Robyn Benson, PSAC

The Con of Silence





To Stephen Harper, silence is golden.

In my last post I noted a recent memo from a higher-up at the Department of Justice, trying to intimidate public service workers who want to get involved in the current election campaign. Now a member of our sister union PIPSC is in hot water. For what? Singing a song.

No, this isn’t satire. Tony Turner is a well-known member of the Ottawa folk scene. He’s perhaps best known for the often-performed “Circle of Song,” but he wrote another song more recently—watch the video, above—called “Harperman.”

Most people probably didn’t know that Tony was a federal public service worker—a scientist at Environment Canada, nearing retirement—but they sure do now. And that’s thanks to his bosses, who saw his song “Harperman” on YouTube and literally made a federal case out of it.

Tony has never identified himself as a public employee while on the folk circuit. But he’s been sent home, suspended, while his department “investigates” him for an alleged breach of the public service Values and Ethics Code. His work in habitat planning at Environment Canada has somehow been compromised by his singing.

But Tony isn’t alone. Parks employees in Banff have been forbidden to speak about the wolves that have been wandering into town, bears on the railway lines, and successful rescue operations. And all of these matters are routine, operational aspects of their jobs. Wolves on the main street, furthermore, might be considered a matter of public safety. But even this news had to go through channels, and the public found out only a week after the incident.

Then there are the Conservative candidates themselves, obediently droning identical talking points. They’ve evidently been told to stay out of sight: one candidate, if you can believe it, said he would only give interviews after the election. The mayor of Ottawa discovered that local Conservative candidates were—all nine of them—unable to meet with him to discuss Ottawa issues. Mayor Watson tweeted about that—and only then did Minister of Employment and Social Development Pierre Poilievre promise upcoming meetings.

The Harper muzzle is by now well-known—free scientific discussion has been shut down under his rule, for example. Artists and novelists have been hounded. But the situation has now become almost comical, in an unfunny way.

We’re in the midst of a federal election campaign. Harper’s own candidates are slinking around in the shadows. A folk artist is suspended by his federal government department for exercising his political rights in song. Parks employees are forbidden to warn the public about wild animals.

October 19 is the day we can vote to put an end to these loopy goings-on. A pity we have to wait that long.


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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on August 31, 2015 8:00 AM.

We shall not be zipped was the previous entry in this blog.

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