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, August 30, 2009

Assets & Liabilities for August 2009

A monthly look at actions that enhance or support our democracy and those that do not!

Very little positive this month on the democracy front, but our own government seems determined to do everything it can to whittle away at anything that is not to their personal political advantage.

Liability:- “While some have advocated ending the per-vote subsidy only for the Bloc Québécois, that is not the position of our Conservative government. We believe that no party should have its operations supported by this taxpayer subsidy and that all parties should be primarily funded by their supporters.
Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for (the suppression of) Democratic Reform, Ottawa

But the taxpayer subsidy for direct contributions from the supporters is OK it seems!

Liability:- Once again our tax dollars are being used for partisan purposes, the Conservatives decided to use a 10 percenter to attack Charlie Angus and the plight of the children of Attawapiskat.

Unfortunately it seems that there will be no end to this as this practice is now spreading to the other partys and no enforcement of the rules is probable any time soon.

Sorry for the one-sided post, but that was the ammunition I was handed this month!! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Minister for Democratic Inaction?

With a Federal election possibly coming in the fall the government is once again raising the false impression that taxpayers subsidies to the political partys is somehow undemocratic. Democratic Reform Minister of State Steven Fletcher has taken aim at the $1.95 per vote transferred to partys who get more that 2% of the vote saying that it should be eliminated. Apart from the fact that this issue was at least in part responsible for precipitating the “democratic disfunctionality” last fall he fails to mention the subsidy that established partys get via direct donations to the party.

Elizabeth May of the greens says it best "Whenever Stephen Harper or Tom Flanagan crows about how they've done so much better at fundraising and they don't rely on the tax subsidy I want to scream," Ms. May said. "If you make a $400 donation to a political party it only costs you $100 because there's a $300 tax rebate, so it's not as if the fundraising piece of political party work is somehow divorced from the federal coffers, it is entirely dependent on the federal coffers. ... Many NGOs with charitable status could only dream of the kind of lucrative tax rebates that political parties have."

If we then also consider how the rules regarding those 10%ers are being abused it can be seen that the $1.95 subsidy is probably the most democratic of these taxpayers subsidies in that it is distributed per vote. The 10% were not intended to be a partisan tool at all but a way for individual MPs of all partys to inform their constituents of issues and services relevant to their local needs. Unfortunately instead of insisting upon tightening the rules the response from at least one of the opposition partys is “if you cant beat them, join them” and they too are using this taxpayer paid “information service” for partisan purposes.

We should remember that in 2007 the government commissioned the Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices: and whilst its stated objectives was to “to identify the values that Canadians use to guide their opinions on the role of the citizen in the democratic process, the functioning of the House of Commons, the functioning of the Senate, the role of political parties, and the choice of desirable electoral systems.” and not to recommend any changes, some things coming out of it may be relevant.

“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. “

I think that sums it up nicely, are these efforts to remove the per vote subsidy driven by self serving partisan thinking? Would removal of the $1.95 to ALL partys who receive 2% of the vote or better, increase or decrease the already considerable advantage that existing major players have over those that are attempting to bring forward an alternative vision? Is the misuse of the printing and distribution services provided to MPs by the House of Commons acceptable? Are any of our MPs concerned about the future of our democracy or are they all simply focused upon the future of their party or themselves?

Is any of the above really about democracy? I think it is fundamental, for if one group or another has an advantage over the other when distributing their message to the public, or if public funds are misused for partisan purposes by some partys in order to gain political advantage, then that to me is clearly an attack upon our democracy. It is an unfortunate reality that the amount of money that a given candidate or party can spend upon “getting the message out”, be it to promote their platform or attack the opposition has a great deal of influence upon the outcome. It will always be harder for the underdog to rise to the top, let us not make it even harder, fairness and equality are, to me, a fundamental part of democracy and we must constantly strive to get nearer to that ideal.

Strange that our Democratic Reform Minister is more concerned about the per vote subsidy than by the loopholes and manipulation of the rules around election expenses, MPs mailing and printing privileges, the lack of that long promised accountability, the reduced access to public documents, the silencing of dissenting opinions both scientific and diplomatic and the many, many, other much more pressing issues affecting our democracy. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Help Wanted - to Promote Democracy.

After pounding on the subject of the gradual erosion of Canadian Democracy for several years in various forums across the internet and weekly here at Democracy Under Fire for the last 6 months I must reluctantly admit that I am running out of steam. Not that I feel any less concerned about where our government is taking us or that I couldn’t rant on at great length about some of the stuff that the “Harper Government TM” has, and is, doing that I feel is totally wrong. I have however tried to keep this blog focused upon “Democracy” and not go wandering of into partisan political views, at times I have great difficulty is separating the two, they are after all closely intertwined. Is the governments lack of support (in some cases actively creating road blocks) for Canadians overseas a matter of democracy being ignored or is it an unrelated political decision. I don’t know. Certainly we expect our government to support Canadians abroad (at least those who are not permanent residents overseas) but is that a “right” or just convention? That is but one of the many questions we need to examine regarding what is and is not “democratic”.

I have noticed of late that several more blogs or web sites have emerged expressing concern about our voting system, about government unaccountability, about partisan politics destroying our parliamentary democracy, even about democracy within the political party, and similar concerns. This is, in my view, a reflection of more citizens becoming aware of where things seem to be heading and expressing their frustration about the ever decreasing amount of control they and their elected representatives have over those that would corrupt or ignore the long tradition of consultation, non suppression of opinion, respectful debate, and free votes in the HOC. It is a reflection of their concern over the neverending electioneering, the spending of vast quantities of money (some of it taxpayers money) on advertisements attacking not the opposing partys policies but the personalities involved, this not even during an election cycle!. If you have been considering starting such a blog to express your views why not join us here, we don’t have to agree, but so long as you can express you point of view without personal attacks and abusive language (this is not question period!) you are welcome. If you own one of those blogs let me know and I will add a link to the side bar and hope that you would do the same for us.

When this blog was started it was intended to be a collaboration, not just between the two individuals who started it but a forum for those who are similarly concerned, unfortunately my partner has found the pressures of family and other more important things such that she has found little time to add to the postings and so I must draw your attention to the preamble at the top of the page which says “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.”
If any of the above strikes a cord with you, you want speak to one of the previous posts, or you find yourself saying “but what about…..” then I invite you to join us, whether with a one time article submitted by email or by requesting direct access for more numerous postings. Many of you will have your own blogs and may on occasion have a rant about some action that impinges upon our democracy, I invite you to draw my attention to them should you think they are worth repeating here. For the reader who are not “into blogging” but have stumbled across this page whilst googleing a related subject I invite you to get involved and have your say, its as simple as sending me a email.

A few caveats here, whilst I try and be as open and non political as possible on these pages, I must reluctantly tell those who have given up on democracy, given up on voting or who are blindly partisan that I will not allow posts promoting those points of view on this blog. It is after all a blog to try and promote the return to a more participatory democracy and to discuss what is wrong with the current incarnation and ways to move to a better form. Whilst so far I have focused upon federal governance, democracy is not limited to that forum so if you wish to discuss provincial or municipal impacts upon democracy, or even items on the subject unrelated to politics I am open to input of a general nature on all forms of democracy.

As we say in our header “Democracy requires dialog, please join us.”

Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Democracy in the Amphitheatre.

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth May speak to the subject of government accountability and the demise of our democracy in recent times. It was a pleasure to listen to a leader of a political party, abet one who has yet to be seated in the House of Commons, speak openly about the undemocratic amount of control that political partys and their leaders have upon the workings of our parliament.

It was refreshing to hear a national political figure speak about the need for less power for the PMO and more for the individual MP and thus “the people”. It was perhaps fitting that the venue where she spoke of us reaching a turning point in our democracy was an outdoor amphitheatre reminiscent of the places in Greece where democracy was born.

She spoke of our political system reaching a new low with leaders being attacked by slick campaigns aimed not at policy or proposals, but designed to make our citizens so disgusted with either the attacker or their target that they do not bother to vote. She spoke of regularly sitting in the gallery of the House of Commons during question period and observing the orchestrated heckling and name calling and asked if perhaps the televised portions should have a warning as not suitable for children! Which given the childish behavior of those involved could stop the MPs from viewing their own antics?

Her presentation focused upon the recent decline of cooperation and respect amongst or representatives in Ottawa, she recounted a time not that long ago, when as a aide to the Environment Minister of the day she could recall that even under a majority government cooperation and consensus were the norm and rarely did a bill reach the first reading stage until it had been broadly agreed to by all partys.

There was no rhetoric about the Green Party being the answer to all these things, there was in fact very little “political maneuvering” in her words but simply her opinion of where our democracy stands at the present time, that being “about as low as it can get”. We can but hope that she is correct on that one, something that we will see perhaps change for the better after the next election, coming she believes in November shortly after parliament resumes in the fall.

