POLITICS CHATTER: The Harper government’s War on Brains
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POLITICS CHATTER: The Harper government’s War on Brains

Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders the direction of the federal public service cuts and wonders whether the stupid will inherit the earth.

A year into the Harper government’s majority, we’re at war. Not just in Afghanistan, where, it seems, our troop pull-out failed to be bellum interruptus. Or in the Arctic, where, yet again and with much fanfare, we’ve unleashed our Inuit militiamen to intimidate the Russians.

We’re at war right here in Ottawa. The battles are being fought in government labs, in libraries, on the floors of slaughterhouses. We’re engaged in a War on Brains and, so far, brains are losing.

The War on Brains was first identified by American social satirist Jim Earl, formerly of the Daily Show and more recently with the now-defunct  Air America radio network. In the States, the War on Brains was fought by the Bush administration against academics who questioned the war in Iraq, studied climate, and challenged the administration’s economic policy.

But it was also a war on common sense, or any sense at all, fought by stupid people against smart people. For in Bush’s Washington, stupid people like the President were morphed into “folksy.” Don’t read intelligence briefings predicting an imminent terrorist attack on American soil? Hey, reading is hard, especially when there’s brush to cut back in Texas. Screw up or fake intelligence analysis of Iraq? No problem. Fail to provide disaster relief to a major city? Ooopsy.

Stupidity did such a fine job of concealing dishonesty. Bush, who dodged serving in Vietnam by joining the Air National Guard, then failed to show up, was able to question the patriotism and courage of John Kerry, a decorated war hero.

Up became down. Stupid became the new brilliant.

And now it’s happening in Canada.

In Canada, stupid people on right-wing blogs rail against people with doctorates, saying PhD stands for “piled higher and deeper.” Liberal arts programs are, to them, a waste of time and money. Students are all lazy bums. Science, especially anything to do with climate studies and the impact of climate change, is rigged against religion and mega-projects.

High school drop-outs and graduates of third-rate community colleges convince the public that Stephane Dion, a professor who single-handedly clipped the wings of Quebec separatists, Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard PhD who’s internationally famous as a journalist and scholar, and Bob Rae, a Rhodes scholar, are unfit to govern. Instead, we get Bev Oda.

In this world, the stupid are well along in their drive to inherit the earth, or to hand it to corporations.

The Harper regime in Ottawa is helping the process along. Despite smokescreens laid down by the Tory press, the cuts to Ottawa have been deep, and it’s pretty obvious that the godless capital is a new front in the War on Brains.

The war has many casualties: 648 people at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have been put on notice; 329 jobs from Environment Canada are on the block. So are 688 positions from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Statisticians have been cut at Statscan. More than 1,000 economists have been pink-slipped throughout the federal government. The geological Survey of Canada has been cut. Library and Archives Canada has been eviscerated. Libraries at other ministries are being closed and their records are going to the dump.

There have been cuts to the legal staff at the Department of Justice. To fisheries scientists. To the National Parole Board.

There are cuts to the history and heritage department of the Department of National Defence just as the government shells out millions to celebrate the War of 1812. More than a third of the faculty of the Royal Military College has been placed on notice. The Department of National Defence has sent notices to 1,119 civilian workers and 380 computer specialists and scientists.

The National Research Council faces the loss of 54 jobs and big cuts to its budget.

Stephen Harper likes to think of himself as the smartest guy in the room. (He has a Master’s in Economics from the University of Calgary, after all.)

His fixers have already muzzled parliament and the federal cabinet. They seek to root out and destroy anyone in the public service who might challenge their shibboleths. Thus the War on Brains.

This is not about money.

The government created this deficit by cutting corporate taxes and the federal sales tax. Ask most Canadians, and they’ll tell you they’d prefer to have their food properly inspected than save a few pennies when they buy a Big Mac. Especially next time they’re puking up a bad steak.

It’s about control. Some tall poppies will be gone. The survivors will fall into line.

If they’re smart, they’ll make damn sure no one knows.

These are the same people who used to complain about the “brain drain” and said Liberal policies were forcing the best and the brightest to move to the States.