One year later: Harper government far from invincible

Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo courtesy of University of Saskatchewan, Flickr

Photo courtesy of University of Saskatchewan, Flickr

This week marks one year since Stephen Harper won a majority government. May 2, 2011 was the day Harper got his long coveted majority.

If Canadians knew then what we know now, would Harper still have prevailed?

The Auditor General’s recent report on the F-35 fighter jets amounts to a scathing indictment of the integrity of the ruling federal Conservatives. There is little doubt that Harper’s cabinet, and of course the micromanaging prime minister himself, knew that the cost estimates were low-balled by at least $10 billion.

Add to the F-35 fiasco the so called “robocalls” scandal, with growing evidence of widespread, coordinated voter fraud disproportionately benefiting the Conservatives. The lies plus the fraud equal an increasingly illegitimate Harper government. Despite all this, Stephen Harper is firmly entrenched in power and pushing forward on his rightwing agenda. Every week, sometimes every day, brings new bad news for the environment and for social justice in Canada.

With things seemingly so bleak and immovable at the federal level, the push back against procorporate, right-wing politics looks more hopeful at the provincial level.

In Ontario, despite Harper’s boastful wish at a fundraiser for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that Conservative leader Tim Hudak would complete the rightwing “hat trick,” Liberal Dalton McGuinty won re-election, though he now has only a minority government. This hasn’t meant any fundamental move away from neo-liberal politics and austerity measures, but McGuinty was forced to impose a new surtax on the rich to get the NDP not to defeat his budget.

In Quebec, the Charest government faces a massive student strike that has sparked a broader movement some have dubbed le printemps erable (the Maple Spring). This type of social movement has not been seen in years, and represents an inherent threat to everything for which Harper stands.

Even in Alberta, Harper’s politics suffered a sort of setback, when the upstart Wildrose Party went down to defeat to the Progressive Conservatives. Although the prime minister of course wisely stayed ‘above the fray’ of Alberta’s election, it was no secret that many of his key operatives – past and present – were working on the Wildrose’s (even more) right-wing campaign.

Then there is B.C., where the NDP has surged to a big lead in the polls. Under Christy Clark, the 12- year-long rule of the B.C. Liberals appears headed for an end by May 2013, the next fixed election date, at the latest. Following two recent by-election losses to the NDP things have gotten so bad that the party is now openly entertaining a name change.

An NDP win in B.C., whatever the name of the governing party they defeat, could become a significant rallying point for the political forces across the country who want to unseat Harper. Harper has proudly titled the balance of power in Canada to the West. Having an NDP premier in the West’s most populous province could act as a serious brake on Harper’s plans on issues ranging from pipelines to health care.

In a recent Globe and Mail article, NDP leader Adrian Dix raised four major areas where his administration would differ with the federal Conservatives: “the law-and-order agenda, which could crowd provincial courtrooms and prisons and drain provincial budgets; the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline between Alberta and the Pacific Coast; the reduced increases in federal health transfers; the Canada- EU trade agreement, which could increase drug prices as a result of tougher patent protections.”

This quick overview of provincial politics standing in the way of an unfettered Harper agenda is not to suggest that electoral politics is the only, or even primary, challenge to the corporate power running this country. Rather, it’s a reminder that Harper is not invincible, far from it. But we will have to organize a mighty response in the streets and in our communities; in other words, there’s a huge job of political organizing ahead.

Our brother and sisters in Quebec – led by the feisty students standing down the government – are showing the way. Here on the West Coast, the movement against tar sands pipelines – both the Enbridge and the even bigger Kinder Morgan proposal – would seem to have the most potential in the near term to lead to a truly large-scale movement.

If the inspiration provided by the Maple Spring can reach all the way to the Pacific coast, there’s no way those pipelines are ever getting built.

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