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, January 27, 2013

PBO contract expires soon.

The Library of Parliament who are responsible for filling the position when Mr Page's contract expires in just two months has only now “issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking the services of an executive search firm to assist with the recruitment and selection of candidates for the PBO position.” they then propose to “ issue a contract to a supplier who will then prepare the recruitment strategy and detailed work plan, including a list of activities and timeline.”. Given the speed with which government typically moves on such issues it is clear that this position will remain vacant for some time whilst they form “a committee whose mandate is to provide the names of three candidates for the position of PBO to the Leader of the Government”, said committee to “include former senior officials who worked in federal public administrations, such as former Auditors General, past PCO Clerks, former heads of other central agencies and possibly former parliamentarians who are knowledgeable in this area of expertise.”

Opposition leaders and others have already expressed concern over such process not having been started some time ago and whether the selected candidate when eventually appointed will in fact be both qualified and continue to be an independent and non partisan individual able to stand up to government pressure to be less forthcoming in his (or her) reports. Some have even speculated that the position and the under staffed and underfunded department may be eliminated. Given the Harper regimes modus oprandi of hiding as much of their financial shell game as possible from both parliament and the public I would say that is a very real possibility, but more probable is the appointment of a right wing friendly less forceful individual.

Whatever happens Mr Page and his team, who hopefully remain able to continue their work without restriction, will be hard to replace. It takes a very special individual to stand up to the Prime Minister of Canada and his minions when they seek to restrict access to documents and data that are essential in order to fully inform or members of parliament of the financial implications of government proposals and past actions. Mr Page is clearly such a man and, as I have said before deserves far more recognition than he can expect to receive whilst this regime is in power.

The first day he took office as Canada’s first budget watchdog Kevin Page knew he was effectively deep-sixing his 27-year-long career as a public servant. He believed that if he was going to establish an effective, independent Parliamentary Budget Office, it would mean becoming a prickly and persistent thorn in the side of Stephen Harper’s freshly elected government. There would be no welcome mat for him in the public service once his five-year term ends in March.
I was told by different people, you are not going back to the Department of Finance, there won’t be a public sector job,” he said recently in an interview about his coming end of term.
Given that as things stand now the PBO is not an independent body but operates under the Library of Parliament at the whim of the PMO it can be seen that this office could well degenerate into yet another toothless plutocracy, it is as Mr Page himself says the office needs to be redefined in law for its own protection. It’s untenable that a watchdog serve at the pleasure of the person being watched, he argues.
Opposition parties, perhaps eyeing the day they might gain power and be saddled with a nettlesome PBO, initially raised few objections to the way the PBO was established.
Mr. Page says the office and its way of operations are well established. Now Canadians and MPs need to ask themselves a question.
The big issue becomes: Does Parliament at large want this office? Do Canadians want this office?”

The resounding answer to that is YES, but there is a real concern that we will not continue to receive the clear and unbiased reporting that Mr Page and his team have provided over the last several years. Given that now the Speaker and others are opposing Mr Pages efforts to have the courts on his efforts to get sufficient information to provide a realistic report upon the budget that seem highly probable.

New documents filed in Federal Court show that lawyers for the Speaker of the House of Commons and Speaker of the Senate will now participate in the case to protect the jurisdictional rights of Parliament.
Lawyers for the two speakers and the Attorney General of Canada are expected to argue in court in March that it’s up to Parliament — not the federal court — to determine the mandate of the parliamentary budget officer.
The attorney general, in court earlier this month, failed in its bid to have the PBO’s case dismissed. Arguments for the case will be heard in Ottawa on March 21 and 22.
The PBO has asked the Federal Court to clarify its mandate and whether it has the jurisdiction to access details — as requested by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair — of the $5.2 billion in budget reductions over the next few years, including the impacts on jobs and services to Canadians. The PBO is not, however, seeking any court order demanding the release of any specific documents.
Meanwhile the latest from the PBO gives us this report which confirms what many of us have suspected for some time.
Overall, the independent budget office found that Ottawa's spending was down 0.6 per cent through the first six months of the current fiscal year, which ends March 31. Direct program spending fell four per cent.
But spending on internal services — such as communications, information technology, human resources and financial management — actually rose eight per cent. And the PBO report says capital expenditures, in large part driven by Defence spending, also climbed in the first half of 2012-13, up almost seven per cent.
Hmm 'communications' spending up, spreading BS from the PMO must be expensive.........

Thank you Mr Page, I personalty wish you well in your future endeavors I am sure you will have no difficulty in finding a position in the private sector, it is our loss and you will be sorely missed.

I leave you with this thought from President Obama’s recent Inaugural Address, no less true for us than our neighbours to the south.
Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. “

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Morning Reading

I have been struggling lately to organize my thoughts enough to write my regular Sunday morning commentary, not because there is no enough to write about on the democracy front but because there is too much. Fortunately there are many others who are more than capable of filling the gap and this week I will simply refer you to a few of their recent posts.

First up Norm Farell quotes George Monbiot
“the richest 100 people now hold wealth near equivalent to the United Kingdom's GDP. “

Then Owen Grey is well worth reading
“Democracy 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. “

“governments are ceasing to use evidence, facts and science as the basis to guide policy and instead, are retreating to dogma, fear and partisan advantage to steer the ship of state.

The Globe & Mail has a couple of bits worth a look”
“The dogs bark and the caravan – the mockery of democracy – moves on.”

“Parliament is not being told when new legislation likely violates the Charter –“

Finally a reminder for those who do not already visit regularly that the place to go for a wide variety of progressive views from bloggers from coast to coast is the Progressive Bloggers Aggregator
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Democracy 'Satisfaction' dropped 20%

Its been a while since I gave Samara the democracy measurement folks a plug but a recent visit to their web site encouraged me to have another look around and you should too.

Their most recent report titled 'Who's the Boss?' once again reinforces what many of us firmly believe in that the ,satisfaction' with our democracy has dropped from 75% in 2004 to 55% now. The only surprise to me is that its that high but then there are still a lot of citizens not taking notice. Their various surveys also reveal that Canadians “feel that their MPs’ work representing constituents is falling short when compared to MPs’ representation of their parties.” and that “Canadians indicated feeling that their elected representatives often are not accountable for their actions nor do they pay attention to what Canadians think.”

Non of this is news to those of us who have been following the goings on in the HoC and the Harper Regimes latest moves, or for that matter the Ontario governments suspension of parliament. Certainly Harper is one of the most talked about politicians on twitter at #cdnpoli as revealed in their previous research 'The Neighbourhoods of #cdnpoli' even though he “doesn’t really engage in conversations with other Twitter users.” There is one MP that does engage with citizens across the country in the top ten however and that is Parliamentarian of the Year Elizabeth May who is #6 on the list right up there with LeadNow. Here are the top ten Mentioned Users in #cdnpoli (September to November 2011)

Rank User # of Mentions
1 min_reyes 2250
2 cbcpolitics 1860
3 pmharper 1749
4 leadnowca 1709
5 natnewswatch 1645
6 elizabethmay 1575
7 globeandmail 1523
8 beari8it 1431
9 wicary 1012
10 nspector4 954

There is lots more information over at Samara, do take a look and support their work on trying to get a definitive measure of where our democracy is now so that we can actually measure its decline!

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Getting their attention...

Much has been written about the Idle No More movement in recent weeks and I will not attempt to define it here for like the Occupy Movement before it the focus of the protests is becoming increasingly unclear. For Chief Spence it seems to be about conditions in her, and other, first nations community’s, for others it is about bill C45 removing many rivers from the Navigable water act, and for many, particularly the non native supporters, it is simply about the total disdain with which the Harper regime is treating Canadian citizens.

Whatever the central aim of these protests it is clear that there are an ever increasing number of dissatisfied citizens who are willing, perhaps even eager, to express their concerns by taking to the streets. This is understandable for the 'normal' means of communications with they who run this country have all but disappeared. Public enquires are no longer public, our Prime Minister is no longer available to the press, even our diplomats have to get their information from the newspaper. Our MPs, both in opposition or decorating the regimes back benches, are all but helpless to effect any influence upon this regimes decisions, debate and amendments on bills, be it in the House or in the Senate is all but a thing of the past. A group of citizens presenting a petition with thousands of signatures to their MP is all but ignored by both the recipient and the press and yet a handful of pre-settler descendants blocking major transportation corridors gets national attention, is it no wonder that such tactics are becoming the norm no matter what segment of our society wants to get some attention.

This paragraph from 'KirbyCairo' perhaps sums it up quite well:-

Even if a 'democracy' has a high degree of participation (which ours does not) and a distinctly independent judiciary (a claim that even in our country can be brought into question), modern democratic systems suffer from some very basic, let's call them 'gaps' in representation and legitimacy. One of these consistent gaps has been experienced in the treatment of 'minority' and 'national' groups within the state. Democracies, in other words, have to be very careful about how they treat minority and national groups, and so we can understand the need and importance of written constitutions and bills of rights, documents which are often written in part to protect certain rights against the will of a majority. In other words, we enshrine certain basic rights precisely because democracy has unavoidable 'gaps' in its structure. An elected government will not always protect the rights of minorities or national groups. The problem, of course is that constitutions and courts will not always be able to fill these gaps, and even when we believe that the constitution or the courts will eventually prevail, extra-political activism is often an essential part of the movement to bring the issues surrounding minority and national rights to public attention.

In other words, we enshrine certain basic rights precisely because democracy has unavoidable 'gaps' in its structure. An elected government will not always protect the rights of minorities or national groups.”

Indeed an elected government will not always protect the very 'democratic' system that brought it to power, will ignore the will of the people and their elected representatives and rule by fiat. Is it any wonder wonder that 'the natives are becoming restless' and citizens are taking to the streets. Its a sad statement of our time that it has come to this but I see no reduction in such actions in the foreseeable future just as I see no return to an acceptable democratic model of governance in the foreseeable future.

Having seen where such unrest leads in Europe of late I fear for the future when such methods become necessary to protect our basic right to be heard by those whom would rule with little regard to their citizens rights and aspirations.

Let you voices be heard be it by letters to the editor, commenting on blogs and web sites or gathering peacefully in the streets. Speak up now before it is too late.
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