Democracy Watch releases “Report Card on 2011 Good Gov’t Election Platforms”

No 166, Posted by fw, April 28, 2011

“All the federal parties except the Green Party have failed to respond to high voter concern about democracy and trust issues, but voters focused on these issues should still come to the polls and at least mark their ballot “none of the above” to show their concern.  One can only hope that the parties will actually address these concerns when Parliament opens again so that everyone in federal politics will finally be effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch, in an email release to all Democracy Watch donors.

The Report Card — which weighs in at a hefty 14,786 words — bases its grades on the platform pledges of the five main parties. Cutting right to the chase, here are the highlights:

  • The Green Party had the best overall grade of B- (mainly because they made many specific pledges), and the best grade in three of the five areas (the Efficient Government area, the Representative, Citizen-Driven Government area, and the General Government Accountability area);
  • The Bloc had the best grade in two of the five areas (the Honest, Ethical Government area, and the Open Government area);
  • The Liberals had the worst results, with an overall F grade, and the worst grades in all five areas, and the Conservatives were almost as bad;
  • The NDP had the most surprising result with an F grade, given that they have actually pushed for many democratic, ethics and government accountability reforms in the past (but they didn’t include them in their election platform for some bizarre reason, especially given that a focus of their campaign is to “Fix Ottawa”);
  • The strongest overall area grades for all the parties were in the Open Government area, with the Bloc the best with a A- grade (although, again, the NDP made no promises in this area);
  • The worst overall area grades for all the parties were in the Honest, Ethical Government area, in which none of the parties had better than a D- grade (which the Bloc received);
  • A main area in which all of the parties are weak is in empowering citizens and citizen groups to hold the federal government directly accountable, and;
  • All of the parties promise action to make Parliament work better.

Conacher concludes:

“Given the lack of a federal honesty in politics law, and the lack of a clear pledge by any of the parties to pass such a law, voters should be wary of trusting any political promises.”

FAIR USE NOTICEThis blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

Harper’s record of gutting dissent gives whole new meaning to “bully pulpit”

No 151 Posted by fw, April 10, 2011

Harper at his bully pulpit

Over the past five years, exercise of the fundamental freedom of speech in Canada has been curbed and discouraged by a federal government increasingly intolerant of even the mildest criticism or dissent. Particularly affected have been organizations dependent on government funding which advocate for human rights and women’s equality. Their voices have been stifled, some completely silenced, by cuts to their budgets. Also financially throttled have been individuals and groups that speak out for reproductive rights, humanitarian immigration policies, and for changes in Canada’s foreign policy in the Middle East. The Harper government’s now lengthy record of silencing – or attempting to silence – its critics also includes the removal of heads of government agencies, commissions, and tribunals who insist on making independent decisions. Academics who have spoken against government actions or policies have also been targeted. This blatant suppression of basic human rights by a government constitutionally responsible for guaranteeing their expression is unprecedented in Canada’s history.” Maria Gergin, from the introduction to her paper, Silencing Dissent: The Conservative Record, which dissects and documents, in considerable detail, the Harper government’s record of silencing Canadian voices of dissent.

Maria Gergin is a third-year law student at the University of Ottawa and an intern with the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a treasure trove of research and publications concerning social and economic justice, two areas of concern frequently ignored by a morally and ethically challenged Harper government and its supporters.

What follows is a bulleted list of voices of dissent that Harper’s government has silenced. These are pulled from Gergin’s April 6, 2011 paper, and, for the most part, written in my own words. Maria’s original paper can be read in full by clicking on the above title link. As mentioned, Gergin’s introduction appears above.

