Senator Tommy Banks letter re Harper’s gradual destruction of our Canada

There is a paragraph in the begining of this that allows me to put this on my blog and I gladly do so.  It is vindication of what I have been trying to say for years now.

Thank you Tommy Banks, a senator for the people of Canada.
Jeremy

What Canadians have lost under this “Harper” Govt.
Tommy Banks,

Canadian conductor and pianist,
host of the CBC television’s “The Tommy Banks Show” for 15 years.
—– Original Message —–
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 11:33 PM
Subject: Tom Banks

A letter from my partner Tom Banks
by Sharman King on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:39am

I apologize for this long re-post, but I’d like to share with my friends this letter from my business partner and musical associate Senator Tommy Banks. It’s worth noting that Tom was a Conservative when he was appointed to the Senate. If you agree with this food for thought please feel free to send it to your friends of whatever political stripe. The bigger message here is how we want our government to behave, no matter who forms that government. Here’s Tom’s missive:
There is only one thing about the outcome of the May 2nd election on which Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper agree. It is that one of them will be the Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Layton, Mr. Duceppe and Ms. May are not in the running to form a government. They can’t. It will be either Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Harper.

That is the choice, and it is a very clear – in fact, stark choice. We will choose between openness or secrecy. Between listening or refusing to listen. Between someone who respects Parliament or someone who disdains it. Between things we can and will do now or things that, (provided of course that everything goes well), we might do in five or six years. Between someone who answers all questions from Canadians, or someone who won’t accept any.

Between Mr. Harper who said “It’s past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act”, or Mr. Ignatieff who said “ . . . we don’t want user fees. We want universal, accessible, free-at-the-point-of-service health care, paid out of general revenue. That’s just bottom line. Otherwise we get two-tiered”.

Between buying jets or helping vets. Between real early childhood learning and care or Saturday-night babysitting. Between respect for our great institutions or contempt for them. Between helping families or helping big corporations. Between the Canada that we think we have, or the way in which Mr. Harper has already changed it.

Over the past few years Mr. Harper’s government has quietly engineered so many changes that there are some ways in which our country is barely recognizable. Many of us don’t yet realize the extent of those changes, because many of them have been brought about very carefully and gradually – almost imperceptibly in some cases.

This is diabolically clever. If these things had all been done at once, there would have been loud protests and reactions. But moving just one little brick at a time doesn’t cause much fuss – until you realize that the whole house has been renovated. And we’ve hardly noticed.

These are changes that are at the very heart of who and what Canadians are. They are changes to the protections that used to exist against the tyranny of the majority – or against a single-minded my-way-or-the-highway autocrat. These changes are losses to our very Canadian-ness. Let me remind you of some of them:

The Law Commission of Canada was created by an Act of Parliament in 1997. It worked very well. It kept an eye in a sort-of avuncular way, on necessary reforms of the law, including election law. The Commission couldn’t actually change law; but it was very good at letting governments and everybody else know when changes needed to be made and why. It was our legal Jiminy Cricket, and it performed a valuable service for Canada. The Commission was created by an Act of Parliament, and any government wanting to shut it down should have been up-front about it. It should have come to Parliament with a Bill to rescind The Law Commission of Canada Act. That’s what any of our 21 previous Prime Ministers would have done.

But to Mr. Harper, Parliament is an inconvenience. Somebody might ask “Why are you doing this?” But he didn’t want to go through all that Parliamentary trouble; so, rather than proposing the abolition of the Commission (a proposal about which there would have been pretty fierce debate on all sides), they just eliminated all funding for it in the federal budget. Governments can do that. Poof – no Law Commission.

Nice and quiet. Just one little brick. Hardly noticed.

Then there was the Court Challenges Programme, set up in 1994, which was the means by which a bit of legal help could be provided to a private individual or small organization who didn’t have a lot of money, and who was taking on, or being taken on by, the Government of Canada. It leveled the legal playing field a bit. It was a perfect example of fundamental Canadian fairness.

By convincing a tough panel of judges of the reasonableness of your cause, you could get a little help in paying for some lawyers to go up against the phalanx of legal beagles that could always, and forever, and at public expense, be brought to bear against you by the State. In other words, if you weren’t rich, and if you were taking on or being taken on by the Feds, you might have had a chance. But Mr. Harper doesn’t like being questioned, let alone challenged. It’s so inconvenient! Solution? Quietly announce that the Court Challenges Programme is being, er, discontinued. Poof – no Court Challenges Programme – no court challenges.

Hardly noticed.

The Coordination of Access to Information Request System (CAIRS) was created (by a Progressive-Conservative government) in 1989 so that departments of government could harmonize their responses to access-to-information requests that might need multi-departmental responses. It was efficient; it made sure that in most cases the left hand knew what the right hand was doing, or at least what they were saying; and it helped keep government open and accountable. Well, if you’re running a closed-door government, that’s not a good idea, is it? So, as a Treasury Board official explained to the Canadian Press, CAIRS was killed by the Harper government because “extensive” consultations showed it wasn’t valued by government departments. I guess that means that the extensive consultations were all with government departments.

Wait! Wasn’t there anybody else with whom to extensively consult? Wasn’t there some other purpose and use for CAIRS? Didn’t it have something to do with openness and accountability? I guess not. Robert Makichuk, speaking for Mr. Harper’s government, explained that “valuable resources currently being used to maintain CAIRS would be better used in the collection and analysis of improved statistical reporting”.

Right. In other words, CAIRS was an inconvenience to the government. So poof – it’s disappeared. And, except for investigative reporters and other people who might (horrors!) ask questions, its loss is hardly noticed.

And the bridge too far for me: Cutting the already-utterly-inadequate funding for the exposure of Canadian art and artists in other countries. That funding was, by any comparison, already laughably miniscule. Mr. Harper says that “ordinary” Canadians don’t support the arts. He’s wrong. And his is now the only government of any significant country in the world that clearly just doesn’t get it.

All these changes were done quietly, cleverly, and under the radar. No fuss. No outcry. Just one little brick at a time. But in these and other ways, our Canadian house is no longer the kind of place it once was. Nobody minds good renovations. Nobody even minds tearing something down, as long as we put up something better in its place. That’s not what has happened.

Mr. Harper fired the head of the Canadian Wheat Board because he was doing his job properly. He removed the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission because she wanted to make sure that the Chalk River nuclear reactor was safe.

Hardly noticed.

There are many more things that were hardly noticed: Cuts to funding for the Status of Women, Adult Learning and Literacy, Environmental Programs, museums funding, and more. All quietly, just one brick at a time.

Hardly noticed.

As to campaign promises, everybody in sight on every side is guilty of breaking those. Except the Federal NDP of course, who haven’t yet had the opportunity. (It’s very easy to make promises that you know you will not likely have to keep).

But the government promised to end wait times in health care. They didn’t. They promised to end, once and for all, the whining of some provinces about the non-existent “fiscal imbalance”. They didn’t. They said they had brought final resolution to the softwood lumber problem with the U.S. They haven’t. They promised to create thousands of new child-care spaces in Canada. They haven’t. They promised not to tax income trusts (“We will NEVER do that!” they said). They taxed them. They promised to lower your income tax.

They raised it.

They said they had a good “made-in-Canada” plan to meet our obligations on climate change. They don’t. Mr. Harper has said plainly that whatever the Americans do is what we’ll do too.

They campaign on a platform of transparency and accountability; but they’re now trying to discredit the Parliamentary Budget Officer that they created, because he’s trying to do the job that they gave him. Mr. Harper said that our form of government, evolved over centuries from the 900-year-old British Westminster tradition, was all wrong. We had to have fixed election dates, because otherwise, democratic principles would be trampled. “Fixed election dates”, he said, “stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar. They level the playing field for all parties”.

So Parliament (remember them?) at Mr. Harper’s insistence, passed a law requiring fixed election dates, which Mr. Harper promptly broke.

Somebody once said that we get the kind of government we deserve. What did we do to deserve Mr. Harper? He once said that we should all “Stand Up for Canada”. Well, let’s do that. We just have to decide whether the present version of Canada is the one that we’ll stand up for. Or stand for.

Thank you

Tommy Banks (an Alberta Senator.)

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16 Responses to Senator Tommy Banks letter re Harper’s gradual destruction of our Canada

  1. Stephan Welhasch says:

    From an expat..

    Here, here.. a very well written expose..

