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, January 10, 2010

The Power of Public Pressure

Just a couple of weeks ago I told a regular reader that I would be developing a piece about Internet & Democracy never dreaming that so many would be using it to express their frustration towards our PMs decision to prorogue parliament. That from a few citizens starting a facebook page last week that has now grown to well over 100,000 members just shows that there ARE citizens out there that DO care about our democracy.
Bloggers, newspapers (both on and off line) and the hundreds if not thousands who have wrote their MPs and/or the PM are adding to this public pressure that says that a return to the same old continued contempt for parliamentary processes, by this or any other government, in March cannot and will not be tolerated.

If you don't have them already here are the links to those facebook pages: Group Page Event Page and to the petition: Stop the Prorogue of Canadian Parliament and check out No Prorogue for even more info and opinion.

It may be that some good will come out of this second “constitutional crisis” if only that thousands of Canadians now know much more about the workings of out parliamentary democracy and the danger posed by those who would use the lack of written “rules” to subvert it for their own personal or political purposes. Could it be that more citizens will decide to use their right to vote in the next election and to truly understand the choices, and not just be swayed by the spin from all those vying to represent us in the HoC.

Some may remember the considerable uprising when Elizabeth May was excluded from the last election debate that did have an effect upon those making that decision (and let us be clear it was not entirely up to those TV executives). This time the stakes are much higher and both the desired outcomes and the way forward much less clear but make no mistake these citizen actions are now and will continue to have an effect both upon the Conservative regime and all the MPs the HoC. In order to have a lasting effect the pressure must be kept up long past that Jan 25th rejected return date, long past even the proposed March throne speech date, it must be made clear to all those MPs (and Senators) that this steady decline (of which this particular action is but one small part of) in the respect for our parliamentary institutions is unacceptable.

In recent days there have been many suggestions and commentary from both the general public, and more academic and knowledgeable individuals such as constitutional experts, and rather than preach my personal opinions I will repeat a few of those that I found insightful,

Let us start with this little bit from reader S. D. Barclay

ONCE UPON A TIME in a land far away, where the Northern lights brightened long nights, there were ‘Parliamentary Conventions’. Unwritten rules of governing; behaviour and actions. These unwritten precedents and traditions were as much a part of the Constitution as any ‘Written Acts’. Breaking these time-honoured precedents would result in disgrace and exclusion from your peers. Your career would be over.

Fast-forward to the 21st Century. An era of super-capitalism. Anything goes as long as you end-up with more money. International business transactions now need a third-party to hold the funds because you can’t trust corporations or even countries. Patents are unenforceable. Treaties are ignored. As in the world, in Canada; if its not written down in law, you don’t have to obey it. If you can’t be prosecuted for something, its not wrong.

Today there’s nothing stopping the Canadian Prime Minister from requesting proroguing (suspending) Parliament as long and as frequently as he wants - effectively neutralizing democracy.

This is just one grave example of why Canada badly needs ‘written rules’, an updated Constitution to guarantee our Democracy. Currently there’s no limit to the opportunities to break the spirit of parliamentary democracy and trample roughshod over citizens’ rights. Convention has no meaning today. If we do not put into words the essential unwritten rules of our parliamentary system, we can say good bye to the Canada we knew.

Let us repeat that last bit . “If we do not put into words the essential unwritten rules of our parliamentary system, we can say good bye to the Canada we knew.”

Indeed and he is not the only one to express this thought for up until now respect for parliamentary traditions and conventions were enough, in most cases, to ensure that those in power did not ride roughshod over these unwritten rules. But let us set aside the fact that this action is not “illegal” in the sense that laws have not been broken even if conventions have, and see what some others have said about this ….

Let us start with Rick Mercer:

“It is ironic that while our parliament has been suspended we are a nation at war. On New Year's Eve we greeted the news that five Canadians were killed in a single day with sadness but not surprise. We are at war because ostensibly we are helping bring democracy to Afghanistan. How the mission is progressing is open for debate but this much is certain – at present there is a parliament in Afghanistan that it is very much open for business. Canada has no such institution.”

Indeed whilst much comment has been made about avoiding allegations of abuse of afghan prisoners rights it is the trampling of our rights that is of more concern here. As one politician said “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.” That politician – Stephen Harper, to the Canadian Press, April 18, 2005

Even the respected British publication The Economist has published a couple of scathing articles on what they refer to as Harpers “miscalculation” on proroguing parliament. Here are a couple of extracts-

“Like the American president, who could not walk and chew gum at the same time, they cannot, apparently, cope with Parliament’s deliberations while dealing with the country’s economic troubles and the challenge of hosting the Winter Olympic games. This was the argument put forward by the spokesman for Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, after his boss on December 30th abruptly suspended, or “prorogued”, Canada’s Parliament until March 3rd.”

“The danger in allowing the prime minister to end discussion any time he chooses is that it makes Parliament accountable to him rather than the other way around. Some of Mr Harper’s critics are also affronted by his high-handedness in not bothering to call on the governor-general personally to ask for prorogation, as tradition demands, but instead making his request by telephone. “That was gravely insulting to the governor-general and the country,” says Mr Russell (of the University of Toronto, who was one of 132 political scientists who signed a letter condemning the prorogation and calling for electoral reform).

And under the heading "Harper goes prorogue."

"Never mind what his spin doctors say: Mr. Harper's move looks like naked self interest,"

Its pretty clear that the public outrage and subsequent discussions here on the internet both in blogs and “social networking sites” and in print and letters to our MPs is having an effect. Opposition partys are suddenly sitting up and taking notice (for how long it remains to be seen), international commentary is decrying the loss of Canadian democracy, citizens are talking about it and more and more citizens are becoming aware that the PM works for parliament not the other way around. This to me is the best part of this whole fiasco, Canadians are waking up the realization that as my header proclaims “democracy requires dialog” and getting involved and informed.

Now if we can only keep this momentum going and return to a real democracy where parliament rules “for and by the people”. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

1 comment:

Colette Amelia said...

Awesome! and that could be the rub...keeping up people's interest when everyone has been conditioned with the 30 second sound bite and the ongoing headlines on the 24 hour news channels that hop from one crisis, murder, celebrity faux pas to the next in the blink of an eye while at the same time checking their facebook, twittering and driving at the same time!