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 13, 2015

Goodby Harper, Hello Canada

I am going to be taking a short break from my weekly blogging over the holidays but before I do I wanted to write a little of my personal thoughts as to what I hope the new year will bring. I will admit to being very optimistic, perhaps too much so, for a return to a kinder, more inclusive, caring Canada as detailed by our new governments many proposed changes to things that were ignored, closed, silenced or abused by the previous regime. Just the tone of the PM and his various ministers gives me a renewed sense of hope for the future, a positive outlook and the reinvesting in people, the openness in listening to, and inviting such dialogue from, the provinces, the scientific community, our environmental groups and our native peoples is so refreshing.
I am not so naive as to believe that all the promises will be achieved in the next year or more, or even ever, but the fact that they are trying thus far for that “open and accountable” government promised to us so many times before is to be supported and encouraged. The reinstatement of the census, the unmuzzleing of our scientists and diplomats, the freedom of our charities to express an opinion without fear, the invitation to all Partys and Provinces to join the delegation at the climate change talks all show a real desire to actually fulfil such promises.
Its not going to be all plain sailing, the very practical proposals for appointing Senators (something that must be done if we are going to have a functional parliamentary system) is already being criticized by some of the very people who would have an increased say in such appointments, namely the Provinces. In trying to ensure a non partisan Senate but still be able to introduce government bills to that chamber previous procedures will need to be changed and some Senators are trying to do just that but some outside the chamber are going to do everything they can to block any efforts to make such changes. The new opposition, who are now in the same position as the Liberals were just a few brief weeks ago, are naturally against almost any move to undo legislation or decisions forced through whist they were in power. I hope they will learn to be a little less partisan with their rhetoric and debate future bills upon their merit, but I doubt that will happen. Just trying to form parliamentary committees has already turned into a squabble as to who can serve on or attend meetings.

So here is my message for 2016. Let us support and encourage the positive change that the new government is proposing, let us ensure that they keep their promises of consulting with the Provinces on shared issues, let us make sure that that open and accountable thing does not drop from sight again and, yes, let us hope for more 'Sunny Days' ahead for Canada.

I will be back in January with some thoughts upon the choices to be made in bringing in Electoral Reform. As Peter Lowry says “What we really need in considering these questions is people with open minds. You simply cannot consider solutions to the voting system until you have a clear idea of why you want to change it and what really are the options available. This is not as simple as people think.”

Meanwhile I wish all my readers Happy Holidays and a productive and prosperous 2016

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Promises- Electoral Reform, spending & advertising.

Electoral Reform is probably the most called for item on the democratic reform agenda, and I suspect will be the most difficult to keep from being a very divisive promise given the strong opinions held by various individuals and citizen groups across the country. The promise is to:-
Form an all-party parliamentary committee to bring recommendations to Parliament on the way forward, to allow for action before the succeeding federal election. Ensure that electoral reform measures – such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting – are fully and fairly studied and considered. And within 18 months bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.

I will cover the various possibilities regarding the types of voting systems in future posts, despite having written on that subject several time in the past I have some new thoughts as to the suitability of some of the proposals (in particular the much vaunted 'proportional representation'). For now all I am going to say that I am very pleased that this proposal call for ALL systems to be “fully and fairly studied and considered” and that voting methods such as on line voting (and hopefully other ways of improving ways to vote) will be included in the committees deliberations. I hope that wide consultation will take place with all the ramifications of any proposed system considered, including the effect of more complex ballots upon the voting process.

Repeal the anti-democratic elements in the Fair Elections Act and scrap the Citizen Voting Act, restore the voter identification card as an acceptable form of identification. Work with provinces and territories, and support Elections Canada, to register young Canadians as a part of their high school curriculum. Support voter registration as part of a civic ceremony in high schools, support Elections Canada in proactively registering Canadians from groups that historically have lower voter turnout.

Given some of the problems identified by voters during the election its pretty clear that the entire voter identification system needs a major overall and modernization. Various government agencies both federal and provincial have multiple databases with our information in which they check our electability for various programs, make sure we pay our taxes etc etc but seem unable to maintain an accurate list of voters. Much of the problems encountered stem from the necessity to vote at a particular location, perhaps an updated system can eliminate that need. And YES, lets give our youth and other non voters the tools and information to get them involved in deciding their future governance.

Provide Elections Canada
with the resources it needs to investigate matters that threaten the integrity of our electoral process. Ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada have the tools and mandate to encourage more Canadians to vote. Restore the independence of the Commissioner of Canada Elections so that they are freely able to prosecute electoral violations.

Even before the Conservatives removed much of their powers Elections Canasta was not doing a good job of identifying and prosecuting those (almost exclusively political operatives) who abused the system, whether this was from lack of power or lack of resources is hard to tell but we do indeed need a strong independent body with the power to fully investigate such fraud. Election Canada is such a body, let us give them the tools they need to do their job which should indeed include urging all Canadians to vote when given the opertunity.

Appoint an Advertising Commissioner to assist the Auditor General in providing oversight on government advertising. Proposed messages will be reviewed by the Advertising Commissioner to ensure they are non-partisan and related to actual government requirements. Review electoral spending limits, and also ensure that political party spending between elections is subject to limits.
Create a more inclusive, independent commission that will organize leaders’ debates during election campaigns, with a mandate to increase Canadians engagement and knowledge of the issues.

These three items are all part of the same thing in my view, the ability of those who would seek to represent up, both individuals and partys, to be able to place their point of view and proposals before the public with some measure of “fairness' as compared with the incumbent partys and / or individuals or partys with resources far in excess of some of their oponents. Elections have become far to much about who can spend the most in 'advertising' (although it does not always result in the expected result as we have just seen) and as a result alternative views are all but unheard in the ensuing media war. We know that the Harper regime was using public money to toot its own horn for years prior to the election and this tenancy now seems to be spilling over into provincial governments (at least here in Ontario) so any oversight to check this practice is a good thing. The practice of excluding this or that leader of an established party from national debates is part and parcel of the ever increasing tilt to that “playing field” and must be corrected.

Its hard to say how all this will shake out but each of the proposals are a step in the right direction IMHO, at this point I remain optimistic that our new government and our parliamentarian's will work together to bring many of these reforms into being. I truly hope that our MPs will put partisan rhetoric aside and agree to strengthen our democratic systems for as we have seen it can so quickly and easily go the other way however we are already seeing some rhetoric that this system or that will benefit this party or that. I do not envy the “committee” on this one!

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Democratic Balance.

A guest post by Jared Milne
It’s been about a month since the federal election that made Justin Trudeau prime minister. The election results illustrate both sides of the challenge that political parties face at election control-the need to motivate the party’s base, while also getting undecided “swing” voters to support them.

The Conservatives led by Stephen Harper illustrate one side of the challenge. Many of the Harper government’s policies were supported by the Conservatives’ base, such as the selling of the Canadian Wheat Board, the end of the long gun registry, tax policies such as income splitting and harsher sentences for criminals. However, commentators such as John Ivison noted how many Canadians had become fed up with Harper and wanted him gone. On election day, most of Harper’s seats came from his strongest base of support on the Prairies, enough to make the Conservatives the Official Opposition but not enough to let Harper stay on as prime minister.

The New Democrats led by Tom Mulcair had the opposite problem. In 2011, Jack Layton made the NDP the Official Opposition for the first time in Canadian history largely by tapping into new support in Quebec. However, in 2015 Mulcair wasn’t able to retain much of that support, leading the NDP to lose over half their seats and returning them to third-party status in Parliament. Some commentators attributed the NDP’s loss to Mulcair’s attempt to bring the NDP closer to the political centre in an attempt to attract swing voters. Mulcair’s moves are said to have alienated many of the NDP’s most devoted supporters and led to many progressive voters to support Justin Trudeau and the Liberals instead.

By comparison, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals managed to not only retain the support of places that have frequently voted Liberal in the past such as in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, but also pick up new support in Western Canada. A lot of this support obviously came from past Liberal voters, but the Liberals also benefited from progressive voters who wanted Harper replaced and saw the Liberals as the party most likely to succeed. Justin Trudeau gained from the losses of both Harper and Mulcair.
What we can take away from this is just how difficult it can be for political parties to balance the expectations and goals of their base while also appealing to swing voters. Sometimes a change in a party’s policies might be seen as a principled attempt to broaden its appeal. At other times it might be seen as a crass attempt to get elected, or a betrayal of what the party stands for. A party that sticks too closely to its traditional base, and doesn’t show at least some kind of flexibility, may never get elected-which is supposed to be the whole point of being in politics!

The balancing act between appealing to a political party’s base, and appealing to swing voters, is one of the most difficult challenges in politics-but when it’s successful, the results can speak for themselves.

This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on November 25, 2015 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/Keeping-old-voters-while-winning-new-ones-20151125.

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers