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, August 16, 2015

Harper History, Part 8 – Senate reform / suspensions, Election Act

2013 – 2014
Even with the ongoing Senate expense scandal, the Robocall investigation crawling along (much delayed by the presence of the Conservative lawyer at E.C. Interviews) another suspension of parliament for no apparent reason followed up by another massive austerity budget it was the (un)Fair Elections Act that got all the attention during this period. The closing or cuts to any number of federal programs and departments continued, many aimed at scientific, public safety and oversight areas, in an apparent effort to be able to 'balance' the budget just before the 2015 election. It becomes increasingly difficult to see the attacks upon our democratic systems through the BS being spread by the PMO and their ever increasing advertising budget, that difficulty is reflected in many such instances not being listed in this post.

July 2013
Harper’s approach to risk management is illustrated by a deliberate process of offloading costs on the provinces and cuts to essential services. As shown by a reduction in support for heavy urban search and rescue teams (HUSAR) in Vancouver, Calgary, St. Boniface, Toronto and Halifax. Meanwhile, a training center for first responders that was run by Public Safety Canada has been shut down and the Canadian Center for Emergency Preparedness has ceased operations.
The Minister of State for (un)Democratic Reform, Pierre Poilievre, held a press conferance to reiterate the Harper regimes position is that it can proceed unilaterally on Senate reform and to outline what they have presented to the Supreme Court of Canada in this regard. As expected by most constitutional scholars this idea was rejected by the court.

Forest Ethics Advocacy,
launched a constitutional challenge to new requirements in the National Energy Board Act that place severe restrictions placed upon public comment by Bill C-38 whereby any citizen wishing to comment upon projects, even those directly affected, are effectively prevented from doing so have the effect of silencing citizens concerned about tar sands pipelines.
Sep. 13, 2013
For the third time Haper Prorouges parliment in a move that ensures he won’t face opposition questions on the Senate expenses scandal for an extra month, saying that most of the promises the Conservatives made in the last election have been fulfilled. Upon returning in October however he promptly reintroduced nearly all the government bills that were killed by the suspension of parliament.
The Senate flexed its muscle Tuesday and in an unprecedented move the Senate suspended three of its members —Conservative Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau — out of the chamber, cutting their salaries and use of office resources. Some senators said that the suspensions largely supported by the Conservatives was as much about politics as expense claims and the process was flawed.

In a more directed to sideline independent MPs and
more particularly the Green Party the right of independent and small party MP's right to intervene at the report stage of proposed legislation was removed.

At the Conservative convention the ruling regime came out
AGAINST proportional representation and for 'riding equality' whatever that means! It must be noted that in 1997 when in a minority position an essay penned by Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan extolled the virtues of both proportional voting systems and coalition governments however once brought to power by the FPTP that idea quickly disappeared.Program budgets show cuts to programs focused on aviation, marine and rail safety and security at Transport Canada as well as reduced spending on food safety at Agriculture Canada. At the same time other less essential departments such as the PMO and their advertising budget are increasing substantialy.
In a closed-door session with dozens of bureaucrats (information commissioner) Suzanne Legault cited a series of novel measures she says are damaging an already tottering system. "I am seeing signs of a system in crisis, where departments are unable to fulfil even their most basic obligations under the act," Legault told the group.
As an example, she cited a directive in April this year from the Treasury Board warning bureaucrats to steer clear of ministers' offices when looking for documents to respond to an access-to-information request.
In other words the bureaucrats have been told to not even look in certain places so that they can say that they found nothing!!

"When the access system falters," she said, "not only is Canadians' participation in government thwarted, but ultimately the health of Canadian democracy is at stake."

A group of Conservative MPs has been meeting secretly for well over a year, discussing ways to inject more democracy into the Commons. One of the solutions they have embraced is the removal of the leader’s power to veto individual candidates.
Michael Chong is expected to table a private members’ bill that would change the leader power over candidate nominations.This he did and the bill eventually passed but in such a watered down form as to all but meaningless.

