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, March 21, 2010

The Information Vacuum

I have said before that in my opinion democracy cannot exist without access to information. If the people, or the peoples representatives, do not have he information upon which to make informed decisions, if those working for the people in government do not have the ability to disseminate that information, then democracy has been corrupted. We can agree or disagree with various policy decisions made by the Harper Regime, that is after all how democracy works, but that said regime continues to suppress, block, deny access to, and generally control every piece of information coming from OUR government is clearly an effort to destroy our ability to intercede from a knowledgeable perspective. It is a direct attack upon our democracy, such efforts at controlling information are not new but they have NEVER reached such conditions that now exists.

As we stumble from one Constitutional Crisis to another under this regime it is hard to comment upon specific problems, its like shooting a moving target, by the time one has formulated a response the situation has evolved into yet more complex maneuverings. The Afghan document issue is one such issue, however I believe that we must keep in mind that this is not now anything to do with what is in those documents (except that it would appear that there is some pretty damming information being hidden) but about the very basis of our democracy – the supremacy of parliament, NOT the PM – AND the right of our representatives to see such information as is necessary for them to do their job.

The following clips highlight the situation.

Fed up with months of government foot-dragging on their demand for uncensored documents related to the alleged torture of Afghan detainees, opposition MPs sought a formal ruling from the Speaker of the House of Commons that their parliamentary privileges

Should Speaker Peter Milliken agree and the government continue to balk at releasing the documents, opposition MPs said they're prepared to follow up with motions censuring the government - and three top cabinet ministers in particular - for being in contempt of Parliament.

Liberal MP Derek Lee admitted many of his colleagues don’t understand the battle going on. “This is constitutional law and it’s 350 years old,” he said. “It’s not simply a political thing.”

If we do not succeed in getting the documents ... we may well have undermined the ability of Parliament to perform its constitutional role of representing Canadians and bringing the government to account,” he said.

As this opinion says prorogation was but one of a series of moves that “undermines the fundamental democratic institutions of this country” which given that our troops are fighting a loosing battle overseas to bring democracy to Afghanistan is rather ironic!

Some Canadians may not pay much attention to archaic constitutional terms such as prorogation of Parliament or even to the fate of Afghan detainees transferred to torture. Other Canadians will care greatly about both these issues. But all Canadians must care about a minority government that undermines the fundamental democratic institutions of this country while also manipulating quasi-judicial tribunals and intimidating the public service from speaking truth to power. This abuse of executive power is tilting toward totalitarian government and away from the foundations of democracy and the rule of law on which this country was founded.

While our soldiers defend our belief in democracy overseas, the very institution meant to give life to that political ideal – Parliament – has been prorogued. The soldiers must show up – it’s their duty. I thought it was ours, too, to resume our responsibilities in January. I don’t know what it says when we can ask dedicated citizens to risk their lives in a military venture when we can just decide to take an extended vacation. And I’m not sure this qualifies as support for the troops.

We are not without those in parliament who understand the importance of information access “Last fall, a parliamentary committee recommended sweeping changes to the Information Act. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson nixed the recommendations.”

It seems however that we have moved way beyond that to the point where this regime is now deliberately NOT keeping records in order to avoid accountability for their actions.

But the Conservatives may have found the ultimate solution to the problem. There's an easy way to prevent anyone from getting access to your records, a veteran bureaucrat explained this week – don't keep records. Team Harper is catching on, he said. There's far less documentation, far less record-keeping. It's the formula for deniability. Why not make it the way of the future?

The bureaucrat was at the Department of National Defence, where the Afghan detainee affair has brought controversy, some of it prompted by journalistic prying through access laws. “I get a call from the Privy Council Office,” he said. “They're setting up a conference call. The first thing that's said is ‘No note-taking, no recordings, nothing. We don't want to see anything in writing on this.' … That's the way they develop policies now and, for my money, it's scary.”

This attitude of secrecy and withholding information is rampant throughout the Harper Regime as evidenced by these two examples which are just the tip of the iceburg

Canada’s climate researchers are being muzzled, their funding slashed, research stations closed, findings ignored and advice on the critical issue of the century unsought by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, according to a 40-page report by a co

The government of Stephen Harper is fighting tooth and nail to keep Suzanne Trepanier, the grieving widow of Remy Beauregard from being allowed to speak to parliament. The reason is straightforward; Trepanier believes that the vicious harassment from the partisan ideologues Harper' government appointed to the board of Rights and Democracy drover her husband to an early grave.

Not only should the PM and indeed all of cabinet be charged with contempt of parliament, but it can be seen that they have such little regard for the people that they represent, the parliamentary system, the officers of parliament and even the MPs that comprise our parliament that the word treason comes to mind when adding up all the attacks upon out governmental systems that have taken place over the last 2 or 3 years.

Remember that Mr Harper accused the opposition of Treason for daring to consider forming a coalition government in response to his previous shutting down of our parliament.

The highest duty of a Prime Minister of Parliament is to uphold the Constitution of Canada, which includes the rights and privileges of the House of Commons and the duties owed to the Queen's representative in Canada. Stephen Harper keeps on failing in his duties on both counts ....

Errol P. Mendes Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Ottawa

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1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...

Harper began by gagging Environment to thwart undesirable truth about global warming getting out and then he gagged Defence. He positioned political commissars in the PMO to control the questions that could be asked of the bureaucracy and then filter and massage that answers that travelled back to the public.

Our media, cowardly and feckless, made a slight whimper of protest at this and then "went along to get along."