If you’ve read Shock Doctrine
by Naomi Klein, you’ll have an understanding that in order for powers to implement (radical) neoliberalism (privatization, elimination of public services, etc.), it has to be pushed through, rather rapidly – jammed through, if you will. Essentially, people benefit from government intervention, regulation, social programs and other things civilians require for a stable and decent lifestyle (or at least survival). In order to eliminate these expectations of services, great shock and awe acts must be preformed by said government at the time to get away with radical privatization.
She even cites a Canadian example, the Mike Harris Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, and specifically the education minister at the time, and how he dealt with our education system. The minister was caught saying the government ought to create a “crisis” in order to justify education restructuring/defunding.
Books such as Slumming it at the Rodeo: the cultural roots of Canada’s right-wing revolution, or Hard right turn: the new face of neo-conservatism in Canada (haven’t read this one) try to compare some iconographic neoconservative Canadian figures: Preston Manning founder of the Reform Party, Mike Harris Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario and Ralph Klein also PC premier – but of Alberta. Substitute Stephen Harper with Preston Manning (his successor) and we have three demonstrated examples of leaders in power. Three party leaders and Premiers*. I will be focusing on their (un)democratic, autocratic and authoritative tactics and how it directly correlates to their neoliberal agenda.
I’m proposing that in order to get across heavy does of public sector cuts, which has both measurable and immeasurable impact on Canadians (especially middle to low income), requires force in various forms. This could be through subverting the legislative body, through autocratic centralization and control, and other means of deception. I will be delineating this, with examples, comparing Stephen Harper of Canada, Ralph Klein of Alberta and Mike Harris of Ontario. All of these figures, upon arrival, wished to do serious damage to the public sector – and actually managed to inflict it (and one is still in the process).
I won’t be focusing on their privatization, or government diminution as much, as you can read about that elsewhere – I will be mainly focusing on their tactics in order to administrate and enact those cuts.
Ralph Klein of Alberta
A man with a changing plan, Ralph Klein road the manufactured wave of deficit-mongering into power** with the Progressive Conservatives in 1992, and when there, started cutting programs of all stripes. Education, health-care, post-secondary – you name it. It was indeed a neoliberal agenda those with a motive for profit could value.
In the early days of the reign of Mr. Klein, government expenditure was severely limited. Around 20% of healthcare funding was eliminated, leading to around 5,000 layoffs of nurses, and a 10% reduction of the remaining nurses wages; hospitals were shut down, and even some private clinics were open. Education (including post-secondary subsidization) was gutted as well – specifically, kindergarten received 50% less funding in the 1994 budget and massive amalgamations of school boards occured to save money. Among that was various other privation, including their former Liqueur Control Board and various functions in the energy sector that was previous covered by the state.***
At points, he and his party didn’t think the typical legislative process for passing legislation would be good enough, so they used the tactic known as closure – which puts limits on how much the legislature can debate and discuss a certain bill. If the opposition is, you know, doing its job, you can put a limit on that and press the legislation through quickly. Yet it gets worse, early in his premier days (1994) his government introduced two bills,
Bill 41, the Government Organization Act, and Bill 57, the Delegated Administration Act…
…the bills gave almost unlimited power to executive council and individual ministers, thereby skirting the legislature. For example, under Bill 41, ministers would be able to create programs and services, change regulations, make loans, sell public property, or transfer programs and services to the private sector which in turn could set fees – all without legislative approval. The Liberals justifiably denounced Bill 41 as ‘government by regulation as opposed to legislation,’ ‘a massive derogation of power from the Legislative Assembly,’ and a threat ‘to parliamentary democracy.’