Silencing Dissent: The Conservative Record by Maria Gergin

1. Human Rights Advocacy Organizations

  • 2006 Harper government shuts down Court Challenges Program (CCP) – for over 20 years, this program had been advancing the rights and equality of women, immigrants and refugees, gays and lesbians, and other disadvantaged groups by funding the costs of challenging discriminatory laws in court;
  • Equality-seeking groups lost ability to challenge discrimination through CCP — result was loss of changes in legislation because of the significance of the legal issues that CCP highlighted in cases brought to the Supreme Court
  • 2008 Harper government partially reinstates CCP — but only for claims dealing with language rights; and he only did that because of wide-ranging protest
  • 2010 Harper government slashes Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) funding — CHRC forced to close Toronto, Vancouver, and Halifax offices, effectively raising a barrier to individuals from racialized and immigrant groups in those three cities and abandoning its responsibility to promote the protection of human rights.

2. International Development

  • Severe cuts by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to its client groups — cuts have challenged client groups’ ability to advocate on behalf of underprivileged individuals in the developing world, contributed to the steady erosion of Canada’s reputation as an international development leader, and cut funding for a half-century old program that had allowed Canadian teachers to assist 1.4 million students is Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean
  • Defunded was the Canadian Council on International Co-operation (CCIC) — CCIC represents over 90 organizations engaged in Canadian voluntary aid efforts overseas, and which often criticizes the government’s foreign aid policy
  • 2010 CIDA also cut all federal funding to MATCH International – MATCH supports women’s rights in the developing world; Kim Bulger, executive director of MATCH, is convinced the cuts are part of a pattern of “ideologically driven” punishment against women’s groups which advocate for reproductive rights
  • 2009 Harper appoints new board members to Rights and Democracy Agency — the new members opposed the agency’s decision to provide three small grants to Middle East groups that had been critical of Israel’s human rights record. The resulting discord led to then-president Remy Beauregard’s death from a heart attack in the middle of a contentious board meeting, and caused almost all of the agency’s staff to publicly state their non-confidence in the Harper-appointed board members
  • 2011 Harper government ignores criticism and renews partisan board appointments – an audit into the agency’s operations concluded that the Harper government had engaged in an “ideological hijacking” of the agency. Despite the report and criticism by opposition parties, Harper continued to politicize the agency’s human rights work
  • 2009 Harper government’s infamous funding cuts to KAIROS — it is not coincidence that its funding was slashed after it publicly criticized Israeli Defence Forces’ bombing of a Gaza City health clinic
  • 2010 the Bev Oda scandal — “Oh, what a web we weave . . .” First,  Immigration Minister Kenney told an Israeli audience that the cut was in response to KAIROS’ views on Israel. The government quickly back-pedaled, insisting the cut was not related to the organization’s views. Then Bev Oda, the minister overseeing CIDA, told Parliament that her department had made the decision to cut KAIROS’ funding because the group’s work no longer fit with CIDA’s objectives. Subsequently, a document surfaced in which it appeared CIDA had approved continued KAIROS funding, only to have the recommendation reversed by the insertion of a handwritten “not,” forcing Oda to clarify her early clarification, stating that she directed the revision.
  • KAIROS scandal illustrates Harper government’s punishment of organizations espousing views contrary to government’s – also reveals that transparency and accountability in such decision-making may be seriously undermined

3. Women’s Rights Advocacy

  • Since 2006 Harper government demonstrates opposition to funding organizations that explicitly advocate for women’s equality and rights protection — this bias is exemplified by the quiet introduction, in 2009, of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, allowing public sector employers to consider “market demand” in setting compensation levels, thereby preserving the discriminatory policy of paying men more than women for equal work
  • 2006 Harper government cuts funding to Status of Women Canada (SWC) by 37% — cuts compelling closure of 12 of its 16 regional offices, and to redraft SWC funding criteria so that advocacy groups and women’s service providers such as rape crisis centres have become ineligible for funding
  • SWC fiscal and ideological restructuring forces closing of the National Association of Women and the Law’s (NAWL) office — for more than 30 years NAWL had been involved in precedent-setting legal work on behalf of women, such as winning amendments to the Criminal Code regarding sexual assault laws, improvements to the Divorce Act, and adoption of equality rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  • 2010 Harper government attaches conditions to renewed funding for the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit project – first the government stalled new funding for eight months and when new funding was announced, it came with a specific prohibition: NWAC was forbidden from continuing to compile the Sisters in Spirit database. Instead, the government claimed it is providing support for victims of such violence by allocating $4 million to the RCMP to fund a missing persons’ information centre, and for programs to address risky behaviours and violence on reserves. As some MPs have pointed out, the government’s allocation of funds reflects a preference for increasing enforcement instead of dialoguing with and empowering Aboriginal communities. Opposition critics have also seen this latest funding allotment as part of a “tough-on-crime” agenda masquerading as support for the combatting of violence against Aboriginal women
  • Canada’s international gender equality ranking plummets from 7th in 2004 to 25th in 2009 — by slashing support for so many women’s advocacy organizations, the Harper government has also contravened Canada’s obligation to maintain and improve domestic human rights, as it is obliged to do under the UN and other international treaties it has signed.

4. Immigrant Organizations

  • Huge gap between Harper government’s talk and its policies on immigration issues — publicly the government lauds Canada’s open immigration policies, acknowledging importance of immigrants in boosting our economy; however, the words are not reflected in its immigration policy
  • 2008 Harper government amends Immigration and Refugee Protection Act — the Act frees Citizen and Immigration Canada from the obligation to process all applications, and allow it instead to return unprocessed applications that don’t fulfill the government’s economic objectives, reflecting the government’s discriminatory privileging of economic immigrants over immigrant families and refugees
  • Most rapidly since 2006, Canada has greatly increased its dependence on temporary foreign workers, decreasing reliance on new immigrants – temporary workers are not the future citizens needed to facilitate sustainable economic growth
  • Over $43 million of the total cuts will come from Ontario settlement programs – most of the impacted programs serve racialized immigrant communities
  • March 22, 2011 motion to reverse immigration funding cuts carried in the House of Commons — decision pending election outcome
  • 2010 Harper government muzzles immigration agencies from speaking of spending cuts — Citizen and Immigration Canada sent mass emailing to 26 agencies “forbidding them from discussing the cuts at internal meetings, and requesting that the organization’s meeting agendas be forwarded to the CIC as evidence that the cuts were not being discussed.” Although complying with the order, organizations were outraged by what appears to be a government attempt to silence communities speaking out against the cuts

5. Internal Individual Dissent

Since 2006, the Harper government has also shown itself to be intolerant of open challenges to its policies by its own ministers and civil servants.

  • Garth Turner suspended from Conservative caucus for refusing to be censored — When Turner refusing to remove his criticism of Harper’s appointment of ex-Liberal David Emerson as Minister of International Trade, Turner was suspended from the caucus
  • 2006 Adrian Measner, Canadian Wheat Board president, fired — Measner dared to criticize government’s plan to dismantle the board’s monopoly on marketing wheat and barley
  • 2010 Pat Storgan, Veteran’s Ombudsman, ousted — Storgan had criticized the department and implied that it was being deceptive and obstructionist in handling injured soldiers’ claims
  • 2010 Marty Cheliak, head of the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms Program, was let go — after supporting the federal long-gun registry, a program the Conservative government was trying to abolish
  • 2011 Earl Turcotte, Canada’s lead weapons treaty negotiator, removed from his position — Turcotte allegedly criticized the Harper government’s interpretation of Canada’s obligations under the International Convention on Cluster Munitions

6. Administrative Tribunals

  • Since 2006 the federal government has also exerted unprecedented supervision and control over administrative tribunals, commissions, and agencies often overturning these arms-length bodies’ decisions on major issues.
  • 2008 Harper’s Industry minister criticizes, later removes head of Competition Bureau – the head had failed to obtain the minister’s approval for certain actions the Bureau was taking. Subsequent independent review found that the Competition Bureau had been acting within its power
  • 2007 Harper government fires head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission —  Linda Keen, then head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, accused Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn of interfering with the Commission’s decision-making. Keen was then promptly fired, hours before before she and Lunn were to appear before a Parliamentary committee
  • 2009 Harper’s government removes Paul Kennedy, head of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission — Kennedy had been critical of RCMP handling of in-custody deaths, Taser use, and self-investigations
  • 2010 Harper’s government create a new civilian oversight agency for RCMP — oversight is bound to erode the agency’s independence; two former RCMP heads complained that the new agency will be responsible to the minister instead of to Parliament and to the public
  • 2009 Harper government delays and obstructs contentious Afghan prisoner hearings — while the Military Police Complaints Commission was in the middle of hearings, the contract of the Commission’s chair was not renewed, which was contrary to established federal commission convention to extend members’ terms if they are in the middle of investigations
  • Most recently, Harper’s government falsely portrayed Statistics Canada as having supported the government’s decision to replace the mandatory long-form census questionnaire – StatsCan’s chief statistician subsequently resigned to protest the government’s specious claim

7. Academic Freedom

In the past few years, academic scholarship and scientific research has been subjected to unprecedented government scrutiny, especially when it has involved subject matter on which the government has taken a particular stand.

  • Harper government criticism forced one academic to become self-censoring — University of Windsor political scientist Heather MacIvor, has faced many rebukes for her open critical analysis of government decisions, claiming Conservative party has been particularly intolerant of her views
  • Conservative websites and party spokespersons employing intimidation tactics on two University of Ottawa law professors — the two are frequent critics of federal policies, immigration issues, and the government’s handling of the Afghan detainee issue. In February 2011, both were notified of two conspicuous freedom-of-information requests at the University of Ottawa requesting details of the professors’ employment, expenses, and teaching reviews and records
  • 2010 Harper government ‘s new policy requires own scientists and academics to get minister’s “pre-approval” — For example, a Natural Resources Canada scientists had to wait so long for clearance that his media conference had to be postponed for a week
  • 2006 Harper’s Environment Minister forbids a departmental scientist from giving a reading from his fictional book about global warming – the reason: then-Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn was in the middle of dismantling government programs as part of an anti-Kyoto Protocol stance — the fear was that the reading might be perceived as contrary to the government’s own position

Conclusion

There are countless further examples of critics who have been silenced, advocacy efforts that have been weakened, and human rights organizations that have been disempowered. The patterns are clear, however, and the point here has already been made: during the past five years, the Harper government has expressed its intolerance of dissenting views, independent decision-making, and critical discourse in ways that have come to threaten basic democratic values.

In disempowering those who have supported unpopular causes, spoken on inconvenient topics, or made dissenting statements, the government has not only stifled the vibrant critical discourse needed to promote a healthy democratic community, but has also been shrugging off its public responsibility to safeguard a space in which such discourse can take place. As journalist Susan Delacourt has aptly stated:

No one expects politicians to be non-partisan. But running the Government of Canada is a great honour and responsibility. All those ceremonies and oaths and seals of office revolve around the idea that we’re entrusting our government to act in the interests of all Canadians, not just friends of the party in power.”

Please note: 1) Sources and references for all statements in this article may be obtained by request from ccpa@policyalternatives.ca) and 2) A list of organizations (2006-2011) which have been cancelled or defunded, and individuals who have been silenced or removed from their posts is appended to the original article.

RELATED READING

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.


Yet another story of Harper’s bullying and undermining of our democracy

No 145 Posted by fw, April 5, 2011

Ralph Surette, a columnist with the Halifax Chronicle Herald newspaper, began his Saturday, April 2, 2011 column, Why Harper must not have his majority, with this personal story of a threat he received back in 2007 from a parliamentary secretary to Harper’s fisheries minister:

Ralph Surette

First, my own story. Back in ’07, when the Harper government was new, I got under its skin with a column that went viral in fisheries circles on both coasts, attacking proposed changes to the Fisheries Act that had most of the industry in a fury.

Shortly after, I got a call from Randy Kamp, parliamentary secretary to the fisheries minister and an MP from B.C., who aggressively demanded that I tell him where I got my information and rang off with “the government of Canada is unhappy with you.”

