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, December 26, 2010

What we did not get for Christmas.

Last year I simply asked for a functional and democratic parliament and said “I hung my xmas stocking out and would have loved to see it bulging with new cooperation, accountability, access to information and other nice surprises but I woke up to see just a partisan lump of coal in the toe. Maybe next year….”

No such luck, so I went back to my 2008s wish list hoping to see a more encouraging return on my list, that year I asked for much more but it seems over the intervening two years NON of these things have come to pass. The list remains unchanged and just as badly needed now as then so ever an optimist (although it becoming more difficult to remain so each year) I will repeat my wishes this year with little real hope of getting any of it..

I want ALL our MPs to put Country before self and Party.
I want consensus not confrontation to be the norm in the HoC.
I want truth not spin and propaganda from our leaders.
I want our scientists, bureaucrats and commissions free to speak their minds.
I want a strong and independent Senate to maintain those checks and balances upon our legislators.
I want a functioning parliament for more than just 93 days a year. (we did do a little better this year)
I want parliamentary rules strengthened, codified and followed. (and got the opposite)
I want penalties for MPs and Leaders who attack or abuse our democratic systems.
I want less “votes of confidence” and more “free” votes in the HoC.
I want our electoral system to be reviewed and made more representational.
I want party policy to have more effect on voters than party disinformation.
I want alternative partys to have a fair chance of being heard and elected.
I want the notion of minority or coalition governments being a bad thing removed.
I want independent “made in Canada” rules for our Health, Drug and Food systems to remain just that..
I want less integration and regulation “consolidation” with the U.S. not more. (again we are getting to opposite)
I want “the man of steel” Kevin Page and the Parliamentary Budget office to be able to continue their work without interference. (I am surprised and pleased that he continues his work despite the difficulties his department faces in getting information and funding, although I understand he will not be renewing his 'contract'.)
I want the Auditor General to be able to publish her reports at any time, not just when parliament is sitting. (She also continues to do a sterling job of revealing the waste and misuse of government resources)
I want Canada to retain or regain control of our natural resources and our major manufacturing and financial systems.
I want that “open and accountable” government that I was promised last year. (That was really wishful thinking wasn't it?)
I want public servants, federal, provincial and municipal employees to realize that the taxpayers pockets are all but empty and reduce their demands for “more”. (Its been pretty quiet on that front but I suspect as the spending restrictions take hold in 2011 we will hear more on this one)

Is that asking too much? At this point I would settle for a glimmer of hope that some of these things are even being considered but I suspect that all of us will go away again this year with a promise of sweets but land up with something that leaves a bad taste in our mouth!
Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Small Incident....

.....in Great Brittan is perhaps an indication of where our 'democracy's' are headed world wide, it is a symptom of the over reaction by governments to what is admittedly a troubling tendency of a relatively small group of religious extremists to want to kill those who do not agree with them. Western democracy's must indeed be on guard against such fanatical extremism but this is ridiculous......

Here’s one example of the intimidation of peaceful protest by the young that is happening all over Britain. Nicky Wishart is a 12-year-old self-described “maths geek” who lives in the heart of David Cameron’s constituency. He was gutted when he found out his youth club was being shut down as part of the cuts: there’s nowhere else to hang out in his village. He was particularly outraged when he discovered online that Cameron had said, before the election, that he was “committed” to keeping youth clubs open. So he did the right thing. He organized a totally peaceful protest on Facebook outside Cameron’s constituency surgery. A few days later, the police arrived at his school. They hauled him out of his lessons, told him the anti-terrorism squad was monitoring him and threatened him with arrest.

The message to Nicky Wishart and his generation is very clear: don’t get any fancy ideas about being an engaged citizen. Go back to your X-Box and X-Factor, and leave politics to the millionaires in charge.

There have been many such reports at home and abroad coming not from countrys where despotic regimes rule but from supposedly democratic country's. If we allow our governments, the police and the 'security forces' to get away with this kind of nonsense then those fanatics have already won the war. As has been seen here in Canada its all to easy for authorities to trample upon our civil liberties in the name of 'security', hold citizens for sometimes extended periods without recourse, restrict travel of individuals with no proof of wrongdoing or otherwise circumnavigate our legal system all in the name of 'protecting us from terrorism'.

We now learn the the Security and Prosperity Partnership that previously raised such concern from citizens on both sides of the border was in fact not scrapped but merely carried on behind closed doors and as before with no parliamentary (or citizen) input. Under the guise of making the border 'more open' for trade and commerce a move is afoot to 'harmonize' our regulations with those of our neighbors to the south (read - change ours to suit them), and to create a 'North American Security Border' (read – become as paranoid and restrictive as our American counterparts).

Even when our government deems it necessary to bring such things to the attention of parliament with some proposed changes to laws or regulations it is often buried in the depths of some bill purporting to be a step forward and rarely studied in depth by our parliamentarians. Should it be questioned or further study or debate be needed the all too often it is rammed through using 'whipped' votes where all our representatives follow their leader like sheep right into the abattoir.

As each day goes by with more and more news of abuse of our existing systems both civil and parliamentary I begin to despair whether there is any way off of this slippery slope to authoritarianism. That the elite in both the political world and in the corporate world seem to think that the 'common man' will be forever content to struggle under the ever increasing burden of more regulation and less choice of our own destiny whilst they line their pockets on out dime just rubs salt in the wound. In Europe as governments try to correct their mistakes of allowing the corporate world to dictate their monetary policy, by cutting programs and support to the common man whilst largely leaving untouched the corporate crooks, the citizens are taking to the street in their thousands.

I do hope that we do not reach that point here in Canada but I fear it is not far off, the austerity signals are coming from government already and this coupled with the highly authoritative and controlling regime currently in power is almost certain to create even further hardship and discontent amongst many of our citizens. Unfortunately at this point I am not sure that a change of leadership would make much difference, particularly when the alternative is best described as 'The Same but Different' and both of the major partys refuse to even consider (at least publicly at this time) working with others representing alternative views. It is long past time that these political partys started working for the common man who elects them rather that the corporate interests that fund their back-room deals, but I feel it may well take rioting in the streets to get their attention. They need a profound shake up and getting just 25% or 30% support from the ever decreasing number of us bothering to vote is not going to change a damn thing no matter who wins.

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Week of Revelations?

Its been a week of revelations, or perhaps that should be a week of confirmations of what we already knew, but either way the reports of the Auditor General and Ontario Ombudsman have given several thing a little more light of day. A number of other press releases and news reports this week have shown that Democracy is indeed Under Fire, I am not sure whether I should be depressed that such things are going on or glad that the manipulation of our system of government is being brought to light.
The following are but a few of the reports this week, if you can read these and then say that our democracy is not in trouble then you are either brain dead or so blind that you should not need those rose-coloured glasses that you are wearing!
Read them and weep.......

Prime Minister Stephen Harper nominated Ouimet as commissioner on June 12, 2007, saying her "unique combination of skills and experience [would] serve her well as she leads the implementation of the new regime for the protection of whistleblowers."
It didn't turn out that way, given the AG's findings, and one must question whether this was the intent of Mr. Harper all along, to undermine the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner position and let public sector whistleblowers twist in the wind.

“Our voting system creates a large risk of the most anti-democratic of all outcomes, which is a majority government that got the minority of public votes,” said Green Leader Elizabeth May. May was granted the right to intervene in a case before the Quebec Court of Appeal that argues the current electoral system in that province violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A full year after Parliament demanded those documents, this charade hasn’t made a single document public. It flies in the face of the Speaker’s ruling. Instead of holding this government to account, my opposition colleagues are helping to shield records at the heart of this investigation,” said Defence Critic Jack Harris. “If they couldn’t see it six months ago, surely they can see it now: We need a public inquiry.” http://farnwide.blogspot.com/2010/12/parliament-is-submissive.html

It will be twelve months ago Friday that the Commons passed a motion demanding the government release documents revealing what ministers and generals knew about Afghanistan prisoner abuse. Since then, an ugly fight that included the padlocking of Parliament and a celebrated ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken fizzled into a hapless skirmish, leaving Canadians none the wiser.

Conservative prospects were so bleak last December that Harper prorogued Parliament — thinly claiming the government needed time to recalibrate its agenda — rather than disclose documents widely believed to be damning. But oh what a difference a year makes. Today Conservatives are climbing opinion polls, pressure for an inquiry is below zero and Liberals along with the Bloc are mired in a glacial process that has yet to make a single document public.

“By changing the legal landscape without fanfare in this way, regulation 233/10 operated as a trap for those who relied on their ordinary legal rights,” wrote Marin in his exhaustive post-mortem.....
“The effect of the regulation … was to infringe on the freedom of expression in ways that do not seem justifiable in a free and democratic society,”

The Harper government is bracing for a backlash over a border security agreement it is negotiating with the United States, anticipating it will spark worries about eroding sovereignty and privacy rights, a document obtained by The Globe and Mail shows...............
The communications strategy for the perimeter security declaration – which the document says will be unveiled in January, 2011 – predicts one of the biggest potential critics will be the federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. That’s because the deal is expected to increase the amount of data exchanged between law enforcement and other government authorities in both countries.

Canada is under pressure from U.S. officials to further comply with American security rules which in some cases, threatens its sovereignty and the privacy of its citizens. As a result of the war on terrorism, the U.S. government now has more power to restrict air travel and is not only dictating North American, but also international security measures.
Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act would require Canadian airline carriers that fly over the U.S. to provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with passenger information. This includes name, date of birth, gender, as well as passport and itinerary details when applicable.

If the concepts of power, representation, justice, equality, citizenship and human rights figured more prominently in public debate, then we would have at our fingertips an analytically rigorous set of ideas that both reveal and explain the uneven distribution of influence and resources that undermines democracy at this time. Taking transformative action to rebuild our political fabric would follow from each of those starting points. Yet all six themes have lost traction relative to the totemic markers of our time, notably competitiveness, productivity and economic growth.

There are times when all our politicians fail Canadians, and even the most partisan amongst us have to admit it they’re all behaving like fools. And the actions of the major three parties when it comes to Bill C-12 is one of those times.C-12 is a government bill that the Conservatives have been in no big hurry to pass, and the opposition parties have shown no particular desire to push them on.

A remote area of Mexican desert is popularly referred to as the 'Silent Zone'.  Radio communications are said to fail there due to local magnetic fields, and some claim that conversations cannot even be heard when people are in the Zone.  Is the Senate in danger of becoming a similarly afflicted zone?  Quite possibly, although not by reason of natural causes.

Perhaps the whole of Canada is in a silent zone, because our political masters sure do not seem to be hearing us, or if they are our words are left drifting in the wind.........

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fair Representation not coming anytime soon.

But for John Ibbitson's bit in the G&M the demise of the bill to bring just a little more proportional representation to our Canadian parliament would probably gone unnoticed. It seems that ALL our representatives in the HoC, or a least all their party bosses, have decided quietly amongst themselves that bill C12, a bill to bring the number of MPs more closely aligned with population growth will be shelved.
To quote Ibbison “Sources report that the Conservative, Liberal and NDP leadership encountered strong resistance to the bill among Quebec and Maritime MPs, who correctly argued that their regions would have relatively less influence in the House. The Bloc Québécois opposed the legislation from the start.
The Liberals and Conservatives especially feared that passing the bill could harm the electoral prospects of their Quebec MPs. Facing caucus revolts and potential electoral losses, the government shelved the bill.”
In other words who gives a shit about democracy or fair representation when we (the party) may loose a few seats in an already over represented area. What chance then of getting ANY support for the far wider electoral reform that is sorely needed in this country, those now in power along with those who think they may have a chance to regain power will fight tooth and nail to retain the status quo because it serves THEIR interest. When will these folks who are supposed to be representing the best interests of their Constituents and OUR Country start putting those interests before self and Party? Not until they are forced to I suspect.

The imbalance is highlighted by Ibbitson by pointing out some numbers from the recent by-election - “The need for the bill was manifest in Monday’s by-elections. In the exurban Toronto riding of Vaughan, 120,864 voters were entitled to cast ballots. But Winnipeg North has only 51,198 electors, making a vote in Greater Toronto worth less than half the value of a vote in Winnipeg.”

Even worse are these numbers from StageLeft -
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux will take his seat in parliament to represent the riding of Winnipeg North after collecting 7,303 of a possible 51,198 votes - that's 14.26% of the electorate.

Conservative MP Julian Fantino will take his seat in Parliament to represent the riding of Vaughan after collecting 19,260 of a possible 120,864 votes - that's 15.94% of the electorate.

Conservative MP Robert Sopuk will take his seat in Parliament to represent the riding of Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette after collecting 8,176 of a possible 53,549 votes - that's 15.27% of the electorate. “

No matter which side of the equation these MPs are on it would seem that they can hardly say that they have the support of their constituents or indeed truly represent the riding from which they come. True, the turn out was pathetic, not that such apathy is uncommon in by-elections, or for that matter general elections. If the question was asked “why do you not vote” I suspect many respondents would say “Because my vote makes no difference, even if the person I vote for wins the 'party' will dictate how he votes anyway, so why bother”!

I maintain (despite that I am one of those minorities whose vote will have less clout should proportional representation ever take hold, a rural resident) that representation that more closely follows the actual wishes of our citizens can do nothing but improve the way in which our democracy works. I will mean a broader range of views will actually see the light of day in parliament, it will mean less of a monopoly of power by the long established partys, it will mean more citizens will feel they have greater control over who gets elected and may even wrest a little power back from those Political Partys who think their way is the highway and everyone else is to be ignored.

Returning to the killing of Bill C12, its not all bad. In these times of fiscal restraint the addition of 30 new MPs would cost us a minimum of 18 to 20 Million a year if we include salaries, pensions, office budgets, allowances and services provided by the House. Its hard to gain any perspective when our government proposes to spend millions on fighter jets designed for war when our search and rescue folks still do not have new helicopters and our navy still does not have any heavy ice breakers to patrol our northern waters. When our prime minister and his ministers have increased their own spending by 16.5%, when Harper's office expenses ballooned to $9,894,370 (Yes, thats almost 10 MILLION in “office expenses”) in 2009, when the Conservative government spent $100 million on polling over the past five years.

It seems to me it is not MORE MPs we need, but BETTER MPs working for the betterment of our citizens rater than the “Party”, representing a more evenly distributed number of citizens and elected in a more representative way!

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers