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, October 28, 2012

A Week of Unaccountability

I make no effort in these pages to opinionate on things as they happen, even when limited to just attacks upon democracy it would be more than a full time job, I do try and shed some light upon such issues after the fact and highlight areas where future actions may impact upon our ability as citizens to keep government in check. This week has been full of such issues, the China trade deal that restricts our ability to enact laws to protect our environment if they impact upon profits, the Auditor Generals report that parliamentarians are not getting the information they need from the Harper regime, the Parliamentary Budget Officer having to sue the 'government' to get said information and the ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that 'clerical errors' do not constitute a reason to negate votes. To name but a few.

What follows is a compendium of commentary from a variety of sources on the above issues.

A Sellout Of Our Soverignty!

The unthinkable is now before us. Our Federal Government is undermining our security and dismantling our rights as Canadians to determine how, where, when and whether we develop our resources.

The trade treaty, known as the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement or FIPA, has garnered notable opposition in the past three weeks, with NDP trade critic Don Davies calling for public hearings, Green Party MP Elizabeth May calling for an emergency Parliamentary debate, and campaign organizations Leadnow.ca and SumofUs.org gathering over 39,300 opposition signatures (and counting) to deliver in person to Ottawa.
Yesterday, the Canadian Press reported the Harper government’s refusal to host public hearings. Elizabeth May’s October 1 request was also denied on the grounds that FIPA does not meet the test of emergency.

Grounds for Divorce

The deal apparently empowers China to sue anyone and everyone who impedes their access to Athabasca bitumen.   That, presumably, would target the people and province of British Columbia.   We would be coerced, through lawfare, to bend a knee to Beijing and Ottawa.   Harper has loaded the pistol and put it in Beijing's hand to hold to British Columbia's head.

Mulcair Speaks Out

Despite repeated calls for a public debate and study of this agreement, the Conservative Government Regime has refused to expose this deal to any public scrutiny. As the treaty’s terms  will be in force for a minimum of 31 years, we believe this is irresponsible.

Democracy Under Fire

Whilst there has to be some things the government of the day can proceed with without direct parliamentary approval we wonder how the longstanding (but perfectly legal under existing rules) practice of approving trade deals that substantially affect our right to self determination with only a few days necessary from the publishing of such a deals details and the approval by government without further consultation. Good deal or bad, that is neither democratic nor accountable. Whilst the Harper regime is responsible for negotiating this deal they are not responsible for the system that makes it possible to do so without debate.

Moving on

Parliamentary Budget Officer to Sue
Canada’s parliamentary budget officer says he’ll file court action this week over the refusal of some federal departments to hand over details on billions of dollars in planned cuts by the Harper government..........
Set up by the Conservatives in 2006 as part of their government accountability effort, the budget’s officer’s mandate “is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy.”

The Conservative election platform of 2006
“A Conservative government will: Require government departments and agencies to provide accurate, timely information to the Parliamentary Budget Authority to ensure it has the information it needs to provide accurate analyses to Parliament.

“The one way to ensure that we have some scrutiny is for Parliament to have its own set of numbers that aren’t run through the Department of Finance filter, that don’t answer directly to the finance minister, who also has a political interest, a political incentive, to ensure that the numbers flatter his or her position.” (Monte Solberg, Finance Committee, June 21, 2005)

“We believe that an independent, non-partisan parliamentary budget office should produce forecasts of revenues and spending which are universally available and accepted by all parties and experts of all stripes. Such a body would ensure that the government is genuinely accountable for taxpayers’ dollars and that we maintain fiscal discipline at the federal level. (Stephen Harper, Oct 6 2004)

Harper Government Winging It

In his fall 2012 report released Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson concluded the Department of Finance Canada often does not take into account the impact of tens of billions of dollars of spending and tax measures on the government’s long-term fiscal sustainability.

The Harper government regime promised in its 2007 budget to publish a comprehensive report on the government’s fiscal sustainability that would provide a broad analysis of current and future demographic changes, and the implications on Canada’s long-term fiscal outlook. A draft report was prepared in 2007, but it has not been published.
Moreover, the long-term fiscal sustainability analyses have been regularly prepared since 2010, but have not been made public.

Democracy Under Fire

That the PBO cannot get sufficient information to provide parliamentarians (and citizens) an independent and comprehensive analysis the budget past, current or future make a complete mockery of or parliamentary system. How can any MP opposition or conservative, vote upon a budget without knowing the full implications of the proposals contained therein?
That Mr Flaherty says “He’s look at money that’s not been spent. That’s what we do when we do deficit reduction. We’re not spending that money and he wants to have a look at money that’s not being spent, rather than the manner in which money is spent, which is actually his mandate.” is a non starter. Its like saying a family can cut thousands of dollars from their budget by not buying food and calling that sustainable and achievable budgeting!

And finally we cannot let this week go by unless we mention the Supreme Court of Canada's decision regarding the 'irregularities' in the voting procedures at Etobicoke Centre.

On positive precedents

The system strives to achieve accessibility for all voters, making special provision for those without identification to vote by vouching.  Election officials are unable to determine with absolute accuracy who is entitled to vote.  Poll clerks do not take fingerprints to establish identity.  A voter can establish Canadian citizenship verbally, by oath.  The goal of accessibility can only be achieved if we are prepared to accept some degree of uncertainty that all who voted were entitled to do so.

A Vote For Plutocracy

In a split decision, the Supreme Court today upheld Ted Opitz' win in Etobicoke Centre. The court reinstated 59 of the 79 votes that Justice Thomas Lederer threw out, reasoning that the only invalid votes were "instances where there was no voter's signature on the registration certificate. The signature is supposed to be the voter's statutory declaration that he or she is over 18 and a Canadian citizen."

Democracy Under Fire

This challenge did not allege voter fraud, although it would appear that some attempt at such did take place, but focused upon incorrect identification protocols and paperwork for a few voters. Having viewed the training manual for election workers it is quite clear that the established procedures were not followed. That these folks are just temporary workers with minimal training is no real excuse, better screening and training may need to be put in place. I have seen NO information as to why the election officer in charge at this location allowed these irregularities to take place, or indeed if the workers were even questioned as to why they did not follow protocols.
The good thing that may come out of this is that better training and supervision is now being considered.

That’s all for this week as we await the details of the latest omnibus budget to fully emerge.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pro-rogue – In favor of - unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable?

I don’t often write about the Provincial government for two reasons:- 1) there is enough anti democratic stuff going on at the federal level to keep me and a truck load of scribes employed full time just keeping up. 2) In comparison the Ontario legislature until recently has been relatively benign and generally within the normal bounds of parliamentary rules.

However this week as we now all know Mr McGinty prorogued the Ontario Legislature for an unspecified time to “to allow these discussions with our labour partners and the opposition parties to occur in an atmosphere that is free of the heightened rancour of politics in the legislature”. Nonsense! As with Mr Harper in the past it was done to avoid what was rapidly leading to a confidence motion being presented in the legislature. It may well be that given the opposition totally stopping the business of the legislature for almost 3 weeks with the contempt motions regarding the power plant fiasco that he was left with few choices but until now he has always told it like it is. This was clearly an attempt to get out from under the obvious and cynical attempt to buy votes by canceling a power plant project that was well on its way to complication at great cost to the taxpayer. What a lousy way to leave after doing a pretty good job for so long (excepting for the whole 'green' energy file)!

In other provincial news it was revealed this week that “The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development says a WTO preliminary report has found that Ontario's feed-in-tariff system is discriminatory against foreign suppliers of equipment for renewable energy generating facilities.
The feed-in-tariff system — established in 2009 — requires participating electricity generators in Ontario to source up to 60 per cent of their equipment in the province if they want to be eligible for subsidies.
Japan filed a WTO complaint against the Ontario government two years ago, arguing that the requirement amounted to "illegal subsidies" for Ontario companies. The European Union, who joined in on the complaint last year, added that the scheme goes against the international WTO provisions.
Whether you agree with the reproach of the Ontario government on the 'Green Energy' file the fact that the WTO can dictate to a government whether they can favor their own manufacturing source for supply of such equipment is favoring corporations over citizens and totally without merit.
Which brings us nicely back to the Federal scene and the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement which has similar provisions as did the NAFTA and EU agreements which certainly 'protect' foreign investments but do little to protect our sovereign right to decide how such companys operate in Canada.

Over to LeadNow...
Most Canadians have never heard of FIPA, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement, because Prime Minister Harper is trying to sneak it through without a single vote or debate in Parliament. Canadians have a right to determine our future, but this agreement will undermine our democratic rights and lock us into an inescapable path of foreign-ownership and resource extraction until at least 2040.

The Canada-China FIPA is set for automatic approval on October 31st unless we get the word out now that the Harper Conservatives are trying bypass Parliament and sneak this deal by Canadians.
Alongside this deal, the Harper government is trying to speed through the sale of Nexen, a major Canadian oil and gas company, to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), one of China’s massive state-owned oil companies.4 The $15 billion-dollar Nexen takeover will open the floodgates to a wave of foreign buyouts of Canada's natural resources.

If FIPA passes, a Chinese company can take over Canadian resources and then sue Canadian governments – provincial or federal – in secret, if the government does anything that threatens the company’s profits.

And just to finish off the week from hell we have this from the Harper regimes latest Omnibus 'Budget' ....

The Sixth Estate then points out that contrary to all the spin that is being spread as to how the MPs are finally going to pay their fair share of their gold plated pension plans that the budget says that “The applicable contribution rate for [all MPs under 71 years of age beyond their earnings limit] is just 4% “ and that “ The applicable contribution rate for [those MPs up to their earnings limit] are: 4% for 2013, 5% for 2014 and 6% for 2015

Doesn’t that just make you feel so thankful that our MPs are going to finally pay more towards their pension ..... maybe, perhaps, eventually, but not for many years!

There will no doubt be much more to come once everybody wades through the details of that 433 page budget but don’t hold your breath on your pension plan getting a 95% taxpayer subsidy.

NOTE – I found it hard to believe that with all the talk of MPs paying 50% of their pension cost the actual bill did not say so. What it does say is this “The Chief Actuary shall fix contribution rates for the purpose of the provisions of this Act that require contributions to be made at the applicable contribution rate. “ Then follows the exceptions show above setting a hard rate of 4 – 6% over the next 3 years.
The ONLY reference I can find to the 50% is this “In fixing contribution rates, the Chief Actuary’s objective is to ensure that by not later than January 1, 2017 the total amount of contributions to be paid by members under Parts I and II will meet 50% of the current service cost in respect of the benefits payable under Parts I, II and IV. “
So IF the Actuary meets his 'objective' the contributions MAY reach 50% of the CURRENT cost by the end of 2017 but unlike the next 3 years that is NOT fixed or legislated. No wonder the MPs were so quick to send this one through the system.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Democratic Decline: Death by a Thousand Cuts.

This week the text of Allen Gregg's speech at Carleton University went viral, in it he outlines many of the concerns that a lot of bloggers, myself included, and some journalists have been expressing for some time. He says his concern was first piqued in July 2010, when the federal cabinet announced its decision to cut the mandatory long form census and replace it with a voluntary one, my concern and that of many others was brought about much earlier when the Harper regime prorogued parliament in 2008 to avoid a vote of no confidence. Late or not the stir that it has caused is most welcome, such awakening of the public interest is necessary and deserves all the attention it can get so I hope he will forgive me for quoting extensively from both his speech and his later commentary in this piece.

His speech was based upon the premise that there are parallels between George Orwells novel and the current regime in power in Canada, I cannot help but agree, he point out that whilst “Orwell’s claim that “Ignorance is Strength” might have been the clever writing of a satirist at the height of his talents but it was also much more than that. It is his most dire warning. Abolitionist and newspaper publisher Fredrick Douglas said that it was illiteracy more than the lash that gave slaveholders power over black men and women. Orwell was making a similar point… the suppression of knowledge and reason is the tyrant’s most powerful tool… and the greatest threat to freedom. “Orthodoxy,” he said, “means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
Of course, the opposite is also true. The greater the knowledge and education of a population, the more difficult it is to oppress them. As Steven Pinker notes in his new book The Better Nature of our Angels: “The subversive power of the flow of information and people has never been lost on political and religious tyrants. This is why they suppress speech, writing and associations and why democracies protect these channels in their bills of rights”

