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, April 21, 2019

Lies & Spin (repost)

In a political landscape where lies and spin is the norm we must thank and support those individuals who do not fall prey to this insidious trend, and condemn and publicly identify those who do.”
The above quote from the following 2010 article is just as relevant today as it was then, perhaps more so and applies to ALL levels of government!

Here is James Travers this week on the ever decreasing “truth” of information coming from our politicians of all stripes:-
It’s a revealing quirk that the word that best describes how politics is practiced here is banned from Parliament. The words is “lie” and in any other place it would be firmly fixed to everything from the flimsy justification for gutting the census to the bogus boast that the country is tracking towards balanced budgets.
Let’s be perfectly honest: Sometime before the Millennium, “spin” crept into the political vernacular as an elastic substitute for “truth”. Old promises were recycled as new, brush was furiously dragged across the money trail and governments flying both red and blue colours found ever more inventive ways to frustrate the public’s right to know.
Since then little lies have grown into the Big Lie. This fall alone Conservatives have been exposed here for grossly inflating wispy resistance to the mandatory long-form census and caught out at the United Nations for making the imaginative declaration that Canada is back up front on the world stage.”

The article continues to say that its not just the Conservatives “spinning” the truth but that the opposition is party to this troubling trend in our nations capital. Indeed the term “Honest Politician” is rapidly becoming an oxymoron, and that’s a shame and a disservice to the few MPs who truly do try to be honest, open and accountable.
This week we also had another indication that fact and information must not get in the way of spin and lies. Those civil servants that attempt to make public their concerns on such matters were supposed to have at least a little protection against political pressure to dismiss or demote them should they point out some wrongdoing or misinformation by the government of the day. To that end a Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was appointed some 2 or 3 years ago to listen to, and rule upon complaints by the civil service regarding such matters, but now it would seem that even within this office something very fishy is going on.

The country’s public sector integrity commissioner has retired from her post just as the federal auditor general has launched her probe into the commissioner’s office amid operational complaints.
Christiane Ouimet, the federal whistleblower watchdog who hasn’t produced any recommendations or found any wrongdoing in her three years on the job, announced Wednesday she is “retiring” four years before her term is set to expire. “
Ouimet's job was to protect public service whistleblowers, and investigate complaints of wrongdoing. But she found no evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever in any of the 170 complaints her office handled since Stephen Harper appointed her in 2007. It was all "nothing to see here, move along" from the get-go. Guess who one of the complainants was? Sean Bruyea. Name ring a bell?

Ouimet was also, it seems, a rare pleasure to work for. In one twelve-month period, 18 of her office's 22 employees left. (tip o the hat to Dr Dawg on that one)
It seems that there were in fact thousands of complaints but only 170 were elevated to the status of “official” complaints and of those only a handful made it much further through the process and as was pointed out above NONE were found to have any merit. I find that VERY hard to believe, between that and all the staff quitting it is clear that the civil servant actually had NO protection and I am sure word spread quickly and had a chilling effect upon those individuals on OUR payroll who wished to point out a problem in government.

We must be very grateful that we have a strong Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, who, it would seem, is determined to do her job in an ethical, open and timely manner. Sort of reminds one of Kevin Page over at the Parliamentary Budget Office doesn’t it. I wonder how long it will be before her budget gets cut and she has difficulty obtaining information necessary to do her job?

In a political landscape where lies and spin is the norm we must thank and support those individuals who do not fall prey to this insidious trend, and condemn and publicly identify those who do.

Talking of Lies here is one of the most blatant as pointed out by our friend Impolitical:-
This from John Baird
“Mr. Speaker, this government, when it comes to administrating the public's business, always acts with great, high ethical standards, openness, transparency and fairness. Those are all the principles. When it comes to standing up for Canada, this government has no price. We will always do what is right for this great country.”

If you believe that, please contact me regarding some ocean view property I have for sale in Saskatchewan........

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Threats to Democracy (repost)

“An obstacle to democracy is that the value of its name often exceeds the principles of its practice.”

From an old speech by former MP David Kilgore - In his speech, of which this is but a few small extracts, he was talking about democracy across the world but it is applicable to our own democracy, particularly given recent events.

In 1947, Winston Churchill said: "Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect... Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Churchill’s words were prophetic.

Democracy is a difficult and necessarily arduous process. It is about citizens and states organizing through an institutional core in a common effort for societal betterment and justice. We democrats know that our system is not easy; nor has it been perfected. But it is in this very difficulty and imperfection that the strengths of democracy are present. It is in our struggle to maintain the democratic systems some have enjoyed for hundreds of years; it is in our fight to consolidate flourishing new democracies. Indeed in gatherings such as this one the richness and strengths of the democratic process are evident………..

