In Canada, we have now been living under a Harper government majority for a full year, and it’s getting harder every day to recognise our country. The political, economic and legal changes being made now are bold, drastic and being implemented at a frightening rate. As this anniversary passes, further battles are brewing, both inside and outside of parliament.

Yesterday the Conservatives limited debate the second reading of their budget ‘omnibus’ bill, C-38. Critics are infuriated, as this year’s bill contains an enormous amount of unrelated policy overhauls (like gutting environmental assessments), which stands to fly through without much if any discussion. Even Harper objected to this behaviour back when he was a Reform MP. The most recent enraging policy point from this austerity bill is a plan to force people on unemployment into jobs they don’t want. Under new plans, workers on EI will no longer have the long-treasured legal right to keep receiving payments if they turn down a job which is ‘substantially worse’ in pay or conditions than their old employment, or out of their chosen field. This move is being lauded by businesses, but for the thousands who stand to be laid off, it’s a one-way trip to a McJob.

Beyond Harper’s budget, he’s spent the last year implementing a wide range of mean-spirited changes. There’s his crime bill, a move to build new prisons and lengthen sentences, while gutting rehabilitation programs. Then there’s their immigration bill, which sets up a similar system of sweeping incarceration for immigrants and refugees. For the military, the Conservatives are now being accused of misleading the public over the cost of F-35 fighters (the “Jet that ate the Pentagon”), now projected to hit almost $30 billion. With the help of Minister Vic Towes, Harper proposed a sweeping internet surveillance program. Against critics, they’ve engaged in blacklisting tactics, legislated unions back to work, targeted the charitable status of outspoken organizations (causing David Suzuki to resign from his foundation) and defined “environmentalists” as a kind of terrorist.

All of this was able to pass, as will his new budget, because of his “majority” in parliament. This majority, of course, is the subject of some suspicion after it was learned that numerous ridings saw a campaign of fraudulent calls directing opposition voters to the wrong polling stations. There is still no word on the investigations, unsurprisingly.

They said we needed a leader with “vision” and the “strength” to carry it out. That’s exactly what we got. The behaviour of this government has been utterly contemptuous of parliament, the press and the public. That’s what “strong leaders” do. Harper’s rule highlights a lot of problems which extend well beyond his new, twisted, Conservative Party, into the way we appoint majority governments to rule like dictators for years at a time. There are no checks or balances here – having a few (constested) seats over the “majority” mark has given the Harper government uncontested power to pass legislation for years to come. While most governments in recent memory have been more reserved in their use of this power, Harper continues to push the limits, which should be a wake-up call to the rest of us. There’s nothing democratic about appointing dictators for four years at a time, and in the meantime we have no (legal) recourse no matter how unpopular their policies are, or how questionable the election by which they took power.

Tomorrow, protesters are (again) set to converge on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In the spirit of today, Star Wars Day, May the fourth be with them.

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