OTTAWA – Politics – Stephen Harper went to the Senate this week to give a speech. He could have taken the opportunity to apologize to Canadians for the many frauds that have been perpetrated upon them by his senate appointees, but no. Instead, it was an hour long trip into Mr. Harper’s parallel universe, where up is down and down is up.
With all the important questions that Canadians want answered on the Senate expense scandal it takes some nerve for the Prime Minister to not only prorogue parliament to escape answering those questions, but then to return to the scene of the crime four months later to present a speech that contained almost no mention of said scandal. It was as if nothing happened. Instead, as the Prime Minister finally emerged from his self-imposed four month of exile, it was to deliver an hour long ramble that ignored the numerous scandals consuming his government, and denied the hard reality faced by many Canadians. Two shining examples of Mr. Harper’s increasingly bizarre perception of reality can be found in the references to Canada’s veterans and the forestry sector in his speech.
Not more than two weeks ago Canada’s veterans held ten different public meetings across the country to protest the closure of nine Veterans’ Affairs offices across Canada – including the one in Thunder Bay. Veterans in these affected communities will no longer be able to meet face to face with a personal caseworker unless they travel many hours to do so. To highlight the impact this will have upon the disabled and elderly in particular consider that a veteran in Thunder Bay will now have to choose between travelling to North Bay or Winnipeg to sit down with their caseworker.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. The office closure protests took place the same week that the independent Veterans’ Ombudsman published a scathing report which found that the implementation of the Harper Government’s new ‘Veterans Charter’ will actually leave disabled veterans financially worse off as they age. Oh, and the Harper Government also chose that week to announce that they were appealing a federal court decision that sided with modern veterans who claimed they were not receiving the same level of benefits as wartime veterans. The decision to appeal will keep these veterans tied up in court for years and cost them tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. The Royal Canadian Legion called the Harper Government’s decision to appeal this ruling “reprehensible.”
With so many bad decisions that are clearly hurting our veterans you’d think there would be something of an apology in the Throne Speech, or at least a commitment to ‘make things right’ as they say. Hardly. As if he were tirelessly working to make life better for Canada’s veterans Mr. Harper used the Throne Speech to take credit for the “unprecedented” investments that his government has made on their behalf. To paraphrase, Mr. Harper believes that veterans should be thankful for what they have. While his government is known for embellishing and exaggerating its record at every turn this latest claim should ensure that the text of the Throne Speech makes its way into the fantasy section in the Library of Parliament.
More evidence of the existence of Mr. Harper’s parallel universe came in a sentence in the Throne Speech (yes, a whole entire sentence!) devoted to the forestry sector. For some reason, the Conservatives saw fit to mention that “almost 200,000” Canadians work in the industry today. Now, I will concede that this figure is in fact true. Unfortunately, and according to his government’s own figures, in the year that Mr. Harper came to power there were more than 272,000 Canadians working in the forestry sector, and that number has fallen each and every year the Conservatives have been in power. To somehow suggest that the Harper Government are strong supporters of the forestry sector is nothing more than a cruel joke to the 72,000 Canadians who have lost their jobs in forestry communities across Canada over the last 8 years.
Being thrust into ‘Harperland,’ even for an hour, was a surreal experience and something that I would not wish upon anyone. Thankfully however, the speech did signal the end of another prorogation and a return of parliament where Tom Mulcair will be quickly re-acquainting Mr. Harper with the hard realities faced by many Canadians living under his government’s rule.