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, December 30, 2012

Stand on Guard

At this time of year as we look back over the previous year and forward to the coming year is also a good time to look at the broader picture of where we are both personally and as a country. When compared with so many other countries around the world that are in conflict or struck by famine, drought, floods, earthquakes and other disasters man made or natural we here in Canada must count ourselves fortunate. Some areas of our country have had a taste of some of those things but generally speaking we have the resources and systems in place to deal with such things in a speedy and organized fashion. Our social services, medical, environmental and emergency services systems built up over many years may not be perfect but they are standing ready for when nature or man creates a need for them. But can we take such things for granted? Given the last years decisions coming out of both the federal and several provincial governments I don’t think so!

There was a time when major decisions by the government were, even during times of a majority government situation, placed before the House and debated, given public scrutiny and even voted upon by MPs who for the most part actually knew what they were voting upon. No longer it seems. Now the modus operandi is for a few elite in the oligarchy to decide what is to be done, prepare a massive document which few have time to fully read and understand and then instruct those who happen to be elected under that particular party banner how they shall vote. Or where they think they can get away with it, to quietly sign 'trade agreements' that give away our ability to protect our own interests against corporate greed, give foreign governments control over our natural resources and cut funding to those departments that might protect against corporate rape of our lands and seas. All without so much as a moment given to public or indeed other MPs concerns. In short there is no meaningful debate, no changes to the decisions from on high are allowed and the 'vision' of a few at the top becomes the law for all. I use that word 'vision' with reluctance for I know not what that vision is or where it is taking us, I just know what I have seen of it lately I do not like. Of course we are bombarded daily by TV ads, paid for by us, telling us we have a plan, we have a plan.... its just that we have no idea what it is, no input into its formation and no choices as to the manner of its implementation.

As we look forward we all have hard choices to make be it simply whether to buy that cheap dodad made in china at wallmart or shop for our needs at the local farmers market, to burn more fossil fuels flying to exotic isles for a holiday or use a little less seeing part of our vast country or even day tripping and finding those local gems that we usually ignore in our rush to try and make enough to pay for our politicians perks or public servants benefits. There are harder choices to be made as well, the toughest of which we are not permitted to make for a couple of years yet, that being the choice of which individual is going to 'represent' us in our failing and increasingly less democratic parliamentary system. Some provincial choices may well be up for grabs in the spring and the choices there are no less stark or important but it is the federal choices that are the really scary ones.

It pretty obvious by now to any clear thinking citizen who cares about any of the things noted above that the Harper regime must go, but what will be left to salvage when they are tossed out? Will they in fact be tossed out or will they spin and cheat their way back into power? What viable choices do we have when the best person to represent us may not be affiliated with with a party that can obtain enough seats to make a meaningful contribution to our governance? For me this last question has been answered , clearly just one person with moral backbone, a strong work ethic, and knowledge of our parliamentary system as it now exists can make a difference. That the parliamentarian of the year is not only one of the most outspoken politician in regard to the threats to our democracy but also the leader of the only party that has been consistent on the need to guard both our natural resources and our environment makes the choice of which political party to support easy. Unfortunately even the combined weight of all opposition MPs cannot seem to make one iota of a dent in the out of control steamroller being navigated by a group of blindfolded yes men that comprise the Harper regime. So the dilemma of 'strategic voting' under our outdated first past the post voting system to ensure that the spinmasters do not return to do further damage remains unsolved. All the talk of cooperation between the opposition partys will evaporate as the election come closer in flavor of trash talking to try and cast all but their own particular party in a poor light, the 'cooperation' will only last until their own self interest outweighs Canadas need for change.

So as we look back upon 2012 and forward to the start of a new year I urge you all to look closely at what our various governments have done for or to us recently, seek independent information from a variety of sources and not rely upon the 30 second sound bite or latest 'news release' issued by the only government department to not get a budget cut. Sooner or later you will need that information to make a choice that may well be the choice between a hard won (and desperately in need of modernization) democratic parliamentary system and one where you get a choice of which dictator you want till the next election fraud takes place.

“Lewis Lapham, author and twice editor of Harper’s Magazine in the United States, made the same point. Democracy, he wrote, announces itself in three fundamental ways: an honest public discussion about issues; accountability of the governors to the governed; and equal protection under the law. By Lapham’s measure, Stephen Harper’s Canada is not a democracy, let alone a parliamentary democracy. It is an oligarchy with a few well chosen friends and millions upon millions of people to ignore, vilify or bamboozle.”

Be careful what you wish for and resolve to Stand on Guard for a Democratic Canada.
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Unwrap this for Christmas!

I wish I could present you with some uplifting and exciting presents on the democracy front at this time of year but I fear it is not to be, there may be hidden amongst the lumps of coal and crushed remains of our parliamentary democracy a few items that you may be able to salvage but I am sad to say that they are few and far between.

Here then are a few of the things that fill your stocking ready for you to rummage through them.....

At the top is a book, but not one that gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling. As reviewed by Frances Russell at ipolotics and written by political scientists Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis and Lori Turnbull it looks at the state of our democracy under the Harper regime. Here are some extracts from Russels review that need no further comment.

They define electoral democracy as “a system in which the electorate decides who forms the government and the prime minister then governs as a virtual autocrat until the next election … The concentration of powers … cannot be permitted to remain in the hands of a single individual who is able to undermine democratic governance at his or her will.”

Harper’s Blitzkreig on parliamentary democracy began in 2008. “Harper, in less than two years, made three unilateral decisions showing clearly how a Canadian prime minister not only can exercise unconstrained power at whim to prorogue and dissolve Parliament but also to declare on what he would accept or not accept as a vote of confidence,” the authors write.

“As with the election call in 2008, there is no evidence that the prime minister was much concerned about public opinion over his abuse of prorogation. If anything, it appears that having successfully employed the first prorogation as an effective partisan tool to avoid defeat in the House, Conservative strategists seized on it as a handy tool for further use.”

University of Toronto professor emeritus of politics Peter Russell describes Canadian democracy as “very weak.” Canada now has what he calls “presidential prime ministerial parliamentary government,” he said, adding that unless Canadians do something soon to save their parliamentary democracy, “they will have presidential government, period.” The leader now controls caucus and cabinet and runs the show, he said. It’s reached a point where the prime minister’s political staff has more power than the cabinet. “We have a 35-year-old ‘communicator’ telling a veteran 55-year-old cabinet minister when to stand up and when to sit down,” Russell said.

The book does however propose a solution. Canada should follow the lead of its sister Commonwealth countries Britain, Australia and New Zealand and codify the principles of parliamentary democracy to ensure the players — voters and politicians — understand the playbook and stay within the rules.

“The other systems have rules about prorogation and dissolution, especially dissolution,” said Turnbull whose book proposes some specific solutions..

The next item to unwrap is wrapped in the Star and contains the news from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression that the result of a recent study by the Centre for Law and Democracy that ranked the strength and effectiveness of global access to information laws that of 93 countries ranked Canada stands at 55. This is a drop from a year ago when Canada was ranked at an embarrassing 40th in the effectiveness of laws intended to guarantee that all Canadians — journalists and citizens — have a right to public government information that is not supposed to be kept secret.

If you are going to have a democracy, you have to have a citizenry that knows the essence of the issues,” CJFE president Arnold Amber told the more than 500 journalists and others gathered Wednesday night for the organization’s annual gala to honour courageous reporting.
CJFE points out, quite rightly, that access to public information is a critical component of our right to freedom to expression. It’s how we hold governments to account. The organization has now launched a public campaign to convince Canadians that “what you don’t know can hurt you.” They are seeking public input through a brief survey on its website to gather your views on Canada’s access to information system. That information will be included in the CJFE’s submission to a current review of Canada’s 30-year-old Access to Information Act.
“our access to information system is mired by delays, extensions, exceptions and exemptions — and, on occasion, by blatant political interference, the destruction of documents and intentional failure to create records.” .........Silencing free expression, blocking citizens’ right to information is routine operating procedure in repressive regimes.

Hiding down in the bottom we have this lump of coal donated by Canadian Dimensions.....

U.S. corporations have launched an alarming new offensive against Canadian health and environmental policies under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Three U.S. firms recently announced plans to use the “trade” pact to seek nearly one billion taxpayer dollars in private, NAFTA-created tribunals as compensation for Canadian policies on fracking, wind energy, and medicine patents.
Of the three corporate threats, perhaps most worrisome is the notice filed by U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which became public this week. It marks the first attempt by a patent-holding pharmaceutical corporation to use the investment provisions in NAFTA (or any other U.S. FTA) as a tool to push for greater monopoly patent protections, which elevate the cost of medicines.
But how can a foreign corporation directly demand taxpayer compensation from a sovereign government over a democratically-determined policy? Meet the “investor-state” system. Written into NAFTA, this system uniquely empowers foreign corporations to skirt domestic laws and courts and directly challenge a government’s public interest policies.
The article goes on the give details of these attacks upon our right to conduct our own affairs as we see fit but more troubling is that Harper is as I write considering a similar 'agreement' with China!

There are a couple of more promising things yet to be fully unwrapped the newest of which is the Idle No More Rallys across Canada, they have become much more than just about First Nations but more about the way the Harper Regime regards all of its citizens both natives and settlers. Another present fighting for our attention is the Lead Now initiative which is also greatly concerned with the FIPA China deal in addition to their other great work in holding Harpers feet to the Yule Log.....

I do wish you all A Merry Christmas and a relaxing and special time with family and friends and hope that next year I will be able to find you some better presents from the democracy isle.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cooperation between Political Partys

There has been much talk of 'cooperation' between partys since the close results in recent byelections and whilst I have in these pages urged such 'cooperation not confrontation' in the HoC I wonder exactly how long such common sense will last and what form it will take in a practical sense. I was pleased this week to see that my own local riding associations had banded together to send a common message to the incumbent Conservative MP one Larry Miller.

The local paper reports that “Kimberley Love of the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound federal Liberal association, Scott Maxted of the local Greens and Karen Gventer of the local NDP have co-authored a letter to Miller that refers to the 400-page Bill C-45 as an “abuse of power” and a tactic to prevent “the democratic scrutiny” of multiple changes to non-budgetary rules and regulations.”

Naturally Mr Miller has all but ignored their concerns saying “This is about them disagreeing with what we said we were going to do. And that’s OK, I respect that. They don’t like it. When we were in opposition, governments were able to do things that we didn’t like too. But they got elected to do it and the people will be the judge in three years,” Omnibus bills are just fine, we can do whatever we like for the next 3 years, the removal of thousands of rivers from the Navigable Waters Act has “no effect”.

The Green party leader Elizabeth May in particular has been very vocal about both the non democratic nature of Omnibus bills in general and the content of both Conservative Omnibus Budget bills in particular. The hundreds of amendments tabled by her and the other opposition partys have all be summarily rejected by the majority conservative regime. It is as Mr Miller alludes to, a dictatorship for a further three years at which time the people will have just one shot at removing this oligarchy from power.

So cooperation between the various opposition is, as so many observers have noted, important to ensure that the next time around the elections are held without such things as malicious robocalls affecting the turnout and results and that the voters are exercising their democratic right from a position of knowledge and not all the spin that this regimen continues to spew out. But will the cooperation go further?

How can we ensure that the majority of Canadians who prefer a government led by other than the current regime get their choice and not 'split' the vote under our flawed First Past the Post system. I really don’t know what is going to happen at voting time, will the gloves come off and the opposition partys start attacking each other rather that the real problem. Will they all commit to bringing in some kind of proportional voting system if elected, will they work together on an individual riding basis to reduce the chances of vote splitting, what form will such cooperation take if it lasts? I dont know, I just am glad to see at least one group of political opponents joining forces against a common enemy (and I do mean enemy) at a local level. Well done Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound opposition partys, keep it up and show us how to resolve this conundrum.
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Oh Canada!

Many years ago I stood proudly with other newcomers to Canada and became a Canadian Citizen, of late I have not been so proud to be Canadian. The Canada that I became part of was, I thought, an open and accepting and diverse country governed as a parliamentary democracy and open to new citizens and new ideas. I begin to question where those Canadian values have gone, not that the people have changes significantly except perhaps being even more diverse, but our “leaders” be they be federal or provincial, union or business, city or corporate with a few notable exceptions seem to have been infected with some kind of “Me, me, me” syndrome. Only they have the answers, everybody else is wrong, only they are entitled to their entitlements, the rules do not apply to them but let us rule with a heavy hand over those 'beneath' us.
Recently a number of news items brought this into sharp focus for me, we all know that the Harper regime has had this disease for some time and the following includes some examples of that but it seems the syndrome is spreading. Here is a case where 'lead by example' is NOT a good way to go.

Lets start with the Ontario Elementry Teachers union who are now threatening to fine their members up to $500 a day if they dare to spend a little extra time actually helping the kids. This whilst spending thousands on dollars on radio ad's calling their employers (the government and by extension the Ontario taxpayers) 'undemocratic' and anti human rights for refusing to allow the union to hold the kids and their parents up for hostage in their annual demands for more compensation for less work.

There is our Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's vociferous rant before the UN condemning Palestine for simply trying to become an 'observer state' in that organization, one of only 3 nations to speak to the motion and the only major nation to vote against it.
Then there is is lesser publicized vote in which Canada was one of only six nations in the UN General Assembly to vote against a resolution Monday that called on Israel to quickly open its nuclear program for inspection and that backed a recently cancelled conference to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East.

Recent days have reinforced what we knew all along – that the government lied about the cost of the useless and as yet unbuilt F35 fighter jets the Harper regime decided upon without tender and is now rather belatedly reconsidering their choice. Once again our Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is proved right! Remember the failure to produce documents on this one was a reason for a contempt motion and the subsequent early election in which many alleged irregularities took place, none of which have yet been fully investigated.
Whilst the F35s are 'on hold' so it seems are those promised SAR helicopters and the arctic icebreakers and deep water port promised back in 2005-8 this whilst the need to establish our sovereignty over those water increased each year due to the receding ice.

Even the proceedings in the HoC have gone down hill even more (is that possible) with Peter Van Loan, the regime’s House leader, storming across the floor to get into the face of the oppositions MP, Nathan Cullen and having to be restrained by his colleagues. Parliament is rapidly becoming a farce with Harper running the show via the PMO and PCO and neither the opposition or those citizens they represent can do anything about it.
All this taking place as the Harper regime rams trough the second over 400 page omnibus budget without consideration of any amendments offered by MPs from other party's. A budget which continues to attack our environmental protection laws, our scientific research and countless other fundamental issues that will no doubt come to light once the document is properly examined. According to a new report by the Polaris Institute, the nation's two largest pipeline companies Enbridge and TransCanada plus four other oil firms met with cabinet ministers 52 times between 2011 and 2012 just as the last budget was being dreamed up.

I could go on, but whats the point when all we can do is sit and watch as the Canada we know and love goes down the tubes. We can but hope that enough people sit up and start taking notice, start thinking about Canada before blindly following the leader in to the abyss, and start thinking about our fellow Canadians more and about self less. If we don’t then I fear for our future.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Elections Canada slow to investigate robocalls.

Perhaps that should read `Elections Canada fails to protect our voting system` or better yet EC protects wrong doers! Either way its pretty clear by now that they have been completely ineffective in investigating the many complaints from across the country regarding the 2011 election both before and after that date.

We wonder if it were not for the Council of Canadians and the citizens who are perusing the alleged interference with the voting process within a few riding’s in the courts if in fact anything would be done at all. It now appears that they are only just now attempting to get phone records regarding the malicious calls and it would also seem that EC was aware of a least some such calls to electors BEFORE the election and BEFORE such allegations became common knowledge. ``Emails between officials at the agency show the first complaints came on April 29 from Kitchener-Conestoga, Ont., and Saint-Boniface, Man. `` thats over 18 months ago!!

I am not going to belabor the point here, several others have been keeping on top of this story, most notably The Sixth Estate but also a few newspapers (links have been added to the LONG list on my Election Malfeasance page). I will merely say that my faith in our electoral system, and more particularly the agency charged with seeing that it is not subject to `cheating` from either the candidates or the electorate, has been severely compromised.

With the close results in the recent federal by-elections there is once again much talk of `cooperation`between the opposition parties to both defeat the Conservatives and to bring in electoral reform. Political parties in Canada `cooperating`! I will believe that when I see it. Electoral reform, thats a long process that requires decisions on a process to select the new system and a referendum to confirm that choice. I am not holding my breath on that one either, but wonder if Elections Canada can be trusted to oversee any new system given their apparent inability to oversee the current one!
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