A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Anti-democratic News Media

It has been reported this morning that the news media barons have decided that you shall not hear from all the political leaders in any upcoming debate, but that Elizabeth May who had the support of over 900,000 voters right across Canada in the last election will be excluded. This is particularly galling when a regional party, the Bloc,with only a slightly higher popular vote and NO representation outside of Quebec is included. Who gave them the right to decide who you can and cannot listen to, who gave them the right to effectively pre-decide who should have the opportunity to put their views before the public, why should we allow a few corporate big wigs to artificially spin the odds in favor of the incumbent partys.
It matters not which party you support this is once again an affront to democracy, not this time by the Harper regime but by the corporate media barons, it is unacceptable to exclude a party who represents the wishes of so many Canadians.
I have no doubt that there will be the same outrage that a similar decision last time brought about, it was eventually changed to include Ms May and any citizen who truly cares about democracy must once again let these media types that pre-filtering the news and political debates is no less a measure of contempt for democracy than the Harper regime has shown of late.

Elizabeth May MUST be included in the debate if it is to have ANY legitimacy in helping us decide who REALLY cares about our parliamentary democracy.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Harper Legacy – Part 1

Introduction - The next 5 weeks

Given the pre election attack ad's put out by the Harper regime we must assume that Mr Harper believes that the past actions of a political leader dictate the future actions of both the leader and the party. With that in mind it only seems prudent to examine in detail the past actions of Mr Harper and his regime prior to, and since, taking power. Over the next few weeks it is my intention to do so. As always I will focus upon statements and actions impacting upon our democratic institutions, the availability of accurate information necessary for parliamentarians and the voting public to make informed decisions, and other such actions and statements that show how this regime has show total disdain for democratic processes.

Over the next few weeks rational debate and factual information will no doubt be in short supply and what little may be found will be lost in a cacophony of lies, spin, untruths and selective or revisionist history. I hope for the most part to avoid such political traps but make no mistake I will be seeking and discussing items that specifically show what damage the Harper regime has done to our parliamentary democracy for I truly believe that to continue down this path will lead us to a situation where 'we the people' will have even less say in our destiny than is now the case. I note that in the opening hours of the salvo the Mr Harper is already lying (as he did in 2008) by saying that they never considered a coalition in 2004, to quote Mr Duceppe: "Mr. Harper called us to a hotel.....We changed the rules that day....Mr. Harper lied this morning. He was going to form a coalition in 2004 with the Bloc." and despite Mr Ignatieff's commitment to not form a coalition it must be remembered that this is a perfectly legitimate form of government which Mr Layton has not ruled out.

I hope to cover the following periods of Harper's 'rise to power' and will attempt to provide links to reliable sources giving the details of the various statements and actions so that readers may satisfy themselves that those things listed did indeed take place and may read more about them if desired.
I am aware of a number of 'lists' giving an outline of such actions created over the last few years, and have in fact created some of my own since Harpers disdain for parliamentary convention became apparent, if you know of any such compendiums fell free to post a link to them in my comments section or drop me an email. I suspect however that I will have no difficulty in filling pages with instances of this regimes anti-democratic actions, but may have difficulty in keeping my posts to a reasonable length.

Here then are my tentative sub titles and periods to be covered over the next few weeks:-

The Rise to Power, In Opposition and Before 2004 – 2006
The First Try, Early Election 2006 – 2008
The Second Try, Parliament Suspended - Twice
The Current Mess, No Respect -2010 -2011
Conclusion, Choices & Results

I expect to show that the legacy that the Harper regime leaves is that of the most dictatorial and secretive anti-democratic government in Canadian history. That in waning hours of this session Conservative house leader John Baird used the phrase “Tyranny of the Majority” and said
"We find ourselves here today faced with the most partisan of attacks from an opposition coalition bent on defeating this government at all costs." to describe the actions of the majority of our duly elected representatives is but the latest indication off how little they care about democracy.

