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, April 12, 2015

Balanced-Budget Law, fiscal or political?

With Canadians still waiting to see whats in the much delayed budget Finance Minister Joe Oliver has just announced plans for a balanced-budget law (as promised by the Conservatives in the 2013 throne speech). Call me a cynic but after having inherited a 13.8 Billion surplus from the Liberals and having then spent it all BEFORE the recession hit and then produced 7 consecutive budget deficits is this more about handcuffing any incoming government from fixing their mess than concern about the national debt?

"The only acceptable deficit would be one that responds to a recession or to an 'extraordinary' circumstance -- that is war or a natural disaster with a cost exceeding $3 billion in one year," Oliver told the Economic Club.........
Cabinet ministers would see their pay docked five per cent if the federal government fails to balance its books under proposed legislation critics denounced Wednesday as symbolic at best, hypocrisy at worst.

Given the difficulty experienced by the Parliamentary Budget Officer and others in determining the true state of this government finances and expenditures one must wonder if the much flaunted 'balanced budget' that we have yet to see is factual or just creative accounting. When they are tossed from power will the incoming government find that in actual fact after all the tax breaks, mostly for the more affluent, and the spending commitments spread over future years that without severe cuts to services they are already in debt before they start.

"The proposed bill would acknowledge the potential need for deficits to counter economic decline." In addition to the ministerial pay cut, a deficit would spark an automatic operating freeze, Oliver said. Observers, however, suggested the Tories were looking to score political points by appealing to their constituents.

It will be difficult for opposition partys to vote against this legislation is it, as is almost all of the Con Regimes legislation, a political trap and being proposed at this moment purely for political reasons? Balanced budgets should indeed be a priority of all governments and hitting them in the pocket book may give them some incentive, possibly to hit US in the pocket book instead, but the timing of this is deeply suspect.

Both Opposition parties were scornful of what they called a death-bed repentance from a government that has racked up seven straight budget deficits since Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised in 2008 he would never run a shortfall.

The Liberal leader, who refused to say whether his party would oppose the legislation, called it "fairly ridiculous" the government would now be talking about balanced budgets -- five years after the recession and just before an election.

Watch for this to be rammed through quickly with limited debate (as is now the norm for all such legislation) so that the incoming government is backed in a corner ..... and if, God help us, the Cons get back in watch them ignore it and / or lie about expenditures and income!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sorry, Your Partisan Slip is Showing

We know that the House public safety committee has been 'studying' the government's anti-terror bill and that despite the long list of influential and knowledgeable people wishing to speak to the dangers of this bill to our freedoms and privacy the list of those permitted to participate was severely restricted. We also know that throughout the process the Conservative members routinely defended the bill as written and showed no interest in amendments proposed by various presenters. They even deliberately blocked the Leader of the Green Party, who later was permitted to present but not speak to, multiple amendments from presenting her views on the bill.

While Ms. May was a regular attendee of committee hearings during its study of Bill C-51, Conservative MPs blocked her every attempt to ask a single question. Although any MP has a right to sit at committee, participation is at the discretion of the Chair. During these hearings, the Chair chose to put Ms. May’s requests to the floor for unanimous consent, which was summarily denied by her Conservative colleagues.
The process by which Green MPs submit amendments to committee is one created by PMO to deprive Green MPs from‎ presenting amendments to the House of Commons at Report Stage. Ms. May used this right effectively in opposing Bill C-38 in spring 2012. Since the fall of 2013, due to identical motions passed by Conservatives in every committee, Green amendments are deemed to have been moved at committee. Ms. May and Mr. Hyer will be given time to present each amendment but are not allowed to vote.

However now with intense pressure from both the public, forem Supreme Court Judges, Academic and even former Prime Ministers and word coming down from above it seems it is suddenly OK to make some of the changes proposed by those that did get to speak.

At no point during the 18 or so hours of testimony on the bill did even one of them publicly voice concerns over any of the provisions that they will now propose be tweaked in response to witness concerns.
In fact, in at least one case — removing the word "lawful" — multiple witnesses, including those who were largely supportive of the bill, had recommended exactly such a change.
Several of those witnesses pointed out that, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Liberal government of the day had initially included a similar provision in its anti-terror package, but struck it from the text after the expert witnesses of the day expressed concerns over potential overreach...............
Witnesses who raised red flags over the implications for privacy — another criticism expected to be addressed via amendment today — were greeted with similar skepticism.
Indeed, the federal privacy commissioner didn't even make the witness list.
The Tory committee members had been unwavering in their confidence that not even a comma in the bill needed changing.

But now it seems that having been 'approved' from above a few minor changes are now to be included. How many of the dozens of other amendments proposed by non Conservative MPs will be even considered let alone adopted at the senate hearings (having been rejected in committee) remains to be seen but one thing is for sure unless approved from above it simply wont happen.

At the moment, it's not clear whether the Conservative contingent will also be advised to throw their majority support behind additional, opposition-backed amendments or vote to reject certain clauses entirely, which would also result in changes being made to the bill.

A similar parliamentary plot twist occurred last spring, when after weeks of doggedly defending every aspect of Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre's controversial bid to revamp Canada's election laws, Conservative committee members found themselves introducing amendments to address precisely the concerns they had dismissed as unfounded.
One must ask the question do ANY of these Conservative MPs have a functioning brain or are they just a satellite mouthpiece of the PMO?

The biggest threat to Canadians and Canadian Democracy is not “terrorists” but Stephen Harper and his Conservative Regimes unthinking support of his desire for absolute unlimited power and control.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Samara’s Democracy 360 Report

Samara, the Canadian Democracy Measurement folks have just released their latest report on the state of our democracy and its not good! This is no surprise to those of us who have been taking notice but with generally 40% or less giving any time to even discuss political issues with anybody (online or in person) it would seem that the majority don’t even care.

The following are a few extracts from their report “Samara’s Democracy 360, a report card on the state of Canada’s democracy” (260K PDF)

“Only 31% of Canadians believe politics affects them every day.
Only 37% give any time or resources to formal political activities between elections.
A surprising number (39%) say they haven’t had a single political conversation—online or offline—in a year-long period. With a federal voter turnout of 61%, Canada ranks in the bottom fifth among democracies, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development”

“Canadians gave MPs failing grades in all but one area: representing their parties’ views (57%). This percentage is notably higher than the grades they received for representing constituents (45%) or holding government to account (42%).they reserve their lowest marks for parties’ performance in reaching out to Canadians to hear their views (42%).
Only 40% of Canadians report that they trust MPs to do what is right and only 42% of Canadians place some trust in political parties.
Canadians give MPs and political parties failing grades on nearly all their responsibilities, ranging from reaching out to citizens to their work in Parliament. Overall, Canadians feel MPs do a better job representing the views of the party than
they do representing their constituents....... only 40% of Canadians report that they
trust their MPs to do what is right. Political parties fare no better: only 42% of Canadians report trusting them.”

“Even for a very accessible form of participation—talking about politics both online or in person—a large number of Canadians (39%) report never having had a single political conversation in a year-long period.
Particularly troublesome is that this declining turnout is driven almost entirely by young Canadians (aged 18 to 24), who vote at almost half the rate (39%) as Canadians aged 65 to 74 (75%)”

“MPs have the tools to speak to Canadians and they use them, but whether they do so successfully is more difficult to ascertain; Canadians’ low trust levels suggest there is room for improvement. For example, when social media is used more often to broadcast a message, rather than gather input or exchange views, it misses a chance to engage.”
In earlier interviews Samara says that “MPs also report being stymied by their own parties, which prevents them from doing the job they initially sought. It’s clear that in order to restore the trust of those who elect them, party leaders and MPs should work
towards more balanced relationships—relationships that enable MPs to better fulfill their jobs as representatives.”

And therein lays the biggest problem in my opinion, until such time as our 'representatives' can actually represent US not their party then democracy will continue its downward slide. In their report Samara puts it this way:-

Canada’s democracy is now like a slow leak when it rains. It’s easy to
ignore a pesky leak, but if left until the damage becomes severe or a
storm rages, the problem will become more difficult and expensive to
Perhaps more than difficult but all but impossible once the roof falls in, and particularly troubling with the Harper Regime constantly picking at the hole and increasing the leak!

If there is one thing we can take away from this report it is that getting the younger citizen to "get involoved", if only to the point of voting, is essential for the survival of our democracy. Unfortunatly it is these young folk who will reap the results of their disinterest in what remains of our country's democratic system.

If you have not done so already I urge you to read Samara's various reports going back several years, its scary stuff but their objective research and resulting conclusions paint a clear picture of where our democracy is headed. You may wish to view some of my earlier posts featuring their work here.

Also see The Democracy 360 Numbers, a companion to the report, describing all 23 indicators of a healthy representative democracy, offering a rich resource of data for media and any interested citizens.