Similarly, the Liberals contended that Bill 57 avoided legislative scrutiny and seemed to allow for the privatization of any and all governmental services at ministerial whim and without accountability. Like Bill 41, Bill 57 seemed to open the door to unlimited ‘user-fees’ for services previous covered by the State. Both bills seemed ripe with potential for patronage and kickbacks. Perhaps more fundamentally, both also seemed to involve a substantial diminution of legislative authority. (1)
Bill 41 would be scrapped, reintroduced, then scrapped again – but it didn’t really matter, as the opposition and media pointed out, as Bill 57 gave the same powers regardless. This specific example shows the bigger problem of governmental hyper-centralization to dictatorial rule/majoritarianism, which neoconservatives in-power seem to implement (or want to),
On July 5, 1997, Treasurer Stockwell Day of Alberta announced in a tiny newspaper article that, like every other element of public life, democracy was being downsized: the fall sitting of the provincial legislature would be dumped, leaving a measly thirty-four days of public process for 1997…”We don’t need to be hitting the taxpayers with more costs of just sitting around shouting at each other,” he said, explaining the 50 percent cut in democracy.(2)
These two developments put together side by side either show the absolute incompetence and laziness of said government, or a malicious attempt to subvert the tradition of parliamentary democracy. First, give dictatorial powers to the ministers, and next, cut the sitting days in half, since you don’t really need the legislature any more, right?
It’s not really difficult to believe that Ralph would lead his government to that sort of fascist, more-dictatorial rule, considering he’s sort of defended, in public, Augusto Pinochet. That’s right, August Pinochet, the brutal dictator of Chile who illegally seized power from the democratically elected Allende. His crimes are well-documented,
Killing up and locking the government was not enough for Chile’s new junta government, however. The generals knew that their hold on power depended on Chileans being truly terrified. In the days that followed, roughly 13,500 civilians were arrested, loaded onto trucks and imprisoned [by Pinochet’s junta], according to a declassified CIA report. Thousands ended up in the two man football in Santiago, the Chile Stadium and the huge National Stadium. Inside the National Stadium, death replaced football as the public spectacle. Soldiers prowled the bleachers with hooded collaborators who pointed out “subversives”; the ones who were selected were hauled ff to locker rooms and skyboxes transformed into torture chambers . Hundreds were executed. Lifeless bodies started showing up on the side of major highways or floating in murky urban canals.(3)
And this is just the beginning, there were many more acts of disturbing, horrifying terror and destruction from the Pinochet dictatorship. Why would Klein say something like this, then?
Pinochet came in, Mr. Speaker, and I’m not saying that Pinochet was any better, but because of the only elected communist in Chile, Allende, and the socialist reforms he put in, Pinochet was forced, I would say, to mount a coup.
Because Pinochet was indeed a response to a communist – erm, socialist – elected leader, Allende. He nationalized much, he improved labour conditions, he invested in people, etc. The business elite in Chile and abroad rose (including active support from Ford) a huge fuss (because he got in the way of their profits and exploitation), supported Pinochet (along with the CIA) and boom – destruction for Chile. One of the things Pinochet did was support massive government cuts, to levels so low it caused catastrophic damage in Chile during that time. Unemployment sky-rocketed, poverty sky-rocketed, health deteriorated, etc. One neoliberal government (Ralph’s PCs) defending an admittedly more fascist neoliberal government (Pinochet in Chile), sure. There’s certainly a similar lack of regard for the stable, traditional process for lawmaking, although one at the far extreme. I wouldn’t be bringing up any relation if Klein didn’t, but, he did, which makes this narrative so much easier.
The context of that quote provides even more light on this issue, that statement from Mr. Klein was in response to the leader of the Liberal party, an opposition member, suggesting that the government could provide auto-insurance and save money for the people of Alberta. Klein decided to compare such a plan to Allende in Chile,
Mr. Speaker, maybe the honourable member will explain to the media outside the house – I know he won’t here – how he plans to dismantle all of the insurance companies that exist here in Alberta, and say: with the great hand of government, the Liberals will now socialize all insurance. It sounds like Allende in Chile, you know, when he took over all the copper mines, all the minerals, all the resources, all the mining, all the newspapers…
Woah. Was Klein suggesting if the Liberals were in power, that there would be governmental and non-governmental forces forced to mount a violent coup against the Liberals? Creepy stuff here. A very bizarre pseudo-defence of brutal fascism abroad, as well as some sort of ominous and spooky threat to the opposition. A strange†, but telling moment.
