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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Stand on Guard

At this time of year as we look back over the previous year and forward to the coming year is also a good time to look at the broader picture of where we are both personally and as a country. When compared with so many other countries around the world that are in conflict or struck by famine, drought, floods, earthquakes and other disasters man made or natural we here in Canada must count ourselves fortunate. Some areas of our country have had a taste of some of those things but generally speaking we have the resources and systems in place to deal with such things in a speedy and organized fashion. Our social services, medical, environmental and emergency services systems built up over many years may not be perfect but they are standing ready for when nature or man creates a need for them. But can we take such things for granted? Given the last years decisions coming out of both the federal and several provincial governments I don’t think so!

There was a time when major decisions by the government were, even during times of a majority government situation, placed before the House and debated, given public scrutiny and even voted upon by MPs who for the most part actually knew what they were voting upon. No longer it seems. Now the modus operandi is for a few elite in the oligarchy to decide what is to be done, prepare a massive document which few have time to fully read and understand and then instruct those who happen to be elected under that particular party banner how they shall vote. Or where they think they can get away with it, to quietly sign 'trade agreements' that give away our ability to protect our own interests against corporate greed, give foreign governments control over our natural resources and cut funding to those departments that might protect against corporate rape of our lands and seas. All without so much as a moment given to public or indeed other MPs concerns. In short there is no meaningful debate, no changes to the decisions from on high are allowed and the 'vision' of a few at the top becomes the law for all. I use that word 'vision' with reluctance for I know not what that vision is or where it is taking us, I just know what I have seen of it lately I do not like. Of course we are bombarded daily by TV ads, paid for by us, telling us we have a plan, we have a plan.... its just that we have no idea what it is, no input into its formation and no choices as to the manner of its implementation.

As we look forward we all have hard choices to make be it simply whether to buy that cheap dodad made in china at wallmart or shop for our needs at the local farmers market, to burn more fossil fuels flying to exotic isles for a holiday or use a little less seeing part of our vast country or even day tripping and finding those local gems that we usually ignore in our rush to try and make enough to pay for our politicians perks or public servants benefits. There are harder choices to be made as well, the toughest of which we are not permitted to make for a couple of years yet, that being the choice of which individual is going to 'represent' us in our failing and increasingly less democratic parliamentary system. Some provincial choices may well be up for grabs in the spring and the choices there are no less stark or important but it is the federal choices that are the really scary ones.

It pretty obvious by now to any clear thinking citizen who cares about any of the things noted above that the Harper regime must go, but what will be left to salvage when they are tossed out? Will they in fact be tossed out or will they spin and cheat their way back into power? What viable choices do we have when the best person to represent us may not be affiliated with with a party that can obtain enough seats to make a meaningful contribution to our governance? For me this last question has been answered , clearly just one person with moral backbone, a strong work ethic, and knowledge of our parliamentary system as it now exists can make a difference. That the parliamentarian of the year is not only one of the most outspoken politician in regard to the threats to our democracy but also the leader of the only party that has been consistent on the need to guard both our natural resources and our environment makes the choice of which political party to support easy. Unfortunately even the combined weight of all opposition MPs cannot seem to make one iota of a dent in the out of control steamroller being navigated by a group of blindfolded yes men that comprise the Harper regime. So the dilemma of 'strategic voting' under our outdated first past the post voting system to ensure that the spinmasters do not return to do further damage remains unsolved. All the talk of cooperation between the opposition partys will evaporate as the election come closer in flavor of trash talking to try and cast all but their own particular party in a poor light, the 'cooperation' will only last until their own self interest outweighs Canadas need for change.

So as we look back upon 2012 and forward to the start of a new year I urge you all to look closely at what our various governments have done for or to us recently, seek independent information from a variety of sources and not rely upon the 30 second sound bite or latest 'news release' issued by the only government department to not get a budget cut. Sooner or later you will need that information to make a choice that may well be the choice between a hard won (and desperately in need of modernization) democratic parliamentary system and one where you get a choice of which dictator you want till the next election fraud takes place.

“Lewis Lapham, author and twice editor of Harper’s Magazine in the United States, made the same point. Democracy, he wrote, announces itself in three fundamental ways: an honest public discussion about issues; accountability of the governors to the governed; and equal protection under the law. By Lapham’s measure, Stephen Harper’s Canada is not a democracy, let alone a parliamentary democracy. It is an oligarchy with a few well chosen friends and millions upon millions of people to ignore, vilify or bamboozle.”

Be careful what you wish for and resolve to Stand on Guard for a Democratic Canada.
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Unwrap this for Christmas!

I wish I could present you with some uplifting and exciting presents on the democracy front at this time of year but I fear it is not to be, there may be hidden amongst the lumps of coal and crushed remains of our parliamentary democracy a few items that you may be able to salvage but I am sad to say that they are few and far between.

Here then are a few of the things that fill your stocking ready for you to rummage through them.....

At the top is a book, but not one that gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling. As reviewed by Frances Russell at ipolotics and written by political scientists Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis and Lori Turnbull it looks at the state of our democracy under the Harper regime. Here are some extracts from Russels review that need no further comment.

They define electoral democracy as “a system in which the electorate decides who forms the government and the prime minister then governs as a virtual autocrat until the next election … The concentration of powers … cannot be permitted to remain in the hands of a single individual who is able to undermine democratic governance at his or her will.”

Harper’s Blitzkreig on parliamentary democracy began in 2008. “Harper, in less than two years, made three unilateral decisions showing clearly how a Canadian prime minister not only can exercise unconstrained power at whim to prorogue and dissolve Parliament but also to declare on what he would accept or not accept as a vote of confidence,” the authors write.

“As with the election call in 2008, there is no evidence that the prime minister was much concerned about public opinion over his abuse of prorogation. If anything, it appears that having successfully employed the first prorogation as an effective partisan tool to avoid defeat in the House, Conservative strategists seized on it as a handy tool for further use.”

University of Toronto professor emeritus of politics Peter Russell describes Canadian democracy as “very weak.” Canada now has what he calls “presidential prime ministerial parliamentary government,” he said, adding that unless Canadians do something soon to save their parliamentary democracy, “they will have presidential government, period.” The leader now controls caucus and cabinet and runs the show, he said. It’s reached a point where the prime minister’s political staff has more power than the cabinet. “We have a 35-year-old ‘communicator’ telling a veteran 55-year-old cabinet minister when to stand up and when to sit down,” Russell said.

The book does however propose a solution. Canada should follow the lead of its sister Commonwealth countries Britain, Australia and New Zealand and codify the principles of parliamentary democracy to ensure the players — voters and politicians — understand the playbook and stay within the rules.

“The other systems have rules about prorogation and dissolution, especially dissolution,” said Turnbull whose book proposes some specific solutions..

The next item to unwrap is wrapped in the Star and contains the news from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression that the result of a recent study by the Centre for Law and Democracy that ranked the strength and effectiveness of global access to information laws that of 93 countries ranked Canada stands at 55. This is a drop from a year ago when Canada was ranked at an embarrassing 40th in the effectiveness of laws intended to guarantee that all Canadians — journalists and citizens — have a right to public government information that is not supposed to be kept secret.

If you are going to have a democracy, you have to have a citizenry that knows the essence of the issues,” CJFE president Arnold Amber told the more than 500 journalists and others gathered Wednesday night for the organization’s annual gala to honour courageous reporting.
CJFE points out, quite rightly, that access to public information is a critical component of our right to freedom to expression. It’s how we hold governments to account. The organization has now launched a public campaign to convince Canadians that “what you don’t know can hurt you.” They are seeking public input through a brief survey on its website to gather your views on Canada’s access to information system. That information will be included in the CJFE’s submission to a current review of Canada’s 30-year-old Access to Information Act.
“our access to information system is mired by delays, extensions, exceptions and exemptions — and, on occasion, by blatant political interference, the destruction of documents and intentional failure to create records.” .........Silencing free expression, blocking citizens’ right to information is routine operating procedure in repressive regimes.

Hiding down in the bottom we have this lump of coal donated by Canadian Dimensions.....

U.S. corporations have launched an alarming new offensive against Canadian health and environmental policies under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Three U.S. firms recently announced plans to use the “trade” pact to seek nearly one billion taxpayer dollars in private, NAFTA-created tribunals as compensation for Canadian policies on fracking, wind energy, and medicine patents.
Of the three corporate threats, perhaps most worrisome is the notice filed by U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which became public this week. It marks the first attempt by a patent-holding pharmaceutical corporation to use the investment provisions in NAFTA (or any other U.S. FTA) as a tool to push for greater monopoly patent protections, which elevate the cost of medicines.
But how can a foreign corporation directly demand taxpayer compensation from a sovereign government over a democratically-determined policy? Meet the “investor-state” system. Written into NAFTA, this system uniquely empowers foreign corporations to skirt domestic laws and courts and directly challenge a government’s public interest policies.
The article goes on the give details of these attacks upon our right to conduct our own affairs as we see fit but more troubling is that Harper is as I write considering a similar 'agreement' with China!

There are a couple of more promising things yet to be fully unwrapped the newest of which is the Idle No More Rallys across Canada, they have become much more than just about First Nations but more about the way the Harper Regime regards all of its citizens both natives and settlers. Another present fighting for our attention is the Lead Now initiative which is also greatly concerned with the FIPA China deal in addition to their other great work in holding Harpers feet to the Yule Log.....

I do wish you all A Merry Christmas and a relaxing and special time with family and friends and hope that next year I will be able to find you some better presents from the democracy isle.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cooperation between Political Partys

There has been much talk of 'cooperation' between partys since the close results in recent byelections and whilst I have in these pages urged such 'cooperation not confrontation' in the HoC I wonder exactly how long such common sense will last and what form it will take in a practical sense. I was pleased this week to see that my own local riding associations had banded together to send a common message to the incumbent Conservative MP one Larry Miller.

The local paper reports that “Kimberley Love of the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound federal Liberal association, Scott Maxted of the local Greens and Karen Gventer of the local NDP have co-authored a letter to Miller that refers to the 400-page Bill C-45 as an “abuse of power” and a tactic to prevent “the democratic scrutiny” of multiple changes to non-budgetary rules and regulations.”

Naturally Mr Miller has all but ignored their concerns saying “This is about them disagreeing with what we said we were going to do. And that’s OK, I respect that. They don’t like it. When we were in opposition, governments were able to do things that we didn’t like too. But they got elected to do it and the people will be the judge in three years,” Omnibus bills are just fine, we can do whatever we like for the next 3 years, the removal of thousands of rivers from the Navigable Waters Act has “no effect”.

The Green party leader Elizabeth May in particular has been very vocal about both the non democratic nature of Omnibus bills in general and the content of both Conservative Omnibus Budget bills in particular. The hundreds of amendments tabled by her and the other opposition partys have all be summarily rejected by the majority conservative regime. It is as Mr Miller alludes to, a dictatorship for a further three years at which time the people will have just one shot at removing this oligarchy from power.

So cooperation between the various opposition is, as so many observers have noted, important to ensure that the next time around the elections are held without such things as malicious robocalls affecting the turnout and results and that the voters are exercising their democratic right from a position of knowledge and not all the spin that this regimen continues to spew out. But will the cooperation go further?

How can we ensure that the majority of Canadians who prefer a government led by other than the current regime get their choice and not 'split' the vote under our flawed First Past the Post system. I really don’t know what is going to happen at voting time, will the gloves come off and the opposition partys start attacking each other rather that the real problem. Will they all commit to bringing in some kind of proportional voting system if elected, will they work together on an individual riding basis to reduce the chances of vote splitting, what form will such cooperation take if it lasts? I dont know, I just am glad to see at least one group of political opponents joining forces against a common enemy (and I do mean enemy) at a local level. Well done Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound opposition partys, keep it up and show us how to resolve this conundrum.
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Oh Canada!

Many years ago I stood proudly with other newcomers to Canada and became a Canadian Citizen, of late I have not been so proud to be Canadian. The Canada that I became part of was, I thought, an open and accepting and diverse country governed as a parliamentary democracy and open to new citizens and new ideas. I begin to question where those Canadian values have gone, not that the people have changes significantly except perhaps being even more diverse, but our “leaders” be they be federal or provincial, union or business, city or corporate with a few notable exceptions seem to have been infected with some kind of “Me, me, me” syndrome. Only they have the answers, everybody else is wrong, only they are entitled to their entitlements, the rules do not apply to them but let us rule with a heavy hand over those 'beneath' us.
Recently a number of news items brought this into sharp focus for me, we all know that the Harper regime has had this disease for some time and the following includes some examples of that but it seems the syndrome is spreading. Here is a case where 'lead by example' is NOT a good way to go.

Lets start with the Ontario Elementry Teachers union who are now threatening to fine their members up to $500 a day if they dare to spend a little extra time actually helping the kids. This whilst spending thousands on dollars on radio ad's calling their employers (the government and by extension the Ontario taxpayers) 'undemocratic' and anti human rights for refusing to allow the union to hold the kids and their parents up for hostage in their annual demands for more compensation for less work.

There is our Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's vociferous rant before the UN condemning Palestine for simply trying to become an 'observer state' in that organization, one of only 3 nations to speak to the motion and the only major nation to vote against it.
Then there is is lesser publicized vote in which Canada was one of only six nations in the UN General Assembly to vote against a resolution Monday that called on Israel to quickly open its nuclear program for inspection and that backed a recently cancelled conference to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East.

Recent days have reinforced what we knew all along – that the government lied about the cost of the useless and as yet unbuilt F35 fighter jets the Harper regime decided upon without tender and is now rather belatedly reconsidering their choice. Once again our Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is proved right! Remember the failure to produce documents on this one was a reason for a contempt motion and the subsequent early election in which many alleged irregularities took place, none of which have yet been fully investigated.
Whilst the F35s are 'on hold' so it seems are those promised SAR helicopters and the arctic icebreakers and deep water port promised back in 2005-8 this whilst the need to establish our sovereignty over those water increased each year due to the receding ice.

Even the proceedings in the HoC have gone down hill even more (is that possible) with Peter Van Loan, the regime’s House leader, storming across the floor to get into the face of the oppositions MP, Nathan Cullen and having to be restrained by his colleagues. Parliament is rapidly becoming a farce with Harper running the show via the PMO and PCO and neither the opposition or those citizens they represent can do anything about it.
All this taking place as the Harper regime rams trough the second over 400 page omnibus budget without consideration of any amendments offered by MPs from other party's. A budget which continues to attack our environmental protection laws, our scientific research and countless other fundamental issues that will no doubt come to light once the document is properly examined. According to a new report by the Polaris Institute, the nation's two largest pipeline companies Enbridge and TransCanada plus four other oil firms met with cabinet ministers 52 times between 2011 and 2012 just as the last budget was being dreamed up.

I could go on, but whats the point when all we can do is sit and watch as the Canada we know and love goes down the tubes. We can but hope that enough people sit up and start taking notice, start thinking about Canada before blindly following the leader in to the abyss, and start thinking about our fellow Canadians more and about self less. If we don’t then I fear for our future.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Elections Canada slow to investigate robocalls.

Perhaps that should read `Elections Canada fails to protect our voting system` or better yet EC protects wrong doers! Either way its pretty clear by now that they have been completely ineffective in investigating the many complaints from across the country regarding the 2011 election both before and after that date.

We wonder if it were not for the Council of Canadians and the citizens who are perusing the alleged interference with the voting process within a few riding’s in the courts if in fact anything would be done at all. It now appears that they are only just now attempting to get phone records regarding the malicious calls and it would also seem that EC was aware of a least some such calls to electors BEFORE the election and BEFORE such allegations became common knowledge. ``Emails between officials at the agency show the first complaints came on April 29 from Kitchener-Conestoga, Ont., and Saint-Boniface, Man. `` thats over 18 months ago!!

I am not going to belabor the point here, several others have been keeping on top of this story, most notably The Sixth Estate but also a few newspapers (links have been added to the LONG list on my Election Malfeasance page). I will merely say that my faith in our electoral system, and more particularly the agency charged with seeing that it is not subject to `cheating` from either the candidates or the electorate, has been severely compromised.

With the close results in the recent federal by-elections there is once again much talk of `cooperation`between the opposition parties to both defeat the Conservatives and to bring in electoral reform. Political parties in Canada `cooperating`! I will believe that when I see it. Electoral reform, thats a long process that requires decisions on a process to select the new system and a referendum to confirm that choice. I am not holding my breath on that one either, but wonder if Elections Canada can be trusted to oversee any new system given their apparent inability to oversee the current one!
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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Elizabeth May: Parliamentarian of the Year.

When it comes to choosing MP's who have earned special recognition for their contributions in the House the choices, in my opinion, are somewhat limited however that Elisabeth May has been voted Parliamentarian of the Year by her peers clearly indicates her commitment to serving her constituents and Canada as a whole in a respectful and effective manner. Shortly after I started this blog back in 2009 I had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth talk to the issue of democracy and it was her depth of knowledge and passionate defence of our parliamentary democracy that encouraged me to become a member of the Green Party of Canada. 
After hearing her speak I wrote this:- “Will her presence in the HoC after November have a massive impact upon the democratic process, hardly. Would the presence of herself and a few more honest and open individuals who are equally concerned about our democratic process be a good place to start, you bet. As she said the only way to change things is to elect individuals who realize that their boss is the people who elect them, if that happens to be “a Green” then that too may be a good thing.”
Since she was elected and has been present in the HoC she has indeed shown how one individual can make a difference by sticking to her principals, being active and involved in the daily debates and exposing those who would diminish our democratic processes.

In a recent interview with Aaron Wherry's for article in Macleans she spoke further about the state of our Parliamentary Democracy, below is a small extract..

“I love parliamentary democracy. I am fascinated by procedure. I’m beside myself with the way things are slipping.” What follows then is a 524-word dissertation—stretching from the slightest breach of decorum to the profound questions of power at the heart of our system—on the state of parliamentary democracy in Ottawa.
“I know it sounds small, but you’re not supposed to have members of Parliament standing and waiting their turn because they know when they’re going to be called and they have their speech ready and they’ve got the little podium and they’ve got a written speech in front of them and they’re standing while someone else is speaking. No one is supposed to stand except the person that’s been recognized by the Speaker and until you’re recognized by the Speaker you’re not supposed to stand. I know these may seem like small points, but it’s indicative of a failure to recognize that the respect for traditions in the House of Commons may start with things like one person stands at a time and only when recognized by the Speaker. And as soon as the Speaker stands, the person who’s in full oratory flight is supposed to sit down. Those are things that when you ignore that you also can get away with having a prime minister who ignores all parliamentary tradition and prorogues—well, not all, because Sir John A. Macdonald did it once and then paid for it by losing power—but you’re not supposed to prorogue the House of Commons to avoid a political difficulty. So a failure to respect our traditions of Stephen Harper proroguing twice then launched into Dalton McGuinty proroguing. This is very unhealthy for democracy. Because we are a Westminster parliamentary democracy and tradition and if we don’t pay attention and respect Parliament, then we are allowing the Prime Minister’s Office, which doesn’t exist as an entity in our constitution, it’s not like the executive branch and the White House in the U.S. constitution—the notion of a Prime Minister’s Office as an entity in the machinery of government is simply an invention, but it’s like a cancerous growth. And as the Prime Minister’s Office grows, and this is a trend we started with Pierre Trudeau in a much more innocuous way, it’s not reached its apex, but if we don’t do anything to stop it, what else will the next prime minister do? And as the PMO grows into being the all-powerful decision-maker, leaving cabinet ministers, basically their job appears to be the primary public relations spokesperson for an area of policy they had nothing to do with developing, it’s dangerous to health of democracy. So respect for Parliament, to me, is synonymous with respect for democracy. And I respect Parliament and that’s where the work is happening. I respect … there’s very few ministers who actually, actually I can only think of one, who sit though parliamentary debate on their own bills. And that’s, and should I say for credit where credit’s due, Jason Kenney. When his bills are being debated and when I rise to criticize his legislation, he actually knows what I’m talking about and will make a reasoned defence of his own legislation. But for the most part, it’s like a ritualized form of theatre. And that’s dangerous. It’s not just a relic, sort of an anachronism, that we still have parliamentary democracy. That’s the system. And the problem is PMO, not Parliament.”
Read more of this article

Not wishing to detract from Ms Mays recognition I never the less must note that our controlling and secretive PM was named “most knowledgeable”, this may well be true but I just wish he would share some of that knowledge of where he is leading us and what 'deals' he has made on our behalf so that we and other parliamentarians may make informed choices. With the byelection in Calgary, a long standing conservative riding, becoming increasing 3 way race between the incumbent and the Libs and the Greens perhaps even the most faithful are starting to see behind that veil of secrecy and reconsider their choices.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Democracy, the Charter and Ontario Teachers

Here in Ontario there is currently a 'dispute' between the teachers and the government as to what the teachers unions want and what the taxpayers can afford, the government has passed legislation freezing wage levels for the next couple of years of teachers for the next couple of years. In response to this the teachers unions have been very vocal in their condemnation of this action with numerous radio and newspaper ad's. At least two such ad's say that this restriction on wages and benefits “undermines the guarantees made to all Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms” and is somehow undemocratic. Now I have no great love of large unions, they are in my view just about as accountable and democratic as the Harper regiem but they do have certain rights under Ontario Labour Laws. We all know that when a large union and a large employer lock horns the rhetoric gets heated but I take great exception when a TEACHERS union representative starts invoking charter rights that simply are not true.

The Elementry Teachers Federation of Ontario say:-
“In September, the Ontario Liberal government, supported by the Progressive Conservative Party, passed Bill 115. This legislation is an unprecedented attack on free collective bargaining rights. Collective bargaining gives employees a voice in determining their wages and working conditions, and has, historically, set the stage for the benefits we all now enjoy, such as health care and CPP.
Bill 115 undermines the guarantees made to all Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And even though it affects the education sector today, it sets a dangerous precedent for all Ontarians in the future. In fact, the government is already threatening other public sector workers.”

They also say:-
"The Charter also guarantees the right not to be deprived of fundamental rights. It protects employees from being forced to work under terms and conditions which are coerced, dictated, or imposed by the state. Certainly Bill 115 violates these rights on many counts."

"We want all Ontarians to understand that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms exists to protect the rights of individuals, even when governments seek to override them. That is the strength and backbone of democracy in Canada" said ETFO president...

There is no clause in the Charter that “protects employees from being forced to work under terms and conditions which are coerced, dictated, or imposed by the state” it simply says that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability”.

The freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication: freedom of peaceful assembly; and (importantly) freedom of association.
It does not say anything about work terms and conditions except to say that individuals are free to move elsewhere to seek employment (freedom of mobility) to say that it does is both misleading and adds nothing to the 'debate'.

Perhaps we should all invoke the charter because we are being discriminated against because we do not get 75% of our income when off sick, or excessive number of weeks holidays after being employed at the same organization for a few years or perhaps because our income does not even come close to that of most teachers. Yes, it can be a thankless task and yes it can be stressful but so can many other jobs, and if the 'employer' (that’s us) cannot afford the compensation package demanded then the 'employee' has a choice, live with the status quot (quite generous given the circumstances) or they can always invoke those 'democratic' mobility rights and find a job elsewhere.

We have enough problems with undemocratic actions by government without pretending that this issue is one of them, better that we concentrate on more fundamental issues such as keeping parliament open, access to information, and elections untainted by fraud........and not loading more debt upon future taxpayers.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Western Point of View

A guest post by Jared Milne.
When the federal Liberals governed Canada, Albertans were often frustrated by what they saw as pork-barrelling, a lack of transparency in government, few checks on the prime minister’s powers, and the demonizing of people with dissenting views. That’s why many Albertans were so thrilled in 2006 when the federal Conservatives took power under Stephen Harper. It was an opportunity to clean up Ottawa, to introduce long-overdue changes, and run things transparently.

Since taking office, the Harper Conservatives have done very good work in a number of areas ranging from immigration to the justice system to the military. However, in many areas the Harper Conservatives have done many of the same things they, and Albertans in general, criticized about the Liberal governments.

In 1994, the Chretien Liberals introduced an omnibus bill that not only implemented that year’s budget, but changed several other laws at once. A young Harper protested this, saying it prevented MPs from being able to vote on the different elements of the bills and determine which ones were worth supporting. In 2012, Harper’s government has already introduced one huge omnibus bill that made many drastic changes, even when many MPs admitted they hadn’t fully read it. Now, the fall session of Parliament is set to introduce another big omnibus bill. How are our MPs supposed to decide whether they can support all these changes? Harper quite rightly pointed out the problems with omnibus bills, so why is he doing the same thing now?

Another problem people had with the Liberals was the way power tended to be centralized in the prime minister’s office, taking it away from the MPs whose job it is to keep the government on its toes. Since taking office, Harper has only made the problem worse, refusing to tell MPs how much money various projects are costing taxpayers, prevented parliamentary committees from getting their work done, and unilaterally closed parliament for no good reason. Cabinet ministers now have sweeping powers they never did before, and they usually only exercise their powers with the approval of the Prime Minister’s Office, which has few checks on its own authority.

Albertans used to cringe whenever Jean Chretien called an election at a time that suited the Liberals. One of the first things the Harper Conservatives did after taking office was to set fixed election dates. However, in 2008 Harper broke his own law and called an election anyway, waiting less time than Chretien ever did, even though there was no real reason to send Canadians to the polls in the first place.
Albertans and Canadians in general were angered by the amount of tax money that was pork-barrelled in Jean Chretien’s home riding of Shawinigan, leading to the infamous “Shawinigate” and other scandals. During the G8 conferences in Ontario, more than $45 million was spent on a variety of projects in cabinet minister Tony Clement’s riding. Many of these projects, such as a $17-million community centre upgrade and a $100,000 gazebo, had little or nothing to do with the conference.

Finally, Western Canadians also have bitter memories of the way conservative politicians, and by extension the people who supported them, were almost treated by many Liberals as somehow ‘un-Canadian’ because of their views. However, the Harper Conservatives are doing the same thing with their smear campaigns against Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, or Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy’s claim that environmental groups who oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline are “un-Canadian.”

How can the federal Conservatives justify these actions? Wasn’t one of the main reasons for the creation of the Reform Party to put a stop to these things? What does this mean, in the long term, for the health of Canadian democracy and national unity? Whatever the answer is to this last question, so far the signs don’t look good.

Originally published in The St Albert Gazette under the title Federal Conservatives Behaving Like Liberals Past posted here with the permission of the author.

Jared Milne is a writer, researcher and public servant living in St. Albert, Alberta. His major interests including Canadian unity, nationalism and history, particularly regarding how Canada's incredibly rich past has affected the present we live in today.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Municipal Councils Follow Harpers Lead

I dont often comment upon the actions of lower levels of government here but make no mistake that such proceeding are carried out in an open and accountable democratic way is just as important as it is at Provincial and Federal levels.

In his recent annual report Ontario ombudsman André Marin pointed out that numerous municipal councils are breaking the municipal act by holding 'in camera' meetings for many issues that should be help in public. Indeed I am aware of several councils in my area that do so regularly and have been aware of some that have at times held unofficial “meetings” at the local coffee shop which in itself is contrary to the 'guide lines'

He says the province must put “some teeth” into its government transparency legislation by penalizing municipal councils which break open meeting laws......
“Right now, municipal councils — some of them at least — play loose with the rules because there are no consequences,” he said. “If there was a consequence, such as a fine or imprisonment, councillors would think twice about breaking those rules.”
Since 2008, any Ontario citizen has been able to request a probe into a meeting believed to have been improperly closed to the public. Marin’s office — which has jurisdiction in 191 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities — has received more than 500 complaints.

I start to wonder if its not a case of 'if its good for the goose its good for the gander' and councils see the secrecy and rule bending and breaking going on in Ottawa and think if they can do it why should we not follow suit. It would seem that Mr McGinty was taking notice for as Mr Marin noted it was “bizarre” to be talking about transparency when the legislature is prorogued.
“I find this a little strange that we’re here talking about councils not doing all the right things in order to be public and open when we have a legislature that’s shut down.”

It seems that democracy is under fire from all directions! We MUST defend it where ever these attacks occur because once hidden discussion and decisions become the norm at any level of government then democracy has all but burnt to the ground.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Week of Unaccountability

I make no effort in these pages to opinionate on things as they happen, even when limited to just attacks upon democracy it would be more than a full time job, I do try and shed some light upon such issues after the fact and highlight areas where future actions may impact upon our ability as citizens to keep government in check. This week has been full of such issues, the China trade deal that restricts our ability to enact laws to protect our environment if they impact upon profits, the Auditor Generals report that parliamentarians are not getting the information they need from the Harper regime, the Parliamentary Budget Officer having to sue the 'government' to get said information and the ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that 'clerical errors' do not constitute a reason to negate votes. To name but a few.

What follows is a compendium of commentary from a variety of sources on the above issues.

A Sellout Of Our Soverignty!

The unthinkable is now before us. Our Federal Government is undermining our security and dismantling our rights as Canadians to determine how, where, when and whether we develop our resources.

The trade treaty, known as the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement or FIPA, has garnered notable opposition in the past three weeks, with NDP trade critic Don Davies calling for public hearings, Green Party MP Elizabeth May calling for an emergency Parliamentary debate, and campaign organizations Leadnow.ca and SumofUs.org gathering over 39,300 opposition signatures (and counting) to deliver in person to Ottawa.
Yesterday, the Canadian Press reported the Harper government’s refusal to host public hearings. Elizabeth May’s October 1 request was also denied on the grounds that FIPA does not meet the test of emergency.

Grounds for Divorce

The deal apparently empowers China to sue anyone and everyone who impedes their access to Athabasca bitumen.   That, presumably, would target the people and province of British Columbia.   We would be coerced, through lawfare, to bend a knee to Beijing and Ottawa.   Harper has loaded the pistol and put it in Beijing's hand to hold to British Columbia's head.

Mulcair Speaks Out

Despite repeated calls for a public debate and study of this agreement, the Conservative Government Regime has refused to expose this deal to any public scrutiny. As the treaty’s terms  will be in force for a minimum of 31 years, we believe this is irresponsible.

Democracy Under Fire

Whilst there has to be some things the government of the day can proceed with without direct parliamentary approval we wonder how the longstanding (but perfectly legal under existing rules) practice of approving trade deals that substantially affect our right to self determination with only a few days necessary from the publishing of such a deals details and the approval by government without further consultation. Good deal or bad, that is neither democratic nor accountable. Whilst the Harper regime is responsible for negotiating this deal they are not responsible for the system that makes it possible to do so without debate.

Moving on

Parliamentary Budget Officer to Sue
Canada’s parliamentary budget officer says he’ll file court action this week over the refusal of some federal departments to hand over details on billions of dollars in planned cuts by the Harper government..........
Set up by the Conservatives in 2006 as part of their government accountability effort, the budget’s officer’s mandate “is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy.”

The Conservative election platform of 2006
“A Conservative government will: Require government departments and agencies to provide accurate, timely information to the Parliamentary Budget Authority to ensure it has the information it needs to provide accurate analyses to Parliament.

“The one way to ensure that we have some scrutiny is for Parliament to have its own set of numbers that aren’t run through the Department of Finance filter, that don’t answer directly to the finance minister, who also has a political interest, a political incentive, to ensure that the numbers flatter his or her position.” (Monte Solberg, Finance Committee, June 21, 2005)

“We believe that an independent, non-partisan parliamentary budget office should produce forecasts of revenues and spending which are universally available and accepted by all parties and experts of all stripes. Such a body would ensure that the government is genuinely accountable for taxpayers’ dollars and that we maintain fiscal discipline at the federal level. (Stephen Harper, Oct 6 2004)

Harper Government Winging It

In his fall 2012 report released Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson concluded the Department of Finance Canada often does not take into account the impact of tens of billions of dollars of spending and tax measures on the government’s long-term fiscal sustainability.

The Harper government regime promised in its 2007 budget to publish a comprehensive report on the government’s fiscal sustainability that would provide a broad analysis of current and future demographic changes, and the implications on Canada’s long-term fiscal outlook. A draft report was prepared in 2007, but it has not been published.
Moreover, the long-term fiscal sustainability analyses have been regularly prepared since 2010, but have not been made public.

Democracy Under Fire

That the PBO cannot get sufficient information to provide parliamentarians (and citizens) an independent and comprehensive analysis the budget past, current or future make a complete mockery of or parliamentary system. How can any MP opposition or conservative, vote upon a budget without knowing the full implications of the proposals contained therein?
That Mr Flaherty says “He’s look at money that’s not been spent. That’s what we do when we do deficit reduction. We’re not spending that money and he wants to have a look at money that’s not being spent, rather than the manner in which money is spent, which is actually his mandate.” is a non starter. Its like saying a family can cut thousands of dollars from their budget by not buying food and calling that sustainable and achievable budgeting!

And finally we cannot let this week go by unless we mention the Supreme Court of Canada's decision regarding the 'irregularities' in the voting procedures at Etobicoke Centre.

On positive precedents

The system strives to achieve accessibility for all voters, making special provision for those without identification to vote by vouching.  Election officials are unable to determine with absolute accuracy who is entitled to vote.  Poll clerks do not take fingerprints to establish identity.  A voter can establish Canadian citizenship verbally, by oath.  The goal of accessibility can only be achieved if we are prepared to accept some degree of uncertainty that all who voted were entitled to do so.

A Vote For Plutocracy

In a split decision, the Supreme Court today upheld Ted Opitz' win in Etobicoke Centre. The court reinstated 59 of the 79 votes that Justice Thomas Lederer threw out, reasoning that the only invalid votes were "instances where there was no voter's signature on the registration certificate. The signature is supposed to be the voter's statutory declaration that he or she is over 18 and a Canadian citizen."

Democracy Under Fire

This challenge did not allege voter fraud, although it would appear that some attempt at such did take place, but focused upon incorrect identification protocols and paperwork for a few voters. Having viewed the training manual for election workers it is quite clear that the established procedures were not followed. That these folks are just temporary workers with minimal training is no real excuse, better screening and training may need to be put in place. I have seen NO information as to why the election officer in charge at this location allowed these irregularities to take place, or indeed if the workers were even questioned as to why they did not follow protocols.
The good thing that may come out of this is that better training and supervision is now being considered.

That’s all for this week as we await the details of the latest omnibus budget to fully emerge.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pro-rogue – In favor of - unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable?

I don’t often write about the Provincial government for two reasons:- 1) there is enough anti democratic stuff going on at the federal level to keep me and a truck load of scribes employed full time just keeping up. 2) In comparison the Ontario legislature until recently has been relatively benign and generally within the normal bounds of parliamentary rules.

However this week as we now all know Mr McGinty prorogued the Ontario Legislature for an unspecified time to “to allow these discussions with our labour partners and the opposition parties to occur in an atmosphere that is free of the heightened rancour of politics in the legislature”. Nonsense! As with Mr Harper in the past it was done to avoid what was rapidly leading to a confidence motion being presented in the legislature. It may well be that given the opposition totally stopping the business of the legislature for almost 3 weeks with the contempt motions regarding the power plant fiasco that he was left with few choices but until now he has always told it like it is. This was clearly an attempt to get out from under the obvious and cynical attempt to buy votes by canceling a power plant project that was well on its way to complication at great cost to the taxpayer. What a lousy way to leave after doing a pretty good job for so long (excepting for the whole 'green' energy file)!

In other provincial news it was revealed this week that “The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development says a WTO preliminary report has found that Ontario's feed-in-tariff system is discriminatory against foreign suppliers of equipment for renewable energy generating facilities.
The feed-in-tariff system — established in 2009 — requires participating electricity generators in Ontario to source up to 60 per cent of their equipment in the province if they want to be eligible for subsidies.
Japan filed a WTO complaint against the Ontario government two years ago, arguing that the requirement amounted to "illegal subsidies" for Ontario companies. The European Union, who joined in on the complaint last year, added that the scheme goes against the international WTO provisions.
Whether you agree with the reproach of the Ontario government on the 'Green Energy' file the fact that the WTO can dictate to a government whether they can favor their own manufacturing source for supply of such equipment is favoring corporations over citizens and totally without merit.
Which brings us nicely back to the Federal scene and the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement which has similar provisions as did the NAFTA and EU agreements which certainly 'protect' foreign investments but do little to protect our sovereign right to decide how such companys operate in Canada.

Over to LeadNow...
Most Canadians have never heard of FIPA, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement, because Prime Minister Harper is trying to sneak it through without a single vote or debate in Parliament. Canadians have a right to determine our future, but this agreement will undermine our democratic rights and lock us into an inescapable path of foreign-ownership and resource extraction until at least 2040.

The Canada-China FIPA is set for automatic approval on October 31st unless we get the word out now that the Harper Conservatives are trying bypass Parliament and sneak this deal by Canadians.
Alongside this deal, the Harper government is trying to speed through the sale of Nexen, a major Canadian oil and gas company, to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), one of China’s massive state-owned oil companies.4 The $15 billion-dollar Nexen takeover will open the floodgates to a wave of foreign buyouts of Canada's natural resources.

If FIPA passes, a Chinese company can take over Canadian resources and then sue Canadian governments – provincial or federal – in secret, if the government does anything that threatens the company’s profits.

And just to finish off the week from hell we have this from the Harper regimes latest Omnibus 'Budget' ....

The Sixth Estate then points out that contrary to all the spin that is being spread as to how the MPs are finally going to pay their fair share of their gold plated pension plans that the budget says that “The applicable contribution rate for [all MPs under 71 years of age beyond their earnings limit] is just 4% “ and that “ The applicable contribution rate for [those MPs up to their earnings limit] are: 4% for 2013, 5% for 2014 and 6% for 2015

Doesn’t that just make you feel so thankful that our MPs are going to finally pay more towards their pension ..... maybe, perhaps, eventually, but not for many years!

There will no doubt be much more to come once everybody wades through the details of that 433 page budget but don’t hold your breath on your pension plan getting a 95% taxpayer subsidy.

NOTE – I found it hard to believe that with all the talk of MPs paying 50% of their pension cost the actual bill did not say so. What it does say is this “The Chief Actuary shall fix contribution rates for the purpose of the provisions of this Act that require contributions to be made at the applicable contribution rate. “ Then follows the exceptions show above setting a hard rate of 4 – 6% over the next 3 years.
The ONLY reference I can find to the 50% is this “In fixing contribution rates, the Chief Actuary’s objective is to ensure that by not later than January 1, 2017 the total amount of contributions to be paid by members under Parts I and II will meet 50% of the current service cost in respect of the benefits payable under Parts I, II and IV. “
So IF the Actuary meets his 'objective' the contributions MAY reach 50% of the CURRENT cost by the end of 2017 but unlike the next 3 years that is NOT fixed or legislated. No wonder the MPs were so quick to send this one through the system.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Democratic Decline: Death by a Thousand Cuts.

This week the text of Allen Gregg's speech at Carleton University went viral, in it he outlines many of the concerns that a lot of bloggers, myself included, and some journalists have been expressing for some time. He says his concern was first piqued in July 2010, when the federal cabinet announced its decision to cut the mandatory long form census and replace it with a voluntary one, my concern and that of many others was brought about much earlier when the Harper regime prorogued parliament in 2008 to avoid a vote of no confidence. Late or not the stir that it has caused is most welcome, such awakening of the public interest is necessary and deserves all the attention it can get so I hope he will forgive me for quoting extensively from both his speech and his later commentary in this piece.

His speech was based upon the premise that there are parallels between George Orwells novel and the current regime in power in Canada, I cannot help but agree, he point out that whilst “Orwell’s claim that “Ignorance is Strength” might have been the clever writing of a satirist at the height of his talents but it was also much more than that. It is his most dire warning. Abolitionist and newspaper publisher Fredrick Douglas said that it was illiteracy more than the lash that gave slaveholders power over black men and women. Orwell was making a similar point… the suppression of knowledge and reason is the tyrant’s most powerful tool… and the greatest threat to freedom. “Orthodoxy,” he said, “means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
Of course, the opposite is also true. The greater the knowledge and education of a population, the more difficult it is to oppress them. As Steven Pinker notes in his new book The Better Nature of our Angels: “The subversive power of the flow of information and people has never been lost on political and religious tyrants. This is why they suppress speech, writing and associations and why democracies protect these channels in their bills of rights”

Clearly the extensive use of secrecy and doublespeak by the Harper regime makes the comparison quite compelling. In his later piece in the Star he give some examples of the doublespeak that is now becoming a trademark of this “government” He says :- “The handmaidens of evidence-absent dogma are almost always secrecy, obfuscation and misdirection. A quick review of some of the bills passed or on the order paper of this session of the House of Commons gives you a sense of the pattern of “newspeak” that has become the language of our legislators. Bills to dismantle the Wheat Board are referred to as the “Marketing Freedom for Grain Famers Act.” Building more prisons and stiffening penalties for possession of marijuana are sold as “The Safe Streets and Community Act.” The list is endless and might even strike some as funny if it wasn’t so terrifying.”

He also says in that piece that “I DO believe that Stephen Harper and his colleagues have set out to systematically right what they see as this wrong.
This view holds that parks are for tourism and campers, not for the flora and fauna that must be protected by scientists. Policy should be based on conviction and not bloodless statistics. Governments should be guided by what is morally right and not by reason and rational compromise. From this view, science, statistics, reason and rational compromise are not tools of enlightened public policy, but barriers to the pursuit of swing that pendulum back.

He may be right in that assessment after all governments of all stripes try and bring their own view to the fore, it is however the WAY that such things are done that tell the story. A couple of other recent revelations tell the story better than me regurgitating the many sneaky and undemocratic moves that I have documented in these pages over the last several years. One of the scariest is the 'trade agreement' just signed by Harper with China without ANY consultation with, or indeed information being revealed to, either parliament or the Canadian Citizens. Elizabeth May rang the warning bell on this one several weeks ago “The summary on the Foreign Affairs website about the FIPPA and various analyses by large trade-focused law firms suggests it will operate the same way Chapter 11 of NAFTA works.” and “Chapter 11 of NAFTA is now understood to allow corporations from Mexico or the USA to claim damages against Canada if any level of Canadian government (municipal, provincial or federal) causes them to experience less profit than had been anticipated.“ So it is possible, indeed probable, that we are now in a position when China via its holdings in the tar sands (which it is seeking to expand) could dictate to ALL levels of government what regulations say should they impact the profit margin of these foreign corporations. As Ms May points out that has already happened under NAFTA!

The other interesting piece I saw this week says much about the priorities of this regime who are currently preaching restraint, cutting key ministry’s to the bone and continuing to hide the true cost of said cuts not only from we the public but from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and parliamentarians.
It seems that burying us in BS is far more important than almost anything else.
While Finance officials are refusing to disclose the budget for the current “action plan” media blitz blanketing Canadian airwaves, a Treasury Board document shows that cabinet approved $16 million in “economic action plan” advertising in the first quarter of this year alone.
That doesn’t include $5 million approved for a “better jobs” ad campaign, $8 million to sell Canadians on cuts to old age security, and $5 million to promote “responsible resource development” — the slogan given to an environmental assessment system that was cut back and restructured in the last budget. All the measures are promoted on the government’s “economic action plan” website.
The Conservatives also approved $4.5 million for War of 1812 advertising this year. In all, the federal cabinet has already approved more than $64 million in ad spending for 2012-13 — seemingly well on its way to matching the $83.3 million they spent in 2010-11, the last year for which complete numbers are available.
In 2010-11, the last full year for which final accounting is available, the Harper cabinet approved $65.4 million in spending, but the government ran up an advertising bill of $83.3 million. A year earlier, at the height of the economic crisis and during an influenza pandemic, the government approved $85.3 million in advertising but spent $136.3 million. In fact, in every single year since the Conservatives took office, the government has exceeded its posted advertising budget by at least 25 per cent ...
So millions of dollars spent telling us they have a plan whilst not revealing what that plan is or how it is effecting our wallets, our environment or our society. Four and a half MILLION advertising a conflict that happened 100 yeas ago whilst simultaneously cutting the budgets of important government programs & ministrys! Enough said!

Before I let Allen close off this post I will quote a bit by Alex Himelfarb which I my view is central to the problem of the disconnect between what the majority of the public would like to see and where the 'elite' in government want to take us.
We are warned about the economic imperatives in a globalized economy, which, the argument goes, severely limit the scope for government action. Less government, less taxes, more market. That this view persists even after the recent financial meltdown and current meltings is testament to its powerful hold.
At the same time, growing inequality makes it almost impossible to imagine ever formulating a shared sense of the good life. The very idea becomes a stretch given the profoundly different ways in which the super rich, the poor and the majority experience life. They breathe different air. Their kids go to different schools. They live in different neighbourhoods. Money always matters, but in an increasingly privatized world, it has never mattered more.
At the top, the extraordinary gains of a small global elite have given them an outsized capacity to shape the agenda and at the same time to secede from much of society. And even as extreme inequality undermines equality of opportunity, the myth of meritocracy emboldens many to believe that they are entitled to all they have.

And we, the middle and lower class taxpayers feel helpless to do anything about this increasing inequality of not only income but of influence in how we are governed! Finally I will let Allen ask the question I and so many others haves asked, extoll the power of one of the few tools that we have left, and then encourage us all to be silent no longer.

What is next and what can we as citizens do to protest or change a political power structure that is slowly suffocating reason out of the process? There are the obvious options: we can join a political party or movement, or (as scientists did in Ottawa this July) organize a protest. But I suspect none of this will be sufficient to bring about the desired change. A clue to the real solution may lie in what happened with my lecture.
To the best I can determine, it was first spread largely by academics who attended the event. It was then quickly picked up and circulated by the scientific community. It then somehow gravitated to members of the Occupy movement and from there, it found a big audience with the “I hate Stephen Harper” crowd. Eventually, it was discovered by an even larger audience of people who share an interest in media and politics.
Academics, activists, media hoi polloi, politicos, Internet agitators, ordinary citizens, Facebook friends — strange bedfellows? Maybe. That this unlikely coalition joined together, not by a natural allegiance, but by virtue of sharing a common interest, demonstrates the real power of social media. This is indeed an important new weapon to advance democracy.......................

History shows us that, over time, science’s authority always undermines dogma’s legitimacy; and the persuasive power of reason will always trump ideology’s emotion. The best defence against dogma and ideology continues to be reason and science.
History has also shown that tyrants can have a truncated shelf life if the citizenry enters the public forum and, armed with facts, reasoned arguments, and thoughtful ideas, engages in a loud debate. In the case of those who would stand against reason, our silence will be perceived as consent. There’s too much at stake to be silent.
If it feels lame to suggest that the solution about what to do next is to talk to each other more, I invite you to review history and ask yourselves what role public discourse has had in the toppling of dictators and despots. Right now, there seems to be a very one-sided conversation going on and the powers that be are leading it. We have our hands on the easiest levers the world has ever known by which to spread an idea and lead our own conversation. Let’s use them.”

Thank you Allen for speaking out! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Gish Gallop

The Gish Gallop, named after creationist Duane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

A Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullsh*t in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more 'talking points' that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it's not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation. A true Gish Gallop generally has two traits.

  1. The factual and logical content of the Gish Gallop is pure bullsh*t and anybody knowledgeable and informed on the subject would recognize it as such almost instantly. That is, the Gish Gallop is designed to appeal to and deceive precisely those sorts of people who are most in need of honest factual education.
  2. The points are all ones that the Galloper either knows, or damn well should know, are totally bullsh*t. With the slimier users of the Gish Gallop, like Gish himself, its a near certainty that the points are chosen not just because the Galloper knows that they're bullsh*t, but because the Galloper is deliberately trying to shovel as much bullsh*t into as small a space as possible in order to overwhelm his opponent with sheer volume and bamboozle any audience members with a facade of scholarly acumen and factual knowledge.
I recently became aware that this was a recognized technique in a comment about the Obama – Romney debate, perhaps it does explain the glazed look in Obama's eyes!

It seems to me that the Harper Caucus has been made aware of this technique and are secretly training their key ministers so that they are ready to answer questions in the House, or perhaps its just the regime's script writers that are fully versed in its use? The technique seems to have been adapted to encompass the release of public information, committee hearings, advertising and even legal proceedings!

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Maintaining Trust and Engagement in Canadian Elections

Extracts from a Speech of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada at the the Economic Club of Canada on September 25, 2012 (my bold)

According to any international democracy index you look at, Canada's democracy is consistently ranked among the top 10 in the world. On standard indicators of democratic health –such as the protection of civil liberties, control of corruption, or a free and accessible electoral process– Canadian democracy scores very high. By all comparative standards, Canada has an enviable record of good governance.
That being said, we cannot be complacent. In my view, there are two areas where the health of our democracy is increasingly under pressure. One of these is citizen engagement; the other is citizens' trust in their electoral institutions.
First, with respect to citizen engagement, on the most basic democratic indicator – voter turnout – Canada has been in steady decline for over two decades. Turnout fell to a record low of 58% in the 2008 election. And while it rebounded slightly in 2011, we are still well below the historical post-war average of 75%..................

Declining voter turnout might be the most striking example of citizen disengagement in Canada, but it's not the only one. Very few Canadians play an active part in election campaigns or belong to political parties. Indeed, the role of political parties has changed significantly over the years. The growing professionalization of political parties and the growing difficulty they have in recruiting volunteers and members has an impact on how election campaigns are run.
My second reason for concern is prompted by certain recent events that could undermine public trust in the electoral process. I am speaking of allegations of deceptive phone calls during the May 2011 general election and of the ongoing legal challenge regarding irregularities at the polls in the riding of Etobicoke Centre. As a result of these issues, over the past months, we have seen the interplay between some of the most important institutions in our country: Parliament, political parties, the media, electoral bodies and the courts, including the Supreme Court. And at the heart of this interplay is our electoral system and our democracy....................

Much of the decline in voter turnout is the result of generational replacement. Put simply, today's young Canadians are much less likely to vote than their parents or grandparents were at the same age. In 1965, about two-thirds of first-time electors voted in their first election. By1984, just over half of first-time electors were voting. And by 2004, that number had fallen to just over one-third. At the same time, today's young electors are also more likely to become habitual non-voters. Together, these two trends are the driving force behind a systemic and long-term voter decline that is quickly approaching 50%..................

The other problem relates to trust. Events during the May 2011 general election have led to more pointed questions regarding the quality of our electoral system, and this concerns me.
Here again, context is important. The heavy focus on problems – whether it be the so-called robocalls issue or the procedural failures in Etobicoke Centre – overshadows a far less newsworthy but incredibly important fact: the last general election, by and large, went very well. And the vast majority of voters – more than 95% according to our post-election survey – were satisfied with their experience and the services provided at the polls.......................

As the election administrator,I accept responsibility for what occurred in Etobicoke Centre and my agency is conducting the necessary reviews to avoid similar situations in the future. But while we can make administrative changes to enhance our processes, these likely won't be enough. Legislative changes may also be necessary to respond to Canadians' concerns regarding the electoral process and make the system less prone to errors.
At the same time, new technologies have changed the approach used by parties and candidates to communicate with electors. These technologies are not, in themselves, problematic and in fact can and are used in positive ways to reach out to electors. However, I am concerned by how they can be misused during an election.
As we have seen this past year, deceptive telephone calls, both live and automated, have arrived on our electoral landscape and their use will have an impact on how Canadians view the electoral system.
We know that Canadians were rightfully offended by news reports regarding possible electoral fraud relating to such calls, and they need to know and trust that there is a process in place to address these issues. In this regard, I will be bringing forward recommendations to ensure that the Canada Elections Act has the right measures to deal with this new reality.
I feel strongly that an electoral system and an electoral law that do not reflect the concerns and values of a modern Canadian electorate will only, in the long term, help fuel disillusionment and disengagement from the political process. That is why modernizing the Canada Elections Act speaks to our need to maintain the integrity of the electoral process in order to ensure trust and encourage civic engagement.
However, prompt action is required. At best, we have a 12- to 18-month window of opportunity to integrate any new changes, including legislation, into the preparations for the 42nd general election to be held in 2015...............

As you can see, these issues are all interconnected. If we do not act to address the problems identified in the last election, there is a risk that trust in our electoral process will be undermined and this could further fuel declining citizen engagement................

Building and maintaining a healthy democracy is a responsibility we all share – citizens, political parties, electoral management bodies, Parliament and the media.
How we choose to react to these issues today will define the scope of the problem for generations to come.
When I look at students returning to school, when I speak to young Canadians preparing themselves for their future, and when I listen to concerned Canadians who care about our democracy, I think it is something that we can no longer delay.

I must admit to finding his call for speedy action rather ironic given the speed with which the various “allegations” of voter fraud and interference have apparently been investigated, however he is correct in saying that it is a responsibility we all share – even if there is little that we the voter can do about it until the next election.
The above is just a few extracts of a much longer speech which may be read here on the Elections Canada web site.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Democracy no longer enters into it'

This week I will let a few other commentators speak to the condition of our democracy and the Harper regimes ongoing disdain for opposing views, parliamentary process, the taxpayers, and that promised open and accountable thing!.

One of the most elegant pleas ever made against omnibus bills was made not that long ago in the House of Commons by a handsome young man by the name of Stephen Harper. He said it, omnibus bills are anti-democratic, they’re a slap in the face to MPs and voters.

See, this fascinates me. Because it's one thing if you don't know any better, but he clearly does, he just doesn't care. Who does that? I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes in that guy’s head for all the money in the world. Because he knows right from wrong here, he's on record, but he has decided it's okay to do wrong in order to advance the right. And democracy no longer enters into it.”

Next Elizabeth May on the Chinese take over of part of the oil patch and the 'investor protection' that may be part of the recently signed trade agreement yet to be made public. Any guesses which way this one is going to go......

I want greater ties with China for environmental endeavors, and cultural exchanges, and — yes – trade too. Losing sovereignty to China makes me nervous. I don’t want to be intolerant. But I want us to trade items made in Canada, by Canadians, to China. I don’t like the idea of China owning Canada. It makes it hard for us to point out to the Chinese government that it must start respecting human rights. We need to be really forceful in advocating for religious and political freedom in China. How do we do that when they have veto power over Canadian laws?”

An American comments upon the 47% remarks by Romney but the same holds true here with Harper 'negotiating' several 'free' trade agreements behind closed doors as I write:-

You often hear that competition due to "globalization" means that we have to accept lower wages and fewer benefits, because people "over there" make so much less. What has caused the pressure, however, is "free trade" agreements that allow companies here to close factories here and open them over there, and then bring the same things they used to make here to sell in the same stores. The only "trade" involved in this transaction is trading who does the work.”

A Canadian piece about how the Harper regimen changes their tune to suit the politically inspired attack message of the day, particularly if it suits their do nothing environmental policies.......

In 2008, the Conservative platform promised to “develop and implement a North American-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases and air pollution, with implementation to occur between 2012 and 2015.” Now, however, the Conservative attack machine denounces a cap-and-trade system, as conceptually proposed by the NDP, as a “carbon tax,” a job killer “that will increase the price on everything.”

And then of course there is the ongoing efforts by the “government” to NOT get to the bottom of the Election robocall mess.

Steven Shrybman on behalf of the applicants makes the point that the same Conservatives who are demanding his clients put up a large security deposit against costs are the ones who are driving costs up by filing so many motions. “ (and delaying the ruling by doing so)

For more history on this one check out my Election Malfeasance page above.

Regarding the latest spin from the Harperites Tim Harper of the Star opines:-
Never missing an opportunity to inject cynicism into the body politic, the Conservatives will place the MPs’ pension matter in another omnibus bill, serving their purposes on two fronts.
By stuffing it into a bill that will run hundreds of pages and include a litany of measures the opposition will not support, they hope to score cheap points with reports that Liberals and New Democrats opposed the pension reform.”

I very much doubt if he is wrong on that. But wait there is more, we could not have the current lot pay any more into their pension plan or loose some benefits now could we...

The new MPs’ pension arrangements are still being discussed with Harper’s 163-member caucus, some of whom are concerned about losing future entitlements, according to Tory insiders. But changes to retirement benefits are expected within a few weeks when a second budget implementation bill comes before Parliament.
To enlist the support of Conservative MPs, the new plan is expected to be phased in, meaning today’s MPs will not lose any of the future pay-outs that have accrued so far.
But over the next five years, the government will do away with the current arrangement that sees MPs contribute only a fraction of their pension savings, with taxpayers picking up the rest. “

There is much more but that’s about all my stomach can stand for today!

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