Harper communing with the invisible hand of the market Not exactly as illustrated

Harper communing with the invisible hand of the market
Not exactly as illustrated

(May 26, 2016)  This weekend the Conservative Party will hold its policy conference in Vancouver and Stephan Harper will give his swan song and by all reports resign his seat in the House of Commons ending the career of one of the odder politicians Canada has seen since the séance-attending Mackenzie King communed with the spirit of his dead dog over 75 years ago.

For farmers Mr. Harper first appeared as the head of the National Citizens Coalition when he fronted for a very well-funded attack on the integrity of the election process for Directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.  The NCC and its backers wanted to make the process subject to big money donations and other less than savory electoral practices the likes of which later landed some of Mr. Harper’s colleagues in jail.

Harper even attended a meeting in Red Deer, Alberta arranged by the industry captured Alberta Agriculture to drum up support for his dubious notions about the Wheat Board.  None of us knew at the time his dead-eyed stare and immobile face would become the trademark of a future Prime Minister.  At the time I attributed his reaction to the fact most of the crowd of over 100 farmers was not very enthusiastic about having their business interfered with by a callow ideologue who obviously knew little about the business and even less about international grain marketing.

However, once entrusted with a majority government Prime Minister Harper wasted no time in destroying the Canadian Wheat Board.  To his credit, he poured huge sums of tax money into making his fantasy dual market work – until the money and credit ran out.  Then his administration gave the remains to the Saudi Arabian Government and Bunge, one of the international giants the CWB was created to compete with.

The new Liberal administration in Ottawa is busily dismantling the many loony policies put in place by what in retrospect looks like a resentful and alienated group of teenage vandals.

However what can never be forgiven or un-done from the Harper years is the systematic destruction of Federal Research libraries including the libraries of the Agriculture Canada Research farms and field stations.

The Harper Legacy – Lethbridge Research Stn.

A little refresher.  Those libraries contained scientific monographs about all things Canadian in agriculture, health, and natural history dating back to the 1800s.  Each piece of scientific work represented, in some cases, the whole life’s work of a scientist, plant breeder, naturalist, or explorer.  Many were so rare that only one or two copies existed in the whole world.

The Harper Conservatives always followed the same methodology.  First they would cut the staff who consulted those libraries.  Then they would fire the librarians who managed the collections.  Once the librarians were gone, the remaining staff were told to salvage what they needed for their current research.

This made the collection completely chaotic and the only people who had the training and ability to manage it, the librarians, were long gone along with any budget to computerize the collections.  The Harper Conservatives then gave the order to put the libraries in the dumpster.  This is exactly what happened to 16 Federal Research libraries, 9 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research stations, the Health Canada Library, the Freshwater Research Library at the University of Manitoba, the Canadian Wheat Board Archives and Library, and others.

So that scientific work has been irreparably lost and the lives of those generations of researchers who provided base line information for us and future generations have been wasted.

There are some things the Harper Conservatives have done which are easy to change.  Respect for knowledge and evidence, farmer market power through collective bargaining, respect for the rule of law and the courts, ignoring or not signing abusive and undemocratic trade agreements all come to mind.  But what can never be undone is the destruction of priceless knowledge forever lost and the waste of lives that represents.

It will also take a long time to put the genie of hatred, fear, doubt, and distrust loosed by the Harper Conservatives back into that dark place it belongs.  As in post-war Germany, it will take a long time to rehabilitate the Conservative name and allow Conservatives a place in the civilized discourse of democracy simply because no decent person, understanding the implication of the great Canadian book burning can ever support Harper style Conservatives again.

Whatever Harper’s reasons for retiring now the Conservative policy convention this weekend in Vancouver has a delicate balancing act to perform.  On the one hand it needs to pay tribute to an odd and introverted man who dedicated his life to obtaining power for his decidedly un-conservative brand of Conservativism.  However respecting Stephen Harper’s single-minded dedication to that goal (his Herculean effort to master the French language in record time comes to mind) has to be balanced with a clear repudiation of the anti-intellectual book burners, bigots, and mountebanks that dominate the party Harper brought to power.

One comment

  1. It is tough to make a polite comment about all that now isn’t it. Thinking about one of the books that Steven Harper forgot to and fortunately were too numerous to burn, the age old classic, “Bambi”, and what the the fawn’s good friend Thumper had to offer in wisdom when judging someone, I think I will basically leave it at that. Although there has been very grave casualties under the Harper Conservative, unlike the advice Bambi’s mother gave out, we don’t have to run any more.