Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover

Article excerpt

Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover

Michael Harris, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Viking, 2014.

In the Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover (2014), Michael Harris provides enough evidence to charge Stephen Harper and many of his colleagues with crimes against democracy. In a painstaking account of the key changes and scandals of his administration, Harris' forensic 485 page study (19 Chapters) of Harper and the steady reshaping of our nation should be read by every Canadian before the next federal election. Devoid of political theory or scholarly prose, this remains a readable journalistic account of the ways in which federal politics is run today under the Harper regime. Using media reports, documents and numerous interviews, Harris is on a mission to document and reveal how the ideologically driven world of economic fundamentalism operates. If this was a piece of fiction, the depiction of single-minded ruthlessness here might be titillating, however, Harris exposes the Federal Conservative Brand and how its policies shred nation building and devastate vulnerable populations. These are not unknown or hidden events and policies, many have been major debates or scandals doggedly covered by investigative journalists. Yet, somehow amidst the mere scope and constancy of these policy shifts, we lose the thread that binds these changes together in ways that help us see the big picture. This book goes a long way in bringing the big picture into focus.

In the chapters that follow, Harris provides a brief account of Harper's rise to power and examines how his political calculations have resulted in the robocall scandal, the in and out scandal, the F-35 fighter jet fiasco, the attempted closure of the experimental Lakes Area (ELA), the war on science, the environment and the Chalk River crisis, foreign policy failures, a disregard for First Nations governance and treaty rights, the Senate scandal and the retraction and restriction of parliamentary debates and protocols. This book makes clear that his early attachment to big oil, republican style politics and a disdain for welfare states organizes his approach to policy and governance. Harper is concerned with growing the economy, at all costs, and targets those who stand in his way as dangerous, criminal or unpatriotic. Irrespective of human rights or preserving the environment, growing the economy, however, applies only to a tiny sector of corporate or political elites, many of whom (such as Nigel Wright, John Baird) rotate through government and corporate positions to great personal advantage. Harper's drive to line the pockets of the wealthiest is matched by a disdain for the public sector and public servants who have been dismissed from prominent positions. Parroting the Bush maxim, whoever is not on your side is your enemy, has been applied to scientists, workers, Aboriginal leaders and peoples, veterans, civil servants, diplomats, political opponents and the judiciary. While this book is about Harper and his party, what does his reign tell us about liberal democracies and the colonial histories that legitimate them?

Beyond Harper's personality, and his drive for personal power and party supremacy, his tactics have proceeded successfully by fear mongering and capitalizing on colonial divide and conquer tactics and discourses that produce insiders and outsiders to the nation. For many Canadians, this is an alien world run by a closed network of power brokers that are accountable to no one. An elite that throws top lawyers, strategists, and pollsters at any crisis to grind down processes of accountability until no one is listening or the facts are so obfuscated the veracity of all statements are undermined. Hetero-patriarchal bureaucratic corporate power relies on the use of code words, (or as Ahmed (2004) calls them: sticky words) used to legitimize their authority; words that often result in the complete opposite of their meaning. …

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