Bill C38 moves Canada one step closer to dictatorship

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To the Editor:

In my opinion, June 14 deserves to be called Black Thursday.

That, of course, was the day — or more accurately, the night — when the Conservative majority in Canada’s House of Commons gave second reading to Bill C38, the Harper government’s budget legislation.

Much has been made of the size of Bill C38, of the fact that it contained a multitude of provisions not normally proposed as part of a budget, and that was deplorable enough in itself. It meant that the House didn’t have time to debate each provision as much as it deserved.

It also meant, however, that ordinary Canadians did not have time to grasp the frightening implications of many of those provisions, to realize that Bill C38 was indeed a “slash and burn” document and, at the same time, a law that moved Canada uncomfortably close to dictatorship.

On the one hand, the bill reduces or eliminates many existing federal-government functions and services, thereby making life harder for thousands, in some cases, millions, of ordinary Canadians. The changes to employment insurance are one example of that.

On the other hand, Bill C38 gives the government power to ignore or overrule the decisions of commissions and tribunals that have been set up to guard against the abuse of government power or to limit the ability of such agencies to do their job properly. Here, the restrictions the bill places on the environmental assessment processes is a glaring case in point.

The government defends all this on a perceived need to balance the federal budget, to make government more efficient and to help the economy provide more jobs. These are all commendable objectives but they do not require the draconian measures proposed in Bill C38. Indeed, in some cases, the measures may work against increased employment: firing thousands of public servants and cutting public spending power is hardly likely to increase employment.

No, what we have in Bill C38 is nothing more nor less than a blueprint of Stephen Harper’s vision of ultra-conservative government, which is to say, as little government as possible, conducted with as much secrecy and arbitrariness as possible.

That Harper holds this vision will come as no surprise to those who have followed his political career. What does come as a shock, to me anyway, is that so many of his back-bench MPs showed by their performance on Black Thursday that they share it.

Had a mere two dozen of them voted against Bill C38, or even abstained, it would not have passed. Surely they cannot all have been comfortable with the bill. Surely many of them must have agreed with the Opposition MPs’ arguments and been aware of the considerable public uneasiness about the bill. Does party loyalty and or the pay and perceived prestige of sitting in the House mean so much to them?

Whatever the case, although Harper must take the blame for assaulting our democracy, the “ trained seals” who sit on the benches behind him must bear the shame. And that’s really why it was Black Thursday.

Peter Hepher