Betrayed! Stephen Harper’s war on principled conservatism by Connie J. Fournier, Createspace, 2015, pp. 148.
On the feast of Epiphany in the first year of the new millennium, an online forum for the discussion of Canadian political issues from a conservative perspective was launched. Its founders had been Canadian members of Free Republic, a similar message board in the United States, and so naturally, called the new forum Free Dominion. The founders and administrators, Mark and Connie Fournier, gave it the tagline “the voice of principled conservatism.”
Principled conservatism meant a conservatism that consisted of ideas and principles, rather than mere loyalty to the party which calls itself conservative. At the time there were two such parties, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance, which had been formed the previous year in the first stage of a merger between the Western populist Reform Party and the PCs. Stockwell Day was leader of the Alliance at the time but by the end of the year he had resigned and early in the following year Stephen Harper was elected the new leader. In the year after that, the merger between the two parties was complete, and Mr. Harper became leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. In that capacity he served as Leader of the Opposition, then Prime Minister in a minority government, and finally won a majority government in 2011.
This was a triumph for the Conservative Party, for sure, but was it a victory for principled conservatism? Connie Fournier, in her new self-published book, Betrayed! says no, and she has good reasons for saying so. Some of these are personal, pertaining to the persecution she, her husband, and the forum they have put so much devotion into have undergone at the hands of government agencies and employees, all during the Harper premiership. Due to the nature of these injustices she cannot tell her story in full. She cannot, for example, name Richard Warman as the man who is responsible for most of the abuses of the legal system that Free Dominion has faced since shortly after Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. What she does tell, however, is told because it perfectly illustrates how the present leadership of the Conservative Party has abandoned its principles.
When Connie – who I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of years ago when she accompanied her husband, a truck driver by profession, on a run that took them through Winnipeg – speaks of conservative principles, she means the principles that underlay the Thatcherite and Reaganite movements in the United Kingdom and United States respectively, and the Reform Party here in Canada. This set of principles was created by a fusion – to borrow Frank Meyer’s word – of classical conservative views on society and morality with classical liberal views about government and the freedom of the individual. I am more of an unmixed classical conservative – a High Tory – not because I disagree with the ideas of limited, accountable, government and personal liberty, but because I hold strongly to the classical conservative view that these things can only exist in the context of a stable and secure order of established, traditional, institutions. I bring this up to make the point that while what Connie and I would regard as conservative principles are different – in a complementary rather than a contradictory way, I hope – I find her argument that Stephen Harper has betrayed those principles to be compelling and illuminating.
She tells the story of Stephen Harper’s rise to the federal premiership, showing him to have been ruthless in his pursuit of power right from the beginning. From the curious way in which he won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance away from socially conservative Stockwell Day and the heartless way in which he confiscated the party nomination for Calgary Southwest from Ezra Levant to his stacking the party council with his yes men and negotiating the merger of the two parties against the wishes of both parties' memberships, she demonstrates how within his own party he showed the same contempt for the people who elected him as he later would as the country’s Prime Minister.
She takes us through the way he has sold out one segment of the conservative support base after another, starting with the social conservatives who have no one else to speak for them having been told that their views, which were once, and within living memory, the consensus in the land, are now unwelcome, by the other parties. Harper, knowing this, has been able to collect the votes of social conservatives while doing nothing to deserve them, a pattern established early in his leadership when he offered social conservatives, who had started a grassroots effort to put a ban on partial-birth abortion into the party platform, a discussion of same-sex marriage instead, which never materialized. Even gun owners, widely though of as having benefited from the Conservative government with the abolition of the long-gun registry, are among the betrayed, Connie shows.
The biggest betrayal, however, is of those who fought for freedom of speech against Section 13. Section 13 was part of the 1977 Canadian Human Rights Act. This Act, modelled on the American Civil Rights Act of 1964, proscribed discrimination on certain grounds (race, sex, religion, ethnicity, etc.) and in certain circumstances (employment, housing, etc.) even between private individuals. Section 13 declared it to be an act of discrimination to communicate via telephone, anything that was “likely to” expose someone to “hatred or contempt” on the basis of one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Around the turn of the millennium this was made even worse by the adding of subsection 2, which extended its application to all electronic communications including, of course, the internet. This law had, as it was intended to have, a chilling effect on public debate, adding the force of law to the creepy contemporary phenomenon known as political correctness, that protects left-wing social and cultural engineering with loud and hysterical accusations of “racism”, “sexism”. “homophobia”, or some other made-up pathology, against its critics.
In the late 2000s, the public spotlight finally fell upon this terrible law, when Muslim groups laid charges under it against well-known conservative figures Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn. Traditionalists and libertarians united against it, and, through the means of a private member’s bill, ultimately succeeded in having it repealed. This was without the help of the present leadership of the Conservative Party. The charges against Levant and Steyn were made about the time Harper became Prime Minister, and it was during the battle over Section 13 that ensued, that Free Dominion’s legal woes began.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission, having received a complaint about some material that controversial Christian evangelist Bill Whatcott had posted on Free Dominion, urged the complainant to charge the website as well. At the time the CHRC had already targeted Free Dominion, having previously set up a dummy account “jadewarr” on the forum, for purposes of spying or, possibly, entrapment. The charge against Free Dominion was withdrawn by the complainant, but the CHRC, its doings, and Section 13 became hot topics on the discussion board. Richard Warman, the human rights lawyer and former CHRC employee who was responsible for most of the complaints under Section 13, launched a myriad of lawsuits against his online critics, including the suits that have been so devastating to Free Dominion and the Fourniers.
It is not just that all of this took place on Stephen Harper’s watch, however. His government has introduced bill after bill after bill in attempts to monitor and control discussion on the internet. These include bills that would order ISPs to spy on their customers and hand information over to law enforcement agencies without warrants. The worst of them is Bill C-51, which the government rammed through the House of Commons and Senate earlier this year. In the name of fighting terrorism, this bill authorizes law enforcement agencies to spy on Canadians without warrants, share the information they gather with each other, and even engage in disruptive activity.
In light of all of this damning evidence, Connie calls principled conservatives to hold the Conservative Party and their leadership accountable. The party needs to know that conservative votes cannot just be taken for granted, and that their betrayal of conservative principles and trampling all over the privacy and freedom of Canadians will not be tolerated, let alone rewarded.
Every Canadian, especially those who believe in the principles of conservatism, ought to read this book before the upcoming election.
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