Finally in November having said two years ago that the data collection for the Artic claim was complete, and having reduced our government scientific community to a shadow of its former strength, just a few days before the submission was due to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf Harper suddenly said the submission was incomplete because it 'did not include the north pole'.
Quantity not Quality is apparently the Harper regimes measure of 'success'
Mr. Van Loan extolled the virtues of the 34-day fall session, which started late because of prorogation and was adjourned early. He said 2013 was the most productive year on record, with 40 bills receiving Royal Assent. “ “That’s something we can all be proud of. It shows how Parliament is working better than ever right now,” he said. With many bills rammed through the House by government limiting debate and using their majority to pass flawed and controversial legislation most Canadians would beg to differ!
January 2014
It was revealed that in addition to the 'consolidation' of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries, where reports say that despite assurances that much of the material would be digitized a large number of books and papers have been destroyed without such backup, the Libraries of Heath Canada are now under attack. Many scientists were so concerned about losing access to their research library that some are hording journals and books in their garages for colleagues to consult. This after a report calling for the libraries to NOT be closed was rejected as 'flawed' (i.e. Not the answer that was required) and the library's collection was moved to the National Science Library and the inter-library loan functions were outsourced to a private company.'If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used.'— Dr. Rudi Mueller, retired Health Canada pathologist
Just a day after the 242-page (un)Fair Elections Act was tabled House Leader Peter Van Loan gave notice that the government will vote to send the bill to committee the following day, a move that seemed to signal the government plans to push the bill through the legislative process without changes.
What follows is just a very small selection of the opposition expressed about this bill.In an interview on CBC Radio Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand said "my reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country." it "limits the chief electoral officer's power to provide information to the public."
Under the proposed bill, the only role of the chief electoral officer would be to inform the public of when, where, and how to vote. Elections Canada would be forbidden from launching ad campaigns encouraging Canadians to vote. Surveys and research would be forbidden under the new bill, Mayrand said.
Ed Broadbent
Past governments have avoided turning democratic process into a tool for one party’s advantage. Changes in electoral processes were always based on all-party consensus.
That Harper derides such all-party consensus is, sadly, no surprise. That his robotic backbench will unquestioningly obey is not news either. Except now, the victims of his disregard for debate aren’t only the people we elect. It’s those doing the electing as well.
A letter signed by over 150 professors at Canadian universities who teach and conduct research on the principles and practices of constitutional democracies, including 15 past presidents of the Canadian Political Science Association.
We, the undersigned — professors at Canadian universities who study the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy — believe that the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), if passed, would damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections.

More at undemocratic-democratic-reform
19 international Scholars from six democracy’s across the world add their voice to the over 150 Canadian scholars and almost universal condemnation of the Harper Regime's attempt to introduce partisan bias into our election rules and to reduce the powers of the world respected Elections Canada We, the undersigned, international scholars and political scientists, are concerned that Canada’s international reputation as one of the world’s guardians of democracy and human rights is threatened by passage of the proposed Fair Elections Act.
More at electoral-integrity-of-act-questioned
With the Elections act dominating the news and the legislature agenda the House Affairs Committee studying the bill conducted one day of hearings after MPs returned from the spring break before going into a rushed clause-by-clause review ending May 1. “Clause-by-clause review will begin Tuesday, April 29 with morning and evening meetings for three days until it wraps up May 1.” On May 14th 2014 the deeply flawed “fair” Elections Act passed final reading with a few amendments that public pressure made the Cons include but without the dozens of amendments proposed by the opposition and without even considering the 75 amendments that the Greens were not even permitted to table.
Returning to other issues in the spring of 2014
Tabled around the same time as the (un)Fair Elections Act the 2014 - 359 page budget received little attention but the budget projections, including a cushion of reserve cash, show a deficit of $2.9-billion for the 2014-2015 year. To get there Harper “delayed” $3-billion in defence spending and saved more than $1-billion annually by clawing back health benefits for public-sector retirees.

According to the 2013 annual Public Works ad report, (released in 2014), Canada spent more than $14 million on advertising Canada’s Economic Action Plan (which was called “propaganda” by survey respondents) and an additional $8.2 million on its Responsible Resource Development campaign (which was, in part, responsible for Canada's severely weakened environmental legislation). Both advertising campaigns placed heavy emphasis on the Alberta oilsands as central to Canada’s economic future.
These two campaigns were Canada’s most expensive advertising projects for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, dwarfing the amount of money spent on any other advertising effort.
The $1.25 million supplied to News Canada for publicity work falls outside the disclosed advertising funds mentioned in Public Works annual report, meaning this is additional money devoted to government communications above and beyond its advertising efforts.
March 28, 2014 The ongoing Elections act cluster fk successfully distracted from the latest omnibus budget from the Harper Regime, hardy a word has been seen about the 350 page Harper Government Creating Jobs & Growth While Returning to Balanced Budgets With Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1.”. Yep, we are back to that H*&^%$# Government thing again........ Also in March The Harper Regime having eliminated the long form Census thus also eliminating reliable information on the economic and social status of various areas and communities across the country then cut Statscan's budget.

Like many other departments (with the notable exception of the PMO) their budget has been cut.
Statscan’s budget has fallen by $29.3-million in the past two years, and its staffing has fallen by 767 people and do not have the staff to analyze what little data that the elimination of the long form census has left available. Experts, including the C.D. Howe Institute and numerous economists, have said the quality of Canada’s labour market data is so poor that it is impossible to know for sure whether there is a serious labour shortage. Statistics Canada eventually withheld the release of survey data for one of every four municipalities and other census sub-divisions because of the poor quality of the numbers.
"As a result of data not being released due to quality concerns, potential users of this data for approximately 25 per cent of geographic areas do not have reliable National Household Survey data available for their use,"
AprilAfter commissioning a survey of 25,000 employers that cost $4.6-million to shed light on the extent of the country’s skills gap it was not published due to “ we have no funding for it, we’re reviewing the data so that we can document how well the survey worked”.
In a similar mindset it seems that a survey of the effectiveness the $15 million (2013) Economic (In)action Plan advertising that was taken at a cost of $31,000 now omits to ask whether those that saw them actually took any notice or went to the web site.

Over several moths in the
spring of 2014 the Harper regime lost a series of Supreme Court rulings including the government's attempt to gain some clarity about its powers to change — or failing that, abolish — the Senate ran into a constitutional brick wall. The court ruled that reforms, including term limits or Senate elections, or abolishing the Senate altogether, could only be done with the consent of at least seven provinces representing at least half of the population. Also an attempt to prevent medical marijuana users from growing pot at home was defeated, the Court also ruled that cuts to health care for refugee claimants were "cruel and unusual" and that internet service providers must not disclose names, addresses and phone numbers of their customers to law enforcement officials without a warrant.

In the final article in this series we will attempt to make sense of the pre-election promises, misinformation and ongoing personal attacks issuing from the Harper spin machine, all of which were already in full swing more than a year ahead of the election.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.

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Owen Gray said...

It really is a dismal record, Rural.

Rural said...

I am getting really, really tired pointing that out , Owen!

Unknown said...

A really thorough analysis of Harpers continued destruction of democracy. It is incredible the extent of it. It seems to be an almost daily activity, covering almost all branches of government. Your chronical of Harper History up to present day may not stop though even if Harper does not get reelected in Oct. The reason I say that is whoever of the opposition who gets elected may discover other damning democracy destroying policies, of which until then are not known by the public. Harpers reign, a never ending walk through the sewer.

Rural said...

ve said before it will take decades to undo the damage and perhaps years to actually document it!

Unknown said...

I've just ordered a new book "Canada after Harper." I'm not looking forward to reading it!

Rural said...

I just hope there IS a Canada after Harper......

thwap said...

Have any harpercon/right-wing stooges ever tried to dispute your analyses Rural?

Rural said...

Surprisingly no Thwap, but then i try and provide a reliable source to back up the information which makes it much harder to dispute!