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, February 23, 2014

Political Participation and Perception

In their latest report “By Invitation Only:Canadians’ Perceptions of Political Parties” Samara, the measuring democracy people, identified six key roles of political parties’ functions in three main areas. In a survey concentrating upon the areas of Elections, Engagement & Policy they asked their respondents to rate the performance of Canadian political parties on each of them. The results indicate that political parties are not doing well in any of these areas.
  1. Recruiting candidates and competing in elections - 43% grade
  2. Encouraging people to vote – 46% grade
  3. Hearing ideas from party members – 54% grade
  4. Reaching out to Canadians so their views can be represented – 50% grade
  5. Coming up with new policy ideas and solutions – 49% grade
  6. Explaining what the party stands for – 53% grade

There was little difference in the grades from the approximately 10% of respondents who were members of a political party. The only surprise to me was that they scored so high! This is not to say that all political parties are doing this bad in outreach to the voting public but that the public perception is that they are not doing a good job. I suspect that a great deal of this is brought on by the various governing parties, provincial and federal, who increasingly seem to be ignoring public opinion and needs in favour of international and corporate needs and wants. This leave the average citizens with the feeling that anything they may say or do has no impact upon the politicians and thus they ignore any attempt to have dialogue about these things. You may draw you own conclusions by reading their PDF report here.

In their conclusions Samara says
The survey results show that Canadians value engagement, suggesting that those parties that genuinely try to hear, involve and represent them will be rewarded in the form of votes, fundraising
dollars and party members. But to see themselves involved in a party, Canadians need an invitation that will get them past that closed door. At the moment, parties’ operations and priorities are often
opaque, even to those arguably inside the system, such as MPs.
This transformation will take time and will not be easy, yet there are simple first steps parties could take to open that door and let in some light.“

One such suggestion they make is that the dates and locations of local riding association meetings be more widely available, and presumably open to the general public. As a member of one such EDA who holds and advertises such open meetings, has an online forum where members can voice their oppinion and a facebook page where anyone can post I can say with a fair degree of certainty that its not that easy. Despite the opportunity to become 'involved' neither those who were interested to become members or the general public show much interest. In broad terms and using figures from around the time of the 2011 election less than 5% of those who supported our particular party during the election ever 'joined' the party, and that figure declines considerably between elections, of that number less than 10% regularly attend a meeting or otherwise join in the activities of the EDA and even then it is rare that fresh faces are seen. Likewise it is rare to have interested members of the public to show any interest despite efforts to include them during meetings. The members forum is largely unused and only one or two individuals actually contribute to it, the parties national site which provides similar opportunities for members to participate is similarity little used, the percentage of the general public who actually WANT to have input seems to be VERY small. I cannot say if this is typical as such numbers from the various parties are not generally available, something which Samara says would “allow Canadians to see the quantity and diversity of party members.”

I suspect this is all brought on by Canadians being sick and tired of beating their heads against an uncaring brick wall, a situation being encouraged by the current federal regime with their ever expanding attacks upon our democratic institutions and practises. Citizens are becoming increasingly disengaged, a situation that Samara has studied before and one which I have reported upon here some time ago. Its hard to 'measure' democracy particularly when its equally hard to define democracy but these folks are trying and I recommend that you read some of their earlier reports (see the pull down menu under 'research') even if they do confirm what most of us know intuitively. I have earlier made some suggestions as to some of the things that perhaps they should be measuring on an ongoing basis to more clearly see the changes taking place and hope to see such data in future reports.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Undemocratic Election Act

The things in it that are good could have been so much better, but the things that are bad are unforgivable in a democracy.”

Recently Green Party Leader Elizabeth May had an opportunity to speak to the Commons Committee considering Bill C23, The 'Fair' Elections Act. What follows are some extracts from that presentation, for a full transcript and audio of that speech please go the her MPs website.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be able to speak to Bill C-23 today. I want to pause and say that when we have these rushed processes with closure on debate and an abbreviated time to look at a critical bill, it is rare for me to have a speaking opportunity. Therefore, I want to thank the Liberal Party for giving me a speaking slot today........

We need reform. We need a fair elections act. We need to deal with the unhealthy level of hyper-partisanship, the non-stop attack ads, and the fact that we have not gotten to the bottom of the robocall scandal of the last election. However, this bill is not it.........

A lot of things now pass for political prowess, for which anyone who loves democracy should hang their head in shame and be condemned from ever standing for election again. This is not about every party getting out and urging everyone to vote, as we have heard people from across the aisle say all day. Over and over again, we have examples of efforts to do exactly the opposite. I am afraid this bill is in that spirit of reducing voter turnout..........

I do not really think it is a problem to create a commissioner for elections who operates out of the office of public prosecutions. I see that as an independent place. The problem is the government has not given that office any tools. It has not given that officer subpoena powers. What is worse is, for some reason, it has created a “black box” surrounding the work. It would amend the Access to Information Act to remove, from access to information, anything going on in the work of the commissioner for Canada’s elections. They would also remove in the Elections Act the requirement to give any information about investigations..........

(T)he bill also includes a big new loophole for the spending of money. It now will not be considered an elections expense to spend money on activities that are considered fundraising for nomination candidates. That is an open door to abuse.
What is the worst part of this bill? This cuts to the core of democracy. This is a charter issue. I turn to a most recent statement by the Supreme Court of Canada on the right of Canadians to vote.........
The right of every citizen to vote, guaranteed by s. 3 of the Charter, lies at the heart of Canadian democracy....... Our system strives to treat candidates and voters fairly, both in the conduct of elections and in the resolution of election failures. As we have discussed, the Act seeks to enfranchise all entitled persons,…
A voter can establish Canadian citizenship verbally, by oath.
That cannot happen any more, not with this bill........

We need to do everything possible to restore faith among the Canadian public in the health of our democratic system, and this bill takes us in the absolute wrong direction. Why would a governing party do this? Why is there such a rush to disenfranchise Canadians? Is there an election coming right away that we do not know about? Do we have to have all these new rules in place for first nations, seniors, young people, the poor, and the groups that advocate for those parts of our society that are more disenfranchised by having to produce government-issued photo IDs? Is that the point?
I am baffled and appalled and deeply shocked and troubled by this bill. The things in it that are good could have been so much better, but the things that are bad are unforgivable in a democracy.
Elizabeth May, 11 Feb 2014

There is not much that this lowly blogger can add to the words of someone as knowledgeable about parliamentary procedures and dedicated to the protection of our democracy as Ms May, but to say that it is a sad reflection of where our democracy has descended to when a parliamentarian, and a leader of a political party, has to rely upon the goodwill of another party in order to address a parliamentary committee. That the subject matter is fundamental to the democracy of our Country and that debate upon said bill has already been restricted says much about exactly about how much respect that the current regime has for our parliamentary democracy and the traditions of free debate and open and accountable government.
As for real electoral reform and any kind of move towards a more representative system of electing those parliamentarians, or even a study of such changes, there is not even a mention of it in this bill.
Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The (UN)Fair Elections Act

As is usual with so many of the Bills proposed by the Harper Regime the 'Fair' Elections Act has so many changes buried in the fine print that it is almost impossible for all but the most dedicated and knowledgeable researchers to really understand the implications of it all. Whilst there is little doubt that some changes were needed (in particular in view of the robocall issue) I must question that our election Act was so problematic that it needed a 247 page rewrite, and that just for the CHANGES to it!

I intended to read the whole thing as I was, and still am, very suspicious of this sudden proposal from our Minister of UnDemocratic Reform who it seems did not consult with Elections Canada on the suitability of these changes. I now have to admit to having to leave such dissection to others with more patience than myself, as is normal with such bills it is replete with references to previous legislation similar to this “24. (1) Subsection 52(1) of the Act is amended by striking out “or” at the end of paragraph (b), by adding “or” at the end of paragraph (c) and by adding the following after paragraph (c):” and “The heading before section 82 and sections 82 to 88 of the Act are repealed. - Section 90 of the Act is repealed. - The heading before section 92.1 and sections 92.1 to 92.6 of the Act are repealed” which means that a researcher (or parliamentarian) who wants to know the effect of these clauses must constantly refer to the existing legislation. That such legislation already contains similar gobbledegook leaves the average persons head spinning. Why such documents do not say that the entire Act is repealed and replaced with the following (with changes highlighted) so that our MPs actually know what they are voting for I have never understood.

So, all that said here are a few things highlighted by others starting with the one thing which is fairly clear that being that any opinion expressed by the Chief Electoral Officer regarding the interpretation of the rules shall not be binding upon the Partys or the Politicians!

16.1 (1) The Chief Electoral Officer shall,
in accordance with this section, issue guidelines
and interpretation notes on the application of
this Act to registered parties, registered associations,
nomination contestants, candidates and
leadership contestants.
(8) The guidelines and interpretation notes
are issued for information purposes only. They
are not binding on registered parties, registered
associations, nomination contestants, candidates
or leadership contestants.

I found this one 'interesting'
21.1 (1) A committee is established, to be known as the Advisory Committee of Political
Parties, consisting of the Chief Electoral Officer and two representatives of each registered party appointed by the party’s leader.
(2) The purpose of the committee is to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with advice and recommendations relating to elections and political financing.
(3) The committee’s advice and recommendations are not binding on the Chief Electoral Officer.
(4)The committee shall meet at least once a year and its meetings shall be presided over by the Chief Electoral Officer

I wonder what a committee of POLOTICAL individuals, no matter how well meaning, are doing “advising” the head of an independent arms length NON political body?

The other thing that is fairly obvious and has been picked up by many observers are the changes to some of the financial rules which appear to benefit the affluent and disenfranchise those partys and individuals less well heeled.
Democracy Watch decried the bill's increase in the amount election candidates would be able donate to their own campaign (to $5,000 from $1,200), and the amount party leadership candidates would be able to donate to their own race (to $25,000 from $1,200).”
It would also allow parties to exclude money spent during campaigns to solicit funds from donors who have contributed $20 or more to them at any point over the previous five years. That the partys need not itemize donations under $200 and that it is impossible to police such exemptions and that even if strictly controlled it helps partys with extensive databases going back 5 years and hurts those with less funds to devote to such exercises means nothing to these self serving Ologarchs.

Moving on we get this “The commissioner of elections, the agency's investigator, would be appointed (for a 7 year fixed term) by the federal director of public prosecutions in future, and completely severed from Elections Canada.”
This may or may not be a good thing, one question I have is if the commissioner who is responsible for enforcing the Election Laws is separate from those responsible for seeing that they are followed how will any wrongdoings be identified and prosecuted. Will it be more or less responsive than the almost snails pace current investigation re Con robocalls.
And finally (for this go around) we note that those without two pieces of government issued ID will not be allowed to have a neighbour vouch for them. This is of course due to the voter fraud that happened at one Toronto polling station whereby a number of questionable people were allowed to vote by such means, that the main problem was due to the polling station clerks not following procedure mandated for such things does not seem to have been addressed but making it more difficult for those who perhaps only have their OAS card and no drivers licence to register is not the answer. Also that Elections Canada will not be able to promote voting and encourage folks to vote! Whats wrong with that picture?

In an interview on CBC Radio Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand said "my reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country." it "limits the chief electoral officer's power to provide information to the public."
Under the proposed bill, the only role of the chief electoral officer would be to inform the public of when, where, and how to vote.
Elections Canada would be forbidden from launching ad campaigns encouraging Canadians to vote. Surveys and research would be forbidden under the new bill, Mayrand said.

Whilst there are some good things in this bill I suspect many more questionable provisions will emerge in the next few weeks. This would be of much less concern if I thought for one moment that during the legislative process in the HoC, in committee, and in the Senate that amendments to the bill would be considered and adopted to fix these flaws. Given the past behaviour of Harper cabal it is most improbable that such will ever take place, in fact it will be rushed through so that more money can be spent (by the established partys) upon bullshitting the public into democratic oblivion.
In fact the push to limit debate has already started......
“The governing Conservatives moved Wednesday to cut short debate on a new election bill that critics say helps the Tories and weakens oversight by Elections Canada.
House Leader Peter Van Loan gave notice Wednesday afternoon, a day after the 242-page bill was tabled, that the government will vote to send the bill to committee on Thursday, a move that seemed to signal the government plans to push the bill through the legislative process without changes.”
The above link also contains several more problematic areas of concern with this bill – also see the series Theft of Democracy here!
Sigh..... Democracy is not only dead withing the Con ranks but they are determined to bury it so deep that it can never be resurrected.
Lead Now has a petition to be presented to parliament available here

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Monday, February 3, 2014

The Fair Elections Act

The Conservative government will introduce changes to the Elections Act this week that caucus members expect to restructure the office in charge of investigating violations. “It’s the Fair Elections Act,” Poilievre said.
Given the Conservatives penchant for naming bills in an Orwellian fashion we had best keep an eye on this one. I suspect it will be more of a “Government Control of Election Investigations Act”.

It has been reported that “The bill would remove the Commissioner of Canada Elections, where the investigators work, from Elections Canada and set it up as separate office” Which of course is just about the opposite of what is needed given that Elections Canada has been hamstrung in its investigation of the Harper Regiem's actions during the last election by stonewalling and funding cuts.
I note that it is also reported that “The minister has invited the chief electoral officer to contact his officials for a briefing and we are in the midst of making the arrangements,” Enright said in an email. “The CEO has not been consulted on the bill.”

The Chief Electoral NOT consulted on legislation that substantially affects his department and removes investigating powers from Elections Canada. Looks like another Con Job to me!

More to come on this one......... Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, February 2, 2014

An Independent Senate – We can but hope!

I call upon the Prime Minister to publicly commit, as I have today, to be guided in all future Senate appointments by an open, transparent, non-partisan process, and once appointed, have senators sit independent from the political parties that serve in in the House of Commons.
Justin Trudeou Jan 29 2014

By now you all know that in a surprising and brave move the Liberal leader has released all the former Liberal Senators from any connection from the Liberal Caucus saying that “only elected Members of the House of Commons will serve as members of the Liberal Caucus. “ Whilst this move is not without its problems, not the least of which is how Senate committees will be formed and chaired in the future, it is in my view probably the only way in the short term to return the Senate to its role of 'sober second thought' and reduce the extreme partisanship that has made it simply a rubber stamp of the PMO. That Mr Trudeau also says what many of us who believe the senate has in the past (and can in the future) have an important role in our parliamentary system have said for some time is also encouraging. That being:-

I’m committing today that, if I earn the privilege of serving Canadians as their Prime Minister, I will put in place an open, transparent, non-partisan public process for appointing and confirming Senators. No more closed doors. No more secretive deliberations. No more announcements the week before Christmas, under the cover of darkness.”

There already has been a great deal of debate upon exactly what kind of process such a system will entail and no doubt there will be much more. As always the devil is in the details! We know that Harper has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule upon exactly what can and cannot be done within the existing constitutional framework and you may be sure that if he cannot hold sway over decisions in the Senate his preference would be to abolish it (as it would seem is also the preference of the NDP) so that a PM who holds a majority (preferably him of course) can have total control over legislation. Justin covers this point thusly:-

As an unelected body, there are — and ought to be — limits on the Senate’s power. These limits have expanded over time and have become conventions. These proposals are in keeping with that direction.
As you all know, the Supreme Court of Canada will rule sometime soon on the exact limits of the House of Commons power as it relates to Senate Reform. Let me be clear on this point: these proposals, while bold and concrete, are not the final word. They represent our judgment of how far we can go in the absence of guidance from the Supreme Court.
In other words, I believe this is the most meaningful action possible without opening up the Constitution. If the Supreme Court says more can be done, we will be open to doing more.

All in all despite some of the details that will need to be sorted out in both the actual operation of the Senate with no party caucuses and the way in which future Senators are selected (perhaps recommended to the PM would be a better term as under the constitution the PM must still 'appoint' the senators) this in my view a fantastic move by the Liberals. Some have already said that:-

when (when, not if) Trudeau is Prime Minister, he will have a problem. Every single piece of legislation must pass the Upper House, the unelected side. To do that with a chamber for of independents will be hard, if not impossible. When push comes to shove, independents will flex their political muscle. They will pass nothing that they don’t approve of, Senate traditions not withstanding.”

I disagree, A senate full of independents would work EXACTLY how it was supposed to work, legislation would pass or fail entirely upon its merits rather that along partisan lines, now wouldn’t that be refreshing? Its not like should the Liberals come to power that all those Con Senators appointed by Harper will suddenly disappear, they will in fact be an undemocratic presence in the upper chamber for years to come. We hope that at least some of them will declare themselves independent and think and act independently, it would indeed be a step in the right direction, as is this brought to our attention by Nancy over at Impolitical:-

This may be a nod to the democratic reform resolution that the federal Liberal MP caucus has proposed as one of its priority resolutions to be voted upon at the upcoming February biennial policy convention in Montreal, less than a month away now. That resolution, Bolstering Canada's Democracy, contains this operative proposal:
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, the Liberal Party of Canada institute an all-Party process, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with analysis and recommendations for an electoral system including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent all Canadians more fairly and to allow Parliament to serve Canada better.
I do hope the Libs endorse this resolution.

A final note here if anyone, including Justin, thinks that Harper will willingly give up his control over the conservative senators or despite his rhetoric to do so, embrace a “open, transparent, non-partisan process” for appointing them then they are dreaming in technicolour. This will be particularly true if the Cons think they are going to be in opposition come 2015, after all we wouldn’t want any one else to be able to pass legislation through the Senate would we? Watch for a highly partisan attack upon this idea from the Harper Oligarchs.

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