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, February 28, 2016

WTO rules against solar industry

In 2014 the United States launched a WTO case against India's ambitious solar program. The United States claimed that the "buy-local" rules of the first phases of the program, which say that power companies must use solar components made in India in order to benefit from the government-subsidized program, discriminate against U.S. solar exports. In its ruling, the WTO agreed that India's buy-local rules "accord less favorable treatment" to imported solar components, even while acknowledging that "imported cells and modules currently have a dominant share of the market for solar cells and modules in India." India has indicated that it may alter its solar program to try to persuade the U.S. to drop the case. It is unclear whether the U.S. will accept the proposed changes, and what impact they may have on India's solar expansion plans.
Bringing this case is a perverse move for the United States. Nearly half of U.S. states have renewable energy programs that, like India's solar program, include "buy-local" rules that create local, green jobs and bring new solar entrepreneurs to the economy. The U.S. government should drop this case to avoid undermining jobs and climate protections not just in India, but also at home......
The ruling boldly states that domestic policies seen as violating WTO rules cannot be justified on the basis that they fulfill UNFCCC or other international climate commitments. In effect, the WTO has officially asserted that antiquated trade rules trump climate imperatives.
From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-beachy/the-wto-just-ruled-agains_b_9307884.html

Why is this about India in a blog about Canadian Democracy? Quite simply because various trade agreements both already in place (NAFTA) and waiting to be ratified (TPP - CETA) have clauses in them that enable this kind of backwards thinking in permitting corporations to sue governments for actions that give preference to their own manufacturing sectors. Any action (including environmental legislation) that gives preference to domestic suppliers for government projects is fair game for these multinationals or foreign corporations to claim a loss of business income and make a claim for 'compensation'.

This is so wrong on so many levels that I cannot comprehend how the government of any country would agree to these clauses (clearly put in to satisfy the corporate interest) in said trade agreements.
It is no less than an attack upon our national interest and our democratic right to have say into our own destiny, small as that may be. It diminishes our sovereignty and those who promote such clauses in 'trade agreements' are bordering upon 'traitorous' action IMHO. That in India’s case it diminishes their ability to fight global climate change and is a sad reflection of where corporate and the U.S. Governments priorities lay, do not be fooled into thinking that our situation is any different!

UPDATE the CETA deal has just been "approved" (but not ratified) with some changes to the investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism but without any changes to the clause itself.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Small Town Democracy

This week a number of observers have been focusing on the place and influence that the MSM, in particular print media, have upon our democracy. More particularly our 'need to know' what is happening in our various governmental institutions so that we the public can hold them to account and ensure that they are respecting our democracy and following the rules and keeping us informed regarding the decisions they are making on our behalf.

Much has been said of late on this subject and concern that the loss and/ or amalgamation of various print media is seriously impacting our ability to have accurate, in depth, knowledge of government policy’s, decisions and proposals. This week I first watched a discussion on this on “the West Block” with Samara's Jane Hilderman, I then read Lornes take on things at Politics and its Discontents and Kirbys follow up at kirbycairo . What more could one say?

Perhaps the best place to start is at the Municipal level, not my usual fodder here but how much closer to the electors can you get when looking at democratic issues? One of the problems I have with addressing this at the local level is that since the loss of local small town newspapers (or their assimilation by major corporate chains) there is almost no regular information available to the average citizen. Even IF one goes digging about a specific local issue the information is spotty at best. Sure most councils post their agendas (in some cases AFTER the meeting has taken place!), minutes (very basic, we discussed this and decided this) and if one digs deep enough perhaps some supporting documentation. Of public discussion (if indeed there was any), rebuttal and suggestions put forward by citizens (again if any) you will find NOTHING in the official minutes. There is nothing wrong with that, they are after all just minutes meant to reflect the decisions of council, however unless citizens were firstly aware of the issue and then took the time to actually attend said meeting these 'details' are lost and unavailable to interested parties.

