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, April 27, 2014

Ignorance is Bliss?

Its old news that the Harper Regime eliminated the long form Census thus also eliminating reliable information on the economic and social status of various areas and communities across the country. Nor should it be news that like many other departments (with the notable exception of the PMO) their budget has been cut. Statscan’s budget has fallen by $29.3-million in the past two years, and its staffing has fallen by 767 people, or 18.5 per cent, in the same period, excluding the census and surveys paid for by outside clients. Its been hard enough in the past to get up to date stats on employment, population trends, poverty and corporate profits with most data being anywhere from 6 months to 2 years or more out of date before being publicly available but now we don’t even ask the questions or have the staff to analyze it.

It should then not be a surprise that after commissioning a survey of 25,000 employers that cost $4.6-million to shed light on the extent of the country’s skills gap it was not published due to “ we have no funding for it, we’re reviewing the data so that we can document how well the survey worked”. Strange how the minister has been saying how there is a skills shortage and how we must import forgiven workers to fill those positions when they have not even fully analysed or publicized their own survey on just that subject! Must not let the facts get in the way of a good corporate scam eh!
In a similar mindset it seems that a survey of the effectiveness the $15 million (2013) Economic (In)action Plan advertising that was taken at a cost of $31,000 now omits to ask whether those that saw them actually took any notice or went to the web site. It would seem that when these questions were asked in the past few even recalled seeing the ads and many of those that did said the ads were a "waste of money" and represented "propaganda," in an April 2012 survey. So in typical Sargent Shultz fashion such questions are no longer asked. They continue to spend millions on this questionable advertising which provides no real information on their “plan” and thousands on surveying the results without asking any questions which might result in actual meaningful results.
Now I wonder why they are not asking the public what it thinks of their (Un)fair Election Act? With having been just slapped down with their Senate Reform plans by the courts you would think that they would at least make an effort to get the FACTS of public opinion, but that is not in their DNA. After stalling, withholding evidence and being generally “uncooperative” with the robocall enquiry they have managed to bring it to a point where 'not enough evidence' can be found to PROVE wrongdoing, they will now go full speed ahead to make it even harder to prosecute those who participate in election fraud. It will be interesting to see exactly what comes of the sudden possible acceptance of amendments to their election act legislation. For the most part there is only one group who has, and will continue to, try and cheat during an election and its NOT the Electors.... but dont ask any questions eh!

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Meaningful Changes or Lipstick on the Pig?

In the unholy rush to jam their Unfair Elections Act through before the majority of Canadians realise just how bad and self-serving piece of legislation it is the Harper regieme has asked the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to “pre-study” it. In short order the Conservative-dominated committee has come back with a number of changes that it would like to see, remember this is just a “pre-study” not full hearings and that the House of Commons has yet to finish its initial study of this bill. The House Affairs Committee studying the bill will conduct one more day of hearings when MPs return from a two-week break April 28, before going into a rushed clause-by-clause review ending May 1. “Clause-by-clause review will begin Tuesday, April 29 with morning and evening meetings for three days until it wraps up May 1.” 'Rushed' hardly covers it, this is legislation that changes the very fundamental way in which elections are held and funded and should not be rushed or subject to any limitations of debate or public scrutiny. In May it will then (presumably) go to the senate for a full (rushed?) committee study.

There are those who feel that the changes that the senate so quickly proposed are simply “putting lipstick on the pig” or as Tim Harper of the Star puts it:- “What Conservatives senators have really done is give the government cover to suddenly shift course, drop their bullying demeanour and pretend to be reasonable and conciliatory then go ahead and pass a deeply flawed bill with nothing more than cosmetic tweaks.”
I cannot help but agree with his opinion that “That {this} adds to the odds that somehow the proposed amendments will be given more weight than they are worth, wrapping this saga up with a nice bow, as the Senate flexes its muscle and the Harper governments feigns flexibility.”

Indeed whilst the changes propose include 'that attestations of name and address be given by authorities such as homeless shelters, student and senior’s residences, removing a spending loophole that would allow parties to exclude money spent on certain fundraising activities, and permitting Elections Canada to continue with certain education programs' that hardly touches the edges of what is wrong with this bill. Are these amendments just a distraction from the core faults, as Elizabeth May of the Green Party and long advocate for democratic reform said she thinks there’s a willingness from the government to consider amendments to the bill’s provisions on vouching. She’s worried that if all the focus is placed there, though, the bill could still pass without amending other provisions concerning the appointment of partisan poll workers, the muzzling of Elections Canada, and a fundraising loophole for party election financing.
The list of things that are wrong with this bill is a very long list. If the vouching provisions have settled in the public imagination as what’s wrong with the bill, fixing those might make people think that the whole process is okay. It won’t be okay,” she said.

The issue of vouching has indeed received the majority of the public criticism but is perhaps the one issue where this bill could be challenged in the courts in that it would possibly disenfranchise some voters Pierre Lortie, who chaired a royal commission on electoral reform in the early ’90s, told the House Affairs Committee the bill would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

That however is no guarantee that the bill will be changed in any meaningful way or that other antidemocratic and self-serving measures will not remain and be jammed though and become law. As Ms May puts it in an interview to the Hill Times “I think it sets a new record for a government bill that can’t find a single expert to support the government bill,” “[Conservatives] keep claiming they have everyday Canadians who support the bill. I haven’t seen any of those, either.”

As I said above and Ms May has indicated the vouching thing may well distract from some of the other terrible proposals in this bill but never the less she has, as always, clearly outlined this particular problem in her recent article for the Times Colonist.

The repetition of the 39 pieces of ID has become part of the disinformation that could lead to a loss of voter rights in the next election. A passport won’t work by itself because it does not include an address. A driver’s licence only works if it includes a street address and not a post office box, as is the case in many rural areas. If you have moved and your driver’s licence shows your previous address, you won’t have adequate ID. The requirement is for something with a photo ID and your address or just the right combination of two (or more) other identifiers, even without a photo ID.
Here’s a hypothetical. Imagine my daughter, currently a student in Halifax, went to the polling station bringing along six pieces of ID from the list — just to be on the safe side — her birth certificate, her student ID, her driver’s licence, her health card, her passport and her transcript. All are listed as acceptable on the Elections Canada website.
Could she vote? No. None of these forms of ID will include her current address. She does pay for utilities in her Halifax apartment. The utility bill is listed as an acceptable proof of address, in conjunction with her other ID. So, she runs back to her apartment, prints out her online utility bill and gets back to the polling station.
Can she vote now? No. The utility statement must be one mailed to the customer, not one printed out from online billing.”
As a rural resident whose wife worked on the 'revisions' for voters in the last elections I can say that rural addressing in particular is a major problem in this regard. It is improving with the use of 'fire numbers' in many municipality’s but the vulgarities of rural addressing DO create some unique problems where the address on you identification is expected to match that in the Elections Canada listings!

Wake up Canada, our democracy has become a shadow of its former self ever-since the Harper Regime received their false majority, it is now being threatened with a poison pill that would put it in further jeopardy. Speak up, only immense public pressure will stop these Oligarch from destroying our long internationally admired election oversight system and even that may not be enough to stop them!

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Prerequisites for Democratic Legitimacy

Anita Vandenbeld author of an article called ‘Imposing Legitimacy: The Dilemma of International Democratic Development’ for LawNow magazine and former director of parliamentary affairs for Jacques Saada, the first minister of Democratic Reform in 2004, recently wrote an article on the legitimacy of bill C23. In it, in contrast to her previous article where she raised the question of how democratic institutions become legitimate in the eyes of a population, she now asks how do democratic institutions lose their legitimacy?

Here are some extracts, read the whole thing at Ipolitics:-

Basically, I argued there are five prerequisites for democratic legitimacy:
  • A legal or constitutional basis for authority;
  • Enforcement mechanisms;
  • Impartial decision-makers (financial independence, security of tenure);
  • Transparency in decision-making;
  • Mechanisms for giving or withholding consent.
Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, risks undermining each of these prerequisites for democratic legitimacy. It risks stripping Elections Canada of its democratic legitimacy and endangering the future of free and fair elections in Canada. The legal basis for elections in Canada is the Canada Elections Act. Changes to this law must be taken very seriously and be based on the widest possible public and expert consultation. ........................
One of my responsibilities in Kosovo was to work with the Legislative Assembly to pass a law that would make independent institutions (like our Officers of Parliament) accountable to Parliament and not to the government. This is no mere formality — it affects everything a parliament does..............
Under Bill C-23, the enforcement arm of Elections Canada (Commissioner of Canada Elections) will be moved to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is appointed by the government and reports only indirectly to Parliament through the government. I brought a delegation to Canada from Kosovo in 2007 on a study visit to learn how Canadian institutions maintain their independence from government. Today, I would be embarrassed to bring them to Canada.
One of the more egregious aspects of Bill C-23 is that it actually forbids Elections Canada or the Chief Electoral Officer from communicating with the public. No more reports. No more voter education. No more communication about robocalls or any other investigations.
In every international best-practice regarding democracy, transparency is the number one criteria. It is hard to imagine how a country can maintain elections transparency when the body that runs elections is no longer allowed to speak to the people. Even former auditor general Sheila Fraser has criticized this aspect of the bill, saying: “Independent officers of Parliament — the government is now restricting what they can say? It’s just so inappropriate.”
I can honestly say that in all my years of working on democratic development with the United Nations, OSCE, NDI and other international organizations on five continents, I have not found another electoral commission that was prohibited by law from speaking to the public about elections or doing public awareness campaigns to encourage people to vote.
Anita Vandenbeld worked for a number of years internationally on democratic development with the United Nations Development Programme, the National Democratic Institute,the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Centre.

Exactly, changes to our electoral system that are forced through the legislative process and are not based upon based on the “widest possible public and expert consultation” or are contrary to the wishes of the majority of Canadians cannot be viewed as legitimate. This would make the results of the next election questionable no matter what party gains the right to govern, but certainly given the bias in this legislation to the current regime would make a win by them nothing short of a coup d'etat.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Winning at All Costs.

I think we are all sick of the win at all cost mentality of our political parties and their leaders, this mentality is not restricted to just the Harper Regime, although it is certainly most prevalent with that group of oligarchs, but can be seen with very few exceptions in all parties and both provincial and federal politics. I recently came across a piece from Scott, a recent graduate of the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in Political Studies who puts it like this:-

"Almost all of the political parties in today's system seem to be more concerned with winning an election than with improving our country. It's the reason why in every leadership race, almost every candidate is always introduced as the "Next Prime Minister/Premier/whatever." Yes, if you win you get to implement your policies. But at the same time, for many, it seems like winning is enough.

And when we become so focused on just winning for the sake of winning, or worse winning for the sake of making sure the other team doesn't, we put our blinders on. We can see this in the culture of corruption that has basically claimed the backrooms of the Conservative Party. From robocalls from the CIMS database, to robocalls about Irwin Cotler, to robocalls in Saskatchewan, to Eve Adams using her position to campaign for a nomination in a new riding; we see people making dodgy, and in many cases illegal, decisions for the sake of winning.

If we want to tackle election fraud and fair elections, the first place to look isn't to the voter: It's to the parties. We need to ensure that parties are following the laws that are written down for them; and that even a single rogue campaign worker is punished for daring to step outside those bounds. We need to stop letting parties find 'gray zones' in the laws, and instead insist that all parties remain on the fair footing that we're supposed to offer.

Who cares if it's not technically illegal or only against the spirit, but not the word, of the law? Parties, it seems, will take the shortcuts and moral lowroad to achieve the victory of winning it would seem. Democracy is supposed to foster policy discussion and alternative visions for our country; that is not what we've been getting.”

Exactly, “If we want to tackle election fraud and fair elections, the first place to look isn't to the voter: It's to the parties.”, and yet the Unfair Elections Act completely ignores this truth. In fact it actually goes in the opposite direction by removing any investigative powers from Elections Canada and failing to follow the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer to enforce testimony in the case of wrongdoing. Which given that said regime has been busy withholding information on the robocall issue for many months now would seem to be an effort to shut down said efforts to find out the truth. And now it would seem they have succeeded :-

In light of the government’s announcement in the fall that it would introduce comprehensive legislative reform, Elections Canada decided to postpone the general enforcement report until after the next general election,” she said. “This was necessary not only to focus our attention and resources on the announced reform, but also of the difficulty of engaging stakeholders simultaneously on a parallel initiative.” It would seem that Elections Canada is already less than “independent' even before the proposed changes and already under the Harper Regimes control!

Then comes the issue of buying an election by those with deeper pockets than the average voter and by parties who cater to corporate sponsors to raise money to further the agenda of the rich and powerful rather than the wishes of the average citizen. On this issue Scott says this:-

Democracy is a nice idea in theory, a sentiment that is usually applied to communism, but in practice it doesn't always work. This is especially true when you consider the big money that goes into politics.

Democracy cannot work when money plays a more important role than the actual voice of the people. That is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy. Which is why if we ever want a fair election, we must support 100% public funded elections.

There is a question as to whether or not we should even allow parties to raise money at all; though, I do realize that parties do rely on paid employees as well as volunteers. It's a tricky balance, but not impossible to achieve. So, while I'm not saying we should completely stop parties from fundraising, we should explore avenues to restrict what they can use raised funds for. Office and staff expenses, yes. Running a multi-million dollar ad campaign, no.”

Whilst I dont agree with Scott that elections should be totally publicly funded (I think it is simply not possible to institute and monitor such a system) I do think that the limits of what a party or individual can raise during an election should be reduced NOT increased as proposed in the 'lets see how much more we can cheat elections act'. Not only does the increase make the playing field even more tilted towards the affluent voter but some of the changes, in particular that of exempting certain previous detonators contributions from being counted, are totally impossible to monitor and ensure that the rules are followed. As with the elimination of the 'per vote subsidy' this is directly aimed at lesser parties who if they had the resources to put their position in front of the public in the same manner as the big boys would undoubtedly gain a huge upswing in support.

The former auditor general (Sheila Fraser) is also troubled by a provision that would allow political parties to exempt from their campaign spending limits any money spent to raise funds from people who’ve donated at least $20 over the previous five years. She said that amounts to a giant loophole that would allow well-established parties to spend untold millions more during campaigns but would be “unfair” to new parties, which have no history of past donors.
Moreover, she questioned how pitches for donations can be distinguished from pitches for support and how Elections Canada could monitor and verify that the exemption was not being abused, given that the bill does not give the agency the power to audit party books or demand to see their records, invoices or receipts – a power successive chief electoral officers have long sought.”
The other thing that the influence of money in our democratic process cannot be ignored is the ongoing television, and now radio, ads taken out by the Harper Regime, not to tell us anything about what they are doing (they use taxpayers money for that, plugging their non existent 'Action Plan' ) but to make personal attacks upon another parties leader. That they have been doing this for months and over a year ahead of any election shows exactly how devoid of any morals or any respect for democracy they are. Without masses of influx of cash from the rich this sickening reflection of the win at all costs and money can buy anything mindset would not be possible.

As Scott says “Democracy cannot work when money plays a more important role than the actual voice of the people.”

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