Chill Effect: Stephen Harper’s cold war on freedom of speech

The Harper chill effect has been evident from the very beginning, and it has been consistent throughout his first two years in office. During this brief period, Harper has used the court system to help silence foes, critics, and generally anyone with whom the Prime Minister might have a disagreement. […]

He has picked public fights with dissenting bureaucrats and shut down normal bureaucratic flows of public information. He treats the national press corps like a special interest group that has to be managed, controlled, and contained. He has muzzled his own cabinet, elevating this practice to new heights, and he swiftly implemented funding cuts to groups which ensure ordinary Canadians have a public voice and access to legal representation within the court system. […]

As this chapter will demonstrate, the chill effect is rooted in two unshakable realities: 1) The Prime Minister holds a deep, personal distrust of traditional Canadian institutions, not the least of which is the mainstream media; and 2) Harper’s personal style is more authoritarian than it is democratic – a style that runs against the grain of modern Canadian political leadership but is intertwined with what it means to be an extreme Conservative in this day and age. […]

Early into its mandate, in September 2006, the Harper government announced cuts to 66 federal programs totalling $1 billion […] But these were no ordinary cost-cutting measures, and in Septembre 2006 Canada could not pretend to be facing a debt wall. In fact, […] there was a $13.2 billion fiscal surplus and no clear and present danger to public programs.

What was significant about these cuts was not so much the amounts, but “what” got cut: groups that give voice to Canadians.