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, July 29, 2012

Scrutinizing government Expenditures.

Members of Parliament receive conflicting, outdated information about how billions of tax dollars are being spent each year, and get little opportunity to review fiscal plans. Those are some of the findings in a Commons report released without fanfare recently, even as opposition MPs railed against the Harper government for ramming through its omnibus budget bill without proper study.
The recent report STRENGTHENING PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES AND SUPPLY, from the all-party government operations committee, chaired by New Democrat MP Pat Martin, is a non-partisan acknowledgment that parliamentarians are increasingly hogtied in their ability to review and approve government spending. "We don't do a very effective job," vice-chair John McCallum, a Liberal MP, said in an interview. "There's a fundamental deficiency of information."
One of the biggest beefs in the report refers to rules surrounding the so-called "estimates," the government's detailed spending blueprints that are supposed to put meat on the bones of the annual federal budget. The "main estimates" are released by March each year but they take no account of the federal budget, which is typically released about the same time and can significantly affect spending. The committee says the budget should be tabled no later than Feb. 1 so the two documents can finally align, giving politicians a fuller and more consistent picture.

Every year, the government asks Parliament to approve the funds required to meet its financial obligations. This process is commonly referred to as the Business of Supply. The Crown transmits to the House of Commons the government's spending plans, or "estimates", for parliamentary scrutiny and approval. The sole authority to grant the “supplies” needed rests with Parliament.
Standing committees, as extensions of the House, play an important role in reviewing and scrutinizing the government’s spending plans in order for Parliament to approve it. The committees are expected to perform detailed scrutiny of government spending and performance. However, it has long been acknowledged that Parliament does not effectively fulfill its role and standing committees are at best giving perfunctory attention to the government’s spending plans.
As dissatisfaction with Parliament’s role in the scrutiny of government spending still remains, both among observers and among many members of Parliament, the Committee began a study in January 2012 on the process for considering the estimates and supply in the hope of addressing some of the barriers that serve to inhibit parliamentary scrutiny of the estimates.

In the Conclusion the report further underlines the need for better scrutiny of the governments figures:-
Over the past few months, the Committee has heard considerable testimony from former parliamentarians, knowledgeable observers, academics, departmental officials, and officials from other jurisdictions. The Committee appreciates the time and effort these individuals took to prepare their presentations to the Committee, and their many useful ideas and suggestions on how to improve parliamentary review and scrutiny of the government’s spending plans, as outlined in the estimates. While it has not been possible to incorporate every suggestion into this report, the Committee carefully considered all of the testimony before it and chose to make recommendations in the areas that would be the most effective.
The Committee recognizes that there has never been a golden age of estimates review and that the Westminster parliamentary system comes with certain limitations on parliamentary involvement in the budgetary process, e.g., that budgets are set by the government and not Parliament, that budgetary votes are matters of confidence in the government, and that members of Parliament have many demands on their time and expectations to fulfill. Nonetheless, the Committee believes that the scrutiny and approval of the government’s spending plans is one of the fundamental roles of Parliament, and that there are a variety of ways that the parliamentary processes, estimates information, and capacity available to members can be improved.
The Committee believes that standing committees should be required to examine the estimates referred to them, and that they should have sufficient time to do so. The effectiveness of their hearings on the estimates could be improved by providing questions to officials in advance. The ability of parliamentarians to use and understand estimates information would be improved if the vote structure was based on program activities instead of operating and capital expenditures, the timing of the budget and the estimates was changed to better align the estimates with the budget, the reports on plans and priorities were presented at the same time as the estimates, tax expenditures were included in the reports on plans and priorities, and statutory expenditures were evaluated periodically. The capacity of parliamentarians to review the estimates would be improved with an online, searchable database, by reviewing the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer in order to better serve members of Parliament in their examination of the estimates, and by standing committees having briefing sessions on their role in the estimates process and how to understand and interpret estimates documents.
The Committee believes that these changes are modest, feasible and should make a noticeable improvement in the quantity and quality of estimates review by standing committees. Nonetheless, the Committee intends to follow-up on this report in order to ensure that the government has made progress in implementing the recommendations directed to it, and that standing committees are fulfilling their responsibilities in holding the government to account for economical, efficient, and effective use of public funds.

These same concerns also show up in their Recommendations of which I will highlight just a few with a brief commentary:-

RECOMMENDATION 5:That the reports on plans and priorities include an explanation of any changes in planned spending over time and of any variances between planned and actual results by fiscal year, as available.
Why would they not? Without such information such fiscal plans and reports are all but usless!

RECOMMENDATION 7:That the government identify separately in the main and supplementary estimates all new funding that is included in the votes, and that it is cross-referenced to the appropriate budget source.
The current way of 'fiddling' the books relys upon hiding expenditures in various obscure departments or programs, re-announcing expenditures already budgeted and other 'spin doctoring'. This is no less confusing for or MPs in committee than for the general public.

RECOMMENDATION 9:That as part of its amendments to the Standing Orders, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs examine the feasibility of providing standing committees at least two sitting weeks to consider and report on the supplementary estimates, and that the Committee report to the House on its study no later than March 31, 2013.
They don’t take 2 weeks or more now? These are a major part of the government expenditure process and quite obviously lengthy and complex 'estimates' and our parliamentary system must allow for time to fully understand the documents and not simply rubber stamp them without due consideration.

RECOMMENDATION 15:That the House of Commons give its Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates the mandate to undertake a study of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer which would include a thorough analysis of the mandate and function of the Office in order to better serve members of Parliament; and that in its study, the Committee should consider all structural models for the Office including, but not limited to, the Parliamentary Budget Officer reporting directly to Parliament as an Officer of Parliament.
We wonder if the Harper Regime will take this to mean that the PBO should NOT report also to the general public as he has been (much to the objections of said regime) or otherwise limit public scrutiny of government expenditures.

RECOMMENDATION 16:That the government develop a searchable online database that contains information on departmental spending by type of expense and by program.
Once again, why is there not? Only one reason exists, the need to hide what is going on, who is spending what and where. At the very least ALL parliamentarians need this information at their fingertips but to my mind it should read “That the government develop a PUBLIC searchable online database” just to be clear what is really needed.

One more final thought, these are 'recommendations' to 'parliament' where the Harper regime holds a majority and they like it just fine if they can spin and hide behind such loopholes in the 'standing rules' so don’t expect any of these 'recommendations' to take hold any time soon. Except perhaps that bit about the PBO only reporting to parliament or the 'government'.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

A tale of two rulings........

The Federal Court has rejected a bid by the Conservatives to prevent federal election results in a handful of tightly contested ridings from being overturned.
"Far from being frivolous or vexatious, or an obvious abuse, the applications raise serious issues about the integrity of the democratic process in Canada," Federal Court Justice Martha Milczynski wrote in her decision.
The applicants identified "practices that if proven, point to a campaign of activities that would seek to deny eligible voters their right to vote and/or manipulate or interfere with that right being exercised freely," she continued.
Failure to bring such serious allegations before the courts could shake public confidence and trust in the electoral process, Milczynski added.
How very refreshing to have a federal judge say what we all know to be the crux of the matter, we can but hope that this small glimmer of light will encourage others to come forward and publicly challenge any perceived wrong doing at election time – be it inadvertently by poorly trained election workers or by knowledgeable but morally challenged political operatives.
On the other side of the coin........

Elections Canada refuses to reveal rulings on 3000 complaints in the last 15 years

In the context of events that include the slow pace of the investigation into fraudulent robocalls and the recent replacement of the Commissioner of Canada Elections in the middle of that investigation, it's difficult to imagine a more effective way to heighten concern about the agency's motives and methods than a decision suggesting that possible violations of election law won't be investigated because, basically, it's just more trouble than it's worth.
The individual who filed that complaint passed EC's response along to Democracy Watch (DW) which published their own critique of the ruling and renewed their request for a public inquiry.
...the ruling calls into question what standards the Commissioner has been using for enforcement for the past several years, and is using in the 2011 fraudulent robocall scheme cases. Democracy Watch recently filed an access-to-information request with the Commissioner after the office refused to disclose the rulings it has made on more than 3,000 complaints from the 1997 election on through the 2011 election.
We shall be very interested to see what these documents reveal if and when they are released, it is increasingly looking like organizations like Democracy Watch and The Council of Canadians are doing a far better job of ensuring that our election processes are not subject to fraud and errors than the government agency actually charged with that task. It is as Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said “troubling” that “we take for granted, in Canada, that everything usually works honestly and so on”, it is increasingly clear that we cannot do so and the system as it currently operates has failed us. If we loose faith in the electoral system and the agency charged with overseeing it then our democracy is truly on its death bed, unfortunately the Harper regime has done nothing to bolster EC but instead exploited the weaknesses in the system and reduced the resources they have to call upon. Not a good sign.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

We get mail.....

One of the disadvantages of providing an email address to readers is getting an increasing amount of unsolicited Email from 'media consultants' much of it from U.S. 'marketing companies' and relating to their upcoming presidential election campaigns. Most is sent directly to the electronic garbage bin however once in a while I get some interesting stuff, from Canadian sources.

I welcome the updates from Lead Now “a group of young Canadians taking action together for the fair, responsible and democratic Canada that we believe in.” Their latest projects are detailed below and I encourage those who are concerned with the direction that the Harper Regime is taking our democratic processes (and that SHOULD be all of you) to get involved.

  1. Pilot Campaigns to hold Conservative MPs accountable to their constituents

    We’d like to try an experiment: local mass-mobilization campaigns in key ridings. We’ll encourage Conservative MPs, especially back-benchers who won with less than 50% of the vote, to become pro-democracy independents before the next election. If 13 of them joined together they could shift the balance of power in Parliament, and hold the Harper Conservatives accountable to a majority of Canadians. This is a powerful strategy, and we need to do it right.

    Are you interested in committing your time to be part of a pilot campaign? Click here to sign up: Yes, I would like to volunteer as part of a local accountability campaign in my riding.

  1. Host a Leadnow Summer Gathering (July 24-August 10)

    The Leadnow Summer Gatherings will connect pro-democracy Canadians in a casual setting to meet each other, make local connections, and talk about our long-term strategy. Together, we’ll take the next step in hosting a national conversation to create a long-term campaign for major improvements to our democracy, with a focus on electoral reform. Our goal is to build a game-changing strategy before the 2015 federal election to make our democracy work better for all Canadians.

    Today, we’d just like to know if you’d be interested in hosting a Summer Gathering. Next week, we’ll send out an invitation for everyone in the Leadnow community to find and join the gathering closest to them.

    You can decide whether your Summer Gathering is public or private, whether it will be a big group or just you and a few friends, and whether it will take place at a local coffee shop, in your living room, or as a backyard BBQ. Click here to learn more about hosting a Leadnow Summer Gathering: http://www.tfaforms.com/250842

  1. Build the Pro-Democracy Movement Online

    Can’t join a Summer Gathering? No problem. Watch for another note from us in the next couple of weeks. We will ask for your feedback to help create the long-term democracy campaign focused on the 2015 election.


As I say in my header “Democracy requires Dialog” and this effort by Lead Now to encourage folks to get together and talk about the problems facing us and our democracy is a very necessary first step towards rescuing Canada from those who would destroy the very systems that provide democratic choice. Please support their efforts.


Please note that this is NOT an invite for every organization or 'public relations firm to send me a bunch of crap in the hope that I will republish it on my blogs. I some how have been added to a U.S. media list that has left me inundated with mostly political 'Info Blasts' that I have little or no interest in. No doubt that much of that is due to my 'Democracy Under Fire' pages but some have bled over into the 'Rural Canadian', I do like to keep up on CANADIAN political stuff and in these days of kill the messenger it is NESSARY to keep up with environmental and scientific concerns. In short if you are reading this please use restraint in using my email links supplied for those readers that are not comfortable (or internet savvy) enough to use the comment section. Dialog is good ...... but too much crap from 'media relation' types simply clogs the pipes!!
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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Is Cooperation Necessary or Possible?

There has been much talk of late about cooperation between the left leaning political partys with a view to stopping the dismantling of Canada by the Harper regime beyond 2015 by electing a different government at that time. What form that may take if it materializes is up for debate but there is little doubt in my mind that if you care for this country and want that “open and accountable government” that these secretive and dishonest ideologues promised when they first came to power then we must seriously consider such 'cooperation' in order to rid ourselves of this regime.

There is however that such talk at this time is because it is currently 'politically expedient' for the 'left' to talk cooperation in the face of Harpers avowed intent to cripple any oppositions chances of regaining power. Lesser partys are already feeling the pinch of reduced funding from the per vote funding that is being phased out as I write, attack ads are being aired by the Cons trying to demonize the opposition leader as was successfully done during the last parliament long before any actual election period commenced. We can expect further rhetoric from them dishing such cooperation in the same manner that they, also successfully, wrongly painted coalition governments as 'unconstitutional' even as they shut down parliament to avoid a vote of non confidence. The opposition partys are not blameless on that one, no sooner had the possibility of such 'cooperation' faded when rather that keep the door open between them they started attacking each other in speeches and the media.

In trying to elect a government from the 'progressive left' the difficulty is of course our antiquated voting system where the winner takes all and with several partys on the left and but one or the right vote splitting pretty much ensures that the Cons have a much better chance of retaining power. The Green Party of Canada is currently considering a couple of motions to be voted upon in their upcoming convention (and being voted upon by the membership on line) to officially call for “cooperation” during the next election on the condition that if elected whatever party gains power would “make electoral reform for proportional representation their highest priority”. How such cooperation would work is left up to the party leader and council and is of course the sticky bit. Elizabeth May in a past election made reference to the difficulty posed by the need for strategic voting where they had no chance of electing a Green and to consider voting ABC (Any One but Conservative) and for whomever had the best chance to defeat the Con candidate. This was later 'clarified' due to much angst from within the party, as it turns out it was not only a very brave thing for a leader to say but may well have saved us from the destruction of our democracy and environmental protection by the Harper Regime. Will ANY leader or party on the left have the guts to possibly alienate their supporters in order to rid ourselves of this bunch of power hungry crooks by urging such strategic voting? Will candidates be withdrawn in favor of of the most probable non conservative candidate irregardless of party? I highly doubt it, time will tell, but strategic voting may well be the only practical choice to save Canada from further abuse by the Harper Regiem.

Its going to get complicated and ugly folks, we can only hope that the Cons self destruct before then but thus far they have done a good job of hiding their many wrong-doings, deflecting any criticism of that which does emerge, and using their taxpayer funded PR department to make many of the public believe that they are gods gift to Canada. I for one am daily collecting 'ammunition' for use during the next election period and hope that we still have a reasonably secure and error free election system by then ..... or will Elections Canada be just a shell of its current underfunded self by then?

I will leave you with this thought from 'Sudbury Steve' with which I entirely agree “it could very well lead to the NDP forming the next Government of Canada. And as much as I find that idea a little scary, I can tell you that I would find that prospect immanently preferable to four more years of Conservative destruction of my nation.”

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Happy Canada Day ......Eh!

I truly hope that each and every one of my readers has something to celebrate on this day when we look inwards at the good things that Canada has to offer. Please remember that our freedoms, our environment, our access to information, our social services, our parliamentary systems and indeed our very democracy itself are all very fragile and need constant support. Those that have been systematically dismantling these systems will no doubt take the opportunity to make stirring speeches telling us how good we have it and how only they are capable of taking the country forward, and how any one who doubts that is less than patriotic. In short they will stand on various podiums across the country and lie to us, do not listen to them.

So enjoy Canada Day with family and friends, ignore all those politicians for today, but vow to fight those who would make our country 'unrecognizable' by the time they are done with it.
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