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 26, 2012

Electoral and Parliamentary Reform (part 1)


Recently my co-blogger posted an opinion about creating support for electoral reform and this has encouraged me to reexamine where we are in that regard. I will in future posts also take a look at the other side of the coin, that being parliamentary reform. Lets be clear here right off the top, neither is going to happen in the foreseeable future. In fact it is improbable that even any meaningful move will be made to either study such options or to ask the citizens of this country if they are interested in such changes. Changes to the way we elect our representatives, be that federally or provincially can only come about with the support of a majority of those very representatives and far too many of them are, having been persuaded that they represent the party rather than the people, are quite happy with the status quot. The party apparatus will only support such moves if there is something in it for them and thus it is very improbable that any party in power will even bring up the subject, the best bet being if one or more opposition partys promises to bring a referendum before the people if elected - and then actually not only comes to power but carrys out their promise!

It can be seen then that from initial promise, to study, to proposal, to vote and then to implementation could well take 10 years or more, and thats if things go forward smoothly the first time around. As the BC and Ontario efforts have previously shown that is improbable and will probably entail not only the government of the day and the major political partys creating much spin and confusion in an effort to retain the status quot but the various folks who fully support change splitting public opinion by arguing about which system is the better, or that any proposed system is 'flawed'. Here is a news flash for you – There is no such thing as a perfect electoral system any more that there is a perfect system of government, we can but try and improve upon what we have and try and eliminate obvious flaws without screwing up and making it worse, and that folks is not going to be easy given that we must do so with a reasonable amount of consensus from both the political hierarchy and the citizenry who elected them.

Having said all that the conversation about reform is non the less important, it will take much public pressure to even start the process and the more we know about vulgarities of the existing system and the options that may be available the better equipped we will be to push for change. I will deal with the various options in a later article, for the time being I will simply review some of the problems we seem to be encountering with the present system and potential problems that changes could bring.

The first question is of course do we really need change and if so , why? There are perhaps two main indicators that something is wrong, the first is the oft cited way in which a minority of electors can elect a majority government, the second is the ever declining number of those who are eligible to vote do not bother. Now it seems the very process of where to vote has come under attack by those who would 'game' the election results. Most of those who feel electoral reform is necessary feel that the resulting mix of parliamentarians should better represent the popular vote, it cannot of course ever be exactly proportional but we can indeed improve on the proportionality, each of the various voting systems would produce varying results in that regard and I will cover such details in future posts. There are in my view two 'concerns' with a more proportional system, firstly that with a multiparty system it may well result in a series of minority governments being elected, for many this alone is reason not to change things, this thinking is to me, totally wrong. The problem with minority governments is not that they fail to give one party absolute power but that our political partys and the parliamentary system has evolved to the point where those that we elect have forgotten that they all, no matter what party they belong to, represent US not the party. They no longer will listen to opposing points of view and try and find middle ground where compromise and cooperation result in better legislation but insist it 'our way or no way'. Hence the need for parliamentary reform to reduce the opportunity for such partisan games, but that's for another post also. I will simply say that a electoral & parliamentary system that dramatically skews the power that PM holds away from that which the popular vote indicates the citizens want must be considered flawed.

The second thing that concerns me is that a proportional system, particularly in such a large a varied country such as ours must have checks and balances to ensure that minority populations, be that a Province or Territory, those in a less populated areas within such boundaries, or some other minority, have adequate representation. By enlarge our present system of electoral districts along with previously determined lower limits of representation for those provinces with small populations does ensure this. Any proposed new electoral system should not disenfranchise these areas of small population. With recent census figures revealing that 35% or so of Canada’s population live in just 3 metropolitan areas its clear that these urban citizens, whos view of Canada may be far removed from that of say those in Newfoundland or Northern Manitoba, are clearly in the drivers seat when it comes to electing who is to govern.

These are not the only concerns I am sure, but they do illustrate the need for dialog – and the need for those pushing for change to seek common ground, compromise & consensus early on in the process. That is after all what, in my opinion, democracy is all about.

Next week – more about the electoral options.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

A matter of Privilege.

“It’s becoming increasingly evident that the Harper Conservatives dislike public accountability,” said Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and Leader of the Green Party.  “They are already limiting debate in the House on a regular basis, and now they intend to make committee business secret.
“With their majority muscle, the Conservatives can already pass whatever they want in committees. They are running roughshod over past practice and doing away with any pretence of democracy.”
Just a few weeks into the new session two committees have considered motions to hold their meetings “in camera” this effectively bars the press and the public from any information as to the proceeding that take place in those meeting. Indeed it also restricts those who participate in said meetings from revealing anything about said proceedings, including opposition motions and the results of vote on such motions. In short the Conservative dominated committees can not only force through flawed legislation at the committee stage but, by making said meeting 'in camera' using their majority in the committees, completely suppress any concerns or discussion regarding the topic at hand from public view. This is clearly undemocratic, unnecessary and yet one more step by the Harper regime to suppress ALL those who disagree with their ideological agenda. Remember these are the guys that wrote the book on how to disrupt committee meetings if thing were not going their way. We note that this is as Ms May says “ Widely considered as a test run for all committees” , open and accountable government eh!

The following gives some background as to In Camera Meetings:-
On occasion, a committee may decide to hold an in camera meeting to deal with administrative matters, to consider a draft report or to receive a briefing. Subcommittees on Agenda and Procedure usually meet in camera. Committees also meet in camera to deal with documents or matters requiring confidentiality, such as national security. Depending on the needs, a committee may conduct one part of a meeting in public and the other part in camera.
Neither the public nor the media is permitted at in camera meetings, and there is no broadcasting of the proceedings. Usually, only the committee members, the committee staff and invited witnesses, if any, attend in camera meetings.
Transcripts of In Camera Meetings
While no public transcript (Evidence) is produced of what is said during in camera proceedings, committees generally decide to have a transcript produced for the private consultation of committee members and staff. The transcript is retained by the clerk of the committee. Committees must also decide how such transcripts will be disposed of at the end of the session, that is whether they will be destroyed or made part of the permanent record for historical purposes.

Divulging any part of the proceedings of an in camera committee meeting has been ruled by the Speaker to constitute a prima facie matter of privilege.”

Given that there may be much that the Conservative members are trying to hide from the public via this antidemocratic move from going in camera 'on occasion' to as a matter of routine, I wondered what penalties there were should an opposition MP decide that the machinations of the conservative members behind these closed doors warranted breaking Parliamentary Privilege. Its not clear what those penalties could be but it is clear that to bring charges of breaching parliamentary privilege forward is a complex and lengthy process and that said allegations must be brought before the house and debated in open session.

Here is some information on that aspect:-
Any claim that a privilege has been infringed upon or a contempt committed must be brought to the attention of the House at the earliest opportunity. Once the Speaker recognizes a Member on a matter of privilege, the Member must briefly outline the complaint, following which the Speaker may choose to hear from other Members prior to deciding if there is a prima facie case of privilege (i.e., whether the matter appears to warrant priority or consideration).
If the Speaker finds there is a prima facie breach of privilege, the Member raising the question of privilege is asked to move a motion, usually requesting that the matter be examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. If there is a favourable vote in the House on the motion (which can be debated), the matter is examined by the Standing Committee, which may choose to call expert witnesses. The Committee's report of findings and recommendations is presented to the House, and a motion to concur in, or agree to the report, may then be moved.

Since the House has not given its committees the power to punish any misconduct, breach of privilege, or contempt directly, committees cannot decide such matters; they can only report them to the House. Only the House can decide if an offence has been committed. Speakers have consistently ruled that, except in the most extreme situations, they will only hear questions of privilege arising from committee proceedings upon presentation of a report from the committee which directly deals with the matter and not as a question of privilege raised by an individual Member. As Speaker Milliken indicated in response to a question of privilege raised in 2003 concerning the disclosure of a confidential draft committee report: “In the absence of a report from the committee on such an issue, it is virtually impossible for the Chair to make any judgement as to the prima facie occurrence of a breach of privilege with regard to such charges”.

In short if someone was to report to the public a egregious action by conservative (or for that matter any) committee member from an 'in camera' meeting the matter would require a public complaint to the speaker, a debate in the house and probably be refereed to committee. This could be declared 'in camera' (Subcommittees on Agenda and Procedure usually meet in camera) but at that point what would the member breaching privilege have to loose by revealing the proceedings and would the committee dare do such a thing after all the public debate on such matters? Even after all this procedure and debate the member could then could be just given a slap on the wrist by the Speaker! Seems to me we need a few opposition members with some guts to push the envelope, that is after all what the Conservative have been doing with the rules for some time now, and totally getting away with it. Also I do not see how a member could be construed as breaking privilege by revealing what did NOT happen, little things like open debate, due consideration of amendments etc etc? With the PMO controlling everything, the conservative MPs, department heads, scientists and various bureaucrats say, now its sights are on opposition MPs. Do we now need 'whistle blower protection' for MPs and their staff in order for them to talk publicly about their work?

Seems 'they' can view our private information without warrant and that’s ok but we cannot even know what our MPs are discussing in committee. Whats wrong with this picture and when will the attacks upon our democracy stop?

A special tip of the hat this week to all who have spoken out against bill C-30 there is little I can say that has not already been said.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Mea Culpa ....of sorts!

In recent days much has been said about MP Larry Millers comparing those that favor the gun registry to the Hitler regime, whilst I think that in this case there is no comparison its hard for someone who has alluded to such comparison when speaking about our current PM and his regime to be overly critical. So I will say right here that I in no way wish to suggest that Herr Harper supports genocide or the killing of Jews, rather the opposite seems to be the case as he seems to think that Israel can do no wrong. I do find this comparison rather ironic however when it comes from a member of the most tightly controlled and least open party we have ever had in power in Canada.

Hitler was a dictator who ran the country with an iron fist surrounded by a few trusted lieutenants who effectively dictated policy to the detriment of all who did not agree with them. He came to power largely by democratic means and his ability to sway the public opinion, in part due to the fear of further depression. Prior to coming to power any who voiced disagreement during his speeches were removed, after those removed included any in his party who dared to oppose him.

During 1933-34, Hitler consolidated his authority through the destruction of all other political parties, "coordination" of all aspects of German life, and the liquidation of dissent”

March 1933 Election The Nazis stepped up their harassment of their political opponents,
On March 23, 1933, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave dictatorial authority to Hitler's cabinet for four years. Armed with full powers, Hitler moved to eliminate all possible centers of opposition. His policy is known as Gleichschaltung, which translates literally as coordination. In this context, however, it meant more precisely subordination, that is, subordinating all independent institutions to the authority of Hitler and the Nazi Party.”
The Nazi Party Organization Book says The Führer is always right! Never go against discipline! Let the program be your dogma.

Given the above I have to say that I find the comparison between the two regimes much more compelling than any comparison to those who would retain a list of long gun owners. I will leave it up to the reader to decide which is closer to the truth.
In regard to the elimination all possible centers of opposition watch for the Parliamentary Budget Officer to be eased out in the near future and replaced with a more amenable (read less thorough and honest) individual. Over the last few years Kevin Page has repeatedly been at odds with the Harper Regimes budgetary forecast and in almost ever case been proven to be correct. He now points out that the recent threats to increase the eligibility age for OAS and GIS are not necessary needed and that the scare tactics that say the pension system is not sustainable are not necessarily true. For his pains his report was called "unbelievable, unreliable, incredible." by one of the Harper faithful. In my view he should be given the Order of Canada for services above and beyond under constant attack from the ruling regime!

Then there is the recent attack on environmentalists who have been dubbed 'radicals' by this regime, it now seems that they are now considered a terrorist threat. - The minister said that, in addition to foreign threats, the government would be vigilant against domestic extremism that is “based on grievances – real or perceived – revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.” How long will it be before openly criticizing Harper and his followers becomes a crime against the state, next on the list may well be the blogging community, keep you head up folks.
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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Only hope for Democracy?

This came to my inbox, and although both Rural and I agree that such a plan might be the only real hope we have for democracy (albeit one fraught with potential complications), we also are not going to hold our breaths.  At any rate, what is refreshing is that people are coming up with plans, breaking new ground, thinking "out of the box".  That is indeed what it will take to counter Herr Harper's dictatorial regime.  I'm curious to see what other people think of this strategy, so please post your comments!


Dear friends - Chers (chères) ami(e)s,

How can we make our democracy work better for Canadians? There’s no easy solution. That’s why we need to know what you think about one specific, and potentially urgent, idea.

Some quick background: Leadnow launched before the last federal election to bring Canadians together and call for politicians to cooperate on the major challenges facing our country. During that election, 61% of voters cast ballots for change. After the election, the Leadnow community hosted a series of local gatherings (and online votes) all across Canada to set our direction for the coming years. Thousands of us voted to make electoral reform one of our highest campaign priorities.

It comes down to this: we believe that Canada needs a multi-party political system and electoral reform to make sure we can elect governments that best represent all Canadians. The question is: how do we get there? We want to know what you think of the following statement (we are the authors of the statement, which we are using to learn what you think):

“I call on the opposition party leaders to support political cooperation for electoral reform. During the next federal election, the NDP, Liberals and Greens should work together in key ridings to defeat Conservative incumbents. After the election, they should cooperate to pass electoral reform and make sure our government better reflects the values and priorities of all Canadians.”

What do you think?

I strongly agreeI agreeI disagreeI strongly disagree

Thank you for all you do.

With hope and respect,

Jamie, Matthew, Anna, Emma, Adam, Gracen, Ryan on behalf of the Leadnow team and volunteers.

Leadnow.ca is an independent community that brings Canadians together to hold government accountable, deepen our democracy and take action for the common good.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Representation & Depression

With parliament once again back in session I am again fighting depression, its not that the attack on our democracy increases any more during these time but that it receives greater attention and is far more obvious. We have seen the statements by Minister Oliver and by PM Harper regarding the need to 'streamline' environmental hearings and how those that oppose multinational projects that threaten our lands and forests, rivers and oceans are 'radicals' and 'enemies' of Canada' which shows us exactly how much respect this regime has for due process. We have seen them declare that Canada will not participate in future efforts to curb world environmental change without so much as a debate in parliament, we have seen the move to 'harmonize' our regulations and border security with the U.S. Again with out any consultation with either the citizens or their representatives in the House of Commons. But these things are about specific major projects and if these things are not deemed important enough to debate in the house then what of lesser matters?

With the house back in session but a few days we see exactly where things are going, on day one 'time allocation' was used to restrict debate after just two hours. Many committee hearings have already been declared 'in camera' so that all details of same will be withheld from public scrutiny. The PM announces changes to Canadians pension plans, not in the house but overseas, changes that effect the most vulnerable in our society but leave the rich and powerful unaffected. A manufacturing plant which received millions in 'incentives' and was the backdrop for one of King Harpers photo op announcements packs up shop and lays off 100s and the silence from Ottawa is deafening. We could all add to the list but can do little about it, hence the depression.

It seems I am not alone in my lack of optimism regarding our collective future under this regime, Lorne over at Politics and its Discontents it would seem has similar feelings.....

“I have to admit that nowadays I am feeling the pessimism of old strongly reemerging, not to the point of giving up my blog and whatever value it might serve in the fight against the extremists who now control the Canadian government, but to the point where I realize that the battle is lost without the willingness of Canadians, no matter how hard their daily struggles might be, to educate themselves about the issues and keep current with as many facets as possible of the neoliberal agenda being relentlessly advanced by those who pretend to represent us. “

And there is the rub “pretend to represent us” ..... Exactly!

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