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Doctor describes Harper government "pathology" at Kelowna JRP

Dr. Warren Bell is one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, a family doctor with a background in psychology.  Dr. Bell spoke yesterday before the Kelowna Joint Review Panel hearings on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, outlining "four diseased elements" that put the proposed Enbridge pipeline in context and condemning as dangerous Prime Minister Stephen Harper's concentration of power.   

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Political power in the Canadian system is profoundly more centralized than it is in Britain, and far more than it is in the United States, with its system of "checks and balances". 

Frankly, if Stephen Harper doesn’t like your report, he can, and by every indication he will, shelve it.

This concentration of power in one element of Canada’s political structure, for whatever murky historical reason, is an invitation to social disaster. The illusion of “efficiency” in political decision-making is subverted by the opportunity for hard-line autocracy.

In the 21st century, when my patients are being encouraged to take increasing responsibility for their lives, such a concentration of power is anachronistic and backward. 

The final element in Canada’s structural pathology is the expansion of the influence of the “corporation”, a business model that uncouples personal responsibility from profit, and places dollar gains above all others.

It is significant that as I sit talking to you here the Enbridge consortium is applying to expand its Kitimat terminal from 11 to 16 oil tanks. What clearer demonstration of absolute confidence in an eventual approval could there possibly be? 

Taken together – 1) the relentless marginalization of First Nations, with their intimate connection to the ecosystem, 2) the electoral system, which readily generates non-representative governments, 3) the huge concentration of political power in the Prime Minister’s office and 4) the rise of corporate influence – these elements create the pathological state that leads directly to us being here today.

The planet is overcrowded, heating up, and steadily depleted of its natural capital. But now we have a Prime Minister who is forcefully using the overwhelming dominance afforded his office, to try and reshape this country to his dated views.

Stephen Harper, according to recorded evidence, has longed to be able to exercise such intense power, and identifies with doing so now (several years ago he formally changed the phrase “federal government” to “the government of Stephen Harper”).

His own religious background suggests reasons for his overall orientation, but his willingness to mask his own renowned intensity behind a rigidly bland “persona” is a truer indication of his deep commitment to power. 

This approach to governance, exercised by a Prime Minister and government elected by a minority of Canadians, has deepened the already strong alliance between the corporate sector and the government. The former, fixated on immediate- and short-term financial profitability, is drawn to the latter, intent on maintaining its ascendancy, and vice versa.

 The result, in a situation like the one we are addressing today, is growing social pathology. Frustration, anger, cynicism, depression and distrust of leadership are on the ascendancy, as noted in the Edelman Trust Barometer, released just before the World Economic Forum in Davos. 

A patient of mine in his mid-twenties came to my office recently to say that he was deeply depressed and anxious, not about his love life, or his financial situation, but about the overheated, depleted future he was heading towards. He felt that the government in this country was acting now to make it worse for him and his young children later.

So what is the cure for this disease?

It is four-fold, in my opinion.

First, we must, as a nation, work out a respectful, mutually satisfactory relationship with Canada’s First Peoples – not destroy their culture by stealth.

Second, we must reform the electoral system to make it radically more representative.

Third, we must alter the power balance in the federal governance system so that one person cannot pre-empt democratic processes as Stephen Harper is now doing.

And fourth, we must rein in the overwhelming power and influence of the corporate sector.

Until we do these four things, our country is vulnerable to political, social and ecological upheaval that will retard our development as a nation, and likely offer ruin to the lives of future generations.

 And it’s going to make my personal and professional life more difficult, as I minister to the anxiety and physical suffering of particularly the young people in my community.

I therefore personally pledge my energies and experience – here, today – to bringing about these changes, by whatever means possible.

I hope you will too.

And I also hope you will reject this flawed and destructive project, the inevitable result of such a flawed and destructive – and pathological – process.

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