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 22, 2015

Harper History, Part 3 - First Con Minority

Jan 2006 – Sept 2008

In part three of our series examining the things that Mr Harper and his supporters have done that impacted our democracy we cover the period of “Canada's New Government” tm which lasted 2 1/2 years before Harper declared it “dysfunctional” and called a new election in direct contravention of his own fixed election date legislation. It was highlighted by Harpers attempts to control the press and his refusal to answer anything but pre approved questions and the oppositions attempts to hold the government to account without bringing about an early election.

On 23/1/2006 the Conservatives under Harper were elected to a minority government, the inherited a Federal budget surplus of $13.8 billion from the Liberials.
Just two weeks later David Emerson, elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway, crossed the floor to join the Conservatives and was promptly appointed to cabinet as Minister of International Trade. It was clear that this had been negotiated before the election. Harper also appointed a private business man to cabinet, Michael Fortier had not been elected as a member of the House of Commons nor was a Senator at the time he was appointed. He was appointed to the senate by Harper a month later.Shortly after coming to power the following directive was issued:- "As per the Minister's Office, effective immediately, the words "Canada's New Government" are to be used instead of "the Government of Canada" in all departmental correspondence. Please note that the initial letters of all three words are capitalized. Thank you for your cooperation."
This was dropped after
an email exchange with a Natural Resources scientist who refused to comply became public, in following years the branding dropped all reference to it being Canada's government but became Harper's personal fiefdom.

21 April 2006 Speaking before the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set out the Government’s priorities and its conception of open federalism.
“Canadians want their governments to work for them,” said the Prime Minister. “They are fed up with the spectacle of turf wars and squabbling over money. They want their leaders to work together to deal with real-life priorities.”
In November in a further effort to appease the Quebec voters, Quebecois were formally declared a nation with most MPs voting for the motion. The conservative caucus was told to vote for it or be expelled. Harper's Intergovernmental Affairs minister Michael Chong resigned from his position over this issue.

On Dec. 12, 2006: Commons passes Conservatives' Federal Accountability Act, which tightens political donation rules, provides for a parliamentary budget officer, and offers more protection for whistleblowers. Parlimentary Budget Officer Kevin Page was later to become a thorn in Harpers side when trying to keep the Harper Regime accountable for their budget spending and projections. Amongst other things this promised to ban institutional and large personal donations to political parties and:-
  • ensure that positions of public trust cannot be used as stepping stones to private lobbying;
  • provide real protection for whistleblowers who show great courage in coming forward to do what is right;
  • strengthen the capacity and independence of Officers of Parliament, including the Auditor General, to hold the Government to account; and
  • increase the transparency of appointments, contracts, and auditing within government and Crown corporations.
It also however included a large number of exemptions the government can use to shield documents under the Access to Information Act.

In January 2007, less than a month after Stéphane Dion had been elected leader of the opposition the Conservatives unveiled a series of persistent and unprecedented personal attack ads upon the Liberal leader. At the time former NDP leader Ed Broadbent said:-
"It's reprehensible politics for the Conservatives to be portraying Stéphane the way they are, It's never fair for the attack to be personal.”
These were to continue throughout the ensuing year and the practice of using negative ads to demonize the opposition outside of election periods was to become standard practice for the Harper Regime and continues to this day.

Also in Jan Environment Minister John Baird put the brakes on government attempts to examine the capacity of public institutions to deal with effects of climate change. Under his previous tenure as president of the Treasury Board, his officials suspended all payments on pledges for United Nations work to protect the environment. This included payments to the United Nations Environment Programme and to international treaties such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

May 3, 2007: Commons passes Conservatives' Fixed Election Dates Act, which provides for elections every four years unless a government is defeated in the Commons. Harper would ignore the law the following year.
March 2007
During the second vote on the budget Conservative MP Bill Casey voted against the budget in protest of the treatment of the 2005 Atlantic Accord on offshore revenues. He was removed from the Conservative Caucus afterwards as was Conservative senator Anne Cools for voting against it.

In April 2007, The Globe and Mail published interviews with 30 men who claimed they were "beaten, starved, frozen and choked after they were handed over to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security" by CF members. It also revealed that it had received a censored report by the Canadian government on human rights in Afghanistan through an access to information request, and it contained "negative references to acts such as torture, abuse, and extra judicial killings [that] were blacked out without an explanation." This issue was to dominate 'debate' in the HoC for many months to come.

May 18 2007, After months of accusing the opposition of obstructing parliamentary committees it was revealed the the PMO had produced a 200 page handbook distributed to committee chairs on how to “frustrate, obstruct and shut down the democratic process." It reportedly advised chairs on how to promote the government's agenda, select witnesses friendly to the Conservative party and coach them to give favourable testimony. It also reportedly instructs them on how to filibuster and otherwise disrupt committee proceedings and, if all else fails, how to shut committees down entirely.

In September it was revealed that The federal government may be quietly privatizing and out-sourcing basic research needed for public policy and safety. Hundreds of Federal science staff were laid off and 17 federal departments and agencies were told to slice five percent of expenditures as well as cuts to federal public health and several other departments and organizations. Remember this is whilst a budget surplus still existed and the the economic 'downturn' was no on anyone’s radar and was a harbinger of things to come.

According to then-Conservative MP Garth Turner, who later left the party to sit as an independent, the Prime Minister told Conservative MPs: “We have determined a series of cuts, expenditure cuts, which will be announced. They have been determined. They are our position. And anyone [who] has got any problem with that—who says anything about it—is going to have a short political career.”

October 2007: News that Stephen Harper's staff is secretly working on a new $2 million government-controlled media centre is being seen by journalists as further evidence of the prime minister's obsession with control of the press. The MSM subsequently refused to use this facility and the project was shelved however this was the start of Harpers public appearances being carefully stage managed and restrictions upon reporters questions at such events.

About this time Stephen Harper declared his own unique vision of minority government, at a snap Parliament Hill news conference he essentially dared Liberal leader Stéphane Dion to trigger an election. After repeated confidence votes where the NDP and Bloc parties voting for the motions and the Liberal Party abstaining enough to avoid the government falling he cited Dion as making Parliament become increasingly "dysfunctional" and said "I’m going to have to make a judgment in the next little while as to whether or not this Parliament can function productively,"
He declared that voting in support of the following week's Throne Speech would commit any opposition party to backing all government legislation. Otherwise, he said, every such government bill will be a confidence vote. It was clear that his earlier statement that "It is the Parliament that's supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party.” was nothing but meaningless rhetoric.
Throughout 2007 it was clear that the Conservatives were making preparations for an early election.

In September Conservative Dick Harris, MP for Cariboo- Prince George, issued a news release naming failed Conservative candidate Sharon Smith as "the person residents of neighbouring riding Skeena-Bulkley Valley (whos Mp was New Democrat Nathan Cullen) should contact with concerns or issues with the federal government."

In Jan. 2008: Harper fires Linda Keen, “arms length” head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for doing her job and refusing to approve a restart of the unsafe nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont until repairs had been undertaken. They further reduced the GST to 5% prior to the February budget
On April 15, 2008: Elections Canada and RCMP raided Conservative party headquarters seeking documents on Tory election spending, eventually this led to the Conservatives being found guilty of breaking campaign financing rules during the 2006 election.
In May the government quietly announced it would no longer support the access-to-information registry used by reporters, researchers and ordinary citizens to hold governments accountable. This was partial responsible for Stephen Harper's office wining the Canadian Association of Journalists Code of Silence Award, for having "muzzled" cabinet ministers, civil servants, and, particularly, professional scientists and stalling and denying freedom of information requests.

Sept. 7, 2008: With various non confidence votes over the last year and a half not having passed, Harper ignores his own fixed election date law and calls a new election for Oct. 14. The voter turnout was the lowest in Canadian election history, as 58.8% of the electorate cast a ballot. Voter turnout further declined in subsequent elections.

Next up Parliament Prorogued Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Harper's Police State Law

Much has been written of late about the proposed C-51 'anti terror' bill and I will not attempt to dissect it here given that we already know that it will be forced through the legislative process unchanged by the Harper Regime it is somewhat a futile exercise. It is important however to still understand what it means for Canadians who may express an alternative point of view to said regime or express their opposition to certain actions by peaceful protest. One of the few politicians whose views and opinions I respect, Elizabeth May, had this to say last week on this issue:-

“I remember the events of Oct. 22. While I was in lock-down on Parliament Hill, I remember who hid in a closet and who ran toward gun fire. The guy in the closet is now planning to concentrate the powers of the state in his own hands while converting the Canadian spy agency into a secret police with virtually unlimited powers.................”

“Here is what Stephen Harper wants Canadians to think:

We are at war. We face a massive terrorist threat. We must be very, very afraid and we must not question any law brought in allegedly to fight terrorism. Anyone who raises finicky, lily-livered concerns about civil liberties is a fellow-traveller of ISIS.

Here's the truth:

We are not at war. We are at peace. (Would Harper's most trusted lieutenant and minister of foreign affairs quit if we were really at war?)

Acts of terrorism are a threat. They are criminal acts of horrific cruelty and sadism. Luring of disenfranchised, disenchanted, alienated Canadians into their barbaric crusade must be addressed, but the new law, C-51, is not primarily an anti-terrorism law. And legal experts are already pointing out it "undermines more promising avenues of addressing terrorism." (See Bill C-51 backgrounder by professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese.)

In terms of Canada's future, the climate crisis is a much larger threat.

We must not be afraid................”

'”The vaguest of those things that undermine the security of Canada reads as follows:”
"Interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations or the economic or financial stability of Canada."That list of vague activities has the same status as terrorism in launching CSIS operatives into a murky world with powers to "take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce the threat..................."

The above are extracts from her article also published in the The Tyee where you will also find this thoughtful response from one Aaron Sheldon:-

“The surveillance state is inherently self destructive. In establishing the surveillance state a society enters a vicious loop where surveillance grows because of distrust of the populace, and in turn growing surveillance erodes the trust within the populace. Is there any greater evidence of not being trusted then having the state insist on monitoring your every activity and moment of being?

Yet without trust a society will not be resilient against the numerous unpredictable insults and injuries that erode its functioning. Trust is what allows families to grow, friendships to form, and financial transactions to occur. Most important, trust is the heart of altruism, through which is the only means that a society can truly recover from disaster, accident, calamity, and attack. In the surveillance state there is no altruism, only public performance and crafted persona.
It is no small irony that the surveillance state seeks to prevent the very misfortunes whose effects the surveillance state exacerbates. If only the consequences were not so grave, we could laugh off the monitoring of the surveillance state as the quixotic tilting of a madmen at windmills - all bravado and no accomplishment.
But then again the real goal of the surveillance state is not to protect society or the public from harm, it is to protect the fragile egos of the few elite who desperately cling to power.”

Given my questions last week as to what and whom we can trust in “government” I can only express deep concern that we can trust “government” to not use these proposed new laws for political and personal gain and ideological purposes. The biggest threat to Canada is the Harper Terrorists!

Security agencies may feel that their present powers constrain their ability to protect Canada. But let us have an open discussion of this claim within Parliament and its committees before rushing to impose politically motivated “solutions.” Our rights as citizens are at stake.” Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow 

Please stand with Elizabeth today -- add your voice and tell the government and opposition that our civil liberties are more important than partisan politics.

PS Apparently if you are religious and go nuts and storm parliament (or an environmentalist) you are a terrorist but if you are not religious and plan to kill many in a shopping center you are not a terrorist???
  Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Canada’s Flag is 50 on Sunday

In 1964, Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson formed a committee to resolve the issue, sparking a serious debate about a flag change. Out of three choices, the maple leaf design by George Stanley,[4] based on the flag of the Royal Military College of Canada, was selected. The flag made its first official appearance on February 15, 1965; the date is now celebrated annually as National Flag of Canada Day.

National Flag of Canada Day was instituted in 1996 by an Order in Council from Governor General Roméo LeBlanc, on the initiative of Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. In 2010, on the flag's 45th anniversary, federal ceremonies were held to mark Flag Day at Winnipeg, St. John's, Ottawa, and at Whistler and Vancouver in conjunction with the XXI Olympic Winter Games. In 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper observed Flag Day by presenting two citizens, whose work honoured the military, with Canadian flags which had flown over the Peace Tower. It was announced as inaugurating an annual recognition of patriotism.

In 1990 on the 25th birthday, Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney spoke glowingly of the Maple Leaf as he presided over a Parliament Hill ceremony attended by hundreds of schoolchildren.
There has been no official word from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s media spin office about his plans to mark the 50th birthday on Sunday. Gov. Gen. David Johnston will preside over an Ottawa ceremony and unveil a commemorative coin and stamp.

Let us all remember how far we have come in those 50 years and for once be proudly nationalistic even if the Harper Regime does not honour our flag or our democracy and would sooner celebrate war and divisiveness.

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, February 8, 2015

In Government We Trust?

As I review the actions of the Harper Regime since coming to power for my Harper History Series, an undertaking that one must take in very small bites if one is to retain one composure and sanity, I have been thinking a great deal about the choices before us and why we support one lot over the others.

Whilst a great deal may rest upon what each individual or party says they are going to do or has done I am coming to the conclusion that TRUST may well be an increasing part of the reason to vote for one or the other, and mistrust of them all a big part of why an increasing number of folks simply do not bother with it all!

Can we TRUST any of them to actually do what they say they will? Clearly we cannot much of the time, the current lot in particular is adept at telling us they are doing one thing and actual doing the exact oppose. They tell us, and their colleagues, that a piece of legislation will make our elections fairer with better oversight for instance when in fact it it does neither of those things. All to often those promised things that they can do without legislative changes are put off for years, even till after the next election when they may not even be in a position to do it. Unless such things increase their control or decrease access to information of course!

Can we TRUST an individual or party when they say “If you vote for us we will.....” . NO, for one thing this kind of statement is completely false as it relates to proposed legislation as such changes must be put before parliament and only if passed will become fact. Of course if, as is the current case, you have a majority in both the House and the Senate and are prepared to ignore any opposition, cut off debate, and force your MPs to vote as you dictate then perhaps you can say this. But see the previous item on that score!

Can we TRUST any of them to tell the truth when they are caught bending the rules, caught with their hands in the public purse, lieing about their involvement in election fraud or any number of thing that may reflect badly on them. Obviously NO. Our present PM in particular, who is clearly the most controlling PM in our history with a office full of hit men who do nothing without his say so, suddenly turns into Sgt 'I no nothing' Shultz when such things surface.

Can we TRUST them to follow the rules and respect parliamentary conventions. Depends upon if its politically expedient to do so, clearly the current regime has NO compunction in ignoring such things when it suits them, but rigidly enforces them when the opposition crosses the line.

Can we TRUST them to work cooperatively for the betterment of Canada. Clearly NOT, work for the betterment of themselves and their corporate friends, yes. Keep their seat warm until their gold plated pension kicks in, you bet.

Can we TRUST them to negotiate trade deals with foreign nations that do not severely restrict municipalities and government ability to choose to use local goods and services and to ban substances and practices we deem harmful. Too late, its already a done deal with China and others and is in the works with Europe.

Can we TRUST them to allow those whom we elect at a local level, who may be that rare animal 'an honest and ethical MP' to speak his or her mind and express the needs and wants of his constituents when it does not match the policies of the party with which he is a member of. NO, they will be tossed from the caucus if they dare to openly criticize a policy or vote against a piece of key legislation. With a few notable exceptions NOT a chance.

Non of the preceding means that there are not many trustworthy MPs but how many of them can we TRUST to not just spout the talking points fed to them by the party hierarchy when speaking publicly or to their constituents.
In short it is the lack of TRUST that leaves us all wondering who the hell we are going to vote for in order to rid ourselves of the most lieing, cheating, unethical, anti democratic, dictatorial regime in Canadian history. For me in this riding, where the majority of folks have blindly voted conservative for years, the choice is between the up and coming Greens who have little chance of securing this seat and one of the other opposition candidates who have a greater, but still low, chance of toppling the existing Con MP.

I TRUST that the choice will become clearer as we get closer to the election, but I doubt it!

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Harper History, Part 2 – In Opposition

June 2004 – Jan 2006

This is the second 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. This period is most notable for Harpers support for the concept of cooperation / coalition between opposition parties a concept which he was later to call undemocratic, the 'in and out scheme' re election funding and the Cadman affair of attempted bribery. It was but a small glimpse of things to come.

The Liberals were re-elected to power on June 20 2004 with a minority government and with the Conservatives becoming the official opposition.

On September 9, 2004, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe signed a letter addressed to then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, stating,
We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.”

At a following news conference, Harper said

"It is the Parliament that's supposed to run the country,
not just the largest party and the single leader of that party. That's a criticism I've had and that we've had and that most Canadians have had for a long, long time now so this is an opportunity to start to change that."

During this time it appeared that an attempt was being made to form a coalition to defeat and supersede the Liberals, whilst Harper denied this saying "This is not a coalition, but this is a co-operative effort." Duceppe later confirmed that it was the intention until Layton walked out on the talks. One month later Mike Duffy, then a TV personality and not a Senator said "It is possible that you could change prime minister without having an election," and that some Conservatives wanted Harper to become prime minister without holding an election. As we now know once in power the notion that “parliament runs the country” quickly fell by the wayside and in fact the PMO now effectively runs the country under Harper's tight control.

In a speech in reaction to Paul Martin's address
to the nation in April Harper said:-
The Conservative Party wants to give this country direction. We want, and we believe you want, to end corruption and restore honest financial management; to have a health-care system that Canadians can count on when they need it; to better use the talents and credentials of new Canadians; to fix the fiscal imbalance plaguing our provinces and municipalities; to act on a made-in-Canada plan for cleaner air, water and land; to help our hard-pressed agricultural community and resource sectors; to give tax relief for Canadian families; and safety and security for our streets and our communities.”
They certainly have kept the safety and security issue at the top of their rhetoric but whether or not Canadian families are any safer from government intrusion is very debatable, they most certainly have 'helped' one particular 'resource sector' with their cuts to environmental regulations and oversight!

He proposed a new kind of federal-provincial dynamic he called “open federalism.” If elected, Harper promised, the Conservatives would act as partners with the provinces not as puppet masters. They would quash the Liberal practice of imposing an agenda through transfers with strings attached, and would bring an end to the bickering that had characterized federal-provincial relations for decades.
Harper vowed that a Tory administration would provide “full co-operation … with all other levels of government, while clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each.”
This from the PM who now refuses to meet with provincial leaders!

In May 2006, Harper announced that the government had lost the "moral authority to govern". Shortly thereafter, the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois united to try and defeat the government on a vote on what the Martin government considered a procedural motion and not a matter of confidence. It was later revealed that during this time two Conservative Party officials offered terminally ill, Independent MP Chuck Cadman a million-dollar life insurance policy in exchange for his vote to bring down the Liberal government. This was a criminal offence but was not proven so no further action was taken. At that time the Liberals and NDP combined had 154 seats and the Conservatives and Bloc 153 with Cadman being the lone independent. Belinda Stronach, who earlier ran against Harper for the Conservative leadership then crossed the floor to the Liberals which temporarily halted the effort to bring down the Liberals.

In August Stephen Harper's chief of staff Phil Murphy resigned this being the 6th aide to quit in recent months all being from the media-relations wing of Harper's office. It would seem that even in opposition Harpers 'media relations' staff were under a great deal of pressure from above or otherwise uncomfortable with what they were asked to do.

On November 24, 2005,
Harper introduced a motion of non-confidence on the Liberal government, telling the House of Commons "that this government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons and needs to be removed." This motion passed and as a result, Parliament was dissolved and a general election was scheduled for January 23, 2006.

The election campaign was dominated by allegations of wrongdoing by the Liberals regarding the 'sponsorship scandal' with Harper pushing his “open federalism.” in a successful effort to win votes in Quebec. It was later to come to light that the Conservatives had deliberately broken election funding rules to fund their attack ad's.

Under this scheme,
the party's national office transferred money to candidates, which is legal, and the candidates immediately transferred the money back to the headquarters to pay for advertising. The ads they paid for were ostensibly local ads, but, in fact, they were central ads with small titles added for all candidates involved.

Next up First Minority, Snap election.

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