According to an article in The Tyee by Frank Dabbs, a man who has documented figures like Preston Manning and indeed Ralph Klein, the total legacy of the premiership of Ralph Klein (which ended in 2006; lead to his title “King Ralph”) is eroding democracy, and centralizing government proceedings to an undemocratic level,
In post-democratic Alberta, the opposition has no meaningful role in the legislative process because the legislature’s committees function like committees of the Conservative caucus. Opposition members attend them only at the pleasure of the government and never participate in votes unless the Tories wish it. This means opposition MLAs are excluded from effective participation in debating and amending bills on second reading. They are denied the policy inquiry and review opportunities that legislative standing committees normally enjoy in the British parliamentary model.
Mike Harris of Ontario
Another premier, this time for Ontario. He became premier/his party came to power in 1995 – a couple years after Ralph Klein. Much like Ralph Klein, he was a neo-conservative cowboy who waged a war on the public sector, and most brutally, teachers – just like Ralph Klein did!††
Between 1995 and 1998, about $4.5 billion was cut from Ontario’s budget, from healthcare, education, post-secondary, welfare and other important services. Over 20 hospitals were shut down, over 6,000 nurses were fired and over 10,000 hospital beds were eliminated due to the cuts. In education, teachers pay was limited, their behaviour restricted – including millions of dollars removed from post-secondary subsidization, which brought Ontario to the highest tuition rates in Canada. The privation of our hydro-electricity company was bungled leading to the high rates you see now, and various other programs were slashed. You can read more about the saddening details and ramifications of the Mike Harris cuts over the years here.
Also similar to Ralph Klein, things became quite centralized, autocratic and swiftly implemented within his government and party. According to lobbyist Doug Prendergast,
The Tories have made it possible, in theory, to introduce a bill on Monday and have it pass on third reading Thursday.(4)
Keep that in mind, for later. Our systems of parliamentary democracy, unfortunately, also contain mechanisms which would allow for a majority government to pretty much do whatever it wants (except, thankfully, for the judicial branch’s supreme authority notwithstanding the notwithstanding clause). Time allocation and closure can effectively render the purpose of parliament obsolete. Again, let’s look at a specific example to see this government in action. 1995, Bill 26, the Savings and Restructuring Act (sound familiar?),
Bill 26… was hefty omnibus legislation into which the government rolled amendments to forty-seven laws, allowing the Tories to proceed with ambitious downsizing plans. The legislation empowered municipalities and other groups to replace money transfers from the province with funds raised through user fees and licenses, and it empowered the province to amalgamate cities with this legal Hydra. Less clever was its overwhelming of itself. In the drafting of Bill 26, deputy ministers dutifully sent every conceivable saving and restructuring they could think of to the premier’s office, which pasted them up and sent them over to the finance department, where the final bill was drafted.(5)
This bill was over 2,000 pages long†††, designed to stifle the opposition and media due to its overwhelming status. This tactic will be continued later by Stephen Harper, in his many budgets. Another trait Harper and Harris share is their management of their government, both preferring their chief executive status (premiership and prime ministership) as sole authority within a government,
One of Mike Harris’s first act a premier had been to address all the deputy ministers – the top executives in the huge provincial bureaucracy – at a closed-door session. On that occasion, he had delivered two messages. First, although the new government welcomed advice on how to implement its agenda, that agenda was not subject to debate. “I do require your absolute commitment to the final political determination of the government,” Mike Harris told them. Second, he reminded the deputy ministers that they owed their first allegiance, not to the minister, but to Harris himself. This was a timely reiteration of political reality in parliamentary democracies…
Harris wanted to remind the mandarinate that he and his political staff intended to keep firm, central control the government’s agenda. Ministers should be under no illusion that they were sovereign within their own departments.(6)
If none of this even makes you question the democratic inklings of Mike Harris, let me give you a precise example. In 1998, During the amalgamation of Toronto, the Mike Harris PCs both railed for a less democratic Toronto while simultaneously ignoring the democratic wishes of the people in what we now know-as Toronto. In their giant amalgamation, which at that time, would put Toronto as the largest municipality in Canada, and one of the largest in North America – also reduced all of that areas total councillors from 106 to 44 (more than 50%!). If that wasn’t enough, the various cities held a wide referudum, which three quarters of the voting (now) Torontonians voted “no”. This didn’t stop the Harris Tories, and they continued with the amalgamation anyways – all in the name of fiscal responsibility. How about democratic responsibility?
