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, July 5, 2015

Harper History, Part 6B – Budget Reintroduced - More Secrecy

May 2011 – summer 2012

The first few months of the Harper majority made it clear that the long forgotten “open and accountable” promise given when first coming to power is exactly the opposite of the regimes actual intentions. There are repeated attempts to put even the most innocuous committee deliberations behind closed doors, inaccurate or out right refusal to release financial information or estimates and massive pieces of legislation tabled covering a multitude of issues with no corrections or amendments permitted.

The Canadian federal budget for the 2011–2012 fiscal year was presented to the Canadian House of Commons by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on March 22, 2011, then reintroduced basically unchanged on June 6 following the May 2 election (precipitated in part by said budget) and recall of the House on June 2nd.
On June 13, "the budget passed by a vote of 167 to 131, with four Bloc Québécois MPs voting in support and the other opposition parties voting against it". Parliament was then recessed for summer on June 24th
This budget included the elimination of the per vote subsidy which had been in effect since 2004, at $1.75 per vote The subsidy was reduced to $1.53 by the Harper government on April 1, 2012, and was reduced on each subsequent April 1, until its elimination in 2015.

Tony 'Gazebo' Clements who misused a $50-million government program that was sold to Parliament as an infrastructure fund to reduce border congestion but instead was used as a treasure chest to pretty up his riding with parks, walkways, gazebos, etc. was made Finance Minister.

Sept 28 2011
The majority of Conservative MPs on the Public Account Committee quashed MP Caron's motion to resurrect 14 studies left unfinished when Parliament fell, they also barred the public from that meeting despite there being nothing confidential being discussed. Seven of the 14 are complete and just need to be tabled in the House of Commons, they include studies into costs related to the renovation of Parliament's West Block, the helicopter procurement deal, and the regulation and supervision of large banks.

One of the main concerns was that the secrecy and difficulty in obtaining information about such items would increase. Given that this oversight committee is charged with studying issues of transparency, of accountability and public expenditures and that they would not table the seven reports already completed indicates that as always they are hiding something in those reports that reflects poorly upon their governance.

Also in September the debate on the 103 page omnibus crime bill was prematurely cut short. It holds nine separate bills, some of which will create major changes to the Canadian justice system and debate was limited to an average of less than six minutes per page!.
It was also revealed that The Harper regime was paying a high-powered management consultant firm almost $90,000 a day for advice on how to save money.

October 2011
The government introduced its 650 page fall budget implementation bill while the entire Finance Committee was still on tour doing pre-budget consultations around the bill up for debate the following day. The Harper Regime also unveiled the Ways and Means Motion and gave the MPs six whole hours to read over all 250 pages said motion before they had to vote on it.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page reported that the just released costing for the 'tough on crime bill' was “total obfuscation.” The Conservatives say their massive new crime bill, which includes nine separate pieces of legislation, will cost $78.5 million over five years, part of bigger justice agenda the government says will cost $2.7 billion.
But Page, who has been asked by the Opposition parties to cost out the bill by mid-November, told The Canadian Press the government estimate includes no methodology, no supporting information and no provincial costs.
In November he reported that the federal government has been unable to spend nearly 90% of funding set aside for green infrastructure projects over the past two years!

In November The Star obtained a copy of a new communications protocol that requires the RCMP to flag anything that might “garner national media attention” to Public Safety Canada. Signed Sept. 20 and effective immediately, the policy says the Mounties must consult and get approval from Public Safety for communications regarding non-operational matters “PRIOR (emphasis in original) to public use” for almost everything.

It was also revealed that thanks to thanks to the The Canadian Press and their persistence if obtaining freedom of information documents we can now specifically say that when Dimitri Soudas, wrote to Canadian newspapers asserting "no directive" went out to civil servants to use the offending phrase “the H*%^&r Government” he was lieing and in fact they were forced to use this rather than the correct “Government of Canada” in their public documents.

The HillTimes: revealed that there are now an estimated 1,500 communications staffers working in ministers’ offices and departments, including 87 in the PMO and PCO. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly clear that their job is to 'communicate' only that information approved by Harper and to deny or refute any information that may reflect badly upon the Harper Regime.
In December the government attempted to move committee business in camera across the board. That means that while witness hearings would still be public, any other committee discussions would be made secret, including any motions that the opposition might make.

In January Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan, was informed by the Prime Minister’s Office, that ForestEthics (a charitable project of Tides Canada), is considered an “Enemy of the Government of Canada,” and an “Enemy of the people of Canada.”. This was perceived as a threat by the Prime Minister’s Office to challenge its charitable work opposing oil sands expansion and construction of oils and tanker/pipeline routes in Canada. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver called both Canadian citizens and environmentalists from outside of Canada concerned about the impacts of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline “Radicals” and said “They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest”.

February 2012
Just a few weeks into the new session two more committees considered motions to hold their meetings “in camera” this effectively bars the press and the public from any information as to the proceeding that take place in those meeting.
“It’s becoming increasingly evident that the Harper Conservatives dislike public accountability,” said Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and Leader of the Green Party.  “They are already limiting debate in the House on a regular basis, and now they intend to make committee business secret.”

Mar 2011
Kevin Page the Parliament's budget watchdog reported that it will cost close to $30 billion to buy and maintain 65 F-35 fighter jets, billions more than 9 billion estimate given by the Conservative government.

On March 29th 2012 the Harper Regieme tabled a 498 page budget document changing over 60 different statutes including major changes to environmental protection laws. Oil pipelines will be exempt from the navigable waters act and the environmental assessments that law has often triggered. Only three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers will be covered by the new act — less than one per cent of Canada's waterways. Green Party leader Elizabeth May called it the Environment Devastation Act

This Omnibus bill remained the main focus of attention throughout the remainder of this sitting and several months into the next with the Harper Regime refusing to split it into manageable sections and rejecting all opposition amendments.

The 425-page omnibus budget implementation bill contained measures not even hinted at in the Conservatives’ 2011 election platform, such as gradually raising the age of eligibility for OAS to 67 from 65, remodelling EI, and reducing oversight at the domestic spy agency.
The sprawling Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act was widely criticized, even a Conservative Backbench MP David Wilks briefly said that parts of the Harper regime omnibus budget bill were wrong and should be thrown out, even at the risk of bringing down the government, before being brought back into line and suddenly saying that he supported the budget all along.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released a legal opinion by a prominent constitutional lawyer that concluded Canada’s top bureaucrat and the deputy ministers of 64 departments are breaching the Parliament of Canada Act by refusing to release information on the proposed spending cuts, including their impact on jobs and service levels to Canadians.”

In June Mr. Scheer, the Speaker of the House, ruled that the 871 amendments proposed by the New Democrats, the Liberals and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will be pared down and that those left standing will be grouped with others that are similar in nature. All such amendments were rejected by the Conservative majority.

Having previously muzzled our Federal Scientists and prevented them from reporting on such things as an “unprecedented” loss of ozone over the Arctic and other matters related to climate change and having shut down the Polar Environment Atmosphere Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Nunavut as well as several other research facilities they now continued with their attack on science. The Experimental Lakes Area, the Kenora-based research facility dedicated to the study of freshwater lake ecologies for 50 years, saw its funding slashed to nil in the outsized omnibus budget bill.

Parliament was recessed for the Summer on June 21 .... and then recalled a week later for a few hours to give royal assent to 9 outstanding government bills.
28th In August when the premiers invited Stephen Harper to their next meeting on the economy in the fall, he rejected the invitation -- again.

Next up, the omnibus budget is passed with no substantial changes, the expenses of some Senators is questioned and the secrecy and disrespect for parliament and the Canadian people continues.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Senate Reform Redux

With a small minority of senators under the spotlight for spending irregularities and the Duffy trial adding a further spotlight on how the unprincipled nominated to that body can cheat the system (such as it is) there are the predictable calls for it to be abolished. NDP leader Thomas Mulclair is one such individual, he has said that if elected he will consult with the Premiers to try and come to an agreement to do so, I call this simply political expediency! He knows full well that it will be almost impossible to obtain the unanimous consent of all provinces plus the majority of the House and the Senate required to abolish this institution. He also says that he has yet to meet anyone who does not support his position on this...... what bloody nonsense! I wish politicians would not lie to make their point, whilst there are no doubt many folks that subscribe to his point of view on this some of us look at it in a somewhat more practical way and want major reform, clearly defined rules, and a non partisan way of selecting senators.

My own particular opposition to the elimination of the senate stems a great deal from the Harper Regime's actions regarding legislation since they have had a majority, whilst we know that they have a majority in both the House and the Senate and thus have basically forced bills through with little debate and no regard for the many thoughtful amendments put forward in both houses the senate has at least added to the discussion and given a little time for “second thought”. Imagine if there were no Senate and a majority government (of any stripe), what then would be the restraint upon an ideological government such as the one we have now from ramming through self serving or clearly anti-Canadian or pro foreign corporation legislation without restriction. It would bring us even closer to a dictatorship than we are now!

Although now that the brown stuff has hit the fan Harper insists that “As you know, the Senate is an independent body and the Senate is responsible for its own expenses. The Senate itself commissioned the Auditor-Generals’ report and the Senate itself is responsible for responding to that report,” we know that currently that is not the case and it is for the most part a highly partisan body not known in recent years for its independent thinking.

YES, the chamber needs reform, the way of selecting members needs to be changed (Harpers choices have clearly demonstrated that) but in my view we DO need a chamber of “sober second thought”, it just that right now we have a chamber of partisan appointees some of whom have no regard for either the taxpayer or the need for the independence of the senate. I have said before on these pages that the best solution (without reopening the can of worms that opening the constitution would involve) is to have the PM voluntarily select Senators from a short list provided by the provinces, it seems that Brian Mulroney agrees with me (or I agree with him, that would be a first!). I all so happen to agree with him that some kind of independent panel / commission needs to review and establish some set rules for the way the Senate operates. As with the Liberal proposal to “create a new, nonpartisan, merit-based, broad, and diverse process to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments” the problem will be of course who appoints the panel and will Parliament and the Senate adopt any rules proposed?

One final word on this, if we were to do away with any government institution that broke the rules, whose members spent public moneys with little or no oversight and who set their own rules as and when they thought fit, then the PMO, the House of Commons and the Conservative caucus in particular would be high on my list. Last year, when Green Party Leader Elizabeth May proposed the AG come look at MPs’ books, Tory MPs vetoed her request however now all parties say they are open to the idea but have yet to actually request said audit!

Its not the Senate (or the House of Commons) thats the problem, its those self righteous appointees that are in it who have no moral compass and who do not understand the word ethical!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Voices for Democracy

Voices-Voix is a non-partisan coalition of Canadians and Canadian organizations committed to defending our collective and individual rights to dissent, advocacy and democratic space. They have documented attacks against organizations, individuals and institutions that have raised their voices, to show the pattern of government silencing those who exercise their right to dissent.
They have a membership of over 200 organizations and “encourage Canadians to raise their voices so that governments meet their core responsibilities to respect the equality, transparency and diversity of voices that make a democracy thrive.''
They recently released a report (1 MB PDF) titled “Dismantling Democracy” which documents in great detail the actions of the Harper Regimes in silencing both those within government and outside of it who have been critical of this regimes policies.

In their opening statement they outline the failure of the Harper Regime to foster the Open and Accountable atmosphere promised when they were first elected that has now become the antitheses of their actions and policies.

Rather than consistently promoting a robust democracy,
Canadian governments have often deployed a range of
methods to limit dissent, public debate and democratic
participation in Canada. But since 2006 there has been
an unprecedented intensification of the use of these
silencing tactics, particularly by the federal government.
Deliberate funding cuts have affected the public and
charitable sectors; audits are targeting organizations
critical of the government; parliamentary processes
are being abused to undermine accountability, and
critics of the government are being harassed and
vilified. All aspects of Canadian democracy are being
targeted, including the institutions and processes
of parliamentary democracy; the development and
dissemination of knowledge; the voices of marginalized
communities, and respect for human rights.

An inclusive and robust democracy requires that
governments foster rights to free expression, free
association, peaceful assembly and equality. To thrive,
civil society must be adequately resourced, able to operate
free from interference, and free to engage meaningfully
with government. By failing to promote an enabling
environment or foster the human rights that are critical
to democracy, the government denies Canadians the
dynamic, innovative society they aspire to build.

The introduction to the Undermining Democracy section clearly spells out their concerns (and mine) with the many and ongoing actions by the Harper Regime that diminish and threaten to destroy our democracy.

Dissenting and diverse voices within the public sector are being silenced. Parliamentary processes are being misused and abused. Omnibus budget bills are introducing sweeping changes to federal legislation, curtailing political debate. Parliamentarians and civil servants are being vilified or fired for publicly disagreeing with government policy.
Independent advice from the public service is being ignored or eliminated. Oversight
mechanisms are being undermined through government control and interference.

Compounding these failures in Canadian governance is the federal government’s attack on knowledge. Independent research institutions, government research programs, and libraries and archives have been systematically defunded. The brunt of these cuts are borne by departments, programs, or projects seen as inconsistent with government policy. Public sector scientists and researchers are being prevented from speaking publicly, and non-government organizations working to promote knowledge are seeing their funding cut and their records audited. Curtailing knowledge jeopardizes the government’s ability to consider options and alternatives and develop sound, evidence based policy that responds to the public’s various needs.

Marginalized communities have been especially penalized in the government’s zeal to

silence dissent. Funding for organizations working to protect and advance the rights
of all Canadians is increasingly under threat, and audits have been used to intimidate
and muzzle the charitable sector. This has affected organizations providing services for and conducting advocacy on behalf of women, Indigenous peoples, veterans, and the economically marginalized, making it harder for them to organize effectively, express their concerns, and hold government to account.

The federal government has invoked national security, foreign policy and ‘border
protection’ to silence accountability and limit transparency for its own human rights
infringements, eroding the ability of everyone to participate equally in democracy.
The impact of these tactics is devastating for debate, dissent, diversity and ultimately,
Canada’s democracy.”

23 case studies of instances of silencing the public sector where individuals or departments have been “Fired, forced removal or not re-appointed” or subject to “Funding cuts and restrictive internal policies “ are linked to in the report and are available on their web site. All information is fully supported with references to source material. There is far to much information contained in this report to even summarize here and it is a long read but I encourage all those who want to see a documented outline of what the Harper Regime has and continues to do to our democracy and in particular to those non profit and charitable organizations who speak out against such action to take the time to read it.