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I Am Quitting the Conservatives Because of Stephen Harper's Politics

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By the time you read this column, my membership in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario will likely be revoked. I will no longer be a director of the Toronto Centre Conservative Association.

This is not because I am no longer useful to the once-proud party of Bill Davis, John Robarts and, yes, Christine Elliott, but because I am coming out against comrade Stephen Harper -- our party's federal counterpart.

In an era of Patrick Brown and Stephen Harper, loyalty is more important to the Conservative cause, in both federal and provincial politics, than the dedication we show to our citizenship. It should not be and it is unfair.

The Stephen Harper era has made us too partisan, extremely fearful of our neighbours, cheerleaders in world affairs, less tolerant to new immigrants and refugees and mere observers in the affairs of our country -- instead of active actors. We have let our government create two-tier citizenship for us all.

Ignorance has replaced reason and compromise within the Conservative party of Canada. A decade ago, I should have taken to heart the advice of former Prime Minister Joe Clark, who reminded us to support "the devil we know" and look at the alternative more closely.

To look at where today's Canadian Conservatives are at present and where the party is headed, we do not need to go far. Just observe the candidates up close.

Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound candidate MP Larry Miller is on record suggesting Muslim women who wear the niqab should "stay the hell where they came from" and is still an approved Conservative candidate for Harper in 2015. The candidate from Willdowdale, Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism and MP Chungsen Leung, once demanded to know why Iranian Canadians were in Canada in the first place, "if you like Iran so much."

Joe Daniel, the backbench MP from Don Valley East, has in recent weeks linked the Syrian migration crises to a "Muslim agenda" to take over European counties. This was meant to be a warning, according to him, to what is likely to happen to Canada, should we accept these refugees.

This comes as one-time Brian Mulroney Foreign Minister Barbara McDougall coined a column in the Globe and Mail in response to Stephen Harper's slow and lazy response to help the Syrian refugees.

Since Harper became our Prime Minister, he has made Canada less welcoming of the world's destitute refugees and created an exclusive society for new immigrants. The appointees that are put in charge of deciding the future of our immigrant population, as Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicators, have become partisan and less humane in their approach. As reported by the Toronto Star's Nicholas Keung, some are even rejecting 100 per cent of the asylum seekers that appear before them, as a Harper appointee, David McBean, managed to do so.

This is not just wrong, but borderline xenophobic.

The candidates, the appointees and the friends of our Prime Minister are indicative of the country we have been over the last decade. Somehow, we have lowered our standards and have become vulnerable, weak and less open-minded at home and abroad.

I became interested in Canadian politics at an early age. I liked the Red Tory tradition of Brian Mulroney and his unbinding commitment to the world's vulnerable. Jack Layton's commitment to human rights was something to admire. Pierre Trudeau gave us the Charter of Rights and Freedom, and John Diefenbaker the Bill of Rights. All of our Prime Ministers, save Harper, brought unique qualities to the position as they attempted to make us less partisan and more citizen-like in our Canadian citizenship.

Mulroney chose Stephen Lewis as Canada's United Nations ambassador, brought a bipartisan Canadian voice against apartheid in South Africa and spoke eloquently for famine victims in Ethiopia. Trudeau made the wonderful Edward Schreyer, our Governor General. Paul Martin gave Hugh Segal a chance to advocate for his signature idea -- Guaranteed Annual Income for Canadians -- and use the Senate of Canada as his pulpit.

I grew up in Ethiopia at a time when Canada played a profound role in helping curb a massive famine disaster in the East African nation, saving many lives. I know what Canadian leadership looked like from a distance. Canada was liked, respected and was seen as an exemplary country. Not anymore.

As we deny basic health care to vulnerable people at home; wedge foolish cultural warfare in Quebec; link aid exclusively with Canadian mining company interests abroad; become cheerleaders in the Middle East rather than peacemakers; speak out (sadly) against international institutions like the United Nations without clear alternatives; sell arms to rogue states; look away when the human rights of Canadians are compromised; and allow Germany to take Canada's leadership role in the Syrian refugee crises -- it is no wonder that the world is asking what ever happened to Canada.

The Harper government seems to misunderstand that the role of government is not to help create billionaires and millionaires, but to help strengthen society to be more open, fair and accessible for all. Rich people do not need an advocate in government, but ordinary citizens do.

Stephen Harper has made us a minor player, vulnerable at home and weak in the world. It is unfortunate that his brand is competitive -- even leading -- in the latest polls less than a month from the upcoming federal election. It should not be. There must be something better out there.


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