My impression of Ms May upon hearing her speak to the audience of 200 or so was not of an arrogant “I am the leader” politician that we are so used to hearing, but of a knowledgeable and caring individual who truly is worried about the way in which things are being done by our current government. A person who genuinely believes, as I do, that our very democracy is in jeopardy if some changes are not made in the very near future, and incidentally who still believes that individuals, herself included, can make a difference.

Will her presence in the HoC after November have a massive impact upon the democratic process, hardly. Would the presence of herself and a few more honest and open individuals who are equally concerned about our democratic process be a good place to start, you bet. As she said the only way to change things is to elect individuals who realize that their boss is the people who elect them, if that happens to be “a Green” then that too may be a good thing.

It was interesting that upon returning home and picking up the local newspaper I read that Bill Murdoch, the long time MPP for the riding where she spoke, had in a recent interview said “We don’t have a representative democracy any more, we have a party democracy. As soon as you get elected whatever party you belong to they think they own you………That’s not the way it was meant to be.”

They are both correct, these two are the sort of representatives we need, as Ms May said, the question to ask those candidates during the next election is “for whom do you work”, but remember that SOME will just tell you what you want to hear, or what they have been told to tell you, rather than discuss the possibility that the “party” is the puppet master! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Municipality of …. Norm Sterling?

The time has come to embrace municipal party politics as part of a major reform to give greater purpose and direction to Ontario’s major cities, former Conservative cabinet minister Norm Sterling says. “

It would seem that the Ontario PCs are not much different from the federal lot, they all seem to believe that political partisanship equates with “greater purpose and direction” but fail to see that it only holds true if said believers have total control and no regard for the views of others. It is true that in SOME cases “ They each have their own little fiefdoms, and they tend to those fiefdoms. Councillors do not have an interest in the whole, only in their own bailiwick,” but how pray tell is that any different from our Provincial or Federal representatives? How will bringing another layer of opinion and political pressure (quite probably from outside the local area) to municipal decision making improve the process?

Fortunately there are some within the Ontario PCs with more insight than Mr Sterling, MPP Bill Murdoch who invariably puts his constituents first before party politics has come out strongly against this idea. I am not sure how much impact Bill will have upon discussions on this as it seems, as is all too typical with our political partys, he has been previously kicked out for speaking when not agreeing with the party line. Please note that “Sterling says the views he is expressing are his alone, and he has not discussed his vision for change with new Ontario Conservative party leader Tim Hudak. Still, he plans to do so and, at the very least, push his caucus to undertake a review if his party comes to power.” The party has said “This is two MPPs individual opinions, the party has no position on this.”

That all said this sort of idea must be quickly and thoroughly debunked before the idea takes hold. Municipal politics remains one of the few places where citizens have at least some chance of being heard and having an impact upon decisions, the interference of political partys into the process can only make for MORE entrenched positions and less effort at compromise and agreement. Let us at least try and keep party politics out of municipal council chambers because if Provincial and Federal legislatures are any example party politics is increasingly detracting from our democracy not adding to it.

One final note here:- I must recognize, as must any who would consider this proposal, that there is no comparison between (say) Toronto Municipal Council operations and typical rural municipality with 4 or 5 councilors, or for that matter with Mr Murdoch’s home city of Owen Sound’s Council. But even so I cannot see how more “politics” can help even a large city be more efficient and accountable to the citizens for whom they work! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Assets & Liabilities for July 2009

A monthly look at actions that enhance or support our democracy and those that do not!

Liability: The “Harper Government” for calling themselves just that rather than “The Government of Canada” or even “The Conservative Party of Canada” on a web site promoting the “stimulus spending” and for also rewriting history by removing factual pages telling of Canada’s history as a country of refuge for those opposed to war.

Asset: The Office of The Parliamentary Budget Officer for once again giving us a public report with a more realistic set of numbers regarding the countrys current and future deficit, this despite efforts to limit their ability to produce such reports.

Liability: The Alberta Torys for kicking out of the government caucus MLA and former provincial cabinet minister Guy Boutilier who stood up for his constituents by criticizing funding delays for a long-term care facility in his constituency.

Asset: Andrew Heard of the political science department at simon fraser university for his web pages on Canadian elections, electoral laws, reform and history. Many good links, great resource.

As always we encourage you to let us know of those that we have missed. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers