An Unapologetic Rant

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

I believe we, as Canadians, as world citizens, are on the verge of losing control of a democracy we take for granted.

Why Alarm Now??
Forty and fifty years ago, when hippies were seen as harbingers of anarchism and anti-war protesters were feared for opening the doors to Communism, the alarm of the Right was likely akin to how I feel now. But the continuing move to the Right in Canada, to Law and Order thinking, and to a shrinking of a generous national outreach to people in need within and outside our borders, has reached a point where I feel the presence of a slippery slope toward something dark and wrong.

So what’s new? Polarized politics continually swing like a heavy pendulum, grinding to one side, and taking decades to grind to the other. Left and right – eternally fighting. One hopes for another viewpoint about the possibilities for the world, drawing from past and present toward a different future [distributive justice and the philosopher John Rawls suggest one positive direction].

But meanwhile, things don’t stand still while we figure them out.

History Underpins my Present Fears

I am a child of wartime, and always a little paranoid about fascism, sensing danger in the rise of fearful talk about enemies and the need for police-state measures. My fears have arisen to counter the fears and proposed solutions of the Right. But being paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you, as some wise guy once said. Democracy has to be worked at and safeguarded. We could lose it – that’s not paranoia.

I have always tried to understand how the German people, who had contributed so mightily to intelligent civilization, allowed the rise of the far Right in the 1930’s. Fear so powerful as to undermine clear thinking was contagious and won the day. Shaky economics and a loud clash of political views, as Communists noisily offered up a new order, must have confused many. Stability and a powerful leader would seem like salvation. Were people ready to believe anything, even that Hitler was a fine guy, because of fear, and superb propaganda and hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy – As Old As The Hills

They say the first casualty of war is truth. While we’re not at war, we’re subject to a series of hypocrisies, the persistence of which over time doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t note them. There is a willingness on the part of the Government to fudge the truth of things. This keeps us uncertain about what our country is doing out there in the world.

The military is lauded, even loved, by our Leader. Yet, even as they drive along the 401 Highway of Heroes, retired soldiers may be headed for more rejection of their requests for assistance in covering the financial and psychic costs of severe wounds to body and mind. Our government boosts the man in uniform until he’s no longer able to hoist the weapon, muster the will to damage or destroy. Then he’s pretty much on his own. I call this a lie being told. There is no real honourable love for the military.

What is the advantage in glorifying the military? Is it meant to keep us well-disposed to men in uniform? Is it as simple as our Leader wanting to know he can wield a big stick if he thinks he has to? The rhetoric about Canada always includes reference to our peaceful nation, our peaceful values. As Canadians, we have indeed loved our peace-keepers. But where are they? All retired? Why are Canadians again in the midst of the fighting in a land with which we’re not at war? Are these the first choices of a peace-loving nation?

Another area of double-speak is the inciting of fear of crime. A heavy-handed push for increased punishment and incarceration go forward in the face of decreased crime rates. Our prisons utilize a massive amount of solitary confinement (beyond that of most western countries), while data on the brain damage resulting from this method and the positive results of very different methods are ignored. Facts are ignored. Punish those who behave badly – horribly and indefinitely. The government talk is of creating greater safety on the streets, but policies that create mental malfunction are nurtured in the system.

Disjoints between our leader’s slogans and honourable follow-through offend my reason.

Double-Speak Isn’t the Worst of Our Situation

Four red lights have gone off for me.

 The avoidance of debate
 The shutting down of sources of information
 Intentional dismantling of institutions supporting Canadian community
 Developing the means of repressing dissent

There are many journalists publishing in the independent Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail – not widely distributed throughout Canada but likely available on the Web – who are setting out clearly the details of how the above repressive policies are already formed or are being created.

I will point to the obvious ones.

Avoidance of debate

The British and Canadian systems of government were intended to thrive on parliamentary debate. Intelligent argument. Our government dislikes disagreement so much they have tried muffling it. Omnibus bills make study and discussion very difficult. Volumes of material, containing multiple pieces of legislation, are presented to parliamentarians with little time for study. How can MP’s develop sound responses before the whole pile is rushed through for a vote?

The free flow of information

And how can it be that Canadian scientists, in their frustration, have had to parade on Parliament Hill to protest their being muffled in sharing information about their work? Is this not a dire situation? Stifling the voice of a key sector of the productive intelligentia – is this not the sign of serious interference with the public’s right to information?
Information about our society, as illuminated by regular census-taking (a practice from Roman times), has been severely curtailed by the elimination of the long-form census. Enough evidence of the ruinous results of this policy has been publicized in recent weeks so that it seems there may be an adjustment to this policy – it is election year, after all and some concessions to reason may be made. But this is information about ourselves that has been repressed.

Intentional dismantling of sources of Canadian community

The above chipping away at significant freedoms has become more possible because of this government’s dislike of, and efforts to crush, the maintaining of a shared set of Canadian values. For many decades, particularly post WW2, whichever party was in power, there was clear growth of positive Canadian identity. This was not a fostered jingoism but rather a quiet pride as we learned about all parts of the country. School children regularly watched, in assembly, National Film Board documentaries about industries and varying ways of life in the north, west, east, seacoasts and cities. Group of Seven prints were churned out by the thousands, adorning school walls across the country. The CBC featured interesting radio and TV programs that introduced us to each other.

The present government has, for ten years, created distrust between sectors of the nation. The interests of the privileged are guarded while those who protest deprivation are treated as a danger to society. Homelessness and severe under-housing never receive more than cursory attention. The interests of city dwellers are not addressed – is this to appease the frustrations of primary producers (oil, agriculture, extraction of minerals) or simply because cities are not rich electoral ground for the Party? Newcomers have become suspect, not welcomed. [Is there any public recognition of what they have brought, in skills and actual money, to us?]. Our Leader’s Canadian “family” doesn’t have room for someone who covers her face for religious reasons. We won’t offer space to civilian refugees from Syria. Anyone with a criminal conviction is considered despicable, outside the commonweal. Lock them up for as long as possible – they are not part of us. How much large-scale crime within business occurs with either modest or no punishment – it’s the petty criminal for whom wrath is reserved.

Hobbling the CBC must be understood as an assault on Canadian community. CBC drew the country together, and has held us firm. To the furthest reaches of the North, to islands on the edge of each coast, we have been able to argue and learn from each other. Diminish the CBC and we lose our best opportunity to know ourselves as Canadians. The National Film Board: is it being strengthened, maintained, or weakened?

The means of mounting communal resistance to the results of government policies is lessened as communication is reduced.

Repressing dissent

Why are we sitting still while security measures are being prepared that push us into U.S. style post 9-11 repression of due process?

This is the culmination of what I think this government wants. To silence us. To squelch debate. To make us afraid and keep us there. To muzzle Northern Spirit – keep that for the Raptors. Northern Spirit rises among First Nations but as a growing crowd walks hundreds of miles in winter to visit Parliament, our leader doesn’t emerge to acknowledge them, let alone listen to what they have to say.

Harper wants no Northern Spirit. He wants us to stay quietly afraid. Call environmentalists terrorists. Keep calling the two separate murderous attackers in Ottawa and Richelieu terrorists – not deluded individuals. Drum up fear of terrorists, boost the military, keep building bigger jails, and give CSIS powers to arrest on suspicion without charges or appeal…does this not sound a little like the F word?

And when does a Law and Order government slide into being a police state? Are we watching closely enough? Do we even still have the tools to do so?

Final Words

We are not a fascist state. However, our government has developed a process of governing that has moved away from key tenets of democracy. The present combination of governance and policy have more potential for escalating toward fascism than any government since WW2.

I realize that none of this is new to most readers. What I emphasize is that when you look at the whole picture, are we doing enough to guard the democracy we have? Are we speaking out enough? Are we complacent in our relative privilege, and sure that things will surely be alright because we are, after all, solid peace-loving Canadians? Dangerous thinking.



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries

20 responses to “An Unapologetic Rant

  1. Bob Luker

    Good piece Rosemary. The direction of this government is truly scary. One of the very many repressive Harperite acts that tell the story is the removal of charitable status from Kairos and the use of the CRA to intimidate progressive groups. And now we have new powers for the “secret police” and the sponsoring of a culture of militarism. “Bad Moon Rising.”

    However, I believe {and hope} that we’ll see a lot more protest in the near future and a new and better [won’t be hard] government after the election.

