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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The House That Harper Built: Built to Last

A guest post by Pamela Mac Neil
The CONs aren't going anywhere. The absolute key to their staying power and their focus on winning again in 4 more years is their base. Anyone who thinks we've gotten Harper out, so we can sit back and relax is kidding themselves. The CON base does not consist of a group of people who are just political conservatives. It is a tightly knit, dogmatic, religious, entity who'se beliefs are for the most part outside of the Canadian mainsteam. Harper has successfully used faith as an opportunity politically to build a base that he saw working in the US. Canada's evangelicals are highly organized, well funded and much more likely to vote then other Canadians. In a speech to the Conservative think fest, Civitas, he outlined plans for a broad new party coalition that would ensure a lasting hold on power. He said that this can be done by bringing social conservatives of all faiths into the conservative party. What Harper called Theo-Cons. Mainly people of Christian faiths answered the call and of those Christians it was the Evangelical fundamental Christians who were in the majority. The same people who shared Harpers faith. They eventually became the majority of his base. Harpers own toned down Christian fundamentalism, is not some irrelevant belief system, but remains in present day, part of his political legacy. Harper has reshaped the Canadian Government, by the supporting of a covert Evangelical mission. Most importantly they were Harpers vehicle to implementing his Neoliberal agenda. With Harper as Prime Minister, the far right of Canadian conservatism achieved with the seizure of political power, the opportunity to now implement a Neoliberal policy agenda by first dismantling the modern welfare state. Harper and his CONs had developed one of the most extensive and manipulative political machines in Canadian history. They used micro-targeting of ethnic communities and other demographics, they did voter identification including to the poll level and they out fundraised the other parties by a 3.1 margin. Harper had a solid hold on his base and knew how to maintain it.

More then anything Harpers obvious end-game was not to just dismantle Canada's modern welfare state, but also its social democratic and liberal including small "l" liberal legacy and to make that Neoliberal transformation permanent. Harpers fascist, overt merging of corporatism and state power to the exclusion and ignorance of the Canadian majority is one of the wonders of his 9 yrs. in power and achieved mainly because of the complete silence of the MSM. Now that Harper has left, what are the Cons who survived the election and are now the official opposition going to do. Their number one focus will be pleasing their base. It is their base that has the power and it is their base that is in charge. Having had political power, their base will want to taste it again. The Cons know this. They have already started placating them. When Kenney said "We got the big things right, we just have to change the tone" the Canadian majority rolled their eyes and thought what a ridiculous thing to say. We voted them out because they didn't get the big things right! Who Kenney was really talking to though, when he said "We got the big things right" was to his base. He was assuring them. Even if he sounded ridiculous to the Canadian majority, it is only what his base thinks that matters. When the liberals found a deficit instead of the , surplus conservatives promised, Joe Olivers over the top "I'm shocked,shocked" response was for his base. The Canadian public would just put the remark down to a not very bright ex Minister of Finance in deep denial, but like Kenney he was assuring his base. He was saying, I am shocked that these liberals would go so far as to distort the truth by saying we had a deficit instead of the surplus we promised. The Cons cannot afford to have their base know that they were lied to by both Harper and Oliver about having a surplus. If their base were to start to disbelieve what their being told by the leaders of their party, then those same leaders would lose their bases trust, then it would be over, the CON party would be no more.

All political parties have a base. They come from , across Canada, young and old, from all walks of life, all ages, all beliefs, nationalities, and races. The political party base that Harper has built though is more like an antidemocratic cult following. Most of them share the same religious beliefs and most are capitalists politically in one form or another. Their values are from the religious right, such as family values, Law and Order and total support of Israel. They are against homosexuality, same sex marriage, abortion and environmentalism. It was predictable to Harper how his base would think on almost every issue, like a preacher, preaching to his flock, he knew just what to say, he knew how to placate them. Harpers beliefs were their beliefs, so he had no problem with them approving his policies. Harper did not seek out mainstream Canadians to join his conservative party and he excluded them from his governence. They were the real enemy! They were the ones who could stop his climb to power. They must be ignored, excluded, controlled and manipulated. Operating in secrecy was the best way to hold them in check and the MSM complete silence, assisted him in doing this. His bases votes were the votes that gave him the power he so desperately craved and these were the votes he could count on. He had created a living , breathing, predictable human voting machine, that he controlled and used to stay in power, like a laird managing his estate. In 2015 he campaigned only for his base. While they basked in being Harpers chosen people, mainstream Canada had had enough. They voted Harper out and gave Justin Trudeau, the son of the father Pierre Trudeau, the man who Harper had an ongoing irrational pathological hatred for, a majority of seats on which to form a government . My guess is that Harper did not see it coming! Operating in his self-made cacoon along with his base for 9yrs, he had always felt sure of them keeping him into power. He was not worried about mainstream Canadians, because in his mind they had been relegated to non-status, citizens who didn't care about voting. He is still a conservative MP, but that means nothing to him. Like an injured dog he has slunk off to hide and lick his wounds. The Conservatives are now the official opposition. Their base gave them 99 seats.

