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 26, 2014

The War on Information Continues.

It has been revealed that in addition to the 'consolidation' of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries, where reports say that despite assurances that much of the material would be digitized a large number of books and papers have been destroyed without such backup, the Libraries of Heath Canada are now under attack.

The CBC reports that Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that some are squirrelling away journals and books in their garages for colleagues to consult. This after a report calling for the libraries to NOT be closed was rejected as 'flawed' (i.e. Not the answer that was required) and the library's collection was moved to the National Science Library and the inter-library loan functions were outsourced to a private company.

"Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management," the report said.
"However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place."
'If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used.'— Dr. Rudi Mueller, retired Health Canada pathologist
There is little doubt that most newer material will be available 'on line' however there has been no massive injection of resources to digitized historical reports and other material or to make such openly available. Obviously those most affected by these changes are very concerned and feel that the material is in danger of being 'disappeared'.

"One group moved its 250 feet of published materials to an employee's basement. When you need a book, you email 'Fred,' and 'Fred' brings the book in with him the next day," the consultant wrote in his report.
The report said the number of in-house librarians went from 40 in 2007 to just six in April 2013.
"Knowledgeable and expert librarians and archivists are invaluable resources in helping you find what you want,"
"So they [Health Canada] are not just closing physical collections of books. They are getting rid of the guides to those collections."

We all know that reference material is increasingly being accessed 'online' and scientific 'papers' are usually now published on line but not all are, and we are a long way from having the historical material all available from our computers. I would think that our research libraries would need more staff not less to enable them to scan this historical stuff to electronic media. Even that is little scary if said records are in a government controlled database give our current regimes predilection to historical revision and scientific denial.

When this regime talks about access to information they mean access to propaganda issued by themselves and the destruction of any factual information that does not coincide with their narrow view of the world. Make no mistake the attack upon knowledge is an attack upon democracy both of which have been severely compromised by these ideological oligarchs.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Best of Both Worlds

A guest article by Jared Milne.

Politically, 2013 wasn’t much different than previous years. In Toronto, Rob Ford accused his opponents of wanting to keep the “gravy train” going, while his opponents accused him of hypocrisy and failing to live up to his promises. In Ottawa, the Conservative government accused the opposition parties of wanting to drastically raise taxes to pay for their political promises, while the official Opposition accused the Conservatives of slashing essential services and transfers to Canadians. In St. Albert, critics of the city government’s current direction stated that our current level of spending is unsustainable, while people satisfied with the current direction accused the critics of wanting to eliminate many of the services we’ve come to rely on as residents.
By itself, there’s nothing wrong with these types of debates. They’re what democracy is supposed to be all about. However, what risks happening is that public opinion becomes polarized between one option or the other. We can either pay very few taxes and get very little in the way of services, or we can have very good services but have to pay through the nose for them. Anyone who wants to see good services is automatically accused of wanting to jack income taxes up to 80 or 90 percent, while anyone who wants to see taxes and spending cut is accused of wanting to slash and burn public services.
What I don’t get is why it has to be an all-or-nothing thing. Who says we only have to have a highly taxed welfare state, or a radically laissez-faire society? Why can’t we recognize the benefits of both government programs and private enterprise? Sometimes taxes or spending might need to be increased, while at other times they could be cut.
In 2014 and beyond, we could probably all benefit by defining how far we think things should go. What level of public ownership, environmental regulations and social spending would conservatives be willing to accept, for instance? What limits would progressives be willing to accept on business regulations, income taxation or social spending? By more clearly defining just how far different groups are willing to take these policies, it becomes that much more difficult for the worst and most polarizing voices among us to accuse people of wanting to take things too far.
Canada has never thrived solely through government action or through private enterprise. Rather, Canada has come as far as it has through a healthy balance of government action and private business, of individual initiatives and collective action. Of course taxes can sometimes be too high, and regulations can be too much of a hassle. When that happens, they can and should be reduced. But they are not inherently bad in and of themselves, as they’ve helped set up the social, physical and environmental infrastructure we take for granted today.
In 2014, and beyond, we as Canadians could all benefit from more clarity and discussion, and more of a search for the common ground that exists, than we have in past years.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on January 1, 2014 and can be found online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20140101/SAG0903/301019997/the-best-of-both-worlds
Jared Milne is a writer, researcher and public servant living in St. Albert, Alberta. His major interests including Canadian unity, nationalism and history, particularly regarding how Canada's incredibly rich past has affected the present we live in today.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Response to Minister of Democratic Reform

Just two days before Christmas the GPC received a letter requesting a response on their ideas for electoral reform to be received before Jan 4th. The timing of the letter and the requested response makes the genuineness of the request suspect. We wonder who else was or will be invited to respond and what their response was or will be. Despite the almost impossible time line Elizabeth May of the Greens did reply with several much needed suggestions. Here is her response in full:-
Dear Mr. Minister,

The President of the Green Party of Canada, Paul Estrin, received a scanned letter from you just before Christmas, on December 23, 2013.  The letter itself was undated, but requested Green Party proposals for changes to the Elections Act to be received by January 4, 2014.  

As you can imagine, due to the holidays, this was challenging.  A copy of this letter on stationery will reach you by Monday.  I certainly look forward to meeting with you to discuss options. 

For now, I am submitting our proposals by email.

The crisis in declining voter turn-out and citizen engagement should concern all political leaders.  Over the course of this fall’s prorogation, I held a series of town hall sessions in locations across Canada on the theme of “Saving Democracy from Politics.”  The encouraging news is that in nearly every location, from Dawson City to Halifax to Vancouver to Winnipeg, the meetings were packed.  Hundreds of people showed up in most cities. In Toronto, the Hart House event, sadly, had as many people leaving disappointed as were able to fit in the room.
I share this experience as I see it as confirmation that there is an appetite for public discussion on how we can rescue democracy.  As I mentioned to you when we attended an event in your riding during Ramadan in July 2013, I urge you to take your process “on the road” to meet with as many Canadians as possible.
While the reasons for declining voter turn-out are complex and multi-faceted, nevertheless some common themes emerge. I would like to set out a few of the policy changes that the Green Party believes would improve the health of our democracy.  
1.     Move away from First Past the Post so that every vote counts.  New Zealand made the transition most recently and their process would be worthy of study for possible application to Canada, as both share Westminster  Parliamentary system within a constitutional monarchy.
2.     Repeal the changes to the Elections Act requiring government issued photo ID in order to be allowed to vote.  These changes have resulted in voters within certain groups (students, seniors, First Nations, the homeless) being denied their franchise. Our problem in Canada is not voter fraud (people voting more than once); it is people voting less than once.
3.     Eliminate television advertising by political parties – both outside and within writ periods. This is done in many countries around the world (the UK, Brazil , Belgium, Switzerland, to name a few).  The attack ad is used as a form of voter suppression. It is not possible to ban certain types of messages; ad hominem attack ads are hard to control through censorship. What other countries have done prevents the most invasive form of ad-  the television message that hits voters between the eyes when home and watching the Stanley Cup, for example.  Other countries mandate all broadcasters to provide equal access to free public service messages, explaining the party’s platforms.
4.     Remove the requirement for the Leader’s signature on the nomination forms for candidates, to eliminate a tool of coercion on Members of Parliament and candidates, as proposed in Michael Chong’s private members bill, as well as in my own.  Allowing MPs to better speak for their constituents will increase citizen engagement and voter turn-out.
5.     Restore the per vote subsidy, at any level.  For many voters, knowing that any amount of financial support went to the party of their choice was an incentive to vote.
6.     Pursue proposals from Queens University Centre for the Study of Democracy to improve the campaign debates by holding more debates and reducing the focus only on leaders by holding debates involving ministers and Shadow Cabinet Critics put forward by Opposition Parties. More exposure to issues should increase public awareness of issues in elections and increase engagement.  
I appreciate your willingness to consider some of these reforms as you embark on a critical exercise. I wish you the best of luck and the height of wisdom. 


Elizabeth May, O.C.
Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands

A copy of the Ministers undated letter and the above reply may be viewed here.

It should come as no surprise that the Cons are less than enthusiastic about citizens or opposition views on this and that they have come out against Ms Mays first suggestion before even reading it:-
A Conservative pamphlet declares "Conservatives say NO to proportional representation" and suggests that it is to be rejected equally with Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May. The pamphlet claims that "Our country was founded on the principle of Equality of Ridings first and foremost."
Equality of Ridings?

Her other suggestions are all good and I am sure that given a more appropriate time and open method of getting the Ministers attention there will be much more to be said on this by both the GPC, the opposition (we would hope) and the general public. However I do wonder about her suggestion to ban TV advertising by political party in that it is a given that the Harper Regime will (and has) simply put out partisan propaganda in the name of the government 'informing Canadians', we all know how much respect some political partys have for following the rules.

We wonder did the Libs or NDP get a similar letter? Did they respond in time? What was their response? Will others be invited to have input? Will the public have a chance to make suggestions? Is the Minister even interested in the responses or just playing politics with this? Let us know your thoughts.
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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ministry of Propaganda and Disinformation

On Thursday the Prime Minister’s Office posted Thursday episode 1 of what it calls “24 Seven” — a weekly roundup of Harper’s events and announcements, and those of his government. And which I will NOT post a link to!

This appears to be another effort by the Conservative government to bypass the mainstream media and communicate its “message” directly to Canadians thus further avoiding those pesky reporters who keep trying to ask questions. Expect the access to the PM to decrease from only in tightly controlled rabid supporter filled rooms to never, and the use of Harper spokesclowns who have been trained to read total BS from a predefined scrip to increase. After all in a democracy we cannot expect the PM to actually make himself available to anyone who may ask awkward questions can we now! I mean really some citizen might hold up a sign that criticizes his regime, the press might print something that was not approved by King Harpers 'handlers.

Anyone that has any idea of past history knows that this is exactly the way dictators seize power, if you control the message you control the outcome, appoint watchdogs who have a vested interest in your point of view and further control the message, propose laws to silence any opposition and you control the message, call those with opposing views terrorists and remove funding opportunities and you control the message. Ignore parliamentary traditions and unwritten rules, reduce the ability of the opposition to participate in debates or committees and spend millions of taxpayers money telling them what a fine job you are doing and you are well on the way to destroying democracy. Get the public so disgusted with politicians in general that they don’t bother to vote and send those that do to the wrong place and you are well on the way to having it all your way. Just to be sure this all works take steps to silence those employed by government by telling them that they will loose their jobs if they speak up about wrongdoing, waste or illegal spending. Cut funding and mandates for departments that keep track of spending, election integrity, environmental regulations and even the status of our population and who is going to dispute your weekly 'look at me, I'm King Harper. Vote for me and you will not recognize Canada when I'm done' production from The Ministry of Propaganda and Disinformation.

If by doing all these things and reducing spending under the guise of 'needed' austerity cuts to service you can then have lots of lovey hidden dollars to buy the next vote with promises that you have no intention of keeping or will perhaps be fulfilled if the gullible public elect you through 2025 or so!

Its all quite simple, if you hide the facts and silence those who research the facts, reduce the ability of the public and opposition to have meaningful input to any change and issue enough messages saying that everything is fine be happy then enough uncritical citizens will vote you in to further destroy our democratic system and ensure that no one, but no one, is in a position to remove you from power (by democratic means) in the future.

Think my scenario is over the top? Do your homework and see the changes that have taken place already in the last few years! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Silence of the Labs

Silence of the Labs is the title given to the Fifth Estate presentation coming up on CBC this Friday which anyone concerned with the future of Canadian scientific research, indeed the very future of Canada, should make a point of watching. Whilst I do not know what their investigative reporting will reveal their brief description gives us a good idea.

In the past few years, the federal government has cut funding to hundreds of renowned research institutes and programs. Ottawa has dismissed more than 2,000 federal scientists and researchers and has drastically cut or ended programs that monitored smoke stack emissions, food inspections, oil spills, water quality and climate change.
Now some scientists have become unlikely radicals, denouncing what they call is a politically-driven war on knowledge. In Silence of the Labs, Linden MacIntyre tells the story of scientists - and what is at stake for Canadians - from Nova Scotia to the B.C. Pacific Coast to the far Arctic Circle.”

That these scientist were unable to tell their story, or indeed reveal details of their research without 'permission' from the Harper regime, until they found themselves without jobs or funding and their research or monitoring programs shut down says much about the respect that Harper and his cronies have for factual information and science based decision making. There is indeed a war on knowledge in progress with even 'book burning' being carried out in the name of 'conciliation' and cost cutting, expect revisionist history and Orwellian propaganda to be coming soon........ Oh wait, its already started!

Do take the time to watch the program, I suspect it will reveal much about the priorities of the Harper regime and their preference of ideology over fact based decisions.

BROADCAST DATE : Jan 10, 2014 'check your local listings for more information'

The program can now be watched on line here
A list of the facilities and programs that have been shut down can be found here.

Cross posted at Democracy Under Fire and The Rural Canadian

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014 – The year we 'loose' our democracy?

Whilst some say that it is already gone and that we are being subject to an Oligarchy well on its way to a Dictatorship, a view that I find it hard to argue against, there is still hope. The recent push back by a small number of Conservative MP's gives me a little hope, Michael Chong’s introduction of a private members bill to limit leaders’ powers is one such small step, Bruce Hyer's brave & principled step to quit the NDP caucus due to being forced to vote as dictated by the party whip and more recently to join the Greens (the only party to truly respect and promote true democracy) are small steps in the right direction.

The Green party leader, Elizabeth May has long been quite vocal regarding the threats to out democracy and continues to be so, she recently said “We are on a slippery slope to the loss of our democracy,” Power is now so concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office and its unelected staff members, says May, that Canadian democracy already resembles “a dictatorship punctuated by elections.”
She goes on to say that this must become a ballot-box issue in the 2015 campaign if things are not going to get much worse. What future prime minister is likely to arrive in office and start worrying that he or she has too much power, she asks. Indeed it has been seen before on many issues that the mainstream political partys will promise the world just to get elected but many of those promises fall by the wayside one in power, particularly if the have a majority in parliament. The current regime is particularly guilty in this regard, remember that open and accountable promise?!

Eminent political scientist Peter Russell even made a YouTube video during the 2011 election campaign, warning voters not to reward the Conservatives’ disregard for democracy. “If the Harper Conservatives were to win a majority in the House of Commons, it would be an indication that parliamentary crime pays,” said Russell, an emeritus University of Toronto academic and a respected constitutional expert, who’s not known for overstatement. Indeed anyone who is taking notice knows that the conservatives have no compunction with 'bending the rules' be it during an election with questionable spending or false calls to electors aimed at changing the outcome in their flavor. The same kind of disrespect for democratic process is seen almost daily in the House of Commons, in the Senate and more particularly in Committee deliberations.
There is a more recent promise that the Cons will keep that being the promise to balance the budget prior to the 2015 election, strange how the same people who spent a massive surplus away in a few months when first coming to power and thus having little to spare during that 'downturn' brought on by the banking speculators are suddenly able to spend so much less. If we look at how they are doing this it become obvious that it is purely a political ploy and nothing to do with maintaining or improving the Canadian way of life.
It is of course being done at the expense of the environment, scientific research, social support organizations, the reputation of Canada world wide and even the spirit of cooperation between provincial governments and the Feds. All this so that they have money to promise that they will reinstate 'services' to selected portions of the population who are more likely to vote for them and to spend on promotion of their pet Alberta centric mostly foreign owned industry that is going to be the 'economic engine' of Canada. Good luck with that, the economic engine of China more like and Canada will be left with the cleaning bill! Me, cynical, your kidding eh!

The other thing that I have difficulty with and which I do not see any other of the big three changing much is those 'free trade' deals that are in the works with the Pacific nations and with Europe. As with NAFTA the 'negotiations' are carried on behind closed doors with no parliamentary input but with many 'advisers' from industry no doubt in the loop who are much more concerned with their profits than whether it will benefit Canadians. What has leaked out tells us that our very right to hire who we want or to buy equipment and goods from local or Canadian suppliers for Municipal, Provincial or Federally funded projects is being compromised by 'investor state' clauses withing these 'agreements'. What else is agreed to that will only benefit the multinationals that are bent upon controlling our access to everything we use or eat we will not know until long after the deals are jammed down out throats.

That such deals can get to this point without any details being given to our 'representatives' in the House let alone letting us know what is being given away in the name of increased international trade is to me but one more indication of how little government in general cares about the average Canadians opinion outside of an election period. Unfortunately that goes for most, if not all, governments provincial, federal or world wide for that matter, and the only thing we can do is try to change the system to make them more accountable. As Ms May says we must get firm promises regarding electoral and parliamentary reform from all the partys and their candidates BEFORE the next election and then do everything in our power to see that those promises are kept. I do think if enough folks make this their priority we can get the promises..... keeping them? Now that’s a different problem!

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