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Harper bids farewell to kindred spirit

By: 
John Bell

January 24, 2015

Blood is thicker than water, and oil is thicker than either. In the oiliest sense, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia were kindred spirits, brothers if you will.
 
Who can forget that soon after he became Prime Minister, Harper travelled to the G8 meeting in Britain where he declared his intention to turn Canada into an energy superpower, the Saudi Arabia of the 21st century. From this we can only extrapolate—and all his conduct while ruling from the PMO supports the supposition—that Harper was acting out his ambition to be an absolute dictator, a King Abdullah for the 21st century.
 
Much as he might wish to, Harper can’t deny women the right to drive or take away their vote. But he has defunded over a dozen women’s support and advocacy organizations. It is their own fault, really. Recall that in 2010 Tory Senator Nancy Ruth warned a conference of women’s groups to “Shut the fuck up” about abortion services. Women can drive; but in most parts of this country they just can’t drive to get the health services they need.
 
Harper may have envied Abdullah’s power to order beheadings. He certainly is noticeably silent on the subject. But if he lacks the ability to literally swing the axe, he is compensating by slashing spending for public services, including health care. He has dismantled the Health Council of Canada, the organization that regulated health care to national standards. Provisions hidden deep in the 2014 omnibus budget will cut about $36 billion in federal health funding transfers to the provinces over the next 10 years.
 
When Abdullah said, “Heads will roll” he was being literal. When Harper said it he was being metaphorical, at least as far as we know. In July 2013 alone, 74,000 public servants lost their jobs but kept their heads.
 
Brothers in arms deals
Of course “brothers” like Harper and Abdullah can have the occasional falling out, especially “warring brothers”, as Karl Marx described capitalists. However fond of each other they were, they were also in competition for oil markets. Saudi Arabia has increased production of late in order to drive down the price of oil, making “unconventional” petroleum sources (tar sands, fracking, etc.) uneconomical.
 
“If I reduce, what happens to my market share? The price will go up, and the Russians, the Brazilians, US shale oil producers will take my share,” Abdullah’s oil minister Ali Al-Naimi told the Middle East Economic Survey last month. The Saudis are willing to swallow lower prices in order to crush their brothers. All this must make Stephen Harper very angry, but he must admit to himself that if their positions were reversed, he’d pull the same trick. What’s a brother to do?
 
Well, he can let bygones be bygones and sell his brother $15 billion worth of armoured cars. This is particularly appropriate since, as Harper eulogized, King Abdullah was a “strong proponent of peace” in the Middle East. In okaying the deal Harper may have violated Canada’s laws, which prohibit arms trade with countries having poor human rights records. No less an expert than Ezra Levant, author of Ethical Oil: the Case for Canada’s Oil Sands refers to  the “medieval human rights abusing Saudis”. Levant’s “ethical oil” thesis has been vigorously defended at one time or another by the Harper government’s starting line-up: Jason Kenney, Joe Oliver, Peter Kent and the PM himself.
 
But its hard to claim the moral high ground (even with as preposterous an idea as “ethical oil”) when there is cash on the line. Yesterdays medieval human rights abuser is today’s strong proponent of peace. And besides, according to François Lasalle, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade: “For reasons of commercial confidentiality, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development does not comment on specific applications.”
 
A statement from the office of International Trade Minister Ed Fast (heretofore to be known as Fast Eddie) says the deal is “consistent with Canada’s foreign and defence policies.” This is true. Canada also unequivocally supports other strong proponents for peace in the Middle East such as the dictatorship of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt and Israel’s apartheid government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
 
Business is business
So we know why Harper is joining in the farcical international chorus of mourning for this brutal dictator: whether competitor or client, Abdullah was a good man of business. Besides a “strong proponent for peace”, Harper said Abdullah was “passionate about his country, development and the global economy.” Evidently that last trait makes up for a lot of sins.
 
Perhaps that will be some comfort to Raif Badawi, suffering in a Saudi jail since 2012, waiting for the next installment of his sentence of 1,000 lashes. He is guilty of criticizing Abdullah’s government. The best way to celebrate the passing of Abdullah would be to support the international campaign to free Raif.
 
Harper is not alone in honouring this tyrant. Obama’s White House outdid itself in fawning hypocrisy, and Britain’s Tory government ordered flags to be flown at half mast. Contrast this to Harper’s statement on the death of Venezuela’s democratically elected president, Hugo Chavez: “At this key juncture, I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
 
Freedom, democracy, human rights? To paraphrase Inigo Montoya: You keep using those words; I do not think they mean what you think they mean.
 
It all leads one to speculate how Harper would respond to the passing of some other monsters: “Hannibal was a man of passionate appetites and great taste,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who dined frequently with Mr. Lecter. “Bottom line, he really liked people.”

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