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, December 26, 2010

What we did not get for Christmas.

Last year I simply asked for a functional and democratic parliament and said “I hung my xmas stocking out and would have loved to see it bulging with new cooperation, accountability, access to information and other nice surprises but I woke up to see just a partisan lump of coal in the toe. Maybe next year….”

No such luck, so I went back to my 2008s wish list hoping to see a more encouraging return on my list, that year I asked for much more but it seems over the intervening two years NON of these things have come to pass. The list remains unchanged and just as badly needed now as then so ever an optimist (although it becoming more difficult to remain so each year) I will repeat my wishes this year with little real hope of getting any of it..

I want ALL our MPs to put Country before self and Party.
I want consensus not confrontation to be the norm in the HoC.
I want truth not spin and propaganda from our leaders.
I want our scientists, bureaucrats and commissions free to speak their minds.
I want a strong and independent Senate to maintain those checks and balances upon our legislators.
I want a functioning parliament for more than just 93 days a year. (we did do a little better this year)
I want parliamentary rules strengthened, codified and followed. (and got the opposite)
I want penalties for MPs and Leaders who attack or abuse our democratic systems.
I want less “votes of confidence” and more “free” votes in the HoC.
I want our electoral system to be reviewed and made more representational.
I want party policy to have more effect on voters than party disinformation.
I want alternative partys to have a fair chance of being heard and elected.
I want the notion of minority or coalition governments being a bad thing removed.
I want independent “made in Canada” rules for our Health, Drug and Food systems to remain just that..
I want less integration and regulation “consolidation” with the U.S. not more. (again we are getting to opposite)
I want “the man of steel” Kevin Page and the Parliamentary Budget office to be able to continue their work without interference. (I am surprised and pleased that he continues his work despite the difficulties his department faces in getting information and funding, although I understand he will not be renewing his 'contract'.)
I want the Auditor General to be able to publish her reports at any time, not just when parliament is sitting. (She also continues to do a sterling job of revealing the waste and misuse of government resources)
I want Canada to retain or regain control of our natural resources and our major manufacturing and financial systems.
I want that “open and accountable” government that I was promised last year. (That was really wishful thinking wasn't it?)
I want public servants, federal, provincial and municipal employees to realize that the taxpayers pockets are all but empty and reduce their demands for “more”. (Its been pretty quiet on that front but I suspect as the spending restrictions take hold in 2011 we will hear more on this one)

Is that asking too much? At this point I would settle for a glimmer of hope that some of these things are even being considered but I suspect that all of us will go away again this year with a promise of sweets but land up with something that leaves a bad taste in our mouth!
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Small Incident....

.....in Great Brittan is perhaps an indication of where our 'democracy's' are headed world wide, it is a symptom of the over reaction by governments to what is admittedly a troubling tendency of a relatively small group of religious extremists to want to kill those who do not agree with them. Western democracy's must indeed be on guard against such fanatical extremism but this is ridiculous......

Here’s one example of the intimidation of peaceful protest by the young that is happening all over Britain. Nicky Wishart is a 12-year-old self-described “maths geek” who lives in the heart of David Cameron’s constituency. He was gutted when he found out his youth club was being shut down as part of the cuts: there’s nowhere else to hang out in his village. He was particularly outraged when he discovered online that Cameron had said, before the election, that he was “committed” to keeping youth clubs open. So he did the right thing. He organized a totally peaceful protest on Facebook outside Cameron’s constituency surgery. A few days later, the police arrived at his school. They hauled him out of his lessons, told him the anti-terrorism squad was monitoring him and threatened him with arrest.

The message to Nicky Wishart and his generation is very clear: don’t get any fancy ideas about being an engaged citizen. Go back to your X-Box and X-Factor, and leave politics to the millionaires in charge.

There have been many such reports at home and abroad coming not from countrys where despotic regimes rule but from supposedly democratic country's. If we allow our governments, the police and the 'security forces' to get away with this kind of nonsense then those fanatics have already won the war. As has been seen here in Canada its all to easy for authorities to trample upon our civil liberties in the name of 'security', hold citizens for sometimes extended periods without recourse, restrict travel of individuals with no proof of wrongdoing or otherwise circumnavigate our legal system all in the name of 'protecting us from terrorism'.

We now learn the the Security and Prosperity Partnership that previously raised such concern from citizens on both sides of the border was in fact not scrapped but merely carried on behind closed doors and as before with no parliamentary (or citizen) input. Under the guise of making the border 'more open' for trade and commerce a move is afoot to 'harmonize' our regulations with those of our neighbors to the south (read - change ours to suit them), and to create a 'North American Security Border' (read – become as paranoid and restrictive as our American counterparts).

Even when our government deems it necessary to bring such things to the attention of parliament with some proposed changes to laws or regulations it is often buried in the depths of some bill purporting to be a step forward and rarely studied in depth by our parliamentarians. Should it be questioned or further study or debate be needed the all too often it is rammed through using 'whipped' votes where all our representatives follow their leader like sheep right into the abattoir.

As each day goes by with more and more news of abuse of our existing systems both civil and parliamentary I begin to despair whether there is any way off of this slippery slope to authoritarianism. That the elite in both the political world and in the corporate world seem to think that the 'common man' will be forever content to struggle under the ever increasing burden of more regulation and less choice of our own destiny whilst they line their pockets on out dime just rubs salt in the wound. In Europe as governments try to correct their mistakes of allowing the corporate world to dictate their monetary policy, by cutting programs and support to the common man whilst largely leaving untouched the corporate crooks, the citizens are taking to the street in their thousands.

I do hope that we do not reach that point here in Canada but I fear it is not far off, the austerity signals are coming from government already and this coupled with the highly authoritative and controlling regime currently in power is almost certain to create even further hardship and discontent amongst many of our citizens. Unfortunately at this point I am not sure that a change of leadership would make much difference, particularly when the alternative is best described as 'The Same but Different' and both of the major partys refuse to even consider (at least publicly at this time) working with others representing alternative views. It is long past time that these political partys started working for the common man who elects them rather that the corporate interests that fund their back-room deals, but I feel it may well take rioting in the streets to get their attention. They need a profound shake up and getting just 25% or 30% support from the ever decreasing number of us bothering to vote is not going to change a damn thing no matter who wins.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Week of Revelations?

Its been a week of revelations, or perhaps that should be a week of confirmations of what we already knew, but either way the reports of the Auditor General and Ontario Ombudsman have given several thing a little more light of day. A number of other press releases and news reports this week have shown that Democracy is indeed Under Fire, I am not sure whether I should be depressed that such things are going on or glad that the manipulation of our system of government is being brought to light.
The following are but a few of the reports this week, if you can read these and then say that our democracy is not in trouble then you are either brain dead or so blind that you should not need those rose-coloured glasses that you are wearing!
Read them and weep.......

Prime Minister Stephen Harper nominated Ouimet as commissioner on June 12, 2007, saying her "unique combination of skills and experience [would] serve her well as she leads the implementation of the new regime for the protection of whistleblowers."
It didn't turn out that way, given the AG's findings, and one must question whether this was the intent of Mr. Harper all along, to undermine the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner position and let public sector whistleblowers twist in the wind.

“Our voting system creates a large risk of the most anti-democratic of all outcomes, which is a majority government that got the minority of public votes,” said Green Leader Elizabeth May. May was granted the right to intervene in a case before the Quebec Court of Appeal that argues the current electoral system in that province violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A full year after Parliament demanded those documents, this charade hasn’t made a single document public. It flies in the face of the Speaker’s ruling. Instead of holding this government to account, my opposition colleagues are helping to shield records at the heart of this investigation,” said Defence Critic Jack Harris. “If they couldn’t see it six months ago, surely they can see it now: We need a public inquiry.” http://farnwide.blogspot.com/2010/12/parliament-is-submissive.html

It will be twelve months ago Friday that the Commons passed a motion demanding the government release documents revealing what ministers and generals knew about Afghanistan prisoner abuse. Since then, an ugly fight that included the padlocking of Parliament and a celebrated ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken fizzled into a hapless skirmish, leaving Canadians none the wiser.

Conservative prospects were so bleak last December that Harper prorogued Parliament — thinly claiming the government needed time to recalibrate its agenda — rather than disclose documents widely believed to be damning. But oh what a difference a year makes. Today Conservatives are climbing opinion polls, pressure for an inquiry is below zero and Liberals along with the Bloc are mired in a glacial process that has yet to make a single document public.

“By changing the legal landscape without fanfare in this way, regulation 233/10 operated as a trap for those who relied on their ordinary legal rights,” wrote Marin in his exhaustive post-mortem.....
“The effect of the regulation … was to infringe on the freedom of expression in ways that do not seem justifiable in a free and democratic society,”

The Harper government is bracing for a backlash over a border security agreement it is negotiating with the United States, anticipating it will spark worries about eroding sovereignty and privacy rights, a document obtained by The Globe and Mail shows...............
The communications strategy for the perimeter security declaration – which the document says will be unveiled in January, 2011 – predicts one of the biggest potential critics will be the federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. That’s because the deal is expected to increase the amount of data exchanged between law enforcement and other government authorities in both countries.

Canada is under pressure from U.S. officials to further comply with American security rules which in some cases, threatens its sovereignty and the privacy of its citizens. As a result of the war on terrorism, the U.S. government now has more power to restrict air travel and is not only dictating North American, but also international security measures.
Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act would require Canadian airline carriers that fly over the U.S. to provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with passenger information. This includes name, date of birth, gender, as well as passport and itinerary details when applicable.

If the concepts of power, representation, justice, equality, citizenship and human rights figured more prominently in public debate, then we would have at our fingertips an analytically rigorous set of ideas that both reveal and explain the uneven distribution of influence and resources that undermines democracy at this time. Taking transformative action to rebuild our political fabric would follow from each of those starting points. Yet all six themes have lost traction relative to the totemic markers of our time, notably competitiveness, productivity and economic growth.

There are times when all our politicians fail Canadians, and even the most partisan amongst us have to admit it they’re all behaving like fools. And the actions of the major three parties when it comes to Bill C-12 is one of those times.C-12 is a government bill that the Conservatives have been in no big hurry to pass, and the opposition parties have shown no particular desire to push them on.

A remote area of Mexican desert is popularly referred to as the 'Silent Zone'.  Radio communications are said to fail there due to local magnetic fields, and some claim that conversations cannot even be heard when people are in the Zone.  Is the Senate in danger of becoming a similarly afflicted zone?  Quite possibly, although not by reason of natural causes.

Perhaps the whole of Canada is in a silent zone, because our political masters sure do not seem to be hearing us, or if they are our words are left drifting in the wind.........

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fair Representation not coming anytime soon.

But for John Ibbitson's bit in the G&M the demise of the bill to bring just a little more proportional representation to our Canadian parliament would probably gone unnoticed. It seems that ALL our representatives in the HoC, or a least all their party bosses, have decided quietly amongst themselves that bill C12, a bill to bring the number of MPs more closely aligned with population growth will be shelved.
To quote Ibbison “Sources report that the Conservative, Liberal and NDP leadership encountered strong resistance to the bill among Quebec and Maritime MPs, who correctly argued that their regions would have relatively less influence in the House. The Bloc Québécois opposed the legislation from the start.
The Liberals and Conservatives especially feared that passing the bill could harm the electoral prospects of their Quebec MPs. Facing caucus revolts and potential electoral losses, the government shelved the bill.”
In other words who gives a shit about democracy or fair representation when we (the party) may loose a few seats in an already over represented area. What chance then of getting ANY support for the far wider electoral reform that is sorely needed in this country, those now in power along with those who think they may have a chance to regain power will fight tooth and nail to retain the status quo because it serves THEIR interest. When will these folks who are supposed to be representing the best interests of their Constituents and OUR Country start putting those interests before self and Party? Not until they are forced to I suspect.

The imbalance is highlighted by Ibbitson by pointing out some numbers from the recent by-election - “The need for the bill was manifest in Monday’s by-elections. In the exurban Toronto riding of Vaughan, 120,864 voters were entitled to cast ballots. But Winnipeg North has only 51,198 electors, making a vote in Greater Toronto worth less than half the value of a vote in Winnipeg.”

Even worse are these numbers from StageLeft -
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux will take his seat in parliament to represent the riding of Winnipeg North after collecting 7,303 of a possible 51,198 votes - that's 14.26% of the electorate.

Conservative MP Julian Fantino will take his seat in Parliament to represent the riding of Vaughan after collecting 19,260 of a possible 120,864 votes - that's 15.94% of the electorate.

Conservative MP Robert Sopuk will take his seat in Parliament to represent the riding of Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette after collecting 8,176 of a possible 53,549 votes - that's 15.27% of the electorate. “

No matter which side of the equation these MPs are on it would seem that they can hardly say that they have the support of their constituents or indeed truly represent the riding from which they come. True, the turn out was pathetic, not that such apathy is uncommon in by-elections, or for that matter general elections. If the question was asked “why do you not vote” I suspect many respondents would say “Because my vote makes no difference, even if the person I vote for wins the 'party' will dictate how he votes anyway, so why bother”!

