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, February 7, 2010

The Winter of Discontent

As the fine young man who spoke at the Owen Sound No Prorogue Rally said its hard not to become depressed if one is following the decline of our democratic institutions and more particularly the distain which the current regime is treating the various checks upon the abuse of power. I don’t know if its just the winter blahs or the increase in the number of reports focusing upon such actions but I share his depression of late. The following clips from various sources do little to encourage me given my view that a large part of “Good Government” and a working democracy depends upon the citizens being aware of governmental decisions and actions. It would seem that the prorogation is just a continuation of the efforts to keep the citizens, the press and even our MPs in the dark.

This from The Globe & Mail details that it can take months to respond to Access to Information requests instead of the max 45 day prescribed by law.

In 2006 and early 2007, reporters in Ottawa noticed that documents requested through federal Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) laws were taking longer and longer to arrive.
Information officers in various government departments privately blamed a new requirement, imposed by the Harper government, that requests be vetted by the Privy Council, the departmental arm of the Prime Minister's Office.
T/H to http://harperbizarro.blogspot.com/

Perhaps the following has something to do with it and one wonders why Mr Marleau resigned, was it frustration from being unable to do his job. Certainly his year end report before he left would seem to indicate that the Harper Regime is not alone on this one………

“In closing, I wish to acknowledge the professionalism and dedication my staff has demonstrated through a period of radical change and scarcity. I also want to pay tribute to the memory of former Information Commissioner Dr. John Grace whose impassioned pleas for reform, 15 years ago, still resonate today. Dr. Grace set the bar high in the defence of the citizen’s right to know. Unfortunately, successive governments have chosen to ignore his recommendations and those of the commissioners who followed him. How much longer will Parliament stand by and tolerate this pervasive neglect and the attrition of a fundamental democratic right? “

Then there is this from the Ottawa Sun
OTTAWA — The federal office charged with prying the lid off government secrecy has been without a permanent leader since June and is unlikely to get one for several more months.
Critics argue the failure to swiftly replace this key watchdog is part of a pattern by Stephen Harper’s government of cloaking information from the public.
The post of federal information commissioner hasn’t been permanently filled since Robert Marleau resigned on June 29. The following day,
Suzanne Legault was named interim commissioner for six months. Her position was recently extended another six months

The loss of a number of chairs of “independent” commissions and boards responsible for ensuring that “accountability” is not just a word used to get elected would seem to indicate that a concerted attack upon the much touted “open and accountable” government that this regime said it was going to promote is underway.

Haroon Siddiqui of the Tronto Star lists just a few of the recent losses….
The extent of Harper’s misuse of power becomes clearer when you realize that the Conservatives are replicating some of the worst practices of the Republicans under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney:
Consolidating executive power; eviscerating the legislative branch; operating under extreme secrecy (by keeping an iron grip on information, through endless court challenges and censoring/redacting documents); riding the coattails of the military and questioning the patriotism of political opponents; and forcing out public servants who refused to fall in line.
Count the heads that have rolled in Ottawa:
Peter Tinsley, chair of the military police commission, who initiated the Afghan prison abuse probe – refused a second term.
Paul Kennedy, chair of the Complaints Commission for the RCMP, who criticized the use of Tasers – refused a second term.
Linda Keen, nuclear watchdog, who insisted on safety at Chalk River – fired.
Kevin Page, parliamentary budget watchdog, who rattled the Tories with several revelations – rendered ineffective with a cut of $1 million from his $2.8 million budget.
Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer, who probed Tory election spending – publicly attacked.
Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who dared criticize both the U.S. and Israel – refused support for a second term and publicly rebuked.
Jean-Guy Fleury, chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, who opposed the Tory politicization of appointments to the tribunal – frustrated into quitting.
T/H to roger hollander

Colin Freeze, The Globe and Mail reports on what some of those individuals had to say to the Liberals recently when discussing such matters in Ottawa whilst the Conservatives “recalibrate”!
January 26, 2010
Administrative tribunals are “under attack by the federal government,” said Linda Keen, former chief executive at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. She recounted how she was “fired” by the Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources last year.
“I said at the time this is going to send a chill through federal tribunals,” she said in a videotaped message. “… Are we in an era where tribunals must be more interested in meeting the needs of the government than in doing their jobs?”
More diplomatic was Peter Tinsley, whose term as chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, was not renewed last year.
The commission made news for probing the Afghan detainee controversy, the same hot-button issue that many observers say forced the Tories to prorogue Parliament this winter.
“The perception has become widespread that something is not quite right in the system,” Mr. Tinsley said.
Too often, he said, political “horsetrading” and unelected staffers play key roles in hiring and firing watchdogs that serve at the whim of the government they are appointed to criticize.
“The potential for abuse itself does not bode well for good governance,” Mr. Tinsley said.
T/H to statism watch

Let us not forget the difficulty under which our Parliamentary Budget Officer is working, given his recent report which substantially disagrees with the ruling regimes numbers can we expect this position to be vacant soon also? Our “independent” electoral watchdogs at Elections Canada are also under almost constant attack for doing their job. These attacks and insidious diminishment of those “checks and balances” is of far greater concern than the recent parliamentary “delay” that has finally woken up so many of our citizens to the fact that our Democracy is Under Fire!

(A personal note here, regular readers may have noted that I no longer use the word “government” when referring to the current regime in power. As I said in an earlier post I consider Government to embrace ALL of our MPs, ALL of the various commissions, boards, support staff and yes all of those civil servants and diplomats working for us. When those in power support those institutions and public servants and are INCLUSIVE we can include them in that description, when they attack them then they are NOT part of government but better described as a “regime” or perhaps an “oligarchy”. Let us all stop using the words “the government” or that highly promoted phrase “the Harper government” when referring to the Conservative Regime that is now in power.)
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Colette Amelia said...

good point as government does indeed take in all of these players...and in the current climate all but the almighty demigods are now ruling.

We might also replace democracy because in order to have democracy you must have freedoms...of the press and of people to be able to express and this is sure not the case these days with the muzzling of the press and the attacks on whistle blowers and the over riding interests of the olympic corporation to limit the freedoms of us in BC.

Rural said...

Indeed, there are those who say Democracy in Canada is dead. I prefer to think of it as severely chalenged and in need of all our help. It would seem that BC is being particuarly challenged of late....

Alan Goodhall said...

Take heart. More and more people are taking notice of the lack of accountability and transparency in our present government, oops sorry, I mean regime. :)

People are waking up to the fact that Mr. Harper rode to power on this very issue. It is fast becoming his Achilles heel. He is leaving a trail for the electorate to follow that no amount of "talking points" will deter them from. The prorogue issue was the final straw for many of us. It caused us to take a closer more critical look at the political scene.

Perhaps Mr. Harper is just what we needed in Canadian politics at this point in time. Someone to galvanize us around an issue and wake us from out apathy. This dark cloud may have a brilliant silver lining. Political engagement across a much broader swath of our society.

Just trying to throw a little optimism into the mix. Cheers.

Rural said...

I agree that some good may well come of this, I have oft wondered how much rope we must give the Harper regime before things come to a head. Seems to me that’s there is lots of rope its just that right now its just around his feet………

For a little more “rope” see my post at http://ruralcanadian.blogspot.com/2010/02/senator-corrects-harpers-spin.html