Idling Harper: Why First Nations Movement Poses Genuine Threat to PM

Idling Harper: Why First Nations Movement Poses Genuine Threat to PM


Systems are always bigger and more complex than the individuals who try to control them. So political systems, like ecological ones, can be influenced and guided for a while by the stringent and obsessive management of details, but the intricate convolutions within their countless interacting parts eventually expose the futility of such effort. This is now becoming apparent in the present Conservative government in Canada under the authoritative — some say autocratic — leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Prime Minister is known for his propensity to control, a predilection that includes his caucus, parliament and the research studies from every scientist in the employ of the federal government. All information is vetted through his office, the PMO, to be certain it conforms to the message and the image he wants to portray of himself as a rational and competent manager of the nation’s business. But this strategy ultimately fails because even the most fastidious control can never match the complexity of systems. Like trying to prevent water from flowing downhill, pressures build, leaks occur, the ground saturates, and the whole containment effort finally collapses.

An extremely revealing leak occurred at the Salt Spring Forum on December 2, 2012, where Tom Flanagan, Stephen Harper’s former professor, mentor, advisor and campaign manager, was invited as the featured guest — “former” because Flanagan’s 2009 book, Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power, ended their communication (Jane Petch in Island Tides, Dec. 13/12, p.9-10).

But Flanagan certainly communicated to his Salt Spring Island audience about someone he knows extremely well. “Stephen is very intelligent,” he said. “He’s an abstract strategic thinker who translates ideas into action. He is an unusual package of characteristics. He can be charismatic in small groups, morose, secretive, suspicious and vindictive. These may not be traits you want in your next door neighbour, but they are very useful in politics.”

“He develops strategies for himself,” Flanagan confided. “He listens to his Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, and a small group of men he has come to trust: Baird, Clements and Flaherty. He doesn’t consult widely before decisions are made, and this has created problems for him.” Amazingly, Flanagan declared that he was unaware of any vision the Prime Minister had for Canada. “Stephen’s allergic to laying out a vision. He’s more concerned with the specifics.”

When asked about the Prime Minister’s dismantling of environmental regulations, Flanagan said that “Stephen sees through an economic lens, not an environmental one.” As for ignoring the scientific evidence of climate change, Flanagan explained that, “Everyone sees evidence through different binoculars. …It depends on what evidence you look at.” He added that he agreed with Stephen Harper’s policy of “appearing to make a difference without actually changing anything.”

Such a policy reveals a noteworthy fallacy. If the Prime Minister is attending only to details without being guided by a larger strategy, then how can he control outcomes? All his decisions and legislation suggest he is having a profound effect on Canadian politics. His efforts to spend Canada out of the Great Recession of 2008 have committed the treasury’s finances to massive deficits. His prorogation of parliament to avoid a vote of non-confidence has left an indelible scar on the country’s democratic psyche. His citation for contempt of parliament has created unprecedented cynicism in the House of Commons. His disregard of overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change and environmental deterioration now appears like petulant, stubborn and abject denial — an international embarrassment and a neglect tantamount to criminality. His omnibus budget bills, C-38 and C-45 that avoided parliamentary debate on a host of new laws, have created a bitter electorate.

Perhaps the Canadian public has become accustomed to the shock of the Prime Minister’s political tactics. But environmentalists and scientists have reacted with incredulity and dismay. And First Nations across the country, already extremely tense and enormously frustrated by the lack of respect for their rights and interests, have been unwilling to tolerate the trespasses included in C-38 and C-45.

First Nations, mythologically and traditionally, have always lived close to nature. It is the foundation of their history, culture, security prosperity and future. So they duly interpreted the wholesale relaxation of regulations in the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, the National Energy Board Act and the Indian Act as assaults on their interests. These measures also violated Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act (Island Tides, Jan. 17/13). The pending investment agreement with China, FIPA, and a proposed free trade agreement with Europe, CETA, also challenge First Nations’ rights. Their response was “Idle No More”, a diverse and amorphous uprising against an authoritarian government that failed to consult with them — just as it failed to consult with parliament.

The Idle No More activists are correct in claiming that their protests are not just for themselves but for all Canadians. The omnibus measures in C-38 and C-45 that show a contemptuous and autocratic disregard for legally binding treaty obligations parallel the Prime Minister’s disregard for Canada’s democratic and parliamentary traditions, a matter that should be of concern to every citizen of this country.

The Idle No More movement is so diverse and amorphous that it will be difficult to control by the Prime Minister and his powerful PMO. Such a vague and unfocused opponent will be an elusive target for Stephen Harper’s vindictiveness. A restless and evolving movement with a wide range of demands will be impossible to manipulate with his secretive strategies. So Stephen Harper’s suspicious nature will be forced to confront a dilemma of his own making. Charisma is not going to solve this problem. And if frustration should activate the morose streak in his character, he can stew in it until the end of First Nations’ patience — which could be a very long time.


About Ray Grigg

Ray Grigg is in his ninth year as a weekly environmental columnist for the Campbell River Courier-Islander on BC's Vancouver Island. Before this column, titled Shades of Green - now appearing on as well - Ray wrote a bi-weekly environmental column for five years. He is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism. His academic background is in English literature, psychology, cultural history, and philosophy. He has travelled to some 45 countries around the globe.

