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, January 28, 2015

Balancing Act Important For Democracy

A guest artile by Jared Milne
I’m currently reading Brent Rathgeber’s excellent book “Irresponsible Government: the Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada”, which describes the methods that Canadian prime ministers have used to consolidate power in the Prime Minister’s Office, and force their Members of Parliament to follow all of their directions. MPs are now expected to only obey the prime minister, instead of keeping him and his Cabinet accountable the way Canada’s system of responsible government has traditionally required.

Many Canadians have been increasingly turned off by this system of top-down control. Samara, an organization dedicated to strengthening Canadian democracy, has noted that many Canadians believe that Canadian politicians and parties only want their votes, and don’t care about listening to their concerns. MPs are only seen as representing the views of their parties, instead of their constituents. Samara also found that even many MPs themselves came to feel that their efforts to represent their constituents were hampered by the dictates of their political parties. Many citizens told Samara that they had become disengaged from politics because they didn’t feel that it was really addressing their needs, and made them feel like outsiders. Significantly, many MPs also came to feel as though they became outsiders in their own parties.

Stephen Harper is not the first prime minister to increasingly centralize control in the Prime Minister’s Office. However, it’s been said that he has continued this trend because of the experiences of the Reform Party in the 1990s, when some of its candidates made statements that were later used by its opponents to smear the Reformers as bigoted and intolerant. These types of “bozo eruptions” can be a major political hazard, such as in the 2012 Alberta election. The statements made by Wildrose Alliance candidate Alan Hunsperger about gay people dying in a “lake of fire” are widely seen as a major factor in the Wildrose’s defeat.

The Reform party and the Wildrose both prided themselves on engaging their grassroots, and enabling members to speak their minds freely. This can make people feel like they’re being listened to, and their views are being taken into account by the party leadership. However, it also brings the risk that those views can be used by the party’s electoral opponents to make them look bad and turn voters off.
The challenge for political leaders, then, becomes how to listen to citizens’ views and make them feel as though they’re being listened to, while also determining which ideas are the best ones to act on and how they will be perceived by the public.

This would require a complicated balancing act, and not everyone would be happy with the results. However, it would still be better the current trend of centralizing power at the top of the party leadership, which then dictates how Members of Parliament vote and exercises top-down control on them. That trend has only turned countless Canadians off of politics, and weakened our democracy as a whole.

Jared Milne is a writer, researcher and public servant living in St. Albert, Alberta. His major interests including Canadian unity, nationalism and history, particularly regarding how Canada's incredibly rich past has affected the present we live in today.
-This article was published in the St. Albert Gazette on January 14, 2015 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20150114/SAG0903/301149997/0/sag


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Incremental Dictatorship

A guest post by Pamela Mac Neil
In order for a government to be all powerful, it must dominate all of the major democratic institutions in a society and it must be very adept, when seeking to change the democratic nature of these institutions, at hiding its inner workings while making that change. The Harper government is a fundamentally anti-democratic entity that caters to the agenda of the corporate elite. The decisions that shape all aspects of Canada's democratic institutions are made largely in private behind closed doors. Underlying the rise of Harpers authoritarian state is a hidden politics. Harper and his regime are not what they say they are. They are what they hide. The ideologic context that the Harper government operates in and which almost all in the MSM never talk about is that they are creating a market state via a neo-liberal system of ideas. The Harper government is attempting to rid Canada of all vestiges of democratic rule, while attempting to hide the power used in dismantling Canadian democracy and replacing it with a neo-liberal infrastructure. Where Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan implemented neo-liberalism policy openly and in large sweeps, later known as Thatcherism and Reaganism, Harper according to Donald Gutstein in his book "Harperism" is the only leader to implement neo-liberalism policies incrementally and out of view. "Harperism" describes the uniqueness of Harpers method and strategy when implementing neo-liberal ideas i.e., gradually and in secrecy. This way Canadians not only will not become alarmed but in fact will be ignorant of what the Harper government is actually doing. The goal is to create a market state governed by market transactions and not democratic services.

Harper and his CONS have been re-making the democratic practices of the Canadian state and transforming it into a neo-liberal market fundamentalism. They are doing this by laying the ground work to privatize as many government services and social programs that they can. Neo-liberalism essentially is based on the premise that political freedom is superceded by and dependent on economic freedom and it requires a strong state to create and enforce markets. If markets do not exist in health care, education, social security, environmental control etc. than they must be created and imposed by state action. Since becoming Prime Minister, Harper has made economics and free markets the central principle to creating public policy. Harper is no recent convert to neo-liberalism. He was introduced to Friedrich Hayeks ideas, one of the intellectual creators of neo-liberalism, whose best known book is "Road to Serfdom", as a graduate student at The University of Calgary. Hayeks work became the foundation of his graduate thesis and has continuously been the intellectual touch stone of his political ideology up to and including present day. While still having a long way to go in deciding where to lay the ground work in where markets are to be created and imposed, a necessity in creating the market state, since the CONS came to power in 2006, they have been active non-stop, so much so that they could be considered a parallel government operating alongside a parliamentary democratic government.

There are many departments, divisions, and government institutions in our democracy that provided social services to Canadians that have already been revamped, merged, or removed and remade by enforcing market dictates where they never existed before. A good example of this is that environmental issues are now addressed by markets rather than through government regulations.Deregulation is one form of privatization. Another promotion of neo-liberalism is Harpers free trade agreements and particularly with China. When a Chinese company seeks oil or gas, if a province or group like First Nations refuse them access even for perfectly legitimate reasons, China can sue in a secret tribunal and over rule any Canadian government. Chinese corporate behaviour will be dictated by the free market not by Canadian laws! Another strategy the Harper government has used is slashing revenues to there lowest levels in 50yrs, (around the time when Canadian government first created major social programs). Harper has crippled the governments capacity to administer these services to Canadians. After all if there is not enough money in the publics treasury to finance health care, social security and education needs, to name a few, they'll have to be provided by the private sector. In Harpers creating of the market state, there is more then one way to skin a cat or in this case a Canadian. Political power is needed to exercise neo-liberal ideas. These are the underlying ideas to Harpers governments destruction of democracy and they effect practically every part of our democracy. If you believe, as Harper believes, the many services that government provides like health, social security, UI etc. should be privatized, then as a government you need to dismantle government.

I realize of course that neo-liberalism encompasses much more then the conversion of most social acts into market transactions, With the Harper governments it is implicit in all areas of governing, like Nationalism, Human Rights, Supremacy of the Military, Controlled Mass Media. National Security, Religion and the Ruling Elite, Fraudulent Elections, Labour's voice suppressed and eliminated, Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and Neo-liberalism as a philosophy. I have attempted to present it more as an introductory explanation to what drives the decisions of the Harper government. I would like to elaborate further on Neo-liberalism in future articles, including one expose about how neo-liberal ideas are disseminated. Harper and those who inhabit The Prime Minister's Office, wield immense power over the workings of the Canadian state. I have no doubt that they are shaping Canada into a dictatorship, in secrecy and by gradually implementing one neo-liberal policy at a time.

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Poetic Reality

I had a guest post scheduled for today but the final text has not shown up yet. I did however receive this little offering from a regular corespondent. Enjoy!

If I were rich in silver and gold
Oil I would not need
Con's in Ottawa having a fit
Lost revenue, gained in greed.
If fair they were from day one
Not lie to we they "serve"
Promises kept, when first "to power"
Soon turned to bunch of nerds.
Police need to police and do their job
But Ottawa always to intervene
Great white father that guides the crew
Living his own private dream.
Bubble to burst, and when it does
Voters then to see
What they voted into office
Never, a Con voter I be.