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, May 16, 2010

A Victory for Democracy ….. or maybe not?

Many of the recent headlines have been proclaiming a win for democracy including some Liberal blogs and even the Liberal Party web site after an all-party deal was reached on the Afghan detainee files , I am not so sure about that.

As a number of observers have noted this may well be but a small step forward in an ongoing war, Poggie sums it up quite well like this :- A deal "in principle" is not a final deal when the memorandum that actually spells it all out won't be ready for over two more weeks. And if that memo isn't available until the end of May, when will the specially selected committee of MPs actually be selected, sworn in and get down to work? When will the unredacted documents actually begin to flow? And when will the panel that reviews the documents to determine whether there are national security implications attached to their release be selected, sworn in and settle down to work? And incidentally, when will the MPCC start receiving the information needed to properly conduct its inquiry?

If we then add the fact that –“ Between 20000 and 40000 uncensored pages of documents about Canada's handling of Afghan detainees will be secretly examined by a security-cleared all-party committee of MPs” and that “Even after the MPs have decided that a document is relevant and necessary, a "Panel of Arbiters" will make its own "final and unreviewable" determination as to what will actually be released”. This tentative agreement would seem to leave much room for yet more “maneuvering” and takes the final say about what will or will not be released out of the hands of the parliamentary committee. If parliament is “supreme” then what exactly is this panel of Judges doing, it would seem that the contentious issue is whether or not the material is of concern to our National Security or endangers our military , one wonders what expertise any of those chosen to decide will actually have in those matters.

It is quite clear that both the Government and the Opposition could have come up with a similar arrangement prior to it almost precipitating yet another “constitutional crisis”. How many is that now since the Harper regime came to power? It seems they just CANNOT work together and agree on anything without pushing things to the brink… but wait, the did agree unanimously on something!

MPs have united to keep their expense’s from being audited In a rare act of unity on Parliament Hill, MPs from all four political parties have said that MPs say expense scandals couldn't happen in Ottawa, so no audit is required . So every one of our MPs and all their staff are 100% trustworthy, never make an error or charge something to their office budget that they should not. OK, I believe that …. Hardly!

Sheila Fraser's is correct on this one "The Auditor General Act does not list the agencies and departments to which our mandate applies," … "The act provides that the 'Auditor General is the auditor of the accounts of Canada ......' These accounts include ...... the House of Commons." MP’s office budgets, including “other” expenses reimbursed, are public moneys and should be subject to exactly the same scrutiny as any other government expenditure. I hope she continues to stands her ground on this. for it is once again a fundamental issue of transparency and accountability of our parliamentary system.

How can our MP’s defend not allowing scrutiny of their expenditures whist at the same time demanding that the government release the requested Afghan documents. Open and accountable, I think not, they are all playing the same game, hide their own errors whilst seeking to reveal others errors. Even our British cousins have decided that NONE of them can be trusted with a majority and brought in a Coalition Government, I wonder if we are ready here for that outcome because I see no other in the foreseeable future.

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Skinny Dipper said...

I will agree that the Auditor General of Canada should be able to look at the expense accounts of MPs and senators. Yes, MPs may spend the money that they receive wisely. Yes, there is a board of internal economy to examine expenditures by MPs. I think the problem is that an auditor general may find that while MPs spend their money wisely, the auditor general may find that MPs offices are not the best place to be handling administrative issues such as passports and taxation form requests. Are our MPs legislators of laws or administrators of those same laws? Without an administrative need for local riding offices, our MPs' existence becomes very shallow.

The MP's office is important, particularly in rural areas where people may have a difficult time going to their nearest passport office five hours away. The MP's office is an omni-office with one-stop shopping for constituents to get administrative services. At the same time, the MP gains exposure because of this administrative nature. However, an auditor general may or may not find that the use of MPs' office expenses is efficient. That auditor general would not only be questioning the financial integrity of particular MPs, he/she would be questioning the legitimacy of an MPs role in Parliament. Is the MP a legislator or administrator?

Rural said...

"The MP's office is important, particularly in rural areas where people may have a difficult time going to their nearest passport office five hours away. The MP's office is an omni-office with one-stop shopping for constituents to get administrative services."

I agree with the above (as you say particularly in rural areas) but cannot believe that the AG would find expenditures on services to the public are inappropriate, that is in my view part of their job.