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Democracy Under Fire: When The Senate Works As It Should…..

After years of the Conservative dominated Senate rubber stamping legislation and blocking amendments in committee we now have a situation where they are doing their job and proposing changes to a clearly flawed bill. Despite the Liberals using their … . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: When The Senate Works As It Should…..

Democracy Under Fire: When The Senate Works As It Should…..

After years of the Conservative dominated Senate rubber stamping legislation and blocking amendments in committee we now have a situation where they are doing their job and proposing changes to a clearly flawed bill. Despite the Liberals using their majority to turn down all of the many amendments propped in the House to the Assisted dieing legislation it is fairly well established that as written it will not pass the constitutional test and the Senate has proposed a change to correct this, the reaction is perhaps predictable.
Both the Conservatives and some others are screaming that this is going to produce a parliamentary deadlock in that the minister responsible continues to defend the bill as written and shows no indication of accepting the senates recommendations. It has yet to be seen in both sides dig their heels in and compromise cannot be found bur the rhetoric that says the Senate is interfering with the process of passing this legislation is pure bloody nonsense! Their job is to study legislation in depth, including the constitutionality of it, and propose corrections to it for the House to consider, that in the past when the majority party numbers in the House and the Senate have coincided and flawed bills have not been properly examined or changed does not mean that such actions are correct or desirable. I am sure that there have also be periods when the majorities did not coincide and bills have been “held up” in the Senate before.
Although the number of “independent” senators in the chamber is not substantive (yet) the general tone of the place seems to be improving and the partisanship reducing, now if we can get the Liberals in the HoC to stop “acting like the previous government” and be more accepting of amendments to proposed legislation be it from their fellow MPs or from the Senate we might have something going right for a change. This has also happened to another bill before the Senate, the RCMP Union legislation!

Let us wait and see how the changes are dealt with when the bills are returned to to the House, it will be another definitive test of whether the election promises and rhetoric were meaningful or just that, promises and rhetoric! Step one, a totally free vote by all partys on this important issue when it gets back to the House.

. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: When The Senate Works As It Should…..

Democracy Under Fire: Promises – Parliamentary Accountability

As promised in my post A cabinet that looks like Canada, this week I am going to take a closer look at the Liberal Government’s quite modest promises as regards to parliamentary reform as listed in their platform document. Taking them one at a time they are (in shortened form):-

Strengthen the role of parliamentary committee chairs, including elections by secret ballot. Ensure a more robust system of oversight and review for legislation.”

This one bothers me a little given that committee chairs already have considerable power over the way such meetings are conducted and can, as we have seen in recent years, use procedural actions to disrupt open discussion should they wish to. They need to be more open and accountable with rules established to ensure such partisan or personal biases cannot substantially effect discussions not more power over the process. I am not at all sure what “ a more robust system of oversight and review for legislation” means, reviewing proposed legislation is after all THE function of committees. Government House Leader Dominic Leblanc says House committees should be independent from government with non-partisan chairs and possibly no parliamentary secretary members. As with all things the devil is in the details, this one is a wait and see item.

Liberal Caucus members will only be required to vote with the Cabinet on those matters that implement the Liberal electoral platform or traditional confidence matters…..”

Whilst more ‘free’ votes are highly desirable I am not sure that this actually promises that, in the short term at least most, if not all legislation could be said to “implement the Liberal electoral platform”. No MP should be “required to vote” in any particular manner, naturally those who disagree with their own party’s legislation and vote against it may face some kind of ‘disciplinary’ action from the party but telling an MP how to vote is wrong and antidemocratic. The ONLY vote that could result in a minority government falling should be one that specifically says “This house has no confidence in thus ‘whipping’ the vote would be unnecessary…..”

Create a new, nonpartisan, merit-based, broad, and diverse process to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments.”

We do not know at this point what this “process” will be however given the restrictions placed upon the PM by the constitution, and if he truly wants to make the Senate the non partisan chamber of ‘sober second thought’ then taking advice, or even better, candidate recommendations from outside government is the only alternative. I have said before that given that Senators are meant to be representative of the province in which they reside that it seems appropriate that said provinces should be able to propose at least some of those candidates. Once again this is a wait and see what the ‘process’ involves but is far better than proposing reforms that involve opening up the constitution in a long and potentially divisive process..

Work with all parties in the House of Commons to ensure an inclusive, representative, transparent, and accountable process to advise on appointments to the Supreme Court.”

It is my understanding that such a process was already in place, it is just that the previous PM chose to ignore such processes.

Introduce a Prime Minister’s Question Period, empower the Speaker to challenge and sanction Members during Question Period.

The PM is supposed to be one amongst equals, is having a special question period just for him reinforcing the perception that he and he alone is responsible for policy? I agree that the speaker should have more power to enforce members to behave and to answer actual questions put, not go off on some unrelated time passing distraction. Good luck with that.

