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, June 28, 2015

Senate Reform Redux

With a small minority of senators under the spotlight for spending irregularities and the Duffy trial adding a further spotlight on how the unprincipled nominated to that body can cheat the system (such as it is) there are the predictable calls for it to be abolished. NDP leader Thomas Mulclair is one such individual, he has said that if elected he will consult with the Premiers to try and come to an agreement to do so, I call this simply political expediency! He knows full well that it will be almost impossible to obtain the unanimous consent of all provinces plus the majority of the House and the Senate required to abolish this institution. He also says that he has yet to meet anyone who does not support his position on this...... what bloody nonsense! I wish politicians would not lie to make their point, whilst there are no doubt many folks that subscribe to his point of view on this some of us look at it in a somewhat more practical way and want major reform, clearly defined rules, and a non partisan way of selecting senators.

My own particular opposition to the elimination of the senate stems a great deal from the Harper Regime's actions regarding legislation since they have had a majority, whilst we know that they have a majority in both the House and the Senate and thus have basically forced bills through with little debate and no regard for the many thoughtful amendments put forward in both houses the senate has at least added to the discussion and given a little time for “second thought”. Imagine if there were no Senate and a majority government (of any stripe), what then would be the restraint upon an ideological government such as the one we have now from ramming through self serving or clearly anti-Canadian or pro foreign corporation legislation without restriction. It would bring us even closer to a dictatorship than we are now!

Although now that the brown stuff has hit the fan Harper insists that “As you know, the Senate is an independent body and the Senate is responsible for its own expenses. The Senate itself commissioned the Auditor-Generals’ report and the Senate itself is responsible for responding to that report,” we know that currently that is not the case and it is for the most part a highly partisan body not known in recent years for its independent thinking.

YES, the chamber needs reform, the way of selecting members needs to be changed (Harpers choices have clearly demonstrated that) but in my view we DO need a chamber of “sober second thought”, it just that right now we have a chamber of partisan appointees some of whom have no regard for either the taxpayer or the need for the independence of the senate. I have said before on these pages that the best solution (without reopening the can of worms that opening the constitution would involve) is to have the PM voluntarily select Senators from a short list provided by the provinces, it seems that Brian Mulroney agrees with me (or I agree with him, that would be a first!). I all so happen to agree with him that some kind of independent panel / commission needs to review and establish some set rules for the way the Senate operates. As with the Liberal proposal to “create a new, nonpartisan, merit-based, broad, and diverse process to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments” the problem will be of course who appoints the panel and will Parliament and the Senate adopt any rules proposed?

One final word on this, if we were to do away with any government institution that broke the rules, whose members spent public moneys with little or no oversight and who set their own rules as and when they thought fit, then the PMO, the House of Commons and the Conservative caucus in particular would be high on my list. Last year, when Green Party Leader Elizabeth May proposed the AG come look at MPs’ books, Tory MPs vetoed her request however now all parties say they are open to the idea but have yet to actually request said audit!

Its not the Senate (or the House of Commons) thats the problem, its those self righteous appointees that are in it who have no moral compass and who do not understand the word ethical!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Voices for Democracy

Voices-Voix is a non-partisan coalition of Canadians and Canadian organizations committed to defending our collective and individual rights to dissent, advocacy and democratic space. They have documented attacks against organizations, individuals and institutions that have raised their voices, to show the pattern of government silencing those who exercise their right to dissent.
They have a membership of over 200 organizations and “encourage Canadians to raise their voices so that governments meet their core responsibilities to respect the equality, transparency and diversity of voices that make a democracy thrive.''
They recently released a report (1 MB PDF) titled “Dismantling Democracy” which documents in great detail the actions of the Harper Regimes in silencing both those within government and outside of it who have been critical of this regimes policies.

In their opening statement they outline the failure of the Harper Regime to foster the Open and Accountable atmosphere promised when they were first elected that has now become the antitheses of their actions and policies.

Rather than consistently promoting a robust democracy,
Canadian governments have often deployed a range of
methods to limit dissent, public debate and democratic
participation in Canada. But since 2006 there has been
an unprecedented intensification of the use of these
silencing tactics, particularly by the federal government.
Deliberate funding cuts have affected the public and
charitable sectors; audits are targeting organizations
critical of the government; parliamentary processes
are being abused to undermine accountability, and
critics of the government are being harassed and
vilified. All aspects of Canadian democracy are being
targeted, including the institutions and processes
of parliamentary democracy; the development and
dissemination of knowledge; the voices of marginalized
communities, and respect for human rights.

An inclusive and robust democracy requires that
governments foster rights to free expression, free
association, peaceful assembly and equality. To thrive,
civil society must be adequately resourced, able to operate
free from interference, and free to engage meaningfully
with government. By failing to promote an enabling
environment or foster the human rights that are critical
to democracy, the government denies Canadians the
dynamic, innovative society they aspire to build.

The introduction to the Undermining Democracy section clearly spells out their concerns (and mine) with the many and ongoing actions by the Harper Regime that diminish and threaten to destroy our democracy.

Dissenting and diverse voices within the public sector are being silenced. Parliamentary processes are being misused and abused. Omnibus budget bills are introducing sweeping changes to federal legislation, curtailing political debate. Parliamentarians and civil servants are being vilified or fired for publicly disagreeing with government policy.
Independent advice from the public service is being ignored or eliminated. Oversight
mechanisms are being undermined through government control and interference.

Compounding these failures in Canadian governance is the federal government’s attack on knowledge. Independent research institutions, government research programs, and libraries and archives have been systematically defunded. The brunt of these cuts are borne by departments, programs, or projects seen as inconsistent with government policy. Public sector scientists and researchers are being prevented from speaking publicly, and non-government organizations working to promote knowledge are seeing their funding cut and their records audited. Curtailing knowledge jeopardizes the government’s ability to consider options and alternatives and develop sound, evidence based policy that responds to the public’s various needs.

Marginalized communities have been especially penalized in the government’s zeal to

silence dissent. Funding for organizations working to protect and advance the rights
of all Canadians is increasingly under threat, and audits have been used to intimidate
and muzzle the charitable sector. This has affected organizations providing services for and conducting advocacy on behalf of women, Indigenous peoples, veterans, and the economically marginalized, making it harder for them to organize effectively, express their concerns, and hold government to account.

The federal government has invoked national security, foreign policy and ‘border
protection’ to silence accountability and limit transparency for its own human rights
infringements, eroding the ability of everyone to participate equally in democracy.
The impact of these tactics is devastating for debate, dissent, diversity and ultimately,
Canada’s democracy.”

23 case studies of instances of silencing the public sector where individuals or departments have been “Fired, forced removal or not re-appointed” or subject to “Funding cuts and restrictive internal policies “ are linked to in the report and are available on their web site. All information is fully supported with references to source material. There is far to much information contained in this report to even summarize here and it is a long read but I encourage all those who want to see a documented outline of what the Harper Regime has and continues to do to our democracy and in particular to those non profit and charitable organizations who speak out against such action to take the time to read it.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Conservative MP Declines Debate

Bruce Grey Owen Sound MP Larry Miller is declining an invite to take part in an all candidates debate sponsored by the Owen Sound and District Chamber of Commerce.
He says he will be declining to participate in any all-candidates meeting that follows the traditional format, one he says simply does not work. He says he would prefer a format where each candidate is given a few minutes for opening statements and then they go to a corner and take questions directly from voters.

And so it starts where Conservative candidates, many of whom avoided all candidates debates in 2011, play follow the leader and will only “debate” where the format suits them. Certainty in smaller communities where a limited number of voters show up for such debates the ability of voters to directly ask the candidates questions is helpful but with much more than a handful of folk present the table to table private chats that Miller prefers is hardly practical. Such a format also permits candidates of any party to make promises and assertions without being challenged by their opponents and without the press being able to properly cover such statements.
We wonder if Mr Miller is perhaps not so comfortable spouting the lines provided by the PMO and various ministers, wants to avoid making publicly embarrassing statements as he has in the past or simply cant remember his lines! Certainly there is nothing wrong with requesting changes to debate format but to avoid debates that dont suit your personal preference seems to very much reflect the conservatives and their leaders mind set of my way or no way.

The Conservative MP issued a statement in May of 2011 just after his re-election to Parliament, saying these debates have simply become a contest between candidates to see who can get the greatest number of supporters out to cheer and jeer. He says they are only attending to cheer louder than the supporters of other parties or embarrass another candidate with planted questions. Miller says this was made clear to him at a debate during the last campaign when he asked the crowd of 300 people if anyone was still undecided on who to vote for, and only about a dozen people put up their hands.
See his letter to the Editor and hear his statement to Bayshore news.

Look for much more of this sort of attempt to control the dialogue from the Conservatives as the election approaches and increased pressure is put upon all candidates to put their positions before the public so that they can make an informed choice.

UPDATE June 24th

Miller now says he'll take part in the one urban debate in Owen Sound on October 1st and likely one rural one. However he says he won't take part in a series of debates like there was in 2011. He says the fact that the debate will be televised several times by Rogers means it will be available to people who normally can't get out to these meetings and that swayed his decision.