Keep in mind that in many, if not most, countries on the face of this Earth, a phone call like that from a government official to a journalist constitutes a death threat.

I was disturbed, but also baffled. I’d had governments unhappy with me for 40 years and never heard the like, and nothing in the Canadian tradition explained it. So I assumed this was just one out-of-control individual who didn’t know his job.

I checked with people I know in Ottawa. They told me emphatically: “That’s them. That’s them exactly!”

Since then, through a rising crescendo of deceit, manipulation, corruption and assaults on parliamentary democracy, the “that’s them exactly!” has become abundantly clear. But let me stick to fisheries as a subject of instruction.

And here is the remaining text of Surette’s featured story (with my added subheadings and bold highlighting) :

Why Harper Must Not Win a Majority

Harper’s fishery treaty with EU a “sell out”

Two years ago, the government was proposing a fishery treaty with the European Union — one drafted by the EU itself and that opened the door to the EU, the main predator of stocks off Newfoundland, possibly having a say in how fish are managed inside Canada’s 200-mile limit. Canada’s veterans of international fishery negotiations, going back to the 200-mile-limit and the UN Law of the Sea, raised the alarm, calling it a sellout.

Harper thumbs nose at Commons rejection vote and signs fisheries treaty with EU

The Senate and Commons fisheries committees both agreed and called for revisions. The government pressed on. Then, on Dec. 10, 2009, the House of Commons rejected the treaty, 147 to 142.

Then — note this — the very next day the government signed the treaty anyway.

And the fisheries story goes unreported in the mainstream media. How cozy is that!

That such a flagrant violation of parliamentary process should not only happen, but happen unreported by the mass media (except by me in a column for this newspaper) as though it was normal business not worthy of attention makes me wonder how far we are from that notorious category of countries we usually decry as “corrupt and authoritarian.”

Scott Parsons, one of those veteran negotiators, speculates that the reason for this treaty is the proposed Canada-EU free trade agreement — fisheries peddled off for something else. Indeed, this free trade agreement is another thing that shouldn’t be going on out of sight, and certainly not by this government.

(In a connected note, the Canadian Health Coalition is alarmed that the EU is demanding, as part of the agreement, an extension of drug patents that would add $3 billion annually to Canada’s drug bill. Pharmaceuticals are Europe’s main export to Canada. The CHC wants people to pressure the government. Good luck with that. Doubly so if Harper returns with a majority.)

Harper flaunts abuses of trust and contempt of Parliament

Meanwhile, caught in a barrage of scandals, manipulations and abuses of trust, not to mention being judged in contempt of Parliament, the prime minister’s defence is that everybody does it, so it’s no big deal.

Thus, there is no more even the pretence of principle, and not even the hollowest political rhetoric promising improvement. By definition, the sovereign can do no wrong, and the subject is taboo. Harper is now, by his own admission, calculating that the decline of the democratic instinct is to his political advantage, and he’s encouraging it. If people don’t vote out of disgust, good. That increases the voting weight of his zealous base. Governmental ethics may be in a fetid swamp, but who cares? His message is that those who bother to vote can ignore the bad odours with a clear conscience and enter the booth with a happy face over the tentatively improving economic statistics.

In addition to the alarming numbers proclaiming that they will not vote, we have some waverers saying we need majority government at all costs to break the impasse. Are we longing for a one-man show by a guy who can make the trains run on time, and who can also do the little things like reducing fish habitat protection through a manipulative new Fisheries Act on behalf of his industrial friends? The possibilities are endless.

Decent MPs pulling out of Harper’s “fetid swamp”

You may have noted that the decent guys in the Harper government aren’t running again — Chuck Strahl, Jay Hill, Jim Prentice, Stockwell Day — leaving the ship ever more firmly in charge of the hachetmen from the old Mike Harris government in Ontario, running things with their Bush/Cheney handbook.

“To vote or not to vote?” should not be the question

If we vote for this (or worse, not vote at all) we’ll get the government we deserve. Are we that pathetic?

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.