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, January 16, 2011

Random Reading

Excerpts from articles I have recently read – no further comment required!

Elizabeth May - While Canadian political culture is not steeped in vitriol and hatred, the trend lines are not good.  We are allowing increased levels of incivility to creep into our culture.  Abuse, vilification of political opponents, is becoming increasingly commonplace.  The nastiness of anonymous postings on websites I mentioned in my last blog.  That new anti-social use of social media is a large part of the problem, but it is not the full extent of it.  Mainstream media is turning nastier.  Even before the Sun Media TV channel gets to the airwaves, its “star” players, people like Ezra Levant and Lorrie Goldstein, are bringing a level of rude, boorish behaviour to Canadian radio and TV.  Our political discourse has dramatically worsened in the last five years. The heckling and abuse in Question Period set such a low bar that citizens turn away in disgust.  Treating each other with respect is a foundational aspect of a decent society.  “To disagree without being disagreeable” has long been a Canadian way of discussing differences.  We are losing that. 

James Travers - Identity has long been a Canadian crisis. Living next door to an economic and cultural giant makes we-the-pygmies a little nervous and a lot self-conscious.
Understandable as that entrenched uncertainty is, it masks a more immediate challenge. If the 21st century is to belong to Canada in ways the 20th never quite did, Canadians must abandon the notion that they are merely clients of the state and assert their rights as owners of the country.
The difference between customer and proprietor is pivotal. Customers are content with the timely delivery of pleasing goods and services. Proprietors must safeguard the long-term stability, growth and competitiveness of the enterprise................
Citizens content to be clients can shrug away those concerns. Canadians who remember that they own the place can’t afford to be so complacent.

Gloria Galloway - The three independent federal watchdogs created by the Conservative government operate largely behind the closed doors of their own offices and, after one was exposed this fall for having done little in three years, critics are asking questions about the effectiveness of the other two.
The case of Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet, who investigated just seven of the 228 complaints from public-service whistleblowers she received during her tenure, left many in Parliament questioning how the problems in that office had gone unnoticed.................
Karen Shepherd, who was hired to ensure that politicians are not being unduly influenced by their well-connected friends, has never found anyone guilty of breaking the rules in the year and a half that she has been Commissioner of Lobbying.
And, in more than three years as Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson has discovered just one person, a Liberal MP, to have violated the Conflict of Interest Code. At the same time, she has absolved cabinet ministers, Conservative staff, a Conservative MP and the government itself of myriad alleged indiscretions.

The Canadian Press - A new study ranks Canada dead last in an international comparison of freedom-of-information laws — a hard fall after many years being judged a global model in openness. The study by a pair of British academics looked at the effectiveness of freedom-of-information laws in five parliamentary democracies: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Ms. Legault, whose office resolves complaints from requesters, said while the study has methodological shortcomings, just-published government statistics covering the 2009-2010 fiscal year nevertheless support the finding that the regime is broken.
“We can use our own data, and come to the conclusion that our system is in decline,” she said.
Only about 16 per cent of the 35,000 requests filed last year resulted in the full disclosure of information, compared with 40 per cent a decade ago, she noted. And delays in the release of records continue to grow, with just 56 per cent of requests completed in the legislated 30-day period last year, compared with almost 70 per cent at the start of the decade. Ms. Legault's office also suffers from a chronic lack of resources, creating backlogs, while the law does not give her the power to order the release of documents.
The Harper Conservatives first came to power in 2006 on an explicit promise to reform the Access to Information Act dramatically but have largely failed to deliver after five years in power.

Government of Canada - The Government of Canada currently makes a significant amount of open data available through various departmental websites. Fall 2010 will see the launch of a new portal to provide one-stop access to federal data sets by providing a “single-window” to government data. In addition to providing a common “front door” to government data, a searchable catalogue of available data, and one-touch data downloading, it will also encourage users to develop applications that re-use and combine government data to make it useful in new and unanticipated ways, creating new value for Canadians. Canada is also exploring the development of open data policies to regularise the publication of open data across government. The Government of Canada is also working on a strategy, with engagement and input from across the public service, developing short and longer-term strategies to fully incorporate Web 2.0 across the government.
In addition, Canada’s proactive disclosure initiatives represent an ongoing contribution to open and transparent government. These initiatives include the posting of travel and hospitality expenses, government contracts, and grants and contribution funding exceeding pre-set thresholds. Subsequent phases will involve the alignment of proactive disclosure activities with those of the Access to Information Act, which gives citizens the right to access information in federal government records.

Eaves.ca re the above - On the open data front, the bad is that the portal has not launched. We are now definitely passed the fall of 2010 and, as for whatever reason, there is no Canadian federal open data portal. This may mean that the policy (despite being announced publicly in the above document) is in peril or that it is simply delayed.......................
Possibly the heart stopping moment in this brief comes in the last paragraph where the government talks about posting travel and hospitality expenses. While these are often posted (such as here) they are almost never published in machine readable format and so have to be scrapped in order to be organized, mashed up or compared to other departments. Worse still, these files are scattered across literally hundreds of government websites and so are virtually impossible to track down. This guy has done just that, but of course now he has the data, it is more easily navigable but no more open then before. In addition, it takes him weeks (if not months) to do it, something the government could fix rather simply.
The government should be lauded for trying to make this information public. But if this is their notion of proactive disclosure and open data, then we are in for a bumpy, ugly ride.

Finally if you have not already seen it do read this lengthy summation of the atmosphere in Ottawa from the Toronto Star “Fear and loathing in Ottawa

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

No comments: