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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


Muzzling the government's own scientists; re-writing the Access to Information law to block charges against the RCMP; trying to kill a democratic reform bill by using unelected Conservative Senators who are supposed to be independent. Stephen Harper is being called the most fundamentally undemocratic PM Canada has ever seen. Are Canadians incensed enough to vote him out, or do they support him?

Bernie Farber: 

This is an issue that, quite frankly, scares me. 

How any government can, in what appears to be a callous way, disregard the law simply because it is able to, smacks of a system we should reject. That the RCMP is being protected for destroying long gun registry records makes it worse.

This has become the stuff of water-cooler chat and when that happens you know it's reached a point where it has an impact. 

People are quite rightly boiling angry. They see a government removed from the people it serves, becoming a law unto itself, and they want no part of it.

I have always held that while the economy is key for any political party, when a government is seen to be contravening constitutionally held protections, as seems to be the issue here, and the government appears to want to break that convention through the back door, people will react and react badly. That is the case today, in my view.  

Marit Stiles: 

I agree with Bernie’s read that the anti-democratic and indeed democracy-suppression tactics of the Harper government have many Canadians united in the desire for change. Indeed, if you aren’t outraged by one issue, you’ll find another to be outraged by. There's a long list of means by which the Conservatives have undermined our democratic rights.

The lack of respect and indeed contempt for officers of parliament, whose job it is to ensure fairness and accountability, has been unprecedented. And even those who might side with the Conservatives on some issues — like climate change — will find their attempt to muzzle critics and limit debate calculating and an affront to democracy. Many past-Conservative voters will be wondering what, if anything, has happened to the Stephen Harper who decried decades of Liberal scandals and back-room deals. 

At the end of the day, will this mean that more people get out to vote?  Will past-Conservative voters shift their allegiances? What's the breaking point? 

As we saw in Alberta, there's a limit to what voters will put up with and when a clear, genuine alternative for change appears on the horizon, voters may make that leap.

John Capobianco: 

"Boiling angry".... my friend Bernie suggests that Canadians are boiling angry and that this government has become a law unto itself. Really? 

To suggest this is ridiculous in the highest order. Not to say that the opposition parties aren't trying to make this an issue in some way — even Marit is suggesting that past Conservatives may be thinking about voting against this PM.

Look, this government has had its challenges, especially with the Senate issue, but when you look objectively at the situation, you see a PM who, with all the right intentions, appointed individuals who were respected in their respective fields to the Chamber. What they have done — allegedly — is their issue and they will be dealt with accordingly. The PM has been more than cooperative with officials looking into this issue.

As for the other issue about which the media and the Opposition are crying foul — the anti-terror Bill C-51 —  well, here this PM is showing leadership and courage to ensure our law enforcement agencies have the necessary tools to prevent terrorist acts on Canadian soil to the best of their abilities. 

Undemocratic? Quite the opposite I say.

Bernie Farber: 

John, the problem is it’s not simply me. If it were, you would be entirely proper in thinking my paranoia runs deep. 

No, the fact is that, in much harsher language, you can see this playing out in newspapers (yes, even newspapers perceived to have a right wing tilt), television news programs and even radio call in shows. And the language used in all three mediums is much harsher than anything I have written here.

The fact is that people are beginning to see a tired government that, as Marit has noted, no longer listens, feels perfectly fine in breaking constitutional protections and even defends those who may have broken the law. Just ask Mike Duffy.

Whether it’s trying to sneak in a retroactive law (nice try John in pivoting to terrorism), bully through a so called “Fair Elections Act” which had nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with undermining the electoral process, or trying to delegitimize one of the most trusted institutions in the country — our Supreme Court — people are simply not looking away. 

This I predict will become one of the election issues in October, issues Mr. Harper will find very difficult to ignore. 

Marit Stiles: 

First, let's be clear, John, that the Liberals sided with the Conservative government on Bill C-51. So for all their upset about it now, they voted in favour of that deeply undemocratic and flawed bill, and will also be answerable to the voters for that. Second, with regard to the Senate: this is a government that said it would change the Senate. Instead, it stacked the Chamber  with political hacks who became publicly-funded full-time fundraisers for the Conservatives.

Now, we are learning that staff in the PMO may have tried to interfere with the Auditor's investigation into Senate issues. So we have political staff covering up for these political appointees.

I have to admit that when presented with today's topic, I was really a bit overwhelmed by the choice of potential "anti democratic" actions of this government to take issue with. There's so very much to choose from.

The voters will decide, certainly, John. But what voters?  The "Un-fair Elections Act," along with many of this government's other attacks on the marginalized, on the very foundation of democracy, have the effect of making it more difficult for many Canadians' voices to be heard. 

The question I think will be whether those voters will be galvanized to fight back with their ballots, much the way that voters fought back against the Republicans in the US in the face of their outrageous voter-suppression tactics.

And if we can make a real change in government, and we end up with an NDP government, we can bring out some real, democratic electoral reform. Bring on Proportional Representation!

John Capobianco: 

This government will be judged by the competent management of the economy through some of the toughest economic challenges this country has faced in a long time. There is still more to be done and the economy is always volatile, which is why most Canadians will want a government (this government) to continue to have a steady hand guiding our economy.

Safety and security will also be major issues in the election and this government has had the courage to act and ensure we continue to be vigilant in this area domestically and internationally.

No doubt there have been situations where certain things could have been handled better, but to say — as the Opposition have — that this government has become undemocratic or attempted to thwart various democratic institutions is nothing more than electioneering in an election year, where despite their best efforts, they haven't been able to move public opinion.

As always, in any election, Canadians will look at all the parties and will make their decision on who is best to govern, based on what they feel is important to themselves and their families. It is my hope that Canadians will see Stephen Harper as the only one who can continue to steer us in the right direction.


About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : May 18, 2015

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