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Harper’s Audit-the-Enemy Strategy Fulfills Nixon’s Dream

Last week it was revealed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office created an "enemy list" to include in briefing books for newly appointed Cabinet members. 

Pundits were quick to point out that US President Richard Nixon also had such a list of enemies that his office maintained.

However, the enemy list was only a small part of a much larger strategy that Nixon dreamed up and, as history shows, he was never able to fully execute his plan. Unfortunately for the many Canadians on Harper's list, the Prime Minister and his office are now fulfilling Nixon's dream. 

Nixon's list was dubbed the "opponents list" by his political staffers and was part of a larger strategy they called the "Political Enemies Project." This disturbing strategy came to light during the Senate Committee hearings looking into the Watergate scandal that eventually forced President Nixon to resign in disgrace in August, 1974.

But the comparison between the Harper and Nixon lists goes much further than this enemy list business. In fact, the strategies being employed by Harper against his opponents are virtually indistinguishable from Nixon's. Harper is fully executing Nixon's strategy – but with greater success.

Nixon's "Political Enemies Strategy" was to create a list of political opponents and people unfriendly to his administration and then go after those people and organizations via tax audits by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Nixon and his staffers knew that an audit by the IRS has the power to bring an organization to its knees. Audits take up massive amounts of staff time, and expensive lawyers and accountants usually have to be hired to meet all the requests of the auditors.

An overview of the strategy is contained in a memo between two Nixon White House staffers:

"This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."

The enemy list was handed over to the IRS by the White House, but luckily for those on the list, the head commissioner refused to cooperate with the Nixon enemy plan.

Nixon's presidency would go down as one of the lowest points in US political history, and it would have been even lower if Nixon was able to fully execute his audit-the-enemy strategy.

Flash forward to Canada today. Not only do we now know that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office maintains a political enemy list, we also saw an extra $8 million dollars in new funding directed to Revenue Canada last year "to audit charities suspected of receiving foreign funding to finance political advocacy beyond the accepted 10% of overall activities allowed under CRA codes."

The audit funds became available after the Harper government named environmental groups and First Nations as 'adversaries' in a campaign to increase exports of tar sands bitumen to Europe and after an open letter from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver characterized prominent environmental groups and citizens as 'foreign funded radicals' and ideological extremists.

Today full-blown audits are being executed against environmental and progressive organizations – the same groups that have been critical of Harper and his government policies. Right-wing, industry friendly groups, like the Fraser Institute, who receive large sums of cash from US sources, have not been the subject of audits by Revenue Canada. 

These Revenue Canada audits have had their intended effect and are bringing groups who oppose Conservative government policies to a screeching halt with endless amounts of paperwork and information requests from Revenue Canada staff. Groups subjected to an audit also experience a chilling effect and are reluctant to speak out aggressively against the government for fear of being audited again.

Almost 40 years after Nixon resigned his presidency, Harper is picking up where the disgraced US president left off.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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