized, not to say censored. Little has changed since October.
I don’t want get too carried away. Prime Minister Harper wasn’t all bad. Honestly, he has to be commended for leading Canada through some dark economic times. Of course, how much credit he can claim for the stability Canadians enjoyed during the economic downturn of 2008 is open to debate.
The amount of control heads of country have over Western economies tends to be exaggerated and over-hyped. This is especially true of our neighbours to the south who like to describe the man, or soon to be woman, in the Oval Office as “the most powerful man in the world.” Such an over-the-top name hides the fact the US president can only do so much when legislators engage in power struggles along party lines – as we’ve seen all through Barack Obama’s presidency.
But back to Stephen the Not so Friendly Ghost. He apologized to First Nations for past governments’ attempts to eradicate Aboriginal culture. Unlike Trudeau the Elder, he didn’t inflame separatist sentiment in Quebec. Instead, he granted them the distinct status they were asking for and guess what? – Canada was the same the morning after. Even better, Quebecers didn’t vote for the Bloc in the following federal election.  They voted NDP, a sign Quebec’s aging population was losing the fire of youth. Instead of protest, they thought about their ailing back, bad knees or bunions so they voted orange to get good health care and up until Britain dropped the E.U. like a math class, we hadn’t heard a peep out of the separatists.
Before you actually start to miss Stephen and his excellent taste in sweaters, I need to talk about fear and silence – these are equally a part of Harper’s legacy.
Allow me to explain. I was recently in Havre, Montana and on the way home I crossed the border at Willow Creek where the Americans have a brand new building and Canada has an ATCO trailer (or maybe it’s a mobile home. I’m not sure what to call it other than embarrassing).
The parking lot where border service agents screened me was worthy of that calendar with pictures of Saskatchewan’s worst roads. What was even more embarrassing was the state of the “new” border station that’s meant to eventually replace the temporary trailer.
What should be a construction site looks like an abandoned building, but one that’s only half-finished. It’s not completed and it’s already falling apart.
The ventilation fan was pushed in and seemed to be dangling from its electric cable. Much of the blue foam insulation on the outside wall was slashed, possibly by hail. The shabby state of the construction site, the fact that no crews have been working there for some months and the pock-marked road all said, “Welcome to Canada; we’re a Third World country.”
As a proud citizen and an indignant journalist who knows a story when he sees one, I phoned Canada Border Services with an interview request. Eventually, I received a call from a man with Public Works. He identified himself, but there were two other bureaucrats with him on speakerphone, including one who referred to himself as a “communication specialist.”
The specialist told me I had to submit my questions in advance for approval before I could speak to anyone and if during the interview I asked any questions that weren’t pre-approved our conversation would be immediately terminated.
That would be cheap journalism, I responded. What should be an interview would be little more than a rehearsed dialogue like actors practicing their lines.
When three people are needed to field a simple request, a person has to wonder what the government is trying to hide – possibly their ineptitude to spent tax dollars efficiently and to complete a simple construction project on time.
How a person answers a question is often more telling than the words that are said. A change in tone, a slight hesitation, a cough or loud swallowing are all clues that tell a journalist when a subject is avoiding the truth or doesn’t know the answer. These signals shape a reporter’s follow-up questions. With Harper’s communication protocol still in place, I wouldn’t be able to press for an accurate answer or expose a falsehood.
As of June 8, I’ve been trying to speak with an actual person to find out why it’s taking so long to build the border station. That hasn’t happened, yet. In the shadows, the ghost of Stephen Harper is smiling.

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