I hope readers will follow along as I review the rise of this destructive regime and carefully consider if continuing on this path is constructive for our democracy and the future of our parliamentary system of governance. It is increasingly looking like this election is going to be, at least in part, about the abuse of democracy by the Harper regime, but let us all keep ALL the partys feet to the fire and get some commitments for parliamentary and electoral reform whilst we have the candidates attention.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Standing Up for Democracy

The following letter has been recently published at http://plblack99.blogspot.com/ , I do not know Mr Black and can only say that I agree wholeheartedly with him, we must indeed focus upon the attacks by the Harper regime upon our democratic institutions and show Mr Harper that contrary to his recent statement Canadians DO care about our democracy.

Dear Messieurs Ignatieff, Layton, Duceppe and Ms. May

In the 2006 election, the Conservative Party’s slogan was “Stand Up for Canada. In the coming   election, your common slogan must be “Stand Up for Canadian Democracy”.

I know that you will explain to Canadians why you disagree with various policies of the current government. I am asking that, in addition, you remind Canadians of the numerous practices­ of Stephen Harper which are undermining our democratic institutions - Parliament; the Judiciary; the Civil Service; and Canadians’ right to information and the truth from their government:

Abusing Parliament

·                     Shutting Down (Proroguing) Parliament twice in 5 years, once to avoid a non-confidence vote which would have brought their government to an end, and once to avoid providing information to Parliament on whether our armed forces were collaborating in torture.

·                     Ignoring Canadian Legislationafter passing legislation to establish a fixed date for federal elections, the Prime Minister called an election in 2008 in violation of the new law. Recently, four senior Conservatives were charged with willfully exceeding spending limits in the 2006 election campaign.

·                     Disrupting Parliamentary Committeesthe Conservatives prepared a secret 200 page manual to guide Conservative MPs on how to subvert the work of Parliamentary Committees. Conservative MPs adopted these tactics on many occasions. This is the type of political “thuggery” one expects in Russia or Zimbabwe but not in Canada.

·                     Refusing to Answer QuestionsMinisters refuse to answer questions during Question Period and refuse to allow their staff to respond to questions when summoned by Parliamentary Committees.

Undermining the Canadian Judiciary

·                     Recently, Minister Kenney criticized Federal Court judges for rendering decisions he didn’t agree with. He was sending a message about how they should behave in the future. Such remarks show contempt for judicial independence – an absolute necessity in our system of government.

Attacking the Civil Service

·                     Firing or maligning civil servants who don’t agree with the governmentthe head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (Linda Kean) was fired for ordering the shutdown of the Chalk River reactor; Richard Colvin, a respected Foreign Service Officer, was ruthlessly subjected to personal attacks by the Harper Conservatives as a result of his testimony to a parliamentary committee; the Parliamentary Secretary to the Defense Minister sent out emails promoting the purchase of F-35 airplanes and demeaning the former Assistant Deputy Minister of Defense’s concern about the  sole-source deal as “BS”, without any explanation of this distasteful comment.

·                     Lying about Senior Civil ServantsMinister Oda said that the CIDA President supported the government’s decision to eliminate funding to Kairos. Months later, the Minister admitted that her statement was false. The Minister of Industry claimed that the Chief Statistician (Munir Sheikh) supported the government’s decision to substitute a voluntary census survey for the traditional long form survey. Mr. Sheikh resigned his position in order to tell Canadians that a voluntary survey could not do the job of a mandatory census (i.e., the government lied about his advice).

Lying to, and Hiding Information From, Canadians

·                     The government claimed that hundreds of Canadians had complained about the intrusiveness of the long-form census. Yet, the government was unable to substantiate this claim, and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada had received just three complaints about the census in the last decade.

·                     The government has introduced a dozen crime-related bills. Yet, when asked by MPs about the expected costs of this legislation, so that they can decide its merits, the government claimed that such information is a “Cabinet confidence”. It looks more like Cabinet arrogance and secrecy about Canadians’ public affairs.   

So, my hopes rest with you to remind Canadians of the extreme steps which the Conservative Party, under its current leader, is prepared to take to remain in power. And if Stephen Harper ever achieved a majority in the House of Commons, he would wield near absolute power in his tyrannical approach to governing. M. Chrétien won a (false) majority government on three occasions with only 40 per cent of voter support, and Mr. Harper has the same opportunity under our discriminatory, unrepresentative electoral system. I very much hope that, collectively, you can prevent him from doing so.

Peter Black
Former Public Servant
Government of Canada

This is of course a much foreshortened list of the many instances where the Harper regime has shown total disdain for our parliamentary system. Whilst the opposition's recent awaking to the fact that bringing such abuses to the attention of the public and the HoC is long overdue let us not forget that they do so more for political reasons than for any great concern for our democracy. Only if we the public make this an issue during the coming weeks or months when candidates appear on our doorsteps, and make it clear that the protection of our parliamentary democracy is a condition of receiving our vote will much change no matter who replaces King Harper.

For 'them' to care we must show that 'we' care. Let us make parliamentary and electoral reform an 'up front' issue during the next election – which may well be called as early as next week.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

More Contempt, More Secrecy, More Stalling

I have been trying hard to NOT turn this site into an anti Harper Regime rant but it is very difficult given that said regime is constantly providing more ammunition to reinforce the position that they are indeed an antidemocratic bunch that will ignore or stall any and all rulings that question their actions.
The last week has seen the opposition finally bring some of these abuses of power to the floor of the House of Commons, a long overdue move but perhaps understandable in that given the Harpers regimes practice to make each and every sticky issue a vote of confidence and thus force an election.
At this point failure of the opposition to pursue these issues through to what may well be that very outcome can only be called antidemocratic in and off itself.

Several vote this week were focused upon democratic issues. There are the two rulings by the speaker of the House that The Harper Regime is in contempt of parliament. One for refusing to supply details of the costs and operational requirements of the proposed F35 fighter purchase, the cost of their cuts to corporate taxes as well as documents related to the cost of the tough on crime proposals. The other for the alteration of documents in the KAIROS funding fiasco.

This is the essence of the Speaker's ruling:"However, there is no doubt that an order to produce documents is not being fully complied with, and this is a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House's undoubted role in holding the government to account... For these reasons, the Chair finds that there are sufficient grounds for a finding of a prima facie question of privilege in this matter."Note those words: "a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House's undoubted role in holding the government to account."This is a very serious finding, by the Speaker of our Parliament, whose job is to uphold our rights as citizens when our Parliament meets to debate our affairs

Milliken also ruled against embattled International Aid Minister Bev Oda, who is accused of lying to Parliament with a tortured explanation of a political decision to deny funding to a long-standing charitable organization, KAIROS, that often disagreed with Conservative policies. Oda first suggested bureaucrats had rejected the KAIROS application before it was revealed that someone had inserted the word “not” into funding documents after the bureaucrats had okayed the cash, in order to stop the money from flowing.
The next step: the Speaker has given his approval to House of Commons committees to investigate and vote out a recommendation to the full Parliament whether in both cases the Conservative Government and Bev Oda was indeed in contempt of Parliament.

And remember the speakers ruling on the afghan documents 11 months ago arising from the refusal to comply with the previous house of commons motion to produce said documents some months before that and the continued lack of action on this file.

The federal government breached parliamentary privilege with its refusal to produce uncensored documents related to the treatment of Afghan detainees and must provide the material to MPs within two weeks, Speaker Peter Milliken has ruled. (April 27 2010)

House of Commons has adopted a motion, on December 10, 2009, ordering the production of Government documents related to the transfer of Afghan detainees from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities,

The committee deliberations regarding which documents may be seen by our elected representatives continue to be stalled and we wonder exactly what, if anything, will come of this. I have said before its all very well having rules, and getting the speaker to rule if such things should be taken to committee but if there are no penalties for ignoring his rulings, stalling committees charged with deciding what to do and generally putting things off for months if not years, then why bother?

Add to all this the fact that two Conservative senators and some senor Conservative staff have been now charged in the 'in and out scheme' that Harper insists is 'just an accounting error” and his recent reply when confronted with the fact that the Speaker has twice more ruled his government in a prima facie case of breach of privilege, Harper shrugs and says, “You win some, you lose some.” And hey, isn’t it awful what happened in that hockey game.

Prof. Ned Franks, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Queens University suggests, “to put it kindly, that the government is, at a minimum, ignorant of the rules and principles governing parliamentary democracy and, to put it unkindly, that they don’t give a damn and they’ll try to get away with what they can."

Then there are the constant anti democratic attack ads using out of context and misleading quotes from the opposition leader, that would be grounds for legal action but for one thing, political parties are exempt from broadcast advertising standards. Whats with that?

There is however one political ad that is pro democracy and points out the harm that all this negativity is doing to our democracy by turning off voters, check out the GPC Change the Channel on Attack Ads video

It seems to me the the terms 'The Harper Regime' and 'Antidemocratic' are synonymous and that any reference to this lot and 'open and accountable is an oxymoron. No wonder I am having trouble separating democratic issues from partisan issues.

My thanks to the various bloggers who I have quoted and linked to in this piece, its getting hard to keep up without help!

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

March 5 2009

That is the date of the first post here at Democracy Under Fire which means that I have now been posing articles and opinions about our Democracy weekly for two years now. The first article dealt with the “Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices:” as commissioned by our “New” Conservative Government in January of 2007.
At the time when the 'consultations' were made the 'public' had a “sense that politicians are not to be trusted.” and that parties were “losing attention and respect from their potential clientele or members. They (were) generally perceived as non-accountable and perceived as neither good nor especially honest in communicating. Aspersions were cast on the quality, clarity, and ethical integrity of party platforms.”

One must wonder what such a survey would reveal now, particularly if it were to cover a broader range of 'consultations' than did the original. I suspect that the public opinion of politicians and political partys has diminished considerably since then, I know mine has. I started this project with a concern for where the governing party was leading us with regard to the respect of our democratic conventions and rules, and spent some time examining exactly how our parliamentary system works, or more correctly how it is supposed to work, (do take the time to browse a few of those early posts or check out some of the links in the side bar if you need some basic information in that regard).

I have learned much in the last two years, not the least of which is that most political party's have little respect for said rules and conventions and will use or ignore them depending upon whether that is advantageous to their particular situation. The other thing I have learned is that there are no immediate penalties for abusing our parliamentary system and even if after a lengthy process some ruling is made regarding some wrongdoing said rulings are largely ignored or circumvented (the Afghan document fiasco come to mind). The penalty a political party pays for wrongdoing is served up by the public at the next election but the information they need to make that judgment is hidden, spun, discounted and often forgotten by the time such an opportunity come around.

The third thing I have learned is that if one follows the political news from multiple sources on a regular basis, and like myself have a thing for open and honest discourse and playing by the 'rules', then it soon becomes very depressing. I cannot feel optimistic about the future of or Canadian Democracy, I started two years ago as “concerned” I now find my self in a position of close to despair in that regard. That one political party (with opposition partys looking on) over a period of just a few years can take our admittedly flawed parliamentary system from flawed to dysfunctional to bordering on a dictatorship without major outrage by the majority of Canadians shows what an uninformed and self-centered lot we all are.

The project was originally started with encouragement and input from a fellow blogger, unfortunately she soon fell under that cloud of depression that following federal politics seems to bring on and returned to the perhaps more important and certainly more rewarding tasks of raising family and becoming more self sufficient. How much longer I can continue to do this and retain my sanity remains to be seen, I must voice my admiration for the several bloggers that follow such thing on a daily basis. write far more articles than I and maintain a balanced and largely unbiased point of view.

This then is a bit of a cry for help, if you feel strongly about the subject of our democracy and democratic processes, if you like beating your head against a brick wall, if you can set aside for the most part your political views and concentrate upon the PROCESS rather than the ideology, if you want to share you views occasionally (or frequently) with the few readers that check out this blog each week then contact me. I need all the help I can get before that black cloud of democratic destruction totally envelops us all.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

James Travers RIP

We are saddened to hear of the passing of James Travers columnist extraordinare, protector of democracy and winner of a National Newspaper Award in 2009 for his column entitled: “The quiet unravelling of Canadian democracy.” His writings in large part encouraged us here at Democracy Under Fire to keep going despite a seemingly endless series of attacks on our democratic institutions.
Our condolences go out to his family, friend and colleges, he will be missed.

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