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, July 26, 2015

Harper History, Part 7 – Suppressed Information – Advertising Overload

In reviewing the events for this period I was struck by how important is is to look back at the undemocratic and secretive actions of the Harper regime, even I, who has written frequently and consistently on this subject had forgotten so many of the things done to diminish our governance. This just 2 or 3 years ago, and remember what they do is a much better measure of their ideology than what they say!.
The amount of effort being put into suppressing information and controlling the message continued to increase substantially as the Harper regime consolidated their centralization of power within the PMO to the point where even some of their own MPs complained about not being permitted to speak in the House! The independent PBO position was eventually rolled into the mandate of the Parliamentary Library, the Inspector Generals position was eliminated, the environmental commissioner resigned early in frustration, and the RCMP were told they could not speak to our MPs without permission!

Here then are a FEW of the hits democracy took in 2012 / 13 under the Harper Regime........

Rights and Democracy, chartered by Parliament in 1988 to promote human rights and democratic development worldwide, was eliminated in 2012 In a statement in April, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird indicated the ailing group was among the casualties of government efforts to “find efficiencies and savings.” Legislation, he said, would be introduced in the “near future” to disband the organization and its functions would be absorbed by his department.

In July 2012 an estimated 2000 scientists gathered on Parliment hill to protest their indignation over the ongoing severe and targeted cutbacks on government research programs and new rules limiting the ability of government scientists to talk to journalists.
As part of their ongoing advertising blitz under the banner of Canada's Economic Action Plan was the Harper government's Canada Job Grant program which at the time did not exist and had not passed in the legislature. About $2.5 million was spent to do so on hockey night in Canada for a total of over $14 million on this false advertising.
Arising from the April budget the Inspector Generals Office wae eliminated officials noted that, despite its anemic resources — a paltry $1 million budget and a staff of eight — the IG’s office played a key role in making sure the government didn’t get blindsided by CSIS. The inspector general's key function was to produce an annual certificate stating whether CSIS had strayed outside the law, contravened ministerial direction or exercised its powers unreasonably. In her final certificate, Plunkett found CSIS continued to flout policy and made a serious number of reporting errors.

By October the Harper regime had signed the 'trade agreement' with China without ANY consultation with, or indeed information being revealed to, either parliament or the Canadian Citizens. ... it will operate the same way Chapter 11 of NAFTA works (which will) allow corporations to claim damages against Canada if any level of Canadian government (municipal, provincial or federal) causes them to experience less profit than had been anticipated.“
While Finance officials refused to disclose the budget for the current “action plan” a Treasury Board document shows that cabinet approved $16 million in “economic action plan” advertising in the first quarter of this year alone. A further $18 million was approved for other misleading advertising as well as $4.5 million for War of 1812 advertising. In all, the federal cabinet had already approved more than $64 million in ad spending for 2012-13

They then tabled yet another omnibus budget implementation bill. This one tipped the scales at 443 pages and contained a number of measures not included in the budget document presented in the spring including gutting protections contained in the Navigable Waters Protection Act and weakening the Canada Labour Code. Despite protracted objections from Canadians and the opposition the bill passed with few if any amendments and modified or abolished over 70 desperate pieces of legislation

As part of the Harper Regimes series of initiatives to cut support to charities and voluntary organizations programs were eliminated, funding was reduced or delayed and third-party research support was eradicated. The 2012 budget gave the Canada Revenue Agency $8 million, later topped up to $13.4 million, to conduct 60 political activity audits of charities, these audits appeared to target those charities that who may have been critical of the regimes policies.

December 2012:
After Auditor General Michael Ferguson found “inadequate documentation” of senators expense claims questions are raised about Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy declared primary residence in P.E.I., since he is claiming living expenses for staying in his longtime Ottawa-area home and Nigel Wright, the prime minister's chief of staff, apparently saying it appeared that Duffy's residence expenses complied with the rules. Three years later this issue is before the courts with Duffy and several other Senators suspended.
Jan 2013
The Department of Justice was laid bare in open court when senior lawyer Edgar Schmidt said he and his colleagues have been receiving “illegal” instructions regarding conflict of legislation with the Charter, with government lawyers being told to not raise concerns with the minister .… even if the probability of inconsistency is 95 per cent or more..........

The Liberals elected Justin Trudeau as their leader in late January and the Conservatives promptly launched a series of personal attack TV ads which then continued almost unabated over the ensuing 2 years till the election. Millions have been spent assassinating the leader whilst saying little about policy.

The federal government officially closed a Vancouver coast guard base that's considered to be the busiest in Canada along with the shuttering of three other B.C. coast guard communication centres as part of the government’s deep budget cuts , the Kitsilano Canadian Coast Guard Station no longer offers search-and-rescue services. Meanwhile opening The Office of Religious Freedom seemed to be much more important!
Having failed to seek a replacement for Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, whose contract the did not renew they then defeated an NDP to extend his mandateuntil a competent replacement is found. He was eventualy replaced as the by the Parliamentary Librarian 'temporarily' whilst a 'process' takes place to perhaps replace him. However in a continueing effort to control any real information getting out we learn that Librarian staff have been silenced.
Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in “high risk” activities, according to the new code of conduct at Library and Archives Canada. Given the dangers, the code says the department’s staff must clear such “personal” activities with their managers in advance to ensure there are no conflicts or “other risks to LAC.”

The environmental commissioner resigned two years before the end of his mandate and just before leaving points out some major 'gaps' in in the environmental policies of the Conservative government.

A Conservative MP became the first MP in more than a decade to raise a point of privilege against his own government in questioning why he was denied an opportunity to speak by his own party whip during question period. The Government Whip Gordon O'Connor response that was the most revealing. He told House Speaker Andrew Scheer that such matters (deciding who may speak to the house) are the exclusive purview of the parties, and, as such, firmly outside the Speakers jurisdiction.

Canada's Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, would not allow the public posting of a final report by the now-defunct National Roundtable on Energy and Environment (NRTEE), a 25-year old government funded project that brought together Canada's brightest minds to work on the convergence of environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. He also prevented NRTEE materials from being transferred to a University of Ottawa think-tank, Sustainable Prosperity, where they will be made publicly available.
Minister Kent wrote:
“…the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) will upload no further content to its external website, as of the date on which this direction is signed.”
In April 2013 upon leaving as PBO Kevin Page said:-

I took the job when it was agreed that a few amazing and fearless public servants would join — namely, Mostafa Askari and Sahir Khan. We signed in proverbial blood. We vowed to give Canada a true legislative budget office. Nothing less. I chose career suicide. It was a very small price to pay. After all, I had lost a son; I was “out of range.”

Our institutions of accountability are in trouble. Parliament does not get the information and analysis it needs to hold the executive (the prime minister and cabinet) to account.”
What’s in it for the government to have a strong legislative budget office? Not much. What’s in it for Parliament and Canadians to have a strong budget office? Maybe a great deal. If it matters to you, please tell your elected representatives.”

Members of the public wishing to comment to the NEB about the proposed East-West Pipeline are told they must first apply for permission to participate. Under the new rules, included in last springs omnibus budget any resident who wants to send in a letter about their concerns must first apply to the NEB for permission and fill out a 10-page form which asks for a resume and references.
Finally in this litany of information suppression we have the emails sent out to RCMP officials, telling them they need to get approval from the commissioner or the public safety minister’s office before talking to politicians. In response to a question in the House Candice Bergen (MP, Portage-Lisgar) said:-.
If parliamentarians need to or want to meet with RCMP or other officials, the appropriate place for them to do that is in Parliamentary committees. If that member has a concern about any RCMP member, they can speak with myself or the minister of public safety,”

And in May, in a clear and bold statement, Judge Richard Mosley wrote of the robocall fiasco : "I find that electoral fraud occurred during the 41st General Election.". However no results were overturned and to date only one campaign worker has been charged in what was obviously a much wider scam.

Next up:- More spent of “Action Plan” advertising, Parliament Prorogued again and another Omnibus Budget.

Please Note
Parts 1 to 5 are now available as one long document (19 pages - 7900 words) in chronological order and may be viewed, shared and downloaded on Google Docs. Due to the large number of embedded links I recommend you import it as a Docx, ODF Doc or HTML so that you may follow the references if you wish for more information on a particular issue.
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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Will the Writ be Dropped Early?

Most elections have been fought over the now-typical five-week period, but the 36 day writ period is merely a convention and we all know how much respect Harper has for parliamentary convention. Rumours are surfacing that “The Conservatives are said to have a cunning plan to extend the campaign this time around for their own partisan advantage.”
The typical 36-day campaign (commencing Sept 13th) would limit the amount parties are able to spend to about $24-million, this would increase to around $45-million if the writ were dropped on Aug 9th or $40 million if the PM visits the governor general on Aug 20th.

The maximum amount that is allowed for election expenses of a registered party for an election is the product of $0.735 multiplied by the number of names on the preliminary lists of electors for electoral districts in which the registered party has endorsed a candidate
However “If an election period is longer than 37 days, then the maximum amount......is increased by adding to it the product of one thirty-seventh of the maximum amount...(from above).... and the number of days in the election period minus 37.” (In other words increased in direct proportion to the number of days in the election period)

Whilst the electioneering and advertising has already started and has been for some time once the writ is dropped several things change. Firstly registered political parties are subject to the above spending rules however they will also get reimbursed from the public purse for 50% of said expenses subject to certain restrictions.

The Chief Electoral Officer shall provide the Receiver General with a certificate that sets out the amount that is 50% of the registered party’s election expenses that were paid by its registered agents as set out in the return for its general election expenses if........ candidates endorsed by the registered party received at least 2% of the number of valid votes cast at the election, or 5% of the number of valid votes cast in the electoral districts in which the registered party endorsed a candidate.”
On receipt of the certificate, the Receiver General shall reimburse the amount set out in it to the registered party by paying that amount out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.”

Secondly the expenditures by third partys upon advertising for or against any particular Party or Candidate is severely restricted.

A third party shall not incur election advertising expenses of a total amount of more than $150,000 in relation to a general election.”
Not more than $3,000 of the total amount referred to in subsection (1) shall be incurred to promote or oppose the election of one or more candidates in a given electoral district,......( This )“only applies to an amount incurred with respect to a leader of a registered party or eligible party to the extent that it is incurred to promote or oppose his or her election in a given electoral district.”

There is however no restriction upon the Government running “infomercials” promoting existing programs however “partisan” advertising on the public dime is not permitted at any time, and we know how much notice the Harper Regime has taken of that rule don’t we! There is however a restriction as to who can contribute to a campaign.
No person or entity other than an individual who is a Canadian citizen or is a permanent resident...... shall make a contribution to a registered party, a registered association, a nomination contestant, a candidate or a leadership contestant.
Not that such rules have stopped corporations or conservative candidates from ignoring such impediments in previous elections!

Given that the Conservatives reportedly have considerably more in their war chest than any other party there is clearly an advantage for them to extend the “election period” to increase their ability to spend more than the opposition on advertising (and get 50% of it back) and to limit advertising by groups that oppose this dictatorial and antidemocratic regime. I believe that the writ WILL be dropped early and that the Harper Regeme will spend every penny that they can get away with, of both their funds and ours, to demonize the opposition and spread their spin in an effort to retain power.

Personally I find the advertising limits far to high across the board particularly when much of the expenditure is spent simply slamming the other guy rather than presenting their “platform” and intentions if elected. This, and the elimination of the per vote subsidy clearly tilts the playing field towards established partys and more particularly the party currently in power. With Harpers ministers busy out buying the vote with announcements of infrastructure funding from funds that miraculously have suddenly become available just before the election, bribing families with backdated child benefits and spending millions of our money on self promotion and millions from their war chest on assassinating opposition leaders it is far from a equal opportunity election.

If you doubt that money talks simply count the number of anti Trudeau ads during your evening TV viewing and figure out the cost of each of those ads..... if you can stomach seeing that much BS in one viewing!

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

National Televised Debate set for October.

The group of networks known as the broadcast consortium, including CBC News, has set the English-language debate for Thursday, Oct. 8, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. ET, and the French-language debate for Wednesday, Oct. 7, from 8 to 10 p.m. ET...... despite an ongoing boycott by the Conservative Party.
In a news release, the consortium which includes CTV News, Global News, Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec and CBC News, said the broadcasters maintain their invitation to the Conservative Party, who have thus far declined, to participate.

Some criticism has been heard regarding the time slot allocated, particularly from the western provinces where it will be aired in the late afternoon, however they will also be distributed to all social media including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Google, YouTube, and CPAC.
A number of other debates have been planned by various organizations some of which have excluded both the Greens and the Bloc. Most notably Elizabeth May has not been invited to an exchange of views on the economy hosted by the Globe and Mail newspaper and Google Canada, nor one on foreign policy planned by the Munk Debates.

May has however agreed to participate in the Aug. 6 leaders debate organized by Maclean’s that will be broadcast on several television and radio outlets and stream via Facebook and YouTube and has received an invitation this week from the venerable Empire Club of Canada to a debate with other party leaders on business and financial issues – the same general focus as the Globe and Google event.
Julian Morelli, Green Party Director of Communications said “The decision to exclude Elizabeth May from the Globe and Mail and Munk debates is unbelievable given that these two institutions proclaim to be fair, open, and unbiased. “Is it coincidental that only parties that support the fossil fuel industry and pipeline expansion are invited to these debates?  Add to this that the Globe and Mail has in the past endorsed Stephen Harper – so it is not a neutral sponsor.

In an effort to shame the two organizations into changing their minds the Green Party has released a series of emails between them selves and the organizers of these debates in which they point out “this upcoming election will be the most unpredictable in history and one that will have a lasting impact on the character and makeup of Canada. At this time, public opinion suggests a minority government is probable, which provides further rationale for the inclusion of the Green Party as another voice in the development and implementation of good public policy.”
They also refer to the letter send by Stephen Harper in 2008 supporting the inclusion of “parties with at least one Member of Parliament elected” where he says:-
“The Conservative Party has always supported the concept of televised national leaders’
debates during a federal election. The only condition that we have attached has been the
participants represent parties with at least one Member of Parliament elected under their
party banner. Having one elected member is not a high bar to obtain and it helps to
ensure that the party leaders represent democratically elected representatives in the
House of Commons.”

How things have change since then, now despite the Greens meeting that criteria and Elizabeth May having led or been a significant voice in the national conversation on a wide range of important issues including C51, FIPA, democracy, proportional representation, accountability and transparency, parliamentary reform, climate change, etc she continues to be sidelined.
This despite the fact that she was also recognized this year as “Best Orator” and in the two previous years as “Hardest Working MP” as well as “Parliamentarian of the Year”.
It is unclear at this point whether Harper and May will face each other directly in any debate and we wonder how much control Harper has exerted over the G&M and Monk debates in this regard, what we wonder is he scared of, guess there is no closet to hide in at the G&M

 Update – It appears that the Macleans’ magazine’s debate scheduled to take place in Toronto on August 6th and carried on City TV and CPAC will include Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May. This is the only debate in which all four leaders are scheduled to attend.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Harper History, Part 6B – Budget Reintroduced - More Secrecy

May 2011 – summer 2012

The first few months of the Harper majority made it clear that the long forgotten “open and accountable” promise given when first coming to power is exactly the opposite of the regimes actual intentions. There are repeated attempts to put even the most innocuous committee deliberations behind closed doors, inaccurate or out right refusal to release financial information or estimates and massive pieces of legislation tabled covering a multitude of issues with no corrections or amendments permitted.

The Canadian federal budget for the 2011–2012 fiscal year was presented to the Canadian House of Commons by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on March 22, 2011, then reintroduced basically unchanged on June 6 following the May 2 election (precipitated in part by said budget) and recall of the House on June 2nd.
On June 13, "the budget passed by a vote of 167 to 131, with four Bloc Québécois MPs voting in support and the other opposition parties voting against it". Parliament was then recessed for summer on June 24th
This budget included the elimination of the per vote subsidy which had been in effect since 2004, at $1.75 per vote The subsidy was reduced to $1.53 by the Harper government on April 1, 2012, and was reduced on each subsequent April 1, until its elimination in 2015.

Tony 'Gazebo' Clements who misused a $50-million government program that was sold to Parliament as an infrastructure fund to reduce border congestion but instead was used as a treasure chest to pretty up his riding with parks, walkways, gazebos, etc. was made Finance Minister.

Sept 28 2011
The majority of Conservative MPs on the Public Account Committee quashed MP Caron's motion to resurrect 14 studies left unfinished when Parliament fell, they also barred the public from that meeting despite there being nothing confidential being discussed. Seven of the 14 are complete and just need to be tabled in the House of Commons, they include studies into costs related to the renovation of Parliament's West Block, the helicopter procurement deal, and the regulation and supervision of large banks.

One of the main concerns was that the secrecy and difficulty in obtaining information about such items would increase. Given that this oversight committee is charged with studying issues of transparency, of accountability and public expenditures and that they would not table the seven reports already completed indicates that as always they are hiding something in those reports that reflects poorly upon their governance.

Also in September the debate on the 103 page omnibus crime bill was prematurely cut short. It holds nine separate bills, some of which will create major changes to the Canadian justice system and debate was limited to an average of less than six minutes per page!.
It was also revealed that The Harper regime was paying a high-powered management consultant firm almost $90,000 a day for advice on how to save money.

October 2011
The government introduced its 650 page fall budget implementation bill while the entire Finance Committee was still on tour doing pre-budget consultations around the bill up for debate the following day. The Harper Regime also unveiled the Ways and Means Motion and gave the MPs six whole hours to read over all 250 pages said motion before they had to vote on it.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page reported that the just released costing for the 'tough on crime bill' was “total obfuscation.” The Conservatives say their massive new crime bill, which includes nine separate pieces of legislation, will cost $78.5 million over five years, part of bigger justice agenda the government says will cost $2.7 billion.
But Page, who has been asked by the Opposition parties to cost out the bill by mid-November, told The Canadian Press the government estimate includes no methodology, no supporting information and no provincial costs.
In November he reported that the federal government has been unable to spend nearly 90% of funding set aside for green infrastructure projects over the past two years!

In November The Star obtained a copy of a new communications protocol that requires the RCMP to flag anything that might “garner national media attention” to Public Safety Canada. Signed Sept. 20 and effective immediately, the policy says the Mounties must consult and get approval from Public Safety for communications regarding non-operational matters “PRIOR (emphasis in original) to public use” for almost everything.

It was also revealed that thanks to thanks to the The Canadian Press and their persistence if obtaining freedom of information documents we can now specifically say that when Dimitri Soudas, wrote to Canadian newspapers asserting "no directive" went out to civil servants to use the offending phrase “the H*%^&r Government” he was lieing and in fact they were forced to use this rather than the correct “Government of Canada” in their public documents.

The HillTimes: revealed that there are now an estimated 1,500 communications staffers working in ministers’ offices and departments, including 87 in the PMO and PCO. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly clear that their job is to 'communicate' only that information approved by Harper and to deny or refute any information that may reflect badly upon the Harper Regime.
In December the government attempted to move committee business in camera across the board. That means that while witness hearings would still be public, any other committee discussions would be made secret, including any motions that the opposition might make.

In January Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan, was informed by the Prime Minister’s Office, that ForestEthics (a charitable project of Tides Canada), is considered an “Enemy of the Government of Canada,” and an “Enemy of the people of Canada.”. This was perceived as a threat by the Prime Minister’s Office to challenge its charitable work opposing oil sands expansion and construction of oils and tanker/pipeline routes in Canada. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver called both Canadian citizens and environmentalists from outside of Canada concerned about the impacts of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline “Radicals” and said “They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest”.

February 2012
Just a few weeks into the new session two more committees considered motions to hold their meetings “in camera” this effectively bars the press and the public from any information as to the proceeding that take place in those meeting.
“It’s becoming increasingly evident that the Harper Conservatives dislike public accountability,” said Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and Leader of the Green Party.  “They are already limiting debate in the House on a regular basis, and now they intend to make committee business secret.”

Mar 2011
Kevin Page the Parliament's budget watchdog reported that it will cost close to $30 billion to buy and maintain 65 F-35 fighter jets, billions more than 9 billion estimate given by the Conservative government.

On March 29th 2012 the Harper Regieme tabled a 498 page budget document changing over 60 different statutes including major changes to environmental protection laws. Oil pipelines will be exempt from the navigable waters act and the environmental assessments that law has often triggered. Only three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers will be covered by the new act — less than one per cent of Canada's waterways. Green Party leader Elizabeth May called it the Environment Devastation Act

This Omnibus bill remained the main focus of attention throughout the remainder of this sitting and several months into the next with the Harper Regime refusing to split it into manageable sections and rejecting all opposition amendments.

The 425-page omnibus budget implementation bill contained measures not even hinted at in the Conservatives’ 2011 election platform, such as gradually raising the age of eligibility for OAS to 67 from 65, remodelling EI, and reducing oversight at the domestic spy agency.
The sprawling Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act was widely criticized, even a Conservative Backbench MP David Wilks briefly said that parts of the Harper regime omnibus budget bill were wrong and should be thrown out, even at the risk of bringing down the government, before being brought back into line and suddenly saying that he supported the budget all along.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released a legal opinion by a prominent constitutional lawyer that concluded Canada’s top bureaucrat and the deputy ministers of 64 departments are breaching the Parliament of Canada Act by refusing to release information on the proposed spending cuts, including their impact on jobs and service levels to Canadians.”

In June Mr. Scheer, the Speaker of the House, ruled that the 871 amendments proposed by the New Democrats, the Liberals and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will be pared down and that those left standing will be grouped with others that are similar in nature. All such amendments were rejected by the Conservative majority.

Having previously muzzled our Federal Scientists and prevented them from reporting on such things as an “unprecedented” loss of ozone over the Arctic and other matters related to climate change and having shut down the Polar Environment Atmosphere Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Nunavut as well as several other research facilities they now continued with their attack on science. The Experimental Lakes Area, the Kenora-based research facility dedicated to the study of freshwater lake ecologies for 50 years, saw its funding slashed to nil in the outsized omnibus budget bill.

Parliament was recessed for the Summer on June 21 .... and then recalled a week later for a few hours to give royal assent to 9 outstanding government bills.
28th In August when the premiers invited Stephen Harper to their next meeting on the economy in the fall, he rejected the invitation -- again.

Next up, the omnibus budget is passed with no substantial changes, the expenses of some Senators is questioned and the secrecy and disrespect for parliament and the Canadian people continues.

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