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, March 30, 2014

Citizens Protest Unfair Election Act

Many of my reader will be aware that last Tuesday a number of citizens gathered in front of Conservative MP's Offices across the country to show their opposition to the Unfair Elections Act that is being railroaded through the legislative process by the Harper Regime. One such non partisan gathering sponsored by LeadNow took place in front of my local MP's office, that of Larry Miller, where folks from several opposition parties and local non partisan groups spoke to the crowd. Kimberly Love of the Liberals and Karen Gventer of the NDP spoke of the injustices - the removal of voting rights ( a right guaranteed by our constitution) of some one hundred thousand Canadians who require the vouching system and removing the power of oversight of Elections Canada. Karen touched upon our electoral system and the need to change it.
Scott Maxted of the Greens focused upon what needs to happen in Canada for Canadians to push out the Conservative destruction machine - electoral reform and the need to put partisanship aside. He spoke of the possible correlation found between the removal of the Per-Vote Subsidy and the task of promoting voting. With the removal of the subsidy and the low youth vote for the Conservative Party is there a possible correlation between slowing a party's progress down with the extra costs incurred with said promotions and the costs of running a strong campaign?

The local media reported upon this rally and contacted Mr Miller, who was not present but in Ottawa, and he is quoted as saying "Most people in this day and age should have ID, and it doesn't have to be photo ID, there are 39 different pieces of things that you can use and I don't think it is a stretch for anybody to come up with a combination that will work."
That is of course the party line which he is obliged to spout however the most telling part of that comment is “Most people”, Exactly - Most People NOT All People!
He went on to say "If anyone has legitimate suggestions on how to make the bill better I will personally deliver them to the minister, it is as simple as that,". Just about the same time as he said this his Conservative colleagues on the committee charged with studying this deeply flawed legislation blocked an NDP motion to allow Green, Bloc Quebecois, and independent MPs the right to formally examine and speak to the bill at the committee stage. Given that action, the closure of debate when first presented, the refusal thus far to even consider any amendments, and the long history of rejecting any opinions other than their own, this statement from Mr Miller is meaningless!

As I have said before not only is the bill 'flawed' (read totally unacceptable as written) but the process is also unacceptable. How can you substantially change the laws governing election processes without broad consensus and open discussion and call it a democratic process. If the both electorate and the opposition MP's (who represent over 60% the population) have no faith in it and does not believe it it open and fair then democracy is doomed. A recent poll reinforced this in that it found that “Seventy per cent of respondents said that the act’s elimination of Elections Canada’s ability to publicly report on voter complaints it receives, including about fraudulent calls, makes them less supportive of the legislation. When asked about the Unfair Elections Act’s elimination of the voucher system used by over 100,000 people, 61% said it made them less supportive of the bill.”

Much more startling to me however was this “The survey found that only 27% of Canadians are familiar with the act”, the ignorance of the electorate on this issue is not really surprising in that it is hardly front page news on a daily basis and has only just recently seen much mention in national newscasts. It is however very worrying in that the only way to stop or change this legislation is through public pressure on the Harper Regime and its henchmen, you know those folks who were elected to represent US in the House of Commons NOT the oligarchs who designed this legislation to feather their own nest.

I can only once again repeat Ed Broadbent's words “Past governments have avoided turning democratic process into a tool for one party’s advantage. Changes in electoral processes were always based on all-party consensus. That Harper derides such all-party consensus is, sadly, no surprise. That his robotic backbench will unquestioningly obey is not news either. Except now, the victims of his disregard for debate aren’t only the people we elect. It’s those doing the electing as well.”

Oh, and just in case you thought that there has been any change in the regimes Modus operandi you should be aware that both the misnaming of whos government it is and the Orwellian naming of bills is in full force with the naming of the 359 page budget bill just introduced. It not only once again covers a myriad on non budget items but is named the “Harper Government Creating Jobs & Growth While Returning to Balanced Budgets With Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1.”.
No really, I am not kidding! I had to check the government site to make sure it was not a joke!

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Electoral Integrity of Act Questioned.

When 19 international Scholars from six democracy’s across the world add their voice to the over 150 Canadian scholars and almost universal condemnation of the Harper Regime's attempt to introduce partisan bias into our election rules and to reduce the powers of the world respected Elections Canada then you know something is very wrong with the proposed legislation.
Here is their open letter which clearly sets out SOME of the problems with this Bill:-

We, the undersigned, international scholars and political scientists, are concerned that Canada’s international reputation as one of the world’s guardians of democracy and human rights is threatened by passage of the proposed Fair Elections Act.
We believe that this Act would prove [to] be deeply damaging for electoral integrity within Canada, as well as providing an example which, if emulated elsewhere, may potentially harm international standards of electoral rights around the world.
In particular, the governing party in Canada has proposed a set of wide-ranging changes, which if enacted, would, we believe, undermine the integrity of the Canadian electoral process, diminish the effectiveness of Elections Canada, reduce voting rights, expand the role of money in politics, and foster partisan bias in election administration.
The bill seeks to rewrite many major laws and regulations governing elections in Canada. These major changes would reduce electoral integrity, as follows:

Elections Canada: The proposed Act significantly diminishes the effectiveness of Elections Canada, a non-partisan agency, in the fair administration of elections and the investigation of electoral infractions by:
· Severely limiting the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to communicate with the public, thereby preventing the CEO from encouraging voting and civic participation, and publishing research reports
· Removing the enforcement arm of the agency, the Commissioner of Elections, from Elections Canada, and placing it in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a government department
· Prohibiting the Commissioner from communicating with the public about the details of any investigation
· Preventing any details about the Commissioner’s investigations from being included in the DPP’s annual report on the Commissioner’s activities – a report that the DPP provides to the Attorney General (AG), and which the AG forwards to Parliament
· Failing to provide the Commissioner with the power to compel witness testimony (a significant obstacle in a recent investigation of electoral fraud)

Right to Vote: The proposed Act diminishes the ability of citizens to vote in elections by:
· Prohibiting the use of vouching to establish a citizen’s eligibility to vote
· Prohibiting the use of Voter Information Cards to establish a citizen’s identity or residency
The prohibition against vouching is ostensibly to reduce voter fraud yet there is no evidence, as affirmed by the Neufeld Report on Compliance Review, that vouching results in voter fraud. These changes to the voter eligibility rules will disproportionately impact seniors, students, the economically disadvantaged, and First Nations citizens, leading to an estimated disenfranchisement of over 120,000 citizens.

Money in Politics: The proposed Act expands the role of money in elections by:
· Exempting “fundraising expenses” from the spending limits for political parties, thereby creating a potential loophole and weakening enforcement
· Failing to require political parties to provide supporting documentation for their expenses, even though the parties are reimbursed over $30 million after every election
· Increasing the caps on individual donations from $1200 to $1500 per calendar year
· Increasing the caps on candidates’ contributions to their own campaigns from $1200 to $5000 per election for candidates and $25,000 per election for leadership contestants
· Creating a gap between the allowable campaign contributions of ordinary citizens and the contributions of candidates to their own campaigns, and thus increasing the influence of personal wealth in elections

Partisan Bias: The proposed Act fosters partisan bias and politicization by:
· Enabling the winning political party to recommend names for poll supervisors, thereby politicizing the electoral process and introducing the possibility of partisan bias
· By exempting “fundraising expenses” (communications with electors who have previously donated over $20 to a party) from “campaign spending,” creating a bias in favour of parties with longer lists of donors above this threshold – currently, the governing party

The substance of the Fair Elections Act raises significant concerns with respect to the future of electoral integrity in Canada. The process by which the proposed Act is being rushed into law in Parliament has also sparked considerable concern. The governing political party has used its majority power to cut off debate and discussion in an effort to enact the bill as soon as possible. By contrast, the conventional approach to reforming the electoral apparatus in Canada has always involved widespread consultation with Elections Canada, the opposition parties and the citizens at large, as well as with the international community.
In conclusion, we, the undersigned, ask that the proposed legislation should be revised so that contests in Canada continue to meet the highest international standards of electoral integrity.
Signed by 19 International Scholars.

Whilst the issue of 'vouching' has received a great deal of attention is is far from the only troubling issue, and perhaps not the most significant. Given the impact 'money' has upon our electoral process and the previous attempts to misdirect voters and the difficulty Elections Canada has had in finding and charging the culprits some of the other issues raised above are at least as important. This Bill cannot be allowed to pass!

LeadNow is working with key partners to coordinate a national day of action on Tuesday, March 25th in opposition to this proposed legislation, at Conservative MP offices and support locations, to rally the country and show Conservative MPs that people will stand up to defend our democracy. Do Join them.
Locally there will be a rally in front of MP Larry Miller’s office, 1131 2nd Avenue East, Owen Sound, N4K 2J1 at 12 noon on Tuesday.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Undemocratic Democratic Reform

Are changes to an electoral system in a democracy valid if they are brought in by a less than democratic process, are they in fact valid if the very 'independent' body charged with overseeing said electoral system is excluded from the process? Are they valid if recommendations from said body are ignored, debate within our parliamentary system on such measures is curtailed, concerns by parliamentarians and democracy experts across a broad range of political and non partisan stripes fall upon deaf ears? Are they in fact actually antidemocratic if they are not generally accepted by those whos right to select their government representative in a free and unbiased system is impacted?

Irregardless of the content of the (Un) Fair Elections Act the process to make such changes MUST be seen to be an open and unbiased process with all views carefully taken into account and partisan issues set aside if it has any chance of being anything more than a cynical attempt by a regime already proven to have little regard for democracy, either at the election booth or withing parliament, to further diminish our ability to elect a government that reflect our wishes.

Electoral or parliamentary reform by decree is NOT democratic reform, it is the first step towards dictatorship. If the population does not trust the electoral process or is prevented from participating the our democracy is on the very edge of that which Mr Harper is so busy condemning in Crimea.

Thats the process, and that is troubling enough, but the content is almost universally condemned as unacceptable. Not only that but it is so far reaching and contains so many changes to the electoral process, the funding thereof and Elections Canada’s ability to oversee the election process that few, if any, really know what the full impact of passing this bill would mean. Here are SOME of the more well known issues raised thus far:-

Some of biggest problems identified by Elections Canada:
– The Fair Elections Act allows the incumbent party in each riding to appoint the central poll supervisors, a key job at each polling place. This may give rise to the impression that their decisions are partisan, whether they are or not. Elections Canada wants to appoint central poll supervisors and other election officials rather than letting parties put their people in.
– The act will stop the use of voter information cards (VICs) as identification at the polls. Elections Canada says for Canadians who don’t have ID showing their address — including many aboriginals, students and seniors — the VICs provided a simple way to show where they live.
– The act will require Elections Canada to give “bingo cards” — lists of who have voted — to the political parties after each election, which Elections Canada warns has privacy implications. Currently, officials give the cards to party scrutineers to assist in their get-out-the-vote effort but it’s not possible for parties to assemble a national database of who has voted.
– The new robocall registry that the act will require be established will not require records to be kept of what numbers were called, “which is key information for investigations,” according to Elections Canada.
– The act provides an exemption from election spending limits for money spent on telephone fundraising from former donors, which Elections Canada warns sets up a big loophole that political parties can exploit, since the agency will have no way of knowing if the parties’ reporting is accurate.
– The act allows for compliance audits of the parties’ books, but does not allow Elections Canada to produce documents proving that its financial statements are on the up and  up.
– The act requires that commissioner, who supervises investigations, keep confidential information about investigations. This means that nobody will have the authority to report to Canadians on election crime, even to reassure voters that fraud did not take place.
– The act does not do several things Elections Canada had requested — extend privacy protection to political parties, and provide investigators with the power to compel testimony from witnesses to election crime.

Other issues

Electoral Education
The Chief Electoral office may no longer be given the mandate to promote and educate our electoral process to Canadians.
The hiring of staff on the part of the Chief Electoral Officer will have to go through the treasury board.
Campaign Funding
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.
Failure to consult

The proposed legislation was prepared without any consultation with our Chief Electoral Officer and in fact ignore sever of his earlier recommendations. Debate has already been limited in the House and proposals to consult with Canadians across the country have been rejected. Several observers including some influential Conservatives and former Leaders have said that electoral reform must have broad support in order to be legitimate.

Interpretation of rules
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, etc etc
(8) The guidelines and interpretation notes are issued for information purposes only. They are not binding on registered parties, etc etc

Some of the Spin
In an attempt to defuse the impact of facts, Pierre Poilievre went on CPAC to "correct the explicit factual error in the CEO's testimony" and again read the sentence from the report that he's quoted so many times he probably hears it in his sleep.  "The Supreme Court made it clear that such errors in other circumstances could contribute to a court overturning an election." 

Now it seems that Mr Neufeld himself, would like to correct Mr. Polilievre's deliberate SELECTIVE quoting.  According to Neufeld at no point in his report did he suggest that any of the irregulatities sited in his report were evidence of fraud. The author of a report cited repeatedly to justify cracking down on potential voter fraud says the Harper government is misrepresenting his report and ignoring his recommendations. Indeed, Harry Neufeld says there's not a shred of evidence that there have been more than "a handful" of cases of deliberate voter fraud in either federal or provincial elections.

His recommendations (never quoted by Poilievre )
  • voter information cards should be more widely allowed as valid pieces of i.d.
  • vouching process and paperwork should be simplified
  • elections officials better trained

And finally some of the reaction by those far more qualified to speak to the matter than I:-

Ed Broadbent
Past governments have avoided turning democratic process into a tool for one party’s advantage. Changes in electoral processes were always based on all-party consensus.
That Harper derides such all-party consensus is, sadly, no surprise. That his robotic backbench will unquestioningly obey is not news either. Except now, the victims of his disregard for debate aren’t only the people we elect. It’s those doing the electing as well.

A letter signed by over 150 professors at Canadian universities who teach and conduct research on the principles and practices of constitutional democracies, including 15 past presidents of the Canadian Political Science Association.
We, the undersigned — professors at Canadian universities who study the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy — believe that the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), if passed, would damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections.
We urge the Government to heed calls for wider consultation in vetting this Bill. While we agree that our electoral system needs some reforms, this Bill contains proposals that would seriously damage the fairness and transparency of federal elections and diminish Canadians’ political participation.
Beyond our specific concerns about the Bill’s provisions (see below), we are alarmed at the lack of due process in drafting the Bill and in rushing it through Parliament. We see no justification for introducing legislation of such pivotal importance to our democracy without significant consultation with Elections Canada, opposition parties, and the public at large.

Preston Manning
Manning said he wants to see the federal government's Fair Elections Act legislation amended to "strengthen, rather than reducing, the role of Elections Canada and the chief electoral officer with respect to promotional and educational activities designed to increase voter participation in Canada’s elections."

We cannot let the Conservative regime continue with their destruction of our parliamentary democracy by allowing them to force through legislation that disenfranchises some segments of our society, enables the rich to have an increased influence upon election activities and totally guts the ability of Elections Canada to encourage citizens to participate in this fundamental democratic process.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Harpers Orwellian Regime

Arising from George Orwells novel Nineteen Eighty-Four published in 1949 the adjective Orwellian describes a totalitarian dystopia characterised by government control and subjugation of the people. Orwell's invented language, Newspeak, satirises hypocrisy and evasion by the state: for example,the Ministry of Truth oversees propaganda and historical revisionism. When writing this Orwell believed that British democracy as it existed before 1939 would not survive the war, the question being "Would it end via Fascist coup d'état (from above) or via Socialist revolution (from below). Many Canadians are starting to wonder the same here and now, we hope that like Orwell we will be proved wrong however some of the parallels between what is happening now in Canada under the Harper Regime and the Regime as depicted in his novel are startling.

Lets start with some of the Orwellian language coming from these spin artists;

There is Bill C-10, An Act to Enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism, which hiked penalties for pot possession and funded more prison construction;
The Protect Children from Internet Predators Act, which forces internet service providers to hand over user names to police without a warrant;
The Navigable Waters Protection Act which removed protection from thousands of rivers and exempted certain projects from such protection on those remaining.
The Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act which opens the door to a potentially greater role for private security forces instead of the police.

And more recently The Fair Elections Act which, among other things, seeks to make it 'fair' for the more affluent partys to spend more money without restrictions in order to brainwash the electorate to their point of view.

Even the Budget bill had little to do with budgetary considerations but more to do with ideology as Allen Greig points out.
It announced that environmental assessments were to be “streamlined” and that the final arbitration power of independent regulators was to be curtailed and possibly overridden by so-called “accountable” elected officials. Given the priority this government places on economic, and especially resource development, this was not necessarily unpredictable. These amendments was bundled in with 68 other laws into one Budget Bill, so that – using the power of majority government – no single item could be opposed or revoked.

When then the specific cuts started to roll out, an alarming trend began to take shape.
  • At Stats Canada – ½ (not 6%, but 50%) of employees were warned that their jobs were at risk.
  • 20% of the workforce at the Library and Archives of Canada were put on notice.
  • CBC was told that it could live with a 10% reduction in their budgetary allocation.
  • 30% of the operating budget of Parks Canada was cut, eliminating 638 positions; 70% of whom would be scientists and social scientists.
  • The National Roundtable on the Environment, the First Nations Statistical Institute, the National Council on Welfare and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science were cut.
  • The Experimental Lakes Area was shut down. The northernmost lab in Eureka, Nunavut awaits the same fate.
  • The unit in charge of monitoring emissions from power plants, furnaces, boiler and other sources is to be abolished.
  • And against the advice of 625 fisheries scientists and four former federal Fisheries Ministers – saying it is scientifically impossible to do — regulatory oversight of the fisheries was limited to stock that are of “human value”.
  • On the other side of the ledger however, the Canada Revenue Agency received an $8 million increase in its budget so that it had more resources available to investigate the political activity of not-for-profit and charitable organizations.
(Please note that the above from Mr Greig has been condensed somewhat please see the original article for the full text)

I believe that Harper and his cabal do think that they are doing the right thing and that the end justifies the means but that makes it even scarier than if they were deliberately trying to destroy our democracy.

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
― George Orwell in 1984

We now have the PMO issuing weekly propaganda videos and our MSM reduced to only asking 'approved' questions on the rare occasions that they have access to our PM.

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
― George Orwell

Those working within government have been silenced with threats of dismissal or other sanctions and are now being asked to sign documents ensuring their silence even after they leave or are dismissed.

Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
― George Orwell

Canadian Museum of Civilization has been rebranded the Canadian Museum of History and is just one element in the Conservatives’ wider strategy for changing the way Canadians perceive their past, they have launched a 'review' of Canadian history. Or more correctly a review of what history government institutions will be funded to reveal to us!

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
― George Orwell

We have seen that the Harper Regime will do anything to get and retain power, prorogue parliament to avoid a confidence vote, ignore electoral laws governing robocalls and funding limits, cut off per vote funding that levels the playing field slightly for smaller and developing partys.

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”
― George Orwell in 1984

Various organizations and individuals who have spoken out against some of the actions of the Harper Regime, particularly those who are concerned with the future of our natural environment have been labelled 'enemies of the state'.

In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
― George Orwell

In short we are being told black is white, up is down, the oil sands will be Canada's saviour, the Cons are governing democratically and the sun shines out of Harpers arse. All of these things are equally true.

Perhaps given the closing of research librarys and the destruction of many of the books and papers therein we should be rereading Ray Bradburys 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 . The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found. The people in this society do not read books, enjoy nature, spend time by themselves, think independently, or have meaningful conversations. Instead, they drive very fast, watch excessive amounts of television on wall-size sets, and listen to the radio on “Seashell Radio” sets attached to their ears.
In a 1956 radio interview,Bradbury stated that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time about censorship and the threat of book burning in the United States.

I will leave you with this final thought from George Orwell
To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
― George Orwell

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Five Years of Frustration

Five years ago this week I started Democracy Under Fire due to concern of the way in which the new Conservative Government was ignoring democratic and parliamentary conventions. This was just after their reelection as a result of the lowest voter turnout in Canadian electoral history, with only 22% of eligible Canadian voters casting a vote and prior to their most glaring abuse, which being the proroguing of parliament to avoid a vote of non confidence in Sept of 2009. During the the first few months I took the time to examine and more fully understand our system as it was intended to work and I encourage you to read a few of those early posts, more may be found via the archive listings in the side bar. You will see that the tone of the posts have changed considerably since those days, as has the way in which our parliament operates. I now now refer to those who lied and cheated themselves to power as 'The Harper Regime' believing that to refer to them as a government is an insult to all those who work diligently for us in the various departments to lump them in with this bunch of oligarchs. I am increasing critical of almost everything that said regime does, who can not be when almost every thing they do diminishes our democracy, our parliamentary conventions, our access to reliable information political, social, fiscal and scientific, and our very sovereignty.

That over those 5 years there are still a large number of Canadians that still cannot see that when a regime will do ANYTHING to suppress information that may reflect badly upon them it is a race to the bottom, whos leader will not answer unscripted questions from the press on the rare occasions when the are given access to our 'dear leader', that their very right to select their parliamentary representatives from a position of knowledge is compromised. That the institutions necessary to provide services, be it to decision makers or directly to Canadian taxpayers, built up over many years once shut down or defunded will take years to rebuild if ever, that ruling by ideology and fiat has no place in a democracy. That withholding information and blocking enquiries regarding election fraud and financing and other actions contrary to our laws and rules is in itself a direct attack upon democracy. If you have done nothing wrong and support democracy then you would do everything in your power to get to the bottom of the allegations, but if you have cheated and lied to the public and to your fellow parliamentarians simply to get or retain power then you will, as we have seen, continue to do everything you can to suppress the truth.

This then is in my view where we sit now, I don’t really blame those who are taken in by the daily spin issued from the PMO after all when you are more worried about if they have a job next week, or for so many folk if they even have food on the table, its hard to worry about whether your government is being honest with you. And when the extent of the information you get is a 30 second item (often blindly parroted from the regimes 'news' release) on the evening news it becomes impossible to make informed choices. There is the rub, information is power and the Harper regime is increasingly controlling the information you receive from or about our 'government'.

As you can see for the most part no I longer search for or post information on how things should be but am so concerned about the never ending destruction of our democracy that I am reduced to ranting about those that I am fearful are leading us to becoming a third world oligarchy. Where before too long if you are fortunate enough to be allowed to vote, you get to cast your vote for only those who have been approved by Herr Harper and his minions and are told that all others are 'terrorists' or 'enemies of Canada'.

Wake up folks before its too late.

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