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G20 protest political wake-up call

Editor: I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to make the right choice on voting day. Which one of those political organizations vying for the right to govern is going to listen to its citizens best, and lead this country in the direction they wish it to go?

Until last summer, I was one of those who voted every election but never paid much attention to what was going on between elections. I was always too busy with other things.

Everything changed for me last June 27. My girlfriend and I were watching a newscast that showed the roundup of protesters at the G20 conference in Toronto. We watched with a mix of incredulity and horror, as her daughter was taken down in the street by rubber bullets from the police for exercising her right to protest.

Her daughter was walking backwards with her fingers raised in the peace sign, obeying the orders of the police, when she was fired on as she reached for her gas mask to protect herself from the danger facing her at the hands of those that were there to protect her. The police charged her with obstruction of justice (for obeying their orders), strip-searched her and locked her up for 36 hours without allowing her to phone anyone.

A month later they dropped the charges — which, of course, they never intended to pursue in court in the first place. The charges were a ruse to get the protesters out of their way.

Since that day, we have become politically aware and have begun getting involved in the process. We have learned a lot about the changes that have taken place in this country over the last 20 years or so, but in particular in the five years since the Conservatives have been in power.

Something has changed about Canada. It’s not the warm friendly country it used to be.

In a democracy, the theory is that the government acts on behalf of its people to do things according to the will of its people. But this government isn’t doing anything that closely resembles my will or indeed the will of anyone I know.

These are some of my concerns about its record. In the name of the citizens of this country, the Stephen Harper government:

- Turned over Afghan detainees to people they know will torture them. Then they shut down (prorogued) Parliament so they don’t have to answer tough questions about it.

- Spent more than a billion dollars on one weekend at the G20 Conference, in the most expensive photo-op in world history, and arrested and detained more than 1,100 citizens on trumped-up charges in a not-so-veiled attempt to show us all what happens when we protest. Last time I looked, the right to protest was a cornerstone of democracy.

- In the face of a 15-year statistical decline in crime, spent a lot of air time convincing us that we live in fear of rampant crime and tell us they’ll keep us all safe by spending billions of dollars on new prisons. They tell us there’s a lot of unreported crime whose perpetrators need to be locked up. Then they increase the penalties and institute minimum sentences for  victimless acts like prostitution and drug-related offences (five years in prison for growing more than seven pot plants, for example).

- Just so we can’t come back on them later with those nasty statistics about the crime rates, and so they can spend money wherever it suits their agenda, tried to abolish the long form census — the only source of reliable information we have that tells us where the government needs to spend our taxes in order to do what’s right with our money.

- Talks to us about their concern for the environment while telling delegates at a world economic conference, in front of the world, that there’s nothing that can be done about the use of fossil fuels without causing economic devastation.

- Muzzles their scientists, muzzles those pesky reporters from asking tough questions, muzzles and even fires anyone in their caucus who disagrees with them.

- Engages in secret negotiations with corporate interests who seek to privatize the nation’s water resources. Soon only those who have the ability to pay will be able to drink from the essence of life.

- Works towards the privatization of the health care system to a more American style.

-  Stands accused of contempt of Parliament, a federal crime in some democracies, and then stands up in front of the cameras and makes the statement that “Canadians don’t care about that.”

On that last issue, Harper refused to give spending estimates on the real cost of prisons and fighter jets because he knew that all the experts, including his own Parliamentary Budget Officer and an American military analyst, could prove his numbers were grossly understated. His disdain for his own Budget Officer is legendary. This government truly is all about secrecy and that is a very bad thing in any organization, much less a democracy.

Harper posts pictures of himself in the halls of Parliament, just like the dictators around the world whose pictures we see being defaced on the news when they fall to protesters. He instructs all the workers under him that the new name of the Canadian government is the Harper government, and they are to change their e-mail and letter correspondence to reflect that change. These actions demonstrate narcissistic traits that, quite frankly, scare me.

He appears to be all about power, not about doing what’s right for this country. For 40 years I voted for the Liberals, but they vote with the Conservatives on key issues and look more and more conservative every day.

This year I’m following the lead of our fellow citizens in Quebec and voting for Jack and the NDP. Maybe if they got in we could even put the sovereignty issue to bed, and for once we’d all be working in the same direction. I’m willing to chance it.

Marshall Neuman,