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Anti-immigrant infomercial brought to you by PMO

John Bell

March 23, 2013

The Harper Tories are not getting enough bang for their buck. They spent $21 million on self-congratulating advertisements in 2011-12.  But polls show support has sunk steadily since they won their majority.
Government advertising spending has increased every year since Harper became prime minister. So far the Tories have spent well over $548.6 million on advertising. You know those signs for “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” that dot the landscape like mushrooms in a cow pasture (for all you fabulous urbanites, that’s a lot), the ones that tout “Jobs, Growth, Prosperity”? What they don’t say is most of the jobs, growth and prosperity are being enjoyed by the advertising industry.
Our friends at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives helpfully point out that in 2011-12 the Tories spent more shilling for the “Economic Action Plan” than they did supporting equality for women ($21 million vs. $18.9 million for Status of Women). Yet, spend as they would, Canadians just didn’t seem to be buying the Tory wares. Worse, even their core constituency was becoming disenchanted. Their privatization agenda has been too cautious for the Ayn Rand apostles, and “social conservatives” grumble over the lack of action on outlawing abortion, reinstituting the death penalty and the like.
Border propaganda
But advertising can take many forms, from stealth advertising through product placement to the late-night infomercial. The line between TV program and advertisement is not just blurred, it has long since been erased. So imagine the excitement around the PMO when the producers from Force Four Entertainment came knocking, selling the idea of Border Security: Canada’s Front Line. The concept is a straight rip-off of an Australian TV show that has been a ratings hit down under since 2004.
Border Security is essentially an infomercial for the post-911 security state, broadcast here on the National Geographic cable channel. Cameras show the exciting “reality” of our brave men and women at the Canadian Border Service Agency as they keep us safe from the threats of terrorism, smuggling, and so-called illegal aliens. The show, and its intimate connection to the Harper Tories burst into the news recently when a CBSA squad, with camera crews filming all the so-called exciting action, raided Vancouver construction sites and arrested undocumented migrant workers. It then came out that Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews had personally signed a contract authorizing Border Security to film CBSA operations.
Just don’t call Border Security a reality show. This from a Force Four Entertainment press release: “There have been complete mischaracterizations and false information reported this past week about Border Security: Canada’s Front Line.  Border Security is a documentary series–not a reality series and in absolutely no way are any situations orchestrated for the cameras.” This is pure semantic nonsense. Admitting cameras to an event changes that event, no matter what the intentions of the filmmakers. A “documentary” is not unvarnished fact or truth. Choices are made in shooting, editing, narration and adding post-production details like music that all deliver a point of view. In this case the POV is not just that of Force Four Entertainment. It is that of the Harper government. Not only did Vic Toews give his approval, but so did the Prime Minister’s office, senior CBSA bureaucrats and government legal advisors.
This anti-immigrant infomercial is designed to appeal to bedrock Tory supporters, not so subtly harking back to the racism that was intrinsic to the emergence of Reform. It also attempts to win people worried about their own economic security, repeating the fiction that evil foreigners are stealing our jobs.
Temporary foreign workers
So don’t expect any government sponsored infomercial/documentary/reality show about the federal government’s own temporary foreign worker programs. Thanks to changes enacted last year by Tory Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, corporations can import foreign workers on temporary contracts that pay them 15 per cent less than average wages in those industries. These workers are forced to work for just that employer and denied any but the most basic protections and rights. In practice, any who complain about their treatment are deported in a hurry.
There are now over 300,000 such ultra-exploited workers in Canada. In an interview with Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, sociology professor Gerardo Otero said:
“Since 2006, there is a trend–and it is no coincidence that it is the Harper administration that is doing this–where there are more guest workers accepted to Canada than immigrants. What this indicates, is rather than a country of immigrants, Canada is becoming a country that systematically generates this noncitizenship class of workers, who are separated from their families and who don’t have the same rights as the rest of the Canadian workforce.” Otero is not shy about applying the word “apartheid” to this labouring under-class. If the shoe fits…
Clearly the Tories are not opposed to foreign workers getting jobs, they just don’t like those workers to be paid decent wages, get access to services, or have a chance of winning permanent status.
Reality TV
You know, I’m not philosophically opposed to reality TV shows. I even have a bunch of Tory-related “documentary” story ideas I’d like to pitch to the TV industry:
Penashue Boo Boo: the adventures of an adorable but corrupt cabinet minister trying to tap dance his way back into the hearts of Labrador voters.
The Acts-Like-He’s-A-Bachelor: who will get the rose as Vic Toews chooses a new babysitter?
Canada’s Next Top Parliamentary Budget Watchdog: the cross country talent search for a number cruncher who will just repeat the government’s phony figures and not rock the boat like that nasty Kevin Page.
The Amazing Race To The Bottom: different branches of the government compete to see who can drive down wages, pensions and union rights the fastest.
Who can deny the entertainment value of these. And any of them would contain a lot more reality than any Tory infomercial.

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