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, June 28, 2015

Senate Reform Redux

With a small minority of senators under the spotlight for spending irregularities and the Duffy trial adding a further spotlight on how the unprincipled nominated to that body can cheat the system (such as it is) there are the predictable calls for it to be abolished. NDP leader Thomas Mulclair is one such individual, he has said that if elected he will consult with the Premiers to try and come to an agreement to do so, I call this simply political expediency! He knows full well that it will be almost impossible to obtain the unanimous consent of all provinces plus the majority of the House and the Senate required to abolish this institution. He also says that he has yet to meet anyone who does not support his position on this...... what bloody nonsense! I wish politicians would not lie to make their point, whilst there are no doubt many folks that subscribe to his point of view on this some of us look at it in a somewhat more practical way and want major reform, clearly defined rules, and a non partisan way of selecting senators.

My own particular opposition to the elimination of the senate stems a great deal from the Harper Regime's actions regarding legislation since they have had a majority, whilst we know that they have a majority in both the House and the Senate and thus have basically forced bills through with little debate and no regard for the many thoughtful amendments put forward in both houses the senate has at least added to the discussion and given a little time for “second thought”. Imagine if there were no Senate and a majority government (of any stripe), what then would be the restraint upon an ideological government such as the one we have now from ramming through self serving or clearly anti-Canadian or pro foreign corporation legislation without restriction. It would bring us even closer to a dictatorship than we are now!

Although now that the brown stuff has hit the fan Harper insists that “As you know, the Senate is an independent body and the Senate is responsible for its own expenses. The Senate itself commissioned the Auditor-Generals’ report and the Senate itself is responsible for responding to that report,” we know that currently that is not the case and it is for the most part a highly partisan body not known in recent years for its independent thinking.

YES, the chamber needs reform, the way of selecting members needs to be changed (Harpers choices have clearly demonstrated that) but in my view we DO need a chamber of “sober second thought”, it just that right now we have a chamber of partisan appointees some of whom have no regard for either the taxpayer or the need for the independence of the senate. I have said before on these pages that the best solution (without reopening the can of worms that opening the constitution would involve) is to have the PM voluntarily select Senators from a short list provided by the provinces, it seems that Brian Mulroney agrees with me (or I agree with him, that would be a first!). I all so happen to agree with him that some kind of independent panel / commission needs to review and establish some set rules for the way the Senate operates. As with the Liberal proposal to “create a new, nonpartisan, merit-based, broad, and diverse process to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments” the problem will be of course who appoints the panel and will Parliament and the Senate adopt any rules proposed?

One final word on this, if we were to do away with any government institution that broke the rules, whose members spent public moneys with little or no oversight and who set their own rules as and when they thought fit, then the PMO, the House of Commons and the Conservative caucus in particular would be high on my list. Last year, when Green Party Leader Elizabeth May proposed the AG come look at MPs’ books, Tory MPs vetoed her request however now all parties say they are open to the idea but have yet to actually request said audit!

Its not the Senate (or the House of Commons) thats the problem, its those self righteous appointees that are in it who have no moral compass and who do not understand the word ethical!
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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Voices for Democracy

Voices-Voix is a non-partisan coalition of Canadians and Canadian organizations committed to defending our collective and individual rights to dissent, advocacy and democratic space. They have documented attacks against organizations, individuals and institutions that have raised their voices, to show the pattern of government silencing those who exercise their right to dissent.
They have a membership of over 200 organizations and “encourage Canadians to raise their voices so that governments meet their core responsibilities to respect the equality, transparency and diversity of voices that make a democracy thrive.''
They recently released a report (1 MB PDF) titled “Dismantling Democracy” which documents in great detail the actions of the Harper Regimes in silencing both those within government and outside of it who have been critical of this regimes policies.

In their opening statement they outline the failure of the Harper Regime to foster the Open and Accountable atmosphere promised when they were first elected that has now become the antitheses of their actions and policies.

Rather than consistently promoting a robust democracy,
Canadian governments have often deployed a range of
methods to limit dissent, public debate and democratic
participation in Canada. But since 2006 there has been
an unprecedented intensification of the use of these
silencing tactics, particularly by the federal government.
Deliberate funding cuts have affected the public and
charitable sectors; audits are targeting organizations
critical of the government; parliamentary processes
are being abused to undermine accountability, and
critics of the government are being harassed and
vilified. All aspects of Canadian democracy are being
targeted, including the institutions and processes
of parliamentary democracy; the development and
dissemination of knowledge; the voices of marginalized
communities, and respect for human rights.

An inclusive and robust democracy requires that
governments foster rights to free expression, free
association, peaceful assembly and equality. To thrive,
civil society must be adequately resourced, able to operate
free from interference, and free to engage meaningfully
with government. By failing to promote an enabling
environment or foster the human rights that are critical
to democracy, the government denies Canadians the
dynamic, innovative society they aspire to build.

The introduction to the Undermining Democracy section clearly spells out their concerns (and mine) with the many and ongoing actions by the Harper Regime that diminish and threaten to destroy our democracy.

Dissenting and diverse voices within the public sector are being silenced. Parliamentary processes are being misused and abused. Omnibus budget bills are introducing sweeping changes to federal legislation, curtailing political debate. Parliamentarians and civil servants are being vilified or fired for publicly disagreeing with government policy.
Independent advice from the public service is being ignored or eliminated. Oversight
mechanisms are being undermined through government control and interference.

Compounding these failures in Canadian governance is the federal government’s attack on knowledge. Independent research institutions, government research programs, and libraries and archives have been systematically defunded. The brunt of these cuts are borne by departments, programs, or projects seen as inconsistent with government policy. Public sector scientists and researchers are being prevented from speaking publicly, and non-government organizations working to promote knowledge are seeing their funding cut and their records audited. Curtailing knowledge jeopardizes the government’s ability to consider options and alternatives and develop sound, evidence based policy that responds to the public’s various needs.

Marginalized communities have been especially penalized in the government’s zeal to

silence dissent. Funding for organizations working to protect and advance the rights
of all Canadians is increasingly under threat, and audits have been used to intimidate
and muzzle the charitable sector. This has affected organizations providing services for and conducting advocacy on behalf of women, Indigenous peoples, veterans, and the economically marginalized, making it harder for them to organize effectively, express their concerns, and hold government to account.

The federal government has invoked national security, foreign policy and ‘border
protection’ to silence accountability and limit transparency for its own human rights
infringements, eroding the ability of everyone to participate equally in democracy.
The impact of these tactics is devastating for debate, dissent, diversity and ultimately,
Canada’s democracy.”

23 case studies of instances of silencing the public sector where individuals or departments have been “Fired, forced removal or not re-appointed” or subject to “Funding cuts and restrictive internal policies “ are linked to in the report and are available on their web site. All information is fully supported with references to source material. There is far to much information contained in this report to even summarize here and it is a long read but I encourage all those who want to see a documented outline of what the Harper Regime has and continues to do to our democracy and in particular to those non profit and charitable organizations who speak out against such action to take the time to read it.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Conservative MP Declines Debate

Bruce Grey Owen Sound MP Larry Miller is declining an invite to take part in an all candidates debate sponsored by the Owen Sound and District Chamber of Commerce.
He says he will be declining to participate in any all-candidates meeting that follows the traditional format, one he says simply does not work. He says he would prefer a format where each candidate is given a few minutes for opening statements and then they go to a corner and take questions directly from voters.

And so it starts where Conservative candidates, many of whom avoided all candidates debates in 2011, play follow the leader and will only “debate” where the format suits them. Certainty in smaller communities where a limited number of voters show up for such debates the ability of voters to directly ask the candidates questions is helpful but with much more than a handful of folk present the table to table private chats that Miller prefers is hardly practical. Such a format also permits candidates of any party to make promises and assertions without being challenged by their opponents and without the press being able to properly cover such statements.
We wonder if Mr Miller is perhaps not so comfortable spouting the lines provided by the PMO and various ministers, wants to avoid making publicly embarrassing statements as he has in the past or simply cant remember his lines! Certainly there is nothing wrong with requesting changes to debate format but to avoid debates that dont suit your personal preference seems to very much reflect the conservatives and their leaders mind set of my way or no way.

The Conservative MP issued a statement in May of 2011 just after his re-election to Parliament, saying these debates have simply become a contest between candidates to see who can get the greatest number of supporters out to cheer and jeer. He says they are only attending to cheer louder than the supporters of other parties or embarrass another candidate with planted questions. Miller says this was made clear to him at a debate during the last campaign when he asked the crowd of 300 people if anyone was still undecided on who to vote for, and only about a dozen people put up their hands.
See his letter to the Editor and hear his statement to Bayshore news.

Look for much more of this sort of attempt to control the dialogue from the Conservatives as the election approaches and increased pressure is put upon all candidates to put their positions before the public so that they can make an informed choice.

UPDATE June 24th

Miller now says he'll take part in the one urban debate in Owen Sound on October 1st and likely one rural one. However he says he won't take part in a series of debates like there was in 2011. He says the fact that the debate will be televised several times by Rogers means it will be available to people who normally can't get out to these meetings and that swayed his decision.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Harper History, Part 6A - Con Majority - Election Fraud

Spring 2011 & Subsequent Fallout

This article in my series that attempt to detail the contempt that Harper and his cohorts have for Canadian Democracy will not only cover the 2011 election period but will also detail the many “allegations” of election wrongdoing arising from it. It also details the efforts to date to establish what occurred and who was involved. As I write this some 4 years later some aspects of the “allegations” remain unresolved, particularly for calls that occurred outside the Guelph Riding, mostly due to the Harper Regimes refusal to cooperate with either Elections Canada or the Courts in providing records and witnesses that could shed light on what actually took place.

On March 26 2011 an election was called, parliament having been dissolved after the House of Commons passed a motion of non-confidence against the government, finding it to be in contempt of parliament. The voting public either did not seem to regard this as significant and penalized the opposition for forcing an election by returning the Harper “government” with a majority. The turnout was up slightly from 2008 at a little over 60% (slightly under 40% for those under 25)

Despite being included in the 2008 debates and with general support from the Liberals and grudging support from NDP, Green Party Elizabeth May was excluded from the per-election debates. The other Parties saying it was “up to the consortium”, with it being revealed that in 2008 Stephen Harper specifically tried to keep Ms May out of the debate is is unclear exactly how much political pressure had upon this decision. The Greens did win a seat in parliament however the Liberals lost many seats and the NDP became to official opposition.

Harper continued with his well established efforts to 'control the media' by limiting questions from the press at his various campaign stops:-
“Harper’s strategy of refusing to take more than five questions a day from reporters amounts to a gross disservice to the public. Four of the permitted questions (generally two in French and two in English) go to reporters following Harper’s campaign, while the fifth is allotted to a local scribe, wherever the Conservative news conference that day happens to be staged. ..... “

The Conservatives were returned to power with a slightly increased majority with the NDP becoming the official opposition and the Liberal caucus being reduced to just 34 members. Despite being excluded from the debate Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, was elected as the first Green in a Canadian Parliament.

On election day it was revealed to Elections Canada that a number non Conservation voters in the Guelph riding had received automated calls purporting to come from Elections Canada directing them to non existing voting locations. “Elections Canada emails were revealed under Access to Information requests, and exposed internal communications on the matter. At 11:06 am on election day election officer Anita Hawdur sent an email to legal counsel Karen McNeil titled: "URGENT Conservative campaign office communication with electors".

In Febuary 2012 Some 9 months after Elections Canada became aware of it, this eventually became public with many more voters complaining of receiving similar calls, not only in Guelph but in a number of ridings across the country. Elections Canada did little to get to the bottom of these complaints , only now seeking court orders for records and delving deeper into who instigated the fraudulent calls. Once it did become public it became clear that this was not just an isolated incident and that such calls were closely linked to access to the closely guarded Conservative database.
“Elections Canada and police are looking into reports that automated calls in as many as 18 ridings falsely advised voters that the location of their polling stations had changed. In other instances, voters received harassing late-night or early-morning calls that purported to be from an opposition campaign office. “

“Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand announced Thursday that he now has "over 700 Canadians from across the country" who allege "specific circumstances" of fraudulent or improper calls. CBC News examined 31 ridings where such calls have been reported and found a pattern: those receiving those calls also had previous calls from the Conservative Party to find out which way they would vote. “

In August of 2012 Elections Canada further updated the number of complaints it received over misleading election phone calls but is refusing to provide more details in Federal Court about its ongoing “robocalls” investigations. The agency then said they had fielded 1,394 complaints alleging specific instances of misleading phone calls during the election from people in 234 different ridings, according to new data provided by the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

During this time the Conservatives were still maintaining that they were not involved and knew nothing about it but never the less refused to establish a full inquiry into the matter and were less than forthcoming with providing records and access to various individuals who may have had knowledge of these wrong doings.

"The Conservative party can say absolutely, definitively, it has no role in any of this," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro (who was later to be convicted of election fraud himself regarding a funding scam), calls claims to the contrary "baseless smears." However, opposition leaders said the scheme could never have gone forward without callers having access to the Conservatives' proprietary database on voter intentions.

With Elections Canada doing little about this fraud the Council of Canadians initiated a lawsuit challengeing the election results in six ridings based upon these misleading robo calls, in which Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley concluded that the Conservative party's massive voter identification database was “the most likely source” of information used to make misleading robocalls to electors “in ridings across the country.” Mosley nevertheless refused to annul the results in the six ridings. Once again the Conservative made every attempt to stall and disrupt the court proceedings by being 'uncooperative'.

In April 2013 - Elections Canada filed a charge against Michael Sona, the ex-Conservative staffer fingered by the Tories in the so-called robocalls scandal .

In November 2013, One of Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s top advisers instructed a potential key witness in the robocalls investigation to delay an interview with an Elections Canada investigator until she could obtain legal advice. Jenni Byrne, who was the Conservatives’ national campaign manager during the 2011 election instructed Andrew Prescott not to talk to an investigator until she had a chance to talk to the party’s lawyer. Prescott was later given immunity for his testimony which the Judge described as “unreliable” and “selfserving” and another key person Ken Morgan fled overseas never to be heard from.

In April 2014 With an immunity agreement in place, Prescott finally gave evidence to prosecutors regarding the only person accused in the case, Michael Sona, as expected, but also provided information about Ken Morgan, who was the manager of the Guelph Conservative campaign. Morgan moved to Kuwait in 2012 and is still believed to be living there. To date, he has never spoken to Elections Canada investigators about his role in the campaign at the centre of the robocalls scandal.

In June 2014 – The trial of Michael Sona finally started with Prescott being the prosecutions 'star' witness.

December 2014 - In a 100-page ruling, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley found that there was an organized campaign of voter suppression, and that the information used to make misleading phone calls to non-Conservative voters likely came from the Conservative party’s internal database, known as CIMS.
“ The robocall scandal is a stunning case of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives managing to slither out of what could have been very deep trouble — while imposing a new set of rules to protect those engaging in future voter suppression.”
Blame for the scandal was meted out solely to Michael Sona, the former party operative in Guelph who was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and released on bail this week however Judge Gary Hearn also found that “the evidence indicates he did not likely act alone.”
Had the Conservatives actually wanted to prevent a repeat of the robocall scandal, Steven Shrybman, lawyer for the Council of Canadians says, there’s a simple solution: They could require political parties to maintain records of any downloads of internal party data about non-party supporters. But the government’s massive overhaul of our electoral laws last spring took no steps in that direction.
Thus ended a Successful Coverup with the Fall Guy Convicted.

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