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, September 30, 2012

Maintaining Trust and Engagement in Canadian Elections

Extracts from a Speech of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada at the the Economic Club of Canada on September 25, 2012 (my bold)

According to any international democracy index you look at, Canada's democracy is consistently ranked among the top 10 in the world. On standard indicators of democratic health –such as the protection of civil liberties, control of corruption, or a free and accessible electoral process– Canadian democracy scores very high. By all comparative standards, Canada has an enviable record of good governance.
That being said, we cannot be complacent. In my view, there are two areas where the health of our democracy is increasingly under pressure. One of these is citizen engagement; the other is citizens' trust in their electoral institutions.
First, with respect to citizen engagement, on the most basic democratic indicator – voter turnout – Canada has been in steady decline for over two decades. Turnout fell to a record low of 58% in the 2008 election. And while it rebounded slightly in 2011, we are still well below the historical post-war average of 75%..................

Declining voter turnout might be the most striking example of citizen disengagement in Canada, but it's not the only one. Very few Canadians play an active part in election campaigns or belong to political parties. Indeed, the role of political parties has changed significantly over the years. The growing professionalization of political parties and the growing difficulty they have in recruiting volunteers and members has an impact on how election campaigns are run.
My second reason for concern is prompted by certain recent events that could undermine public trust in the electoral process. I am speaking of allegations of deceptive phone calls during the May 2011 general election and of the ongoing legal challenge regarding irregularities at the polls in the riding of Etobicoke Centre. As a result of these issues, over the past months, we have seen the interplay between some of the most important institutions in our country: Parliament, political parties, the media, electoral bodies and the courts, including the Supreme Court. And at the heart of this interplay is our electoral system and our democracy....................

Much of the decline in voter turnout is the result of generational replacement. Put simply, today's young Canadians are much less likely to vote than their parents or grandparents were at the same age. In 1965, about two-thirds of first-time electors voted in their first election. By1984, just over half of first-time electors were voting. And by 2004, that number had fallen to just over one-third. At the same time, today's young electors are also more likely to become habitual non-voters. Together, these two trends are the driving force behind a systemic and long-term voter decline that is quickly approaching 50%..................

The other problem relates to trust. Events during the May 2011 general election have led to more pointed questions regarding the quality of our electoral system, and this concerns me.
Here again, context is important. The heavy focus on problems – whether it be the so-called robocalls issue or the procedural failures in Etobicoke Centre – overshadows a far less newsworthy but incredibly important fact: the last general election, by and large, went very well. And the vast majority of voters – more than 95% according to our post-election survey – were satisfied with their experience and the services provided at the polls.......................

As the election administrator,I accept responsibility for what occurred in Etobicoke Centre and my agency is conducting the necessary reviews to avoid similar situations in the future. But while we can make administrative changes to enhance our processes, these likely won't be enough. Legislative changes may also be necessary to respond to Canadians' concerns regarding the electoral process and make the system less prone to errors.
At the same time, new technologies have changed the approach used by parties and candidates to communicate with electors. These technologies are not, in themselves, problematic and in fact can and are used in positive ways to reach out to electors. However, I am concerned by how they can be misused during an election.
As we have seen this past year, deceptive telephone calls, both live and automated, have arrived on our electoral landscape and their use will have an impact on how Canadians view the electoral system.
We know that Canadians were rightfully offended by news reports regarding possible electoral fraud relating to such calls, and they need to know and trust that there is a process in place to address these issues. In this regard, I will be bringing forward recommendations to ensure that the Canada Elections Act has the right measures to deal with this new reality.
I feel strongly that an electoral system and an electoral law that do not reflect the concerns and values of a modern Canadian electorate will only, in the long term, help fuel disillusionment and disengagement from the political process. That is why modernizing the Canada Elections Act speaks to our need to maintain the integrity of the electoral process in order to ensure trust and encourage civic engagement.
However, prompt action is required. At best, we have a 12- to 18-month window of opportunity to integrate any new changes, including legislation, into the preparations for the 42nd general election to be held in 2015...............

As you can see, these issues are all interconnected. If we do not act to address the problems identified in the last election, there is a risk that trust in our electoral process will be undermined and this could further fuel declining citizen engagement................

Building and maintaining a healthy democracy is a responsibility we all share – citizens, political parties, electoral management bodies, Parliament and the media.
How we choose to react to these issues today will define the scope of the problem for generations to come.
When I look at students returning to school, when I speak to young Canadians preparing themselves for their future, and when I listen to concerned Canadians who care about our democracy, I think it is something that we can no longer delay.

I must admit to finding his call for speedy action rather ironic given the speed with which the various “allegations” of voter fraud and interference have apparently been investigated, however he is correct in saying that it is a responsibility we all share – even if there is little that we the voter can do about it until the next election.
The above is just a few extracts of a much longer speech which may be read here on the Elections Canada web site.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Democracy no longer enters into it'

This week I will let a few other commentators speak to the condition of our democracy and the Harper regimes ongoing disdain for opposing views, parliamentary process, the taxpayers, and that promised open and accountable thing!.

One of the most elegant pleas ever made against omnibus bills was made not that long ago in the House of Commons by a handsome young man by the name of Stephen Harper. He said it, omnibus bills are anti-democratic, they’re a slap in the face to MPs and voters.

See, this fascinates me. Because it's one thing if you don't know any better, but he clearly does, he just doesn't care. Who does that? I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes in that guy’s head for all the money in the world. Because he knows right from wrong here, he's on record, but he has decided it's okay to do wrong in order to advance the right. And democracy no longer enters into it.”

Next Elizabeth May on the Chinese take over of part of the oil patch and the 'investor protection' that may be part of the recently signed trade agreement yet to be made public. Any guesses which way this one is going to go......

I want greater ties with China for environmental endeavors, and cultural exchanges, and — yes – trade too. Losing sovereignty to China makes me nervous. I don’t want to be intolerant. But I want us to trade items made in Canada, by Canadians, to China. I don’t like the idea of China owning Canada. It makes it hard for us to point out to the Chinese government that it must start respecting human rights. We need to be really forceful in advocating for religious and political freedom in China. How do we do that when they have veto power over Canadian laws?”

An American comments upon the 47% remarks by Romney but the same holds true here with Harper 'negotiating' several 'free' trade agreements behind closed doors as I write:-

You often hear that competition due to "globalization" means that we have to accept lower wages and fewer benefits, because people "over there" make so much less. What has caused the pressure, however, is "free trade" agreements that allow companies here to close factories here and open them over there, and then bring the same things they used to make here to sell in the same stores. The only "trade" involved in this transaction is trading who does the work.”

A Canadian piece about how the Harper regimen changes their tune to suit the politically inspired attack message of the day, particularly if it suits their do nothing environmental policies.......

In 2008, the Conservative platform promised to “develop and implement a North American-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases and air pollution, with implementation to occur between 2012 and 2015.” Now, however, the Conservative attack machine denounces a cap-and-trade system, as conceptually proposed by the NDP, as a “carbon tax,” a job killer “that will increase the price on everything.”

And then of course there is the ongoing efforts by the “government” to NOT get to the bottom of the Election robocall mess.

Steven Shrybman on behalf of the applicants makes the point that the same Conservatives who are demanding his clients put up a large security deposit against costs are the ones who are driving costs up by filing so many motions. “ (and delaying the ruling by doing so)

For more history on this one check out my Election Malfeasance page above.

Regarding the latest spin from the Harperites Tim Harper of the Star opines:-
Never missing an opportunity to inject cynicism into the body politic, the Conservatives will place the MPs’ pension matter in another omnibus bill, serving their purposes on two fronts.
By stuffing it into a bill that will run hundreds of pages and include a litany of measures the opposition will not support, they hope to score cheap points with reports that Liberals and New Democrats opposed the pension reform.”

I very much doubt if he is wrong on that. But wait there is more, we could not have the current lot pay any more into their pension plan or loose some benefits now could we...

The new MPs’ pension arrangements are still being discussed with Harper’s 163-member caucus, some of whom are concerned about losing future entitlements, according to Tory insiders. But changes to retirement benefits are expected within a few weeks when a second budget implementation bill comes before Parliament.
To enlist the support of Conservative MPs, the new plan is expected to be phased in, meaning today’s MPs will not lose any of the future pay-outs that have accrued so far.
But over the next five years, the government will do away with the current arrangement that sees MPs contribute only a fraction of their pension savings, with taxpayers picking up the rest. “

There is much more but that’s about all my stomach can stand for today!

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Harper, champion of Democracy..... NOT!

With great fanfare, an international organization has announced it is honouring Stephen Harper as its World Statesman of the Year for his work as a “champion of democracy, freedom and human rights.”

It is of course a pure coincidence that this 'award' is from an organization founded by a Rabbi and in Harpers eyes Israel can do no wrong,  however as Bob Hepburn of the Star points out “the foundation either blatantly ignored or didn’t know that Harper is arguably the worst prime minister in history when it comes to defending democracy and human rights in Canada.”

Indeed the blatant disregard for democracy and parliamentary process has been documented weekly on these pages since shortly after the first time he shut down parliament to avoid facing a confidence vote. That any organization should present this man with such an award shows how out of touch with reality they are, and is indeed as several other commentators have said a cruel insult to the people of Canada.

I could now go on to list the many things that this regimen has done under Harper’s leadership to reduce our Parliamentary Democracy to a shadow of its former self but I would just be repeating a long list already documented here and by many other writers both academic and otherwise. I will remind you however that these are the folk that are fighting tooth and nail to avoid any real investigation or information to surface regarding the well documented attempt to compromise the 2011 election. If you believed in democracy the first thing you would do is do everything and anything to get the the bottom of the 'allegations'. NOT this lot!

An Avaaz petition, just started by a Canadian, is asking the foundation to reconsider granting this award and is available online; it lists several of the reasons this is such an egregious insult to all people who believe in the tenets of real democracy and human rights.
I sincerely hope you will consider signing it. It can be accessed here.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Participative Democracy in Canada

A few weeks ago I became aware of the Online Party of Canada, a new political party which attempts to introduce 'Participative Democracy'.to Canada. Their mission is “to create a viable alternative to the traditional political system, using internet technology. Online Voting, Participative Democracy, Competence, Transparency and Accountability”, by “re-posting daily all the Bills being discussed in the Parliament along with the positions expressed by other political parties on every Bill. Then we allow you, the Canadian voter, to express your opinions and vote as if you were an MP!”

They also say “We believe voters should vote on: individual issues instead of ‘packaged’ platforms, true leaders instead of ‘voting machine’ politicians, and policies instead of parties. The political process must be freed of money and interest groups influence, and the voters should be truly represented by their MPs.”. Its pretty hard to argue with that however it is not as simple as they seem to make out, as they say “On one hand we want to guarantee that everyone has a chance to vote and to be elected - we're not 'elitists'. On the other hand, we want to make sure that we entrust the decision making process to competent, informed individuals, so we would ask all Members to go through an introductory course in governance, and certify those who pass a test.” To that end they propose to have several 'levels' of membership with different voting privileges, that alone seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

It is unclear exactly how said 'participation' would work in guiding an elected member on how to vote, the 'membership' seemingly would be voting upon an ever changing 'policy' and proposed bills (depending upon the voting results) but how this translates into guiding an elected MP is a whole different ball game. How for instance would a member respond to an omnibus bill, and if only selected member are allowed to vote upon the policy what then of all the other citizens of that riding that this MP 'represents', is this so much different from any other political party?
I note that at least one other political party allows all of their members members to propose and vote upon 'policy' and internal 'governance' online, if only annually, that being the Green Party of Canada and even that exercise can result in some 'interesting' conflicts with previous or current policy.
This is an interesting proposal however and any move towards our MPs being more responsive to to the citizens that they represent is a good thing, however I am not convinced that this will work on a practical level. It at first glance seems too complex to work on a practical level and whilst 'members' may well be able to influence 'policy' on an ongoing basis this in itself creates a moving target for representatives to follow. Perhaps I have not fully grasped the way it works, and I invite Michael Nicula, the leader of this new party to address some of these concerns either in the comments below or in a longer submission for future publication.

I note that they say they “re-post daily all the Bills being discussed in the Parliament along with the positions expressed by other political parties on every Bill. Then we allow you, the Canadian voter, to express your opinions and vote as if you were an MP! And we've introduced cool new feature that allows you to connect and 'Tell your (actual) MP' what you and your fellow Canadian voters have to say.” They call this the AGORA project where “Our own editorial team collects and posts all Parliamentary Bills in raw format.” and “You have the opportunity to study the Bill, check out parties’ positions and express your own position via comments and vote.”, it is now online at https://www.onlineparty.ca/category.php?CATID=74 . This initiative alone is a great first move and may well become a much easier way to access the text of various bills than the less than friendly government site.

Do take a look at their efforts, its good to see someone trying to “to create a viable alternative to the traditional political system, using internet technology” and I will be watching to see how this develops..

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rural Internet Survey

Democracy requires dialog and part of that dialog should come from my fellow rural citizens however for some that is more difficult than their urban counterparts. Attending a townhall meeting or a rally at the local MPs office can mean a 1 or 2 hour drive, often those living away from sizable communities can become isolated from both their local community and even the ever changing political world. The salvation for me is the internet, however even now after increasing my connection speed 5 fold over my previous dial up I have limitations on volume with incurring extra costs.

With this in mind a couple of weeks ago we posted an online survey designed to find out what type of internet connection the majority of rural folks had and how many of them used or were interested in online forums. This to promote the formation of a forum dedicated to rural communities across Ontario and / or Canada something which a number of folk have been considering for the last year or so..

The readership of The Rural Canadian is not exactly overwhelming, it only sees about 600 'page reads' a month and the response to the survey has been considerably less than that. Thus far 100% of the respondents have been urban residents so if you are a rural citizen and are reading this please fill out the very brief survey linked at the end of this post..

The results thus far indicate that those 'urban' folks who did respond nearly all have high speed unlimited internet, use online forums and email 'lists of digests' and are open to using a Rural Forum if it is formatted to their liking. They get their community information mostly from face to face meetings and the internet and less so from newspaper and radio, this is a surprise to me but I suspect that those who view my blog and filled out the survey are hardly 'typical'. As I have said before such surveys, indeed any survey, is biased by both the distribution of it and by those who are inclined to answer such things. This then is a long way form a 'scientific' poll but just a effort to gain a little more insight as to how my readers get their information and whether their internet connection affects their use of online forums and the like.

Please take a look at the survey and consider filling it out particularly if you live in rural Canada, it consists of just 6 questions and may be found here:- http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/GZZYVPK

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