The Truth finally written in Canada
Taliban Steve and the Robot Nation
Taliban Steve and the Robot Nation
Michael Harris is a writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his “unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.” His eight books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, and three of his books have been made into movies. He is currently working on a book about the Harper majority government to be published in the autumn of 2014 by Penguin Canada.
Stephen Harper has a bad case of MOUS – master of the universe syndrome.
I am happy to report that not many democracies revert to feudalism, but in the PM’s case, wracked as he is with the shivers and sweats of megalomania, it will not be for want of trying if he fails to return us to the political Middle Ages. This man is the suspicion that somewhere someone isn’t doing what they’re told.
When you control all the levers of power, when you have no scruples, when you are surrounded by nutters who will do anything you say without thinking, when you conceive of language as disconnected from objective reality, when you believe biz bull and Beatle songs are enough to bamboozle the Great Unwashed, it’s understandable in certain personality types that the conviction begins to take hold that you are a master of the universe.
Here are the main symptoms of MOUS. You stop caring about what others think about you. They are merely the Plankton People – Vladimir Putin’s ringing coinage for the human flotsam and jetsam who throng to those soon-to-be terminated protests against his dark dominion in Russia. The kind of people, I might add, who now find themselves under arrest when a Harper cabinet minister is heckled. (The heckler should have been given Conrad Black’s Order of Canada: he may have stopped Jason Kenney from congratulating himself again.) What next, Rick Mercer in handcuffs for cracking jokes at the government’s expense?
When you have MOUS, it never crosses your mind that people would like more from their government than a cattle prod in their junk. That’s because being Boss is in your blood. You, and you alone, know what’s good for everybody. And what’s good for everybody? Well, it just happens to be what’s good for your friends. The pipeline people, the military, and of course, the Harper Party.
With MOUS, you stop worrying about being surrounded by dubious colleagues and cabinet ministers. The people closest to the PM may be a gaggle of fatted capons, but I don’t say they’re stupid. It’s just that their political actions suggest a strange – how shall I put it - slowing or even a reversal of evolution. One wonders when will Gary Goodyear be a newt again, Vic Toews a bonobo? Judging from the way they have spoken for their departments and answered the government’s critics and the Canadian people, surely it can’t be long.
In advanced MOUS, you stop caring if you are caught out in lies, boneheaded decisions, or tawdry reprisals against innocent people. How else could a prime minister who gave us the F-35 debacle, spent $900 million more on summits than anyone else on earth ever has, and blew $43,000 of public money going to a baseball game, lecture Europeans on fiscal management?
Advanced master of the universe syndrome, plain and simple.
You don’t mind if your favoritism to corporations is up in neon for all to see. Pipelines are now deemed to be works not subject to serious environmental review. You don’t care if ministers like Christian Paradis are dragging bureaucrats into Ottawa meetings with businessmen from his constituency anxious to do the back-stroke in the public trough. You don’t care if people agree. You don’t care about trust. You just care about control. It’s fealty or F-off. You are, after all, Dear Leader.
So it is not surprising that the Harper cabinet minister who thanks Noah for the repopulation of the planet after the Great Flood, Gary Goodyear, responded to last week’s gathering of scientists on Parliament Hill with a classic Harperian non-sequitur.
Confronted with a demand by scientists to have the Experimental Lakes Area – and their fundamental freedom of speech - restored, Goodyear completely ignored the protesters’ issues. Instead, he put out a self-serving list of government funding for science. It was just like Question Period. The Opposition asks a question, the Government zooms into outer space with a completely unrelated reply. Fights break out across the nation for the channel changer.
Goodyear has done for his government’s credibility what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmen back in the day. Not only was the arrogance of the regime that infamously ignores its critics on display for all to see – like it or lump it. But the Minister’s list of “support” for science in the press release he issued on the same day as the protest revealed what the Harper government is really doing. It is handing over public money and, more importantly, the direction of scientific research, to industry players whose only interest in the pursuit of knowledge is how to monetize it.
Twelve million for business-led networks of excellence – a program to be made permanent by the government; thirty-seven million for industry-academic research partnerships; sixty million for an applied research campaign. Which is why the ELA is being mothballed. It is not the $2 million annual budget. The government spent six times that amount for PR for the last budget and ten times more on dredging up the War of 1812. It is ELA’s intellectual independence. Not only is the ELA pure science, and therefore not conceived of as a way to make corporations more moolah, it might also get in the way of profit-driven polluters looking for short-cuts to fatten their bottom lines.
How stupid does this government think people are? The corporations on whose behalf the PM is busily clearing away all meaningful government oversight view the environment as either a public relations obstacle or a giant pain in the butt. What they love is dividends, not lakes, oceans or clean air no matter what the cheesy lines in their tv ads say.
Glitzy commercials to one side, we got an excellent look this week at the oil industry’s real feelings about environmental obligations. Just weeks away from a drilling program in the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic, Shell Oil admitted it hasn’t been able to meet pollution standards required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for its main generator on the drill bit for the drilling rig Discoverer. Ten tons of nitrogen oxide and ammonia will now be spewed into the pristine air of the Arctic if Shell persuades the EPA to revise its emission permits. How could this be happening a few weeks before drilling if the company took its environmental responsibilities seriously?
Scientists get it. Consider this comment by American scientist Steven Young from Vermont, commenting on the Harper government’s decision to shutter the ELA, which like the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Area in New Hampshire for forest study, is a facility unique in the world for studying its specialty: “The budget is minimal and the research invaluable. I suspect that the main reason for shutting down the project is because the results are unfavorable to some business interests.”
Dr. Young was one of 2,900 people, many of them top international scientists, who made their views known in an online petition urging the Harper Government to reconsider closing the ELA. Sadly, Parliament doesn’t accept online petitions.
If it did, it would discover that this sorry-assed decision has caught the attention of the world, sparking responses from 58 countries, 44 states in the U.S. and every province and territory in Canada except Nunavut. As the young Alberta scientist who administered the petition and analyzed the results, Heidi Swanson, observed, “There were over 100 pages of comments to read…There were a few recurring themes – ‘national embarrassment’, ‘short-sighted decision’, ‘irresponsible.’”
Here is a sampling from the petition of what Canadians, Canadian scientists, and their international colleagues had to say about the Harper government turning out the lights on the ELA:
- “This Harper government is afraid of science, unless it’s dished to them on a plate by generous corporations.” – Peter McNichol, Ontario
- “There is no longer any need for a government that doesn’t respect the environment in Canada. It’s time for a big change.” – Mike Barber, Ontario
- “If it interferes with Big Oil’s interests, it has to go, doesn’t it Mr Harper?” – Peter Dahli, British Columbia
- “I don’t get how the Conservative government can justify $1.1 billion for the G-8 and G-20 summits, but feel the need to “save” $2-million this way. The government says ELA no longer jives with their mandate. This is just another reason to believe, then, that the government’s mandate is, indeed, anti-environmental. Scary.” – Larry Johnston, Manitoba
- “This ‘government’ is hellbent on destroying anything that is beneficial to the average working-class Canadian. The only people that will gain from this type of behavior are their cronies that bankroll this dictatorship.” – Richard Rankine, Manitoba
- “Termination of already set-up, smoothly flowing, high-quality research with facilities, long term datasets and trained staff seems like one of the least strategic ways to save money…This kind of decision is the kind of action that gets cited in books as a classic example of extreme near-sightedness…I hope this will not be the Harper government’s legacy.” – Evegenia Dubman, British Columbia
- “I suppose that soon we will be seeing Canadians pretending to be Americans when they go abroad, out of shame for their government.” Anonymous, Sweden.
You would have to be chewing ten wads of Double Bubble and smoking the drapes not to realize that Canadian scientists and their supporters are entitled to their defiance and their panic. The plain truth for anyone still interested in that quaint commodity: there is a witch-hunt going on in Canada these days to eradicate independent information-bearers. Gone, the Science Advisor to the PM; gone, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab; gone, the Experimental Lakes Area; gone, the National Roundtable on Environment and the Economy; gone, protection for endangered species; gone, much of the evidence gathering capacity of Fisheries and Oceans, the National Research Council, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. There was less blood on the floor at the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.
Canadian scientists realize that if they don’t make a stand now against Steve and the Bobble Heads in their lust to reduce science to just one more purveyor of government-friendly dogma, the future could be as bleak as it is getting in the United States. Scientists at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), compiled evidence that because of faulty review procedures at the agency, medical imaging devices for colonoscopies and mammograms were approved despite the fact that they exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.
Their bosses were not pleased. So the government department began to secretly capture the emails that scientists were desperately sending to members of Congress. The FDA surveillance program, which used spy software to track the keystrokes of scientists whether they were working at home or the office, started as a response to alleged leaks of sensitive information. But it quickly turned into a wide-ranging campaign to silence critics of the agency’s medical review process.
In the end, the FDA developed huge files on scientists, congressional officials, outside medical researchers, and even journalists it believed were “collaborating” to put out “negative” and “defamatory” information about the FDA. The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel has taken a different view, concluding that the scientists’ concerns contained a “substantial and specific danger to the public” and warranted opening a full investigation.
The Harper government would probably side with the FDA. After all, we became the first non-wiener country to assign “minders” to our government scientists. That’s because once his own government has decided on a course, the PM believes it is the duty of every patriotic robot to fall in line and speak with one voice.
Whether it’s closing the ELA, sabotaging international agreements to reduce greenhouse gases or selling asbestos to people whose cancers you will never see, Stephen Harper is not big on admitting mistakes or changing course. There is a certain fundamentalist rigor to his dogma, as Swedish ecologist Ragnar Elmgren noted in an email when expressing his outrage to Canadian politicians about the government’s decision to shutter the ELA:
“This is the kind of act one expects from the Taliban in Afghanistan, not from the government of a civilized and educated nation.”
But don’t worry Robot Nation, Taliban Steve won’t be listening. He never does.