The days when reporters attended EVERY council meeting and reported, even briefly, on such goings on are long gone (at least here in rural Ontario), sure when a highly contentious issue comes to the public’s (and thus the MSMs) attention it will be briefly reported, but beyond that our councils may as well be operating in a vacuum. This to me is just a forerunner of what may well happen in upper levels of governance if our MSM continues to struggle with how to fund their operations and pay their staff, particularly those 'investigative' reporters, The sad part for me is that I would fully support a small independent newspaper (on or off line) but in my area there is no such thing, there are a couple of small town weekly newspapers that belong to a major chain that print non local 'articles' gleaned from various contract writers and a few local 'headlines' but real LOCAL news is sparse. The corporate owned daily paper in the nearest (small) city on the few time I have read it was not worth the paper it was printed on, the total local content would perhaps fill a weekly!

Then there is the TV news that according to this report is where over 80% of the 60% who do in fact follow the news get their information. (Lorne has more to say on that here) If you live in Toronto or another city where a TV station is located you may well see a little local news but outside of those areas your community may as well not exist.....until a major disaster or some other 'newsworthy' thing happens to get their attention! Sure you will learn all about the latest bombing in Timbuktu but in depth news of small town Canada, not a chance. Our local radio stations are now rapidly becoming the only source of local news and generally speaking they do a fairly good job of that but even they rarely cover Municipal Council deliberations, in short if you want to know what your Councillors are doing you must either go digging on line (with in some cases very limited success) or attend every meeting to personally listen to the proceedings. Not an option for most folks.

Bottom line here whilst 'modern communications' have made it possible to have almost instantaneous news of events world wide, fewer and fewer folks are keeping an eye on and using those tools to report on what is happening at various levels of governance (and it would seem from the above report fewer even care) resulting in less accountability to those they serve. Will it become news by press release? Is this a taste of things to come in upper levels of government? In short I wonder if democracy will survive because of the internet or in spite of it!

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

An Antidote to Cynicism

I was not going to post my regular “Sunday Sermon” this week, little in the news having grabbed my attention but then I saw this thanks to Montreal Simon. It sums up my current feelings quite well so here are a couple of extracts from Heather Mallick's article in the Star.

Canada has changed so much in the 100 days since the Liberal cabinet was sworn in that I don’t quite know how to describe it. It’s not a sea change, which is a gradual encrustation at full fathom five, or a reversion, which would let us pretend those 10 Harper years had never happened. Don’t ever forget that lost decade.
But as I write this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is live on Twitter, asking us to ask him anything. Tell me that’s not new. If Harper had had anything to say to citizens, it would have been, “Stay away from me. I have guards both human and dog,” or “We are watching you from apertures.” 
She goes on to say....
Climate change is now taken seriously and can be discussed without fear. Government scientists can speak freely without stigma.
There will be an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, and it will be well-designed and purposeful. Their shameful treatment cannot go on forever. If we don’t make things right, will we become like the U.S., padlocked into hate since the Civil War with no end in sight? Intolerable.
The cabinet is half female. I don’t think anything has given strength to Canadian women more than that, and the male half of cabinet is honoured to work with them. And Ottawa no longer persecutes Muslim women in head scarves. There is no longer a hotline for snitching on self-defined “barbaric cultural practices.” 
And concludes like this.....
I like the new tone, although the rule of no heckling/racism in the Commons will likely have to be enforced.
I like Trudeau’s personality. Imagine Harper joking with the Queen or being invited by U.S. President Barack Obama to a state dinner.
We have four Liberal years ahead of us and I don’t feel cynical about the future. My cynicism has always been my worst quality. It’s good to shrug it off. 
Yes Heather, I also feel my cynicism with government dwindling and it does feel good. Let us hope it lasts!

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

First Week Back.

With parliament resuming its been an interesting week both in the House and elsewhere, our new Prime Minister continued with his almost unrelenting schedule of travelling around actually talking to people (something the previous PM avoided at all costs) and with everybody from Mayors to Provincial leaders asking him to do the impossible and reverse the decade of reduced federal support overnight. (Where is that instigator of democratic destruction anyway, I thought a sitting MP was supposed to actual show up when the House was sitting?)

The Auditor General revealed what many of us long suspected in that that magical disappearing surplus was found at least partially on the backs of the needy by withholding funds already committed for various programs and initiatives.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson's latest report lays bare massive delays processing Canada Pension Plan disability payments that have left some of the most vulnerable Canadians waiting years for benefits. 

In his annual fall report released Tuesday, the auditor general uncovered an average processing delay of 884 days that has left Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities — such as nervous and circulatory diseases, cancers and mental illness, among others — waiting for a crucial source of income.

The membership of various committees and when they will be formed is being discussed, the most important of these perhaps being the ones to recommend persons for the Senate and the one to recommend changes to our electoral system. In regards to the latter the NDP has suggested that the governing Liberals surrender majority control over the committee and that it be formed to more closely reflect the popular vote during the election. That would mean five Liberal MPs, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc Quebecois and one Green party member. This would reduce the implications of self interest if certain systems which some say would flavor the Liberals were to be recommended. Although I do not subscribe to the view that any particular system flavors any particular Party I find the idea of a more balanced committee membership a very good idea, all appearance of partisan interference with this decision must be eliminated if it is to be accepted by the general public.

And finally we have the bizarre sight of a Conservative standing up in question period and accusing the Liberals of being unethical for trying get some of the many persons unethically pre-appointed or reappointed to various tribunals (by their former leader) to voluntary step down and submit to a parliamentary process.

"Talking about ethical guidelines, when we are talking about a previous government's decision, at five minutes to midnight, to appoint a series of individuals to jobs to take effect after it lost the election, with no ability for this House to scrutinize those appointments, from our perspective, that was the abuse of process," said. Dominic LeBlanc, the government's House leader,

As always Mr Mercer put it all in perspective in a few short sentences:-

If you're like me, since New Year’s, you were waiting desperately for Monday, January the 25th to roll around. Last week it finally happened, marking the return of the 42nd Parliament. I was going to go up there in person and line up at midnight so I could actually watch it live but instead I caught it on TV.

Now, since then, there have been seven Question Periods. I’m guessing you don't watch every day because, well, you have a life. It's far more likely you’ve set the PVR so you can binge a whole bunch of them on the weekend. You know, invite over a special friend, Question Period and chill.

Now I don't want to give away too much away but spoiler alert—this season is awful.

Remember Rona Ambrose? Last season she was Minster of Health, this season she's Leader of the Opposition. And remember when she got the job she said on her watch the Tories wouldn’t heckle and act like spoiled children. Turns out she meant the opposite. They’re worse now than they ever were.

And the plot lines this season—totally unbelievable. Like the Conservatives are now mad that the Liberals haven't legalized marijuana yet. That is the most ridiculous plot twist I have ever heard. Do they think we’re stupid? Rona, we remember last season, heck, we remember the past ten seasons. Your party has always said legalizing pot would mean the end of the world. Now you're upset because you can’t get your weed at Costco?

And what's with Tony Clement? Every time he opens his mouth he’s saying that governments have to be transparent. Who are these people fooling? A couple of seasons ago Tony took fifty million dollars earmarked for border security and secretly spent it on gazebos in Ontario cottage country. I'm sorry, his character talking about transparency just doesn't ring true.

And then other main characters from last season have been totally written out. According to the credits, Stephen Harper’s still in the cast. He has yet to utter a single line. Why are they still paying this guy?

Look, it's early in the season, granted I will still keep watching Question Period. And Rona, it’s okay to oppose. You are the Leader of the Opposition. But stop pretending like the past ten years didn't happen. Despite appearances, it's a democratic institution, not a soap opera; you just can't pretend the past decade, poof, was all a dream.

Thanks Rick, I am sure there will be lots more ammunition for you next rant coming shortly!

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