Threats to Democracy
If there is one overriding truth about democracy, it is that it is precious but vulnerable. The twentieth century shows that the enemies of democracy are as numerous as they are threatening. Over the course of my 21 years as a parliamentarian and through travels as Canada’s Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, I have witnessed many threats to democracy. While many are obvious, the most dangerous are subtle. It is not empty stomachs, impunity or corruption alone that necessarily jeopardize democracy; it is their accumulated effects. The greatest threat to democracy does not always come from the barrel of a gun, but from the collected effects of poverty, apathy, and economic insecurity.

Another obstacle to democracy is that the value of its name often exceeds the principles of its practice. The past century demonstrated that the banner of democracy was used to sustain just about any system. Democracy does not include oppression, corruption, division, segregation, terror and murder. A genuinely democratic nation thrives on diversity and difference, through which it builds on its collective wisdom and strengths. We must now forge a new trail in the twenty-first century where the merits of democracy are not in its name alone, but in its non-negotiable, irrefutable truths……………..

Rule of Law
Fundamental to a healthy democracy is a strong judiciary. Alexander Hamilton noted that there could be no liberty if the power of the judiciary is not separated from the legislative and executive branches of government. In some cases, the tyranny of legislatures was considered to be the most formidable impediment to the proper development and functioning of constitutional democracy.

In Canada we feel that an independent judiciary, with real power to review acts passed by legislators, is a safeguard against potential harms that may be caused to the rights of individuals. The rule of law and independent judiciaries, consistent with international human rights standards, are not present in all democracies. Judges are dismissed in some jurisdictions if they do not pass judgments that are acceptable to the government, and more obsequious replacements are found. There may be threats of violence against judges in order to persuade them to act in accordance to the will of a dictator. Under these conditions, there can be no impartiality as judges must choose between their own personal safety and the rights of an individual or a group of individuals. This is an extreme example; but more subtle means are deployed by regimes that seek to project an image of a constitutional democracy, and yet rule as a dictatorship of the legislature or executive.

Striking an appropriate balance between majority rule and protection of individual and minorities’ rights is one of democracy’s most enduring challenges. John Locke expressed the notion of inalienable rights in a society: those rights which are so fundamental to the well being and happiness of an individual that a state has very limited rights to infringe upon them. In more modern times these inalienable rights have taken the title of fundamental rights or human rights in the perspective of international law. One needs only to look at a newspaper to find instances where individual and group rights are being infringed.

Democracy’s reliance on a vigorous judiciary makes it possible for minorities and marginalized groups within a state to live peacefully as full members of society. Such groups are no less entitled to live a happy and fulfilling life than those of us who had been lucky enough to be born into freedom. All nations give their judges and lawyers the authority to ensure justice for all, even in the face of mob anger and prejudice.

Canada, Multilateralism and Democracy
What has Canada learned from its experiences in the Commonwealth, the OAS and La Francophonie? I think that we first have concluded that there is no single model for how to address threats to democracy. In the contexts of the Commonwealth and the Americas, CMAG and the OAS have respectively worked well. For Canada, engaging global partners in democracy through multilateral institutions has been our preferred approach.

The second conclusion is that each threat to democracy must be addressed in its own context. In many cases, the best approach is one of what we might call accompaniment. That is, we need to be supportive of local initiatives and ideas on how to strengthen democracy and send a message that external actors are there to support, and not necessarily to force change. Wherever possible, we should let local actors take the lead in resolving their own challenges. In other cases, however, particularly when there are violations of fundamental principles, we must be prepared to take stronger measures. This again argues against universal models, but instead supports the idea of taking a country-level approach to democracy strengthening.

Third, our experience has shown that while in a few cases, threats to democracy can be resolved in short order, most of the time, we must travel a long road and have patience. As external supporters, we need to be ready to listen, enter into dialogue, and provide technical advice and assistance where needed, and be willing to do so over an extended period.

Finally, we must always be careful that in our efforts to be creative and supportive, we do not compromise basic principles or offer bad advice, and keep our actions in-line with the promotion and protection of human rights consistent with international human rights law. Otherwise, we will not have democracy and we will have betrayed the people we are trying to help. While the threats to democracy may seem great, we must never let them overwhelm us. As I stated earlier, the strength of democracy is in the struggle. It is a struggle to build the conditions in which democracy can grow and it is a continual struggle to maintain it where it is strong. With a full appreciation and understanding of what threatens democracy, let us continue the critical endeavour of strengthening it.

