Stephen Harper’s Conservatives like to present themselves as tough on crime, committed to accountable government and respectful of the rule of law. Given their record, we have to ask ourselves, when will we march them off to the nearest penitentiary to begin serving the mandatory minimum sentences they so richly deserve?

Like a Rocky Mountain avalanche in the making, a growing mountain of evidence of Harper’s cynical disregard for the rule of law threatens to bury even the pretense of Canadian democracy. Here are some examples . . .

Canadian Wheat Board Act Violated

On Oct. 18, 2011, Harper’s Conservative government introduced Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, which aims to remove the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly over exports of western Canadian wheat and barley. Not only are they proceeding with this legislation in defiance of the expressed will of most western farmers, they are in breech of Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act which requires the permission of grain producers prior to the introduction of this kind of legislation.

2006 Election – the In and Out Scandal

During the 2006 federal election, the Conservative Party tried to get around election spending limits by giving $1.3 million dollars to 67 riding offices that had not yet reached their individual spending limits. The ridings then returned the money to the party, claiming that it was being used to buy advertising. The money was used by the national campaign to fund an advertising blitz in the final weeks of the campaign. The scam might have gone undetected but for the chutzpah of some riding officials who applied to Elections Canada for a 60% reimbursement of their advertising expenses. Four senior Conservative Party members were charged under the Elections Canada Act with overspending and submitting false or misleading election expense documents. Just this month, the Tories successfully plea bargained their way out of facing these charges, agreeing to plead guilty to what the Tory spin-doctors are calling “administrative errors.”

The Cadman Affair and the Criminal Code of Canada

In 2005, the minority Liberal government of Paul Martin was in deep trouble. The Tories were intent on bringing them down, but the vote would be close. In Like a Rock: The Chuck Cadman Story, Vancouver writer Tom Zytaruk tells the story of attempts by Conservative Party officials to offer financial inducements to independent MP Chuck Cadman in return for his support in bringing down the Liberals. The Tories were unsuccessful in getting Cadman’s support. However, an interview with Stephen Harper conducted by Zytaruk makes it clear that Harper was aware of his Party’s efforts to buy Cadman’s vote. And vote buying is a serious offence under the Criminal Code of Canada, one that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Harper has a majority government and opposition parties have been unwilling to step outside of Parliament to hold governments accountable. For these reasons, Harper will remain untouchable unless we organize a broad movement to hold him accountable. There is a clear leadership role for well-resourced organizations such as The Council of Canadians and The Canadian Labour Congress. Perhaps we should remind them.

Comments
  1. Shane Nestruck says:

    The “Con” in Conservative Party of Canada derives from a combination of:
    CONniving, CONceited, CONdescending, Confidence men, but most appropriately CONVICTS!

  2. John De Pape says:

    Two things need to be addressed here. One, whether the plebiscite showing support for the CWB at 62% and 51% for wheat and barley respectively was based on a relevant voters’ list. For example, ballots only went out to CWB permit book holders – those that sell to the CWB. But 80% of the barley sold each year doesn’t go through the CWB at all – so those farmers, representing 80% of the crop, didn’t get a ballot. There is enough doubt surrounding the voters’ list used on this plebiscite that the results should be equally doubted.

    The other thing is the loose interpretation of Section 47.1. That section says the government must hold a plebiscite only if they are removing commodities from the single desk. But the govt isn’t doing that; it is removing the single desk completely. Even Ralph Goodale and Pat Martin have admitted that the government has every right to do what it is doing. It serves no reasonable purpose to keep promoting this error.

    • John, the answer to addressing your doubts about the farmer’s plebiscite would be for the government to hire a neutral third-party to hold one. This it has refused to do, though during the election, Conservative candidates did tell farmers they would be able to vote on this matter. It appears they lied.

      Regarding the looseness of the interpretation of 47.1, that matter will be decided in the Federal Court, which will hear the case in December.

      It seems pretty clear that the intent of the Canadian Wheat Board Act was to ensure that farmers had democratic control of their marketing agency. By flouting the requirement for a binding plebiscite and by removing the provision for farmer-elected directors, it seems clear that the Conservatives have little regard for either farmers or democracy.

      • John De Pape says:

        Thanks Paul – your response about the plebiscite appears to confirm my thoughts that it was flawed (you didn’t defend it, rather suggest a “better” approach. That tells me that you agree that it is misleading to keep using the results as evidence that proceeding with this legislation is “in defiance of the expressed will of most western farmers”.

        Also, I’m not sure of which candidates you are talking about that promised a vote, but I know Gerry Ritz has been accused of that – specifically in a meeting in Minnedosa where he said he believed in democracy and supported farmers’ ability to vote. Unfortunately, the media mistook it to mean a plebiscite on the future of the CWB (because that’s what the CWB said) when in reality, he was talking about CWB director elections. I know for a fact that the Minister’s office tried in vain to get corrections on that.

        I agree – the interpretation of 47.1 will be “settled” in the courts. But the over-arching issue is parliamentary sovereignty which basically means parliament may change or repeal any previous legislation. A farmer vote cannot stop that.

        As for having little regard for farmers, I believe the conservatives recognize that the CWB has not lived up to its promise. It has been shown time and time again that it has failed farmers in getting value out of the market and comes at a huge cost. Let’s not hang onto something because it looks good on paper.

  3. John, please do not interpret my remarks about the CWB plebiscite as agreement with your position. By holding a plebiscite, it showed its commitment to farmers’ democratic right to decide the fate of their marketing agency. I do not agree that citing the results of this vote is misleading. It is indicative of widespread support of farmers for the CWB, which perhaps is why Ritz will not hold a vote.

    Regarding Ritz’s election promise: Writing in the Winnipeg Free Press, Laura Rance (who edits the Manitoba Co-operator), noted “Ritz told farmers in Minnedosa March 15 the government will not attempt to impose dual marketing unless farmers vote for it. “Until farmers make that change, I’m not prepared to work arbitrarily,” Ritz said. “They are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.”

    If Ritz later tried to spin this as “talking about CWB director elections” why is he planning to eliminate the elected farmer positions on the CWB’s Board of Directors?

    Does the CWB help farmers get more value from the market than they would get otherwise? Economists disagree on this, though the argument that one monopoly seller working on your behalf will do a better job than competing buyers who seek only to benefit their shareholders is a sound one.

    Democracy would be better served if the Conservative government lived up to the spirit and letter of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and held a plebiscite of western grain growers. Instead it has chosen to ignore this law. What are they afraid of?

    • John De Pape says:

      Paul – the only purpose of the CWB’s non-binding plebiscite was to embarrass the government and to provide the only results that it could because of its design – support for the single desk. We all know that if the govt acquiesced and ran a plebiscite, the CWB would complain about “the question” and the voters’ list. The debate would not end; they say they would abide by the results but only if they agreed to the question and the list (which won’t happen).

      On Minnedosa – you can quote Laura all you like, but she wasn’t even there. Reference to the imposition of dual marketing is her words. The change Ritz was talking about was the change to the voters’ list where farmers would have to produce a minimum of 40 tonnes to get a ballot – he wasn’t about to make that change unless the CWB (farmers) agreed to it. (Originally the CWB board had agreed to it and then did a 180.)

      He’s eliminating the elected farmers from the CWB because they don’t agree on the future of the CWB. Like many have asked how Henry Vos and Jeff Nielsen could sit on that board with the intent of making the CWB voluntary, how could Ritz expect the remaining eight farmer-elected directors to sit on a board governing a voluntary CWB when they don’t believe in it and so strongly oppose it?

      The concept of a monopoly benefiting farmers is indeed a sound argument – on paper. In execution, it has not materialized. To say it would be better than “competing buyers who seek only to benefit their shareholders” misses an important point. It’s not one or the other; with the CWB system, farmers are paying for the CWB’s overhead and its effect on the market – AND they’re paying the grain companies to handle it. It’s a double whammy; grain companies serve their shareholders either way. Keeping the single desk around doesn’t somehow preclude these companies from profiting from handling CWB grains. In fact, CWB business is lucrative enough that a common saying in the business is “You don’t build elevators without CWB elevations”. Most grain companies believe their margins on wheat will drop without the CWB.

      Democracy – an interesting concept. We both blog – supposedly we both benefit from it, otherwise we’d probably stop. Would you consider a vote on forcing the marketing our “services” and those of other bloggers jointly and pooling our sales “equitably” among all? I wouldn’t even want to put that to a vote. (I would only consider doing it if it was unanimous and you could opt out at any time.) Yes, we have universal health care and in some places, public insurance. But those are public goods; the fruits of farmers’ labour (and yours and mine) are private goods. Democracy – choosing by a vote – is great for public goods but not at all palatable (to most) on personal or private goods.

      A vote on the CWB single desk will not prove anything except what we already know – many farmers want to work collectively and many don’t. And the interests of some regarding their private goods should not allow them to compel (Allen Oberg’s term) others. If some people want to force everyone under one system, they should at the very least, sell them on the value of doing so. That’s never been done.

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