By HAROON SIDDIQUI -- Toronto Star
CANADA pays dearly whenever Stephen Harper lets his ideology, partisanship, controlling nature or stubbornness trump common sense, or the advice of his ministers and civil servants.
While prime ministers have the final word, in Harper’s case it’s only his word that counts — regardless of the cost, at home or in terms of our world standing.
The Bev Oda scandal, for example, is as much about her possible contempt of Parliament over a doctored document, as it is about Harper’s uncritical commitment to Israel. The same pattern has been evident in several other controversies.
After Canada’s first-ever failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council, Harper minions blamed it on the 27 members who voted for Portugal. A better post-mortem came from Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League. In an interview last fall, he told me the 57-member Islamic Conference had voted as a bloc to protest Harper’s anti-Arab policies.
The tragic turmoil at Rights and Democracy, the Montreal-based human rights agency, was caused by Harper-appointed board members over three modest grants of $10,000 given to one Israeli and two Palestinian human rights groups after the 2008-09 Israeli attack on Gaza.
The board relentlessly hounded agency president Rémy Beauregard and he died of a heart attack after a tumultuous meeting. The staff revolted. The board fired three managers and sent in investigators, lawyers and auditors, ostensibly to ferret out improprieties. They found nothing.
The cost of this mess came to more than $1 million (about a tenth of the agency’s annual allocation). The bill included $50,000 to board member Jacques Gauthier for services rendered. He and another partisan director, Elliot Tepper, were rewarded with reappointments.
The Oda affair entails a funding cut to Kairos, a Toronto-based ecumenical group of 11 churches that has carried out development work abroad for 35 years. It was refused $7 million not because it wasn’t “efficient and effective,” as Oda maintains. In fact, civil servants had given it top marks and recommended the renewal of its grant.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney boasted in Israel that Kairos was cut off as part of his crackdown on anti-Semitism, implying that Kairos was anti-Semitic. Kenney said Kairos had advocated boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — it had not. It called only for an end to the occupation of Palestinian lands.
Kenney also cut off $1 million to the Canadian Arab Federation, whose president had criticized the Israeli attack on Gaza; in fact, he was only quoting Norman Finkelstein, a critic of Israeli policies.
Kenney then went after another critic of Israel, barring former British MP George Galloway from entering Canada. But that ill-considered decision was tossed out by the courts, giving Galloway an even bigger stage from which to berate Canada.
The ruining of our trade and strategic relationship with the United Arab Emirates was triggered by Ottawa’s move to protect Air Canada from competition by Emirates Air and Etihad Airlines. But that wasn’t all.
For two years, the Harperites wouldn’t even meet with the U.A.E. ambassador in Ottawa even though it was during the period when Canada was using a U.A.E. military airbase to get in and out of Afghanistan, and our wounded soldiers were being treated at a U.A.E. hospital. Now our $1.5 billion a year trade is at risk. And Canada is out at least $300 million for an alternate airbase.
Another Harper ideological blind spot led to the fiasco over this year’s national census. Ignoring the advice of Ministers Jim Flaherty and Tony Clement, as well as experts at Statistics Canada, Harper ordered that the mandatory survey be made voluntary. Despite a national outcry and the resignation of Canada’s chief statistician, he wouldn’t budge. Now Ottawa is set to spend $30 million extra only to get a less reliable national portrait, according to experts.
In yet another case of ignoring civil service advice, an annual grant of $3 million a year was slashed from the Forum of Federations which promotes Canadian-style federalism abroad.
An Ottawa source told me: “It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t extend the funding to the Forum, beyond that it was established by the Liberals. Maybe they’re just being vindictive.”