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, October 26, 2014

.........Democracy Under Fire?

"The objective of these attacks was to instil fear and panic in our country, as I said yesterday, Canadians will not be intimidated. Here we are, in our seats, in our chamber, in the very heart of our democracy." Stephen Harper in the House of Commons Thursday October 23rd.

This phrase has been much in the headlines and repeated by many both inside and outside the halls of power and was much in evidence during the 'crisis' by news anchors and the like trying to fill in time whist they waited for real information to emerge. I take a little bit on an issue with this.

Parliament may be the symbolic home of our democracy but the true heart of democracy rests with the citizens across this vast country. It is entrusted in those individuals that we elect to protect and enhance it who meet in that place to hold the current government, no matter what particular flavor it currently enjoys, to account and to participate in the process of deciding upon the rules by which out society lives by. It is those citizens who make sure that they take the time to select those individuals who are placed before us as possible representatives every few years. It is within those that take notice of the debates and decisions emerging from 'that place' and make their views know as best they can to an ever less receptive group of politicians. The heart of a country’s democracy lays within its citizens, whether they look after it or not is another matter entirely.

NO the parliament building is NOT the heart of our democracy, if it burnt to the ground tomorrow would our democracy die? I sure hope not, and do not believe it would. It matters not WHERE our parliamentarian meet, it matter that they DO meet and that they are able to represent our views in an open forum where all such views are respected and taken into account. Such open debate is going to be of particular importance in the upcoming day and weeks as the above representatives consider what action to take to reduce the vulnerability of our important physical infrastructure to such incursion as happened Wednesday and to identify individuals with the mindset to do such things.

These nutcases are not necessary 'terrorists', just because they 'terrorized' parliamentary individuals, is that any different from gangs that 'terrorize' neighbourhoods in our large cities, randomly killing those that happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Are parliamentarians and their staff any different from a family living in a less than secure neighbourhood in Toronto? No, they are as Elizabeth May said in the House on Thursday "At a very basic level, we are nothing more than human beings who at a very fundamental level care for each other," and probably actually more secure that those living in some of those neighbourhoods, this is not to say that they should not be alert for those that would use force to make their views known.

All this brings me to the 'heart' of the matter which is given the events of Wednesday there must obviously be in increase in security of the Parliament Building and probably other such Federal and Provincial locations and finding a balance between security and public access will be difficult. The other side of the coin is the need to identify those who are inclined to use guns, bombs, physical force or destruction of property to make their point, or simply become infamous. These mentally 'challenged' people are not all 'terrorists', we know Harper thinks they can be environmentalists or almost any other group that opposes some of his dictatorial omnibus legislation. It is as both Ms May and MR Trudeau alluded to necessary that our legislators do not 'over react'.

“It is my profound wish that we remain calm, determine all the facts and not make any assumptions. Today is not a day that ‘changes everything.’ It is a day of tragedy. We must ensure we keep our responses proportionate to whatever threat remains.
This senseless, horrifying attack has shaken all of us who work in Parliament, but we stand together, strengthened in our resolve to uphold the values of peace and democracy upon which our country was founded.”
Elizabeth May

We will remember who we are.  We are proud democracy, a welcoming and peaceful nation and a country of open arms and open hearts.  We are a nation of fairness, of justice and of the rule of law.  We will not be intimidated into changing that.
If anything, these are the values and principles to which we must hold on even tighter.  Our dedication to democracy and to the institutions we have built is the foundation of our society and a continued belief in both will guide us correctly into the future.  Staying true to our values in a time of crisis will make us an example to the world.”
Justin Trudeau

I have not commented upon the specific incidences that took place on parliament hill here, there is more than enough opinion out there on that, as a blogger on democracy I do not believe that this incident, in and of its self, has much to do with our democracy, it is the reaction by government and others that will impact our democratic system, and our rights and freedoms.
I just know that if legislation to bring such measures as may be deemed necessary into force is not debated without closure being enforced, and is not supported by a majority of all parliamentarians, not just those enamoured with Stephen Harper and his war on terror, then it is no less an attack on democracy than that which some say occurred on Wednesday. The danger to democracy lays not with lone gunmen upset over the inability to get a passport but with those within government who constantly use the parliamentary system designed to protect democracy to erode it.

The danger is perhaps best highlighted by the Conservatives tabling of yet another Omnibus Budget (in this case running to 458 pages!) on the day after the normal House of Commons routine was disrupted by the above events. We can be almost certain that this too will be forced through the House with limited debate and total disregard for any amendments proposed by the opposition parties.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Naturalists Targeted by Canada Revenue Agency

First they came for the environmentalists and the activists. Then they came for the scientists.
Then they came for those who fight poverty, and help the poor. Now they’ve come for the birdwatchers.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists, a registered charity, is apparently at risk of breaking tax agency rules that limit so-called political or partisan activities. Earlier this year, tax auditors sent a letter to the 300-member group, warning about political material on the group's website. The stern missive says the group must take appropriate action as necessary "including refraining from undertaking any partisan activities," with the ominous warning that "this letter does not preclude any future audits."
The letter arrived just after the club had written directly to two federal cabinet ministers to complain about government-approved chemicals that damage bee colonies.
"You can piece together the timing," said Roger Suffling, a member of the group and an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo. "The two things are very concurrent."

IF writing to a minister about a concern you or you group has about chemical use and environmental concerns trigger this kind of response, whether directed by the Minister or simply considered by the CRA as a political activity, then we are in big trouble. Perhaps all charities need to register as a political party who are exempt from such rules on political activity but can issue tax receipts and perhaps the CRA should be investigated for 'political activity'!

The Canada Revenue Agency launched a special program of so-called political activity audits after Budget 2012 provided $8 million for the project, later topped up to $13.4 million. Canada Revenue Agency officials say they do not target any one charitable sector, and are choosing groups impartially, without input from the minister's office.

They are 'choosing groups impartially' and yet a seemingly disproportionate of charities and groups who have openly voiced concerns about scientific and environmental issues have been 'targeted', but it would seem very few who are clearly very active on 'political issues' but are supportive of the Harper Regimes agenda have been threatened. Just a coincidence or just random luck, I don’t think so!

"Reminder letters” are issued to some groups to warn that Canada Revenue Agency analysts have been watching their political activities, and may launch full audits if things aren't rectified. So far, 23 such letters have been issued, including to the Kitchener-Waterloo group, though the agency won't say exactly which groups are on the list, citing the confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act.

Readers may visit the Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists web site and decide for themselves if this threat from the CRA was justified, I urge folks to support this and similar groups with both your moral support and your donation whilst you can still get a charitable tax receipt from any non profit organization who dares to question the ongoing attack by government decree upon science and the environment.

EDIT - Alison at Creeside shows exactly how selective these audits are

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

And so it starts......

The first volleys in the election war to come that is, we have our 'fearless leader' “protecting Canadians” by sending a few planes and a handful of personnel over to Iran to drop a few bombs on the terrorist hordes. We have the first of many more to come promises designed to buy your votes next year with an increase in the 'sports deduction' for kids and an indication of where the advertising campaign is going to go.
The Harper government is preparing to alter copyright law in Canada so politicians can use news footage and other journalistic content for attack ads and campaign spots without asking broadcasters or publishers for permission.
CTV News, citing a memo to cabinet, reported Wednesday night that the government has been working on a new “copyright exception for political advertising” that would be inserted into a budget implementation bill.
'Inserted into an OMNIBUS budget bill' that should probably read, what copyright provisions have to do with budget legislation is hard to say except that this would allow the use of large swaths of MSM news and opinion to be used without compensation.

The cabinet memo says the proposed copyright exception “would allow free use of ‘news’ content in political advertisements intended to promote or oppose a politician or political party, or a position on a related issue.”
Heritage Minister Shelly Glover had this to say.....
Major television networks should not have the ability to censor what can and cannot be broadcast to Canadians,’’ she said. “We believe that this has always been protected under the fair dealing provisions of the (copyright) law and if greater certainty is necessary, we will provide it.’’
Translation for those who do not understand Doublespeak
The networks should be forced to broadcast our daily serving of BS from the PMO but we reserve the right to use out of context clips of opposition leaders to produce personal attacks on them for said propaganda. The opposition will not be able to use similar clips of us as all public appearance by our leader and his followers are carefully scripted and no unscripted interactions with the press will be permitted.

Once again I expect this to go to the Supreme Court of Canada (as is the UnFair Elections Act) if it goes through, that is after all the ONLY recourse anyone has against this regimes ongoing war against Canadians of all kinds who are not on Harpers 'friends' list.

This past May, major broadcasters including CTV, CBC, Global and Rogers sent a letter to all federal and provincial parties serving notice that they would no longer “accept any political advertisement which uses our content without our express authorization.”
Any government which asserts unlimited access to the airwaves for propaganda purposes is more than into chronic copyright infringement. In some academic opinion, that could be seen as flirting with fascism.”

No doubt the opposition will ask questions about this in the House but getting an honest answer is like trying to squeeze toothpaste back in the tube. Rick Mercer summed it up nicely this week in his latest 'Rant”.

We have gotten to the point now where if you ask this government any question on any issue, domestic or international, they will tell you, "We stand with Israel.” You ask a cabinet minister directions to the closest washroom they will tell you, "We stand with Israel.” Which personally I believe does a disservice to Israel. But that is the situation we find ourselves in. 

He then has a suggestion as to how to proceed with replacing the Con Speaker with a less partisan face.....

May I suggest the job of Speaker, a job that comes with a minister's salary, a staff, a car, a driver, a house in the country where deer gambol on the lawn. Yes, they gambol. And we replace the Speaker with a bag of flour with a smiley face drawn on the front with a sharpie. What's the worst thing that could happen? Questions will go unanswered--rudeness will prevail.

Questions will go unanswered--rudeness will prevail ..... and democracy will continue to suffer until this Regime is removed from power!

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cabinet hides even more secrets.

A stealthy Treasury Board directive in the summer of 2013 required bureaucrats to ask departmental lawyers to decide what constitutes a secret, a decision that used to be made by the Privy Council Office, which oversees cabinet matters resulting in many more documents being exempted from Freedom of Information requests.
There is a growing list of seemingly routine reports, memos and documents caught up in an enhanced dragnet of so-called cabinet confidences. The Canadian Press has found dozens of cases from various departments in which reports, briefing materials and emails have been excluded entirely under Section 69 of the Access to Information Act, which gives officials the power to withhold records because they are meant to be seen only by the federal cabinet.

Suzanne Legault, the country's information commissioner is concerned about how wide-ranging the definition of a cabinet secret has become, especially since once the exclusion is declared, not even she can see the documents in question.
"When you look at the scope of the exclusion, it is extremely broad," Legault said.
"It's very, very broad. It basically catches anything that mentions a record that's a cabinet confidence. In my view, the actual scope of this does not respect fundamental tenets of freedom of information."
Once the exclusion is invoked, the records remain sealed off from public scrutiny for 20 years.

Kevin Page, the former Parliamentary Budget Officer points out that even before this change information was almost impossible to get and said the law needs a major overhaul.

"Under my time as the budget officer we were told on numerous occasions — from crime bills to elements of the government's economic forecast to departmental spending restraint plans (post budget 2012) — that Parliament (and the PBO) could not get access to information because it was a cabinet confidence," Page said.
"The stakes were high. The government was asking Parliament to vote on bills without relevant financial information and were hiding behind the veil of cabinet confidence. This undermined accountability for Parliament and the accountability of the public service."

Even those charged with representing 'we the people' cannot get the information they need to make informed decisions, such secrecy from an already oligarchical regime seems to be the next step towards dictatorship, it most certainly is another hit against democracy.

MPs and senators, who are subject to parliamentary privilege, have found their formal written inquiries — known as order paper questions — are also being run through the filter of cabinet confidence by the Privy Council Office.

Then we have the recent report that the normal process for selecting senators has been unilaterally 'suspended' and the process is 'under review' supposedly due to a few potential names being 'leaked'.

"An article by Sean Fine of the Globe and Mail dated May 23, 2014 purported to provide various details about the selection process, including the names of candidates being considered," he noted.
"As a result of this, the government chose not to constitute a selection panel, nor arrange for an ad hoc parliamentary committee for the appointment of J. Clement Gascon to the Supreme Court of Canada."

So once again the 'normal' parliamentary process has been ignored by the Harper Regime. Liberal MP Irwin Cotler who written question to Justice Minister Peter MacKay last June revealed this information had this to say:-

With another Supreme Court seat set to open up next month, he said, the government appears to have suspended the selection process entirely, at least as far as parliamentary involvement.
"They say it's 'under reconsideration,' and that it 'remains to be determined' what process will be used in future," Cotler noted.
"That means there's no process yet underway for a vacancy coming up in November."

Errol Mendes, a constitutional expert at the University of Ottawa had this to say.

"What I think is starting to happen now is the realization that they can basically shut down any democratic debate to anything that could be embarrassing to the government," "That is the way an authoritarian government behaves."


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