Conservatism has contradictory impulses. The pursuit of freedom and the pursuit of order run at cross-purposes.
Moderates push neither button too strongly. But in both Canada and the United States, the conservative parties are now controlled by virulent wings that are prepared go to aggressive lengths to achieve their ambitions. The danger is that in the name of freedom, they bring forth the contrary.
In this country, the Conservative government has a nationalist bent, evident in its elevation of military values, populist anti-intellectualism, moral certitude on foreign policy, law-and-order fixation and message-control mania. This kind of nationalism requires state-driven conformity, not liberty.
And so, while Conservatives are supposed to cherish government that is off the backs of the people, what we have is something closer to the opposite. The government is also oversized in spending, another conservative no-no.
The Conservatives' in-your-face proclivities from the minority years have been well documented. But a majority has brought no let-up. On the freedom front, the government likes to boast of encouraging provincial autonomy and of shutting down the gun registry, the long-form census, the Wheat Board. But, by way of contrast, it's instructive to look at what has transpired in our land of liberty recently. It might make you wonder about the kind of Canada that's emerging.
Last week, the Conservatives were planning to go ahead with a system of national online surveillance. But a national outcry against the plan (originally advocated by the Liberals) will likely force amendments. The government also reaffirmed its plan for mandatory minimum sentencing, although an Ontario Superior Court judge lambasted the policy and critics say it will reduce the right to a fair trial.
Earlier in the month, from a government that took no umbrage at Guantanamo-style justice, came the decision to accept information derived from torture from foreign governments, in some cases. The Conservatives, we recall, have also vowed to bring back long-expired post-9/11 antiterrorism powers that allow Canadians to be locked up without charges.
On the matter of political freedom, another debate – the one on the controversial copyright bill – has been moved behind closed doors. The Tories are increasingly resorting to this secretive in-camera approach. Despite having a majority, they have been cutting off democratic debate with near record-breaking usage of time limits and closure in Parliament.
Freedom of expression has also been in the news. Last week, disgusted representatives from the Canadian science community sent an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for him to stop muzzling federal researchers. Under the government's extensive vetting system, civil servants and diplomats are less free to voice their views than they have ever been. Also recently, opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline were pilloried as foreign-financed radicals and, according to one sworn affidavit, as enemies of the state. And during last fall's Durban summit on climate change, the Conservatives denied opposition members their usual right to accreditation.
The Harperian high command takes a draconian stance against even soft drug use. It has taken a hard line against organized labour and a more exclusionary course on immigration. It will no longer allow Canadians imprisoned abroad to serve out their sentences at home.
The many victims of Tory smear campaigns have been well documented, a most recent target being Montreal MP Irwin Cotler.
On Thursday, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Elections Canada and the RCMP are investigating a fraudulent robo-call phone operation apparently designed to suppress the Liberal vote in Guelph, Ont., during last year's election. Calls misdirecting voters in many other ridings have been reported. The NDP linked the operation to the Conservatives, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper denied any wrongdoing by his party.
The accumulation of dirty tricks is beginning to sound like something out of Nixonland. The last election, we recall, was the one where citizens were hauled out of Conservative campaign rallies for the sin of having marginal ties to other parties.
This is just a small sampling from the march of audacities in respect to our freedoms and liberties. It's the new Canada. Enjoy.