Book Review: The Harper Years in Retrospect
Self-published by Author: John E. Trent
Hard copy: Octopus Books and the Wakefield General Store $5.00 plus tax
PDF] Harper's Canada - John E. Trent
As published in the Peace and Environment News: December 2015
The worth of Trent’s book is undiminished by the fact that Stephen Harper is no longer Prime Minister. The concise volume provides a detailed and revealing retrospective of the Harper years and a comparative standard for current and future governments.
I found Harper’s Canada this summer while browsing the local authors’ kiosk in the Wakefield General Store. I was intrigued by the cover quote from Czechoslovak author Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Having used this evocative reference myself, I sensed common cause with Trent and spent five dollars on the slim black volume whose bibliography features the work of former Privy Council chief Alex Himmelfarb, noted economics writer Joseph Heath and Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark.
The author is a Chelsea resident who taught political studies at the University of Ottawa for 30 years. He eventually served as department chair, Executive Director of the Social Science Federation of Canada and Secretary General of the International Political Science Association.
In a September 30, 2105 Metro interview, Stephen Harper attacked what he called “Canada’s elite” for opposing his plan to strip Canadian citizenship from convicted war criminals and terrorists. These are the ironic words of a man who associates daily with Canada’s political and business aristocracy. In Stephen Harper’s world, concepts are redefined by expediency and his pejorative use of “elites” would certainly include articulate critics like Trent.
In Chapter one, Introduction: Nature of the Harper Conservatives, the author provides a revealing glimpse into Harper’s personal history, his rise to power and a description of the particular brand of Conservative ideology espoused by our twenty-second prime minister.
Chapter two, The Dumbing-Down of Canadian Democracy details Trent’s contention that the Harper government has eroded the integrity and structure of Canada’s parliamentary system by twice proroguing Parliament, intimidated Conservative MPs, amassing unparalleled executive power and increasing the power of unelected PMO officials, employing unwieldy “omnibus” legislation, disrupting the parliamentary committee process and generally trampled Canadian democracy.
The third chapter, Stifling Science and Innovation. Muzzling Critics, details Trent’s assertion that the Harper government has unfairly censored federal government scientists, curtailed public access to information, politicized Canadian history, exerted excessive control over government communications, harshly investigated public service “whistle blowers” and defended the Canada Revenue Agency’s oppressive audits of charitable organizations daring to criticize the government or espouse causes opposed by Harper . As well, the Conservative regime has established a central registry in the Government Operations Centre to store their extensive records of monitored public demonstrations.
In Chapter Four, Speak Loudly and Carry No Stick: Harper’s Foreign Policy, the author presents his assertions that the Harper Conservatives have adopted a dangerously- simplistic foreign policy, damaged Canada’s international reputation as an honest broker, encouraged militarism, established a hazardous unilateral policy on Israel, mismanaged defense policy, neglected veterans and trashed Canada international development program.
Chapter Five, Economics and Politics: Mostly for Business and the Rich, presents Trent’s opinions on Harper’s erasure of the inherited $14 billion surplus, the growth of Canada’s federal defect, his obstruction of the parliamentary budget officer, the burying of fiscal policy in huge omnibus bills, secretive trade deals and ongoing tax breaks and public subsidies for the prosperous resource sector.
Trent concludes in Chapter Six by presenting what he calls, The Necessary Renewal of Canada that features his thinking on democratic enhancement, global concerns, inequality reduction, environment protection and First Nations engagement. Of special note is mention of a 2014 Department of Finance study group that highlights the serious discomment between respondents’ concerns about health care, education and environmental issues and the government’s focus on the economy, trade and security.
By way of comparison, the situation in 2007 wasn’t much different, “…according to an $82,500 pre-budget survey [Corporate Research Associates] commissioned by the Department of Finance, they identified health care, environmental issues and crime as top priorities for government action.” (Ottawa Citizen: July 30, 2008) The late Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister; then proceeded to create a budget that mainly ignored these concerns or placed the greatest emphasis on the public’s lowest priorities: defense spending, corporate tax cuts etc.
While Trent’s book is rich with relevant quotes from Canada’s high-profile political, academic and corporate media figures, he unfortunately ignores alternative media voices with the notable exception of Ottawa writer Yves Angler. This absence of small press content may be the author’s way of reaching people who accept the validity of corporate media claims of balance and ideological neutrality.