    Unfortunately, many Canadians do not see the forest for the trees.. the beavers do.. and the Maple Leafs do..question is why are Canadians giving up so much of their freedom.. perhaps they really don’t care anymore.. perhaps they do not trust their government any more.. perhaps there’s a good reason they do not trust their own government anymore..perhaps they are too complacent in their more creature comforts.. perhaps they do not participate in the political system anymore.. perhaps they think the government will run things on it’s own.. perhaps they truly believe that fighting for change is futile.. and that the politicians are all corrupt.. or perhaps it’s a combination of some of the above reasons.. along with many others I have not raised..

    What ever the case.. from outside of Canada.. Harper looks like a bumb..He takes.. and never shares.. he takes and never gives.. he takes and takes and takes.. Will he get re elected.. I don’t know.. but I hope Canadians vote the bumb out..

    • iamjema says:

      Yes Stephan, you have summed it up well, and I do not know the reason for the apathy of Canadians towards our government, specialy this one. The Tommy Douglas story about the mouse world might still be in effect.
      I have been to 2 town Hall meetings so far in two local ridings and the formats are changing to protect the conservatives it seems, but the audiences are very angtagonistic and impatient to the conservative candidates and so maybe there is an awakening – I certainly hope so.

  2. Vivian says:

    Thank you, Tommy Banks! We all need to hear this stuff. Canadians are too complacent because things have been pretty good for a long time. That doesn’t mean they will always be! Make sure Harper is NOT the next P.M.!!

  3. Jen says:

    Thank you for sharing this! The other thing that was big at the time, but has been long forgotten is the Census. Making the long-form census ‘voluntary’ has just set things up such that marginalized populations won’t have the evidence base to back their case for policy, program and funding – a la – there’s no problem, if we can’t show there’s a problem!

  4. Bluebird says:

    “MEPs”
    The Harper government has also created unprecedented CONTROL of communications with the taxpayer by insisting on MEPs (Message Event Proposals) that dictate the message that MPs, ambassadors, public servants must give when talking to the public. Scripted responses are the standard. Statements from the Environmental department were reduced by 80% in one year. In light of this extreme control of communications, how can one believe that Stephen Harper didn’t know about the copious messages warning that detainees handed over to Afghan prisons might be tortured?
    <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/message-control-ensures-diplomats-speak-harpers-language-around-globe/article1596802/&quot; title= message control (Globe and Mail, article 1596802)

  5. Opina says:

    Great post, but it will come as a surprise to the Parliament of Canada to discover that Senator Banks is a conservative. He is a member of the Liberal Parliamentary Caucus and chaired the Alberta version of same. He may have served in many capacities under Tory governments but he is a Liberal. You can’t make a case if you don’t check the facts.
    http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/senmemb/senate/isenator_det.asp?senator_id=156&sortord=N&Language=E&M=M

  6. Derek says:

    Who wrote this letter? It is embarrassing! Tommy Banks is not nor has he ever been a Conservative. I would yank this post from my blog if I was you.

    • iamjema says:

      Tommy’s partner makes that claim of him being a conservative when appointed to the Senate , not I, and I posted the whole thing without embarrassment.
      The content of the letter was the important part of the message, and I imagine you disagree with that as well.
      Jeremy

  7. Jennifer Spencer says:

    You should send the letter to the Globe and Mail, the National Post and the CBC. Thank you so much!

  8. linda evans says:

    Perfect example of the blind leading the blind…

  9. Delphine du Toit says:

    Wikipedia says he was appointed to the Senate on the recommendation of Jean Chretien, so that must be Liberal. Maybe he was a small ‘c’ conservative in the Liberal party then?

    Whichever way it goes – his opinion as expressed in this blog is important. Just because Canada has a long democratic tradition does not mean it is secure against those who would grab power and ignore the wishes of the apathetic and the activists alike. I hope there is a big voter turnout of people outraged by Harper’s arrogance and contempt for the parliamentary democracy in this country.

    To the question about ‘what did we do to deserve…’ above, how about ‘be apathetic in the extreme’ – democracy isn’t just about casting a ballot on election day. It is about constantly holding our elected representatives accountable.

  10. Pingback: Canada's highest ranking jazzman gets even more political | Ottawa Citizen Blogs

  11. The list of Canada’s death of a thousand cuts continues, Lets not forget the scrapping of the Kelowna Accord effectively cutting the First Nations out of the nation, and now the proposal to cut Old Age Pensions and the CBC, his support of the plan to ram a pipeline right through one of our last pristine ecosystems to pump tar to China, the man is mad, ready and willing to jump into bed with any dictator with a check book. He has put a for sale sign up on this country and we will all be poorer for it.

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