Enemy’ Lists, Tax Audits, and Acceptable Government Actions


I was reminded recently by a reader of Richard Nixon’s “Ene­mies List” that freaked out a gen­er­a­tion of US cit­i­zens who expected their politi­cians to play by the rules. The list came to light when John Dean, the for­mer White House Coun­sel for Nixon, tes­ti­fied before the Sen­ate Water­gate Committee.

The orig­i­nal list had 20 names, includ­ing actor Paul New­man, but was later expanded to hun­dreds on a “mas­ter list.” The orig­i­nal list had lead­ers of non-profit orga­ni­za­tions and unions, human rights sup­port­ers, mem­bers of the media, and oppo­si­tion politi­cians and their mon­eyed supporters.

Here’s how Dean explained the list to the committee:

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.

Wikipedia notes that the com­mis­sioner in charge of tax­a­tion, refused to audit the peo­ple on the list.

The reader’s note reminded me of a cou­ple of news reports from 2013 about the “enemy” list given new cab­i­net min­is­ters in the cur­rent fed­eral gov­ern­ment. A senior PMO staffer directed staffers about what to include in tran­si­tion book­lets given to new min­is­ters. Items include: “Who to engage or avoid: friend and enemy stake­hold­ers” and “Who to avoid: bureau­crats that can’t take no (or yes) for an answer.” The gov­ern­ment later con­firmed that the Prime Minister’s Office had pre­vi­ously sent an email to Con­ser­v­a­tive min­is­te­r­ial aids ask­ing for “enemy” lists.

Crit­ics, includ­ing 200 public-interest and aid orga­ni­za­tions for­mally asked Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper to reveal who was con­sid­ered an “enemy” on the list.

The National Post reported for­mer Envi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Peter Kent’s con­cerns with the “juve­nile” lan­guage of the lists and its obvi­ous res­o­nance with the Nixon list.

Inter­est­ingly, the National Post piece also quoted resigned Con­ser­v­a­tive MP Brent Rathge­ber, who found the lan­guage “very, very trou­bling. We can have respect­ful dis­cus­sions and dis­agree with each other with­out resort­ing to name-calling or vil­i­fi­ca­tion by refer­ring to some­body as an ‘enemy.’”

And the Post quoted Coun­cil of Cana­di­ans exec­u­tive direc­tor Garry Neil:

They don’t view us as cit­i­zens with strongly held opin­ions that come from places of prin­ci­ple. They view us as eco-terrorists. They see us stand­ing with the child pornog­ra­phers. I mean that’s the way they view politics.

Neil expected the Coun­cil to be on an ene­mies list because of its vocal crit­i­cism of pub­lic poli­cies pur­sued by the government.

Now, I’m not sug­gest­ing a direct com­par­i­son between Stephen Harper and his PMO on the one hand and the deeply para­noid psy­chosis that gripped Richard Nixon and his inner circle.

But my research did find that the gov­ern­ment is abus­ing its author­ity and oper­at­ing out­side of tra­di­tional Cana­dian polit­i­cal bound­aries. It is doing so by using admin­is­tra­tive bod­ies, in par­tic­u­lar Canada Rev­enue Agency, to muf­fle and dis­tract its crit­ics in the form of char­i­ties that have dif­fer­ent pub­lic pol­icy pref­er­ences to those of the cab­i­net. This politi­ciza­tion of the bureau­cracy is a cor­rup­tion of Cana­dian democracy.

It may not be Water­gate, but it’s beyond tra­di­tional bound­aries of accept­able polit­i­cal behav­iour. I won­der if it passes the “smell test” among citizens.

Mean­while, please check out my Master’s the­sis and feel free to for­ward and tweet it. And you can fol­low me on Twit­ter: @garethkirkby


I am a for­mer jour­nal­ist and media man­ager who recently com­pleted my Master’s the­sis for Royal Roads Uni­ver­sity and now work as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sional. I have earned a Web­ster Award of Dis­tinc­tion, among other awards, for my reporting.

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