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, February 20, 2011

Democracy in Peril?

I am no fan of hyperbole. The notion that democracy in a safe, successful, wealthy country like Canada, constitutionally dedicated to “peace, order, and good government,” could be “in peril” may strike some readers as over the top.” So says Elizabeth May in an op-ed piece for the Gulf Islands Driftwood -, she goes on to point out that she and a number of noted historians and constitutional experts do not think that is an unreasonable statement, and that Ned Franks, respected constitutional expert and professor emeritus at Queen’s University, echoing (historian) Ron Wright, suggested our prime minister should be referred to as “King Stephen I of Canada.”.

I fear both she and the good professor are correct and the fact that “the majority of Canadians have said they believe we directly elect our prime minister.” (we elect individual members of parliament who may collectivity decide who is the PM) is further proof of how deeply troubled our democracy is and how little voters really know about our parliamentary system. She also speaks of how the PMO is undermining what little say that those who we DO elect really have by directing staff to evade subpoenas to appear before House of Commons committees. Do read the full article, the Green Party leader seems to be the only political leader who shows any concern for the ongoing and ever increasing attacks upon our democracy by 'King Stephen' and should be thanked and supported in her quest to bring such misuse of power to our attention.
This week there are several other items that highlight the way in which the Harper regime shows it utter disdain for a democracy where parliament and the public are, or at least should be, fully informed and consulted in the process of determining the future of our country and our people.

First up Kevin Page with his recent report to the Commons Finance Committee when he appeared before committee Tuesday he said that in his 25 years in the public service, no government has used the umbrella of “cabinet confidence” to hide tax data or justice legislation costs, and reiterated that this lack of data means that Parliamentarians are losing their control over the finances of the nation.
Whilst no transcript is available of his remarks (that I can find) his speaking notes say this:-
There is genuine concern that Parliament is losing control of its fiduciary responsibilities of approving financial authorities of public monies as afforded in the Constitution. In the recent past, Parliament was asked to approve changes to crime legislation without financial information or knowledge of monies set aside in the fiscal framework. “


The PBO also wishes to note this Government provided Parliament details on spending restraint by
department and agency in 2006 prior to parliamentary approval of financial authorities as did the previous government in 2005 on its expenditure review exercise. This raises the question as to why the application of Cabinet confidence with respect to restraint measures appears to have changed in such a short period of time.
Further, the application of Cabinet confidence has been used to withhold information regarding the
assumptions used to translate the private sector economic forecasts into Finance Canada’s fiscal projections.”

In other words the government is now keeping secret some of the information needed by the PBO to make accurate projections and thus for parliamentarians to make an informed decision upon the state of the country's finances and the suitability of the upcoming budget.

Next up Andrew Coyne regarding the bizarre Bev Oda affair:-

In times past — not under the last government, but in any previous — a minister who lied to Parliament, even once, would be gone, immediately: if not out of any genuine sense of shame or remorse on the part of the government, then certainly out of a sense that it could not afford to be publicly associated with such deceitful behaviour. But this government, and this Prime Minister, seem instead to be bent on riding this out. They do not deny that she lied. But neither do they acknowledge that she did. They simply do not address the issue at all. Instead they make another point altogether: that the minister was within her rights to overrule her bureaucrats. ............

The ingredients of the Oda affair — bureaucrats as fall guys and ministers as pawns — are evident throughout this government. And all stem from the same source: a refusal to deal openly with the public, to explain the reasons for its actions and take responsibility for them — because to do so would require the government to concede that its actions have reasons, an underlying intent, a purpose, a philosophy, an ideology. And the Harper government’s whole philosophy is to have no philosophy, or none that it acknowledges.

I have said on these pages before that whist I do not necessarily agree with this governments agenda regarding legislation and finances it is not there where my major concern lays. It is the MANNER in which these things are done, as Andrew says “, with “secrecy, deception, stonewalling and contempt for Parliament” and I might add contempt for our Democracy and the Canadian Voters.

As noted at the top Elizabeth May has been pointing this out for some time now and I now see that Iggy is finally starting to make a similar connection between the Harper regimes actions and the dangers to our democracy and parliamentary conventions. Whist Ms May can , until and unless she gains a seat in parliament, do little about that other than bring it to the publics attention, Iggy and the rest of our parliamentarians CAN and MUST stop this insidious slide towards the crowning of King Stephen.

Finally, a damning piece about how the House of Commons actually works on a day to day basis can be found at Macleans. This brief clip is but a small part of the long 5 page essay that highlights how badly our whole system of 'debate' in the HoC and our governance needs to be brought up to date and made more relevant.

The last two years have been marked by direct challenges to parliamentary authority: from last year’s battles over detainee documents and the government’s rejection of calls for political staff to testify before parliamentary committees to a current squabble over the government’s refusal to turn over technical information related to its own legislation. But if the government is susceptible to charges of disrespect, the opposition—divided and fearful—has not always functioned as an effective check on authority.”

You can say that again -" the opposition has not always functioned as an effective check on authority.”
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