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 31, 2010

The Power of the PM

This week lets pick up on two things from the list from Colin in the first “Now What” post, which was reinforced by Senators McCoys post regarding the “Anatomy of Power”. As has been said by several observers its not just about the abuse of the ability to prorogue that has our citizens talking, its about the ongoing decline of the ability (perhaps the desire) of our MPs to represent US not the political party to which they happen to currently belong. This suspension of parliament was but the tipping point in the long, but recently rapidly increasing, takeover of the democratic process by the PMO.

The Ottawa Citizen has this to say:
For many years now, constitutional experts and other political observers have lamented the concentration of power in the prime minister's office. They've warned, persuasively, that this concentration of power erodes Canadian democracy -- and it doesn't matter who the prime minister is or to which party he or she belongs.Harper's arbitrary abuse of the power to prorogue has caused many Canadians to wake up and realize that all might not be well with our parliamentary system. Although the Governor General is in theory able to restrain prime ministerial power by denying a PM the right to use prorogation for partisan purposes, Canadians have discovered that in practice prime ministers do what they want.Have the powers of the Governor General atrophied to the point they don't exist? Is this a good thing, in that the GG is unelected and shouldn't have real powers anyway? Then again, aren't the aides and minions in the PMO also unelected, yet wield more power than any legislator except the PM himself? Everyone in Ottawa has heard anecdotes of 20-something staffers from the PMO scolding senior cabinet ministers, and loving it. That can't be great for Canadian democracy, either.What began as a debate revolving around an arcane term is turning into a much bigger and more interesting conversation.

SO Now What …..
MP’s job description. MP’s need to be more independent……

Or as Sen McCoy says : “Why does the Prime Minister have so much power? The answer is quite simple: Because the House of Commons no longer holds the PM to account.”

But why is that and what can be done to change it? Why? Simply this, the political party holds all the cards, they control to a large extent the nomination process, the public awareness process (largely due to the high cost of “advertising” a candidate), the impact (read power) that an MP can have within our parliament (and within the unofficial corridors of power), even the basic services which an MP can call upon to do his or her job (ask an “independent” MP how that works!). It has reached the point where the “party” can dictate to the MP how to vote on a particular issue simply because to resist the “party machine” results in what little influence a typical back bench MP may have can be substantially reduced should they publicly disagree (or god forbid not vote with) their partys official line.

As many others have pointed out one of the best tools to ensure that our MPs represent US and not their party is to change the manner in which we elect them to ensure that we can choose an individual without necessarily endorsing the party with which they are affiliated. As it stands now when we finally get that choice it’s a difficult thing to choose the best local representative when perhaps his party has shown a total disregard for both his opinion and the parliamentary process. All too often we are FORCED to choose the party over the person, this is NOT how it was intended to work! In my mind proportional representation is only PART of the solution which is why I favor some form of MMP voting where we can vote for the person and the party separately. Trouble is we have to get a majority MPs who are elected by the FPTP system to as a minimum call for a referendum for change and then convince a majority of our citizens that change is not so scary that it cannot be. Hard to do when those in power will (and have) used their considerable recourses to convince the public otherwise.

Size, purpose, and power of cabinet. We have a very powerful executive in Canada

If you have read the Hill Times article referenced in last weeks post by Senator McCoy you will realize just how much power the PMO has in this country and how little a non cabinet MP has. Even in a minority parliament there are few practical limits upon the PMs power and whilst in theory this power is shared with cabinet in practice it does not have to be, the PM is all but omnipotent. In a majority situation a PM who does not wish to respect our democratic conventions, listen to the opposition or accept changes to legislation suggested by committees does not have to.

It would seem to me that the only real limit upon the abuse of this power is vested in public pressure and opinion when such abuse comes to light, if this power is also used to control the dissemination of accurate information as to the actions of government then even that pressure is substantially reduced. The “power” available to the PM has changed little in recent decades, it is the manner in which it can, indeed is, being used that should give us all nightmares.

There is little we can do to change this, some rules can be changed (by a majority of MPs) to “encourage” more respect for parliament and parliamentary conventions. We can perhaps move towards minority and coalition governments so that more consensus and cooperation becomes necessary, but if the party in power and the PM of the hour wishes to run our country like a dictatorship during their term in office there is little practical means of stopping them from doing so. It would seem that getting MPs out from under the party control would be the best interim solution. Elect MPs who refuse to be dictated to by the party brass, limit the use of whipped votes, give independent MPs the same resources as those with “official” party status, make the Senate truly independent and its members not beholden to those who appointed them.

How to do this is the big question for as David Mitchell, CEO of the Public Policy Forum said "the modern party system and, in particular, party discipline has been the great corruptor of Parliament. And in Canada we have the most rigid and inflexible party system in any modern parliamentary democracy."

T/H to Accidental Deliberations for the Ottawa Citizen piece. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anatomy of Power

I am pleased to present this guest post by Senator Elaine McCoy.

As several previous posts have noted, problems inherent in our democratic system have come into much sharper focus in the aftermath of Mr. Harper's wanton prorogation this year. Happily, many more Canadians are now debating what might be done to fix the system. First, however, I believe we need to make sure we focus on the right question.

In my opinion, the right question is this: Why does the Prime Minister have so much power? The answer is quite simple: Because the House of Commons no longer holds the PM to account.

Easily enough said. But what do we really mean when we say the House of Commons has lost its power to restrain the Prime Minister? For that we need more than a sound bite, or even a short blog. Describing how the PM controls the Commons runs to about four pages, and that's without going into excessive detail. I know that because Thomas Hall (former clerk of the House of Commons) and Bill Stanbury (political science professor) published just such a description last week in the Hill Times. With their permission, a copy of The incredible decline of Parliament is reproduced here for your reading pleasure. (Please note that I was unable to attach the PDF to this blogger post but if you have difficulty seeing it at the above link contact me and I will send you a copy. – Rural)

With this anatomy of power in mind, we can begin to focus on fixing the wounds. The ultimate answer, in my view, is shifting power back to the MPs. MPs with backbone, not back benchers, could deliver a properly functioning House of Commons. Of course, I recognize this won't happen anytime soon. Which is why I've said an independent, appointed Senate could (ironically enough) be Canada's last best hope for democracy. For now, I'll leave you to mull that over … but consider this: if what we need is a group dedicated to public service who can speak truth to power, then we'd best find a way to insulate them from the pernicious influence of rapacious power seekers. A Senate appointed by some means other than the PM would fit the bill quite nicely.

Senator Elaine McCoy was appointed to the Senate of Canada by the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin on March 24, 2005. Senator McCoy is a lawyer and former Alberta cabinet minister with thirty years professional experience in regulation and policy development in both the private and public sectors.
Since being appointed to the Senate, Senator McCoy has been an influential voice for the role of the individual Senator, for effective Senate reform, for an inclusive federation and the role of Alberta in Canada. Senator McCoy broke new ground with her website,
www.albertasenator.ca as the only member of the Senate of Canada who regularly blogs on her experiences in Ottawa and the political issues of the day.

Here are some brief extracts from the Hill Times article but do read the whole thing it is most instructive!

The decline of Parliament beyond its designed role has been due to the opportunistic behaviour of all Prime Ministers beginning with Pierre Trudeau (and perhaps earlier). It has coincided with the rise of what Prof. Donald Savoie calls "court government." Prime Minister Harper has shown aggravated disrespect for Parliament in many ways (see Stanbury, The Hill Times, Jan.11, 2010). The focus of this piece is on how the Canadian version of the Westminster model gives the PM (and his/her close advisers and associates—the king and his court) so much potential control over Parliament.

The design of the Canadian variant of the Westminster model of government gives the Prime
Minister—the head of the executive—the possibility of exercising a great deal of control over Parliament. Stephen Harper is just one in a long line of PMs who have exploited this opportunity and in the process have gradually weakened Parliament—particularly the House of Commons—a very great deal. It might be argued that this is a natural outcome of responsible government: if the Government is going to be responsible to, and subject to the support of the House, then it will naturally try to ensure continuing support by dominating the House. Perhaps—but the time for changing the balance is now.
Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Now What, part 2

As I write this the rallies protesting the proroguing of parliament have yet to take place but I have no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands at some locations, will show up and that each will be a resounding successes. I can say that with confidence because the very fact that they are taking place at all is a giant step towards protecting our democracy, that they, and the discussions that are taking place both on line and in the street, show that our citizens DO care about our parliamentary processes. It shows that those who would seize power, even temporarily, from our duly constituted parliament and the broad range of individuals of several political partys we have chosen to represent us there, will not do so without a fight on their hands. To all of you who took the time to participate I say thank you but this is but the beginning not the end of what will be a long and protracted period of “change”. Do not falter, keep the pressure on our politicians, the press, those who say nothing is wrong, and even those who profess to not care, for if this all is forgotten next month nothing will change.
(Some pics of the Owen Sound rally can be seen here.)

That said let us look at the more practical aspects of both what needs to change and how to accomplish it. In this post I will concentrate on the two things that are in the forefront of peoples minds right now, limiting the use of proroguing and the Governor Generals role in our parliamentary democracy. We must not forget that these things are but one small part of some of the changes we perhaps need to protect our parliamentary democracy and so I will continue this series in the following weeks by addressing some of the other issues raised in last weeks post.

The Governor General

Despite my personal strong ties to Great Britain, the home of the monarchy that the GG represents and the country from which our parliamentary system was inherited, I have no problem with any proposal to eliminate the GGs role in our parliamentary system. Two years ago I would have not said this, believing then that the slight power that he or she held was sufficient to discourage abuse of that system. It can be clearly seen that such is no longer the case. If however we are to change the “rules” to suit the reality then there are two things that must be considered, firstly what “rules” must we put in place to replace the traditional and conventional practices that now are placed upon him or her in the Canadian constitution. Secondly what process must take place to put in place such changes.

I will return to the content of such changes in a moment and deal first with HOW to change things. As I understand it the GGs role is spelt out in our constitution and in order to change that document a consensus of all the provinces, the federal government and the general population must be reached, we have seen in the past how difficult that is and under the current circumstances it is all but impossible. So that must be a long term goal!
However I see nothing to stop parliament passing laws governing the actions of the PM, MPPs, or indeed the “House” as a whole provided that such laws do not conflict with said constitution. For instance whist it may be constitutionally necessary for the PM to ask the GG to dissolve parliament I can see no reason why parliament cannot pass laws and parliamentary rules to say that he can only do so under certain circumstances. It is important to note that as our constitution stands at present the GG theoretically has a great deal of power over parliamentary processes and appointments but in practice this does not seem to be how it now works. Let us stop pretending that it is!

Before I move on to discuss such possible rules I must say that I do not favor doing away with the position of Governor General entirely. I believe we do need in Canada a NON POLITICAL representative to represent us both domestically and overseas with largely ceremonial roles, and we desperately need SOMETHING to cling to and draw us all together as a COUNTRY. I can see no better role for the office of the Governor General than to promote Canadian unity and common purpose across the country and to represent ALL Canadian values to the rest of the world as the opportunity arises, whether that is done as a representative of Canada or as the Queens representative in Canada is to my mind immaterial.

To prorogue or not to prorogue

Firstly let us see how things stand at present, so far as I can see a PM may “request that the GG prorogue parliament” at any time with no limitations as to why, or to previous prorogation periods, and may do so whilst parliament is in recess. The only limit upon the time that a period of prorogation may last appears to be as follows.
Section 5 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (replacing a provision in the Constitution Act, 1867) specifies that Parliament must sit at least once every 12 months. “to vote to provide money for the operation of the government”. In other words parliament can theoretically be suspended for slightly less than one year and when it resumes will follow the parliamentary calendar as set out in the “standing orders” which as we know includes lengthy summer and Christmas breaks. The government can also (ask the GG to) “extend” a period of prorogation up to the above limit if they so wish.

Several observers have suggested that prorogation periods be limited to 45 days and that it should require a parliamentary vote (as was the case some years ago) in order to take place. This would seem to be what is necessary in order to stop the abuse of this parliamentary convention but given the above does it go far enough? In a majority situation a government could still conceivably use a whipped vote to prorogue parliament to avoid being questioned by the opposition on a contentious issue. It would seem improbable that the above would happen but given out recent history I cannot help but think that should such rules be put in place they had best cover all the bases for it has been seen of late that if there is a loophole there are unscrupulous politicians who will find and use it.

There is however one thing that in my opinion must be contained in any proposed legislation on this or any other matter effecting the parliamentary process and that is this:- There must be clear and substantial penalties for ignoring or breaking said rules, they could and perhaps should include substantial fines for both the individual and the party he or she represents up to suspension and or removal from office. There can be no exclusions for cabinet members, PMO officials or indeed even the PM him (or her) self. As we have seen rules, written or unwritten, are meaningless without some repercussions from breaking them.

Finally I am going to ask:- Which of our Members of Parliament or Senators (who are also able to introduce new legislation) is going to stand up and introduce a bill to stop the misuse and abuse of our democracy as evidenced by, but not limited to, the recent suspension of that institution. ANY MP who does not support such a move cares more about themselves and or their party than they do about democracy and parliamentary process. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Democracy Suspended, Now What?

Having been trying to make Canadians aware of the fragile state of our democracy and the manner in which our parliament does or should work in these pages for almost a year now, I am delighted with the increased interest brought on by the prorogue this time around. It was the precedent set by the avoiding of a confidence vote and a possible coalition government by the Harper regime in proroguing parliament in Dec of 2008 that got me started on this journey.

I am pleased to see the numbers on that facebook group growing daily and to see all the commentary and opinion at No Prorogue and many other blogs and newspaper articles.
Ok, so we are all “concerned”, BUT NOW WHAT? This cynical and unprecedented Prorogue is but a symptom of a far more serious malady.

Parliament will resume in due course, The Harper regime will table their budget, the opposition will vote for or against it, we will head for the polls - or not, the various committees and inquires will be reinstated - or not, the senate will be stacked with more partisan members - or not, the public outcry will be forgotten - or not. In short it will simply be business as usual. As many observers have said we need fundamental change both in the manner in which our parliament is operated and in the manner in which we select its members. That can only come about when our representatives have the incentive and guts to initiate that change, to believe that ANY party currently on holiday from the HoC will make any changes that would restrict their power and control over such matters without ongoing and strident call for reforms from the public is naïve.

Some have called for restrictions on how and when parliament can be suspended and that indeed would be a great first step, to put into law those unwritten conventions that up until recently governments took into consideration on this and other issues has now become a must if we are to continue to call our system of government a “parliamentary democracy”.

What follows are but a few ideas of where we should be headed, the big question is not so much whether the ideas are good or bad but how we get the process started. Let those few MPs who are not lapdogs to their party stand up and bring private members bills before the house to, as a minimum, get a process started, but of course we first need to get a functioning parliament back in operation to do that!.

These (highly shortened) clips from Colin LeFevre highlight some of the areas of concern….

Ties to British Monarchy. Honestly, why are we still a part of the monarchy? To me this makes no sense. The Governor General herself has proven the position redundant over the past year or so. She gives in to every request by the Prime Minister, costs taxpayers a fortune, and runs “ceremonial” events.

Our electoral system. Our current system consistently elects false majority governments, the last few aside. Often majority governments are elected with significantly less than a majority of the legitimate votes cast, making many Canadian votes mean essentially nothing

The Senate. There are generally three options I hear on this one. First, keep our current system. Second, elect our Senators, and realign where Senators come from in the country (equal representation). Third, simply abolish it.

MP’s job description. MP’s need to be more independent. They need to be able to do investigative research – not just depend on what the PMO will agree to release. They should actually be responsible to their constituencies because lets be honest, right now they are far more responsible to their party brass than to the constituents who they theoretically represent.

Number of MP’s. How many people can one person effectively represent? Is it more, less or the same as our MP’s currently are representing? Especially if their job is recalibrated to be more legitimately representative to their constituents this number may be significantly different.

Size, purpose, and power of cabinet. We have a very powerful executive in Canada. (To) look at its size, purpose, and specifically power would be a very good use of time. The cabinet needs to remember that it is indeed responsible to the legislature, but historically has not always done this.

House of Commons procedure. We need to look at who holds decision-making power over procedures like proroguing Parliament, and why. Should there be a majority vote of the House of Commons needed? In any case, there needs to be serious discussion into placing limits and rules surrounding these procedures.

Coalition governments. They actually allow a minority government to function because you can have a majority of MP’s on the same page. We could actually have stable and long lasting minority governments if a coalition was an option to Canadian political parties. We as Canadians need to accept that this is a legitimate option.

Set election dates. This of course comes with challenges when it comes to minority governments, but if we effectively move forward with democratic reform minority governments should be much more stable, like in most of the world, thus making set election dates possible.

As one observer said “The public may be in no mood for a complete ‘constitutional’ overhaul, but they are clearly against the frequent and lengthy suspension of parliament at the whim of a minority government.” He suggests this approach….

1. Given that all bills and motions must be ratified by a majority vote in the House of Commons, therefore so must the prorogation of parliament meet this essential condition.
2. Given that the members of parliament are elected democratically to represent their constituents to the best of their ability in a full-time capacity, the cessation of parliament known as prorogation may only be enacted once per calendar year, and for a period no longer than forty-five days.
3. Respecting the above as having the equivalent to force of law, the Governor General of Canada is required to neither respond nor agree to a request to prorogue parliament that does not meet both these conditions, one and two (above).
4. Likewise the privy counsel or any other representative of the House of Commons who makes a request to the Governor General to prorogue parliament that does not meet both above conditions, one and two, shall be considered in contempt of parliament.

Finally here are some extracts from my own proposals first published over a year ago before this blog was started and before the Harper regimes first (successful) attempt to dodge due process in the HoC.

Whereas our Prime minister has called a previous session of this house “dysfunctional” and increased partisanship by all parties both in the house and in committee has had a profound effect upon the orderly conduct of the business of the house.

And whereas many of the rules and conventions of conduct with the House are unclear, unwritten or unknown by both the public and those within the House.

And whereas even when such rules and conventions are broken by our elected representatives or their agents there are few, if any, penalties for such action.

Be it resolved that:-
This house immediately form a citizens assembly consisting of representatives from all political partys, constitutional experts and interested citizens from across Canada to examine and codify the existing rules and conventions of our parliamentary democracy.

Further this assembly shall have the mandate to recommend changes to said rules and conventions and propose specific penalties for those who do not respect said rules and conventions once clearly identified and formally adopted by this House.

This assembly shall have the authority to examine and recommend changes to, but not limited to, the use of whipped votes, the use of votes of confidence, the chairing of committees and the conduct within same, the conduct of members during question period, members mailing and expense privileges, the use of proroguing parliament, the power vested in the office of the prime minister, and other such areas of our democratic processes as it deems necessary to examine.

The assembly may also consider whether the house needs to take such measures as are necessary to initiate an examination of our method of selecting our members of parliament, the funding and informational processes of prospective candidates and partys, and make recommendations as to how such measures should proceed if they deem it necessary for such examination to take place.

The assembly shall make available to all citizens of Canada the opportunity to comment upon such changes and penalties that they may be considering on an ongoing basis. The results of their studies shall be regularly published and available to all citizens in a timely manner throughout the process. Every effort should be made to make the process as open and non partisan as possible.

The assembly shall have the ability to request the assistance of such persons with specialized knowledge of the areas of study as they deem necessary and such support staff as are necessary to fulfill their mandate.

None of these things are easy to do, it will be a long process, nor will many of them find much favor from our established political partys, but if we are to remain a “democracy” then change things we must! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

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

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Harper Regime’s attacks upon Democracy.

Once again our Conservative Regime led by PM Harper and his all controlling companions in the PMO have suspended parliament for purely partisan political purposes. That they thumb their noses at parliamentary convention and tradition once again says much about their total distain for our parliamentary democracy, whilst we may not yet be living in a dictatorship it is clear that is the manner in which this government wishes to rule. Much has been said in recent days regarding this suspension of parliament and I will not repeat it all here, suffice to say there have been thousands of opinions posted in the last few days and a quick google search of the terms Harper and Democracy revealed the outrage that prevails about this move.

A regime that uses its executive power to subvert parliamentary processes, removes or silences any governmental watchdogs, ridicules Canadian diplomats for speaking out and does everything in its power to suppress information that may be damaging to its regime cannot be called democratic. Simply being elected by a democratic (but flawed) method does not make a government democratic, they must not only operate in a democratic way but they must be SEEN to do so. Clearly it can be seen by all but the blindly partisan that this is not the case with this regime.

If it were just a matter of suspending parliament for their convenience then perhaps it could be tolerated but the list is long and damming, they really don’t seem to care for the check and balances built into our parliamentary system. As Jim Travers says:-

Harper and associates have learned to appreciate, as well as relentlessly abuse, the convenience of power without accountability. Little now stands in the Prime Minister's way. Parliament's independent watchdogs are mostly mute, their collars drawn tight and leashes shortened. Parliament's committees, including the one investigating torture allegations, are rendered impotent by a confidential manual instructing partisan sabotage. Elected representatives sent here to safeguard the national treasury and restrain ruling party excesses are no longer able to fulfil those defining duties.

We can agree or disagree with their political agenda and the bills they have put before parliament but the manner in which they operate, the control invested in the PMO, the secrecy, the removal of those from within government who are critical, the use of the public purse for political purpose etc, the list goes on, says that democracy is just something to be ignored whenever possible by these folk. Let us just look at how this all went down. Not with the customary visit to the GG, but with a phone call. Not whilst parliament was sitting but during a holiday break. Not with an open announcement that parliament was to be prorogued but with a press release saying that “that the next phase of our Economic Action Plan (that’s the one that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has difficulty tracking) will be launched, following the Olympic Games, with a Throne Speech on March 3 and a Budget on March 4.”

This was followed by a few lines trying to justify the action, calling it “routine” and going on to try and blame the liberals for their decision to prorogue.

“The call for a new Throne Speech to launch the 3rd Session of the current Parliament is routine. The average Parliament comprises three or four sessions (and three or four Throne Speeches); some Parliaments have heard as many as six or seven Throne Speeches. This is the 105th time in Canada's history that a new Throne Speech will launch a new session of an existing Parliament.”

Kady has a handy rebutal to this…..

“Courtesy of Wikipedia, here's a handy list of parliaments past, including session counts. What's not clear is whether any of the six- and seven-session parliaments are analogous to the current state of affairs; the 7th Parliament, for instance, had five different prime ministers, which is why it had six sessions. The 12th Parliament, which had seven sessions, was the also the longest in Canadian history, sitting for over five years due to a wartime extension……….

According to the parliamentary website, which is not, thankfully, prorogued, it wasn't until 1964 that the House could adjourn during a session - even for statutory holidays - without a special motion to do so. As a guess, I'd say that's probably why early parliaments were prorogued more frequently. Scheduled sitting days - and the current calendar - are an even more recent development, with the calendar formula being adopted in 1982.

This parl.gc.ca compilation is interesting too -- the length of every session since Confederation, including periods of prorogation.”

This was clearly NOT ROUTINE but done for purely political reasons as several observers have said repeated prorogation of Parliament, as a political strategy, is an affront to democracy. The difficulty comes arises in how do we stop the deliberate and calculated attacks on our parliamentary democracy by this regime? The opposition can, when parliament finally resumes vote down a confidence bill and topple the government but then what, a coalition would be nice but when things did not work out last time the Libs and the NDP promptly went back to trashing each other and distancing themselves from the Bloc (who despite their stated goal of separating seem to be the only ones who seem to actually respect parliamentary processes) so reassembling such a coalition is now highly improbable. We can have that election that so many have called for but there are no guarantees of change, if fact it seems that 30% or so of the voters still seem to think the sun rises from a dark hole somewhere in the PMO. As our electoral system stand right now that could simply mean more of the same, particularly with this regime’s ongoing “advertising” campaign fooling so many of the less savvy public.

The branding carried out using our own tax dollars has been so insidious that even the most cynical of us are starting to refer to OUR government by prefacing it with the name of the owner of that dark hole where for far too many the sun shines from. Those of us less blinded by the light are often more specific as to the location!

Scott Ross has the right idea when he says:-

The political system in our country needs to change, not just in its actors, not just in its parties, but in its very essence, its very form. No longer can the attitude of entitlement be transitioned from party to party as if it was the MP's office and party loyalty his desk. No longer can elected officials prefer political expediency over political virtue; that instead of their choosing the easier path, there is no choice but the right one. No longer can our constitution be bastardized by ignorance; and instead of leading to its ruin, our Prime Minister leads to its emboldening.This change will not come from within this political system, it will come from without. It will come from the Canadians who genuinely and earnestly want to make their country better………

Unfortunately that does not seem to include those that continue to support this dictatorial, all controlling, truth spinning, anti-democratic regime

So there it is, over the year since I started this blog I have tried very hard to keep from specifically criticizing our government and tried to focus upon how our parliament should work, electoral reform, the checks and balance that the senate provide, access to information and so on, but I can no longer avoid saying here what should by now be obvious…….

The Conservative regime under Stephen Harper is the most anti-democratic government in the history of Canada. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers