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, May 30, 2010

More Contempt

Scott Tribe recently summed up the latest attack upon our democracy like this:-

You’d think the Conservatives would have gotten the idea that they are accountable to Parliament after the Afghan detainee document mini-crisis, but in less then a month, they’re going to try and avoid accountability yet again by trying to “ban” their political staffers from being subpoenaed in front of a Parliamentary Committee.

As multiple others have pointed out, they are not allowed to do that, as the laws of Parliament clearly state:

..the power of Parliament to “send for persons” is explained in chapter 20 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. A committee of Parliament can issue a summons to any individual, ordering their attendance at a specific time and place. Only the Queen, the Governor-General, provincial lieutenant-governors, members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures and individuals not residing in Canada are, in practice, granted immunity from such a summons.

When the Conservatives attempt this stunt today, this clearly calls for another opposition point of order to the Speaker, and as far as I’m concerned, shows yet more “contempt for Parliament” as an institution by the current Conservative government. The opposition parties should act accordingly.


Here are some more extracts from the House of Commons Procedure and Practice Second Edition, 2009 as referred to in the above:-

The Standing Orders set out the powers held by standing committees.[135] Each is given the power to examine and enquire into all such matters as the House may refer to it, to report from time to time and to print a brief appendix to any report, after the signature of the Chair, containing such opinions or recommendations, dissenting from the report or supplementary to it, as may be proposed by committee members. Except when the House orders otherwise, committees are also authorized to send for persons, papers and records, to meet either when the House is sitting or when it stands adjourned, to meet jointly with other standing committees, to print from day to day such papers and evidence as may be ordered by them, and to delegate powers to subcommittees (except the power to report directly to the House).

Standing committees often need the collaboration, expertise and knowledge of a variety of individuals to assist them in their studies and investigations. Usually these persons appear willingly before committees when invited to do so. But situations may arise where an individual does not agree to appear and give evidence. If the committee considers that this evidence is essential to its study, it has the power to summon such a person to appear.[138] .

[138](This power, delegated to standing committees by the House, is part of the privileges, rights and immunities which the House of Commons inherited when it was created. They were considered essential to its functions as a legislative body, so that it could investigate, debate and legislate, and are constitutional in origin.)

Although they can send for certain persons, standing committees do not have the power to punish a failure to comply with their orders in this regard. Only the House of Commons has the disciplinary powers needed to deal with this type of offence.[151] If a witness refuses to appear, or does not appear, as ordered, the committee’s recourse is to report the matter to the House.[152] Once seized with the matter, the House takes the measures that it considers appropriate.[153]

.[151] The disciplinary powers of the House include the power to reprimand a person who is not a Member. They also include the power to suspend or expel Members from the House.


It would seem to me that the refusal to attend a committee upon request is a clear violation of the standing rules and should be referred to the House. As the House consists of ALL our MPs, of which the Conservatives constitute a minority, it is also clear that the House could, if it so desires, suspend or expel such members that refuse to appear. It is unclear what can be done to “staffers” who do so whether directed by said “members” or not, or to those “members” who direct them to do so. In other word if the committee specifically request a particular minister to attend and he does not there is recourse, but if a minister shows up in the place of a staffer it is the staffer who is in contempt, and the penalty's for him are not at all clear but would seem to be “a reprimand”!.

It does not say (so far as I can see) that it is an offense to direct or otherwise block someone from appearing, which is perhaps the loophole that this antidemocratic regime is counting upon to continue on their path to being totally secretive and unaccountable.

The question is will those MPs not totally controlled by The Harper Regime (or those controlled by other “constraints”) have the gonads to actually DO something about it? It is a sad state of affairs when a party that has a stated goal of exiting the confederation looks more democratic and respectful of parliament than the party currently in power. At this point a Coalition, which could even includes those particular duly elected MPs (who have “disrupted” parliament far less than those actually in power), looks much better than the demise of our democracy as we know it. In recent days rumors have been circulating that such a possibility is being investigated, I for one would welcome such a move but I am sure that the “coalitions are not democratic” lies will soon also be circulating.

At this point a Coalition government would seem to be the only way to save our democracy from this dictatorial and dishonest Harper Regime.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not worth the paper its written on!

Anything agreed to by the Conservative regime that is!

The Star reported just last week that the agreement in principal regarding the Afganistan Documents included this:-

“Committee members will have access to government officials from appropriate departments to provide briefings and contextual information and reasons for protecting information.”

The Globe and Mail reports today that :- “The Conservative cabinet has decided to ban its political staffers from appearing as witnesses before committees................”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, explained the new policy Sunday during an appearance on CTV’s Question Period. “Ministers are the ones who are accountable and answer to Parliament,” said Mr. Soudas, adding that a “government-wide” policy on the issue will be laid out on Tuesday.”


One wonder exactly how far this “government-wide policy” will go, we are rapidly reaching the point where even our elected representatives cannot access any meaningful information from “our government” let alone the public or the media.

We cant have someone who actually might know something testify before a committee now can we? Either parliamentarians have the right to know the truth and call witnesses or they do not, this is yet one more attack upon our democracy (what little we have left) by this corrupt and dictatorial regime.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Victory for Democracy ….. or maybe not?

Many of the recent headlines have been proclaiming a win for democracy including some Liberal blogs and even the Liberal Party web site after an all-party deal was reached on the Afghan detainee files , I am not so sure about that.

As a number of observers have noted this may well be but a small step forward in an ongoing war, Poggie sums it up quite well like this :- A deal "in principle" is not a final deal when the memorandum that actually spells it all out won't be ready for over two more weeks. And if that memo isn't available until the end of May, when will the specially selected committee of MPs actually be selected, sworn in and get down to work? When will the unredacted documents actually begin to flow? And when will the panel that reviews the documents to determine whether there are national security implications attached to their release be selected, sworn in and settle down to work? And incidentally, when will the MPCC start receiving the information needed to properly conduct its inquiry?

If we then add the fact that –“ Between 20000 and 40000 uncensored pages of documents about Canada's handling of Afghan detainees will be secretly examined by a security-cleared all-party committee of MPs” and that “Even after the MPs have decided that a document is relevant and necessary, a "Panel of Arbiters" will make its own "final and unreviewable" determination as to what will actually be released”. This tentative agreement would seem to leave much room for yet more “maneuvering” and takes the final say about what will or will not be released out of the hands of the parliamentary committee. If parliament is “supreme” then what exactly is this panel of Judges doing, it would seem that the contentious issue is whether or not the material is of concern to our National Security or endangers our military , one wonders what expertise any of those chosen to decide will actually have in those matters.

It is quite clear that both the Government and the Opposition could have come up with a similar arrangement prior to it almost precipitating yet another “constitutional crisis”. How many is that now since the Harper regime came to power? It seems they just CANNOT work together and agree on anything without pushing things to the brink… but wait, the did agree unanimously on something!

MPs have united to keep their expense’s from being audited In a rare act of unity on Parliament Hill, MPs from all four political parties have said that MPs say expense scandals couldn't happen in Ottawa, so no audit is required . So every one of our MPs and all their staff are 100% trustworthy, never make an error or charge something to their office budget that they should not. OK, I believe that …. Hardly!

Sheila Fraser's is correct on this one "The Auditor General Act does not list the agencies and departments to which our mandate applies," … "The act provides that the 'Auditor General is the auditor of the accounts of Canada ......' These accounts include ...... the House of Commons." MP’s office budgets, including “other” expenses reimbursed, are public moneys and should be subject to exactly the same scrutiny as any other government expenditure. I hope she continues to stands her ground on this. for it is once again a fundamental issue of transparency and accountability of our parliamentary system.

How can our MP’s defend not allowing scrutiny of their expenditures whist at the same time demanding that the government release the requested Afghan documents. Open and accountable, I think not, they are all playing the same game, hide their own errors whilst seeking to reveal others errors. Even our British cousins have decided that NONE of them can be trusted with a majority and brought in a Coalition Government, I wonder if we are ready here for that outcome because I see no other in the foreseeable future.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Travers on Choices

As always James Travers gets right to the heart of the issue when it comes to the ongoing attacks upon our democracy by the Harper regime. He has this to say regarding the recent Speakers ruling :-

Make no mistake, the crisis that began in December when the Prime Minister padlocked Parliament rather than reveal truths about Afghanistan prisoner abuse is far from over. Sometime in the coming weeks Stephen Harper must make another decision that will echo for decades.”

Travers says that Harper has three primary options. He can accept Peter Milliken’s sound decision reinforcing Parliament’s right to know, he can sabotage the talks and then buy time by asking the Supreme Court to referee, or he can sacrifice principle to politics in an election Conservatives could win by making losers of all Canadians.

He goes on to say “What we are witnessing is a pure if hardly simple power struggle, if Harper prevails, the affairs of state will be controlled by a cabal of whispering courtiers - appointed officials, political operatives and captive mandarins – clustered around and beholden to the Prime Minister.

Far from an exaggeration, that reflects current realities as well as future prospects. A Parliament now unable to fulfill its defining function of safeguarding public spending faces the new threat that the Prime Minister could win an election fought in part over his singular ability to decide what information will be shared with MPs and those who elect them.

As Milliken correctly found, Harper has no executive privilege or legal right to refuse Parliament’s document demand. To do so would “jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts”..........

Should an election take place over this then as Travers says “In making a ballot choice Canadians could effectively, if not intentionally, overrule Milliken, further undermining Parliament’s power over prime ministers. Once the election is past, the brick-by-brick dismantling of democracy would predictably resume.”

That point is worth repeating, we too have some hard choices to make at some time in the future, and at this point the signals seem to be saying sooner than later. If, when you have the chance to vote for new representation you either fail to exercise that option, or select a representative that either supports or condones these efforts, then you may well put and end to democracy as we know it. If those that want to reduce the effectiveness of parliament and increase the power of the PMO and give the prime minister presidential or dictatorial powers win the spin war then Canada as we know it is a thing of the past. Perhaps that is exactly what these 30% or so want?

That around a third of Canadians appear to find this acceptable is an ongoing mystery to me, is it from ignorance of the ramification, belief in the ongoing lies and spin, a lack of viable alternative choices, or simply a blind faith in a particular political party? Elections are always important, the next one will be critical. Lets talk about it!

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Democracy Returns?

The recent ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons is to important for this blog to remain on hiatus, it is as I have said before no longer mainly about our parliamentarians seeing those unredacted documents in regard to the Afghan situation but about a far more fundamental matter. It is about whether parliamentary decisions override decisions made by the PMO and the Prime Minister. Its about whether the government of the day MUST follow the will of parliament once due process has taken place and a motion has passed all stages. Its about whether we have a parliamentary democracy or a dictatorship. The Speaker of the House has clearly ruled that Parliament is supreme. It seems that the many bloggers and most of the MSM who have written about this of late “get it” and have focused upon this aspect of the ruling, it remains to be seen if the Harper Regiem “gets it”, the initial reaction seems to indicate that they do not!

I will not replicate the entire ruling here but simply post a few key extracts, fortunately Impolitical has done my work for me, here then are said important bits….

It is the view of the Chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its Members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded.
As has been noted earlier, the procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of Government documents, even those related to national security. Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question. Bearing in mind that the fundamental role of Parliament is to hold the Government to account, as the servant of the House, and the protector of its privileges, I cannot agree with the Government’s interpretation that ordering these documents transgresses the separation of powers, and interferes with the spheres of activity of the executive branch.

...The Chair must conclude that it is within the powers of the House of Commons to ask for the documents sought in the December 10 order it adopted. Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.

... Finding common ground will be difficult. There have been assertions that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which Members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities.
The issue of trust goes in the other direction as well. Some suggestions have been made that the Government has self-serving and ulterior motives for the redactions in the documents tabled. Here too, such remarks are singularly unhelpful to the aim of finding a workable accommodation and ultimately identifying mechanisms that will satisfy all actors in this matter.
But the fact remains that the House and the Government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse.

...Accordingly, on analysing the evidence before it and the precedents, the Chair cannot but conclude that the Government`s failure to comply with the Order of December 10, 2009 constitutes prima facie a question of privilege.
I will allow House Leaders, Ministers and party critics time to suggest some way of resolving the impasse for it seems to me we would fail the institution if no resolution can be found. However, if, in two weeks’ time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances.”

Finally there is this -


I echo Impoliticals thoughts on this, it is indeed “Time for a mature Parliament of leaders to step up and calmly resolve a significant issue. It's not too much to ask for, it's what a minority parliament is supposed to do. A Prime Minister plays a key role in that process and we really don't need any more of his unnecessary throttling of our democracy. If this Prime Minister were a real leader, we wouldn't have even been brought to today.

Let us hope that in the next week or so some “real leaders” emerge from that playpen in Ottawa and that ALL of our politicians use this as a stepping stone for a return to democracy. We must however keep in mind that it is hard to play nice with a child that does not want to share and strikes out at anyone who comes near………….!

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