Sometimes it can feel like Stephen Harper is a giant dead body that's fallen on top of Canada. He's not really dead but you can look at him a good long time and not spot any signs of life either. And that's a technique he's brought to the prime minister's office.
Steve is heavily into lube. He's all about everything bitumen - getting it out of the ground, pumping it through pipelines and into the bellies of supertankers and selling the stuff to foreigners. That's the Harper government in a nutshell, if only it could be in fact jammed into a nutshell.
But government is about so much more than a single resource. Just not for Steve and his government. When it comes to all those other things, Harper has two approaches - screw with it or ignore it. He likes to screw with things whether it's slapping his own picture up all over the PMO, or indulging his prison fetish, or seeing just how easy it is to defund the federal government. He'd love to screw with capital punishment and criminalize abortion but that might just start a ruckus that could mess up his bitumen agenda. A man, after all, can only do so much.
And for the stuff he's not screwing with, that's where ignoring stuff comes in. Screwing with stuff is actually easier than ignoring stuff. That's why Steve has found that he's better off to make the stuff he wants to ignore disappear all together. This is especially true when confronted with information and knowledge and, gee willickers, science! So he gets rid of information about poverty and inequality and other social ills by ditching the census and defunding NGOs and other pesky agencies. And Steve absolutely gags those damned scientists. He can't just chuck them all into a gulag, not in today's Canada, not yet, but he can censor their contact with the outside world and make sure when they do venture outside they're at the end of a short leash firmly held by trained minders. And, better yet, Steve can shut down their programmes and simply lay them off. Who'll notice?
And that's how you wind up with a stale, moribund government led by a seemingly lifeless prime minister that suffocates the country and its people. But there is hope. Help is on the way. Canadian scientists, the bain of Harper's iron-fist existence, are fighting back. Today they'll march through Ottawa in a protest against Harperian war on science.
"In my view there are a lot of attempts in this country, and other countries too, to push through resource-based economies," said Prof John Smol, a freshwater lake biologist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. "People working at ELA are constantly finding reasons why you can't just put a pipeline here, or an industry there, because there are going to be environmental costs."
Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, was even more pointed. "It's not about saving money. It's about imposing ideology," he said. "What's happening here is that the government has an ideological agenda to develop the Canadian economy based on the extraction of oil out of the Alberta tar sands as quickly as possible and sell it as fast as it can, come hell and high water, and eliminate any barriers that stand in their way."
"The Harper government is the most environmentally hostile one we have ever had in Canada. Harper pulled Canada out of the Kyoto protocol, gutted the Fisheries Act (our strongest freshwater protection law), and hollowed out our environmental assessment legislation, making it easier for extractive industries to get licences to exploit," said Maude Barlow, a former UN advisor on water and chair of the Council of Canadians. "It is heartlessly shutting down a programme that costs very little to run given the incredible benefits it brings, in order to silence the voices who speak for water."