Among the range of skewed priorities of the Stephen Harper regime is the government’s ideology-driven war on crime and its rapidly rising cost. It is one of several reasons the Conservatives are bad for Canada, out of touch with the voters of this city and province and deserve to be replaced.
As the irrepressible Kevin Page, parliamentary budget officer, reported last month as he ended his mandate, per-capita spending on criminal justice—federal and provincial jails, court costs and policing—has climbed 23 per cent over the past decade, even as Canada’s crime rate fell 23 per cent. Some may argue this is a sign that Harper’s war is working, when in fact, as Statistics Canada reports, crimes for most offences, including homicide, sexual offences and drug offences, have been declining steadily since 1991.
In absolute dollar terms, Harper’s War on Crime means a hike in spending of more than $5 billion, from less than $15 billion in 2006 to $20.3 billion last year. Almost three-quarters of that cost was borne by the provinces—Ottawa spent $5.5 billion while the provinces spent $14.8 billion, Page reported.
The federal government sets justice policy and, reflecting its “tough on crime” agenda, has compelled judges to impose stiffer and longer sentences. This leads to more people in jail for longer periods, requiring more jails. However, there is a consensus among criminologists that longer jail terms do not deter crime but serve as a school for crime and nurture resentment. Quebecers favour a rehabilitative approach, which certainly makes sense during a time of pressure to cut public spending.
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Other appalling measures imposed by the Harper regime include new regulations to clamp down on free speech by librarians and archivists in public forums and online media. These public servants are now bound by a “duty of loyalty” to the “duly elected government” and must get permission from their managers before making a public pronouncement, or even a private comment in an online forum that may become public. The Harperites have created a snitch-line where fellow workers can report on any alleged transgression of the rules. Similar restrictions have been imposed on federal scientists.
As Postmedia’s Mike De Souza has reported, the Harper government has actively suppressed the release of vital information on the spread of tarsands contamination by muzzling federal scientists. That gag order followed a government study in November 2011 that confirmed the findings of University of Alberta researchers Erin Kelly and David Schindler. They discovered that concentrations of toxic heavy metals were higher near tar sands extraction, confirming fears of contaminants seeping into the local environment.
Of course, Montrealers will not forget Harper’s scrapping of the long-gun registry, which was challenged in court by the former Quebec Liberal government. We remember the Montreal Massacre of December 1989 when 14 female students at École Polytechnique were gunned down, and the Dawson College shooting of September 2006 when student Anastasia De Sousa was shot dead and 19 others wounded. Quebecers want that registry restored.
Then there was the cancellation in 2010 of the long-form census, which is starting to affect the reliability of key figures on the all-important question of language. When Statistics Canada released its final tranche of the 2011 census focusing on language, it advised “caution when evaluation trends relating to mother tongue and home language that compare 2011 census data to those of previous censuses.” How can you compare language trends when the raw data are based on different parameters? Noted Doug Norris, chief demographer for Environics Analytics: “There are a lot of questions and responses that don’t seem to add up.”
But looking at the numbers in the House of Commons, the vote splitting on the centre and centre-left could keep the Harper Conservatives in power. A potentially renewed Liberal Party under its expected new leader, Justin Trudeau, should do better than its worst-ever performance in the 2011 election, when it won an all-time low of 37 seats under Michael Ignatieff.
Riding the Jack Layton ripple, the NDP won 103 seats, and for the first time is positioned to win the big prize. That is one reason the NDP balked at a request from the Green Party’s Elizabeth May to sit out the forthcoming by-election in Labrador to help the Liberal candidate defeat Conservative Peter Panashue. He won by only 79 votes in 2011, but resigned after Elections Canada ruled his campaign had accepted 28 ineligible financial donations. Penashue is running again, but so is the NDP, whose candidate won 20 per cent of the vote in the riding.
The NDP says voters should be given the chance to decide, which is legitimate. Attitudes may change, but Trudeau has rejected the idea of NDP-Liberal co-operation. If failure to cooperate carries into the next election, it will be up to progressive Canadians to decide whether to vote with their conscience or strategically by supporting the candidate most likely to topple the Harper regime.