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, 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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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bring Back Democracy

Harpers recent “I make the rules” comment has seen quite a bit of attention this week, one such article from Lawrence Martin of the Globe & Mail contained these suggestions:-

A Bring Back Democracy platform should start with reducing the powers of the PM to something a tad less than Mussolini’s. It should involve a restoration of checks and balances that give the word democracy some meaning. Some examples:

Implement the Gomery commission’s recommendations designed to set limits on the PM’s control of everyone in Ottawa from chimney sweep to deputy minister. In this vein, recreate an appointments commissioner – a promise dropped by the Harper government – that strips away the PM’s patronage powers.
Reduce the size of both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office.
Re-establish the integrity of the Access to Information process.
Dismantle the government-wide vetting system that sees much of Ottawa officialdom gagged unless given prior approval to speak by the PMO/PCO.
Restore some semblance of power to the cabinet. A prime ministerial pledge not to make pivotal decisions such as the ones on income trusts and Québécois nation status without prior consultation with that body would help.
Open the executive branch of government to media scrutiny. This could include daily press briefings at the Langevin Block, which houses the PMO and PCO but is currently off limits to reporters. It should include frequent open-ended press conferences by the PM.
Re-empower the increasingly cheapened committee system, starting with having the committees – not the PM – appoint their own chairs.
Reform Question Period so as to reduce the level of farce. Required is an end to the long run of Speakers who are not prepared to enforce the rules.
End the antiquated convention that shrouds the decisions taken by the Governor-General in total secrecy.”

He finishes by saying -
The heart of the problem is that the roles of the different branches of government are vaguely defined, leaving a power-hungry PM all kinds of latitude to run roughshod over the system. The roles, as Mr. Gomery has recommended, need be codified so that a meaningful system of checks and balances can result.”

I entirely agree with this sentiment and would add perhaps - End the misuse and abuse of declaring non budgetary bills “matters of confidence” and the “whipping” of our elected representatives to vote enmass along party lines.

Part and parcel of any parliamentary reform must indeed also focus upon the availability of unbiased information to both our MPs and the general public. Recently information commissioners, privacy commissioners and ombudsmen from across Canada met and issued a call for more open government. Specifically they resolved that:-

1. The Commissioners endorse and promote open government as a means to enhance transparency and accountability which are essential features of good governance and critical elements of an effective and robust democracy.
2. The Commissioners call on the federal and all provincial and territorial governments to declare the importance of open government, including specific commitments for stronger standards for transparency and participation by the public.
3. Governments should build access mechanisms into the design and implementation stages of all new programs and services to facilitate and enhance proactive disclosure of information.
4. Through ongoing consultations with the public, governments should routinely identify data sources and proactively disclose information in open, accessible and reusable formats. Public access to information should be provided free or at minimal cost.

Once again these things seem pretty obvious to those of us who are concerned about the ever decreasing “openness and accountability” and the ever increasing lack of respect for the unwritten (and even the “codified”) rules within our parliamentary democracy. Will ANY of the partys currently represented in the HoC bring such reforms forward, not a chance! Are there individual MPs and potential MPs who would push for such changes, undoubtedly. We must identify and elect such individuals without regard to party affiliation and let our views be known to those MPs for whom the “party line” comes before democracy if we are to ever have this debate be taken seriously.

T/H to Bondpapers and Impolitical for bringing these articles to our attention.

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