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 17, 2019

The Echo Chamber....

Is 'Social Media an asset or an intrusive addiction? Is the ability to instantly access this stream of unfiltered information an asset or simply spreading misinformation? As someone who could be said to be addicted to the internet but is not 'on' any 'social media' I have mixed feelings about whether having the world in your hand is a good thing or a path to misinformation.
With well over 90% of adult Canadians using the internet regularly in one form or another and about 80% of those 'on' Facebook or some similar platform it can be seen how quickly 'news' (good, bad, or simply wrong) can be spread.

According to a new Nanos Research survey for The Globe and Mail more than seven in 10 Canadians think Facebook does a poor or very poor job of monitoring how the platform is used to influence politics. It also found that more than eight in 10 Canadians think Facebook is untrustworthy or somewhat untrustworthy with people’s personal data. Also, more than six in 10 Canadians say Facebook will have a negative or somewhat negative effect on the next federal election.

Twitter trolls linked to suspected foreign influence campaigns stoked controversy over pipelines and immigration in Canada, according to a CBC/Radio-Canada analysis of 9.6 million tweets from accounts since deleted. Roughly 21,600 tweets from those troll accounts directly targeted Canadians — many of them with messages critical of Canadian pipeline projects and tweets that highlighted divisions over Canada's policies on immigration and refugees......
"While social media and digital platforms create forums that allow Canadians to engage in a dialogue about important issues, they also have a record of being manipulated to spread disinformation, create confusion and exploit existing societal tensions," said Amy Butcher, a spokesperson for Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould. "We expect [social media] companies to take concrete actions to combat manipulation."
And yet so many folks think everything they read there is gospel but as we have now found out there are those out there both foreign and domestic that would try to subvert our very democracy by spreading false information via these platforms. Even our own government is jumping on the bandwagon but how much of that content is unbiased 'information' and how much is self promoting spin is debatable.

Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter now take in the lion's share of federal advertising dollars, thanks to an ongoing increase in the use of digital advertising by government departments and agencies, new figures show. Of the $39.2 million spent on government advertisements last year, federal departments spent almost $18.2 million on digital ads — roughly 46 per cent of the total budget, which doesn't include production costs.
And, for the first time ever, social media ads made up the biggest slice of digital spending — 43 per cent, or roughly $7.8 million.
Make no mistake even this 'over 70 old fart' who is one of the very few NOT on social media but who is very much aware of its power is not advocating for ditching your cell phone but think that perhaps some of those platforms should come with the same sort of warning that comes with some other equipment “Danger extended use of Social media can set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem”! . Finally there is little doubt that the outcome of our upcoming Federal election will be greatly influenced by 'millennials' who in turn will be greatly influenced by what they read on their smart phones, let us hope they are smart enough to not believe everything they read.

Millennials are also digital natives. We (they) grew up with technology and have made it a central part of our lives. To the 94% of millennials who own a smart phone, that device is our most trusted assistant. It’s our bank, our travel agent, our newspaper, our telephone, our music player, and our weather person. That device lets us watch the video content we crave, order food, and get us from one place to the next (by using the Uber app in many cities).
And to the 85% of Canadian Millennials who check Facebook at least once a day, social media is how we stay connected, find out what’s happening in the world, and increasingly the way we learn about and connect with brands.

The question is whether its the information age or the disinformation age?

A British MP committee has just released a report that mirrors my concerns regarding Social media and Facebook in particular..

"Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised 'dark adverts' from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day," concluded the report.

"The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights."

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Green Revolution?

In a recent interview on CTV Question Period Elizabeth May, the Green Party federal leader said that they had been getting an increased interest, and donations, in the party. Hardly a surprise as the choices otherwise are becoming increasingly hard to endorse, the Cons are IMHO so far off the wall both federally and provincially (when Doug Frord is reinforcing their unsuitability to rule anything) that its no contest. The NDP seem to be stumbling around in the dark both leadership wise and policy wise but the big hit for me in these days of folks struggling to make a living is there insistence of supporting (mostly government) unionized employees in their ever cry for more, more, more. We know that such position is based upon the need for money, money, money from said unions but that does not make it right!

That leads us to the Liberals whom I had great respect for and have refrained from criticizing because I thought that they were in fact trying to do the right thing, I can even forgive their inability to bring electoral reform to it final conclusion for as we have seen time and time again the various players will NEVER find a middle ground that satisfies even close to a majority of the electorate. What really turned me off was (as seems to be an increasing point of view) the support and eventual purchase of the old 'oil' pipeline from Alberta to the west coast and the ongoing support of the expansion of shipment of mixed tar and toxic thinners to be shipped via tanker from the waters of BC.

In short I see little alternatives despite my feeling that a vote for other than the Libs may spin the roulette wheel called electoral democracy towards the very scary and previously power hungry Conservative authoritarian regime. My reluctance to go all out and endorse all Green candidates is colored by my involvement with the local Green movement here in Grey Bruce, not that this was in any way a bad experience, they were in fact all good and caring people and their cause well worth supporting. I, along with a number of caring and concerned local folks spent considerable volunteer time updating the web presence of the GBOS Greens EDA web site in order that both members and the public could see where things stood locally as regards to to said organization. Unfortunately local supporters failed to make use of said resource and both it and the local organization seem to have faded into obscurity.

As the federal election approaches perhaps the (now largely defunct) local executive will make use of said resource (still available online) to promote and resurrect the local green movement which has seen no new content in many, many months (years in fact) but to expect a viable candidate who can do anything other than split the vote after being dormant for so long in this district is dreaming in technicolor. That all said I do hope that Greens across our nation vote in a sufficient number of MPs to shake up the status quo and perhaps even have the balance of power in what may well be a minority government. Wouldn't that be much needed a shake up!

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Ontario's Downward Spiral

A not so slow downward spiral from our hard won support services here in Ontario is happening under the Ford regime, almost daily we see reports of this or that being cut or 'reviewed' (Ford speak for I've already made the decision but will let the public let of steam for a bit before I make the cuts irregardless)

Lets look at just a few of the recent announcements, appointments and opposition commentary.....

Ontario is 'reviewing' 82 municipalities, a move that raises the possibility of amalgamations and comes not long after the Progressive Conservative government slashed the size of Toronto's city council nearly in half. The province said that it has tapped two experts to conduct the review of Halton, York, Durham, Waterloo, Niagara, Peel, Muskoka District, Oxford County, the County of Simcoe and their lower-tier municipalities.

Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights, requires the government to begin a 45-day public consultation period as part of what it is calling its 10th-year review of the endangered species law. The review of the act comes a month after the Ford government axed its environment watchdog, and is part of a track record of anti-environment policy decisions, according to opposition MPPs and environment advocates. The government has also canceled the cap and trade program — a market-based system to reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution — and it has taken the federal government to court to oppose carbon pricing.

The Ford government has decided to cut approximately $15 million from the Ontario Trillium Foundation's (OTF) 2018-19 budget.
The OTF is a provincial government agency that provides funding to not-for-profit organizations and charities in Ontario to help launch projects and cover costs for major renovations and upgrades.

The Ford government passed legislation just before Christmas eliminating three independent officers of parliament. Claiming that they represented an "unnecessary cost," the role of Ontario's environmental commissioner will be transferred to the auditor general, while the functions of the child advocate and French language commissioner will be moved to the ombudsman. https://www.therecord.com/opinion-story/9121888-doug-ford-s-pre-christmas-attack-on-accountability/

The premier's new Council on Improving Health Care and Ending Hallway Medicine, a handpicked panel of 11 senior administrators says says the province "may not have the appropriate number of hospital or long-term care beds to meet the health needs of the population," The council is led by Dr. Rueben Devlin, the longtime CEO of Humber River Hospital, a former president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and a Ford confidant. He was appointed to the post the day the Ford government took power last June but there is no conflict of interest here eh!.

Thats enough of that for now, its too depressing, but it should be noted that any 'consultations' promised will in all probability just be a rubber stamp from appointees hired by Ford and paid for with our dollars. The content of these changes along with the speed and volume of 'cuts' in the name of 'efficiencies' should be of great concern to all Ontario taxpayers. Beware what you wish for because the cowering Con back benchers sure wont stop his premiership, they will however be 'efficiently' silenced if they dare to disagree with his edicts.
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