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.
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Democratic Decline: Death by a Thousand Cuts.

This week the text of Allen Gregg's speech at Carleton University went viral, in it he outlines many of the concerns that a lot of bloggers, myself included, and some journalists have been expressing for some time. He says his concern was first piqued in July 2010, when the federal cabinet announced its decision to cut the mandatory long form census and replace it with a voluntary one, my concern and that of many others was brought about much earlier when the Harper regime prorogued parliament in 2008 to avoid a vote of no confidence. Late or not the stir that it has caused is most welcome, such awakening of the public interest is necessary and deserves all the attention it can get so I hope he will forgive me for quoting extensively from both his speech and his later commentary in this piece.

His speech was based upon the premise that there are parallels between George Orwells novel and the current regime in power in Canada, I cannot help but agree, he point out that whilst “Orwell’s claim that “Ignorance is Strength” might have been the clever writing of a satirist at the height of his talents but it was also much more than that. It is his most dire warning. Abolitionist and newspaper publisher Fredrick Douglas said that it was illiteracy more than the lash that gave slaveholders power over black men and women. Orwell was making a similar point… the suppression of knowledge and reason is the tyrant’s most powerful tool… and the greatest threat to freedom. “Orthodoxy,” he said, “means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
Of course, the opposite is also true. The greater the knowledge and education of a population, the more difficult it is to oppress them. As Steven Pinker notes in his new book The Better Nature of our Angels: “The subversive power of the flow of information and people has never been lost on political and religious tyrants. This is why they suppress speech, writing and associations and why democracies protect these channels in their bills of rights”

Clearly the extensive use of secrecy and doublespeak by the Harper regime makes the comparison quite compelling. In his later piece in the Star he give some examples of the doublespeak that is now becoming a trademark of this “government” He says :- “The handmaidens of evidence-absent dogma are almost always secrecy, obfuscation and misdirection. A quick review of some of the bills passed or on the order paper of this session of the House of Commons gives you a sense of the pattern of “newspeak” that has become the language of our legislators. Bills to dismantle the Wheat Board are referred to as the “Marketing Freedom for Grain Famers Act.” Building more prisons and stiffening penalties for possession of marijuana are sold as “The Safe Streets and Community Act.” The list is endless and might even strike some as funny if it wasn’t so terrifying.”

He also says in that piece that “I DO believe that Stephen Harper and his colleagues have set out to systematically right what they see as this wrong.
This view holds that parks are for tourism and campers, not for the flora and fauna that must be protected by scientists. Policy should be based on conviction and not bloodless statistics. Governments should be guided by what is morally right and not by reason and rational compromise. From this view, science, statistics, reason and rational compromise are not tools of enlightened public policy, but barriers to the pursuit of swing that pendulum back.

He may be right in that assessment after all governments of all stripes try and bring their own view to the fore, it is however the WAY that such things are done that tell the story. A couple of other recent revelations tell the story better than me regurgitating the many sneaky and undemocratic moves that I have documented in these pages over the last several years. One of the scariest is the 'trade agreement' just signed by Harper with China without ANY consultation with, or indeed information being revealed to, either parliament or the Canadian Citizens. Elizabeth May rang the warning bell on this one several weeks ago “The summary on the Foreign Affairs website about the FIPPA and various analyses by large trade-focused law firms suggests it will operate the same way Chapter 11 of NAFTA works.” and “Chapter 11 of NAFTA is now understood to allow corporations from Mexico or the USA 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.“ So it is possible, indeed probable, that we are now in a position when China via its holdings in the tar sands (which it is seeking to expand) could dictate to ALL levels of government what regulations say should they impact the profit margin of these foreign corporations. As Ms May points out that has already happened under NAFTA!

The other interesting piece I saw this week says much about the priorities of this regime who are currently preaching restraint, cutting key ministry’s to the bone and continuing to hide the true cost of said cuts not only from we the public but from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and parliamentarians.
It seems that burying us in BS is far more important than almost anything else.
While Finance officials are refusing to disclose the budget for the current “action plan” media blitz blanketing Canadian airwaves, a Treasury Board document shows that cabinet approved $16 million in “economic action plan” advertising in the first quarter of this year alone.
That doesn’t include $5 million approved for a “better jobs” ad campaign, $8 million to sell Canadians on cuts to old age security, and $5 million to promote “responsible resource development” — the slogan given to an environmental assessment system that was cut back and restructured in the last budget. All the measures are promoted on the government’s “economic action plan” website.
The Conservatives also approved $4.5 million for War of 1812 advertising this year. In all, the federal cabinet has already approved more than $64 million in ad spending for 2012-13 — seemingly well on its way to matching the $83.3 million they spent in 2010-11, the last year for which complete numbers are available.
In 2010-11, the last full year for which final accounting is available, the Harper cabinet approved $65.4 million in spending, but the government ran up an advertising bill of $83.3 million. A year earlier, at the height of the economic crisis and during an influenza pandemic, the government approved $85.3 million in advertising but spent $136.3 million. In fact, in every single year since the Conservatives took office, the government has exceeded its posted advertising budget by at least 25 per cent ...
So millions of dollars spent telling us they have a plan whilst not revealing what that plan is or how it is effecting our wallets, our environment or our society. Four and a half MILLION advertising a conflict that happened 100 yeas ago whilst simultaneously cutting the budgets of important government programs & ministrys! Enough said!

Before I let Allen close off this post I will quote a bit by Alex Himelfarb which I my view is central to the problem of the disconnect between what the majority of the public would like to see and where the 'elite' in government want to take us.
We are warned about the economic imperatives in a globalized economy, which, the argument goes, severely limit the scope for government action. Less government, less taxes, more market. That this view persists even after the recent financial meltdown and current meltings is testament to its powerful hold.
At the same time, growing inequality makes it almost impossible to imagine ever formulating a shared sense of the good life. The very idea becomes a stretch given the profoundly different ways in which the super rich, the poor and the majority experience life. They breathe different air. Their kids go to different schools. They live in different neighbourhoods. Money always matters, but in an increasingly privatized world, it has never mattered more.
At the top, the extraordinary gains of a small global elite have given them an outsized capacity to shape the agenda and at the same time to secede from much of society. And even as extreme inequality undermines equality of opportunity, the myth of meritocracy emboldens many to believe that they are entitled to all they have.

And we, the middle and lower class taxpayers feel helpless to do anything about this increasing inequality of not only income but of influence in how we are governed! Finally I will let Allen ask the question I and so many others haves asked, extoll the power of one of the few tools that we have left, and then encourage us all to be silent no longer.

What is next and what can we as citizens do to protest or change a political power structure that is slowly suffocating reason out of the process? There are the obvious options: we can join a political party or movement, or (as scientists did in Ottawa this July) organize a protest. But I suspect none of this will be sufficient to bring about the desired change. A clue to the real solution may lie in what happened with my lecture.
To the best I can determine, it was first spread largely by academics who attended the event. It was then quickly picked up and circulated by the scientific community. It then somehow gravitated to members of the Occupy movement and from there, it found a big audience with the “I hate Stephen Harper” crowd. Eventually, it was discovered by an even larger audience of people who share an interest in media and politics.
Academics, activists, media hoi polloi, politicos, Internet agitators, ordinary citizens, Facebook friends — strange bedfellows? Maybe. That this unlikely coalition joined together, not by a natural allegiance, but by virtue of sharing a common interest, demonstrates the real power of social media. This is indeed an important new weapon to advance democracy.......................

History shows us that, over time, science’s authority always undermines dogma’s legitimacy; and the persuasive power of reason will always trump ideology’s emotion. The best defence against dogma and ideology continues to be reason and science.
History has also shown that tyrants can have a truncated shelf life if the citizenry enters the public forum and, armed with facts, reasoned arguments, and thoughtful ideas, engages in a loud debate. In the case of those who would stand against reason, our silence will be perceived as consent. There’s too much at stake to be silent.
If it feels lame to suggest that the solution about what to do next is to talk to each other more, I invite you to review history and ask yourselves what role public discourse has had in the toppling of dictators and despots. Right now, there seems to be a very one-sided conversation going on and the powers that be are leading it. We have our hands on the easiest levers the world has ever known by which to spread an idea and lead our own conversation. Let’s use them.”

Thank you Allen for speaking out! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

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