  2. Brian Shaughnessy

    Hi, Rosemary. I don’t like all this “left vs. right” business. My reading about the US for the last 6 or 7 years has convinced me that that is a false divide encouraged by the powers-that-be to convince voters that they are being given a real choice at election time when they are not. A good example. Romney vs. Obama last time. Was there anyone among the many candidates for the Republication nomination more Obama-like than Romney? There was not. Take your pick and you were being taken for a fool. The solution? I don’t know. When you have the same elite-serving people in control of the only two parties with a chance of winning, you know you are not going to like who they present you with no matter what. The complicity of the mainstream media is another biggie. In the US for sure. I very much doubt that Canada is any better. If I hear the Western media going on about “Russian aggression” one more time, I’m going to puke. They’re going to “Russian aggression” us all the way into World War 3, to the diabolical delight of the powerful neocon group in Washington, who Harper surely echoes.

  3. Roberta Masecar

    Your anger is not misplaced Rosemary.
    We can only hope that there will be changes for the better after the election.
    I too miss the CBC as it was, our compassion as a nation, our willingness to be a voice for those deemed outside our circle.
    Way to go Rosemary! Roberta

  4. Not a rant, Rosemary — a reasoned account of the dismantling or political co-optation of one national institution after another. Let’s spell out the names to remember the original purpose of these institutions: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada Post, Statistics Canada, Elections Canada, National Research Council, National Film Board, the Department of Foreign Affairs (now Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, and the greatest of these is Trade). The changes have come so thick and fast that it seems impossible to mount adequate protest. But I feel the changes deeply.

    I am a proud Canadian. It is my conservative, patriotic side that is deeply offended by these attacks on Canadian life, and Canadian values. Time to take our country back!

  5. homelessguide

    Thanks Rosemary for putting rant to paper. The politics of fear is causing us as a people to withdraw from our neighbour’s welfare, creating suspicion and undermining respect for peoples who differ from us.

  6. Judith Lawn

    Bravo Rosemary . I too am deeply concerned about the direction the Harper government has been taking for the past 10 years. Unfortunately fear is a powerful tool and many Canadians are fooled into thinking that stability is the ultimate goal of society. The ability to live with anxiety and uncertainty is central to moral development and wise decision-making. To tolerate and encourage debate about issues of concern to Canadians is the role of parliamentarians so that they may craft wise legislation that serves our best interests. I also fear that the liberals will not change things very much. Only the NDP seems to have the courage to speak out and condemn the anti-democratic legislation being introduced by Harper. I pray for our country.
    Judy lawn

  7. Karen Thorpe

    Rick Mercer would be proud – great Rant!

  8. Reg Overing

    Good rant sister-in-law! Covers most of the points in your “bucket list”, all of which we have discussed endlessly over the years. However, it won’t change anything! Until we get an alternative to the Conservatives, nothing will change! I mean…do you really think the current crop of Liberals, the NDP or the Green Party can provide a meaningful alternative government that will correct any of the issues in your rant? Dream on! What’s the point of voting? I don’t plan to! A pathetic situation!

  9. Barbara Thomas

    Thank you for articulating that which many of us are feeling.
    My own solitary rants are conducted as I watch our news casts and read opinion pieces in the paper. No one hears them but me. I’m going to forward your piece to a few of my friends.

  10. I appreciate greatly each Comment, supportive, argumentative – whatever. They suggest that we’re alive to the issues discussed and passivity hasn’t engulfed us. Both my daughter and my brother-in-law have asked the vital question…what is there that can be done to change directions we think are wrong? WHAT CAN WE DO?
    I’ll be pondering this and pondering and hopefully not falling into a stupor of silence. It’s a tough one. A close friend has passionately said to me that the first order of business has to be to defeat the present government at election time. And she has decided to stick with a party she thinks has the best chance of doing that. I understand that the present opposing parties seem to many to be un-electable and no clear choice presents itself. Nothing is obvious at this point. But can we afford to shrug and just sit back? I fear not. From where are we hearing encouraging ideas and proposals? Time to look closely at old and fresh sources. No defeatism, no cynicism. But again, WHAT?? More to come – from We The North (love those Raptors). Rosemary

  11. Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

    A little pondering has occurred, augmented by a few comments on e-mail that didn’t make their way to this Comments section. What do we do???

    Carole says we have to vote, and give to the Party we think has the best chance of ousting the present government.

    Dave says that letter-writing still has some clout to it. Maybe to the local MP or to a Minister. The message: think carefully about what you are voting for as the bills come by: realize that some of your intended legislation is repressive and undemocratic.

    These are hardly definitive approaches to possible action but they’re a start and please add, in this Comments space, any further thoughts you have on what ordinary people can do to stop the march of bad government. RGS

  12. Brian Shaughnessy

    Hi, Rosemary and everyone. We seem to have reached the “What do or can we do now?” phase of the discussion. I would say, ” On the national level, nothing”. We are the little tail that may be copying but will not be wagging the US or global dog. And the global interconnection has come to be huge. Economically we are all tettering on the edge of a huge global cliff. Militarily the same. It has established itself while we were busy with other things and most of us have scarcely noticed or have given it all our vague assent.
    A Greatest Collapse and Greatest Depression will wake everyone up. As will a WW3. But way too late I’m afraid. It’s too late for anything but prayer and that would have to be in significant numbers. A crusade for the age.

  13. Brian Shaughnessy

    “Nineveh” is what came to mind after my last post. What we need is another Nineveh. And how likely historically is that? Nor would we need what seemed to be its 100% conversion. Somewhere between that and the “10 righteous men” in Sodom and Gomorrah that Abraham worked God down to. Not even a majority. A substantial minority might do it. Otherwise our pray-ers are working virtually alone and can save but a few. Think Jesus on Good Friday. Dare we presume we are going to be able to save more now than He did then? He snatched The Good Thief and Longinus from that maddened crowd and that was it.

    P.S. to Joy Connelly. My mother was a “Connelly” of the Peterborough Connellys. Helen Julia. 1916-1975 (colon-to-liver cancer). A rock of and light to the extended family, second only to her mother, Lillian Mary Hickey (1891-1987). a saint if ever I’ve known one.

  14. Françoise Mugnier

    These exchanges are making me increasingly uncomfortable. Not a dissenting voice to be heard. No questioning/possible explanations of the present political, economic and cultural realities that lead to several Conservative governments. Mixing religion and politics is playing with fire and calling Harper the “Leader” a cheap shot and an insult to people who suffered under the ‘Führer” or the “Duce”.

    • Thank you for your Comment. I have to challenge two points. Where, in the blog, is there a mixing of religion and politics? Further, as you know, in Canada the head of a Party is called the Leader. Apart from the oft-quoted intention of Mr. Harper to change Canada away from its Liberal ways so that it’s unrecognizable – certainly a form of agressive leadership – it’s an awfully big leap to compare the Leader label to that of Fuhrer or El Duce. But I can imagine that, in the interest of balance, you’d prefer to hear more objections to the blog. They may come yet. Rosemary

  15. Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

    Please note: the Comment just published is headlined as being submitted by Joy Connelly. My apologies to Joy. Word Press and this blog were originally in Joy’s domain, and occasionally when I post something, it comes up under Joy’s name. Joy does post an excellent blog about social housing titled Opening The WIndow, available on Word Press.

  16. Françoise Mugnier

    The mixing of religion and politics can be found in the comments, not the blog.
    It seems to me that you are critical of Harper, not as the leader of the Conservative party, but as the Prime Minister of Canada.This is why I objected to the use of the word “Leader”.
    Lest anybody thinks I’m a big, bad rightist, I have to confess that I’ve consistently voted for the socialist candidate in the last 40 French elections.
    But I am uncomfortable when anybody knows with certainty what diplomats, economists, the military and governments should (not) be doing.

    • Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

      Yes, I agree with your discomfort at anyone proclaiming certainty that we know what those tasked with governing – diplomats, military, economists or parliamentarians – should be doing. But I still think there may be points where if we don’t take a stand against what seems like really mistaken action on the part of any of those in power we’ll be in big trouble. And I think this is one of those times. R

  17. I have read Rosemary’s complete blog. I have read every comment. I feel anxious. Go and see Selma.

  18. March 4th: Rosemary , my sister Roberta Masecar sent me your blog a few weeks ago. This morning I took time to read it and to read the comments. I will pass it on to friends who I know will appreciate your well thought out comments. Thank You. Elizabeth Bustard

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