David Kilgour was one of the two longest-serving MPs in the House of Commons for the 38th Parliament. First elected in 1979 in the riding of Edmonton Strathcona, he was re-elected seven times.

Unfortunately we cannot dismiss his comments as being only applicable for emerging democracy’s when our government is constantly challenging our courts, our “independent” watchdog commissions and departments and indeed even our electoral processes!

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Democracy Defined

This blog was started about a decade ago to highlight the lack of respect for our democratic conventions by the then second term Harper Regime and to highlight efforts to protect and enhance our system of governance. The change of federal leadership in 2015 gave me hope that the years of abuse were coming to an end and for a while there it was looking promising with the attempt to bring in a more equatable electoral system and a more diverse members of cabinet. Sadly the first item fell by the wayside and the latter is now in tatters due, at least in part, to the inability of two strong minded individuals to back down and / or compromise. I will not comment further on that particular mess there is more than enough opinion available on that out there, I will however expand upon how the interaction between the public, our elected representatives (of all stripes), the leader of the day and his appointed 'cabinet' , both provincial and federally, and our democratic norms is changing..... and not for the better.

One of the things that a change in the way we elect or representatives may have affected the balance of power both in the various legislatures across our nation and within our national government is the amount of influence those individuals we elect actual have within government. Back in 2009 in one of my first posts entitled MP or Party, Which comes first? I wrote “ The respondents to the forum on Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices were of the opinion political parties are generally perceived as non-accountable, as neither good nor especially honest in communicating. Aspersions were cast on the quality, clarity, and ethical integrity of party platforms. “ Further on in the article I said “We have seen in recent time how, when an MP votes or speaks out against his party in support of his constituents he or she is censured by that party, often to the point of expulsion. As an independent they have even less resources and influence available to them to do their job …..”

How little things have changed ! Here in Ontario in the first year of their 'mandate' the Ford Regime is already down four of those individuals who dared to disagree with the blustering mouthpiece we call the premier and although there are over 70, mostly previously unelected, individuals in this 'new' legislature hardy a word has been heard from any of them. Said blustering fool and his unelected advisers are busy dismantling many of our hard won heath, education and social support systems and unlike in the federal system he does so with no further 'Upper House' checks. His actions thus far have been perhaps the best support for Electoral reform and the probable minority governments that would result. Our federal government seems to be doing their best to encourage change by default right now however I suspect that the change we will get will not be to our liking given the partisan inclination of ALL our political 'elite'.

Democracy Defined.......As mentioned above I dived back to some of my posts about democracy way back in 2009 and in rereading some of those articles now I find that whilst my opinions have largely remained unchanged I had a much clearer way of expressing those views than I am able to cobble together now in my dotage! I encourage you to scroll through a few of those posts (the entire list is available by date and title in the side bar) but here are a few brief extracts about democracy to get you interest.

Woodruff says:
Democracy is a beautiful idea - government by and for the people. Democracy promises us the freedom to exercise our highest capacities while it protects us from our own worst tendencies. In democracy as it ought to be, all adults are free to chime in, to join the conversation on how they should arrange their life together. And no one is left free to enjoy the unchecked power that leads to arrogance and abuse. Like many beautiful ideas, however, democracy travels though our minds shadowed by its doubles - bad ideas that are close enough to be easily mistaken for the real thing. …......

8 Principals of Electoral Systems
An electoral system is legitimate when it reflects the values of the voting public. Even if you’re not happy with the outcome of an election, you can accept it as legitimate if the electoral system is based on principles that most people value.
In effect, legitimacy is the result or consequence of a good electoral system. If a system reflects the seven remaining principles, it is bound to be legitimate.

Political Parties Forum Overview
The general image emerging from the forums is one of parties losing attention and respect from their potential clientele or members. They are generally perceived as non-accountable and, in some instances, as secret.
Parties were generally characterized as not immensely interested in recruiting members or hearing from ordinary citizens. They are perceived as neither good nor especially honest in communicating. Aspersions were cast on the quality, clarity, and ethical integrity of party platforms.

There is much more to be said on this subject in light of recent events both provincially and federally much of which I have probably touched upon at one time or another in the past 10 years. However given my difficulty in rationally dissecting the current collective political cluster fuck I will simply be highlighting and commenting upon a few of my past articles in the foreseeable future.

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