These people view democratic in the most rudimentary and misguided way. They believe, once they’re there, they can do what they want – despite public protest. Or they just don’t care as to the implications of their actions, and go on with it regardless.
Stephen Harper of Canada
This is the man I need to write about the least, as this information is actually in the minds of many. His current agenda is well documented. So, instead of the traditional profile, I’ll draw up points of similarities between Stephen Harper and the other two above.
1. Source of legislative power brought to the “centre” (Prime Ministers office or premiers office). This is very evident with Mike Harris’s personal conduct, or Ralph Klein’s preference for ministerial dictatorship (he’ll at least tolerate some ministerial autonomy). Stephen Harper, though not unique in his preference of centralizing power in the executive office, has taken things to the most precarious level in Canadian history. The amount of staff for the Prime Ministers office is at a height never before seen in Canadian history, and all the orders come from there – the PM screens ministers and MPs statements to the media, pre-approves questions from the press, holds meetings in secrets, issues directives, etc. This lack of individual MPs (and ministers) empowerment, involvement and control in “their” own government can lead to blunders where the respective minister is left defending something they don’t even understand – this leads to hilarity and pity, if you want the details, you can read about it in my older post here.
All three of these men held a tight grip even on the non-politicians – the civil servants. For instance, Raplh Kleins’ minister of social services, Mike Cardinal issued a warning that those who spoke against government policy would be fired(7). There’s also the time Mike Harris denounced teachers for protesting, on the public dime, on Ontario television – this was during the time his government “banned” the teachers’ strike, through legislation. And Harper’s government has been issuing directives to the various departments to shut up if they disagree with the governments policy – including actually suppressing science results and scientists if they disagree with their policy (eg. climate change).
In a study done of 22 countries with parliamentary democracy, including Greece, New Zealand and Israel, Canada got the highest score in terms of power-concentration of the Prime Minister. Interesting result, and daunting. Even more daunting are the implications it may have on our provinces – how powerful are our premiers? Considering there’s less focus on them, the potential for abuse and autocratic rule there could be greater.
2. Parliament/legislature a rubber stamp; opposition is irrelevant.
This is pretty reliant and closely tied to the first point, but for organizations sake, it deserves its own heading. Mike Harris loaded up gigantic bills and packed them through Queen’s Park. In addition, as mentioned just above, Ralph Klein granted much authority to the ministers and premier (and wanted to grant more). Not that it would really matter, as with a majority of seats they could ram things through their legislative assembly quite easy. There’s two main ways for them to wield this. a) is through whipping their puppet-members to vote for whatever they want, enact closure of time allocation (which set limits how long a bill can be debated), and pass the legislation with minimal opposition. And b) is loading up giant bills so the opposition and media is overwhelmed.
Harper definitively is guilty of this. For the first point on time allocation and closure, the exceptional Elizabeth May points out,
This Parliamentary procedure is traditionally used for matters of great urgency and national importance. For example, from 1913 to 1956, a period of over 40 years, time allocation on debates was used 10 times.
However, since being elected with an majority government on May 2nd, a mere 10 months, the Harper Conservatives have used time allocation 16 times. (This does not include time allocation in the Senate, or in Committee.)
He’s also a dirty culprit of door number two, even in something as important sounding as the budget, as Aaron Wherry documents,
The 12 budget bills tabled between 1994 and 2005 averaged 73.6 pages.[Liberal rule]
The 11 budget bills tabled between 2006 and 2011 averaged 308.9 pages.[Conservative rule]
To be even more specific, in 2011, the budget was over 800 pages. It’s not just the budget, though, but it was also Harper’s omnibus crime bill, which was over 400 pages.
3. Get elected with less than 40% of the electorate, disregard democracy. In a first past the post-system, governments can be elected without a majority of Canadians – or even a majority of voters. This leads to philosophical questions as to what power should the government have considering their lack of majority support. At the very least, the government should uphold the law, and listen to referendums and plebiscites, no?
Mike Harris, with the Toronto amalgamation, completely ignored the democratic wishes and legitimate concerns of the citizens and ploughed through anyways. Ralph, who used to advocate for direct democracy, changed his tune when the opposition member tabled a bill which would grant exactly that.
Harper shares traits with both of these men. First, in the former crown corporation, the Wheat Board affair, Harper’s government violated the law a couple times, one time included ignoring the legally mandated referendum. Both time were under a different agricultural minister, which means two of those ministers are criminals – one remains in our government (tough on crime, eh?) The first time was under Chuck Strahl in 2006, which involved the Conservatives telling the Wheat Board to keep its mouth shut and not get in the way of the Conservatives’ plan to privatize it. The second time, under Gerry Ritz, which is a lot more daunting, but part of the same trend, was while invoking closure, the Conservatives dismantled the crown corporation and removed its privileges, while ignoring an essential portion of the law. The Canadian Wheat Board Act stipulated that the government had to hold a plebiscite of farmers under the system if they wanted to change the functions – hardly unreasonable. Well, it was too much for the Tories to listen to the will of the people – so they passed the legislation regardless. The Wheat Board was quite concerned, so they held one themselves to see if that would change the governments mind – and the farmers indeed voted to keep the system (like most of the previous plebiscites). The result, the agricultural minister was taken all the way up to the Supreme Court and told he broke the law. No real accountability, though, as he remains the criminal agricultural minister.
To pinch and cut the appendage that many Canadians and provincial dwellers rely on isn’t necessarily a political walk-in-the-park. Healtcare, education, post-secondary, welfare – these are all things that ultimately affect a majority of Canadians, in their respective provinces. When the trio of Harper, Klein and Mike high-tailed the decreased expenditure, it requires administrative imposition. Without swift action, mobilization from the affected parties could arise. As we’ve seen, teachers concerned about their pensions, their jobs, their livelihoods will respond to giant cuts to their operations and expectations. Citizens will notice worse and more expense healthcare. Activists will notice an increase in poverty. These things do not go unnoticed.
The tides of popular revolt are nearly inevitable, so before that happens, hastily ram through what you want, disregarding democratic and traditional convention for observation, analysis and debate within your legislative body. Chuck all that you want into one mammoth bill in which the opposition will be struggling to parse, and citizens who get their information from the befuddled media, will remain mostly ignorant. Better yet, do both, through the military-command and whipping of your puppet members who are tantamount to pawns on a chess board.
Governmental rollbacks are not popular. Despite the rhetoric, disregarding the popular illusion – if a kickback makes your life more brutal, that, naturally, will discontent you. It will bother you. Some things are supported in notion, at points – such as conscription. During WW2, the majority of Anglo Canadians supported the draft, yet when the draft came to them, personally, most tried to dodge it. Once the full effects are seen by the people, the people will react. Only then, do we learn.
This is what deception, subterfuge and brunt force are for. They’re to get shit done. Get it done, till people smell the coffee. Ever since 70s, the business elite have been trying to fool us Canadians to accept the bitter medicine of a worse living standard, less government assistance and a rise in income disparity… so they can have lower taxes and a exponential aristocratic living – repealing all the excellent developments of the 20th century. They’ve occupied our newspapers, they’ve occupied our television networks (they’ve bought our TV networks!), they’ve even infiltrated our universities and they’ve successfully influenced our politicians – on both sides of the aisles at points. Just as the nationalistic jingoistic military-industrial forces (successfully) indoctrinated a majority of Canadians to support conscription, they’ve told us to accept the rhetoric of “fiscal responsibility” over the concerns of equality, and real freedom for all. The decline of most of us, the majority of people, is the goal of them – the rapacious plutocrats.
It is short-lived, and the more extreme they try to push, the more extreme the citizen reaction is. This is why it much be rushed, before people wake up. Ride the manufactured delusion that neoliberalism is natural and acceptable for modern civilians, but ride it posthaste. For the uncivilized barbarians, that are the people, may pelt you with rocks (it’s all they have) if you venture too slowly.
The decline in parliamentary democracy, and ultimately, the erosion of democracy in general, is the normal mechanism for powers and parties to implement their pro-plutocracy, classist, neoliberal agenda. Ralph did it, Harris did it and Harper is doing it now. Fascism is the natural friend of the Right. As the Right is the natural friend of the elite. And the elite wants shit done. And quasi-fascist, and flat-out-fascist tactics will be continued to be used by Harper and others until we burn the root of evil. It will continue to be used, because it’s successful. Unless radical change happens.
*Fun fact: Prime Minister in french is premier!
**Raplh Klein, admittedly, is more of a opportunist than a die-hard neoliberal. He still used it and wielded it like any other, but he has changed to fit roles before.
***Sadly, there isn’t really any online document comprehensively detailing the Ralph Klein PC cuts and actions, but I would suggest two books if you’re interested. The Trojan Horse: Alberta and the future of Canada, along with The Return of the Trojan Horse: Alberta and the New World (Dis)Order. Both books are quite rare, and the latter I only recently ordered. Once I get it, and read it, I may decide to publish the bits – online – that I see fit.
†The whole affair is just strange. As some sort of defence for his statements, he submitted a paper he wrote for a class in unversity when he was in his adolescence, it became evidence in the legislature. It was about Augusto Pinnochet, and he only got a mark of 77 on it – and that paper is used as an example, by the university, of how not cite information, and bordered on plagiarism. The whole thing is just really amusing, and to make things better, the presidents of both the University of Calgary and Alberta wrote letters in defence of Ralph Klein and his dis-satisfactory paper that he submitted to the Alberta Legislature.
††Both had wide protest from teachers – which, for Mike Harris lead to attack ads against them, from the premiers office, on the public dime, denouncing the teachers’ strike. Klein did the same thing, except against those railing against healthcare cuts – again, on air, on the public dime.
††† It gets worse, this bill was over 2,000 pages long. The speaker ruled that this was fine, just as Harper’s speaker ruled that the Conservatives giant omnibus bills are fine, and that limiting debate is fine, and that curtailing democracy is fine, etc.(8)
(1)Harrison, Trevor, and Gordon Laxer. The Trojan Horse: Alberta and the Future of Canada. Montréal: Black Rose, 1995. 126.
(2)Laird, Gordon. Slumming It at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada’s Right-wing Revolution. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1998. 69.
(3)Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Metropolitan /Henry Holt, 2007. 76-77.
(4)Critterden, Guy. Alien Invasion How the Harris Tories Mismanaged Ontario. By Ruth Cohen. Toronto: Insomniac, 2001. 62.
(5) Ibid. 64
(6)Ibbitson, John. Promised Land: Inside the Mike Harris Revolution. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice Hall Canada, 1997. 101.
(7) Harrison, Trevor, and Gordon Laxer. The Trojan Horse: Alberta and the Future of Canada. 124.
(8)Alien Invasion How the Harris Tories Mismanaged Ontario. 86