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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Principles of Parliamentary Democracy

Peace, Order & Good Government is the title a blog about exactly that, a recent post contained links to some opinion and reports from some individuals well versed in constitutional matters. If you think that this election is going to either make such matters irrelevant or resolve them you are dreaming in technicolor. We will in fact in all probability simply move from one constitutional crisis to the next simply because our politicians either cannot, or will not, work together for the good of all Canadians.
I will let POGGE take it from here, extracts from the articles mentioned follow:-
One approach to fighting fiction with facts by Helen Forsey has been to compile and share a list of myths and misrepresentations. These include the idea that coalitions are evil and illegitimate, that Canadians elect the prime minister and a government, that defeating a government on a confidence motion forces a fresh election. The most dangerous fiction is the idea that if the opposition accepts the Governor General's invitation to replace a government that has lost the confidence of the House, this would amount to an "illegitimate seizure of power."
Recently, Professor Emeritus Peter Russell organized a non-partisan workshop for leading Canadian academics and political thinkers to begin a process to create a how-to manual for the country if the next election produces an unclear result. The full report deserves to be read in its entirety. In the meantime, here are 5 key principles to remember when the going gets tough. My thanks to Peter Russell for sharing these and encouraging their dissemination.
1. Parliament is the core institution of Canadian democracy. The House of Commons, its elected chamber, is the one body elected by all Canadians.
2. When Canadians go to the polls they elect the House of Commons not a government. The right to govern goes to the members of the house who can secure its confidence.
3. The prime minister is the servant of the House of Commons and must be accountable to it all times.
4. When no party has a majority in the House of Commons, it is for the House to decide what kind of government it will support. In these situations, the House basically has three choices: 1) a coalition government of two or more parties who share cabinet posts; 2) a minority government in an alliance with two or more parties who agree to support it on the basis of agreed upon policies but who do not share cabinet posts; 3) a minority government that works out agreements with opposition parties issue by issue.
5. The Governor General's role is to exercise the crown's discretionary reserve powers only when necessary to permit the proper functioning of parliamentary democracy.

Writer and activist Helen Forsey, daughter of the late Senator and constitutional expert Eugene Forsey, has this to say:-
This election really is about our democracy. Canadians have a right to expect fairness, honesty and respect from our system of government. Instead, the Harper regime has given us five years of injustice, corruption and contempt.  
Harper uses a stack of fairy tales about our parliamentary system to trick people into thinking they have to vote Conservative in order to avoid disaster. In reality, his threats about the opposition “seizing power” or forcing a fresh election are shameless scare tactics based on lies.
Lie #1: Coalitions are evil and illegitimate.
•Not true. Coalitions are totally constitutional, and can be the most sensible way to govern co-operatively and respect the will of a majority of voters. 
Lie #2: Canadians elect the prime minister.
•Not true. We elect some 300 Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. 
Lie #3: The party that wins the most seats necessarily forms the government.
•Not true. The governing party must win – and keep – the confidence of our elected MPs through confidence votes in the House. 
Lie #4: Defeating a government on a confidence motion forces a fresh election.
•Not necessarily. If a recently elected House votes to defeat a government, the Governor General calls on the leader of the opposition to form a government and seek the confidence of the House. 
Lie #5: It is an illegitimate “seizure of power” if the opposition accepts the Governor General’s invitation to replace a government that has lost the confidence of the House.
•Not true. In fact, the opposition has what amounts to a constitutional duty to try to form a viable government with the recently elected Parliament, with no need for a repeat election. 

For more information, see How Canadians Govern Themselves at www.parl.gc.ca/publications.

The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, a centre within the University of
Toronto, Faculty of Law hosted a panel discussion of leading constitutional scholars following the
prorogation of Parliament in 2008 and after further discussions recently produced a report entitled “Adjusting to a New Era of Parliamentary Government”
They say:-

“While the constitutional conventions discussed in this report may seem somewhat
removed from the concept of rights, they are essential to the realization of democratic
rights in Canada. Without transparent and accountable systems of government, citizens’
democratic rights to participate in those systems are undermined and may be rendered
meaningless. This report is a solid step along the path to a greater understanding of our
uniquely Canadian version of Westminster democracy.”
After reading this important and long overdue examination of this subject I found this bit to be the most telling:-
“One of the areas where adjustment is needed is the lack of clarity and agreement
around important unwritten conventions of our parliamentary system of government.
Constitutional conventions are at the heart of our system of responsible government. To
be effective they need to be agreed upon by the political leaders of the day. Political
debate about these unwritten principles and practices of our constitution has the potential
to plunge the country into a serious constitutional crisis.”

In their recommendations they say:-
“There would be much less risk of a parliamentary crisis following an election in
which the result is not clear if there were an authoritative set of guidelines such as New
Zealand and the United Kingdom now have in their Cabinet Manuals. “

That says it all, reading of their discussions it is clear that whist the 'conventions' may be fairly clear to most of us there are not (for the most part) 'rules' set down and thus, as we have seen with recent governments, there is much room for abuse. We cannot let successive governments interpret those 'conventions' to suit their political agenda, we must seek consensus on setting some 'rules' (good luck with that!). There is much more in this report and it is, as they say, a good first step. I seriously doubt however that anything meaningfully will come of it no matter who gets the most seats on May 1st. The points raised about what to do with a 'hung parliament', confidence votes, and who is able to govern 'with the support of the House' may well be front and center once again however with another minority government elected as seems highly probable.

The full report deserves to be read in its entirety. (235k PDF)
There's also an excellent article by Lawrence Martin on iPolitics.ca about Harper's methods, and how they've "brought Canadian democracy to new lows." 
Here's a bullet list of Harper's actions Martin discusses in the article courtesy of Catch 22
  • Prorogations of Parliament
  • Contempt of Parliament
  • Scorn for parliamentary committees
  • Challenging constitutional precepts
  • Lapdogs as watchdogs
  • The Patronage Machine
  • Abuse of Process
  • The vetting system
  • Public service brought to heel
  • Access to information
  • Supression of research
  • Document tampering
  • Media curbs
  • Afghan detainees
  • My way or the highway
  • Personal attack ads
  • A democratic party?
  • Legal Threats

A BIG tip o the hat to POGGE for this one, and a honorable mention to Catch22.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Senator Banks Speaks Out.

Senator Tommy Banks recently wrote a longish article about the choices we face next Monday, whilst found in at least one place under the misleading title 'Conservative Senator Speaks out' (Senator Banks is a Liberal Senator) the opinions expressed are clear and accurate. What follows is a series of highly edited clips from the piece to catch your interest, I recommend you read the full article available at http://langleytoday.ca/?p=8198 and numerous other places on the internet.

“We will choose between openness or secrecy. Between listening or refusing to listen. Between someone who respects Parliament or someone who disdains it. Between things we can and will do now or things that, (provided of course that everything goes well), we might do in five or six years. Between someone who answers all questions from Canadians, or someone who won’t accept any.

Over the past few years Mr. Harper’s government has quietly engineered so many changes that there are some ways in which our country is barely recognizable. Many of us don’t yet realize the extent of those changes, because many of them have been brought about very carefully and gradually – almost imperceptibly in some cases. This is diabolically clever. If these things had all been done at once, there would have been loud protests and reactions. But moving just one little brick at a time doesn’t cause much fuss – until you realize that the whole house has been renovated. And we’ve hardly noticed.

These are changes that are at the very heart of who and what Canadians are. They are changes to the protections that used to exist against the tyranny of the majority – or against a single-minded my-way-or-the-highway autocrat. These changes are losses to our very Canadian-ness. Let me remind you of some of them:

 The Law Commission of Canada was created by an Act of Parliament in 1997. It worked very well. It kept an eye in a sort-of avuncular way, on necessary reforms of the law, including election law. ........ The Commission was created by an Act of Parliament, and any government wanting to shut it down should have been up-front about it. It should have come to Parliament with a Bill to rescind The Law Commission of Canada Act...........
But to Mr. Harper, Parliament is an inconvenience......... so, rather than proposing the abolition of the Commission (a proposal about which there would have been pretty fierce debate on all sides), they just eliminated all funding for it in the federal budget. Governments can do that. Poof – no Law Commission.

Nice and quiet. Just one little brick. Hardly noticed.

Then there was the Court Challenges Programme, set up in 1994, which was the means by which a bit of legal help could be provided to a private individual or small organization who didn’t have a lot of money, and who was taking on, or being taken on by, the Government of Canada. It leveled the legal playing field a bit. It was a perfect example of fundamental Canadian fairness.................
But Mr. Harper doesn’t like being questioned, let alone challenged. It’s so inconvenient! Solution? Quietly announce that the Court Challenges Programme is being, er, discontinued. Poof – no Court Challenges Programme – no court challenges.

Hardly noticed. 

The Coordination of Access to Information Request System (CAIRS) was created (by a Progressive-Conservative government) in 1989 so that departments of government could harmonize their responses to access-to-information requests that might need multi-departmental responses...........
CAIRS was killed by the Harper government because “extensive” consultations showed it wasn’t valued by government departments..........Wasn’t there some other purpose and use for CAIRS? Didn’t it have something to do with openness and accountability? .............. CAIRS was an inconvenience to the government.
So poof – it’s disappeared. And, except for investigative reporters and other people who might (horrors!) ask questions, its loss is hardly noticed..............

All these changes were done quietly, cleverly, and under the radar. No fuss. No outcry. Just one little brick at a time. .............

Mr. Harper fired the head of the Canadian Wheat Board because he was doing his job properly. He removed the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission because she wanted to make sure that the Chalk River nuclear reactor was safe.

Hardly noticed.

There are many more things that were hardly noticed: Cuts to funding for the Status of Women, Adult Learning and Literacy, Environmental Programs, museums funding, and more. All quietly, just one brick at a time.

Hardly noticed.

As to campaign promises..........

They campaign on a platform of transparency and accountability; but they’re now trying to discredit the Parliamentary Budget Officer that they created, because he’s trying to do the job that they gave him. Mr. Harper said that our form of government, evolved over centuries from the 900-year-old British Westminster tradition, was all wrong. We had to have fixed election dates, because otherwise, democratic principles would be trampled. ”Fixed election dates”, he said, “stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar. They level the playing field for all parties”.

So Parliament (remember them?) at Mr. Harper’s insistence, passed a law requiring fixed election dates, which Mr. Harper promptly broke.

Somebody once said that we get the kind of government we deserve. What did we do to deserve Mr. Harper? He once said that we should all “Stand Up for Canada”. Well, let’s do that. We just have to decide whether the present version of Canada is the one that we’ll stand up for. Or stand for.

Thank you
Tommy Banks
(an Alberta Senator.) 

Senator Banks is correct, the highly insidious nature of the Harper era cuts to various institutions essential to democracy have been Hardly Noticed amongst the political turmoil and tight information control that is the Harper Regimes modus operandi.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Frustrated Voter!

It is frustrating listening to all the promises as to what our politicians will do if elected when we cannot even get a clear picture of what they did when in power. With the previous government having been the most secretive and controlling in Canadian history it is hardy surprising that such information is hard to come by. With that in mind here are a few reports that may surface after the election and some that you can view now. Knowledge is power, which is why the public is kept largely in the dark!

Reports you wont see

Auditor general's report on G8 spending -

Industry Minister Tony Clement’s local constituency office collected applications for a G8 Legacy Fund seven months before Parliament approved the spending.
The funding, nearly $50-million in beautification and civic projects for the Tory minister’s Parry Sound-Muskoka riding, was brought before Parliament in November, 2009. A draft report by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser says the Conservative government misled Parliament by making it part of a border infrastructure fund.

Any report arising from the initial study of the first few documents relating to the Afghan prisoner fiasco :-

Despite a multi-party request to cough them up, the panel of judges overseeing the release of long-secret documents related to the Afghan detainee abuse scandal say a report and an initial set of documents would be ready for release as early as Friday — if only Parliament was still sitting.

The report regarding the Integrity Officers lack of integrity:-
Canada's interim integrity commissioner is the blaming the federal election for refusing to disclose a highly-anticipated report, making it the third document that has been shelved because of the campaign.
The Office of the Integrity Commissioner came under intense scrutiny last year after Auditor General Sheila Fraser issued a scathing report into Christiane Ouimet's tenure in the position.