Clearly the extensive use of secrecy and doublespeak by the Harper regime makes the comparison quite compelling. In his later piece in the Star he give some examples of the doublespeak that is now becoming a trademark of this “government” He says :- “The handmaidens of evidence-absent dogma are almost always secrecy, obfuscation and misdirection. A quick review of some of the bills passed or on the order paper of this session of the House of Commons gives you a sense of the pattern of “newspeak” that has become the language of our legislators. Bills to dismantle the Wheat Board are referred to as the “Marketing Freedom for Grain Famers Act.” Building more prisons and stiffening penalties for possession of marijuana are sold as “The Safe Streets and Community Act.” The list is endless and might even strike some as funny if it wasn’t so terrifying.”

He also says in that piece that “I DO believe that Stephen Harper and his colleagues have set out to systematically right what they see as this wrong.
This view holds that parks are for tourism and campers, not for the flora and fauna that must be protected by scientists. Policy should be based on conviction and not bloodless statistics. Governments should be guided by what is morally right and not by reason and rational compromise. From this view, science, statistics, reason and rational compromise are not tools of enlightened public policy, but barriers to the pursuit of swing that pendulum back.

He may be right in that assessment after all governments of all stripes try and bring their own view to the fore, it is however the WAY that such things are done that tell the story. A couple of other recent revelations tell the story better than me regurgitating the many sneaky and undemocratic moves that I have documented in these pages over the last several years. One of the scariest is the 'trade agreement' just signed by Harper with China without ANY consultation with, or indeed information being revealed to, either parliament or the Canadian Citizens. Elizabeth May rang the warning bell on this one several weeks ago “The summary on the Foreign Affairs website about the FIPPA and various analyses by large trade-focused law firms suggests it will operate the same way Chapter 11 of NAFTA works.” and “Chapter 11 of NAFTA is now understood to allow corporations from Mexico or the USA to claim damages against Canada if any level of Canadian government (municipal, provincial or federal) causes them to experience less profit than had been anticipated.“ So it is possible, indeed probable, that we are now in a position when China via its holdings in the tar sands (which it is seeking to expand) could dictate to ALL levels of government what regulations say should they impact the profit margin of these foreign corporations. As Ms May points out that has already happened under NAFTA!

The other interesting piece I saw this week says much about the priorities of this regime who are currently preaching restraint, cutting key ministry’s to the bone and continuing to hide the true cost of said cuts not only from we the public but from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and parliamentarians.
It seems that burying us in BS is far more important than almost anything else.
While Finance officials are refusing to disclose the budget for the current “action plan” media blitz blanketing Canadian airwaves, a Treasury Board document shows that cabinet approved $16 million in “economic action plan” advertising in the first quarter of this year alone.
That doesn’t include $5 million approved for a “better jobs” ad campaign, $8 million to sell Canadians on cuts to old age security, and $5 million to promote “responsible resource development” — the slogan given to an environmental assessment system that was cut back and restructured in the last budget. All the measures are promoted on the government’s “economic action plan” website.
The Conservatives also approved $4.5 million for War of 1812 advertising this year. In all, the federal cabinet has already approved more than $64 million in ad spending for 2012-13 — seemingly well on its way to matching the $83.3 million they spent in 2010-11, the last year for which complete numbers are available.
In 2010-11, the last full year for which final accounting is available, the Harper cabinet approved $65.4 million in spending, but the government ran up an advertising bill of $83.3 million. A year earlier, at the height of the economic crisis and during an influenza pandemic, the government approved $85.3 million in advertising but spent $136.3 million. In fact, in every single year since the Conservatives took office, the government has exceeded its posted advertising budget by at least 25 per cent ...
So millions of dollars spent telling us they have a plan whilst not revealing what that plan is or how it is effecting our wallets, our environment or our society. Four and a half MILLION advertising a conflict that happened 100 yeas ago whilst simultaneously cutting the budgets of important government programs & ministrys! Enough said!

Before I let Allen close off this post I will quote a bit by Alex Himelfarb which I my view is central to the problem of the disconnect between what the majority of the public would like to see and where the 'elite' in government want to take us.
We are warned about the economic imperatives in a globalized economy, which, the argument goes, severely limit the scope for government action. Less government, less taxes, more market. That this view persists even after the recent financial meltdown and current meltings is testament to its powerful hold.
At the same time, growing inequality makes it almost impossible to imagine ever formulating a shared sense of the good life. The very idea becomes a stretch given the profoundly different ways in which the super rich, the poor and the majority experience life. They breathe different air. Their kids go to different schools. They live in different neighbourhoods. Money always matters, but in an increasingly privatized world, it has never mattered more.
At the top, the extraordinary gains of a small global elite have given them an outsized capacity to shape the agenda and at the same time to secede from much of society. And even as extreme inequality undermines equality of opportunity, the myth of meritocracy emboldens many to believe that they are entitled to all they have.

And we, the middle and lower class taxpayers feel helpless to do anything about this increasing inequality of not only income but of influence in how we are governed! Finally I will let Allen ask the question I and so many others haves asked, extoll the power of one of the few tools that we have left, and then encourage us all to be silent no longer.

What is next and what can we as citizens do to protest or change a political power structure that is slowly suffocating reason out of the process? There are the obvious options: we can join a political party or movement, or (as scientists did in Ottawa this July) organize a protest. But I suspect none of this will be sufficient to bring about the desired change. A clue to the real solution may lie in what happened with my lecture.
To the best I can determine, it was first spread largely by academics who attended the event. It was then quickly picked up and circulated by the scientific community. It then somehow gravitated to members of the Occupy movement and from there, it found a big audience with the “I hate Stephen Harper” crowd. Eventually, it was discovered by an even larger audience of people who share an interest in media and politics.
Academics, activists, media hoi polloi, politicos, Internet agitators, ordinary citizens, Facebook friends — strange bedfellows? Maybe. That this unlikely coalition joined together, not by a natural allegiance, but by virtue of sharing a common interest, demonstrates the real power of social media. This is indeed an important new weapon to advance democracy.......................

History shows us that, over time, science’s authority always undermines dogma’s legitimacy; and the persuasive power of reason will always trump ideology’s emotion. The best defence against dogma and ideology continues to be reason and science.
History has also shown that tyrants can have a truncated shelf life if the citizenry enters the public forum and, armed with facts, reasoned arguments, and thoughtful ideas, engages in a loud debate. In the case of those who would stand against reason, our silence will be perceived as consent. There’s too much at stake to be silent.
If it feels lame to suggest that the solution about what to do next is to talk to each other more, I invite you to review history and ask yourselves what role public discourse has had in the toppling of dictators and despots. Right now, there seems to be a very one-sided conversation going on and the powers that be are leading it. We have our hands on the easiest levers the world has ever known by which to spread an idea and lead our own conversation. Let’s use them.”

Thank you Allen for speaking out! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Gish Gallop

The Gish Gallop, named after creationist Duane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

A Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullsh*t in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more 'talking points' that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it's not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation. A true Gish Gallop generally has two traits.

  1. The factual and logical content of the Gish Gallop is pure bullsh*t and anybody knowledgeable and informed on the subject would recognize it as such almost instantly. That is, the Gish Gallop is designed to appeal to and deceive precisely those sorts of people who are most in need of honest factual education.
  2. The points are all ones that the Galloper either knows, or damn well should know, are totally bullsh*t. With the slimier users of the Gish Gallop, like Gish himself, its a near certainty that the points are chosen not just because the Galloper knows that they're bullsh*t, but because the Galloper is deliberately trying to shovel as much bullsh*t into as small a space as possible in order to overwhelm his opponent with sheer volume and bamboozle any audience members with a facade of scholarly acumen and factual knowledge.
I recently became aware that this was a recognized technique in a comment about the Obama – Romney debate, perhaps it does explain the glazed look in Obama's eyes!

It seems to me that the Harper Caucus has been made aware of this technique and are secretly training their key ministers so that they are ready to answer questions in the House, or perhaps its just the regime's script writers that are fully versed in its use? The technique seems to have been adapted to encompass the release of public information, committee hearings, advertising and even legal proceedings!

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