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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Seasons Greetings

May you all be safe, happy and healthy during this season
of celebration, giving & receiving.

May 2012 bring equality, fulfillment, contentment 
& true democracy to us all.
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Sunday, December 18, 2011

It Stinks On The Hill

Justin Trudeau's perceptive description of one of the Harper Regimes mouthpieces got me to thinking! Out here in rural Canada we are used to the occasional smell wafting up the hill from the nearest agricultural enterprise but it is no big deal, a fresh breeze will come along shortly and dissipate the odor. Over on the other hill, the one in Ottawa, its a different story, not only is there a overabundance of bovine and equine excrement but unlike out here in the country where it falls to the ground and fertilizes the flowers they deal with it differently. Up there they carefully package it in lies and deceit, wrap it up in secrecy and finish it off with a bow of utter contempt, it matters not, it still stinks when unwrapped!

With the above in mind here are a few of the more recent packages found laying around and starting to smell really bad.......

Codifying secrecy - Marc Garneau asked about the government’s attempts to move committee business in camera across the board. That means that while witness hearings would still be public, any other committee discussions would be made secret, including any motions that the opposition might make (only to be subsequently voted down). This was noted yesterday by Kady O’Malley, and echoed by Elizabeth Thompson on two of the committees they’ve been covering.

So that firm that the Conservatives hired to do the reprehensible political dirtbaggery in Irwin Cotler’s riding? Was hired by a number of Conservatives during the last election, including the would-be Speaker himself. Was this mentioned in his ruling? No, it was not.

Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada's West Coast............... documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister's Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.
(This package just got unwrapped here.)

A federal court judge issued a declaration that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz offended the rule of law by introducing legislation which did not comply with the Canadian Wheat Board Act. The existing act requires the minister to consult with the CWB directors and hold a plebiscite among CWB producers before making changes to the CWB monopoly. Ritz has declared that the general election last spring served as the only vote he needed since the vast majority of CWB ridings voted for Conservative MPs.

The Harper team made accountability a cornerstone of its pitch for government back in 2006, ................ But the ethics organization reports that the Harper government has failed to live up to its promises. “Five years after the Federal Accountability Act became law, dishonesty, conflicts of interest, excessive secrecy, unlimited donations all are still legal,”

Two years ago, during the H1N1 pandemic, it was reported that there was an unusually large cluster of infections at the St. Theresa Point First Nation community in northern Manitoba. Health Canada did an epidemiological study to investigate and determined at least some of the likely causes. But someone, in his infinite wisdom, decided the study should remain secret. It took an access to information request by the Winnipeg Free Press and a followup complaint to the information commissioner to obtain even a redacted copy of the report.

Signed Sept. 20 and effective immediately, the policy says the Mounties must consult and get approval from Public Safety for communications regarding non-operational matters “PRIOR (emphasis in original) to public use” for almost everything. On “major operational events,” all communications need to be shared with Public Safety Canada officials “for information only” prior to public use.
According to the document, the goal is to ensure advance notice of “communications activities,” “consistent” interdepartmental co-ordination, better “strategic” communications planning, and more “integrated Government of Canada messaging.”

There are an estimated 1,500 communications staffers working in ministers’ offices and departments, including 87 in the PMO and PCO. Soon after Mr. Harper won power, the Prime Minister’s staff started deciding which reporters could ask questions, skipping those they suspected weren’t in the government’s favour. Media access to the Prime Minister and his caucus, in general, has become minimal. (so there are lots of folks in the PMO to package all that 'stuff'!)

There are many more hidden packages laying around with strange odors coming from them but thats about all I can take in one post. We are all in deep shit and someone is really busy hiding the shovels.

(Sorry Ottawa, best get used to it, there is no fresh wind forecast for 3 or 4 years and even then we could have a wind from the wrong direction.)
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Does Income change the Outcome?

By now you have all seen the OCED report that says “The richest 1% of Canadians saw their share of total income increase from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007”. It was this discrepancy along with the actual amount that the rich take home compared with the average working man that spawned the Occupy movement. Recently questions are being asked, and rightly so, as to if or how this effects our democracy and I will get back to that in a minute. First, so that we can truly see what this divide real means let us look at the actual numbers (as provided by Stats Can for 2009), below is data extracted from two separate Stats Can tables combined for easy comparison and with % columns added. Click on table to enlarge.

Whilst all the dialog has been about the top 1% and the remaining 99% I prefer to take a little broader view. It can be see for instance that only just over 5% of individuals made more than $100,000 whilst the remaining 95% or so are below that threshold. The same column indicates that a full quarter of individuals took home less than $15,000 and that the median income was $28, 840. Please note 'median' is not the same as average, this indicated that an equal number of individuals made more than $28, 840 as did make less. It does not of course show the obscene salaries (and other perks) of those few at the very top but (presumably) includes them in the 'making above $250,000 category!.
A warning here statistics can be spun any which way and are reliant upon the input data so if for instance some of those very low income individuals filed income tax (which is I presume where this data came from) to get the gst rebate and some did not it would skew the numbers, as would the use of offshore accounts and creative bookeeping from the more affluent. Never the less I find it more revealing to look at actual income levels rather than saying the gap is getting wider or the top XX% is getting XX% more than the bottom XX%, that to me is pretty much meaningless!

I have transferred the family incomes to the chart for the same income levels for comparison, make what you wish of them but do note that nearly 10% of FAMILIES bring home less than $25,000. One final note before I move on, the report also says that “Since the mid-1980s, annual hours of low-wage workers fell from 1300 to 1100 hours, while those of higher-wage workers fell by less, from 2200 to 2100 hours.” Its not so much the change that bothers me but the fact that those with low income who NEED the hours cant get them, whilst those who could afford to make room for a few more fellow workers by reducing their hours do not. Not as simple as that perhaps but sharing a job may be better than more on unemployment or welfare?

Any way, my excuse for posting this was to talk about if such disparities of income effect our democracy, I recently heard a discussion on TVO on this very subject where one speaker said yes, the rich (particularly the corporate rich) have greater access to government via lobbying and 'consultation' than do the poor. Another speaker (I believe it was Preston Manning) said that so long as 5 or 6 citizens can form a political party, expand it and develop it into a viable option then democracy is alive and well! Well Preston you may have done that but the party you formed is no longer in existence and conditions today are a far cry from those days, nor does the ability to form a political party constitute all there is to democracy. The ability to spend vast sums of money to publicize and promote your point of view has been clearly shown to be necessary to get the voters to take any notice, a fact that our current government has grasped only too well with their ever expanding 'publicity' department in the PMO and their removal of per vote funding to developing and smaller partys. Additionally, those that are on the upper rungs of the income ladder can better afford to contribute larger sums to the party of their choice than can the guys at the bottom for whom a $50 or $100 donation is a big hunk out of their budget.

So yes, income does indirectly effect our democracy by a disparity of both access and funding to political partys and thus effect both the platform, actions, and media attention of whatever party the rich or poor support gets. Money and the ability to spend on advertizing should not affect the way the population votes and the party who gets to run our government for a while, but it clearly does, and indeed recently did, enough so that the conservatives 'bent the rules' so that they could spend more. Meanwhile just to rub salt into the wound the very services that the folk on the lower end of the ladder, and those who have just been pushed back one more step, need are being cut. “Employment Insurance processing centers are being cut from 120 to 19.” NINETEEN! across the entire country with “The number of unemployed Canadians increasing for the second straight month, climbing by 20,500 to 1,394,700.” I bet these folk believe there is a effect upon democracy and governance by income values!

And that’s the way it looks to this lower income Canadian as service cuts loom, full time jobs disappear, and banks and corporations report increasing profits and I feel helpless to effect the choices that various levels of government are making.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

The H@$#&r Government.

Regular readers will know that I refuse to use the phrase that links OUR Government directly with the leader of the Conservative party, preferring to use the more accurate term when referring to that portion of government coming under direct control of this dictatorial leader, that being the 'Harper Regime'. 

We must respect those thousands of government worker who work for us in the Canadian Government and who are forced to use that untenable phrase by directive of said regime, and make no mistake despite all the denials the use of said phrase was and is a directive of said leader and his personal (and ever expanding) crew of mini dictators in the PMO. Thanks to the The Canadian Press and their persistence if obtaining freedom of information documents on this issue we can now specifically say that when Dimitri Soudas, wrote to Canadian newspapers asserting "no directive" went out to civil servants to use the offending phrase and that "Nothing could be further from the truth," he was lieing on behalf of the regimes leader, Mr (you wont recognize this country) Harper.

The use of this heading on press releases and other official documents is offensive enough and according to “top former civil servants” “ breaches both communications policy and the civil service ethics policy” but the so very obvious lieing and cover up once again shows this regime up for exactly what it is.

All that said, we cannot entirely blame the Harper Regime for the persistence of this phrase, yes government employees have little choice but to follow directives from above but the press, and indeed us bloggers, do NOT have to legitimize this phrase by continually repeating it. Simply substituting the single word 'government' or 'Harper' or 'the PMO' where appropriate or, if you prefer as I do, 'The Harper Regime' and refusing to publish anything with those inaccurate, self serving and unethical words attached would quickly bring to an end such 'branding' of OUR government.

There has been much written this week since the Canadian Press broke this story, unfortunately they almost all, in criticizing the use of the word “Harper” in conjunction with the word “Government”, actually use said phrase and thus increase its use and visibility, much I would imagine to the delight of the Harper Regime!

This then is a call to all reader of this blog to cease and desist using the phrase “The (offensive word removed) Government” and to ask others who publish on line and in print, and even broadcasters in radio and TV to do the same. Its a small push back against this oligarchal regime against whom we have so little recourse, but in my view it is a meaningful one.

A t/h to Impolotical for picking up on the Canadian Press piece on this and the many other who followed suit but will you all please start using a more accurate phrase when describing or alluding to the current 'government'.

  1. A government, esp. an authoritarian one.
  2. A system or planned way of doing things, esp. one imposed from above.


1. A small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.
2. A state governed by such a group

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Statscan to stop charging for data.

Embassy Magazine (recently) broke the story that all of Statistics Canada's online data will not only be made free, but released under the Government of Canada's Open Data License Agreement (updated and reviewed earlier this week) that allows for commercial re-use.

(T)here may be tougher news on the horizon for StatsCan. With every department required to have submitted proposal to cut their budgets by either 5% and 10%, and with StatsCan having already seen a number of its programs cut, there may be fewer resources in the organization to take advantage of the opportunity making its data open creates, or even just adjust to what has happened.........

The winners from this decision are of course, consumers of statscan's data. Indirectly, this includes all of us, since provincial and local governments are big consumers of statscan data and so now - assuming it is structured in such a manner - they will have easier (and cheaper) access to it..........

The first thing everybody will be waiting for is to see exactly what data gets shared, in what structure and to what detail.........

Therein lays the rub, announcements are all very fine but exactly what will be included and how long will it be until all data is available is something we must wait and see what happens. All to often both government and other users are basing their decisions on data that is anywhere from a few months old to 5 or 6 years old, we all know that statistical information on (for instance) family incomes from the 2006 census is utterly useless in todays economy. Given the governments failure to retain the mandatory portion of the long form census care must be taken to get too excited about free data that may be less than accurate due to poor input data.
All in all its a step in the right direction but we wonder how the reduction in revenue coupled with the across the board departmental cuts will impact their ability to collect and analyze data.

NOW how about data from all the other government departments being made freely available, particularly on where and how all out tax dollars are being spent AND access to documents requested through freedom of information requests being actually provided in a timely and open manner. Opening up access to Statscan data whist handicapping their ability to collect accurate data and making it ever more difficult to get information and data from other government departments may just be another one of those Harper regimes smoke screens. Time will tell!

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Not Important?

There are two rules at the centre of Parliamentary democracy. First, any politician given actual responsibility must have an elected mandate. Second, government is accountable to all politicians with an elected mandate. “ So says The Fifth Estate in a rebuttal to a recent article by John Ivisin. In doing so he make a number of important observations about how our parliament is supposed to work and how it is being increasingly subverted into a meaningless & dysfunctional shadow of its former self.
I agree with everything said and have therefore re=posted this article in full (My bold):-

A few days ago, I suggested that the main achievement of the Harper regime was something few people had noticed yet: a new style of democracy, à la George Bush and Hugo Chavez, where only the election results matter: once you’re elected, the rule of law no longer applies. Now John Ivison of the National Post has taken up the same point. Well, sort of. You see, Ivison is an irredeemably moronic pro-big-government flake (a journalist?) without an apparent shred of critical thinking ability or even basic knowledge of how Westminster democracy works.
There are two rules at the centre of Parliamentary democracy. First, any politician given actual responsibility must have an elected mandate. Second, government is accountable to all politicians with an elected mandate. Now, all majority governments skirt with violating this principle, all the time. They break laws. They stonewall investigations. They lie to journalists. And occasionally they close down debate in Parliament in order to ram a bill through.
According to Ivison, that’s fine and dandy. He says the government has a “right” to pass legislation, because it won the election. This “right” trumps the whining crybabies in Parliament who want to debate the bill. According to Ivison, in other words, Parliament is an irrelevant talk shop. Now, certainly the vast majority of MPs agree with him that there is no need for maturity, intelligence, or any remotest shred of independent thinking in their workplace. But they are wrong. And so is he.

It will probably come as a great surprise to people as apparently oblivious and ignorant to basic concepts of representative democracy as national newspaper columnists, and Post ones in particular, but no government has the “right” to pass a law. It actually has no rights. You can check, in the Constitution. What the Prime Minister has is the responsibility to ensure the consent of Parliament to pass the laws he wants to pass. Today, all political parties claim the right to command this consent whenever they want it from their members, and those members agree, and almost nobody calls them on their bullshit. I challenge anyone to explain how democracy could be anything but dysfunctional when party discipline reigns supreme.

But what we are talking about now goes beyond party discipline. The Conservative government has stated in practice, if not by policy just yet, that Parliamentary discussion is no longer relevant. They have done this by demonstrating that any time the opposition parties make some token opposition in Parliament, they will invoke closure on the debate and hurry the bill through. Their supporters, like Ivison, cheer them on as they do this.
I’ll be the first to admit that Parliament has become a rather sad spectacle, but the solution from authoritarians like Stephen Harper and quisling tools like Ivison is to do away with the instituion entirely and say that Parliament just doesn’t matter: what matters is Ivison’s totally fictitious, bogus, trumped-up “government rights” to do whatever they want in between election campaigns. I’m not sure they’ve thought through the long-term consequences of this. Because the major consequence is to take Parliament out of the equation entirely and simply agree that the prime minister can do whatever he likes.
Here’s how Parliamentary democracy is supposed to work: the prime minister is any person who can get a majority of MPs to agree to accept his leadership. That’s it. Political parties and all their ilk are traitorous leeches who corrupt this process and turn Parliament into mere showmanship. In this, the NDP and the Liberals are no less guilty than the Conservatives. But just the same, right now it is a Conservative government which is going one further step and suggesting that Parliament has no role in debating legislation except to meekly stand by while the Prime Minister’s Office dictates legislation.
People like Ivison presumably feel this doesn’t matter because the all-powerful leaders in the PMO will always return to the ballot box every four years or so, and then if voters have been too harassed by the government, they can get their revenge. But in an age of declining election turnouts, it’s worth asking how long it will be before a Prime Minister given the sort of pre-eminent power Ivison thinks he should have decides that it’s not really worth going back to the ballot box anyways.
That future autocrat won’t be Harper, despite some particularly upset leftist bloggers saying last May that we’d just seen Canada’s last election. It likely won’t even come during Ivison’s chosen career as apologist for authoritarianism. But so long as we accept that Parliament is subordinate to the Prime Minister’s Office rather than the other way around, that day is coming.
I’m very sorry that these plain facts about democracy will no doubt be unwelcome to those anti-democratic forces who insist that we have to shut down debate so that we can pass the laws now, now, now, fast, fast, fast, and “get things done” and “bring change” and so on and so forth ad nauseam. That’s not how democracy works. Democracy is not about making sure the leader can act quickly and without opposition. If that’s the sort of government you think is superior, there are plenty of them in the world, and you’re welcome to move to whichever one you think will make you happiest. Personally, I suggest this one.
Origionaly posted at http://sixthestate.net/?p=2718

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Floor Crossing Delema

“The floor crossing tradition reflects the importance of preserving the independence and mobility of members of Parliament to vote with their feet when they feel it is in the best interests of their constituents or the country to do so.”
And that is exactly the point – sometimes an MP needs to vote with their feet. Party leaders can become drunk with power or abusive. Party cultures can change around them despite their best efforts. And it also gives primacy to the party and not the individual MP, even though our entire system is predicated on the role of the individual. We vote for individual MPs – not a party slate.

So said Dale Smith in a recent post........

And therein lays the dilemma when political partys with whom a particular MP is affiliated will not countenance any independent thought or action that does not follow 'the party line' it can leave an MP who truly does represent his constituents (a rare animal indeed) little choice if he or she is to remain true to their original commitment.

Dales full post follows, he is right on the money with this one.......