There are a few reports you can see and perhaps should see:-

First up Samara's MP exit interviews:-

Today we released the third installment of our MP exit interview reports. Entitled It’s My Party: Parliamentary Dysfunction Reconsidered,it highlights the frustrations that former MPs feel about the way politics is practiced in Parliament.
The MPs said that decisions from party leadership were often viewed as opaque, arbitrary and even unprofessional.  Furthermore, those decisions often ran counter to MPs’ stated motivations for entering public life in the first place: the desire to practice politics differently. 

Its well worth reading this report and the 2 others that preceded it if for no other reason than to see how little the Actions of individual MPs in the HoC followed their actual beliefs and how much power the 'party' had over their actions. Remember these are EXIT interviews, in other words most of these MPs were not part of the Rrcent government. We wonder how much worse it has got since these individuals left the House? We also wonder however if the MPs disliked the power the party had over their actions, why they did nothing to change things, but in fact enabled yet more abuse of our parliamentary system whilst in office by not speaking out at that time?
Then there is this one on the arts:-

On April 5, the Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) sent the leaders of the five major federal parties a series of questions relevant to the arts, culture and heritage sector. We are publishing the responses we received in their entirety, without any edits or commentary. In order to facilitate comparison among the parties' responses, we have formatted their answers in a table format, according to each individual question asked. An empty table indicates that we did not receive an answer to that particular question.
NOTE - The Conservative party declined to comment on ANY of the questions, apparently they have no policy on such matters! I note also that the Greens were asked for and provided their position on such matters, nice to see them included in such dialog!.

And how about The Parliamentary Budget Officers take on the F35 costs

DND maintains that the average unit acquisition cost of the F-35A will be $75 million—including upgrades and overhaul.
The PBO forecasts that the average unit acquisition cost of the F-35A will be approximately US$128 million—excluding upgrades and overhaul.

There are a number of other less published reports by the PBO that may be worth a look regarding other spending estimates, which can be found at -
Also Mr Page's report to the Standing Committee on Finance back in February can be seen here -

Also for those who believe that everything is just rosy and we can just carry on without worry, here is something that most of us knew instinctively and is particularly troubling for the thousands of Canadians STILL looking for work :-

Consumer prices rose 3.3% in the 12 months to March, the largest year-over-year increase since September 2008. This advance follows a 2.2% increase in the 12 months to February.
Energy prices increased 12.8% during the 12 months to March, following a 10.6% advance in February. Gasoline prices increased 18.9% in March, following a 15.7% gain in the 12 months to February. Prices for fuel oil and other fuels increased 31.3%, while electricity prices rose 4.3%.
Prices for food purchased from stores rose 3.7% in March, the largest year-over-year advance since August 2009. This increase follows a 2.0% gain in February.

The first thing to do is elect people who give a damn about integrity, open government, the jobless, the small businesses that provide so many of the new positions, and those who would strengthen our social fabric. I will not say who you should vote for, but will say it cannot be someone who supports King Harper if you have ANY regard for democratic governance. Vote, vote for the person of your choice, but please vote ABC.

Remember if the information on your voter card does not match your current address you have until 6pm on April 26th to change it at your local Elections Canada Office or you may be unable to vote. Go to http://www.elections.ca/ for more information.

Vote – Vote – Vote – Vote – Vote – Vote - Vote

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Will our Constitution Survive?

I think it is sad that the majority of Canadians don't understand the basic workings of their own government. This ignorance speaks to a major failure of the education systems across the country as well as to the apathy brought on by relative prosperity.

But while this ignorance is sad, and somewhat dangerous, it is no less than morally repugnant that the Conservative Government would exploit this ignorance for party political gain. This combination of ignorance and partisanship demonstrates that the democratic freedoms which we take for granted are extremely tenuous and can give way at any time. If the citizens of a nation are unaware of their rights and responsibilities, and equally unaware of the processes and limitations of their government, they cannot be called upon to defend themselves or their institutions.

We must demand, above everything else, constitutional accountability from our elected officials. Because regardless of a party's particular beliefs or policies, if we cannot depend upon them to stand up for the constitution, then all the rest can be swept aside like gossamer.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Week That Was, Secrecy, Lies & Rising up

I may be totally depressed by the futility of trying to effect change using our first past the post voting system and the total lack of any indication that any of the incumbent partys will do anything to change it, but unlike far to many of our citizens I have not gone blind and deaf to the Harper regimes shenanigans. Read on:-

So much for fiscal responsibility

The Harper government has quietly approved increases in the maximum salaries political staffers are entitled to receive. In addition, suddenly out-of-work staffers could find the blow considerably cushioned if the Tories lose the election. That's because the government has also approved a 50-per-cent increase in the maximum separation pay political aides can receive — up to six months from four — and that's on top of severance pay.........
That means a chief of staff to a senior minister is now classified as anywhere from an EX-02 (maximum salary of $131,000) to an EX-04 (maximum $168,000). A director is classified as EX-02, a press secretary or policy adviser as AS-08 ($102,000), a senior special assistant as AS-07 ($96,000) and support staff as up to AS-05 ($78,000).

More secret plans emerging
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been working on a secret project to build a $2-million government-controlled media centre, a newspaper reported Monday. The Toronto Star obtained documents through the Access to Information Act that show the plan, code-named the Shoe Store Project, has been in the works for a year........
According to documents, the new centre could give the government control over which journalists attend news conferences. The government would also have the ability to do its own filming at the events, and could provide the footage to journalists, instead of letting them film the events themselves, the Star reported.

G8 expenditures illegal?
The Harper government misinformed Parliament to win approval for a $50-million G8 fund that lavished money on dubious projects in a Conservative riding, the auditor general has concluded.
And she suggests the process by which the funding was approved may have been illegal.
The findings are contained in a confidential report Sheila Fraser was to have tabled in Parliament on April 5........ a Jan. 13 draft of the chapter on the G8 legacy infrastructure fund was obtained by a supporter of an opposition party and shown to The Canadian Press.
The draft reveals that a local “G8 summit liaison and implementation team” — Industry Minister Tony Clement, the mayor of Huntsville, and the general manager of Deerhurst Resort which hosted the summit — chose the 32 projects that received funding. It says there was no apparent regard for the needs of the summit or the conditions laid down by the government.

More lies and spin.
Canada's auditor general has rebuked the Conservatives for recycling an unrelated quote by her about a previous Liberal government's security spending in a parliamentary report on the costs of the G8/G20 summits in Toronto last summer.........
The report quoted the auditor general as saying: “We found that the processes and controls around that were very good, and that the monies were spent as they were intended to be spent.” But in a scathing letter addressed to members of a Commons committee on Friday, which was received by the clerk and members on Monday, Fraser said the quote had nothing to do with the summits.
Instead, she said, the Conservatives inserted an 2010 comment she made during a CBC News interview on security spending by a previous Liberal government after the 9/11 terrorist attacks a decade ago. “The comments attributed to me in the [Conservative] report are completely unrelated to G8/G20 spending,” Fraser writes in her letter.“I would appreciate it if the report could be modified as it is clearly erroneous.”

And yet more lies
PARLIAMENT HILL – A Conservative House committee report that wrongly quoted Auditor General Sheila Fraser endorsing controls over $45.7-million the government spent on questionable projects at the G8 summit last year also takes a statement about security cost estimates for the G8 and G20 summits from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page out of context.
The document suggests Mr. Page gave security costs for the summits a passing grade after they were held, when in fact the quotation the Conservatives attribute to him was plucked from a report on government estimates he prepared before the meetings were held last June.

Then there is outright electoral bribery
Two Conservatives have quit their own riding association in Vaughan north of Toronto, accusing incumbent candidate Julian Fantino and the Conservative government of handing $10 million in public funds to a private non-profit group involved in a major health-care development.
Richard Lorello, the local Conservative candidate in 2008, says he resigned because a federal grant, announced in March just before the election was called, is earmarked for the Vaughan Health Campus of Care (VHCC), which has two of Fantino's fundraisers as prime backers.

Blocking the student vote and challenging Elections Canada

Some 700 votes cast in a special advance ballot at the University of Guelph on Wednesday should not be counted, say the Conservatives.......
In a letter sent Thursday to the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, the party alleges (that ) The polling station was not sanctioned by Elections Canada......
The Conservative Party of Canada and its candidate for the Guelph riding, Marty Burke, “have a number of challenges and complaints with respect to the ballots now collected during this supposed polling event,” says the letter.......
But Elections Canada media adviser James Hale later told the Guelph Mercury that this is the third election in which the university has held a special ballot on campus. Hale also said this is the first time it’s ever been challenged.
“Part of our mandate is making the vote as accessible as possible. So we look at outreach programs,” he said. Hale said Election Canada often holds special polling stations for groups with traditionally lower voter turnouts, such as students, First Nations, seniors and the disabled.“It’s never been challenged, not to my knowledge,” he said.

