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, December 25, 2016

A not so Merry Christmas?

As many of us gather with family and share conversation, memories, good food and presents I hope that I, my handful of readers, and any others that have been taking notice can, however briefly, ignore the ever increasing turmoil across the world. More than 6 years ago I started this blog to speak out against what I saw as an increasingly authoritative and power hungry government lead by one Stephen Harper and was therefore greatly relieved when he was tossed from power last year. Whilst our new government is far from perfect let us not forget how close we came to loosing so many of the things that I for one believe makes our country great. Free speech and the right to (peacefully) protest those things we disagree with, protection of our national parks, our rivers and streams, our lakes and shorelines. The ability of our 'arms length' watch dogs to actually do their job, make public their reports and receive sufficient funding to do so, the ability of our MPs and Senators to vote their conscience without penalty, etc etc.

I will admit to giving the current government a bit of a free ride over the last year and there are things that I could be quite critical of, however after all those years of seeing our democracy being attacked and stealthily little by little reduced to a shadow of its former self I find it hard to critique a government who I believe is trying to reverse some of those cuts. It took 10 years to almost destroy it, it will not be resurrected in just one year so whilst I support those who are keeping this governments feet to the fire I will be giving them a little more time before doing a whole lot of writing about their actions. When I look at the place we were the beginning of last year, and the place where our neighbour to the south appears to be going, and the events in the middle east and elsewhere I can only thank god that we here in Canada have a more benign administration than most, one that is largely devoid of right wing bigots and extremists.

So as the new year approaches my thought is how lucky we are, most of us will have a roof over our heads and food on the table, we have thus far managed to resolve our differences with out armed conflict and we are free to express our opinions (including about our government) without arrest. There are many problems to be resolved, poverty, homelessness, Jobs, education and heathcare funding, the list is endless but I do not know of any other place I would rather live.

Thats not a very 'merry' summation, its hard to be optimistic given world events but I do wish us all a brighter and more uplifting 2017!

See you next year (as and when I feel like writing which is increasingly becoming less frequent! ).

The traditional wish of Peace on Earth seems to be particularly appropriate this year and that is what I wish for for 2017.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mixed Scientific Message's

After nearly a decade our federal scientists are now free to speak about their research and findings to the public without censure.
Scientists working for the Canadian government have successfully negotiated a clause in their new contract that guarantees their right to speak to the public and the media about science and their research, without needing approval from their managers.
Employees shall have the right to express themselves on science and their research, while respecting the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector … without being designated as an official media spokesperson,” the new clause states. The ethics code says that while federal employees may talk about their own work, they should not publicly criticize government policy.

Thats the good news but is the government listening? The approval of the pipeline and LNG projects out west has some questioning the 'science' provided by the companies involved and the lack of 'independent' data considered.

Proposed for the Flora Bank estuary, a unique eelgrass bed that
provides resting grounds for hundreds of thousands of juvenile salmon from the Skeena watershed, the LNG terminal’s proposed site clashed hard with biologists and members of the conservation community who say, when it comes to salmon, a worse location simply couldn’t have been selected.
The federal environmental assessment of the LNG terminal — which concluded destroyed salmon habitat could simply be rebuilt elsewhere — was so fraught with problems members of the scientific community penned an open letter to Trudeau and his cabinet, pleading with them to reject the project’s review.
In that letter, scientists detailed a fundamentally flawed assessment process in which peer-reviewed science was ignored, basic principles of scientific investigation were violated and research paid for by the project’s proponent, Malaysian-owned Petronas, was given primacy.
The federal government ignored those pleas from the scientific community and on a September evening environment and climate minister Catherine McKenna announced the project’s approval.
This project was subject to a rigorous environmental assessment and today’s announcement reflects this commitment,” she said.
Hearing those words, many scientists in B.C. were simply perplexed.

Meanwhile south of the border in a move that should seem strangely familiar to our Canadian scientists environmental scientists are scrambling to save years of carefully collected data to independent private servers fir fear of a Trump purge of facts (and possibly scientists) he does not like.

The Washington Post reports that
Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The Department of Energy said Tuesday it will reject the request by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team to name staffers who worked on climate change programs.
Energy spokesman Eben Burnhan-Snyder said the agency received “significant feedback” from workers regarding a questionnaire from the transition team that leaked last week.
Some of the questions asked left many in our workforce unsettled,” Snyder said.

Somehow I doubt that their letter to Trump will have much impact upon him and his team of right wing ideologues

More than 2,300 scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize winners, have issued an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump and the 115th Congress, urging them to “adhere to high standards of scientific integrity and independence in responding to current and emerging public health and environmental health threats.”
The letter underscores the extent to which many scientists, who have worked with the Obama administration to address climate change, pandemics and other major policy issues, are worried about whether Trump and his deputies will slash science funding and overhaul the way several federal agencies operate.

Is anyone listening must be the question the scientific community must ask themselves daily.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Electoral Reform Report Solves Nothing.

A special all-party committee is recommending that the Trudeau government design a new proportional voting system and hold a national referendum to gauge how much Canadians would support it. .........
The report does not recommend precisely how a referendum should be conducted or how many electoral options Canadians should be asked to choose among, other than to say that the existing system should also be on the ballot, along with the government's proposed new model. ............
The majority report acknowledges that the "overwhelming majority" of testimony the committee heard from almost 200 electoral experts and thousands of interested Canadians was in favour of proportional representation.
In the end, though, the report does not recommend a specific proportional voting model. .........
The report also says that whatever proportional model the government designs, it should not involve MPs being chosen from closed lists supplied by the parties, which the committee says would sever the connection between voters and their MP.

And that pretty much sums up the entire report.............!!

The first 150 pages or so summarize the testimony of some of the experts, some of the other submissions and the history of electoral systems as well as the consideration of Mandatory Voting and Electronic Voting (neither of which was recommended) in Canada and has little that those of us who have been following along did not already know. All that information is available in full on the ERRE site. At page 141 to 165 it examines to process to accomplish reform and what constitutes broad consensus, the referendum question and continues to summarize the various opinions on the subject placed before the committee. Finally at page 165 we come to the 13 “recommendations” included in the Majority Report. The remainder is taken up with lists of reports and the name of those contributing to the discussions in one way or another. The final few pages outline the Minority reports of the NDP, Greens & Liberals.

I have cherry picked a few extracts that caught my attention, for a fuller coverage of the report you will have to wade through the entire 333 page report (4835K PDF)

Majority Report
Recommendation 1
The Committee recommends that the Government should, as it develops
a new electoral system, use the Gallagher index in order to minimize the
level of distortion between the popular will of the electorate and the
resultant seat allocations in Parliament. The government should seek to
design a system that achieves a Gallagher score of 5 or less.

Recommendation 2
The Committee recommends that, although systems of pure party lists
can achieve a Gallagher score of 5 or less, they should not be
considered by the Government as such systems sever the connection
between voters and their MP.

Recommendation 11
The Committee recommends that electoral system reform be
accompanied by a comprehensive study of the effects on other aspects
of Canada’s “governance ecosystem”, namely:
 the relationship between, and operations of, the legislative and
executive branches of government;
 the relationship between, and operations of, the House of
Commons and the Senate;
 parliamentary procedure and conventions related to government
formation and dismissal;
 the impact on the operations of political parties.

Recommendation 12
Observation: The Committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted
change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional
representation. The Committee recognizes the utility of the Gallagher Index, a
tool that has been developed to measure an electoral system’s relative
disproportionality between votes received and seats allotted in a legislature, as
a means of assessing the proportionality of different electoral system options.
The Committee recommends that:
 The Government hold a referendum, in which the current system
is on the ballot;
 That the referendum propose a proportional electoral system that
achieves a Gallagher Index score of 5 or less; and
 That the Government complete the design of the alternate
electoral system that is proposed on the referendum ballot prior to
the start of the referendum campaign period.

Recommendation 13
The Committee recommends that Elections Canada should produce and
make available to the public materials describing any option, including
maps depicting potential electoral district boundaries applicable under
that option and sample ballot design, prior to the start of the referendum
campaign period.

Supplementary Opinion of the NDP and the Green Party on Electoral Reform: (extracts)
While the committee did not adopt specific electoral systems within its report, we
believe the government would benefit from some specifics. We believe the government
should consider adopting one of the following models.......
Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP), with 2/3 of the House of
Commons elected to represent direct constituencies, and 1/3 elected as regional
compensatory members. Regional compensatory MPs may be elected from an
open list, flexible list, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission, or they
may be elected as “best runners-up”, as per the Baden-Württemberg system.
Open and flexible lists have the benefit of letting voters choose. The BadenWürttemberg option has the benefit of forcing all candidates to be scrutinized and
supported by voters every election in order to win their seat. Compensatory seats
would be drawn from territories, provinces, or sub-regions within provinces. As
such, since it would not affect current riding boundaries, a full riding redistribution
would be unnecessary.

NOTE In order to implement an MMP system in Canada, one of the following would have
to occur:
 Maintain the current number of MPs: the number of constituency MPs would
be reduced to allow for the addition of compensatory MPs. Consequently,
electoral districts would become larger in terms of population and geography.
 Increase the number of MPs: electoral districts would remain the same
and a set number of compensatory seats would be added to the existing
338 members.

Rural-urban proportional representation (RUP), as first elaborated by former
Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, in which current riding boundaries
are maintained, but current urban ridings are clustered into multi-member ridings
of three to five MPs. To minimize the level of distortion between the popular will
of the electorate and the resultant seat allocations in Parliament, in 2019, the
government should add an additional 50 seats for regional compensatory MPs.
NOTE Fair Vote Canada describes the system as follows:
1) Multi-member ridings in the urban areas (which could be elected with a
ranked ballot - STV - or an open list)
2) Single member ridings in the rural and small urban areas (which could also
be elected with a ranked ballot – or by first-past-the-post)
3) A small layer of regional top up seats to make the overall results in the
region proportional (an idea borrowed from Sweden, where these are called
“adjustment seats).

Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members (extracts)
Darrel Bricker of Ipsos Research testified that a
neutral question about a national referendum indicated that 49% of Canadians were in
favour, while 51% were opposed to the idea. When the question was engineered to
reflect positively on a referendum, 55% of people indicated a supportive stance. This
reinforced a commonly-accepted conclusion: that polling results can be influenced by
how the question is framed.
This leads to a concern with material presented in the MR regarding the Conservative
Party of Canada’s claim to have had 73,740 out of 81,389 Canadians indicate their
support for a referendum in a privately conducted poll. While our Supplemental Report
in no way seeks to delegitimize the consultative work of any Party, the narrow
demographic range (the poll having been conducted in 59 Conservative-held federal
ridings out of a national total of 338, with a self -selecting pool of participants) raises
concerns about the validity of this particular metric.

Other items that caught my attention
While the Committee collected a significant amount of data on electoral systems in
different jurisdictions, it must be emphasized that impacts of various systems on the
broader Canadian governance ecosystem highlighted in Recommendation 11 are not

Given the uncertainties surrounding referendum proposal, it is our view that alternative
consultation methods should be examined as feasible options. Alternatively, the idea
that further parliamentary review would be sufficient and ben eficial was proposed by
several witnesses, and remains an option. Ultimately, it is our position that the level of
engagement with the electoral reform process amongst the Canadian public was
insufficient to generate a clear mandate. We further recommend t hat greater
consultative measures be pursued in order to present an electoral reform proposal that
is consistent with the will of Canadians.
Therefore we recommend:
That the Government further undertake a period of comprehensive and effective
citizen engagement before proposing specific changes to the current federal voting
system. We believe that this engagement process cannot be effectively completed
before 2019.

The Committee received 172 reports from individual MPs, who held various types of
consultations with their constituents, as well a report from the Conservative Caucus and
one from the NDP Caucus, for a total of 174 reports in all.
the Committee received and considered 574 written submissions. (One of which was my own)
NOTE This seems like a remarkably small number of submissions given the population of Canada and the importance of this committee in recommending changes.

Respondents to the Committee’s online consultation, who overall preferred
some element of proportionality, were open to the idea of collaborative governments.
Indeed, 53.5% of respondents either strongly agreed (31.8%) or agreed (21.7%) with the
following statement: “Canada’s electoral system should favour the following outcome: no
single political party holds the majority of seats in Parliament, thereby increasing the
likelihood that political parties will work together to pass legislation.”

An additional topic that the Committee heard about throughout its consultations was
the per-vote subsidy, a source of public funding that was available to political parties until it
was phased out in 2015.
The Committee heard from a number of witnesses who stated their preference for
reinstating the per-vote subsidy, in accordance with the principles of fairness and equity.
The Committee noted that a number of witnesses advocated for a restoration of
public financing as part of electoral reform. As Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former Chief Electoral
Officer (1990–2007), emphasized, the annual allowance for political parties is within the
scope of electoral reform:
NOTE This was NOT specifically recommended by the committee

All in all a very disappointing report which basically calls for more study and for the “government” to design a system that meets the desire for “proportionality” rather than be more specific as to the details of a recommended system. The only bit that I really liked was the NDP & Greens minority report which at least brings up a viable method of selecting those extra MPs required should an MMP system eventually be chosen. “Regional compensatory MPs may be elected from as “best runners-up”, as per the Baden-Württemberg system.”
Seems to me after all that study and listening to 'experts' there is almost nothing here that we did not know before the process started!

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