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, October 25, 2009

Infrastructure Funding Lists

Many times in these pages I have said that I believe that access to information is essential in order to keep our government open and accountable. I have said that the difficulty experienced by our Parliamentary Budget Officer and by our MSM in being able to track the “infrastructure” Funding is a clear indication that our democracy is under attack. Impolitical has compared the way our government hides that information with the readily accessible spread sheets available on line for our American neighbours. I thought I would check out how another democracy nearer in structure to ours dealt with this important information.

Australia has a web site with the title “economic stimulus plan” where details of their plan can be found, it is split into several sections as follows:-

Community Infrastructure
Road and Rail
Ceiling Insulation
Solar Hot Water
Bonus Payments
Work Opportunities

Each page has a link to a list of all the funded projects, for instance The Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program has two large PDF files listing location, project description, funding amount and the Municipality responsible. Interestingly there is NO mention of the Australian Prime Minister on the intro page or any other page that I visited, referring to only “The Australian Government”, other pages link to the various other levels of government where, no doubt they have further information.

Their “Plan” seems to be much more structured and less haphazard than ours and certainly is clearly defined and documented. So far as the actual spending and financial situation there are 4 or 5 “Treasurers notes” each month which, although showing little detail, do discuss the latest economic news. However they do have an ongoing series of financial reports and spreadsheets from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which currently show the position up until 3 months ago. They are very comprehensive and probably just about as up to date as any large organization could be expected to produce. Kevin Page would be in his glory!

What a marked difference from our reporting systems, we will be lucky if we know where we stand right now by sometime in 2010. The Australian government is truly “Open and Accountable”. If the United States can implement such public reporting in the very short time period since “Bush” and Australia can do it, so can we. It is simply that our governments of all stripes and levels simply DOES NOT WANT US TO KNOW.

I note that there are a number of government employees who are working hard at changing thing and trying to get systems in place so that such public access to this information via the internet becomes the norm. For the most part they are doing so on their own initiative and their own time, supported in part by several citizens initiatives to enhance the use of new internet technology to make it easer to find information of all kinds of government related information.
Just don’t expect our government to help them do that anytime soon!

For those interested Australia has also produced an extensive study on Electronic Democracy as relates to governments on the need for, the requirements of, and pitfalls of same. In it Electronic Democracy is defined as follows:-
“The direct and indirect use of electronic technologies (information and communications technologies) to participate in the democratic process. Direct forms of electronic democracy include electronic and online voting, participation in consultation, and interactions between elected representatives and constituents. Indirect forms of electronic democracy include such things as the production and consumption of politically relevant information and community capacity building to utilise information and communications technologies.”

They obviously have not let the report gather dust. Way to go Aussies. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our Government & Democracy.

I have up to this point in this project called Democracy Under Fire made a concerted effort to avoid making posts that could be construed as partisan, this has meant that I have avoided for the most part pointing out the many past and ongoing anti-democratic actions by the current Conservative Government. With the count in that regard increasing daily I cannot in good conscience continue to ignore these attacks on our democracy.

What follows and future posts in this forum will continue to focus upon our democracy, be it simply informative information or upon actions by individuals or Partys that enhance and protect our democracy, or those that attack and erode it. I will not comment upon party policy and actions unless it directly (in my opinion) effects our democracy. Subjects such as access to information, accountability, MP’s obligations to their party and their constituents, manipulation of parliamentary and electoral rules, the controlling of dissenting opinion, the interference with commissions and inquiries etc etc are all fair game.

With the above in mind I should thank the CPC for my obsession with this subject, for it is their actions in the spring of 2006 that suddenly made me realize that I had better sit up and take notice. It was precipitated a few days after they were first elected when an MP who ran and was elected as representing another party was persuaded not only to switch partys but was immediately installed in to an important cabinet position whilst another cabinet position was filled by a non elected conservative. I will not dwell upon that piece of history but just say that since then I have been watching much closer and for a time was keeping fairly close track of such questionable action. Of late I have been less thorough in collecting these instances, mostly because it would involve almost daily adding to the list!

In this post I will just briefly touch on a few things that have caught my eye since they avoided a confidence vote by shutting down parliament after just 13 days of sitting, that after having called an election (in contravention of their own recently passed legislation) and called parliament (under their leadership) “dysfunctional. If we remember that they had prorogued parliament after the summer recess, prorogued it in Sept and not called that election until parliament was due to resume (thus the House sat for just 130 days from Oct 2007 to Jan 2009, 0 days in the 6 months from July to Dec). They then prorogued it again in January! Perhaps then you may understand the need for not allowing this government to avoid public scrutiny, for they avoided opposition scrutiny, such as it is, for much of 2008.

Here then are a few of the more recent things that stick in my craw in regard to this Conservative Government.

The most insidious and ongoing thing is the shameless self promotion of the “Harper Government” using our tax dollars on TV, on Government web sites, on those pesky 10%ers and even on all those bill boards that are REQUIRED at each infrastructure project. Then there is the latest abuse of presentation cheques being made to appear as if they come directly from the Conservative Party of Canada and not from The Government of Canada and even Go Trains repainted to promote the “Action Plan”.
A few points here firstly it is NOT Harpers government it is OUR government, it is the Government of Canada. Note:- there are well over 100 references to the “Harper Government” on the CPC web site alone, over 200 on the PM site and quite a few on the Government web site.
Secondly if anyone believes that the sudden appearance of conservative logos on presentation cheques was an “oversight” by individual MPs then they probably also believe that it is also an oversight that the majority of infrastructure funds went to conservative ridings.
Thirdly those “Action Plan” ads do nothing to actually inform the public of factual information regarding the specifics but simply say “we have a plan, we have a plan” and thus cannot be viewed as legitimate government advertising.

Another very troubling tendency of this Conservative government is their concerted effort to stymie any effort to investigate and get to the truth of allegations of wrongdoing. Suing an arms length government body such as Elections Canada is clearly an effort to hold up or block the legitimate search for the truth, good or bad. It is a case of “if you have done nothing wrong, what do you have to loose?”, the same can be asked of various Parliamentary inquiries that have been subject to similar foot dragging, procedural wrangling and outright disrespect for due process. The fact that a number of court decisions, even after appeal, have proven them to be in conflict with the laws of the land on several occasions would seem to show that they also have a similar distain for the rule of law. That this is coupled with a concerted effort to conceal and withhold information that should be readily available to the pubic, the shutting down of access to information databases, the necessity of bureaucrats, diplomats and MPs to “clear” any release of information through the PMO makes this governments vow to be “open and accessible” when first elected in 2006 a total farce.

There is little doubt that all governments and political partys are guilty of being partisan and trying to hide their mistakes but what strikes me with this lot is no so much what they are doing but the volume of questionable actions and self promotion, the unprecedented efforts to hide and control information, and the methods used to accomplish this. It is apparent to me that this government cares little for maintaining an open and accountable democracy but would much prefer an oligarchy and are doing everything in their power to go there. Would that I had confidence in the opposition partys to turn this tendency around but I fear that they are of much the same view, if not quite so blatant about it. Perhaps it is true that “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

“Democracy demands vigilance, and a willingness to pose difficult questions and to take risks. I do not mean by that only taking to the streets to complain about what is wrong, but also advocating constructive alternatives.” David Kilgour MP (retired)

Let us all be vigilant and ask those questions! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Digital Democracy in Canada takes a hit!

My last post bemoaned the lack of honest politicians and so today I could not let the resignation of Garth Turner as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada pass without comment. Like him or hate him Garth tells it like it is, is fearless in putting his opinion forward even if it does not follow the “party line”, can probably be called the father of digital democracy in Canada for his long standing blog whilst an MP and this decision is a great loss to both the LPC and to the folks he was proposing to represent.

In short he is the sort of representative we need in parliament to cut through all that bovine manure referred to in the last post. In case you missed it here is what he had to say about the current financial situation that Canada is in and how it will effect us……….

“The HST is a simple precursor of what’s coming over the next five to ten years, thanks to Stephen Harper. You, your family and your business should prepare. Higher income taxes, more fees, probably an increase in the GST. Some of those increases may be labelled ‘temporary,’ but they will sting nonetheless. There will also be spending cuts. Big ones.

The best thing anyone standing for public office can do at the moment is be honest with you. Share some facts.

As Stephen Harper took office in 2006, Canada was entering its nineth consecutive year of budget surpluses. The outgoing Liberals left a positive balance of roughly $15 billion.
As of now, Harper’s government has amassed a deficit of $55.9 billion, over ten billion more than the previous record.

Each family’s share for this year’s shortfall alone is $3,700.

After coming down for more than half a decade, the national debt will rise to its highest level within three years – above $600 billion – according to the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The current Harper government increased federal spending to its greatest point, even before the recession in late 2008. When the storm hit, the cupboard was empty.

Many people now fail to see how Mr. Harper can even wear the mantle of a ‘conservative’ prime minister.

The most spending ever. The largest federal government in history. The greatest one-year deficit. The largest national debt. And the fastest descent from a surplus to a deficit on record.

To date, no party or leader has treated you honestly to an explanation of what a $56 billion deficit or $600 billion debt mean for your family or your finances. Suggesting there’ll be no tax hikes, spending cuts or mortgage increases is akin to Stephen Harper telling us one year ago Canada was immune to recession and our budget would stay balanced. It’s crap. But apparently crap that people like hearing.

