Ask anyone who has lived under a dictatorship and they will tell you of its ugly features: A Supreme Leader who rules with an iron fist; legislation pushed through by a rubber stamp legislative assembly with little or closured debate; government officials ordered into silence or fearful of speaking up; and a press denied the right to even ask questions, let alone get any answers.
That’s how a majority government under Stephen Harper would operate: it has already done much of that, even in minority status.
As I wrote at the beginning of the current election campaign, before others covering the first week on the trail articulated the same, Harper has turned his back on questions … let alone provide open and transparent answers. only TWO questions permitted the day the election was announced; only five ALL day on the campaign trail.
Imagine what Harper would be like with the powers of a majority government!
I know most Canadians are programmed to think very little about our system of government. Many don’t understand that democratic government must also be RESPONSIBLE government for the system to work properly.
And the media’s right to ask questions--not on behalf of the media, but on behalf of the people--and get answers--is a crucial part of an open, transparent democratic society.
Harper doesn’t seem to understand this atl all. He has disdained not only his responsibility to take questions and give answers; he has also shut down Parliament to escape the heat of questions there, or even debate.
It’s almost frightening to imagine Canada with a majority government under Harper.
I’d bet neither he nor his ministers would regularly answer ANY questions, make themselves available for interviews (except to sycophantic media types ); government information would be more difficult than ever to obtain; and public servants would be denied the right to provide any public information other than what day of the week it is ..and even that, only after checking with Ottawa to see if it’s alright to tell.
It wasn’t always this way.
Even in the days of previous majority governments, Conservatives and Liberal, Prime Ministers had fairly regular press conferences; Ministers of the Crown granted interviews and took lots of questions in scrums; and senior government officials gave many, many interviews without fear or seeking their minister’s approval, and instructions on what to say, beforehand.
I was honored to actually get a one-on-one sit down exclusive on-camera interview with Harper in his second election campaign. And he sat still and ably handled any difficult questions I threw at him. I think it did his image a lot if good, in BC at least.
Then he became the man in the bubble: appearing only at tightly scripted events attended by tightly selected party faithful; sticking to tightly scripted lines delivering a tightly scripted message.
And no questions, no information, no access, no real debate … and no respect for the public’s right to know.
Is that we want for five years in Canada?
As the election continues, most of the media keep playing the game by Harper’s rules, covering ”official” events, reporting “official” statements etc.
Hopefully more will soon wake up and do stories on Harper’s bubble; throw questions at him and do stories on how he refused to answer; go after his MP candidates on the issue, demand comments, embarrass them and reveal the dictatorship style for what is.
The type of country we live in depends on the public understanding exactly what is going on and how it would be like to live under a Harper majority for five full years.
Harv Oberfeld is a blogger and retired journalist. This column originally appeared in his blog, Keeping it Real. Reprinted with Mr. Oberfeld's kind permission.