Change parliamentary financial processes, ensuring accounting consistency among the Estimates and the Public Accounts, providing costing analysis for each
government bill and restoring the requirement that the government’s borrowing plans
receive Parliament’s pre-approval.

Duh!

Ensure that all of the Officers of Parliament – the Chief Electoral Officer, the Access to Information Commissioner, the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Budget Officer etc, etc, are all properly funded and respected for doing their important work to help Canadians.

We have seen during the last governments tenure that when you cant get rid of an officer whos reports you don’t like the next best thing is to cut their funding. We hope that they all do get sufficient funding restored to do their job effectively but must ask if there is a way to ensure that future governments cannot silence these officers by such methods.

Not use prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances, change the House of Commons Standing Orders to end the practice of using omnibus bills to reduce scrutiny
prevent future governments from using this method to silence critical reports.’

Both of these promises are a very good start and we hope that they can indeed “prevent future governments (and their own) from using omnibus bills“ although how you ‘lock in’ such rules to prevent future governments from changing them back and what penalties can be put in place to prevent the rules being ignored is questionable. All the rules around prorogation, forming coalitions upon the defeat of a minority government, and similar constitutional matters need to be clarified, particularly if electoral reform takes place that results in a greater probability of more minority’s being elected.

The above is almost identical to the ‘list’ proposed by Ms May of the Greens as presented in the post Fixing What Harper Broke where she says “Ideally, a parliamentary committee will be mandated to review the abuses of the last ten years and recommend a full suite of measures to ensure it never happens again.“ There is the rub, any incoming government can seemingly come in and change the rules (or ignore them) as most are not enshrined in law, but for a few citizens invoking constitutional challenges it could have been much worse.
As we have seen in recent years the rules around prorogation, minority and coalition governments and even House proceedings are easily abused, and how and when such constitutional maneuverings can take place is far from clear and governed more by ‘tradition’ than any hard and fast rules or guidelines. Such things need to be formally documented to avoid future ‘constitutional crises’. With the House setting its own rules this is not an easy task, we wish the new Liberal government well with these changes and await the recall of the House to see exactly how much the ‘tone’ and substance of the proceeding will change under what we hope and expect to be a more open and respectful leadership.

. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Promises – Parliamentary Accountability

Democracy Under Fire: Promises – Parliamentary Accountability

As promised in my post A cabinet that looks like Canada, this week I am going to take a closer look at the Liberal Government’s quite modest promises as regards to parliamentary reform as listed in their platform document. Taking them one at a time t… . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Promises – Parliamentary Accountability

Democracy Under Fire: Senate Reform Redux

With a small minority of senators under the spotlight for spending irregularities and the Duffy trial adding a further spotlight on how the unprincipled nominated to that body can cheat the system (such as it is) there are the predictable calls for it to be abolished. NDP leader Thomas Mulclair is one such individual, . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Senate Reform Redux

Democracy Under Fire: Like Lemmings off a Cliff

Canadians who have been taking notice will be aware that C51, the police state law, has past 3rd reading in the house and now goes before the Senate for final reading. It will come as no surprise that the Conservatives vote en-block for the bill for even if some of them had actually read . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Like Lemmings off a Cliff

Democracy Under Fire: 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 . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Harper History, Part 5A – Information witheld , Omnibus Budget

Democracy Under Fire: 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 . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Sorry, Your Partisan Slip is Showing

Democracy Under Fire: Harper History, Part 4 – Con Minority, Prorogued x2

Oct 2008 – Dec 2009,

With conservatives reelected with an increased minority we begin to see their true colours with increased self promotion on taxpayers money using 10%ers, the start of those iniquitous Economic Action Plan TV ads and clear disdain for parliamentary procedure. It becomes increasing difficult to obtain information from . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Harper History, Part 4 – Con Minority, Prorogued x2

Democracy Under Fire: The Cons V The Courts!

Andrew Coyne wonders if the Harper Regiem is deliberately challenging the Courts with their various ‘unconstitutional’ pieces of legislation in order to get them to overstep their bounds and make a federal “not withstanding” exception to our charter more acceptable.

Not only is the government making no apparent effort to “Charter-proof” legislation, . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: The Cons V The Courts!

Democracy Under Fire: In Government We Trust?

As I review the actions of the Harper Regime since coming to power for my Harper History Series, an undertaking that one must take in very small bites if one is to retain one composure and sanity, I have been thinking a great deal about the choices before us and why we support one . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: In Government We Trust?

