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, September 28, 2014

Rock Snot a State Secret?

Back in May of this year a reporter from The Canadian Press made a request to speak to Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist Max Bothwell the recognized expert on Rock Snot (a single-celled algae that attaches to rocks on river bottoms) what followed can only be called bizarre. It most certainly shows exactly how far the Harper Regime has moved from their 'Open and Accountable' promise when they took power and reinforces what we already know about their perchance for suppressing information, particularly science information.
Having never received the requested interview the reporter filed an access to information request to see why not and recently received '110 pages of emails to and from 16 different federal government communications operatives' regarding this simple request for an interview!

Many hours after the request was made the morning of May 8, an email from Robin Browne, strategic communications advisor for the Communications Division of Environment Canada, contained a list of responses for the approval of David Boerner, director general for water science and technology in the ministry.
"CP asked to interview Max today but media relations is negotiating that to buy us more time. Thanks!" he wrote.

One might wonder why they needing more time to simply arrange an interview with a scientist about Rock Snot, it seems the answer to that is that nobody could come up with an 'approved script' for Max Borhwell (who knows this subject better than anyone else in Canada) to regurgitate.
In a frenzy of emails trying to find "approved" responses. It appeared they were not located, and approval had to begin from scratch.

Bothwell even tried to help things along "I will search my computer for the approved responses from the last interview," Bothwell wrote to a growing list of media handlers.
That unleashed a frenzy of emails trying to find the aforementioned "approved" responses. It appeared they were not located, and approval had to begin from scratch. The emails refer to "agreed answers" for the scientist and "approved interview script" throughout.
"Can we prepare answers to these questions please," Danny Kingsberry, acting manager of media relations, wrote. "I will get necessary approvals and we will schedule the interview after."

So the question becomes if a scientist cant answer questions about Rock Snot but must have 'approved scripts' for any interview what would be the response and how many individuals and departments would generate how much paperwork if we asked for information on, lets say, the muzzling of government employees and why such approvals are necessary?

No aspect of responsible government is more fundamental than having the trust of citizens. Canadians' faith in the institutions and practices of government has been eroded. This new government trusts in the Canadian people, and its goal is that Canadians will once again trust in their government. It is time for accountability. From the 2006 Throne Speech.

If being accountable means hiding information from the citizens so that they know not what is happening the the Harper Regime has succeeded in their mission.

Even more troubling is the news that even their own Members of Parliament cannot get information from certain departments. Recently Larry Miller MP for Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound requested “all information and details related to Claim (for portions of Sauble Beach) by Saugeen Ojibway Nation'.
“Miller says he has been trying for some time now to get more information from the department's lawyers and staff but so far he has heard nothing back. He says because the Department of Aboriginal affairs and Northern Development refuses to release any information to him or the Minister's office -- he wonders if they have something to hide.”

He goes on to say his next step, may be to file a freedom of information request!!

If a Minister in your own government has to file a FOI request to get information regarding an important issue within their own riding what does this say about say about the regimes respect for the parliamentary system, democracy and the public's right to information. Being the Conservative that he is Mr Miller blames the bureaucrats for the problem, I would suggest MR Miller that said Government employees are doing EXACTLY what they are told to do by the PMO. Perhaps its time you opened your eyes and realized that the sun does not shine out of Harpers arse and encourage you colleagues to turf this guy and return to a parliamentary democracy.

Oh and this may be of interest whereby all communications regarding the finding of one of Franklins ships was suspended until King Harper could announce it himself, the only real surprise there was that he actually made the announcement whilst in Canada!

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

MPs Obstructed, Undermined and Impeded!

Recently Green Party Leader Elizabeth May spoke to her fellow MP's and the Speaker of The House regarding the governments ever increasing practice of limiting debate upon important legislation before The House. She contends that the rights of her and her colleagues in parliament have been “obstructed, undermined and impeded” and that “constituents are deprived of their right to have their concerns adequately voiced in the House” by this practice. It is hard to disagree with that assessment.

What follows are a few extracts from her presentation which I recommend you read in full and may be viewed on her MP Web Site.

I am rising at my first opportunity on this question of privilege, given that between the Speech from the Throne in October and when we adjourned June 20, there had been 21 occasions on which closure of debate occurred, and I maintain that the exercise of my rights and the rights of my colleagues in this place have been obstructed, undermined and impeded by the unprecedented use of time allocations in the second session of the 41st Parliament.”

The purpose of us being here as parliamentarians is to hold the government to account. It is obvious that no legislative assembly would be able to discharge its duties with efficiency or to assure its independence and dignity unless it had adequate powers to protect itself, its members, and its officials in the exercise of these functions.”

It is therefore a fundamental principle of Westminster parliamentary democracy that the most important role of members of Parliament, and in fact a constitutional right and responsibility for us as members, is to hold the government to account.
The events in this House that we witnessed before we adjourned on June 20, 2014, clearly demonstrate that the House and its members have been deprived of fulfilling constitutional rights, our privilege, and our obligation to hold the government to account, because of the imposition of intemperate and unrestrained guillotine measures in reference to a number of bills. Over 21 times, closure has been used.”

As speaking time that is allotted to members of small parties and independents is placed late in the debates, we quite often are not able to address these measures in the House. This would be fair if we always reached the point in the debate where independents were recognized, but that does not happen with closure of debates. My constituents are deprived of their right to have their concerns adequately voiced in the House.
Political parties are not even referenced in our constitution, and I regard the excessive power of political parties over processes in this place, in general, to deprive constituents of equal representation in the House of Commons. However, under the circumstances, the additional closure on debate particularly disadvantages those constituents whose members of Parliament are not with one of the larger parties.”

In order to hold the government to account, we require the ability and the freedom to speak in the House without being trammelled and without measures that undermine the member’s ability to fulfill his or her parliamentary function.”

To hold the government to account is the raison d’être of Parliament. It is not only a right and privilege of members and of this House, but a duty of Parliament and its members to hold the government to account for the conduct of the nation’s business. Holding the government to account is the essence of why we are here. It is a constitutional function.”

Denying the members’ rights and privileges to hold the government to account is an unacceptable and unparliamentary diminishment of both the raison d’être of Parliament and of the Speaker’s function and role in protecting the privileges of all members of this House.
In conclusion, I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the intemperate and unrestrained use of time allocation by this government constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege of all members of this House, especially those who are independents or, such as myself, representatives of one of the parties with fewer than 12 members.”

Indeed, if any of those whom we elect to represent our interests in The House are denied the opportunity to speak to a piece of legislation then the very basis of our Parliamentary Democracy is substantially diminished.
Cross posted at Bruce Grey Owen Sound Greens

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Essential Reading for Democracy.

There have been a number of articles highlighting former Conservative MP Mr. Rathgeber’s new book Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada in recent days. That he outlines the tight control that the PMO exercises over the Conservative MP's is hardly a surprise given that he quit the Conservative caucus over having his private members bill nixed by them, however such concerns by those who sit, of have sat, in the House are not new.
Mr. Rathgeber, twice elected as a Conservative before quitting caucus last year, outlines how MPs have seen their powers fade away, reduced to “cheer-leading and barking on command” while the PMO has grown stronger over decades, under Mr. Harper and his predecessors, with little oversight.”
Indeed if we take a look at some of the exit interviews conducted by Samara, the democracy measurement people, we will see a great deal of concern about how much 'control' the party brass and the PMO has over those we have elected to look after OUR concerns. It is unfortunate that so few of them do not speak out untill AFTER they have retired from politics, perhaps the following gives a clue, they are more interested in not loosing their perks that in returning the institution to what it was intended to be - “a body in which the Prime Minister is only the first among EQUALS!

The book offers a glimpse into the tightly controlled Conservative caucus, where backbenchers are given little say and punished – a relocated office, a less desirable committee, the cancelling of travel junkets – for stepping out of line. Mr. Rathgeber was formerly an Alberta MLA under Premier Ralph Klein, whose caucus voted on bills before they were tabled, he writes. Under Mr. Harper, the Conservative caucus is more of a pep rally and doesn’t include votes. Instead, there are “caucus advisory committees” open to Conservative MPs – but their meeting schedules aren’t published, Mr. Rathgeber writes.”
All this is old news, there is one MP who has been warning us of the fragility of our democracy and of the dangers of centralizing power in the PMO for years. Elizabeth May wrote the book on the Crisis In Canadian Democracy back in 2009 before she was elected to the House, her book Losing Confidence: Power, Politics And The Crisis In Canadian Democracy serves to outline how little has been done over the ensuing years to stop the decline.

You may compare her book with Tragedy In The Commons, by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan (of Samara), all these book detail a parliamentary system that is in deep trouble in large part due to the thirst for absolute power by political parties of all stripes and the gradual elimination or disregard of any rules that may limit their power.

There is one small glimmer of hope in the about to be voted upon 'The Reform Act' which was introduced nine months ago as a private member’s bill by Conservative MP Michael Chong. It is far from all that is needed but is a tiny step in the right direction, you may find out more about it over at Samara and send letters to your MP to support it via LeadNow. Unfortunately Mr Chong is proposing even further weakening of the legislation presumably to make it more palatable for his Con colleagues.

I will leave you with this though from Mr Rathgeber in referring to some recent events concerning the PMO
Leaders lead, they do not perpetually search for scapegoats,”
One might add that good leaders protect democracy not destroy it!

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Canada-China Trade Agreement to be Ratified?

Breaking news from Ottawa: We’ve just heard that Prime Minister Harper could be about to ratify the secretive and extreme Canada-China FIPA investors deal in the next few hours. This deal would allow China’s massive companies to sue Canadian governments in secret tribunals if we make decisions that put Canadian interests ahead of their corporate profits – restricting Canadians from making democratic decisions about our economy, environment and energy.

It gets worse: If Prime Minister Harper approves this international investors’ deal it could bind us for 31 years.

As you may know, the Hupacasath First Nation are using their constitutionally protected legal rights to challenge this deal in court. The court case is still in progress, and the court has not yet released its decision on the Hupacasath’s appeal. If Harper ratifies FIPA it would show total disrespect for Canada's courts and the the judicial process.

There is little we can do to stop his dictator from ratifying this anti Canada trade agreement but LeadNow is suggesting we call our MP or the Com MP responsible , See this http://www.leadnow.ca/stop-fipa/ for further information.

UPDATE 3pm Friday 12th Sept 2014
Its a done deal !!

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