Teens Thrown Out of Harper Campaign Event

There is a God. Just when it looked like a sufficient number of Canadian voters – albeit maybe only a little more than 40 percent of them – were getting ready to give Stephen Harper and his Conservatives the majority he so badly wants and, thus, a virtual one-man, “Harper Government” dictatorship for at least four years, fate and the Great Minds running his campaign have managed to shoot themselves in the foot.

By all reports the Harper campaign is being run in a “bubble,” a tactic in an election campaign designed to protect a big lead in the popularity polls by avoiding any risk of unexpected and otherwise unscripted bad news that could upset the inevitable march to election triumph on election day. The fact it’s gone to ridiculously controlled extremes has backfired on the Conservatives, creating the very thing they were trying to avoid. And worse, they’ve added fuel to the opposition’s main point in bringing down the Harper government and causing this election – that the Conservatives under this excessively controlling leader are contemptuous of Parliament where the people’s elected representatives sit, and basic democratic principles.

Despite what hard-core Conservative supporters are saying, about media bias and opposition set-ups supposedly lurking behind these incidents – including throwing students out of a campaign event for having had their photo taken with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, or an NDP bumper stick on their car, or simply because they’re environmentalists – Harper and his ham-handed campaign handlers have only themselves to blame.

Harper especially can avoid or deflect responsibility all he wants by blaming “staff” for such things as denying Canadians their Constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, but everybody knows by now the man is a control freak. He sets the tone and the agenda. There’s no way he wasn’t aware how the campaign was going to be run, that reporters’ questions would be severely limited, and attendance at campaign rallies limited to Conservative supporters. How did he expect that was going to be accomplished, other than by making sure everybody in attendance had to pre-register, and then be “vetted,” in other words spied upon, to make sure they had no ties to the other parties, however miniscule?

The extent to which the Conservative campaign must have gone, and possibly still goes, to make sure of that is astonishing to consider. Think of how many Tory fingers it must take to go down the list of hundreds of names of people slated to attend daily events, and then check them out on Facebook, or wherever. Imagine, if you will, Tory staffers patrolling the parking lots outside the campaign venues for any sign someone inside might be hiding the wrong ideology.

And so it was that someone in the paranoid Harper campaign checked out a young woman who had registered for a Harper event in London last week, and found she had posted a photo of herself with Ignatieff on her Facebook site. She and a friend, whose father is a card-carrying Conservative, were picked out of a crowd of several hundred people, marched outside and told they were “no longer welcome” inside after their name tags were unceremoniously pulled off without warning and ripped up. What had they done wrong? Nothing. Awish Aslam, a 19-year-old political science and criminology student at the University of Western Ontario, says she was just trying to inform herself about the policies of the Liberals, Tories and NDP in preparation for casting her Canadian election ballot for the first time. She did not go to the Tory rally to cause a scene or get Liberal-friendly publicity. What actually happened was far more damaging to the Harper campaign. But Aslam did not go out of her way to contact the media about it. Rather, a sharp-eyed London Free Press reporter saw an internet reference, a tweet, about two teens being thrown out of the event, and asked the tweeter to pass his phone number on to them. Aslam called back.

The resulting article was understandably picked up by the national media, of course. And that led to several other young people who had also been thrown out of Tory campaign events coming forward with their stories. They include the Guelph resident with the NDP bumper sticker, and the young woman whose only crime from a Conservative point of view is to be an environmentalist. That certainly speaks volumes about the Harper government’s attitude toward environmental issues.

Asked about Aslam and her friend being turfed from the London meeting Harper wimped out and said he leaves such event-organization details up to staff. His spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, indirectly apologized by leaving his cell phone number with The Free Press reporter for her to call him.

Of course, the other leaders, who are not running their campaigns in a bubble, are shocked and appalled that the Harper campaign is being so flagrantly undemocratic and “un-Canadian,” as if to prove the very point they’re trying to make about why they brought down the minority government. I daresay they can hardly believe their luck, and the sheer stupidity of it. And of course, they’re making the most of it in the midst of an election campaign.

And of course, they note that while people are thrown out of Harper campaign events for no good reason, a former top Harper advisor with a criminal record was welcomed into the Prime Minister’s Office. Harper himself has said he didn’t know the full extent of Bruce Carson’s record. I suppose anything’s possible; not even Stephen Harper knows and controls everything.

It boggles the mind. There are layers and layers and layers of food for thought here for voters to mull over between now and election day.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2011.

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