Update re the above from Elections Canada.

While the initiative at the University of Guelph was not pre-authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer, the Canada Elections Act provides that electors may apply for and vote by special ballot. A special ballot coordinator, appointed by the local returning officer, oversaw the activities at the University of Guelph. All information at our disposal indicates that the votes were cast in a manner that respects the Canada Elections Act and are valid.

And yet the antidemocratic lobby wins

Elections Canada is ordering its returning officers not to set up any more ad hoc polling stations on university campuses. But the votes of University of Guelph students who participated in one of these special ballots will stand......
Elections Canada issued a statement Friday that reaffirms special ballots are to be used to assist electors like snowbirds or military personnel who cannot get to a regular polling station.
"Once Elections Canada officials were made aware of the local initiative in Guelph, the returning officer was instructed not to engage in any further activities of a similar nature," the statement says.
The University of Guelph vote was overseen by a special ballot coordinator and the votes were cast in a manner that respects the Elections Act, the statement says.

PLEASE NOTE - It is important to know that any elegable citizen can vote by 'special ballot' by filling out the form (as did the Guelph students ahead of time) and going to the local Elections Canada office set up to accept changes in address or voter information and which location will be shown on your voter card or by searching your riding at Elections Canada . Way to go for the 700 or so students who voted in the midst of their exam period at this special ballot and to the folks who organized it, the question is not whether it was legal but why other universities do not request similar special polls and why Elections Canada has now turned away from such initiatives.

And finally, perhaps too little too late, Mr Ignatieff get passionate about the above......

“We’ve got a prime minister who shut down parliament twice and Canadians kind of shrugged,” he said. “We’ve got a prime minister who’s found in contempt of parliament. It’s never happened before in the history of our country and people say, kind of, ‘So what?’ We got a prime minister who tried to shut down the long-form census and people thought, that’s crazy, but kind of, ‘So what?’ And then we have a prime minister who just went out and smeared a member of his own caucus, tried to destroy her public reputation, and people say, kind of, ‘So what?’”........
“And then we’ve got a prime minister who’s got a convicted criminal who was his chief of staff. Convicted five times of fraud and people say, kind of, ‘So what?’” ..........
“And then we’ve got a prime minister who’s got, right now, in his election campaign, four people accused of election fraud. And people say, ah, kind of, ‘So what?’ And then we’ve got a prime minister who allows only five questions to the press, the press are following him around, they only get five questions and if they ask six he walks away. And people say, kind of, ‘So what?’ And then we’ve got a situation where at Guelph university the other day, students lined up for two hours, some of them voting for the first time in their lives, to vote. And a Conservative operative tried to shut it down and stop it and some smart Conservative lawyer downtown tried to write a letter to get 700 votes by Canadian students disallowed in a federal election in Canada and people say, kind of, ‘So what, it’s just all political games, who cares?’”........
Rise up! Rise up!” he cried. “Why do we have to put up with this? Rise up! Rise up! … Rise up! This goes beyond partisan politics! This goes beyond the Liberal party! This is about our country! This is about our democracy! Rise up! Rise up!

Who cares? I do, and I hope a hell of a lot more Canadians who can see where another 'Conservative' government under Harper will take us will indeed rise up!

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Harper Legacy – Series Suspended

Just like the harper regime I am going to break my promises and suspend dialog, my intention to document Harpers antidemocratic actions and words over the last few years is simply too depressing for me to continue. As I follow the daily promises and spin emerging from the election trail I see less and less hope for Canadian Democracy, whilst the harper regimen did indeed need to be held to account, and the only means left to parliamentarians was indeed declaring their lack of confidence in said regime, this election is rapidly becoming a farce.

With a never ending series of negative ads from the conservative war machine both before and during the election period, with the pollsters still pushing the misconception that the conservatives have 35% or so support when in fact that is the level of DECIDED voters, and anywhere from 40 to 50% of eligible voters have not made up their minds or are totally turned off by the whole thing. With our antiquated first past the post voting system forcing people to vote for candidates or partys they do not support simply to rid ourselves of this dictatorial regime. With just a small chance of the only party to really express much concern about the state of our democracy  to have any real influence in the next parliament and with the “Media Consortium” actively working to further reduce democratic debate in this country. With numerous 'allegations', inquiries and legal actions regarding wrongdoing by our former government stalled, suspended, swept under the carpet or otherwise eliminated from proceeding until long after the election is over. With the media still faithfully reporting Harpers every 'rally' where only the party faithful or 'approved' spectators are allowed to attend and where reporters questions are severely limited or ignored if not to his Kingships liking. And so it goes on sending this tired old blogger into a political depression and forcing me to suspend operations for the good of my mental heath, whilst I hope for a liberal minority supported by both Greens and NDP, whichever way it goes it will be a long time before our democracy recovers from recent abuses, if ever.

With the above in mind I will simply place a few links below to some articles both old and more recent which bear rereading and consideration before you decide upon your options on May 2nd. I wish I could do more but if I continue to follow this election and write about the preceding 5 years of democratic destruction I will so depressed and disgusted that I will fail to vote, which is of course the aim of those that would rule by decree.

First up the Travers Shamocracy series:-

More reading on the threats to democracy:-

The list is endless, as must be the fight to protect democracy but I for one am getting very tired of banging my head against that wall!

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Is this Democracy? -Updated

“Harper’s strategy of refusing to take more than five questions a day from reporters amounts to a gross disservice to the public. Four of the permitted questions (generally two in French and two in English) go to reporters following Harper’s campaign, while the fifth is allotted to a local scribe, wherever the Conservative news conference that day happens to be staged. .....
It’s ironic. The Conservatives came to power promising more accountability, more openness and more access to information. Those principles matter the most in an election, when people need as many answers as possible to make an informed choice.”

“Two young ladies were removed from a Conservative rally in London because a Facebook page showed them posing with Ignatieff, I was unaware of some of the more sinister details, details that potential voters both young and old should take note of.

While the ejection of two young and new voters is deplorable enough, it seems the real story here is the fact that the RCMP was acting in a political capacity by removing them at the Conservatives' behest.”

A Dartmouth volunteer who helps homeless veterans was turned away from a Stephen Harper election rally last week and the man calls it a slap in the face to those who have been injured in service of their country.
On Thursday, Jim Lowther and fellow veterans advocate Gary Zwicker went to the Halterm container pier on the Halifax waterfront hoping to get a few minutes with Harper, or at least to watch his speech. But a Conservative staffer in a suit and tie denied them entry at the gate.
When a candidate for the position of Prime-minister wont take questions and restricts attendance to his already limited 'photo ops' we must ask is this the sort of man and the party we want to lead the country into the digital age of open and accessible information. Can we believe ANYTHING he says when he was previously elected on a platform of 'open and accessible' government?
UPDATE 6 Apr 2011
Another university student says she was barred from a Conservative event with Prime Minister Stephen Harper — this time because of her environmental activism.
Joanna MacDonald, a fourth-year environmental sciences student at Guelph University, says she pre-registered for Harper's election campaign event at the school Monday. But after arriving with a friend, MacDonald says she was directed to a desk where she was told her name had been flagged and she was asked to leave..............
MacDonald was told the RCMP was doing the screening for the Conservative party event and since she has no criminal record — nor any political party affiliation for that matter — she demanded to know why she was being flagged.
An unidentified official eventually told her it was likely because she had participated with the Sierra youth coalition on climate change at the Cancun conference last December.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Harper Legacy - Part 2

The Rise to Power, In Opposition and Before 2004 – 2006

When the 38th parliament fell in Nov 2005 the mantra from Mr Harper was about bringing in an “Open and Accountable” government and early in 2006 he was given a chance to do that. It was indeed the subject of part of the ensuing throne speech as follows:-

    No aspect of responsible government is more fundamental than having the trust of citizens. Canadians' faith in the institutions and practices of government has been eroded. This new government trusts in the Canadian people, and its goal is that Canadians will once again trust in their government. It is time for accountability.
    To restore this trust, the first piece of legislation the Government will bring forward will be the Federal Accountability Act.
    This omnibus legislation and the associated Accountability Action Plan will change the current system of oversight and management by strengthening the rules and institutions that ensure transparency and accountability to Canadians. The legislation will ban institutional and large personal donations to political parties; it will ensure that positions of public trust cannot be used as stepping stones to private lobbying; and it will provide real protection for whistle-blowers who show great courage in coming forward to do what is right.
    The Government will strengthen the capacity and independence of officers of Parliament, including the Auditor General, to hold the Government to account. It will increase the transparency of appointments, contracts and auditing within government departments and Crown corporations.
    Effective checks and balances are important, but they are not enough. The trust of citizens must be earned every day. The Government will work to earn that trust.

This from what we now know became the most controlling, secretive and unaccountable government in Canadian history. Non of the above has in fact taken place, just the opposite has transpired. The question then becomes 'if they lied about this what else have they said that reveals their un-trustworthiness. Some of Mr Harpers words whilst in opposition and earlier when the president of the National Citizens Coalition are quite revealing given his attitude to the parliamentary system once he was in power. Lets take a look at a few.

And I think the real problem that we're facing already is that the government doesn't accept that it got a minority. “
When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”

Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion “

If you want to be a government in a minority Parliament, you have to work with other people.”

It’s the government’s obligation to look really to the third parties to get the support to govern.”

The government can only be brought down because it alienates several parties in the House.”

What the government has to do, if it wants to govern for any length of time, is it must appeal primarily to the third parties in the House of Commons to get them to support it.”

And finally this most telling quote -
"It is the Parliament that's supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party," Harper said on Sept. 9, 2004, alongside Duceppe and Layton at a news conference on Parliament Hill. "That's a criticism I've had and that we've had and that most Canadians have had for a long, long time now so this is an opportunity to start to change that."
And yet once in power he has demonstrated no desire to work with other MPs, has prorogued parliament twice to avoid a confidence vote and now denies that he ever even thought of collaborating with other partys to take power. A party that fires any government commission chair that dares to disagree with them and controls MPs to the extent that even his own caucus have little choice but to follow along with what the PMO dictates. He has made a concerted effort to 'cancel dissent' and to silence those who have expressed a divergent opinion, particularly those 'independent' commissions and committees. More on that in later posts, lets look back at earlier times....

Between 1997 and 2002, when Harper was out of public life, he served as president of the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative think tank and lobby group that has campaigned prominently on many libertarian, anti-worker and anti-public service issues over the years including:-
Opposition to fair tax reform; privatization of public sector services; court challenges to electoral laws that would limit third party spending; media campaigns attacking grants for the arts, advocacy organizations, and social science research; attacks on public funding for what it calls "interest groups" such as human rights or women's groups.

Harper opposed new federal legislation that placed restrictions on political advertising of private interest groups during federal elections. Harper took the federal government to court, arguing the legislation violated constitutional rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to vote.
Harper represented the Reform party in the HoC from 93 to 97 but quit his Parliamentary seat and was named Vice-President of the NCC the same day laying the groundwork for political power through the creation of a new political party he intended to lead according to his own strategic vision. 
It seems quite clear that Harper will do and say anything to forward his own agenda which seems to be getting and keeping power and helping out his corporate private sector friends. I am not going to dwell upon this period of Harpers history except to say the ideology of the NCC is clearly front and center in more recent times, the attacks and de-funding of womens groups continues, the suppression of scientific research and dialog continues, the push for funding of political partys by the rich and the suppression of public funding continues, and the push for 'smaller' (read more centralized PMO controlled) government continues.
With files from The Harper Index and Maple Leaf Web and several other sources.

On a personal note if the Harper regimes goal is to make us so sick of political BS and to make us feel as if there is no hope for improvement in our democratic processes then they are succeeding, I for one am experiencing great difficulty in remaining optimistic. My personal funk is not helped by the media total lack of objective reporting on the many road blocks that Harper puts in their way. That they remain largely silent about his control of questions at his numerous 'photo ops' across the country and continue to promote his spin and 'talking points' without question does not bode well for our democracy. The Media is as just guilty for the democratic deficit as are the politicians of all stripes.

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