After being recruited to run for MP in the Ontario riding of Dufferin-Caledon, and having my candidacy approved by the Liberal Party last July, today I informed the leader of my resignation…………………
In Dufferin-Caledon I have been the only nominee for MP candidate since August. I’m interpreting the leader’s failure to allow a nomination meeting as a signal my views are unwelcome.

From - http://www.garthturner.com/2009/10/05/where-i-stand-2/

I suspect that it is indeed true that “his views are unwelcome”! It would not do for the public to be told the truth now would it! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On trust, lies, spin and obfuscation!

Can the Canadian public consider their system of government to be democratic when they cannot access reliable and accurate information on past, present and future decisions made on their behalf and the results arising from such action? This is a question I have been asking myself for some time now, some actions by our politicians are clearly antidemocratic such as deliberately obstructing the committee process but is withholding or “spinning” information. I believe it is. If we the public base our voting choices upon what we are told, be that by the government, the opposition, or the MSM, and that information is not only false or misleading but deliberately made to be so, then this is clearly a attempt to derail the democratic process. In my view democracy demands open and accountable government which means our representatives must themselves be open and truthful.

When one is faced with several conflicting stories from what SHOULD be reliable sources it becomes obvious that one or more of them is disseminating bovine manure. A case in point is the recently released report on the status of Canada's Economic Action Plan, here we have at least three different versions of what has been done, what effect it has had and what will happen in the future. Lets take a look at some of the conflicting information.

Our Government …..ooops, sorry, Harpers Government says that “90 per cent of the stimulus funding for this fiscal year has now been committed” - “More than $7.6 billion in federal funds have been committed to more than 4,700 provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure projects” and “Our Economic Action Plan is helping create or maintain an estimated 220,000 Canadian jobs by the end of 2010."

The opposition Liberals say “, just 12 percent of the $4-billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund (ISF) was supporting any construction. A maximum of 4,800 of the intended 40,000 jobs across the country have been created compared to job losses averaging 5,800 a week” I suppose both percentages COULD be true given that announcements and commitments do not equal money spent, but what of the jobs!

The Parliamentary Budget Officer says “Many missing data correspond to implementation and outcome indicators that the GC collects as part of its standard due diligence process and should be readily available. Failing to include these data could hinder Parliament’s ability to provide meaningful oversight of the economic stimulus package.”
“Of greater concern than the absence of readily available information is the regular shifting of titles and categories of stimulus measures. Some measures have been re-categorized or renamed between the GC‟s Reports” - “These changes to the titles and categories of initiatives render it challenging to track implementation progress…….”.

In other words there is insufficient information, or there have been efforts to obscure information to the extent that the PBO is “challenged” to produce an accurate opinion on the report as was required when the budget was passed. “A requirement for legislative approval of Budget 2009 was that quarterly progress reports on budget implementation be provided to Parliament.” If the PBO did not get the “information that would be required to provide Parliament with accurate, timely, and easily understood information on (the) three key issues “ then how does the government, or for that matter the opposition, know the actual situation and figures.

Confused? Seems like even the PBO cannot give us an answer so how can WE be expected to judge the performance of our government.

Ok, lets move on. Are we being told what is going on by our government and if so how? The BUDGETED amount for advertising by the various government department for the FIRST QUARTER OF 2009 totals $65,414,000 of that $34,000,000 (that’s 34 Million Dollars!) was slated for advertising associated with the “Economic Action Plan”. Now that to me equals 1000 good jobs wasted in advertising, but I could maybe forgive that waste if such advertising were to give me details of where to access funds from said action plan or even where said funds are being spent. Instead it would seem it has been spent on repeating adinfinitem “we HAVE a plan, we have a plan”. Excuse me if I am not impressed and find it self serving and anti-democratic.

Meanwhile our political partys continue to play political musical chairs around any legislation put before them, the latest being that EI “reform” bill which in reality is a temporary change to a few eligibility rules that will help a few specific individuals and leave the majority no better off than they were before. But it seems that this bill is so important that whether the government lives or dies is dictated by it according to some partys.

So can we trust ANY of them to tell us “the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth”? Not a chance. Does this detract from our “democracy”? You had better believe it. Am I getting increasingly cynical and frustrated with it all? I think this probably shows that I am. What can we do about it? Be vocal in condemnation of those that spin and lie, and seek out (and elect) those who put honesty, truth and the electorate before party and bovine manure!

Something stinks on Parliament Hill! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Democratic Leaders Debate - Debate Criteria

With the possibility of an election once again looming we have seen increased “debate about the debate”. It seems to me that for a debate amongst leaders during an election period to be considered “democratic” then the criteria in selecting the participants must also be democratic, or at the very least based upon more than the personal opinion of a few executives. In thinking about what I would do if faced with the task of deciding who could or could not participate in a National Debate during the election process I have thought that it should be based upon some LOGICAL criteria that would set a precedent for future decisions. Whether those criteria would be set by the “Media Consortium” the existing Political Parties in power or Elections Canada is perhaps fodder for another post. I will however put this forward for consideration. If the “media consortium” limits or chooses the participants and provides said air time to those participants “free of charge” is this not a supply of goods or services to said selected participants and should that not fall under the election funding rules? If a third party decided these matters based upon some non partisan criteria then that possibility would seem to have less validity.

This then is just a “what if” to show the difficulties in setting up such criteria.

If one looks at the last election results one can see that at this time the Greens are the only ones “in the race” who are not all but guaranteed a spot. No other unelected party has achieved even close to their volume of popular support (ALL others only account for about 1% of the vote) or in fact fielded candidates in all provinces and over 90% of all ridings. It is to me a no brainer to include them, the greater question for me is whether a purely regional party such as the Bloc should be included (but they do have about 10% of the national vote). So what criteria should a logical non partisan panel use to decide, here are some thoughts on possible options…..

10% of the popular vote
10% of the popular vote AND candidates in all provinces
10% of the popular vote AND candidates in 50% of all ridings
10% of the popular vote OR candidates in all provinces
10% of the popular vote OR candidates in 50% of all ridings
5% of the popular vote
5% of the popular vote AND candidates in all provinces
5% of the popular vote AND candidates in 50% of all ridings
5% of the popular vote OR candidates in all provinces
5% of the popular vote OR candidates in 50% of all ridings

Or a combination of the above such as…

10% (or more?) of the popular vote
5% of the popular vote AND candidates in 50% (or 75% or ?) of all ridings

Which seems quite reasonable given that 5% is the funding threshold and 10% is the current standing of the Bloc, however the combinations and exact criteria are endless……

One of the things I note in “playing“ with some of these scenarios is that a regional party in the smaller provinces would have greater difficulty that those in a more populous area, (whilst the Bloc can garner 10% of the popular vote it would be impossible for a regional party in PEI to do so) I am not sure that this is “fair” but we are talking Nationally here. Despite having one regional party in the HoC it is still debatable (with no disrespect to that party) whether political parties who do not encompass at least the views of several provinces or a reasonable percentage of the citizens of Canada should participate in a National Debate!
However I do believe that with the size of our country, future regional parties, those who are not advocating the demise of Canadian Democracy but seek to enhance it, and represent a sizable number of citizens in a particular part of our vast nation, should perhaps have the opportunity to put their point of view before the public in the debate. We must also recognize however that there must be limits upon the number of participants in order that it remain a “debate”, this may not be “fair” to partys or individuals who do not meet the threshold and perhaps they should be provided with a “free” 30 second spot or something similar to compensate. It is “unfortunate” that the choices of so many citizens are so strongly effected by the ability of a candidates party to buy advertising!

Just so we all know what the numbers are, here is the data for the last election (% rounded).

NDP – 37 seats – 18% of popular vote – 308 seats contested in all provinces.

CPC – 143 seats – 38% of popular vote – 307 seats contested in all provinces.

LPC – 77 seats – 26% of popular vote – 307 seats contested in all provinces.

GPC – 0 seats – 7% of popular vote – 303 seats contested in all provinces.

BLOC – 49 seats – 10% of popular vote – 75 seats contested in ONE province.

There were 67 independent candidates and 234 “other” candidates (across 14 parties) who gained a total of 1% of the popular vote.

It can clearly be seen that under present circumstances there should be NO debate as to whether to include the Greens in the Debate, they clearly have exceeded any reasonable criteria but one, a seat in the House. But the debate is about who to elect to the House NOT who was elected last time and so that, from my point of view, should not even come into it! Since recent polls have indicated that over 70% of Canadians support the inclusion of the Greens in the debate despite (or perhaps because) their having around 10% popular support I can only surmise that Democracy IS still alive in Canada! We can only wait and see if it is still alive within those that decide who participates.

Having said all that let us not forget that the National Televised Debate is more about party policy (past and present & future) and the leaders public persona, and publicity for that party, than who we individually elect. In this country we elect individual MPs not Partys or Leaders (although one would not think so listening to the current lot in Ottawa) so that local all candidates debates are probably a better guide as to who we should have to represent us. It would be revealing if some of the questions during the leaders debate and at local candidates debates, whenever they may take place, were regarding how they view our democratic processes and how they would protect and enhance our democracy and make the election process less biased towards the larger party’s. That to me is the key to bringing about the changes in governance and policy needed to address the challenges of the 21st century. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers