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.
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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Singing Dictator

A guest post by Pamela Mac Neil

"Music is always a commentary on society" Frank Zappa

Whenever I hear that Harpers base is made up of primarily seniors I am a bit perplexed. Not that I don't think it's true, because it is. Boomers of which I am one are now seniors, so when I think of older people or seniors, I think of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Randy Bachman , Leonard Cohen, Dylan or Van Morrison to name a few. It is musical artists that come to my mind not just because I love their music, but because almost everything that we thought, idealized, loved, valued, hated or wanted changed as a generation, was written into the music, in fact it was the music. If the generation that created and listened to this music are now members of The Conservative Party under the rule of Stephen Harper and his regime, then B.B. King can't sing the blues. Two of the most important issues, anti-war and freedom that Harper and his government now violate are issues that boomers valued starting with their stand against war.

In the 60's Lester Pearson told President Johnson that Canada would not be supporting the US's war in Vietnam. Pearsons successor as everyone knows was Pierre Trudeau, who then opened Canada's doors to young Americans who did not want to fight in Vietnam. There were tens of thousands of them that came. Trudeau said " Canada should be a refuge from militarism." My how times have changed. Harper who supported the Iraq war and has committed us in joining with other nato allies to the air bombing of Iraq, will see to it that soldiers of conscience from the U.S. will not be able to seek sanctuary in Canada as they have been labeled "Criminally Inadmissable." Not one of the 30 to 50 war resisters who were already here and had applied for refugee status has received permanent residency in Canada. Most are in the process of or have already been deported back to the States. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of Canadians think we should allow war resisters including from the Iraq war into Canada, but when has the Harper regime ever done what the majority of Canadians want. This stand against war was reflected in songs like Dylans "Masters of War", John Lennon's " give peace a chance", Richie Havens "Handsome Johnny" , Steppenwolf "Draft Resister", Creedance Clearwater Revival "Fortunate Son" and Country Joe and the Fish "I'm- Fixin- to- Die- Rag." to name just a few of many, many, anti-war songs. It wasn't about just being against war but it was the expression of hope of a future without war.

Harper and his Regimes violation of our rights and freedoms is done through suppression, control and legislation. His definition of freedom of speech is " Freedom of Speech When I like what you Say." Scientists cannot speak freely, MP's from his cabinet and caucus cannot speak freely and pretty well anyone from his government cannot speak freely. Harper and his cronies do not always have an easy time of it though, trying to dismantle our democracy, because previous governments have created some strong infrastructures in support of freedom. Infrastuctures that were created by governments that believed in nation building. One of the most important infrastructures of course is The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This originated from the mind of a man Pierre Trudeau, who thought throughout his life about justice and about how to create "The Just Society." All of Harpers legislation that has been struck down, simply because The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has judged this legislation to be unconstitutional. The Act and the man who thought of it Pierre Trudeau, both of whom Harper has an almost pathological hatred for has stopped him from carrying out his legislative authoritarian agenda. There are many ways however where he has been able to suppress freedoms or remove rights. Ways like setting up bipartisan commitees in almost all areas of government. Committees that should be discussing and evaluating the importance of motions, programs or policy pretty well just rubber stamp whatever is on their agenda that day.

No process. Dictators and their minions don't like process, especially judicial process. So much for freedom. There is nothing more important than freedom though. I knew that at a young age and I think many people from my generation knew it. When the concept of freedom is put to music it can give a voice to a movement. There is a reason why under Stalin, in the former Soviet Union, Russians were not allowed to listen to Jazz. It wasn't because of the race card either, it was because it made people feel alive. Songs of the 60's and 70's, with the message of freedom, had an impact on society and some of them broke new ground musically. Songs like "A change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke, "Turn,Turn,Turn" by The Byrds, "One day we'll all be Free" by Donny Hathaway , "People Got to be Free" by The Rascals to name just a few songs that touched millions. These words of Phil Ochs are still true. "One good song with a message can bring a point more deeply, to more people, than a thousand rallies. I grew up in a culture that placed freedom at a high value.

I've given some thought to who those seniors that make up Harpers base are. Because I cannot take them serious politically, I think most, but not all are evangelical christians like Harper. That I think is the connection they have with him. Even though many of them are probably from the boomer generation, the music of their own generation, for the most part does not seem to have touched them. I don't think you're going to find any of them, as an example, listening to The Rolling Stones song "Sympathy For The Devil", or "The Future" by Leonard Cohen.Their dear leader though does seem to favor songs from that era particularly The Beatles. Like his inability to read how his behaviour is judged by the Canadian people, so he is not able to read how people judge his musical talent. Watching Netanyahu with his wife, both enduring forced smiles, when Harper sang and played piano at a state dinner in Jerusalem said it all to me. Harper sang before a room of people whose jewish compatriots contribution to music is nothing short of epic. Whether composers like Strauss, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Gerswin, Bernstein and copland, or Classical musicians like Andre' Previn, Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern including the more contempory artists like Carole King, bob Dylan, Mark Knoffler Don Fagen, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Billy Joel are but a few names in a list that could fill several pages. Singing and playing the piano at a family or friends wedding is one thing. Singing off key, while plunking on a piano at a state dinner when you're the PM of Canada is another thing. Unlike his tyrannical control of the message that he wants Canadians to hear or to not hear, his audience listening to him sing and play the piano cannot be controlled. This is Harper at his freest, displaying his questionable talent. Those who don't know him may think him quite brave considering he has minimal talent. For those who do know him it's just another example of him being completely out of touch. Seeing that he likes The Beatles so much he should read the lyrics to their song "The Fool On The Hill", because it's an apt description of himself , but as someone said of him, "he is a man to whom words don't mean much."

Pamela Mac Neil's main interest is studying how  ideas from philosophy and history shape politics.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Truth in Advertising.

As Susan Delacourt of the Star said this week if you are sick of political advertising now wait until next year and she goes on to highlight a recent blog post by former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber wherein he says “It is shameful how a supposedly conservative government wastes tax dollars on blatant, self- serving, political advertising.” In his scathing article Mr Rathgeber goes on to point out that the Harper Regime continues to boast of programs that have not passed through the legislative process are are not in fact in place and does so with half truths and outright lies.

It is shameful how a supposedly conservative government wastes tax dollars on blatant, self- serving, political advertising. These recent transgressions are in addition to the $5 Million Veterans Affairs is using to promote the laughable concept of how well Canada treats its veterans. Parliament amazingly voted an additional $21,400,000 Wednesday night for additional government advertising;” (Read the majority Con Regime voted themselves increased advertising budget)
He ends his article with this observation:-

Public funds should not be used to push an agenda that is still before Parliament and/or is a matter of partisan political debate. It undermines democracy when one side has near unlimited taxpayer resources to promote its side and agenda.
As the government’s spin doctors seem to prefer unfair advantage over respect for taxpayers, they are clearly unable to police themselves. Accordingly, Canada desperately needs an arm’s length overseer to ensure that government ads and websites are factual, informative and non-partisan.”
Indeed public funds should not be used for ANY advertising that does not specifically inform the public of program details and where to access them, and that includes spouting internet links to nebulous things like non existent “Economic Action Plans”!
Meanwhile Ms Delacurt has a few suggestions as to what needs to be done to kerb this abuse.
  • Any political party could announce, starting tomorrow, that it will adhere to the voluntary code of Advertising Standards Canada, which takes a dim view of ads that are intended only to knock down rivals. (Not that anything 'voluntary' would have any impact upon Harper and his cronies)
  • Requiring all government ads to be vetted by the auditor-general to make sure that the party in power is not using public resources to push a political message. (As does Ontario)
  • If we are now in a permanent election campaign, (which seems to be the case) then why can’t we have the same advertising rules for both the official and unofficial campaigns? Specifically, why can’t we have the same spending limits on political party advertising in non-election times too?
All these things have merit but until and unless the Harper Regime is tossed from power its all just a wet dream for they will, and have, go in exactly the opposite direction and continue to overwhelm and mislead the voters with millions of dollars of false advertising in order to ge reelected, much of it using taxpayers dollars. You will be able to tell those ads paid for by their 'supporters' by the personal attacks upon the opposition leaders contained in them!

Stephen Harper's government is being called out for spending what the Liberals say is $548 million of taxpayers' money for partisan advertising - just prior to the 2015 election. A long ad campaign about a jobs plan that doesn't exist; feel-good ads about Canada's 150th anniversary - still two full years away; a two-month ad campaign ending this month, showcasing tax breaks that can't be accessed until March or April; and $9 million for ads denouncing Canada's wireless cellphone companies. “

Just how effective are those Ads?
The latest annual study of consumer perceptions of advertising, released in November by Advertising Standards Canada, found that a whopping 80 per cent of Canadians were “uncomfortable” with political ads, with only 19 per cent of respondents giving a favourable impression of how true or accurate they were.

Will that stop the Cons from continuing their practice of inundating the public with false, misleading and self-serving advertising on our dollar (and false, misleading and self-serving attack ads using their partys well stocked coffers) in the upcoming months? Not a chance!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Your Information is in the Mail

I see a Con MP is proposing to increase the $5 fee for an Access to Information Request which given what Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says may at first seem like a reasonable idea.

"We need more investigators, and it is not my office that is in a crisis, it is the fact that Canadians' right to access government information is in jeopardy, that is the real issue," Legault said. "Because my office is underfunded to such an extent that we can't investigate their complaint in a timely manner, their rights are being thwarted." 

However as a number of observers have said not only is access to information a citizens right, it is essential in a democracy, and perhaps the problem is more the need for such a system due to the lack of information being freely shared by the current regime. Or more accurately deliberately hidden!  Then there is this.......

The commissioner said a bigger fee would not help with the financial problems she faces. Money from access to information fees currently goes to general revenues, not Legault's office.
Another effort to build that magical 'surplus' to be spent buying votes perhaps?

And talking of access to information here is another little detail I would like to know... Who paid for that fancy double sided, full colour, glossy, unaddressed, bulk mailed Christmas card from my local MP? Was it out of the MPs own pocket (LOL), his office budget (the taxpayer), the 'Queens Printers' (the taxpayer) or the did it come out of the Party coffers (not probable). Was it mailed under the 'free mail' privileges that MPs enjoy or was Canada Post paid separately (or at all) for bulk mail delivery? All I know that it came in a 'House of Commons' envelope and would have cost somewhere around $100,000 or more to print and distribute to all the households in this riding. If all our MPs did this thats around $50 million spent on Christmas greetings.....nice, but what a waste of money no matter who paid for it.

Here's a thought, every piece of mail from an MP, and in particular those printed or issued from the 'Queens printer” should contain the line “Printed by xxx and paid for by xxx” and and indicate if the mailing costs were picked up by the taxpayer with a 'stamp' showing if mailed under the parliamentary mailing privilege.

The House covers the cost of printing newsletters, commonly known as “householders”, sent by the Member to all constituents. Members have free mailing privileges to send out householders and other materials. [335]  These mailing privileges are often referred to as “franking” privileges. “Franking” is the process by which Members of the House of Commons, by affixing their signatures to an addressed piece of mail, may have that mail delivered postage-free anywhere in the country. It is available only for mail that is addressed to places in Canada and may not be used for parcels, special delivery or other special services offered by Canada Post. “

We know that this privilege has been abused in the past but few of us really know who is paying for what and exactly what is being classed as “a householder”, marking such mail with its source would make things 'open and accountable' so I don’t expect it would fly in Ottawa!