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 26, 2015

Harper History, Part 5A - Information witheld , Omnibus Budget

Mar 2010 – June 2010

If the period before the second prorogation of Parliament was deemed “dysfunctional” the period from when parliament returned in March and the following 12 months till the 2011 election should be classed as totally without any redeeming features. It includes an ongoing and never-ending series of efforts by the Harper regime to control or suppress information about or from government departments, the g20 spending fiasco, the 2010 800+ page omnibus budget that amongst other things killed many environmental protection regulations, and doing away with reliable census returns. The liberals in opposition did little to oppose such legislation for fear of bringing about an early election, some say due to almost one third of their caucus being up for pensions if hung in till the end of the year.
I hope readers will forgive me for linking to many of my previous posts for this period where many links to further information is available, the volume of hits against parliamentary democracy during this period is almost overwhelming!

Parliament returned from 2 month long prorogation on 3 mar 2010

March 2010 - Canada's new Access to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is investigating allegations of systemic violations of Access to Information laws by federal Conservatives with staffers aledging that during morning conferances the PMO's issues management wing would routinely give "verbal directions on slowing down, delaying, stopping ATIPs altogether or 'transferring' ATIPs to the centre." Staffers who questioned or resisted orders to interfere with the ATI system, the staffer said, faced verbal abuse and thinly veiled threats against themselves and their ministers, the source recounted.
In his year end report before he resigned former ATA commissioner Mr Marleau said about the failure to update the ATI system-
How much longer will Parliament stand by and tolerate this pervasive neglect and the attrition of a fundamental democratic right? “

Despite it being on of the major items of conflict in the 2008 parliamentary session no sooner than parliament had returned when PMO press secretary Dimitri Soudas confirmed that eliminating the subsidy, the $1.75 which political parties receive for each vote they garner during federal elections, would be part of the Conservatives' next election campaign platform.

In April - Interim information commissioner Suzanne Legault urged government agencies to take "immediate steps" to curb the persistent foot-dragging she detailed Tuesday in a special report to Parliament regarding Access to Information requests.
“Federal delays in answering queries from the public are getting worse and threaten to scuttle the right to know” she said.

On April 27th Regarding the ongoing stonewalling by the Harper regime to provide documents about Afghan prisoners to parliament Speaker Milliken ruled that:-
“…accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts.” and that The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials “
Further that “in a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the house of commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and, in fact, an obligation.”

For further information on this item please see Democracy Returns?

On March 4, 2010 Harper tabled his omnibus budget bill, a behemoth 880 page document covering hundreds of non budgetary items. Under the urging of the Harper Regime parliamentarians not only failed to split the non budgetary items off but spent an average of less than 30 seconds per clause in “debating” the merits of this legislation. Some of the incidental aspects of the bill eviscerated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
In 1994 Harper argued in referring to the Liberal 21 page budget that “the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles.” Yet in 2010 his budget ran to an unprecedented 880 pages long and contained 2,200 sections. All efforts to split non budgetary items from this bill were rejected.

By May It was getting increasingly difficult to get any information out of the 'government' and David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen found this Harper quote from 5 years earlier:-
Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent and corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.” He goes on to say that if Harper truly believes that then we can only assume that his aim is to create an “incompetent or corrupt government” and ensure that “parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions” for getting information from the Harper Regime is a bloody ordeal! This sums up the general feeling of many of us at the time.

In June Having just reached an agreement to work together behind closed doors in deciding what secret information related to Canada’s treatment of Afghan detainees can be released to the public the Conservative cabinet decided to ban its political staffers from appearing as witnesses before committees. This once again set of further acrimony between the government and the opposition and further blocked the committees efforts to investigate the allegations.

Finally on 22 June 2011 almost a year after the special committee was formed and over 2 years since the issue first came to light approximately 4,000 documents were released by the government however an estimated 36,000 pages still were not released in a less-redacted form.
The 'games' continued through June with “Two government officials playing cat-and-mouse with a Commons committee bailiff trying to serve them a summons. MPs at the ethics committee are hearing how Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications, and another political aide, did not return repeated calls from the bailiff over two days. The bailiff also told the committee clerk that he had shown up at their government offices, but was barred entry and could not deliver the summons.”
For more on this please see Delay, Obstruct & Spin and More Contempt

Due to the amount of Contempt for Democracy to be detailed during this period covering the last half of this Harper minority government it has been split into two sections. The second half covering the G20 fiasco, the killing of the climate bill and the lead up to the election will be published in the near future.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shorter Federal Budget

We intend to spend more than we bring in during the next year, much of it buying votes from higher earning taxpayers, but because we sold off our GM shares and took $2 billion out of reserves we HOPE the books will show a little left over by this time next year. Our current year end figures are a guess as the true figures will not be available for a number of months yet, maybe after the election, we don’t know if we will be able pay off any of the national debt that has been increasing for the past 8 years but will continue to pay massive amounts of interest on it. Most of our promises wont effect our books this year as they don’t take effect for several years up the road and will be the new governments problem and if we get voted in we can always use creative accounting again.

Also see Budget Balanced with EI Surplus

And Making a Mockery of Working Canadians

And Worst 5 things about the Budget

And Balanced-Unless.....
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Sunday, April 19, 2015

“Strong, Proud, Free”

The above is apparently the 'branding' that the Conservatives are now going to be inundating us with for the foreseeable future, it remains to be seen if we finally see the end of the “Economic Action Plan” Ads that have plagued us for years in attempting to persuade us that they actually had one. We know that these Ads are designed to promote the Conservative Regime and actually provide very minimal real information about government services but now with an election in the offing and Harper being spun as the great protector of Canadians and with our getting increasingly involved in various wars abroad this slogan is being pimped.
Its the same as with most things from this regime, if you say it enough times it must be true despite the reality being nothing of the kind..

Strong? We had all better remain strong if we are to survive the levels of BS that is about to bombard us from not only the Cons (much of it on our dime) but from the other parties (on their own dime) and if we are to protect our parliamentary democracy from further erosion. .
Proud? I am certainly not proud of my Federal Governments lack of action on the environmental file and their obstructionist attitude in global climate talks. I am not proud of the hoops the Feds are making our Vets jump through to receive compensation for injuries received. I am not proud of the PM lecturing various other countries on woman’s rights, democracy, economics etc etc whist doing little about such things at home.
Free? Next thing you know they will be telling us that scientists, department spokespersons, Con MPs etc........ are free to speak to the public without having an 'approved' script. They will also tell us that their new Secret Police Bill that enables detention for having an 'unapproved' opinion is to protect our freedom and that charities are free to express such opinions without being targeted by auditors.

It seems that you are not free to see the rationale behind this latest branding as “A request under the Access to Information Act seeking any background rationale for the tagline, which is being used to punctuate all the latest taxpayer-funded advertising, has come up empty. That’s because a 149-page Treasury Board submission on advertising has been deemed advice to cabinet, placing it behind a lead sheet of secrecy that even the federal information commissioner can’t penetrate.”
They are so proud of their efforts to spend our tax money on this branding that “No minister or department will claim responsibility for the whole-of-government marketing campaign, and requests for comment from the Prime Minister’s Office were returned by the Privy Council, which co-ordinates the development of government advertising.”

You are free to decide for yourself if in fact the Conservative Regime is in fact in compliance with the rules as they say.
Section 23 of the communications policy of the government of Canada states that institutions must not use public funds to purchase advertising in support of a political party,” Privy Council Office spokesman Raymond Rivet said in an e-mail.
All government of Canada advertising is designed to comply with the guidance set out in the policy.”

But as with most things in Ottawa nowadays the rules are not clear and there is no oversight and no penalties for bending the few rules that do exist.
The Conservatives have come under repeated criticism for spending tens of millions of dollars annually on government advertising that is often indistinguishable from the partisan branding of the party. The marketing exercise extends to departmental Web design (now a uniform Tory blue, with cross-pollinating links to popular Conservative initiatives such as family tax cuts) and even departmental press releases, often heralding local “Harper government” expenditures.”

I suppose we should be grateful that they did not decide upon Open, Honest, Principled!

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Balanced-Budget Law, fiscal or political?

With Canadians still waiting to see whats in the much delayed budget Finance Minister Joe Oliver has just announced plans for a balanced-budget law (as promised by the Conservatives in the 2013 throne speech). Call me a cynic but after having inherited a 13.8 Billion surplus from the Liberals and having then spent it all BEFORE the recession hit and then produced 7 consecutive budget deficits is this more about handcuffing any incoming government from fixing their mess than concern about the national debt?

"The only acceptable deficit would be one that responds to a recession or to an 'extraordinary' circumstance -- that is war or a natural disaster with a cost exceeding $3 billion in one year," Oliver told the Economic Club.........
Cabinet ministers would see their pay docked five per cent if the federal government fails to balance its books under proposed legislation critics denounced Wednesday as symbolic at best, hypocrisy at worst.

Given the difficulty experienced by the Parliamentary Budget Officer and others in determining the true state of this government finances and expenditures one must wonder if the much flaunted 'balanced budget' that we have yet to see is factual or just creative accounting. When they are tossed from power will the incoming government find that in actual fact after all the tax breaks, mostly for the more affluent, and the spending commitments spread over future years that without severe cuts to services they are already in debt before they start.

"The proposed bill would acknowledge the potential need for deficits to counter economic decline." In addition to the ministerial pay cut, a deficit would spark an automatic operating freeze, Oliver said. Observers, however, suggested the Tories were looking to score political points by appealing to their constituents.

It will be difficult for opposition partys to vote against this legislation is it, as is almost all of the Con Regimes legislation, a political trap and being proposed at this moment purely for political reasons? Balanced budgets should indeed be a priority of all governments and hitting them in the pocket book may give them some incentive, possibly to hit US in the pocket book instead, but the timing of this is deeply suspect.

Both Opposition parties were scornful of what they called a death-bed repentance from a government that has racked up seven straight budget deficits since Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised in 2008 he would never run a shortfall.

The Liberal leader, who refused to say whether his party would oppose the legislation, called it "fairly ridiculous" the government would now be talking about balanced budgets -- five years after the recession and just before an election.

Watch for this to be rammed through quickly with limited debate (as is now the norm for all such legislation) so that the incoming government is backed in a corner ..... and if, God help us, the Cons get back in watch them ignore it and / or lie about expenditures and income!

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sorry, Your Partisan Slip is Showing

We know that the House public safety committee has been 'studying' the government's anti-terror bill and that despite the long list of influential and knowledgeable people wishing to speak to the dangers of this bill to our freedoms and privacy the list of those permitted to participate was severely restricted. We also know that throughout the process the Conservative members routinely defended the bill as written and showed no interest in amendments proposed by various presenters. They even deliberately blocked the Leader of the Green Party, who later was permitted to present but not speak to, multiple amendments from presenting her views on the bill.

While Ms. May was a regular attendee of committee hearings during its study of Bill C-51, Conservative MPs blocked her every attempt to ask a single question. Although any MP has a right to sit at committee, participation is at the discretion of the Chair. During these hearings, the Chair chose to put Ms. May’s requests to the floor for unanimous consent, which was summarily denied by her Conservative colleagues.
The process by which Green MPs submit amendments to committee is one created by PMO to deprive Green MPs from‎ presenting amendments to the House of Commons at Report Stage. Ms. May used this right effectively in opposing Bill C-38 in spring 2012. Since the fall of 2013, due to identical motions passed by Conservatives in every committee, Green amendments are deemed to have been moved at committee. Ms. May and Mr. Hyer will be given time to present each amendment but are not allowed to vote.

However now with intense pressure from both the public, forem Supreme Court Judges, Academic and even former Prime Ministers and word coming down from above it seems it is suddenly OK to make some of the changes proposed by those that did get to speak.

At no point during the 18 or so hours of testimony on the bill did even one of them publicly voice concerns over any of the provisions that they will now propose be tweaked in response to witness concerns.
In fact, in at least one case — removing the word "lawful" — multiple witnesses, including those who were largely supportive of the bill, had recommended exactly such a change.
Several of those witnesses pointed out that, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Liberal government of the day had initially included a similar provision in its anti-terror package, but struck it from the text after the expert witnesses of the day expressed concerns over potential overreach...............
Witnesses who raised red flags over the implications for privacy — another criticism expected to be addressed via amendment today — were greeted with similar skepticism.
Indeed, the federal privacy commissioner didn't even make the witness list.
The Tory committee members had been unwavering in their confidence that not even a comma in the bill needed changing.

But now it seems that having been 'approved' from above a few minor changes are now to be included. How many of the dozens of other amendments proposed by non Conservative MPs will be even considered let alone adopted at the senate hearings (having been rejected in committee) remains to be seen but one thing is for sure unless approved from above it simply wont happen.

At the moment, it's not clear whether the Conservative contingent will also be advised to throw their majority support behind additional, opposition-backed amendments or vote to reject certain clauses entirely, which would also result in changes being made to the bill.

A similar parliamentary plot twist occurred last spring, when after weeks of doggedly defending every aspect of Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre's controversial bid to revamp Canada's election laws, Conservative committee members found themselves introducing amendments to address precisely the concerns they had dismissed as unfounded.
One must ask the question do ANY of these Conservative MPs have a functioning brain or are they just a satellite mouthpiece of the PMO?

The biggest threat to Canadians and Canadian Democracy is not “terrorists” but Stephen Harper and his Conservative Regimes unthinking support of his desire for absolute unlimited power and control.

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