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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Balancing Act Important For Democracy

A guest artile by Jared Milne
I’m currently reading Brent Rathgeber’s excellent book “Irresponsible Government: the Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada”, which describes the methods that Canadian prime ministers have used to consolidate power in the Prime Minister’s Office, and force their Members of Parliament to follow all of their directions. MPs are now expected to only obey the prime minister, instead of keeping him and his Cabinet accountable the way Canada’s system of responsible government has traditionally required.

Many Canadians have been increasingly turned off by this system of top-down control. Samara, an organization dedicated to strengthening Canadian democracy, has noted that many Canadians believe that Canadian politicians and parties only want their votes, and don’t care about listening to their concerns. MPs are only seen as representing the views of their parties, instead of their constituents. Samara also found that even many MPs themselves came to feel that their efforts to represent their constituents were hampered by the dictates of their political parties. Many citizens told Samara that they had become disengaged from politics because they didn’t feel that it was really addressing their needs, and made them feel like outsiders. Significantly, many MPs also came to feel as though they became outsiders in their own parties.

Stephen Harper is not the first prime minister to increasingly centralize control in the Prime Minister’s Office. However, it’s been said that he has continued this trend because of the experiences of the Reform Party in the 1990s, when some of its candidates made statements that were later used by its opponents to smear the Reformers as bigoted and intolerant. These types of “bozo eruptions” can be a major political hazard, such as in the 2012 Alberta election. The statements made by Wildrose Alliance candidate Alan Hunsperger about gay people dying in a “lake of fire” are widely seen as a major factor in the Wildrose’s defeat.

The Reform party and the Wildrose both prided themselves on engaging their grassroots, and enabling members to speak their minds freely. This can make people feel like they’re being listened to, and their views are being taken into account by the party leadership. However, it also brings the risk that those views can be used by the party’s electoral opponents to make them look bad and turn voters off.
The challenge for political leaders, then, becomes how to listen to citizens’ views and make them feel as though they’re being listened to, while also determining which ideas are the best ones to act on and how they will be perceived by the public.

This would require a complicated balancing act, and not everyone would be happy with the results. However, it would still be better the current trend of centralizing power at the top of the party leadership, which then dictates how Members of Parliament vote and exercises top-down control on them. That trend has only turned countless Canadians off of politics, and weakened our democracy as a whole.

Jared Milne is a writer, researcher and public servant living in St. Albert, Alberta. His major interests including Canadian unity, nationalism and history, particularly regarding how Canada's incredibly rich past has affected the present we live in today.
-This article was published in the St. Albert Gazette on January 14, 2015 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20150114/SAG0903/301149997/0/sag

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Incremental Dictatorship

A guest post by Pamela Mac Neil
In order for a government to be all powerful, it must dominate all of the major democratic institutions in a society and it must be very adept, when seeking to change the democratic nature of these institutions, at hiding its inner workings while making that change. The Harper government is a fundamentally anti-democratic entity that caters to the agenda of the corporate elite. The decisions that shape all aspects of Canada's democratic institutions are made largely in private behind closed doors. Underlying the rise of Harpers authoritarian state is a hidden politics. Harper and his regime are not what they say they are. They are what they hide. The ideologic context that the Harper government operates in and which almost all in the MSM never talk about is that they are creating a market state via a neo-liberal system of ideas. The Harper government is attempting to rid Canada of all vestiges of democratic rule, while attempting to hide the power used in dismantling Canadian democracy and replacing it with a neo-liberal infrastructure. Where Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan implemented neo-liberalism policy openly and in large sweeps, later known as Thatcherism and Reaganism, Harper according to Donald Gutstein in his book "Harperism" is the only leader to implement neo-liberalism policies incrementally and out of view. "Harperism" describes the uniqueness of Harpers method and strategy when implementing neo-liberal ideas i.e., gradually and in secrecy. This way Canadians not only will not become alarmed but in fact will be ignorant of what the Harper government is actually doing. The goal is to create a market state governed by market transactions and not democratic services.

Harper and his CONS have been re-making the democratic practices of the Canadian state and transforming it into a neo-liberal market fundamentalism. They are doing this by laying the ground work to privatize as many government services and social programs that they can. Neo-liberalism essentially is based on the premise that political freedom is superceded by and dependent on economic freedom and it requires a strong state to create and enforce markets. If markets do not exist in health care, education, social security, environmental control etc. than they must be created and imposed by state action. Since becoming Prime Minister, Harper has made economics and free markets the central principle to creating public policy. Harper is no recent convert to neo-liberalism. He was introduced to Friedrich Hayeks ideas, one of the intellectual creators of neo-liberalism, whose best known book is "Road to Serfdom", as a graduate student at The University of Calgary. Hayeks work became the foundation of his graduate thesis and has continuously been the intellectual touch stone of his political ideology up to and including present day. While still having a long way to go in deciding where to lay the ground work in where markets are to be created and imposed, a necessity in creating the market state, since the CONS came to power in 2006, they have been active non-stop, so much so that they could be considered a parallel government operating alongside a parliamentary democratic government.

There are many departments, divisions, and government institutions in our democracy that provided social services to Canadians that have already been revamped, merged, or removed and remade by enforcing market dictates where they never existed before. A good example of this is that environmental issues are now addressed by markets rather than through government regulations.Deregulation is one form of privatization. Another promotion of neo-liberalism is Harpers free trade agreements and particularly with China. When a Chinese company seeks oil or gas, if a province or group like First Nations refuse them access even for perfectly legitimate reasons, China can sue in a secret tribunal and over rule any Canadian government. Chinese corporate behaviour will be dictated by the free market not by Canadian laws! Another strategy the Harper government has used is slashing revenues to there lowest levels in 50yrs, (around the time when Canadian government first created major social programs). Harper has crippled the governments capacity to administer these services to Canadians. After all if there is not enough money in the publics treasury to finance health care, social security and education needs, to name a few, they'll have to be provided by the private sector. In Harpers creating of the market state, there is more then one way to skin a cat or in this case a Canadian. Political power is needed to exercise neo-liberal ideas. These are the underlying ideas to Harpers governments destruction of democracy and they effect practically every part of our democracy. If you believe, as Harper believes, the many services that government provides like health, social security, UI etc. should be privatized, then as a government you need to dismantle government.

I realize of course that neo-liberalism encompasses much more then the conversion of most social acts into market transactions, With the Harper governments it is implicit in all areas of governing, like Nationalism, Human Rights, Supremacy of the Military, Controlled Mass Media. National Security, Religion and the Ruling Elite, Fraudulent Elections, Labour's voice suppressed and eliminated, Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and Neo-liberalism as a philosophy. I have attempted to present it more as an introductory explanation to what drives the decisions of the Harper government. I would like to elaborate further on Neo-liberalism in future articles, including one expose about how neo-liberal ideas are disseminated. Harper and those who inhabit The Prime Minister's Office, wield immense power over the workings of the Canadian state. I have no doubt that they are shaping Canada into a dictatorship, in secrecy and by gradually implementing one neo-liberal policy at a time.

Pamela Mac Neil's main interest is studying how  ideas from philosophy and history shape politics.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Poetic Reality

I had a guest post scheduled for today but the final text has not shown up yet. I did however receive this little offering from a regular corespondent. Enjoy!

If I were rich in silver and gold
Oil I would not need
Con's in Ottawa having a fit
Lost revenue, gained in greed.
If fair they were from day one
Not lie to we they "serve"
Promises kept, when first "to power"
Soon turned to bunch of nerds.
Police need to police and do their job
But Ottawa always to intervene
Great white father that guides the crew
Living his own private dream.
Bubble to burst, and when it does
Voters then to see
What they voted into office
Never, a Con voter I be.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 Budget Prorogued.

We all know that when backed into a corner Harper will do almost anything to avoid any negative information about his regime from emerging from his $65 million plus a year PMO spin machine and that this is particularly true of bad economic news. We know in the past he prorogued parliament in order to avoid what could have been a negative vote on his 2008 fiscal update, whilst not quite as controversial the question must be asked is the delaying of the 2015 budget till April or beyond more of the same?

Given the difficulty that Parliamentarians and the Parliamentary Budget Officer have experienced in the past in getting the true numbers from this regimes finance department in order to understand what they were voting upon is it any surprise that the budget is being pushed closer to the summer recess and fall election date.

Will the promised budget surplus be a reality or just yet another bit of pre-election spin purely designed to fool large swaths of voters that the Conservatives are great fiscal managers. With millions going out daily to support the “war” on terrorism in the Middle East, their plans for the great Canadian Oil Economy sinking back under the sands and more jobs disappearing daily it sure does not look rosy to me. But then I am not an 'economist' ...... but I can add and subtract........ and can remember that “we will not go into recession” speech when touting his 2008 budget.

Bottom line, we need the true state of the economy put before us in order to make an informed decision in October. Will that happen given the Harper Regimes obsession with controlling the message and hiding bad news, not a chance in hell! Oh Kevin Page how we miss you.

Democracy requires access to accurate information in order to make informed decisions, not an item that’s exactly high on Mr Harpers or Mr Olivers to do list!

Tip of the hat to Montreal Simon for this one.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Harper History, Part 1 - The Early Years

This is the first of a series of monthly articles examining the actions of Stephen Harper and his Party colleagues both before and after his rise to power with particular emphasis upon words and actions that effect our democracy. The 2015 Federal Election will undoubtedly be critical to to whether or not our Parliamentary Democracy survives or degrades further into the abyss of an elected dictatorship. It is I believe important that we remember the actions of this Regime over the last 15 years or so that have moved us so close to this situation. It is these things that I hope to highlight during the coming months.

Its hard to know where to start but in order to 'set the stage' and with the above in mind, let us start with Harpers view of our democracy just after he had resigned his (Reform Party) parliamentary seat on January 14, 1997 to join the National Citizens Coalition. He and Tom Flanagan coauthored an article entitled "Our benign dictatorship" in which they bemoan the “concentrated power structure” of the government and the “winner take all” election system and praise the “sharing of power” and coalition governments.
This is, of course the exact opposite of their polices once they come to power, it has become in fact more of A Malignant Dictatorship.

It was during this period that he delivered a speech to the Council for National Policy, a conservative American think tank during which he called Canada "a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it" and other disparaging remarks. He was also involved in an ultimately unsuccessful legal battle against federal election laws restricting third-party advertising and several campaigns against the Canadian Wheat Board,

After the Canadian Alliance's poor showing in the 2000 election, Harper coauthored the infamous "firewall letter" which called on the provincial government to "build firewalls around Alberta" in order to stop the federal government from redistributing its wealth to less affluent regions, and replace the Canada Pension Plan with a provincial plan! He also launched a constitutional challenge against the 2002 Canada Elections Act regarding the limits that it set upon 3rd party spending The court found that, though the spending limits infringe upon section 2b of the Charter, the law is reasonable and is justified in light of section 1. The majority concluded that the objective of the spending limits is electoral fairness. The law has an effect in creating "a level playing field for those who wish to engage in the electoral discourse, enabling voters to be better informed". (We note that the Harper Regimes recent “Fair Elections Act” has increased the spending limits considerably)

In a 2001 article in The Report magazine, Harper expressed his support for a 'presidential' system and cast aspersions on the calibre of elected representatives showing a preference for forming cabinet from non elected individuals.
"[T]he superiority of Congress over Parliament pales beside a comparison of the executive branches in our systems. The difference between the calibre and experience of the Bush cabinet - or even the worst American cabinet in recent years - to any Canadian equivalent is embarrassing to us. The consistency with which the American executive system recruits top people compared to our 'fused' system, in which cabinet members are chosen from among MPs, is one reason why the United States has made the long climb from peripheral outpost to the world's sole superpower."
After a very hostile leadership campaign in 2002 Harper defeated Stockwell Day to become leader of the Alliance Party and took the seat vacated by Prestom Manning in a by election, where both the Liberaials and the Conservatives did not run a candidate following a parliamentary tradition of allowing opposition leaders to enter the House of Commons unopposed.

Tom Flanagan in spelling out how the Harper camp used the membership lists and a phone and mail out campaign to promote Harper in this race, has this to say:-
It is fitting that database technology helped revive the party, because the Reform Party from the beginning had always been based on database technology.......   The single database has sustained the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance, in good times and bad, by allowing the national office to conduct a unified program of internal communications and fundraising within the membership.  Founded in 1987 when the new era of communications technology was just starting to come into its own, the Reform Party (and the Canadian Alliance as its successor) is truly a database party. “ As indeed the Conservative Party of Canada was to become and who quickly learned how to use and abuse such systems to their own ends.

Shortly thereafter Harper said that the Atlantic Provinces were trapped in "a culture of defeat" and that much of Canada was trapped by the same "can't-do" attitude. These remarks were widely condemned by both Federal and Provincial politicians. In 2003 Harper and Stockwell Day co-wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal in which they condemned the Canadian government's unwillingness to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq
In the great wars of the last century -- against authoritarianism, fascism, and communism -- Canada did not merely stand with the Americans, more often than not we led the way. We did so for freedom, for democracy, for civilization itself. “
Standing against authoritarianism & for democracy does not now seem to be his focus!

On January 12, 2004, Harper announced his resignation as Leader of the Opposition, in order to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. He ran against Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement, Peter McKay did not run but was named as deputy leader afterwards. Harper was elected the first leader of the new Conservative Party of Canada on March 20, 2004 in his speech to the convention he said:-
I stand before you on my record. It is a record of uniting people and uniting organizations. It is a record of tearing down walls and of building bridges. It is a record of representing conservative ideals, of putting forward conservative policies, of fighting for conservative values.”
It is true that he was fundamentally responsible for 'uniting the right' but went on to become one of the most divisive Prime Ministers in Canadian history and aggressively partisan in HIS view of 'conservative values'.

Next up 2004-2006 Conservatives in opposition.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

“Nature Deficit Disorder”

At first glance this would seem to have little to do with our central theme here at Democracy Under Fire but when we look at the actions of the Harper Regime in creating legislation to cover protection of The Rouge Valley Park should it be transferred from the Province to Parks Canada then the link becomes clear.

The Rouge Park, a 40-square-kilometre swath of forested valleys and farmland at the eastern ends of Scarborough and Markham. The proposal is for the province to transfer ownership of it to the federal government so it can add another 10 square kilometres, linking it to the Oak Ridges Moraine and creating Canada’s first national, urban park.

The province created Rouge Park in 1990 and has established a suite of management plans and guidelines for permitted activities and development. In agreeing in prinicipal to transfer ownership to the Feds it stipulated that Parks Canada would have to “meet or exceed” the ecological protection currently in place.

Bill C-40, the classification’s new legislation, says only that management must “take into consideration the protection of [the park’s] natural ecosystems.”

And our federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says that prioritizing ecological integrity is “simply unachievable in an urban setting,” arguing it would lead to the eviction of farmers. Conservative MP Peter Kent told Parliament that prioritizing ecological integrity would mean letting wildfires, pest outbreaks and erosion proceed unchecked. This despite the fact that such protections are already in place, and have been for some time, under provincial management.

Now we come to the antidemocratic bit ..........

On Nov. 5, the Conservative MPs on the environment and sustainable development committee voted down all 18 amendments the opposition had proposed.

Environment and Sustainable Development Committee eh, perhaps it should be renamed the Destruction of Parks Protections Committee?
We have seen this time and time again where various committees dominated by Conservative MPs have voted down EVERY proposed amendment aimed at improving a bill or seeking to find some consensus on the legislation. I find it hard to believe that all of the amendments proposed for this bill are without merit to the point where they would not be considered. It is simply yet another example of the “we are right, you are wrong” mentality of the Harper Regime whereby nothing anyone outside of the PMO says is even considered.

Ontario Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid is holding firm. “Ecological integrity is crucial. Our concern is how these lands are passed on to future generations. I can’t, in good faith, recommend a transfer until they address the concerns ignored at the parliamentary committee.”

Some observers use the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe a growing affliction among urban kids. Mr. Robb (The manager of Friends of the Rouge Watershed ) says in the 25-plus years he’s been introducing people to the Rouge Valley he’s witnessed a growing disassociation between kids and the outdoor world. The Rouge, he says, is perfectly placed to help bridge that gap. “Kids can get here on public transit,” he says. “And when they do, we can show them a good-news story about healing and setting the balance back right.”

It would seems to me that not only do the Cons have Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) but also Democracy Deficit Disorder (DDD)

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