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

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Canada's Sad "Democracy"

The Sixth Estate summarizes the basis of this post which highlights just how far we have drifted, or more corrected been steered, away from true democratic representation.

Backbench MP opposes government — for a couple of hours — The Honourable Member for Kootenay-Columbia, David Wilks, earned his honorific by publicly stating that parts of the Harper regime omnibus budget bill were wrong and should be thrown out, even at the risk of bringing down the government in a backbench rebellion. His defiance lasted for a few hours before the Prime Minister’s Office was able to shut him up. In true Orwellian fashion, Wilks now says that he supported the budget all along.

But then Far N Wide fills in the story and correctly points out that 'Wilks gives frank admission that his role in Ottawa is that of rubber stamp drone, devoid of true impact, sadly useless and obviously not representing ANYONE effectively.'. As I and many others have said before these MP are supposed to represent US not the party and it is long past time that a few of then grew some gonads and started doing their job. For a moment there I thought one had! I will let Steve take it from here........
Conservative MP David Wilks comments have provided fodder for government opponents, but underlying his concerns about the budget bill, a candid confirmation of the lowly existence most our elected representatives enjoy.  In reality, Wilks serves as a depressing testament to just how tortured our Canadian expression of democracy.  The exclamation point "kicker", you will ALSO never hear another "off the cuff" word from David Wilks, rest assured.

It's a story of a MP, not privy to anything in his government's budget, given ceremonial face time but having full knowledge "they've made up their minds" already, going through the motions is a kind characterization.  Wilks paints a picture of a cabinet, an inner circle, making all decisions then presenting those measures to what amounts to the majority of elected MP's.  And, this reality is just the government benches, never mind all the opposition MP's.  In other words, Wilks gives frank admission that his role in Ottawa is that of rubber stamp drone, devoid of true impact, sadly useless and obviously not representing ANYONE effectively. 

What is particularly depressing is the fatalism Wilks has already adopted, a rookie MP beaten and submissive, there is nothing he can do, admitting himself powerless.  "One person is not going to make a difference — one MP, one MP is not going to make a difference" laments Wilks.   In fact, one person does make a difference, we see it every single day outside Ottawa.  The fact an MP can put his principled objections on the back burner, in the name of  math, there is a cold realization that plagues the entire House of Commons.  Wilks can very much make a statement, on a number of fronts, should he choose to formally voice concern, in fact that's his job in the idealist sense.  Instead, the defeatist attitude reigns supreme and Wilks will support a budget he tells his constituents is flawed.  How that reality translates to representative democracy escapes me.

Take Wilks to the logical conclusion.  All MP's outside of cabinet in a majority situation should resign immediately, in the name of austerity and practical relevance.  If this mass epiphany was to occur absolutely nothing would change in Ottawa, therein lies the true reality of how centralized and authoritarian our system has become.  Wilks, by his own admission, is useless and he is clearly not alone, so why perpetuate the farce that is our House of Commons.

Instead of cowering in the face of logistics, Wilks should make a stand, vote against the budget.  Yes the budget will pass anyways, yes his one vote is inconsequential, but in the end, should he stand up for his constituents, shed light on a disturbing bill, and in turn give renewed focus to a ailing democracy, THEN he very much could "make a difference".   Instead, the end game to this sad commentary, Wilks will not only fail to stand up, he will MUZZLED in the future, and that is present day democracy in Canada, dressed up in its full regalia.  No wonder nobody cares.

There is very little we can do to stop this Omnibus Bill that totally destroys a multitude of protective measures for our rivers, seas, forests, fish and fauna and should be, at the very least, debated at length and be considered as separate legislation. One MP who is doing everything she can to try and get that to happen is Elizabeth May of the Greens, you can support her efforts by signing the on line petition at the Green Party of Canada's web site or download and mail the one here which be presented in the house by Ms May.

Meanwhile all we can do is hope that a few Conservative MPs 'grow some'!

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Those Questionable Polls

There have been a number of comments that the overturned election results at Etobicoke Centre was due to a failure of Elections Canada and whilst it is true that they are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the rules are followed there are a few things that are not being said.
It must be understood that each location (with more that one individual poll) has a 'Central Poll Supervisor' in overall charge and a 'Deputy Returning Office' and a 'Poll Clerk' for each poll who are charged with working together to identify and record those who wish to vote, and the voters name and addresses against the list when registering voters. I note however that “The Deputy Returning Officer is solely responsible for deciding on accepting or rejecting a piece of identification”. These individuals are generally simply folks who want to earn a few extra dollars by working for elections Canada for 14 or 16 hours on election day. They receive a brief training prior to the day (the Supervisor more than the others) and are then pretty much on their own.

It is clear that either they did not receive sufficient training, the returning officer and or the supervisor was corrupt or incompetent, or there was a deliberate effort by some of the individuals at these polls to sway the vote. It is, in my mind, these possibilities that need investigation. I make no allegations as to who these folks are but will say that there are no real checks as to their political affiliation, indeed political partys are generally asked to submit the names of interested individuals who wish to work the polls. I further note that political partys can, if they wish, provide 'observers' at poll locations, I do not know if there were such at these polls. Were the questionable polls clustered at one or more particular locations and thus under the control of one or two Supervisors, to whom the rest of the staff report, I don’t know, but it seems passing strange that identification and paperwork protocols were not followed.

Elections Canada has a series of protocols established for any situation that arises during the voting process (including for individuals not on the voters list) the DRO, Returning Officers and Clerks are provided with an extensive booklet setting out the methods and actions to be taken, up to and including how to lay out the tables and voting booths! There is NO excuse for not following such rules and I put the blame squarely upon the clerks and officers at the individual polls. It seems to me whist there is no need to vilify these individuals unless deliberate malfeasance has taken place on their part they should at least be asked 'what were you thinking, were you not told how to handle this?' Perhaps individuals who are found to have knowingly ignored the rules should be restricted from such responsibilities in future elections.

Insofar as an unregistered voter is concerned an elector may be vouched for by an elector who is on the list for that polling division, both individuals must provide proof of identity and address. An elector who has been vouched for may not vouch for another elector and the DRO must administer the oath to both individuals. The Poll Clerk shall record the electors Name and Address in the 'poll book'. If such identification is not provided (and recorded) then the individual may not vote.

Was there a deliberate attempt to overwhelm the staff with many unregistered voters who require extra time, procedures and paperwork at the last minute just before the polls closed, I don’t know but some reports at the time seemed to indicate that this might have been part of the problem. I note that anyone already inside when the polls close is processed and counting proceeds after they have voted and left the premises. I do note that after 12 straight hours without a break with a further 1 or more hours probable in order to count the ballots almost anyone may have a tendency to do whatever they have to to 'get it over with'. There are no provisions for a Returning Officer or Poll Clerk to leave their station other than to close that poll. The provision of one or more 'alternative' Clerks or Officers at the location would do much to smooth out some of the stress that can occur when polling stations become overwhelmed with voters who are upset with the vulgarities of identification or who have been waiting a while to vote.

Having established that the results are invalid due to improper identification procedures let us find out why this happened and take steps to see that it does not happen again. To do that we must know the details of how such errors occurred, perhaps EC is doing so but given the speed with which their investigation into the
robocall mess is proceeding my faith in them is rapidly diminishing, probably much to the delight of those that want to bend the rules!

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How can members represent their constituents?

We here, along with a number of other concerned Canadians have been pointing out the escalating decline of our democratic institutions, our access to accurate and timely information, the increasingly partisan rhetoric and actions that signals that Canadian Democracy is in real trouble for some time now.
Whilst no party, federal or provincial, except perhaps the GPC, is totally without fault on this file it is the Harper Regime who have far and away exceeded all others in centralizing power and minimizing debate and public input whilst unilaterally forcing through legislation that is flawed at best and totally wrong socially, environmentally and fiscally at worst. The Omnibus Budget Bill which is now reaping outrage from Canadians from coast to coast is but the latest of a long line of actions which show a total disregard for the normal democratic process in parliament. We can agree or disagree on the content of this and other such previously tabled bills but the methods used to get them implemented is clearly anti Canadian, anti Democratic and the actions of an Oligarchy not an 'Open and Accountable' government.

Rather than reiterate what has been said so many times by so many Canadians regarding both the current current disdain of parliamentary process and the many previous actions which show the Harper regimes true colors I will simply post a few extracts from recent posts by fellow bloggers and media observers. Do go read them and check out their previous posts also, we must continue to educate those who remain uncaring or ignorant of the threat to our hard won rights, freedoms and governance systems.

The Harper government is intent on passing its 421 page Budget Implementation Bill in seven days. If Stephen Harper were the Leader of the Opposition, he would be up in arms. In fact, as Leader of the Opposition, he was. "In the interest of democracy," he fumed, I ask how can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote on a block of such legislation?”
But that was then. This is now. And now Harper knows that his program runs so deeply against Canada's core values that he must accomplish his mission by stealth. Tom Walkom outlines the significant details in the omnibus budget act:

But the increasing use of these omnibills extends Parliament’s powerlessness in all directions: it has become, if you will, omnimpotent — a ceremonial body, little more. What is worse, it cannot even seem to rouse itself to its own defence.
Once upon a time such insults could be relied upon to produce unruly scenes in the House, obstruction of government business and whatnot. The packaging of several pieces of legislation into one omnibus energy bill in 1982 provoked the opposition to refuse to enter the House to vote. The division bells rang for nearly three weeks until the government agreed to split the bill. The insertion of a single change to environmental legislation in the 2005 budget bill, a note from the Green Party reminds us, so enraged the then leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper, that he threatened to bring down the government.
But today’s Parliament is so accustomed to these indignities that it barely registers. It has lost not only the power to resist, it seems, but the will.
Also from Andrew
While the 2012 budget implementation bill is hardly the first in this tradition, the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated.
Not only does this make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill, which is not: It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We’ve no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.........
Moreover, it utterly eviscerates the committee process, until now regarded as one of the last useful roles left to MPs. How can one committee, in this case Finance, properly examine all of these diverse measures, with all of the many areas of expertise they require, especially in the time allotted to them?

The only way we can maintain good governance is to soundly reject the many corrupt practices of the Harper government: but how do we do that with three years left on their majority rule? Time and again they have been exposed and have gotten away with it. Even when Elections Canada found them guilty of In & Out, they paid no political price. Each time they get away with something, they are emboldened to go further and be more unscrupulous. Each time Harper shrugs off one of these scandals, his supporters get the message that this is the way they should operate.

Kirby Cairo on his blog
Our government can prorogue parliament whenever it wants with no consequence, it can effectively shut down parliamentary debate on any issue, it can use its self-appointed speaker to avoid retribution for blatant violations of House rules,  it can use fraud to win elections while underfunding and under-informing the very body that is supposed to investigate such malfeasance, it can gut regulations to the point that we become little more than a mechanism for extracting resources and sending them to other tyrannical nations, and it can do all of these things while blithely bragging about its democratic principles.

There is no doubt that democracy is in trouble, here and abroad. And the most desperate trouble is to be found in the state of denial of our so-called leaders.

Lorne at Politics and its Discontents
During the past year I have written many posts on the sad spectacle of a Canadian democracy in decline, citizen cynicism and apathy rather than vigorous engagement becoming the default position of more and more Canadians. I have also offered the opinion that this is in large part the result of practices purposely pursued by our political 'masters', most egregiously by the Harper regime, so as to leave the field pretty much clear for the 'true-believers' to exert a disproportionate influence on election results when they turn out and the rest of us tune out.

The Sixth Estate for detailed analysis.
So much heavy lifting has been done here that I will not attempt to select a clip, if you want facts and lists on everything from robocon reports to patronage lists to who is lobbying government this is the place to go.

Sask Boy has much more.
He has been keeping up on the election phone call scam and the failure of Elections Canada to do much about it until the media and the blogging community brought it all into the public eye. If you want to see who is, or was, saying what about this ongoing investigation check out his many posts on the subject.

Jim Travers may be gone but his work lives on.
For those that may wish to look back to see how long this attack upon democracy has been going on there is no better introduction than Mr Travers 'Shamocracy' series which are linked to in a previous post.

The above is but a small selection and I thank them all for keeping such information in the public eye. You may want to check out my 'Malfeasance' pages linked at the top of the page, they are not comprehensive, the list would be way to large and I am having a hard time keeping up!. I for one am getting extremely tired and dispirited with all the things going on that we the voters seem to have no control over, accurate and up to date information is the only way to fight this blight. We all know we wont get much of that coming out the Harper Regime unless it is liberally sprinkled with Bull Shit!

There are now rumors that the Omnibus Budget Bill may be split into separate pieces of legislation. “NDP House leader Nathan Cullen says his Conservative counterpart, Peter Van Loan, is considering a New Democrat proposal to split the 400-plus-page budget implementation bill into five separate pieces of legislation.”.
But then again perhaps not!
Keep up the pressure folks, perhaps we CAN have some impact! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Senate Reform Bill C7

What with all the other stuff going on, not the least of which is the Budget Omnibus Bill which
guts environmental regulation and leaves much of the outcomes subject to ministerial overrides, I missed the Senate Reform Bill C7 until I read that Quebec was challenging it. Upon reading it I at first thought that we were getting a step in the right direction with the PM recommending candidates from a list provided by the Province involved, however I then read that “The list of Senate nominees for a province or territory is to be determined by an election held in the province or territory” which immediately put up a red flag. No choice here, it would seem that nominees selected by the provinces by some other means would not be considered, the province MUST chose their list by an (expensive?) election.

The minute we publicly elect these nominees then there is a real danger of the whole process becoming highly political and partisan (not that is is not now), in other words a mirror image of the current mess in the HoC. In the 'Framework' it says “To be a candidate for election as a Senate nominee in a province or territory that has registered provincial or territorial political parties, a person must be nominated by a registered provincial or territorial political party as the party’s official candidate or be a person who, after the issuance of the election writ, declares himself or herself to be an independent candidate and is nominated to stand for election.”

I further note that in the 'Basic Principles' Framework it says “Senators to be appointed for a province or territory should be chosen from a list of Senate nominees submitted by the government of the province or territory.” Once again that sounds good but for the fact that the actual legislation says “If a province or territory has enacted legislation that is substantially in accordance with the framework set out in the schedule, the Prime Minister, in recommending Senate nominees to the Governor General, must consider names from the most current list of Senate nominees selected for that province or territory.” Lots of wiggle room there, perhaps necessary in order to get around reopening the constitution and getting provincial consensus, which is what the Quebec challenge is all about as I understand it.

All in all I am not totally against this move, it probably is an improvement if the current and future PMs abide by the spirit of the 'framework'. I am concerned however that it would lead to the squeaky wheel getting the job as it were, in that it will no doubt result in a concerted effort by some, if not all, political partys to sway the vote with partisan advertising. We know where that has led us in regard to the election of members of parliament. Further it does not oblige the PM to select ANY of those individuals thus put forward!

how and when such election should take place and the legislation sets a term limit of 9 years or reaching the age of 75.

Senate reform topics always bring some responses, and on this one I expect no less. I really don’t know if the good outweighs the bad or vice-a- versa on this one. It is all rather academic anyway because even IF it passes and IF the provinces duly hold elections to nominate individuals and IF the PM of the day selects exclusively from those lists it will be years before we get rid of the overwhelmingly partisan and increasingly intransigent lot we have now. By the time the Harper Regime has finished ramming through its attacks upon the environment protection, the charitable and social support sectors, and indeed our very democratic system of checks and balances there may well be, as he promised, no recognizable Canada left. I would be nice if the Senate did their job on the current mess and sent it back to the house as a number of separate bills, removing the non budget items from Bill C38, but don’t hold your breath the the Harper yes men contained within that body will have an independent thought.

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers