A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Too Much Money?

With much speculation (Harper, will meet with Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada, Sunday at 9:55 a.m., according to a statement released late Saturday by the prime minister’s office.) that today is the day that Harper will go to the GG and dissolve parliament thus resulting in a record 11 week election period (or not) here is a quick review of the inordinate amount of money that will be spent during that time. No attempt has been made to estimate the millions spent by the Harper regime in recent months assassinating one particular opposition leader or how much of our money was spent promoting their various taxable bribes for families with children and other self promotion on our dime.

With longer campaign possible taxpayers could be on the hook for more than ususal since they subsidize the donations that fuel campaigns and then subsidize parties and their candidates again for spending that money during a campaign.

Most of the money parties and candidates will be throwing around during the campaign comes from donations, which are worth a generous tax credit of 75 per cent on the first $400, 50 per cent on the next $350 and 33.3 per cent on the next $500.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates those tax credits are worth somewhere between $16 million and $36 million per year in foregone revenue.
Each party running a full slate of candidates is entitled to spend a maximum of about $25 million for a five-week campaign; each candidate an average of about $100,000.
But, under the recently passed Fair Elections Act, those spending limits will increase by 1/37 for each day a campaign exceeds 37 days. That’s an extra $675,000 per day for each party’s national campaign, an additional $2,700 per day for their candidates.
A campaign that is double the minimum length would effectively double the spending limits and, theoretically, double the amount of money parties and candidates stand to be reimbursed, at up to 50 per cent for parties and up to 60 per cent for candidates, — by taxpayers — when it’s all over.
The rebates handed out to parties and candidates after the five-week election campaign in 2011 were estimated by Elections Canada to be over $60 million, presuming most of their funding came from individual donations a further $60 million or so in tax deductions would also be available to those individuals. With an extended election period the various rebates, tax deductions and extra administrative costs of longer office leases for returning offices, staff and equipment, estimated at $375 million for a 37day campaign, could easily approach $100 million.
A third party can spend a total of $205,800 across Canada during a 37-day campaign, and no more than $4,116 in any riding, this total however would increase by a little over $5500 per day for a longer election period. A number of rules as to what and who falls into this category exist.

Then there is this courtesy of Montreal Simon

Many, if not most, of these cheques will go towards community projects that desperately need some federal funding, some of which have been waiting for years for funding, its not the expenditure thats the problem its the timing! This ploy to buy votes is so obvious and blatant that no one should fall for it, but many will actually believe that line “well now we have balanced the budget we can afford it” line, this despite the PBO assertion that that we are in fact in the hole still and that the economy is tanking!

As I have said here before I am coming to the conclusion that the limits on party and candidate spending, contributors tax deductions, and party and candidate reimbursement, should all be further restricted not increased as was brought in by that “Fair” Elections Act. If we are to have “Fair” elections the impact that “big money” has upon what the electorate hears about a particular party or candidate must be restricted and the ability of parties or candidates with less access to large war chests, such as those with support in less affluent riding’s, to put their platform before the public must be enhanced.

There are ways that they can put their ideas and platforms before the general public across the country without any cost to the public purse or their own coffers – one such is called 'debates' and although many will have limited circulation there WAS one that was available across the country. Now it seems that Mulclair has joined Harper in laying down 'conditions' tor any debates that he participates in that will kill the TV Consortium’s proposed October debate and further sideline the only Leader whom they all seem scared to debate. How can any leader who supports democracy (we know Harper does not, but Mulclair purports to) agree to debates that do not include ALL party leaders who have a seat in The House and support in every province.

Unfortunately little can be done to restrict advertising by individuals, groups or parties outside the election period, in a democracy folks are free to express their opinion and spend their money how they wish, but I sure want MUCH stronger, enforceable, rules upon government self promotion advertising and an independent body to vet such advertising BEFORE it hits the airwaves. Well I guy can dream cant he?

Sadly there is a real danger that the guys who spend the most money on attack Ads, self promotion and spreading lies and innuendo will be the ones to buy the most votes, would but that were not true but far too many folks are easily fooled.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Harper History, Part 7 – Suppressed Information – Advertising Overload

In reviewing the events for this period I was struck by how important is is to look back at the undemocratic and secretive actions of the Harper regime, even I, who has written frequently and consistently on this subject had forgotten so many of the things done to diminish our governance. This just 2 or 3 years ago, and remember what they do is a much better measure of their ideology than what they say!.
The amount of effort being put into suppressing information and controlling the message continued to increase substantially as the Harper regime consolidated their centralization of power within the PMO to the point where even some of their own MPs complained about not being permitted to speak in the House! The independent PBO position was eventually rolled into the mandate of the Parliamentary Library, the Inspector Generals position was eliminated, the environmental commissioner resigned early in frustration, and the RCMP were told they could not speak to our MPs without permission!

Here then are a FEW of the hits democracy took in 2012 / 13 under the Harper Regime........

Rights and Democracy, chartered by Parliament in 1988 to promote human rights and democratic development worldwide, was eliminated in 2012 In a statement in April, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird indicated the ailing group was among the casualties of government efforts to “find efficiencies and savings.” Legislation, he said, would be introduced in the “near future” to disband the organization and its functions would be absorbed by his department.

In July 2012 an estimated 2000 scientists gathered on Parliment hill to protest their indignation over the ongoing severe and targeted cutbacks on government research programs and new rules limiting the ability of government scientists to talk to journalists.
As part of their ongoing advertising blitz under the banner of Canada's Economic Action Plan was the Harper government's Canada Job Grant program which at the time did not exist and had not passed in the legislature. About $2.5 million was spent to do so on hockey night in Canada for a total of over $14 million on this false advertising.
Arising from the April budget the Inspector Generals Office wae eliminated officials noted that, despite its anemic resources — a paltry $1 million budget and a staff of eight — the IG’s office played a key role in making sure the government didn’t get blindsided by CSIS. The inspector general's key function was to produce an annual certificate stating whether CSIS had strayed outside the law, contravened ministerial direction or exercised its powers unreasonably. In her final certificate, Plunkett found CSIS continued to flout policy and made a serious number of reporting errors.

By October the Harper regime had signed the 'trade agreement' with China without ANY consultation with, or indeed information being revealed to, either parliament or the Canadian Citizens. ... it will operate the same way Chapter 11 of NAFTA works (which will) allow corporations to claim damages against Canada if any level of Canadian government (municipal, provincial or federal) causes them to experience less profit than had been anticipated.“
While Finance officials refused to disclose the budget for the current “action plan” a Treasury Board document shows that cabinet approved $16 million in “economic action plan” advertising in the first quarter of this year alone. A further $18 million was approved for other misleading advertising as well as $4.5 million for War of 1812 advertising. In all, the federal cabinet had already approved more than $64 million in ad spending for 2012-13

They then tabled yet another omnibus budget implementation bill. This one tipped the scales at 443 pages and contained a number of measures not included in the budget document presented in the spring including gutting protections contained in the Navigable Waters Protection Act and weakening the Canada Labour Code. Despite protracted objections from Canadians and the opposition the bill passed with few if any amendments and modified or abolished over 70 desperate pieces of legislation

As part of the Harper Regimes series of initiatives to cut support to charities and voluntary organizations programs were eliminated, funding was reduced or delayed and third-party research support was eradicated. The 2012 budget gave the Canada Revenue Agency $8 million, later topped up to $13.4 million, to conduct 60 political activity audits of charities, these audits appeared to target those charities that who may have been critical of the regimes policies.

December 2012:
After Auditor General Michael Ferguson found “inadequate documentation” of senators expense claims questions are raised about Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy declared primary residence in P.E.I., since he is claiming living expenses for staying in his longtime Ottawa-area home and Nigel Wright, the prime minister's chief of staff, apparently saying it appeared that Duffy's residence expenses complied with the rules. Three years later this issue is before the courts with Duffy and several other Senators suspended.
Jan 2013
The Department of Justice was laid bare in open court when senior lawyer Edgar Schmidt said he and his colleagues have been receiving “illegal” instructions regarding conflict of legislation with the Charter, with government lawyers being told to not raise concerns with the minister .… even if the probability of inconsistency is 95 per cent or more..........