It is important to note that while the Canadian majority, despised Harper and much of his CON party, on a level playing field the electorate would have demolished the CON party, much like they did to Mulroney in 1993. The power of the CON base prevented that from happening. 99 seats is alot to give to a political party that was completely inept, including completely corrupt, the extent of which we are yet to find out. We will be able to count on the CONs spinning their B.S. to the Canadian public and the MSM still giving them a pass on everything, but what we must be is ever vigilant in making sure they never lead our government again. It's not anywhere near impossible for them to win another election. All that would be needed would be another low vote count from mainstream Canadians. It's that simple. In the mean time the Cons will be continually placating their base and pretending to care about the rest of Canada and pretending to be tough on the Liberals. What they are focused on though, right out of the starting gate, as the official opposition, is winning the next election and they know it is their base that is the key to their winning. Harper has gone, but the source of his power, his base, like cancer cells still intact after chemotherapy, still remain.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Promises - Parliamentary Accountability

As promised in my post A cabinet that looks like Canada, this week I am going to take a closer look at the Liberal Government's quite modest promises as regards to parliamentary reform as listed in their platform document. Taking them one at a time they are (in shortened form):-

Strengthen the role of parliamentary committee chairs, including elections by secret ballot. Ensure a more robust system of oversight and review for legislation.”

This one bothers me a little given that committee chairs already have considerable power over the way such meetings are conducted and can, as we have seen in recent years, use procedural actions to disrupt open discussion should they wish to. They need to be more open and accountable with rules established to ensure such partisan or personal biases cannot substantially effect discussions not more power over the process. I am not at all sure what “ a more robust system of oversight and review for legislation” means, reviewing proposed legislation is after all THE function of committees. Government House Leader Dominic Leblanc says House committees should be independent from government with non-partisan chairs and possibly no parliamentary secretary members. As with all things the devil is in the details, this one is a wait and see item.

Liberal Caucus members will only be required to vote with the Cabinet on those matters that implement the Liberal electoral platform or traditional confidence matters.....”

Whilst more 'free' votes are highly desirable I am not sure that this actually promises that, in the short term at least most, if not all legislation could be said to “implement the Liberal electoral platform”. No MP should be “required to vote” in any particular manner, naturally those who disagree with their own party’s legislation and vote against it may face some kind of 'disciplinary' action from the party but telling an MP how to vote is wrong and antidemocratic. The ONLY vote that could result in a minority government falling should be one that specifically says “This house has no confidence in thus 'whipping' the vote would be unnecessary.....”

Create a new, nonpartisan, merit-based, broad, and diverse process to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments.”

We do not know at this point what this “process” will be however given the restrictions placed upon the PM by the constitution, and if he truly wants to make the Senate the non partisan chamber of 'sober second thought' then taking advice, or even better, candidate recommendations from outside government is the only alternative. I have said before that given that Senators are meant to be representative of the province in which they reside that it seems appropriate that said provinces should be able to propose at least some of those candidates. Once again this is a wait and see what the 'process' involves but is far better than proposing reforms that involve opening up the constitution in a long and potentially divisive process..

Work with all parties in the House of Commons to ensure an inclusive, representative, transparent, and accountable process to advise on appointments to the Supreme Court.”

It is my understanding that such a process was already in place, it is just that the previous PM chose to ignore such processes.

Introduce a Prime Minister’s Question Period, empower the Speaker to challenge and sanction Members during Question Period.

The PM is supposed to be one amongst equals, is having a special question period just for him reinforcing the perception that he and he alone is responsible for policy? I agree that the speaker should have more power to enforce members to behave and to answer actual questions put, not go off on some unrelated time passing distraction. Good luck with that.

Change parliamentary financial processes, ensuring accounting consistency among the Estimates and the Public Accounts, providing costing analysis for each
government bill and restoring the requirement that the government’s borrowing plans
receive Parliament’s pre-approval.


Ensure that all of the Officers of Parliament – the Chief Electoral Officer, the Access to Information Commissioner, the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Budget Officer etc, etc, are all properly funded and respected for doing their important work to help Canadians.

We have seen during the last governments tenure that when you cant get rid of an officer whos reports you don’t like the next best thing is to cut their funding. We hope that they all do get sufficient funding restored to do their job effectively but must ask if there is a way to ensure that future governments cannot silence these officers by such methods.

Not use prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances, change the House of Commons Standing Orders to end the practice of using omnibus bills to reduce scrutiny
prevent future governments from using this method to silence critical reports.'

Both of these promises are a very good start and we hope that they can indeed “prevent future governments (and their own) from using omnibus bills“ although how you 'lock in' such rules to prevent future governments from changing them back and what penalties can be put in place to prevent the rules being ignored is questionable. All the rules around prorogation, forming coalitions upon the defeat of a minority government, and similar constitutional matters need to be clarified, particularly if electoral reform takes place that results in a greater probability of more minority’s being elected.

The above is almost identical to the 'list' proposed by Ms May of the Greens as presented in the post Fixing What Harper Broke where she says “Ideally, a parliamentary committee will be mandated to review the abuses of the last ten years and recommend a full suite of measures to ensure it never happens again. “ There is the rub, any incoming government can seemingly come in and change the rules (or ignore them) as most are not enshrined in law, but for a few citizens invoking constitutional challenges it could have been much worse.
As we have seen in recent years the rules around prorogation, minority and coalition governments and even House proceedings are easily abused, and how and when such constitutional maneuverings can take place is far from clear and governed more by 'tradition' than any hard and fast rules or guidelines. Such things need to be formally documented to avoid future 'constitutional crises'. With the House setting its own rules this is not an easy task, we wish the new Liberal government well with these changes and await the recall of the House to see exactly how much the 'tone' and substance of the proceeding will change under what we hope and expect to be a more open and respectful leadership.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

As Predicted......

To judge by a report released Tuesday by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the outgoing Harper government was unduly optimistic in its forecasts and estimates. (thats putting it 'nicely'!)
......that suggests that the Conservatives' heralded return to a budgetary surplus was in fact a mirage that could not have been achieved without the one-time sale of government-held shares in General Motors early in the first quarter.
For each of the next five years, the PBO projects fiscal deficits averaging $4.3 billion a year.
However, those deficits don't include the Trudeau government's spending plans. They are the deficits that would have occurred under the budgeting of former prime minister Stephen Harper, if his government had remained in office.
CBC Nov 11 2015

When the Liberals take power in the Fall I predict that they will find it is all smoke and mirrors, any 'surplus' will have been spent on shiny goodies and there will be a substantial deficit on the books.
'Rural' Nov 23 2014

With the above in mind lets take a closer look at what the Liberal Government intends to do about such 'slight of hand' when it comes to public accounting.

They have promised to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer truly independent, properly funded, and answerable only, and directly, to Parliament. Under the previous government he was an officer of the Library of Parliament and reported to the Speakers of both chambers. This would seem to indicate that he now would be a fully independent Officer of Parliament, we would hope that he would also be provided with the authority to make all departments provide him with the information necessary to make accurate and timely reports upon the current fiscal situation and proposed program spending. The Parliament of Canada Act states that, "the Parliamentary Budget Officer is entitled, by request made to the deputy head of a department... to free and timely access to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department that are required for the performance of his or her mandate." , however this did not stop various departments from withholding such information under the previous government. His reports can only be as good as the information that he receives, and as the previous PBO did (much to the vexation of those in power) his reports should be made publicly available by default.

There is also a promise to change parliamentary financial processes to ensure accounting consistency among the Estimates and the Public Accounts. My only comment upon that is why the hell would different departments use different accounting methods in the first place? Moving on, they say that they will provide costing analysis for each government bill and restore the requirement that the government’s borrowing plans receive Parliament’s pre-approval. I would bloody well hope so, asking MPs to vote upon proposed legislation without knowing the full impact of said bill upon the country’s finances is literally like “buying a pig in a poke”.

All these proposals are definitely a step in the right direction and we hope will be quickly instituted and we hope legislated into law to make it harder for this, or any future government to circumnavigate said rules. The question remains, as with all parliamentary 'rules' is what penalties will be introduced for those who refuse to follow said rules. As we have seen in the past there are no substantial consequences within parliament for such malfeasance other than at the ballot box every few years (if and when the public realize what is going on).