I maintain (despite that I am one of those minorities whose vote will have less clout should proportional representation ever take hold, a rural resident) that representation that more closely follows the actual wishes of our citizens can do nothing but improve the way in which our democracy works. I will mean a broader range of views will actually see the light of day in parliament, it will mean less of a monopoly of power by the long established partys, it will mean more citizens will feel they have greater control over who gets elected and may even wrest a little power back from those Political Partys who think their way is the highway and everyone else is to be ignored.

Returning to the killing of Bill C12, its not all bad. In these times of fiscal restraint the addition of 30 new MPs would cost us a minimum of 18 to 20 Million a year if we include salaries, pensions, office budgets, allowances and services provided by the House. Its hard to gain any perspective when our government proposes to spend millions on fighter jets designed for war when our search and rescue folks still do not have new helicopters and our navy still does not have any heavy ice breakers to patrol our northern waters. When our prime minister and his ministers have increased their own spending by 16.5%, when Harper's office expenses ballooned to $9,894,370 (Yes, thats almost 10 MILLION in “office expenses”) in 2009, when the Conservative government spent $100 million on polling over the past five years.

It seems to me it is not MORE MPs we need, but BETTER MPs working for the betterment of our citizens rater than the “Party”, representing a more evenly distributed number of citizens and elected in a more representative way!

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Defending Democracy

In any civilized society there must be rules which we all generally follow, in a democracy hopefully we have at least some input at to what those rules are even if only by selecting those who make them. There will always be those who do not fully agree with such rules and whilst we all have a problem with some of them we generally follow them as to do otherwise leads to anarchy and chaos. We have in such a democratic civilized society a number of ways to indicate our displeasure when such rules are not to our liking, voicing our opinion to those that make the rules or kicking them out at the first opportunity or pressuring those responsible by publicly making our views known in letters, blogs, print or in the streets.
Non of these methods is particularly effective for the individual citizen and sometimes such protests get out of hand and a few individuals go 'over the top' and promote or participate in violence and / or property damage in order to 'get attention'. Whilst I perhaps understand such frustration I do not condone it, again I believe this is the path to chaos.

This brings me to the point of this post, the lack of respect on BOTH sides, protester and law enforcement, by a few individuals that brings into question our ability to remain a peaceful and cohesive society. Recent reports have clearly shown that there are SOME who are tasked with upholding the rules that our governments have placed upon us (whether we agree with them or not) have been abusing the power vested in them to enable them to do this difficult and sometimes dangerous job. Worse, their colleagues, who cannot help but be aware of such abuses, stand back and do nothing, either at the time or after the fact. There have been a number of well documented cases where such abuses of power have either been highlighted in court or in official inquiries but little if anything has been done to correct the problem or penalize those responsible. I view such lack of accountability a real problem for our democracy, for our society depends upon us having at least a passing respect for our legal system, not only from the average citizen but also from those who enforce it and from those who decide upon the penalties for 'breaking the rules'. If the majority of citizens come to believe that the legal system, of which our police are part of, does not work or is biased then it clearly will not work and cannot help but eventually fail. As with government if those at the top do not respect the rules then what incentive is there for the citizen to follow them? Is this why we need more jails?

How can our system of law enforcement (or government) survive, as other than an arm of a dictatorship, if there are no repercussions for those responsible for upholding the rules, and they are not subject to the same rules and same punishment as the average citizen who does the same thing. Not only must there be equal treatment but such treatment must be seen to be done openly, equally and investigated independently of the very system that these folks are part of. When fellow officers either through a sense of loyalty, fear of repercussion from colleagues, or some other repercussion of speaking out, remain silent in such situations they are no less responsible for the ever decreasing respect with which their job is held than those that abuse the power that such jobs hold. Continuing in this direction is a recipe for more civil unrest not less, its a difficult job, do your job with as much restraint as possible officers, but do not protect those amongst you that clearly cannot be trusted with such power.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Senate Shananikins.

There has been much said this week about the hurried vote in the Senate that killed the Climate Accountability Act, almost all of them include the phrase “unelected Senate” as if this is the problem here. Whilst it may be part of the problem it is by no means the only area of contention, lets face it this is a reflection of the extreme partisanship which has now migrated from our ELECTED MP's in the House of Commons.

Lets take a look at what one observer has to say and then return to address some of the points raised....

It's kind of hard to argue that the Senate remains the "chamber of sober second thought" when they kill a bill passed by parliament without any debate. And this wasn't just any bill. This was the very first bill passed by a democratic nation which established greenhouse gas emissions targets for a period beyond that mandated by the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, Bill C-311, passed by our elected officials in parliament, established that Canada would commit to reducing emissions by 25% from a 1990 baseline by the year 2020 (in contrast to the Conservative Party's stated goal of "reducing" emissions by +3% above 1990 levels by 2020,.................
And now our unelected Senators have killed our Parliament's bill without any discussion. This situation is just absurd. We elect parliamentarians to represent our interests, and that's presumably what happened when parliament passed Bill C-311. What good is a Senate which can betray our elected representatives in such a way, and betray Canadians in the process? There was considerable debate in parliament before Bill C-311 was adopted; in the Senate, none at all.

For quite some time now, I've advocated for the abolition of the Senate at the federal level of government. Our provincial governments do not have equivalent upper houses. It's always been unclear to me what value the Senate adds to the legislative process, except to perhaps stand in the way of legislation adopted by political parties which don't also have majorities in the Senate.

Lets not 'throw out the baby with the bathwater', just because the current method of selecting senators and the dictatorial tendencies of the current PMO makes the senate look bad does not mean the whole concept is flawed. I agree with Steve that It's kind of hard to argue that the Senate remains the "chamber of sober second thought" but lets lay the blame where it belongs, with the political partys that use the senate as a reward system for highly partisan party faithful. Without an independent second in depth look at legislation (and yes, I agree, that is NOT what we are getting now) a party with a majority, or a minority with a weak and inefective opposition, can force through ANY legislation it wants no matter how partisan, idealogical or flawed it may be. That the conservatives are playing games once again with our legislative system should not enter into the debate as to whether the senate should be abolished, this is after all what they seem to be trying to accomplish, a system where the PM and his hand picked flacks in the PMO can do ANYTHING they please without any 'checks and balances'.

There is little doubt that a better method of selecting senators exists, its just than no one can agree as to what that may be, elected or appointed the political partisanship will still rear its ugly head. Election by the general population could follow the makeup of the HoC so closely that the senate would be but a rubber stamp for the party in power, or maybe not, its hard to tell and would depend much upon how such elections were carried out. Our senators are supposed to represent various regions of the country, we have a system of regional elections, its called provincial government, why not use this level of government to select senators. Appointment of senators to represent various areas of the country by majority vote of the provincial legislatures (from a list of candidates nominated by some process independent from the PMO or the Provincial governments of the day) would seem to be a reasonable and easy to implement solution.

The point here is that, in my opinion we need the senate. If you question that, go look at the details a few of the more complex bill put before our MP's, it is impossible for individual MP,s to fully understand the implications of such bureaucratic gobbledygook without extensive study, something that rarely happens. The study of such bill clause by clause is what the senate is SUPPOSED to do, and in fact they have in the past revealed major flaws and hidden clauses in such bills, (the omnibus budget bill comes to mind) to the embarrassment of the partys that created such documents.

Bottom line lets FIX the Senate not abolish it!

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Past The Post Undemocratic

Elizabeth May will be an intervenor in a court challenge arguing that the first-past-the-post electoral system contravenes the fairness required by Section Three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Fair Vote Canada has also been granted intervenor status in the case.  Spearheaded by L'Association pour la revendication des droits démocratiques (ARDD), a Quebec democratic rights group, the case (Gibb v. Quebec's Attorney General and Quebec's Director General of Elections) is currently being heard in the Quebec Court of Appeal, and is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Both May and Fair Vote Canada will be represented by renowned Canadian Constitutional lawyer, Peter Rosenthal.  With a legal team headed by powerhouse Julius Grey, the case has been winding its way through the courts since 2007. 
Hat tip to drivingtheporcelianbus for bringing the latest on the court challenge to our antiquated first-past-the-post system to our attention.  Several other bloggers picked up on this here is what one one of them had to say:-

If Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton  truly believed in real democratic reform (instead of just platitudes), then they would step up and join ranks with the Greens and with Fair Vote Canada to obtain an interpretation from the Quebec Appeal Court and later (probably) the Supreme Court of Canada.

Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms constitutionally guarantees all Canadian citizens the democratic right to vote in a general federal or provincil election. Neither Parliament nor any provincial legislature can override this section using the overriding section 33.

The clause reads:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
As Wikipedia states, generally, the courts have interpreted section 3 as being more generous than simply providing a right to vote. As stated in the case Figueroa v. Canada (2003),[1] the section has been viewed as a constitutional guarantee to "play a meaningful role in the electoral process," which in turn encourages governmental "respect for a diversity of beliefs and opinions."
Of course one of the arguments against a system proportional voting will be that it will create more minority and coalition governments and that such governments are not “stable”. That rather depends upon whether the partys involved WANT it to be stable, such governments can and do work if our representatives try and work together for us instead of work apart for themselves.

When will the Liberals and the NDP get it? Without some kind of accord between these two parties, the country is locked into a kind of political version of the movie Groundhog Day—doomed to repeat the same depressing, cynical and destructive politics day-in, day-out until our democracy is so damaged that no one will bother voting.
There are policy areas that civil society organizations need to focus on to expose the Harper Conservatives—their economic policy, the tar sands, democratic reform, Harper’s security-state obsession, jets and jails, and climate change. But it is absolutely clear that, barring some serious, deal-breaking corruption scandal hitting the Harperites, nothing is going to change any time soon.
The archaic first-past-the-post voting system is not just undemocratic, it is profoundly anti-democratic in a system that now has five political parties with proven staying power.

Lost along the way was trust in a system that, despite its many faults, could once be counted on to act in the best interest of most citizens, most of the time. Growing in the vacuum created by lies, fraud and countless broken promises is the acidic judgment that parties are guided by self-interest and the powerful few who whisper in their ear. Abused and abandoned to wander in a democratic wasteland, voters have every reason to be mad as hell and every right to pummel the nearest politician.

Yesterday, half of the voters cast votes for the Progressive Conservatives and half for other parties,” said Fair Vote Canada Executive Director Larry Gordon. “But the half supporting the Progressive Conservatives will be represented by more than three times as many MLAs – 42 PCs vs. 13 Liberals. The opposition is severely under-represented and the 17% of the electorate supporting parties other than the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals have no representation whatsoever.”

The figures below show the popular vote for each party, along with the number and percentage of seats under the current voting system and the proposed MMP system.
PC - popular vote 49% - with MMP, 28 seats (51%) rather than 42 seats (76%).
Lib - popular vote 34% - with MMP, 18 seats (33%) rather than 13 seats (24%)
NDP - popular vote 10% - with MMP, 5 seats (9%) rather than 0 seats
Greens - popular vote 5% - with MMP, 3 seats (5%) rather than 0 seats

There seems to be an attitude in the government - that they can go in, be deliberately defeated and call an election - that's not how our constitutional system works. The government has a minority - it has an obligation to demonstrate to Canadians that it can govern. That it can form a majority in the House of Commons. If it can't form a majority, we look at other options, we don't just concede to the government's request to make it dysfunctional. I know for a fact that Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton and the people who work for them want this Parliament to work and I know if is in all of our interests to work. The government has got to face the fact it has a minority, it has to work with other people.”
No this is not Iggy speaking but Harper in 2004! Would that he listened to his own advise!
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Open Government?

I have on several occasions pointed out the value of Open and Accessible information in protecting our democracy, recently the Liberal Party made a commitment to reverse the increasing secrecy that current pervades government. We are a long way from actually seeing it happen but this is a big step in the right direction, promises are easy. They say:-

Liberal Party of Canada is committed to democratic renewal – and that means a commitment to open government.
While progressive governments in other countries have deployed digital technology to advance transparency and unshackle information to fuel knowledge and innovation, Canada has been held back by the most secretive government in its history.
To create a new level of accountability for government spending and to spur innovation and economic growth, a Liberal government will open government to the public through four specific measures.
The Liberal Open Government Initiative will:
  • Immediately restore the long-form census;
  • Make as many government datasets as possible available to the public online free of
    charge at opendata.gc.ca in an open and searchable format, starting with Statistics
    Canada data, including data from the long-form census;
  • Post all Access to Information requests, responses, and response times online at
    accesstoinformation.gc.ca; and
  • Make information on government grants, contributions and contracts available through
    a searchable, online database at accountablespending.gc.ca.
For complete details, please read the PDF policy brochure.

Emma Hogbin, recently appointed Science and Technology Critic for the Green Party of Canada had this to say on the subject ...
Last week the Liberal Party of Canada launched their Open Government Initiative. There's been a bit of buzz in the blogosphere about the Liberal initiative. I'm delighted that we're moving towards open government. I'm looking forward to the Conservative government agreeing that this is really important and declaring that all (appropriate) data will be available.
But what if we launch into this "open" thing and it all goes horribly wrong? Let's assume that only appropriate data is made publicly available. Let's assume that all privacy and security concerns are met. There's still two very important points that need to be met before data is "open":
I've been using a lot of the freely available government data from elections.ca and StatsCan and the Community Information Database for my campaign. But freely available information isn't the same as open data. Freely available information is like the reference section of your public library. You can read all the books for free. But you can't take them out of the library. And you most definitely cannot highlight the really important passages, rip out pictures for your scrapbook, or otherwise convert the information into a format that's useful to you. Freely available information can only be used as-is.
Open data, on the other hand, is released into the public with the intention of it being remixed by other people. A license is applied to the data that allows other data nerds (scientists, geographers, map makers, etc) to copy and paste the bits they need. The remix could result in new maps--or in the case of science: new revelations about the world around us. Open data can make it easier for government departments to work together too--with open data anyone (especially bureaucrats) can grab a copy of publicly licensed information and get to work. There's no chain of command and there's no wasting time waiting for the person who's on vacation to give you permission to use data from the department down the hall. The data comes with a built-in permission slip via its license.
Sound interesting? I sure think so! I have started collecting information to create a new policy for open data and open access to information for the Green Party. The policy will include a way towards open government that includes:
  • opening data sets created by government
  • opening data sets created by publicly funded research
  • appropriate licenses for public data
  • appropriate formats for maximum re-useability

Emma Jane Hogbin is the Science and Technology critic for the GPC and  Green Candidate for the riding of Grey Bruce Owen Sound.
Dont hold your breath on the Conservatives embracing these initiatives, they did after all promise to be Open and Accountable and we know how that worked out. But also be aware that many within the civil service have been pushing for this sort of thing, both internally and for public consumption but are being frustrated by the restrictions being placed upon them. Let us hope that with several groups all pulling in the same direction we can get some movement on this one.
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mail, phone & electronic voting

With Municipal elections now complete here in Ontario and in most provinces across the country it appears that there has been a significant increase in voter turnout in most regions and municipalities, in some places up to around 55% from a low of about 35%. The question becomes is this due to increased citizen engagement and interest in who runs their local government, an increase in political interest in general or due to the greater use of alternative means of voting.

I suspect that the latter has much to do with it, this time around many municipalities in addition to traditional methods used mail in ballots, electronic voting machines, internet voting or phone in voting – or a combination of all or some of the above. In our case it was a simple mail in ballot and most certainly made things much easier from my point of view.

It is difficult to quickly see who did what and how it affects turnout as there seems to be no central repository of such information. Also, references to “electronic voting” can be referring to electronic voting machines which voters must physically enter their choices on, electronic counting machines for paper ballots, on-line internet voting and even phone in voting.

None of these methods on its own is ideal; however those municipalities that have used a combination of these methods may have the best chance of getting more citizens to participate in the democratic process. Can these lessons be applied to provincial and federal elections? I don’t see why not, certainly Election Canada is currently studying the various possibilities and examination of these local elections should give a good indication of the advantages and pitfalls of such systems.

Lets take a quick look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of some of them.

Firstly Voting online or by telephone where the voter is sent instruction by mail, the following is an example from the Brockville vote..

“Aside from giving directions on how to vote, the forms also contain the all-important, eight-digit, personal identification number (PIN). The number allows voters to gain access to the voting system where they will cast their ballot. The form includes a web site where they can go to cast a ballot or a telephone number. ......... Electronic or E-voting also allows voters the opportunity to cast their ballots over a number of days. Voting will commence at 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 18 and continue uninterrupted until 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25. Voters are encouraged to vote early to avoid higher volume activity periods near the end of the election period.”

Thus far that seems to be one of the problems, at least one such system crashed due to being overwhelmed by last minute voters. “The electronic voting system being used by the town of Arnprior for the Oct. 25 municipal election was overrun during the final two hours prior to the 8 p.m. deadline causing it to shut down, leaving many local residents unable to cast a ballot.” The voting was extended 24hrs.
If such a system is used, and this goes for mail in systems also, there in no need to wait until the last minute unless of course one is relying on last minute polls to make your decision. This should not be an issue with municipal votes but could be more of a problem with Provincial or Federal voting if it ever finaly got modernized to this extent. Perhaps the publication of polls AND electioneering should be banned during any period where voting is taking place, even if that be by mail or internet and covers the entire week before voting ends?

There is also always the possibility of tampering or errors or failure of software and hardware used for electronic voting. This issue is equally true for machine counted paper ballots, telephone voting and Internet voting. Ballot counting machines and touch screen computer voting (with a confirmation printout viewed by the voter) can be audited, however remote voting by telephone or internet is much more difficult to recount. One observer says this:-

“If we get the technology right, it still will not be finished. If the goal of a voting system is to accurately translate voter intent. The voting machine itself is only one part of the overall system. In the 2004 US election, problems with voter registration, untrained poll workers, ballot design, and procedures for handling problems, resulted in far more votes being left uncounted than problems with technology. Let’s learn of this for Mexican elections.

If we're going to spend money on voting technology, it makes sense to spend it on technology that makes the problem easier instead of harder.

Last but certainly not least. Nobody seems to even consider other countries experiences. Brazil, Estonia, France, Venezuela and others, already vote electronically. It is unthinkable that they have not considered what I have written above and have found solutions to these problems.”

The traditional paper ballot is not without its problems, as mentioned above it can be subject to long line ups and other problems including access problems for some residents without transportation or with health issues. None of these methods is sufficient on these own, it is a combination of such voting systems that must be available to make it easer to vote, but will that be enough to get our citizens out in increased numbers?. I think not!

It may take several things to raise the number of voters, an increased number of folks dissatisfied with the status quo, a voting system where the results more closely reflect the popular vote, a viable alternative to vote for, AND an easily accessible and secure voting system. With that in mind it would seem that the voting method is the easily solved problem, alternative voting systems such as STV or MMP are years away and alternative political parties are making little headway in part because of just that.

All I know is that when 50 or 60% is considered a good turn out there is something wrong in this Canadian Democracy. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lies & Spin

Here is James Travers this week on the ever decreasing “truth” of information coming from our politicians of all stripes:-
It’s a revealing quirk that the word that best describes how politics is practiced here is banned from Parliament. The words is “lie” and in any other place it would be firmly fixed to everything from the flimsy justification for gutting the census to the bogus boast that the country is tracking towards balanced budgets.
Let’s be perfectly honest: Sometime before the Millennium, “spin” crept into the political vernacular as an elastic substitute for “truth”. Old promises were recycled as new, brush was furiously dragged across the money trail and governments flying both red and blue colours found ever more inventive ways to frustrate the public’s right to know.
Since then little lies have grown into the Big Lie. This fall alone Conservatives have been exposed here for grossly inflating wispy resistance to the mandatory long-form census and caught out at the United Nations for making the imaginative declaration that Canada is back up front on the world stage.”
The article continues to say that its not just the Conservatives “spinning” the truth but that the opposition is party to this troubling trend in our nations capital. Indeed the term “Honest Politician” is rapidly becoming an oxymoron, and that’s a shame and a disservice to the few MPs who truly do try to be honest, open and accountable.
This week we also had another indication that fact and information must not get in the way of spin and lies. Those civil servants that attempt to make public their concerns on such matters were supposed to have at least a little protection against political pressure to dismiss or demote them should they point out some wrongdoing or misinformation by the government of the day. To that end a Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was appointed some 2 or 3 years ago to listen to, and rule upon complaints by the civil service regarding such matters, but now it would seem that even within this office something very fishy is going on.
The country’s public sector integrity commissioner has retired from her post just as the federal auditor general has launched her probe into the commissioner’s office amid operational complaints.
Christiane Ouimet, the federal whistleblower watchdog who hasn’t produced any recommendations or found any wrongdoing in her three years on the job, announced Wednesday she is “retiring” four years before her term is set to expire. “

Ouimet's job was to protect public service whistleblowers, and investigate complaints of wrongdoing. But she found no evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever in any of the 170 complaints her office handled since Stephen Harper appointed her in 2007. It was all "nothing to see here, move along" from the get-go. Guess who one of the complainants was? Sean Bruyea. Name ring a bell?

Ouimet was also, it seems, a rare pleasure to work for. In one twelve-month period, 18 of her office's 22 employees left. (tip o the hat to Dr Dawg on that one)

It seems that there were in fact thousands of complaints but only 170 were elevated to the status of “official” complaints and of those only a handful made it much further through the process and as was pointed out above NONE were found to have any merit. I find that VERY hard to believe, between that and all the staff quitting it is clear that the civil servant actually had NO protection and I am sure word spread quickly and had a chilling effect upon those individuals on OUR payroll who wished to point out a problem in government.

We must be very grateful that we have a strong Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, who, it would seem, is determined to do her job in an ethical, open and timely manner. Sort of reminds one of Kevin Page over at the Parliamentary Budget Office doesn’t it. I wonder how long it will be before her budget gets cut and she has difficulty obtaining information necessary to do her job?

In a political landscape where lies and spin is the norm we must thank and support those individuals who do not fall prey to this insidious trend, and condemn and publicly identify those who do.

Talking of Lies here is one of the most blatant as pointed out by our friend Impolitical:-
This from John Baird
“Mr. Speaker, this government, when it comes to administrating the public's business, always acts with great, high ethical standards, openness, transparency and fairness. Those are all the principles. When it comes to standing up for Canada, this government has no price. We will always do what is right for this great country.”

If you believe that, please contact me regarding some ocean view property I have for sale in Saskatchewan........
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Democratic Deficit, Contempt & Maple Syrup?

Some recent commentary, please see the original posts for the full text.

Showing utter contempt

The Conservatives’ contempt for Parliament apparently knows no bounds as they are expected to deliver their fall economic update today, in Mississauga of all places. No, you’re not mistaken – the House isn’t sitting this week. For them to deliver it outside of the House shows contempt in and of itself, but to deliver it on a week where it’s not even sitting is just rubbing it in. It shows that the government doesn’t care what the House thinks, because there is no speech to MPs, and no chance for the other parties to respond to its deliver at that time. Oh, and in these times of “fiscal restraint,” the government could have delivered it in the House for no cost, or they could deliver it outside, in a ridiculously controlled environment with a ridiculous backdrop for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But hey, contempt of Parliament costs money, and they apparently are going to make us pay for it.

Jim Flaherty's annual fall update was in fact delivered Tuesday not in Parliament but at a business lunch in Mississauga and was full of self-congratulatory rhetoric ...

Democratic Deficit Disorder

Domestic relations characterized by chronic wedge politics, partisan bickering, and character assassinations
An overworked PMO as a result of downgraded functioning within the government’s executive
Shutdown of civic participation described by low voter-turnout and heightened political apathy
an electoral system that no longer meets the demands of the country’s democratic life source, Canadians.
A “Wizard of Oz” style politics that uses tactics such as prorogation to mitigate transparency and accountability
And finally, an overwhelming tendency to play “the blame game.”
Canadians need to start demanding a better democracy, or else Canada is going to have some serious leadership issue for years to come — regardless of what side of the political spectrum you support.

How you know a government is broken

(The G & M) ran an excellent piece about how the government's promise to strengthen Canada’s access-to-information laws is now five years old.
It is of course all so laughable it is sad. Here we have an issue that the public is universally supportive of - making government more transparent and accountable - and yet the government contends the issue requires extensive consultation. And so... no action.
Meanwhile, on issues to which the public is almost universally opposed - for example the long form census - the government acts without consultation, without evidence and in the dead of night, hoping that no one will notice. Again, it would be laughable if the implications weren't so serious. It's also a big reversal of what should have been and maybe the clearest sign yet this government is broken.
And it didn't have to be this way. Looking back at the Conservative's 2006 election platform under the header "Strengthen Access to Information legislation"
How many of these promises have been implemented? To date, only one
As an aside, take a look at that platform. Guess what isn't mentioned once: The long form census.
One of the great pledges of the Conservative government was that they were going to make government more accountable and more transparent. So far, when it comes to managing information - the collective documents our tax dollars paid to create - today our government is more opaque, more dumb and less inspiring to Canadians than it has ever been. For a government that was supposed to restore Canadians confidence in their country, it has been a sad decline to observe.

Not Enough Maple Syrup

It was reported on CBC this morning that in a last ditch effort to win over votes for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, Canadian diplomats were giving out maple-leaf shaped bottles of maple syrup.
Maybe our government’s grasp of the concerns of the world’s nations is a bit lacking in substance.………..
………. no matter how much we give out last minute bottles of maple syrup, and no matter how sincere the pitch for membership from the PM to the General Assembly seemed two months ago, actions speak louder than words.  The actions of the Harper government led to this outcome  --  not their words, nor the words of Michael Ignatieff in saying what everyone knew, that our reputation in the world was tarnished after four and a half years of Harper government policies.
You reap what you sow.  Let us hope that this is the nadir in Canada’s world reputation.  Let us commit to be the country we once were, with a Prime Minister and a House of Commons that understands what it takes to be a constructive member of the family of nations.
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Democracy Takes Another Hit

With parliament barely returned from the summer hiatus we can already see the direction that things are going. This week a motion to have the house decide whether or not a breach of privilege had occurred when certain ministers or bureaucrats failed to appear before a parliamentary committee when summoned. The Harper regime has a history of disrupting the committee process but now we see the opposition assisting them in doing so. I will let Eugene Forsay Liberal take it from here….
The LPC "cowers pathetically" in refusing to defend Canadian democracy!
Democracy, and thus in Canada, parliamentary democracy, belongs to all Canadians, is the foundation of our society, and is not any party's plaything. Lord knows all of them have mucked with it for their own ends. But given the epic struggle we had over the past year to defend democracy, parliamentary democracy, led by the LPC, to their credit, for once, I am outraged and ashamed the LPC would have sold it out, for little or no reason, as far as I can tell. And in being weak, they have exposed themselves to further attacks. So wrong, bad, and STUPID. Always be on the offence, ready to fight an election, rather than on defence. Prepare for war, and you shall have peace, or war on your terms, which is no bad thing. But the LPC were pathetic cowards and traitors to democracy by cravenly abstaining on this motion, moved by the NDP, supported by the Bloc, which was right on the money: In light of these matters, the Committee has reason to believe that a breach of privilege may have occurred. The Committee feels it is its duty to place these matters before the House at this time so that the House can take such steps as it considers appropriate.

Given all the LPC did, and fought for, this past year, it never even occurred to me they would sell out democracy - I took it for granted that whatever the diversity of views within the party, they had finally understood how fundamental an issue this is, and indeed, from apparatchik point of view, "a winner", and would do the right thing, without any further prodding. I really did. How can any parliamentarian NOT support such a motion, given the CPC behaviour? Resign your seats if you're not going to stand up for the principles and institutions of Canadian democracy, which give your role meaning. Because as of now, you're meaningless empty puppets. Siksay's comment is exact: '"We can't let this one slide," Siksay says -- if the committee "drops the ball" on this one, it will be dropping said ball for all committees, current and future, which is why he thinks it's something that must be followed up on.' As O'Malley rightly noted, "You know, I'm glad Szabo isn't still in the chair for this. He shouldn't have to see his party COWER PATHETICALLY".

Not good enough, LPC, and not good enough to moan about election timing, or feel guilty but what's done is done. Bring this back, by hook or by crook, PRONTO! As always, My Democracy Before My Party.

I second that motion. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Measuring Democracy

I recently caught Alison Loat of Samara, “a charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with the Canadian democracy”, on TVO's The Agenda taking about one of their projects, exit interviews with former Members of Parliament. Whilst it was interesting to hear some of the perspective from former MPs, of more interest was another project with which they “hope to strengthen the health of our democracy and encourage others to do the same”. They are developing a project to “measure democracy” something that, given that each of us sees not only the state of our democracy differently but even exactly what democracy actually is differently, is very difficult to do.

I am told it will take at least a year to develop the protocols to make such a measurement so don't hold your breath waiting for a startling report showing the decline which many of us feel has been taking place of late. I do hope however that you will support their efforts, for we do truly need a measure of where we stand in this regard. This all got me to thinking “how would I measure democracy”, is it the opportunity to have a small say in who runs the country, or province, or municipality, by voting for our choice of representatives in those particular governmental bodies every few years, or is it much more than that? Here then are a few suggestions of other measures that might be good indicators.

  • How closely do the results of an election follow the wishes of an electorate as measured by the number of seats in the various legislatures versus the popular or regional results?
  • Are smaller regions and minority populations adequately represented?
  • Is the pre-election process fair and equal for all candidates, do large partys, incumbents, highly funded individuals or partys have a unfair advantage over independents or small partys?
  • Can or does the incumbent government use public funds for partisan purposes?
  • Is information on government programs, spending, decisions & policy readily available to the general public?
  • What measures are in place to enhance, or suppress, information both public and internal?
  • Is access to information proactive or reactive, how closely do statements by government and political partys match the facts?
  • Are parliamentary processes fully documented and closely followed, how often are processes abused or ignored for political gain or idealogical reasons?
  • What percentage of votes in the legislatures are “whipped” and how often are our representatives free to vote their constituents wishes or personal beliefs?
  • Does the government of the day follow the wishes of the majority of MPs as per vote in the legislature how many passed motions are ignored or shelved by the government of the day?
  • Are arms length boards and commissions free to do their work without political interference, are said bodies open in their dealings and decisions?
  • How much information from government experts, bureaucrats and departments is altered or suppressed by the political arm of government.
  • Are Ministers and staff available to parliamentary committees when requested and free to testify without pressure by the government of the day.

I am sure I have missed some measurable things that give an indication of the state of our democracy so please add any you feel may be useful to the comment section. I will then make the folks at Samara aware of them in their efforts to get a handle on this.

You will note that I put a great deal of emphasis on the availability of accurate information, whilst process may be the the thing that we have to do correctly, information is the thing that allows us to see that it is being done. As James Travers said just this week :-
“Voters and taxpayers are vulnerable in an information vacuum. They have little empirical protection from the spin that away from here is known as lies. We the people have no consistent means of separating fact from fiction, reason from ideology or imminent dangers from imagined threats.”

Is our democracy in imminent danger, its hard to tell, thats what this project is all about.
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coalition, coalition, coalition?

First Britain then Australia now Sweden? Who's next, Canada? Despite the Harper regimes concerted effort to scare the electorate into voting for HIMSELF by saying that any other vote may result in a coalition and, oh my god, may include those nasty NDP and Bloc MP's actually cooperating for the good of the country, it is a real possibility. At the least it would seem probable that the next election, whenever that may come, will result in a minority government. The only question is whether it will be a Conservative minority or a Liberal one. If the former then we know that no coalition will be sought, unless of course the Harper regimen finds it politically expedient to do so, and who would go into ANY kind of agreement with such an untrustworthy lot. If the latter then there are several scenarios, a simple Liberal minority government without the formal support of any other party much the same as is being done now, coalitions between Libs and NDP – with or without the Bloc support, even perhaps with newly elected Greens with the balance of power. You may be sure that the election will not be called unless either Harper or Igniff think that they can garner more than that magic 35% of votes which would result in 51% of the seats and 100% of the power but as in the above examples the actual results may well surprise them and FORCE them in to a cooperative coalition.

A word here about coalitions that include the Bloc. Despite their avowed intent to “separate” from Canada (which in my view is wrong for both them and Canada) they have disrupted parliament far less than than the currently ruling party, they have in fact done everything above board and within the democratic process. When was the last time you heard of a Bloc MP disrupting a parliamentary committee, or trading insults during question period? They at least have respect for the process which is more than can be said of the Harper regime.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating. A coalition is not a bad thing, it may in fact be a good thing, it is merely a formal agreement between a number of political partys when a minority government situation exists to COOPERATE and to not vote non-confidence and trigger another election given certain agreed conditions. This surely is how we would wish our parliament to work, cooperatively rather than the current constant confrontation and brinkmanship, it is in fact how our parliament is intended to work As Elizabeth May said in referring to the recent rant by Jim Flaherty in a speech recently to the Canadian Club in Ottawa, “here we go again. Somehow cooperation is not a threat in Sweden, UK, Australia and Ireland, or in the past Germany, France... the list is long. But in Canada, the very idea of our parliamentary democracy working as it should is held out as the big threat.”

It is indeed long past time that ALL partys and politicians started working together for the betterment of our country and the protection of our democracy. The time for partisan rants designed to divide and confuse the electorate is long past, but that will not stop it from happening, let us ignore such self serving spin and support those who would seek to work together.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Canadian Coup d'etat?

The RCMP has recently identified “activities aimed at overthrowing, by violence, the Government of Canada.” as a specific security concern in their plans and report to government. This has me wondering what conditions must exist for such concerns to become part of the operational priorities for the year.

Whist our neighbors to the south do have a bit of history in invading countries I hardly think that such a thing is very probable and the RCMP (or for that mater our entire military) could do little to stop it anyway. The problem it seems must be closer to home, certainty a large portion of our population is unhappy with the Harper Regime but I hardly think that a takeover by violent means is imminent, never the less let us look at the sort of conditions that could lead some folks to believe that such a move would be the answer.

There would have to be an authoritative dictatorial regime in place who refused to consider the needs and desires of the general populous, one who put their own ideological agenda ahead of seeking consensus within parliament. There would have to be a regime in place that wasted taxpayers money on self serving promotion, increasing partisan departments such as the PMO whist at the same time reducing funding to other needed departments and programs. A regime that withheld the true state of the economy, on details of government spending, on social needs and other key indicators. A regime that silenced open debate and opinion by government employees, scientists, statisticians and economists and who summarily dismissed those who dared to openly disagree with the official government line. One that used every means at its disposal to circumnavigate the rules and conventions of our parliamentary system in order to forward its own views and to remain in power despite a broad condemnation of such tactics.

There would have to be a suppression of the publics civil liberties ,the right to peacefully protest, the right to gather in public places. There would be the use of police or military force to prevent or control such gatherings, our public and private broadcasters and press would be prevented from asking unscripted questions of government representatives, members of the ruling oligarchy would be tightly controlled and instructed as to their opinions and voting. There would have to be a refusal to even consider changing the method by which the government of the day was selected, any move to make the system more representative of the citizens choices would be soundly rejected. Any move to make the funding of electioneering fairer and more evenly distributed, or to remove the advantages afforded to the government of the day by restricting expenditure of taxpayers money on partisan messaging, would be ignored and existing rules would be broken or removed. There would be large numbers of citizens unemployed and unable to find work and at least a perception of little chance of change in the foreseeable future, the government would say there are no problems, the recession is over.

Hmmm, perhaps it not so far fetched as I thought! That said I do not believe that a regime brought in by other than democratic means can be considered a democratic government, as is the hope in Afghanistan it MAY lead to a democratic system sometime in the future, but democracy cannot be forced on the population nor can a democratic government be installed by force. It would seem then that those who would remove a government by force either want a (perhaps different) dictatorship of their choice or simply no government of any kind and not a “better” democracy!

There are many other things which could trigger an uprising of the populous against the government either in small groups or generally across the country but there is one condition which seems to be missing from the mix thus far. There must be a realization by a large portion of the population that such abuses are taking place, coupled with a feeling that there is little chance that we can initiate change through the normal democratic process. The first is gradually becoming true despite the apparent unwillingness of our media to report such things however the second, although a view held by many, is not factual. We DO have the means for change, if only it would seem at the convenience of the ruling party, it just takes US encouraging the right individuals to stand for office and then getting out and voting for them.
So get off your collective arses, seek reliable and unbiased information, seek honest politicians (is that an oxymoron?) or candidates and then at the first opportunity VOTE. But vote for those who would protect and enhance our democracy and do NOT vote for those who would abuse and diminish it no matter what party they are affiliated with. Lets do that, whilst it is still an option, for the alternative is unthinkable.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Letter to the Prime-minister.

Harpers stubborn insistence in destroying the integrity of the Canadian Census seems unlikely to change unless forced to, however this letter contains a proposed change in legislation which should be tabled in the HOC as soon as it resumes. The letter signed by Mel Cappe, David Dodge, Ivan Fellegi and Alex Himelfarb was sent earlier this week to the Prime Minister and leaders of the other parties represented in Parliament.

Dear Prime Minister,
Over the course of the summer issues have arisen that put the well earned credibility and
respected international standing of Statistics Canada at risk. Minister Clement is correct, of
course, in noting that Parliament has established the agency not as absolutely independent, but
reporting to a Minister with the Governor in Council determining the questions of the census.
However, the responsibility of the Chief Statistician for methodological and technical issues, implicit
to date, has been called into question. Thus public confidence in the agency and the reliability of
its statistics are likely to be reduced in the months and years ahead. The surest way to mitigate
that risk is through a reaffirmation of the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (attached).
We call on the government to reconfirm Canada’s commitment to the UN Fundamental Principles
of Official Statistics and to amend the Statistics Act to make clear that the Chief Statistician is
responsible for issues of methodology and technique.
As the UN Principles indicate in the preamble:
“the essential trust of the public in official statistical
information depends to a large extent on respect for the fundamental values and principles which
are the basis of any society which seeks to understand itself and to respect the rights of its
Moreover, UN Fundamental Principle 1 notes: “Official statistics provide an
indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the Government,
the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental
Principles two, three and four, in particular, call for the Chief Statistician to be able to maintain
public support for, as well as trust and confidence in the methodological basis for Statistics
Canada’s products. Those principles would suggest that the Chief Statistician be given the
statutory responsibility for methodological competence now implicit in the office. Moreover, it
follows that the Chief Statistician have the statutory authority to provide information to the public on
methodological matters and issues relating to the reliability of the data.

Amending the Act to incorporate these principles might include adding sections as follows:
4 (2.1) The Chief Statistician shall:
(i) within the financial parameters provided by the government determine
according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and
professional ethics, the methods and procedures for the collection, processing,
storage and presentation of statistical data;
(ii) present information according to scientific standards on the sources, methods
and procedures of the statistics;
(iii) provide such public information that in his opinion are necessary to facilitate
appropriate statistical interpretation of data..
Needless to say, this will have significant implications for the candidate the Governor in Council
chooses to be the next and subsequent Chief Statisticians.
Prime Minister, our intent in proposing these amendments is to ensure continued public trust and
confidence in Statistics Canada and in the quality of statistical information gathered, produced and
published by the agency, preserving a world class institution with a stellar reputation.
We are copying the leaders of the other parliamentary parties as we see this issue as absolutely
non-partisan and simply and essentially in the interests of good governance.

Yours truly,
Mel Cappe
President, Institute for Research on Public Policy,
and former Clerk of the Privy Council
David Dodge
Senior Advisor, Bennett Jones LLP,
former Governor of the Bank of Canada,
and former Deputy Minister of Finance
Ivan Fellegi
Chief Statistician of Canada (Emeritus)
Alex Himelfarb
Glendon School of Public and International Affairs,
and former Clerk of the Privy Council
c.c.: Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party
Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Québécois

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