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                            These Are Extraordinary Times:

        Charlie Hebdo, Ontario, Stephen Harper, And Journalism


They take their freedom of expression seriously in the land of Voltaire.

In France this weekend, 3.7 million people, attended by 40 world leaders, arms linked, including French President François Hollande, Britain's David Cameron, Germany's Angela Merkle, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestine's Mahmoud Abbas, marched in defiance to show their unity in the face of the killing of 17 people, a heinous act to revenge the publishing of satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammed by the French publication Charlie Hebdo.

That number — let's say it again because it is so astounding — 3.7 million  —  is more than swarmed the streets of Paris when France was liberated from Nazi rule in 1944.

The type of journalism (a controversial type but still certainly journalism, let's make no mistake about it) that is the only cited cause for the killings — political satire — has a long, rich history in France, a nuance perhaps lost on the rest of the world.

It was used extensively by Voltaire, whose biting satirical writings during the French Enlightenment went on to greatly influence the 1789 French Revolution, where the national passion for liberté, egalité et franternité had its infancy. 

And that biting satire cost him: he was imprisoned in the Bastille, a short distance from where Charlie Hebdo publishes its crude, and to many, offensive cartoons today.

What does all this have to do with Ontario, you ask?

It is extremely relevant to politics in this province, as 2015 is a federal election year, and Ontario holds the key to Mr. Harper's dreams of a second majority, as was so ably pointed out by ONW columnist Randall White last week.

The defiant reaction in France in defence of their democracy, hard won in a blood-drenched revolution, and its crucial partner — freedom of expression ­— is in stark contrast to the muted, weak protestations so far against the erosion of our democracy here in Canada.

We live in extraordinary times. 

This is no ordinary federal election.

Our democracy in Canada, and thus Ontario, is under siege. The severe weakening of that democracy may not be being achieved through violence, but it is being attempted just the same.

From constitutional experts to objective journalists of the highest calibre to international observers and respected media such as The Economist — all have sent out both stark, reasoned warnings and a passionate cri du coeur that our freedoms in this country are being deliberately undermined.

This is the year that will see Prime Minister Stephen Harper, already marked by his many successive moves to weaken our democracy, again try to recreate his majority win of 2011 — a shameless gaming of an undemocratic first past the post system to obtain 100 per cent of the power with 39.6 per cent or less of those who actually bothered to vote. That means 60 per cent of those who voted, voted against him.

His support in 2011 actually comes out to about 24 per cent of all eligible voters.

Mr. Harper — and we should certainly name him as specifically responsible as he is not only the Prime Minister but, as has been chronicled numerous times, has his party, cabinet, MPPs and the Ottawa bureaucracy in a virtual vice-grip of power — has shown a frightening disregard for democracy. His actions have gone well beyond the usual attempts by Prime Ministers and parties of all political stripes to use the rules, bend or even break them for their own political advantage.

Mr. Harper isn't bending or using the rules - he is changing the rules completely, eliminating fairness and attempting to crush dissent in pursuit of vastly increased power gained by democratically illegitimate means and stifling any investigation into that abuse.

Unfortunately, Mr. Harper's deliberate, incremental erosion of our democracy and the institutions set up to safeguard it has not received the attention it deserves.

Some intrepid journalists — Michael Harris in his iPolitics columns and recent book "Party of One," Lawrence Martin in columns and his book "Harperland," as well as The Star's Bob Hepburn in his piece last weekend, for example — have scrupulously detailed Mr. Harper's anti-democratic moves so far:

- effectively shutting down Election Canada's investigation into the 2011 robo call election fraud by having the lawyer for the CPC control what party members it could glean information from;

- stripping power from Elections Canada so it cannot properly investigate election fraud in the future;

- deliberately withholding information from the elected representatives of the people and thus being found in contempt of Parliament — the first such finding for a government in Canadian history;

- shutting down Parliament — twice — to avoid first, political defeat and then, investigation into the Afghan detainees issue;

- deliberately shutting off the free flow of information to the public: government scientists muzzled from speaking in public without permission; public statements from the RCMP that must be approved first by government; destroying the long form census which withholds vital research information upon with to base reasonable  policy decisions;

- attempting to control, through its partisan Conservative appointees, the Senate investigation into the part the Prime Minister's office played in the Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau Senate expenses scandal;

- the abuse of instruments of the state to shut down criticism of Mr. Harper and his government's policies, to wit: using Canada Revenue Agency audits to harass environmental groups and others who have criticized CPC policies; cutting money to the CBC, which, in all their full-blown paranoia, many Conservatives see as a hotbed of leftist anti-government activists (some CPC members still actually refer to it as the "Communist Broadcasting System");

- and coming soon to a country near you, an even broader expansion of police powers in a state where the government is already spying on its citizens and no longer needs a warrant to tap private phone conversations, as it did before Mr. Harper gained power.

There have been many more democracy-reducing moves by Stephen Harper. They are — and what does this say? — too numerous to recount here.

With this province holding the key to who will be handed power over us later this year, Ontarians deserve much more attention to be paid to how the Prime Minister has eroded our democratic freedoms.

We need to listen hard to the journalists who are trying to chronicle the diminution of our democracy. We need to discount those doing their best to smear their reputations and tell us these award-winning journalists and experts are just paranoid/leftists/NDP shills/Liberal shills/crazies.

They are not. 

Michael Harris, Lawrence Martin, Bob Hepburn, constitutional expert Peter Russell and those who warn time is running out to safeguard our democracy are our canaries in the coal mine.

The 2015 federal election has begun. Now is the time to take a long, hard look at what Mr. Harper has done, and an equally long hard look at what Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau would do if they took his place.

If the public agrees with these democracy-reducing moves by Mr. Harper, and if his re-election can actually be found to have been conducted in a democratically sound way, so be it. That is the will of the people, and nothing is more supreme.

But let's make sure the public knows the facts, and the only way to do that is for the media to chronicle it clearly, every step of the way.

And that is why the Charlie Hebdo shootings are important to Ontario. 

Journalism is democracy's crucial partner.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ontario. Je suis Canada.















About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : January 12, 2015

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