4 thoughts on “Idling Harper: Why First Nations Movement Poses Genuine Threat to PM

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  4. 9 comments (Archive) add comment

    Tuesday, 05 February 2013 13:45 posted by De Clarke
    Increasingly the “business class” sounds and acts like hereditary aristocracy 🙂 N American biz elites reached this point of disconnect and contempt for “the lower orders” before, in the 19-teens and 20’s; and in the US their response to the moderate, strategic concessions to the common weal proposed by FDR was — kid you not — to consider a coup, aka ‘regime change at home’.

    Back in those days there was a strong and growing labour movement including a militant communist wing, which helped to scare the 1-percenters into negotiating and compromising, sharing a bit of the wealth, humanising labour conditions somewhat, etc. They wanted to avoid a revolution along Chinese or Russian lines. Today there is no such organised labour presence, certainly no revolutionary vanguard; perhaps the equivalent force in our globalised robber-baron economy is Idle No More and Via Campesina, the Pachamama social movement, uprisings of land-based people against land-destroying powers.

    Monday, 04 February 2013 11:03 posted by Lloyd Vivola
    The new colonial mindset operates without borders and too many national governments are private clubs and clearing houses for its agents and their economic strategies. Most politicians comply too readily with this globalist ideology, and unfortunately, yes, their business-as-usual attitude engenders an all too compliant public. But citizens are beginning to wake up to these anti-democratic forces. Note the miserably low “trust” ratings that national governments receive in Europe; likewise the US Congress. As for criticizing Occupy Movements for their lack of focus, do not let the meager media coverage fool you. Occupy organizers remain remarkably resilient and active at local levels and with regard to many hands-on issues, all of which grows long-term support and new relationships among activists.
    Add the internet and social media, and local activists can learn from and coordinate with like-minded folk at a distance without needing conventional media publicity. So it is that Idle No More has captured so much attention and support worldwide. In short, political activism and citizen participation may be experiencing a sea-change. Don’t think the power-brokers aren’t watching.

    Sunday, 03 February 2013 10:26 posted by dan
    “Stephen sees through an economic lens, not an environmental one.”

    A little more on this one;

    Harper’s knowledge of economic is only cursory. Your local public library can bring in a copy of Harper’s MA thesis if you ask. Maybe the library you go to already has a copy. It is after all a public document.

    To read an MA thesis drawing extensively on primers is shocking to say the least.

    If you have college or university affiliation it is on ProQuest DIA.

    “His prorogation of parliament to avoid a vote of non-confidence has left an indelible scar on the country’s democratic psyche.”

    The federal Liberals have also prorogued parliament many times previously which did nothing ti infect the national psyche.

    Harper’s biggest shortcoming is the fact that he continually allows his personal bias and religious beliefs to infect his decision making.

    “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

    Saturday, 02 February 2013 12:25 posted by Hugh
    “Stephen sees through an economic lens, not an environmental one.”

    Ignoring the environment will ultimately impact the economy negatively.

    Friday, 01 February 2013 13:25 posted by KWD
    More on Harper

    Friday, 01 February 2013 10:35 posted by erik
    The characterization above is that of a “command economy/society”. There are centuries of evidence showing such a model of government is poisonous. Merrit is displaced by cronyisim.
    In some way it may explain the our government’s appetite to legally bind Canada to China, another “command economy”.

    Friday, 01 February 2013 05:10 posted by salamanders in the parliamentary closet
    Well said

    We need to identify & examine the unelected public servants, from Ray Novak on down, plus unelected Conservative Party employees, technicians, volunteers, petro employees servicing, supporting Stephen Harper & his policies & legislation & omnibus bills, tweets, data mining, media minding, speeches, shadow MP’s, electoral fraud, polling, trolling, spokespersons not authorized, live/robo, PR, media manipulation, fish farm advocates, hackers, fracking think tankers, anti science deniers, tar sands ethical dinosaurs, bald faced liars etc

    Let’s identify every single one of them, plus every elected MP, scrutineer, Minister, Aide, campaign mgr, Secretary, spokesperson, lawyer, Chief of Staff, PMO mook, Privy Council hire.

    Let the facts speak for themselves. if you assist in, stand for destroying environment, democracy, culture, elections, decency, transparency, voting, accountability.. you should be outed and made completely visible in your community, province, country and internationally. We can put them on posters, euchre cards, websites, bus shelters.

    if what you stand for is defensible, have at it. Or lawyer up.

    I believe there’s approx 2500 of these people in total

    Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:22 posted by Trailblazer
    The Idle No More activists are correct in claiming that their protests are not just for themselves but for all Canadians.
    Sadly , I have yet to experience a reciprocal event with First Nations supporting a predominently “White mans” cause.
    Whilst I have stood shoulder to shoulder with First Nations on such demonstrations as those apposing Enbridge , I see no support whatsoever when confronting urban sprawl or other issues.
    As much as I was/am in agreement with the Occupy Movement , Idle no More is likely to suffer the same fate that being too much to too many!
    Unfocused opposition seldom ,if ever, succeeds.

    Thursday, 31 January 2013 17:29 posted by MoS
    Jeebus, Ray, the bastard is more dangerous than I’d imagined. If we hadn’t become such a petro-state Harper might face a determined opposition. As it is we have to fall back on INM and our grassroots efforts to thwart Kinder Morgan and the Northern Gateway. Obviously Harper is bent on pushing them through at all costs.

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