Democracy Under Fire: Balancing Act Important For Democracy

A guest artile by Jared Milne I’m currently reading Brent Rathgeber’s excellent book “Irresponsible Government: the Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada”, which describes the methods that Canadian prime ministers have used to consolidate power in the Prime Minister’s Office, and force their Members of Parliament to follow all of their directions. MPs are . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Balancing Act Important For Democracy

Democracy Under Fire: “Nature Deficit Disorder”

At first glance this would seem to have little to do with our central theme here at Democracy Under Fire but when we look at the actions of the Harper Regime in creating legislation to cover protection of The Rouge Valley Park should it be transferred from the Province to Parks Canada then the . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: “Nature Deficit Disorder”

Democracy Under Fire: The Singing Dictator

A guest post by Pamela Mac Neil “Music is always a commentary on society” Frank Zappa

Whenever I hear that Harpers base is made up of primarily seniors I am a bit perplexed. Not that I don’t think it’s true, because it is. Boomers of which I am one are now seniors, so . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: The Singing Dictator

Democracy Under Fire: Casualty of War?

This week has seen a multitude of individuals expressing concern that the Harper Regime will use the so called “terrorist attack” upon parliament to further increase the ability of the RCMP and CSIS to investigate Canadian citizens whilst reducing the already minimal oversight over their activities.

There is little doubt that any country must protect . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Casualty of War?

Democracy Under Fire: MPs Obstructed, Undermined and Impeded!

Recently Green Party Leader Elizabeth May spoke to her fellow MP’s and the Speaker of The House regarding the governments ever increasing practice of limiting debate upon important legislation before The House. She contends that the rights of her and her colleagues in parliament have been “obstructed, undermined and impeded” and that “constituents are . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: MPs Obstructed, Undermined and Impeded!

Democracy Under Fire: Harpers “Democracy”

With the Harper Regime loosing a series of rulings in the Supreme Court of Canada from their plans for the senate to prostitution laws to his nomination to the court it should be no surprise that as well as Harpers direct attack upon Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin he now has set his minions out . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Harpers “Democracy”

Democracy Under Fire: Election Act, Election Ont, Election Incentives

So the flawed “fair” Elections Act has now passed final reading with a few amendments that public pressure made the Cons include but without the dozens of amendments proposed by the opposition and without even considering the 75 amendments that the Greens were not permitted to table.

The Speaker upheld the decision . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Election Act, Election Ont, Election Incentives

Democracy Under Fire: This and That – Distractions and Obfuscations

The ongoing Elections act cluster fk has successfully distracted from the latest omnibus budget from the Harper Regime, hardy a word has been seen about the 350 page “Harper Government Creating Jobs & Growth While Returning to Balanced Budgets With Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1.”. Yep, we are back to that H*&^%$# . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: This and That – Distractions and Obfuscations

Democracy Under Fire: Citizens Protest Unfair Election Act

Many of my reader will be aware that last Tuesday a number of citizens gathered in front of Conservative MP’s Offices across the country to show their opposition to the Unfair Elections Act that is being railroaded through the legislative process by the Harper Regime. One such non partisan gathering sponsored byLeadNow took place . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Citizens Protest Unfair Election Act

Democracy Under Fire: Undemocratic Democratic Reform

Are changes to an electoral system in a democracy valid if they are brought in by a less than democratic process, are they in fact valid if the very ‘independent’ body charged with overseeing said electoral system is excluded from the process? Are they valid if recommendations from said body are ignored, debate within . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Undemocratic Democratic Reform

Democracy Under Fire: Harpers Orwellian Regime

Arising from George Orwells novel Nineteen Eighty-Four published in 1949 the adjective Orwelliandescribes a totalitarian dystopia characterised by government control and subjugation of the people. Orwell’s invented language, Newspeak, satirises hypocrisy and evasion by the state: for example,the Ministry of Truth oversees propaganda and historical revisionism. When writing this Orwell believed that British democracy . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Harpers Orwellian Regime

Democracy Under Fire: The Undemocratic Election Act

“The things in it that are good could have been so much better, but the things that are bad are unforgivable in a democracy.”

Recently Green Party Leader Elizabeth May had an opportunity to speak to the Commons Committee considering Bill C23, The ‘Fair’ Elections Act. What follows are some extracts from that presentation, . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: The Undemocratic Election Act

Democracy Under Fire: Quantity not Quality

Quantity not Quality is apparently the Harper regimes measure of ‘success’ Mr. Van Loan recently extolled the virtues of the 34-day fall session, which started late because of prorogation and was adjourned early. He said 2013 was the most productive year on record, with 40 bills receiving Royal Assent. “ “That’s something we can . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Quantity not Quality

Democracy Under Fire: Rules and Conventions, Lies and Punishment

I will not dwell in great length upon the ongoing soap opera that is the ‘Senate Scandal’, there is quite enough commentary out there without my adding to it. I will instead examine how and why such thing are even possible in a ‘democracy’ and I contend that it is, at least in part . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Rules and Conventions, Lies and Punishment