The Liberals elected Justin Trudeau as their leader in late January and the Conservatives promptly launched a series of personal attack TV ads which then continued almost unabated over the ensuing 2 years till the election. Millions have been spent assassinating the leader whilst saying little about policy.

The federal government officially closed a Vancouver coast guard base that's considered to be the busiest in Canada along with the shuttering of three other B.C. coast guard communication centres as part of the government’s deep budget cuts , the Kitsilano Canadian Coast Guard Station no longer offers search-and-rescue services. Meanwhile opening The Office of Religious Freedom seemed to be much more important!
Having failed to seek a replacement for Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, whose contract the did not renew they then defeated an NDP to extend his mandateuntil a competent replacement is found. He was eventualy replaced as the by the Parliamentary Librarian 'temporarily' whilst a 'process' takes place to perhaps replace him. However in a continueing effort to control any real information getting out we learn that Librarian staff have been silenced.
Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in “high risk” activities, according to the new code of conduct at Library and Archives Canada. Given the dangers, the code says the department’s staff must clear such “personal” activities with their managers in advance to ensure there are no conflicts or “other risks to LAC.”

The environmental commissioner resigned two years before the end of his mandate and just before leaving points out some major 'gaps' in in the environmental policies of the Conservative government.

A Conservative MP became the first MP in more than a decade to raise a point of privilege against his own government in questioning why he was denied an opportunity to speak by his own party whip during question period. The Government Whip Gordon O'Connor response that was the most revealing. He told House Speaker Andrew Scheer that such matters (deciding who may speak to the house) are the exclusive purview of the parties, and, as such, firmly outside the Speakers jurisdiction.

Canada's Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, would not allow the public posting of a final report by the now-defunct National Roundtable on Energy and Environment (NRTEE), a 25-year old government funded project that brought together Canada's brightest minds to work on the convergence of environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. He also prevented NRTEE materials from being transferred to a University of Ottawa think-tank, Sustainable Prosperity, where they will be made publicly available.
Minister Kent wrote:
“…the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) will upload no further content to its external website, as of the date on which this direction is signed.”
In April 2013 upon leaving as PBO Kevin Page said:-

I took the job when it was agreed that a few amazing and fearless public servants would join — namely, Mostafa Askari and Sahir Khan. We signed in proverbial blood. We vowed to give Canada a true legislative budget office. Nothing less. I chose career suicide. It was a very small price to pay. After all, I had lost a son; I was “out of range.”

Our institutions of accountability are in trouble. Parliament does not get the information and analysis it needs to hold the executive (the prime minister and cabinet) to account.”
What’s in it for the government to have a strong legislative budget office? Not much. What’s in it for Parliament and Canadians to have a strong budget office? Maybe a great deal. If it matters to you, please tell your elected representatives.”

Members of the public wishing to comment to the NEB about the proposed East-West Pipeline are told they must first apply for permission to participate. Under the new rules, included in last springs omnibus budget any resident who wants to send in a letter about their concerns must first apply to the NEB for permission and fill out a 10-page form which asks for a resume and references.
Finally in this litany of information suppression we have the emails sent out to RCMP officials, telling them they need to get approval from the commissioner or the public safety minister’s office before talking to politicians. In response to a question in the House Candice Bergen (MP, Portage-Lisgar) said:-.
If parliamentarians need to or want to meet with RCMP or other officials, the appropriate place for them to do that is in Parliamentary committees. If that member has a concern about any RCMP member, they can speak with myself or the minister of public safety,”

And in May, in a clear and bold statement, Judge Richard Mosley wrote of the robocall fiasco : "I find that electoral fraud occurred during the 41st General Election.". However no results were overturned and to date only one campaign worker has been charged in what was obviously a much wider scam.

Next up:- More spent of “Action Plan” advertising, Parliament Prorogued again and another Omnibus Budget.

Please Note
Parts 1 to 5 are now available as one long document (19 pages - 7900 words) in chronological order and may be viewed, shared and downloaded on Google Docs. Due to the large number of embedded links I recommend you import it as a Docx, ODF Doc or HTML so that you may follow the references if you wish for more information on a particular issue.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Will the Writ be Dropped Early?

Most elections have been fought over the now-typical five-week period, but the 36 day writ period is merely a convention and we all know how much respect Harper has for parliamentary convention. Rumours are surfacing that “The Conservatives are said to have a cunning plan to extend the campaign this time around for their own partisan advantage.”
The typical 36-day campaign (commencing Sept 13th) would limit the amount parties are able to spend to about $24-million, this would increase to around $45-million if the writ were dropped on Aug 9th or $40 million if the PM visits the governor general on Aug 20th.

The maximum amount that is allowed for election expenses of a registered party for an election is the product of $0.735 multiplied by the number of names on the preliminary lists of electors for electoral districts in which the registered party has endorsed a candidate
However “If an election period is longer than 37 days, then the maximum amount......is increased by adding to it the product of one thirty-seventh of the maximum amount...(from above).... and the number of days in the election period minus 37.” (In other words increased in direct proportion to the number of days in the election period)

Whilst the electioneering and advertising has already started and has been for some time once the writ is dropped several things change. Firstly registered political parties are subject to the above spending rules however they will also get reimbursed from the public purse for 50% of said expenses subject to certain restrictions.

The Chief Electoral Officer shall provide the Receiver General with a certificate that sets out the amount that is 50% of the registered party’s election expenses that were paid by its registered agents as set out in the return for its general election expenses if........ candidates endorsed by the registered party received at least 2% of the number of valid votes cast at the election, or 5% of the number of valid votes cast in the electoral districts in which the registered party endorsed a candidate.”
On receipt of the certificate, the Receiver General shall reimburse the amount set out in it to the registered party by paying that amount out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.”

Secondly the expenditures by third partys upon advertising for or against any particular Party or Candidate is severely restricted.

A third party shall not incur election advertising expenses of a total amount of more than $150,000 in relation to a general election.”
Not more than $3,000 of the total amount referred to in subsection (1) shall be incurred to promote or oppose the election of one or more candidates in a given electoral district,......( This )“only applies to an amount incurred with respect to a leader of a registered party or eligible party to the extent that it is incurred to promote or oppose his or her election in a given electoral district.”

There is however no restriction upon the Government running “infomercials” promoting existing programs however “partisan” advertising on the public dime is not permitted at any time, and we know how much notice the Harper Regime has taken of that rule don’t we! There is however a restriction as to who can contribute to a campaign.
No person or entity other than an individual who is a Canadian citizen or is a permanent resident...... shall make a contribution to a registered party, a registered association, a nomination contestant, a candidate or a leadership contestant.
Not that such rules have stopped corporations or conservative candidates from ignoring such impediments in previous elections!

Given that the Conservatives reportedly have considerably more in their war chest than any other party there is clearly an advantage for them to extend the “election period” to increase their ability to spend more than the opposition on advertising (and get 50% of it back) and to limit advertising by groups that oppose this dictatorial and antidemocratic regime. I believe that the writ WILL be dropped early and that the Harper Regeme will spend every penny that they can get away with, of both their funds and ours, to demonize the opposition and spread their spin in an effort to retain power.

Personally I find the advertising limits far to high across the board particularly when much of the expenditure is spent simply slamming the other guy rather than presenting their “platform” and intentions if elected. This, and the elimination of the per vote subsidy clearly tilts the playing field towards established partys and more particularly the party currently in power. With Harpers ministers busy out buying the vote with announcements of infrastructure funding from funds that miraculously have suddenly become available just before the election, bribing families with backdated child benefits and spending millions of our money on self promotion and millions from their war chest on assassinating opposition leaders it is far from a equal opportunity election.

If you doubt that money talks simply count the number of anti Trudeau ads during your evening TV viewing and figure out the cost of each of those ads..... if you can stomach seeing that much BS in one viewing!