Yesterday the NDP had second reading debate on a bill that would attempt to ban MPs from “crossing the floor” to another party. Mathieu Ravignat, the bill’s sponsor (though the same bill has been introduced repeatedly by Peter Stoffer but never actually debated), said he felt the bill would somehow restore Canadians’ faith in our democracy.
“This bill also reflects a fundamental objective of my party, which is to do politics differently in order to renew people's trust in elected officials,” Ravignat said in debate.
And of course, he brought up David Emerson and Belinda Stronach to illustrate his examples of people who supposedly traded away principle for power. Except that people forget that Stronach actually had legitimate reasons to cross the floor, from the iron-fisted discipline that was being imposed on a party, that resisted her attempts to bring cultural change from within, that used human rights – and especially gay rights – as tactical wedge issues, and which marginalised her from the discussions despite giving her a relatively high-profile critic position. But hey, she crossed the floor just for a cabinet seat! She must have been grasping for power! Except that the government could have toppled the very next day, which was something she was fully prepared to accept.
Nobody mentions Scott Brison crossing the floor in debate. Unwilling to become the token gay poster boy for the “tolerance” of the new Conservative Party, Brison found a party that respected his fiscal conservatism and social progressivity (seeing of course that his former party, the Progressive Conservatives, ceased to exist). But do the defenders of this bill bring him up? No, of course not.
And of course what David Emerson did was reprehensible, no matter that he may have justified it as being in the best interests of his constituents to have a representative in Cabinet. Nobody denies that. But he also knew the consequences of his actions, and didn’t run again. At the same time, voters in the ridings held by Stronach, Brison, and others who did cross the floor, returned their MPs to Parliament, obviously feeling that their reasons were sufficient.
The bill itself has a number of technical flaws and loopholes, and is aimed at making MPs who want to leave their party be forced to sit as an independent, and that they be forced to resign and hold a by-election before they became a member of another party. Never mind that they could simply vote with the party they wished to cross to until the next election and run then. They could even join the caucus and simply not pay their $5 membership fee to become an official party member until such time as the next election, when they’d have to face a nomination race anyway (which they may not win – such things have happened to floor-crossers in the past).
But technical flaws aside, the bill doesn’t actually do anything substantive to address Canadians’ faith in politics or renew trust in elected officials. In fact, what it does is say that an MP is no longer to exercise their own judgement and independence, and that they must in fact submit themselves to the tyranny of the party.
“According to the Library of Parliament, there have been approximately 194 floor crossings since Confederation,” said Conservative MP Michelle Rempel in speaking out against the bill. “The floor crossing tradition reflects the importance of preserving the independence and mobility of members of Parliament to vote with their feet when they feel it is in the best interests of their constituents or the country to do so.”
And that is exactly the point – sometimes an MP needs to vote with their feet. Party leaders can become drunk with power or abusive. Party cultures can change around them despite their best efforts. And it also gives primacy to the party and not the individual MP, even though our entire system is predicated on the role of the individual. We vote for individual MPs – not a party slate. As such, we are placing our faith in the judgement of those MPs. If their conscience demands that they walk out of a party that they can no longer stand with, we have given them the authority to do so with the proviso that when the next election comes around, we must hold them to account for that decision.
This bill affirms that MPs cannot be trusted to exercise their own judgement on the basis of one bad apple, and attacks made on the character of a select few others, which don’t necessarily reflect the reality of their situation. This is a sad statement for any sitting MP to make because it admits that they themselves cannot be trusted. It also seeks to capitalise on any voter anger of the “betrayal” of a floor crossing while tempers are still hot, which serves nobody’s best interests. Knee-jerk reactions are not the means by which we should hold our elected officials accountable.
Gimmicks like this bill don’t serve to restore trust – it just reaffirms cynicism. And that’s the last thing that we need right now.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Democracy

They understand there’s been an active, conscious, successful class war against them in the United States over the past several decades. As they say repeatedly, they are sick and tired of struggling to make ends meet while 1 per cent of the American population has 40 per cent of the nation’s wealth. Whilst it is not as clear here in Canada there is little doubt that such divisions not only exist but are indeed widening and that many folks are indeed 'struggling to make ends meet'. That the few are getting richer whilst the many are increasingly paying more to multinationals who control much of the basic necessity’s of modern life seems to be the theme that is emerging from the Occupy movement.

What has not emerged, at least not in any meaningful way, is the disproportionate influence that both the rich and the corporate world has upon our democracy. It is this influence that in no small way may well be the reason for the ever widening gap between the rich and the less affluent. After all does government 'consult' with the average Joe on the street or the independent business owner in small town Canada, do large political contributions come from the guy making minimum wage, or the fat cat to whom a large contribution to the party coffers will be but a miniscule percentage of their income.

It is my contention that the very rich be they individuals or corporations have a greater chance of effecting government policy and election results than the rest of us by their choice of party support and thus the funds available for blanket brainwashing via television advertising, and by greater access to those in power than most. The removal of the per vote 'subsidy' is, in my view, a deliberate move to further disenfranchise the lower income voter and enhance the support of those in the upper income brackets.
Given that, according to statscan (2009 figures), only around 5% of individuals make over $100,000 and around 50% of us make under $30,000 is it any wonder that so many folks are not happy with the influence that the upper crust has upon our daily lives.
One of the things that gets many some folk upset is the lack of reliable information on our economy, corporate profits and rising cost of goods. Statscan has many charts and numbers available however many long term records are only available on a pay for use basis (and its NOT a nominal fee but a considerable amount per download, in the hundreds of dollars for any amount of data), once again the average Joe is locked out due to income considerations.

Assuming you get the data it is then open to interpretation, let us take the available data on the consumer price index for instance, as it is on such things that the Occupy movement is in part focusing on.. According to statscan 2009 had a CPI of 116.5% over the past 7 years (2002 being the base year), we all know that the cost of living has gone up more than that over that period just by looking at our bills. From the same chart we see the following , food 123%, shelter 123%, transportation 118% (do you believe that last one, I dont), the point being that the figures that are spouted by those telling us how rosy it is are AVERAGES. A further look at the break down of food prices and we see poultry & dairy 130%, bread & cereal 138%, fats & oils 140%! The point being if you buy a lot of the items whose prices have risen dramatically or comprise a large part of your budget (gas, heating oil and insurance come to mind) and little of those whose prices have remained stable then such figures are meaningless and yet these are what we are told is how our economy is doing or what the AVERAGE wage is or what the cost of living is. Its all a shell game and without open data EASILY and FREELY available we cannot refute the political spin.

That may not be most folks view of a commentary on democracy but to me knowledge is the key to unlocking the door to change.

(For an eye opening series of charts on the U.S. Employment / Compensation / Income gap over the last several years do check out 'Here's What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About...”) , similar comparisons for the Canadian economy could not be found!
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Samara Report – The Outsiders Manifesto

Samara is an independent charitable organization, founded in 2008 to study citizen engagement with Canadian democracy. Their work focuses on three areas: political leadership; the participation of citizens in public life; and public affairs journalism. They have conducted Canada's first-ever systematic series of exit interviews with former Members of Parliament in Canada and have released a series of reports that use these collective narratives to shine light on how Parliament works, and share MP’s advice on how our politics can be improved.

These interviews were shared in a series of four reports that cover the MPs' backgrounds and paths to politics; their transition to public life and the ways they view their roles; how they describe their time in Parliament and their relationship with their political parties and their advice, recommendations and best practices. They have recently released their final report in this series.

These are the four reports-
This report will focus on the first part of those interviews, where the former Parliamentarians discussed their motivations and paths to politics. It sets the stage for a larger series of reports based on the MP exit interviews. Our purpose is neither to applaud nor embarrass MPs, but to understand political leadership and the role of Parliamentarians in our system.

This report is the second in a series sharing the stories and advice of these 65 Parliamentarians, each of whom dedicated an average of nearly ten and a half years to national public life, acting as a bridge between Canadians and their government.

The report outlines how the MPs expressed embarrassment at the public displays of politics in the House of Commons, saying that little constructive work takes place there.  Instead, the MPs said their most important work was done away from the media spotlight, in the less publicized venues of committees and caucus meeting.

Canadians know very little about those men and women—leaders like our Members of Parliament—and what they've learned serving on the front lines of our democracy. MPs' experiences can offer tremendous insight into the successes and failings of our democracy, and yet they're rarely consulted about what should be done to improve our democratic process,

Below you will find a few 'teasers' from the final report, there are many surprises in these extensive summaries of the MPs comments and I recommend that anyone interested in our parliamentary system past, present or future read each of the four reports.

'The first area in which MPs focused their recommendations was the nomination process, the point at which a political party, in each of Canada's electoral ridings, chooses its candidate for the federal election. Many of the MPs to whom we spoke, despite winning their nominations, expressed discomfort or outright disgust with the way these decisions were made and the lack of transparency and local engagement in the process.

'Many said they were left to their own devices to determine how to go about their job, how to navigate the intricacies of parliamentary procedure, and even how to hire appropriate staff. As one MP put it, "Rookie MPs are, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the day after they're elected. Unless you've established the right contacts and you've got the ability to find your own way and ask questions, it can be a pretty overpowering situation."

Another simply blamed the leadership of the political parties and the culture of antagonism in the House. "It's going to come from the leadership on top. I really would like to see party leaders from all parties engage in sober debate, and not throwing the malicious barbs back and forth," one MP recommended.

'Several felt that the Speaker should be more empowered to enforce good behaviour. "To me the decorum should be simple. Run it like I did my Grade 8 classroom. Stop it and stop it now. You point at him and put the cameras on [those] who are causing too much disturbance, then let the people talk about it back home," said another MP.

'Many MPs claimed committees were where some of Parliament's best work took place, where MPs could transcend the inflated partisanship of Question Period and make policy recommendations that best reflected the interests of the country as a whole. As such, their recommendations centred on reducing political party influence over the committee process, and putting in place guidance to ensure committee work was better reflected in the legislative process.

Specifically, a number of MPs, including two party leaders, suggested reforming committee regulations to weaken the ability of political party leaders to replace MPs on committees mid-way through their mandate, a tactic used to delay work from moving forward, or to stop it all together. 
Several MPs were concerned that committee work didn't have enough influence over the legislative process, and that committee reports were often shelved without proper consideration. "Where committees have more power, a lot more things are going to get done there," one MP said. Another recommended that committee reports should be brought forward as Parliamentary motions, to ensure greater profile and debate of the work. "You spend all this time on committees. Surely there should be some way to have motions on your recommendations. But there isn't. There's just a minister who takes it and says, ‘Thanks very much, we'll veto that. Goodbye,'" he said.

Given the recent shelving of a number of reports from the Public Account Committee the latter three points are particularly of interest! We also wonder why these MPs all wait until they 'retire' before speaking out and if the current lot will actually do anything to improve things. Not holding my breath on that one!

Do visit the Samara web site and support their work to give us a better insight into how our democracy is working and how we might improve it.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

More Parliamentary Contempt

Dale Smith clearly outlines the Conservatives contempt for parliamentary process – here is his recent post in full.
The government introduced its fall budget implementation bill today – while the entire Finance Committee is currently on tour doing pre-budget consultations around the country. What’s more galling – is that they’ve put said bill up for debate tomorrow. You know, while the finance critics are out doing those pre-budget consultations, and giving their staff some 24 hours to digest 650 pages so that they can create briefs for the other MPs who will have to debate it. Oh, and the briefing with department officials? Won’t happen until the 18th, which is once the finance committee members are back after the break week next week.
Added to this, the government unveiled the Ways and Means Motion as part of the supply cycle yesterday – and gave the MPs six whole hours to read over all 250 pages said motion before they had to vote on it. While the finance committee including the critics are not in the House.
In other words, the government has decided to thumb its nose at the fundamental basis of parliamentary democracy in this country. Sure, they have a majority and these bills are going to pass – but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be robust and informed debate. That’s the whole point of Parliament. If the government is going to release budget bills and supply motions – you know, the kinds of confidence measures that governments live and die by – and stymie the ability of the opposition to actually examine these bills and motions and give them robust and informed debate, then why bother having a House of Commons at all?
Yes, these motions will pass, but debate is important. Informed, robust debate is important. The Ways and Means motion passed without MPs knowing what they were actually voting on. This budget implementation bill isn’t going to see informed debate, but we’ll get the Conservative MPs reading prepared statements about how the opposition needs to support the Economic Action Plan™, the NDP saying that the government needs to create jobs and fix pensions, and the Liberals tutting at both sides about being “too ideological.” And the debate will not be robust, informed, or worth the time of our august institutions.
The Conservatives are treating our parliamentary democracy with contempt. And I fear that Canadians simply don’t care.

Dale continues to bring more of this contempt to our attention in this post. including the Parliamentary Budget Officer thoughts on the just released costing for the 'tough on crime bill' which he calls “total obfuscation.”

We can expect MUCH more of this from the dictatorial Harper Regime in the coming months and years and all we can do is watch and remember for the next election - where much of the pubic support for alternative partys is about to be removed in a self serving move by said regime!
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Monday, October 3, 2011

Libs reject Coalition

The Ontario Election is coming down to the wire and it is increasing looking like a minority government with an almost equal split between two if not three partys. The headlines say “ The Ontario election remains a three-horse race four weeks into the campaign, with the one and only televised leaders’ debate doing nothing to end the dead heat between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives or budge support for the New Democrats.
Then we have one of the major parties say in an open letter to the Hudak conservatives that:- “ any instability and uncertainty will take Ontario off track,” adding he is “running to form a Liberal government — and only a Liberal government.
“There will be no coalition with either your party or the NDP”.

Do these folk live in some kind of an alternative dream world that the rest of us know nothing about? It is strongly probable that Ontario is going to land up with a minority government and I have said here many times that minority governments are not necessarily bad, it dependents upon the willingness of those elected to work together for the good of the electorate. That a leader who could well be in a position to form such a government should rule out a formal arrangement with another elected party to govern in cooperation with other elected MPPs BEFORE such a choice become inevitable strikes me as a suicide mission!
I have to this point been very unsure of where my vote should go, they each are promising expenditures that cannot be recouped without major increases in income or major cuts in service but NONE of them will say specifically where these moneys are going to be found. This recent development leave me with pretty much a choice of none of the above! As former bank of Canada Governor David Dodge said insofar as their financial plans are concerned they are all lying (or living in lala land), and now it would seem that some of them at least are doing the same regarding the possibility of a coalition, saying I will not work with the 'other guys' no matter what!
Should, as seems quite probable, we get a minority situation it will be necessary for ALL partys to cooperate to get us out of this mess and avoid a second election in the near future. That one, and possibly two of the major player should reject such cooperation BEFORE the cards are even on the table shows what a state of affairs our political world has come to. We know the federal scene has been in this partisan gridlock for sometime, but I was under the mistaken (perhaps naive) belief that out provincial politics had not quite reached that sad state of affairs, guess I was wrong.

As a rural resident I have not seen a candidate at my door in the 50 years I have lived in this great country (why bother talking to the minorities when the city folks can get me elected without your vote!) , right now the best advice I can give any of the candidates in my area is don’t show up at my door unless you are prepared to hear some hard truths about politics in Canada!
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Saturday, October 1, 2011

What are they hiding?

Recently MP Guy Caron called on the Commons public account committee to resurrect 14 studies that were left unfinished when Parliament fell last March. Seven of the 14 are complete and just need to be tabled in the House of Commons, they include studies into costs related to the renovation of Parliament's West Block, the helicopter procurement deal, and the regulation and supervision of large banks.
The majority of Conservative MPs on the committee quashed Caron's motion, they also barred the public from that meeting despite there being nothing confidential being discussed.
One of the main concerns expressed by many observers, this one included, with a majority Conservative government was that the secrecy and difficulty in obtaining information about such items would increase. It would seem that those fears were not unfounded given that this oversight committee is charged with studying issues of transparency, of accountability and public expenditures. That they would not table the seven reports already completed indicates that as always they are hiding something in those reports that reflects poorly upon their governance. Nothing new about that, expect much more of this sort of thing in the coming months and years!

Meanwhile they continue to ram massive bills through the house without proper debate or consideration of the consequences. I have to agree with the Green Party on this one:-
The omnibus crime bill is 103 pages long. It holds nine separate bills, some of which will create major changes to the Canadian justice system. Harper wielded his majority as a bludgeon this week and limited debate to a mere two final days before sending it to the Conservative dominated committees for approval.
The worst of these changes are ethically and economically expensive. They look back to the 19th century instead of responding to the realities of the 21st century.  A government that respected its citizens would allow reasonable time for examination, debate, and change—and not limit parliamentary debate to an average of less than six minutes per page!”
So the omnibus bill now goes to committee and we have already seen how those are going to work under this government ........ as a conservative rubber stamp without regard to differing opinion, nothing new here!
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Citizens drive out of their way to vote

But not by choice. Many rural residents who have just received their (cards) were surprised to learn that they are expected to travel beyond their local community to vote despite their being a polling station much closer. In some cases this involves driving 20 to 30 Km and past one or more of those nearby polling stations! In one community near this writers residence folks within walking distance of the polling station must travel to one of two places some 10 to 20 Km away to vote whilst residents from further away must vote at the local polling station where they (the local residents) cannot. I must presume that this is not an isolated incident in just our area as the practice of denying local residents access to the local polling station seems to encompass several of the polls that I have checked around here.

As one of those affected I contacted Elections Ontario to make them aware that they had a major problem with such arrangements being a big disincentive to voters. Here is the response I received.

Returning Officers must consider a number of criteria to find the most suitable voting locations including convenience for electors; the location’s capacity; the extent to which electors are likely to be familiar with the location; any significant barriers that electors will encounter in reaching the location; and any other factor that may be relevant to the proper conduct of the election. 

Additionally, recent amendments to the Election Act require that all voting locations are fully accessible. To meet these new requirements, Elections Ontario has developed comprehensive Site Accessibility Standards to help Returning Officers find the most accessible voting locations in their electoral district.

The changes we have made to selecting voting locations mean that some buildings which have held polls in the past are no longer used. In some instances, electors may therefore have to travel further to a voting location than in the past.

In the examples you have cited, it is true that in some instances there may be other voting locations that are closer geographically, however these locations are already at capacity. The electors would then be assigned to the next closest accessible location”.

Given that just a few months before Elections Canada managed to find suitable locations to enable voters to, for the most part, vote within or close to their local community I find the excuses given disingenuous to say the least. They say “The electors would then be assigned to the next closest accessible location”, however in our own case there are no less that three polls closer than the one to which we have been assigned!

I have, by using multiple searches for addresses via the Elections Ontario search engine, (not a user friendly process) and by questioning local area residents, produced the map below of one particular rural area which as far as I can tell is an accurate representation of the poll locations. It clearly shows the rather illogical way the polling places are allocated. We know that Elections Ontario has been under pressure to better accommodate those with physical disabilities but doing so by putting disincentives to vote up for many other voters hardly seems productive.

Click on MAP to enlarge
(My red overlay on the EO map, the circles represent polling station locations)

A poll clerk at one of the advanced polls told me that there is already considerable discontent with the voting locations (this not from the area mentioned in the original post on my other blog), as another who worked in previous polls said “It’s broken on all levels and no amount of tweaking is going to fix it – it needs a major overhaul.”, Whist talking about the federal election it is clear that the same hold true at the provincial level. The allocation and placement of polling stations is most certainly 'broken'!

Its long past time for 'electronic voting' be it by phone, on the internet or by machine at a poll location – preferably all three! Elections Canada is working on such an initiative I believe. Let us hope that any system devised is shared across the country with both the provinces and municipalities- or will everybody devise their own system each different from the next? I think we all know which way that will go!
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ontario to use Tabulating Machines (updated)

Some Ontario Returning Polls will be using 'Tabulating Machines' to count the ballots, this appears to be an experimental initiative and limited to a few polls in each area. During 'training' the Returning Officers (at least in this area) were unaware of this wrinkle and training officers were unable to answer most questions related to such machines. As one who generally supports the move to using technology to enhance the voting process I do not want to detract from any moves to improve our voting system.

HOWEVER I have been unaware of any per-election announcements regarding this, as as it seems those that will be overseeing said machines. Being in close contact with an individual who worked for Elections Canada during the last election I am aware of some problems during the federal election but initial observations seems to indicate that the Ontario Provincial election has far more problems in its voting process. It is not sufficient that the voting process must be free of bias, interference and possible miscounts it must be SEEN to be free of such impacts!

Whist the move to have far more days for 'advanced polling' is perhaps a good thing, previous polling clerks have said that the previously very limited days produced 'very limited response' and that they were ' not busy', we wonder how 'busy' the returning clerks are going to be over the week that advanced polls are open. We also wonder how how much thought has gone into the introduction of 'Tabulating Machines' into an area without prior notification, and how the voting public will view this update when they vote..... AND how the verification process would work in the event of a recount!

This post is not in any way intended to detract from the voting process in this province, I have at this point full confidence in the voting system, however I will be keeping a close eye on the results and process from the “Tabulating Machines' being used for the first time (in so far as I know) in the Ontario Elections.

Its not technology, its the process, and the public acceptance of the process ........

UPDATE:- These machine were first tested during advance polls in the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election. “The ballot marking device will allow electors with visual impairments or physical disabilities to mark their ballot independently. “

The Process.
For you interest here is how the tabulating machines work. The voter is handed a ballot (larger cardboard sheet aprox 8 x 11) inside a folder, the voter opens the folder and then makes their selection in the usual manner and then closes the folder and hands it to the returning officer who then (without opening the folder) offers the ballot up to the machine which extracts the ballot from within the machine, an audible sound is heard as the ballot is accepted and dropped in the box below. So far as I know the ballot is counted in real time and the results forwarded to the local district elections office electronicaly at that time. It is unkown to this writer how those votes are stored either localy or at the district office, I do note however that the hard copy of the ballots are retained at the local polling station.

I understand that those with .disabilities' are able to produce a ballot using ' assistive voting technology' using this same machine. “Voters with limited or no vision will be able to mark and generate a ballot by following step-by-step audio commands. Voters with physical disabilities will be able to use “sip and puff” technology or paddles. “ It is unclear however if this option will be available at the selected advanced polls that are using the 'Tabulating Machines' or if they must travel to the district returning office.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Access to Information – Ours or Theirs?

This recent article highlights just how much information foreign governments (in this case the U.S.) are able to obtain about you or I, meanwhile details of the agreement on almost all of the three dozen separate initiatives in the Beyond the Border action plan are “closely held” , i.e. unavailable to the general public or even our MP's. So in other words your government is negotiating providing even more information to U.S. Law enforcement whist at the same time withholding information as to what exactly they are negotiating, seems a little one sided to me!

Read on.......

More than a dozen Canadians have told the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office in Toronto within the past year that they were blocked from entering the United States after their records of mental illness were shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Lois Kamenitz, 65, of Toronto contacted the office last fall, after U.S. customs officials at Pearson International Airport prevented her from boarding a flight to Los Angeles on the basis of her suicide attempt four years earlier.........................

So far, the RCMP hasn’t provided the office with clear answers about how or why police records of non-violent mental health incidents are passed across the border.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a CBC News request for comment.
According to diplomatic cables released earlier this year by WikiLeaks, any information entered into the national Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database is accessible to American authorities.
Local police officers take notes whenever they apprehend an individual or respond to a 911 call, and some of this information is then entered into the CPIC database, says Stylianos. He says that occasionally this can include non-violent mental health incidents in which police are involved.......................

RCMP Insp. Denis St. Pierre says information on CPIC not only contains a person's criminal record, but also outstanding warrants, missing persons reports and information about stolen property, along with information regarding persons of interest in ongoing cases. It also can contain individuals' history of mental illness, including suicide attempts.
The database contains anything that could alert authorities to a potential threat to public safety and security, and all CPIC information is available to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, St. Pierre says. There are a few exceptions, including information regarding young offenders, which is not available to American authorities.
The administrations of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama are in talks over a perimeter security deal that would include further cross-border intelligence-sharing as part of a joint border security strategy.
In an Aug. 29 news conference in Toronto, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told reporters that the privacy rights of Canadians remain top-of-mind during discussions about cross-border law enforcement programs........... OH REALY!

Not only that but said discussions are all but a done deal according to this article......

U.S. and Canadian negotiators have successfully concluded talks on a new deal to integrate continental security and erase obstacles to cross-border trade.
Negotiators have reached agreement on almost all of the three dozen separate initiatives in the Beyond the Border action plan, said sources who cannot be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The few remaining items mostly involve questions of wording and should be settled in time for an announcement in late September......................
Opponents have raised alarms that an agreement would cost Canadians both sovereignty and personal privacy. But failure to implement the agreements could further impair the world’s most extensive trading relationship, and put manufacturing jobs across the country at risk.
Details of the agreement are closely held. But goals outlined earlier include specific proposals to co-ordinate and align such things as biometrics on passports, watch lists, inspection of containers at overseas ports and other security measures..........................
The action plan is expected to propose making it easier to obtain temporary worker permits and documents such as the NEXUS card to circumvent Customs lineups. Factory shipments could be prescreened at the factory rather than at the border to ease passage.
The sources said much of what is proposed will not require legislation, although some if it will require budget outlays............................

Meanwhile in this recent Green Party mailing our attention is drawn to another area where government is not only seeking to access your private communications without warrant but doing it by including it in other legislation in a massive 'Omnibus' bill.........

Harper’s Conservatives plan to table an omnibus crime bill that contains some very bad legislation. Three of the more disturbing items lumped in with the omnibus Crime Bill are collectively known as the “Lawful Access” legislation:
  • Improving Access to Investigative Tools for Serious Crimes Act (C-50)
  • Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act (C-51)
  • Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act (C-52)
The Green Party supports efforts to tackle cyber crime, but is deeply concerned about the erosion of Canadians’ privacy. Currently, government agencies must show probable cause and obtain a court order before tapping your phones, and intercepting your mail and online communications. If this bill is passed, government agencies will be able access your online communications without a court order--they need only tell your service providers that they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’.
In this context, reasonable is a dangerously flexible word that threatens your right to privacy. A reasonable government would give each section of the crime bill the attention that it deserves, encouraging debate and a clarification of possible, unforeseen consequences. Omnibus bills are known to make profound changes to unrelated aspects of administration and policy, especially because Parliament can’t properly study them.
With a majority government, knowing that it can pass every piece of legislation that it creates, the Conservatve government shows a disturbing contempt for Canadians by continuing the practice of linking highly dubious laws to those upon which we can all agree................
No further comment required!

Then there is this from David Dodge retired Governor of the Bank of Canada which points out that Each (Ontario Provincial) leader is promoting “impossible” economic plans that unrealistically promise lower taxes and improved services for a province that he believes is facing a shrinking tax revenue base.
“Whoever wins will be seen to have lied to the public,” he said.
Some extracts follow........

During a recent early morning breakfast meeting in the Toronto office of his law firm Bennett Jones LLP, he says it is “unfortunate” that most senior civil servants have “hidden a bit,” from the long-standing tradition of speaking their minds about public policies in speeches, public hearings or committee sessions.
“I believe that Canadian citizens are more intelligent and more able to deal with things than the political operators believe. The foundation of a good public policy is really an open dialogue and open debate.”..................... 

In Europe and North America, households are bogged down by debts, job growth is stalled and governments are burdened with too much debt. Add it all up, he says, and “clear and real economic growth is not in the cards for some time.”
How bad will it get? To this question, Mr. Dodge responds with another: “Are we in North America and Europe facing a Japanese decade?” The question will not be directly answered, but his implication is clear: Most of the industrialized world is a long way from economic recovery.................

Given the current strength of the Canadian currency and fragility of the U.S. economy, he says, “we in Ontario are in an extremely difficult position.”
The worst of it, he says, is that none of the province’s three political parties appear willing to admit that jobs and corporate tax revenues are at potentially at risk. More disconcerting are the absence of viable economic strategies and incentives to attract manufacturing investment...............

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Politics of Respect

As Stephen Lewis said in his eulogy To hear so many Canadians speak so open-heartedly of love, to see young and old take chalk in hand to write without embarrassment of hope, or hang banners from overpasses to express their grief and loss. It's astonishing.”

It was indeed, I am not a particular supported of the NDP but both Jack;s words in his final letter and Stephen's words in the eulogy struck a particular cord with me and, judging from the reaction to both, I am not alone in that!

Jack, I think, tapped into a yearning, sometimes ephemeral, rarely articulated, a yearning that politics be conducted in a different way, and from that difference would emerge a better Canada.
That difference was by no means an end to rancour, an end to the abusive, vituperative practice of the political arts. The difference was also, and critically, one of policy -- a fundamentally different way of viewing the future of Canada.
His remarkable letter made it absolutely clear. This was a testament written in the very throes of death that set out what Jack wanted for his caucus, for his party, for young people, for all Canadians.”

So many of us are sick of the way our politicians behave, the divisiveness created by inflexible party lines, the constant slagging of the other guys ideas and proposals that to hear a call for respect and “an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity.” at what was undoubtedly one of the largest public morning for a leader in some considerable time was perhaps just what we needed to give us new resolve to change things for the better.

Jack understood that we are headed into even more perilous economic times. He wanted Canadians to have a choice between what he described as the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity.”
We can but hope that the rich and powerful, those politicians with the power to initiate change (at least one of whom was present during the funeral) and those who sit across the isle in the House are as moved by these words as I was. Unfortunately I suspect few of them will be.

We're all shaken by grief but I believe we're slowly being steadied by a new resolve and I see that resolve in words written in chalk and in a fresh determination on people's faces. A resolve to honour Jack by bringing the politics of respect for all, respect for the Earth and respect for principle and generosity back to life.”

Thank you Jack (and Stephen) for your words of encouragement and guidance, as the Reverend said “the torch has been passed” now it is up to us.

Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world...................

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Jack Layton 1950 -2011
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