Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

10,000 Surround White House to Protest Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

More than 10,000 protesters surrounded the White House on Sunday calling on President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The protest came exactly a year before the 2012 election, and the pipeline is shaping up to be a major political issue. Last week, President Obama said for the first time he will make the final decision on whether to approve the controversial 1,700-mile pipeline proposed by TransCanada, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands fields to refineries in Texas. Up until now, Obama said the final decision rested with the State Department. "[Sunday’s protest] really underlined that this has become not only the biggest environmental flash point in many, many years, but maybe the issue in recent times in the Obama administration when he’s been most directly confronted by people in the street," said leading environmentalist Bill McKibben, a key organizer in the protest.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Small Businesses Surveyed: What Do They Really Think About Occupy Wall Street?

Small-business owners not only have strong opinions about Occupy Wall Street -- they're often among those most directly affected. As we reported recently, a small-business owner even claimed he had to lay off employees because of customer-deterring, OWS-related police barricades. But while most of the accounts of small-business owners related to OWS have been anecdotal, a recent survey by VerticalResponse, an email marketing service provider, weighs the actual numbers of small businesses for and against.

According to a recent survey of more than 200 U.S. small businesses to see what they thought about Occupy Wall Street and its impact on small businesses, VerticalResponse found that U.S. small businesses are nearly evenly split on the issue. Forty-nine percent say they support OWS, while 46.6 percent say they don't, and 4.2 percent say they're not sure.

The detractors are more confident that the OWS movement hurts small business, while a greater number of supporters are indifferent about whether it helps or hurts small business. Of those who support the movement, 73 percent say it helps small business and 23 percent say they're indifferent. Of those who oppose the movement, almost 82 percent say it hurts small business, while 17 percent are indifferent.

U.S. Poverty: Record 49.1 Million Americans Are Poor According To New Census Measures

WASHINGTON -- A record number of Americans – 49.1 million – are poor, based on a new census measure that for the first time takes into account rising medical costs and other expenses.

The numbers released Monday are part of a first-ever supplemental poverty measure aimed at providing a fuller picture of poverty. Although considered experimental, they promise to stir fresh debate over Social Security, Medicare and programs to help the poor as a congressional supercommittee nears a Nov. 23 deadline to make more than $1 trillion in cuts to the federal budget.

Based on the revised formula, the number of poor people exceeds the record 46.2 million, or 15.1 percent, that was officially reported in September.

Broken down by group, Americans 65 or older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised formula – nearly doubling to 15.9 percent, or 1 in 6 – because of medical expenses that are not accounted for in the official rate. Those include rising Medicare premiums, deductibles and expenses for prescription drugs.

Super Committee Dems Decide Against Extending Deadline

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats on the super committee tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction have ruled out supporting a measure that would have extended their deadline for making recommendations.

Multiple Democratic aides tell The Huffington Post that committee members held a private discussion last week during which they decided against the idea of pushing the November 23rd requirement to report to a later date.

The committee does have the power to grant itself more time. If seven of its 12 members were to pass a resolution extending its deadline, it would be sent to Congress and would be immune to amendments and filibusters -- the same privileges that the committee's final set of recommendations will receive. But Democrats decided against taking advantage of that option, figuring that it would send a poor message about lawmakers' capacity to act on weighty matters and increase the opportunity for Republicans to push and sell a deficit reduction plan that included no revenue increases.

Wall Street Transaction Tax Would Raise $350 Billion

WASHINGTON -- A minuscule tax on financial transactions proposed by congressional Democrats would raise more than $350 billion over the next nine years, according to an analysis by the Joint Tax Committee, a nonpartisan congressional scorekeeping panel.

The analysis was sent Monday to the offices of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the lawmakers who proposed the tax, and provided to The Huffington Post.

The Wall Street Trading and Speculators Tax Act would impose a tax of 0.03 percent on financial transactions, meaning that longterm investors would barely notice it, but traders who move rapidly in and out of positions would feel its sting and, the authors hope, reduce the volume of their speculation in response.

The European Union is pressing forward with a financial transaction tax, though it is encountering some resistance from the United Kingdom, the financial center of Europe.

Mississippi 'Personhood' Law Could Cause Legal Mayhem, Experts Warn

If Mississippians vote to pass an unprecedented initiative on Tuesday that would declare a fertilized egg a legal person under the state Constitution, nobody -- including the authors of the initiative -- knows exactly how that law would be interpreted and enforced. But legal and medical experts are concerned that the "personhood" amendment could spur a litany of expensive court battles, bogus lawsuits and moral and political conundrums beyond the scope of women's choice.

The somewhat vague question facing Mississippi voters at the ballots is: Should an undeveloped embryo have the same legal rights as a person? If the people answer yes, then state lawmakers will be faced with the challenge of figuring out what Proposition 26 means for practical purposes and how to implement it.

The process of interpreting and implementing the amendment is likely to be complicated and fraught with legal challenges, considering the word "person" appears more than 9,000 times in the Mississippi constitution. The law would unequivocally ban abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or life of the mother, but advocates on both sides argue about the legal implications beyond abortion. The initiative could be interpreted to ban emergency contraception as well as the regular birth control pill, which can both affect a fertilized egg's ability to attach to the uterus. It could also complicate the legality of in vitro fertilization, which can result in a number of unused embryos, and stem cell research.

Occupy Atlanta: Police Arrest 5 Following Protest

ATLANTA — Atlanta protesters aren't going quietly, despite warnings from police and the mayor. In the latest act of defiance, five people were arrested early Monday at or near a downtown park that has been an off-and-on site of Wall Street protests similar to the ones being held in other U.S. cities.

The developments came a day after 19 demonstrators were taken to jail by officers in riot gear when a rally spilled into the streets.

Atlanta police said one protester draped in an American flag inside Woodruff Park was arrested after refusing to leave by a Sunday night curfew, and four other people on bicycles were arrested near the park – three for traffic violations and one for obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

The 23-year-old woman in the park was warned three times in English and Spanish to leave before she was arrested, police spokesman Carlos Campos said. At the time, dozens more demonstrators chanting slogans like "We're hungry! We're poor! What are you wasting our money for?" stood behind barricades surrounding the park, where police had warned they would enforce an 11 p.m. curfew. Occupy Atlanta organizer Tim Franzen said having one person protesting was just as powerful as several.

U.S. Wealth Gap Between Young, Old Is Widest Ever

WASHINGTON — The wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing and college debt.

The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.

While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

The analysis by the Pew Research Center reflects the impact of the economic downturn, which has hit young adults particularly hard. More are pursuing college or advanced degrees, taking on debt as they wait for the job market to recover. Others are struggling to pay mortgage costs on homes now worth less than when they were bought in the housing boom.

The report, coming out before the Nov. 23 deadline for a special congressional committee to propose $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years, casts a spotlight on a government safety net that has buoyed older Americans on Social Security and Medicare amid wider cuts to education and other programs. Complaints about wealth inequality, high unemployment and student debt also have been front and center at Occupy Wall Street protests around the country.

Many Americans left behind in the quest for cleaner air

For all of her 62 years, Lois Dorsey has lived five blocks from a mass of petrochemical plants in Baton Rouge. She worries about the health of people in her life: A 15-year-old granddaughter, recovering from bone cancer. A 59-year-old sister, a nonsmoker, felled by lung cancer. Neighbors with asthma and cancer.

She's complained to the government about powerful odors and occasional, window-rattling explosions -- to no avail, she says. Pollution from the plants -- including benzene and nickel, both human carcinogens, and hydrochloric acid, a lung irritant -- continues.

"If anything," said Dorsey, herself a uterine cancer survivor, "it's gotten worse."

Americans might expect the government to protect them from unsafe air. That hasn't happened. Insidious forms of toxic air pollution -- deemed so harmful to human health that a Democratic Congress and a Republican president sought to bring emissions under control more than two decades ago -- persist in hundreds of communities across the United States, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News and NPR shows.

Congress targeted nearly 200 chemicals in 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, which the first Bush administration promised would lead to sharp reductions in cancer, birth defects and other serious ailments. But the agencies that were supposed to protect the public instead have left millions of people from California to Maine exposed to known risks -- sometimes for years.

The War Against the Poor

We’ve been at war for decades now—not just in Afghanistan or Iraq but right here at home. Domestically, it’s been a war against the poor, but if you hadn’t noticed, that’s not surprising. You wouldn’t often have found the casualty figures from this particular conflict in your local newspaper or on the nightly TV news. Devastating as it’s been, the war against the poor has gone largely unnoticed—until now.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has already made the concentration of wealth at the top of this society a central issue in American politics. Now it promises to do something similar when it comes to the realities of poverty in this country.

By making Wall Street its symbolic target, and branding itself as a movement of the 99 percent, OWS has redirected public attention to the issue of extreme inequality, which it has recast as, essentially, a moral problem. Only a short time ago, the “morals” issue in politics meant the propriety of sexual preferences, reproductive behavior or the personal behavior of presidents. Economic policy, including tax cuts for the rich, subsidies and government protection for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and financial deregulation, was shrouded in clouds of propaganda or simply considered too complex for ordinary Americans to grasp.

Occupy Canada: Cities Growing Impatient With Protesters; Set Eviction Deadlines

Cities across Canada that have begun making moves towards tearing down three-week-old Occupy camps are being met with responses ranging from contempt to compromise.

Eviction notices have been served in Victoria, Quebec City and Vancouver, while Halifax asked for demonstrators to relocate at least for Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Protesters firmly rejected Victoria's notice of removal on Monday, marching past a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald on their way to city hall where they hand-delivered a letter saying they would be staying put.

Another protester climbed a huge Maple tree and perched himself on branches that overlook the mayor's office.

The city threatened prosecution against dozens of campers who have been living in pitched tents in and around Centennial Square since Oct. 15, the day numerous Occupy protests sprung up across Canada and the globe in support of the grassroots movement begun in New York City's Wall Street.

Homeless Veterans: Claude Lord's Life In The Shipping Container

MONTREAL - He steps over piles of trash, past the dog wolfing kibble off the floor, across his tattered mattress and into the perpetual darkness at the back of the shipping container.

Meet former Canadian Forces soldier Claude Lord — and welcome to his home.

He is one of 150 veterans the federal government says it has helped in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver under a program aimed at getting ex-military personnel off the streets.

Since connecting with Veterans Affairs Canada a couple of years ago, Lord meets regularly with government social workers and collects a monthly military pension of $1,200; he is now hunting for a proper abode.

If it weren't for the active involvement of a concerned businessman, Lord might never have known this help existed.

He also would have struggled to navigate the months of phone calls, meetings and paperwork needed to finally claim his pension more than three decades after leaving the military.

The retired corporal's case raises questions as to whether more outreach is required to help Canada's homeless veterans, many of whom might be eligible for a military pension and not even know it.

Source: Huff 

Tory Crime Bill Ignores History, Says Chief

A University of Toronto law professor says a new federal crime bill chips away at sentencing provisions that require judges to consider all reasonable alternatives to jail. This, said Kent Roach, will only increase the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.

“We're going to have a future where one in every four people in prison are aboriginal,” he said.

“And we're going to have a future where perhaps more aboriginal people are going to go to jail than to university.”

Nearly half of the inmates in some Canadian prisons are Aboriginal people. That's despite the fact they make up less than three per cent of the general population.

Tory Crime Bill Ignores History, Says Chief

A University of Toronto law professor says a new federal crime bill chips away at sentencing provisions that require judges to consider all reasonable alternatives to jail. This, said Kent Roach, will only increase the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.

“We're going to have a future where one in every four people in prison are aboriginal,” he said.

“And we're going to have a future where perhaps more aboriginal people are going to go to jail than to university.”

Nearly half of the inmates in some Canadian prisons are Aboriginal people. That's despite the fact they make up less than three per cent of the general population.

Ashlie Gough, Occupy Vancouver and the mayor

Ashlie Gough is dead. We don't know why this young woman from Victoria came to Occupy Vancouver, but her death has already sent reverberations across the Vancouver electoral landscape and the global occupation movement. In an astonishing show of non-partisanship, political rivals Suzanne Anton and Gregor Robertson have united to demand the end of the occupation in the interests of safety, security and the public good.

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the organization which published the 2011 Lancet article corroborating the success of InSite, found that 62 people died of drug-related overdoses in Vancouver in 2009, and that women are twice as vulnerable to overdose as men. The medic who treated the near-overdose on Thursday evening stated that there were 125 drug overdoses in the Downtown Eastside which resulted in deaths last year, a statistic that has been widely reported in the wake of Ashlie's death. While the medic's statement is unsubstantiated, clearly far too many people are dying preventable deaths in Vancouver. Yet how many of these deaths resulted in the kind of decisive action Mayor Gregor Robertson showed when he declared that Occupy Vancouver must vacate the art gallery lawn? Precisely zero.

Two months ago, a woman was thrown out of the sixth-floor window at the Regent Hotel on Hastings street by a drug dealer -- the second such death in a year. Did Mayor Robertson step in and demand that the owners of the Regent provide security and shelter for its residents or face fines and imprisonment? Incredibly, no. Even before Ashlie's death, the mayor and the Vancouver Police Department were showing an staggering amount of concern for the Occupiers' compliance of city by-laws, while the slum lords who profit from the legislated poverty of DTES residents flout these restrictions daily.

Occupy Vancouver the safest place for abandoned people

On Saturday a woman died in her tent at Occupy Vancouver and Vancouver's mayor has responded, not by questioning how the city is failing people in need of essential services such as food, housing, mental and physical healthcare, but by threatening legal action to end the encampment. Down the street, witnesses at the Missing Women Inquiry are recalling the deadly failure that resulted from the city using the courts to move other vulnerable group -- sex workers -- out of sight: a move now seen as escalating harm and contributing to deaths.

Can Mayor Robertson invoke safety and security to move the vulnerable residents of Occupy Vancouver to out-of-sight locations where they will again be denied the services they are receiving at Occupy Vancouver?

In Vancouver and in cities around the world, people have gathered collectively to protest conditions that threaten democracy, deny equality and impair survival: the growing gap between the fabulously wealthy and the profoundly poor, the hijacking of government by unaccountable corporate interests and the usurpation of basic rights to life, housing, food, a living wage, equality and non-discrimination, by a ever smaller group of elite profiteers. Protests here and elsewhere are being made by gathering collectively and "taking back" public space. Public spaces are where such political expression takes place. As observed by Justice Huddart in the BCCA Falun Gong decision, "...public streets are, as they have been historically, spaces in which political expression takes place."

In Canada, everyone has the right to engage in peaceful public protest of government action or inaction on issues of public concern. In instances -- such as the present one -- where impugned government actions are causing severe damage, the right to protest arguably becomes a duty.

The use of public space for political expression and protest can only be legitimately limited in order to prevent harm to others -- not a factor evidenced or reasonably predicted here. Occupy Vancouver didn't cause or create the harm that led to the death of the woman or the overdose. Rather they are protesting harmful and inequitable conditions that make death and injury to the most vulnerable inevitable. At Occupy Vancouver volunteers provide essential services not provided by the city: meals available 17 hours per day; medical services around the clock; toilet facilities on site, and perhaps most importantly, a community that values the participation of marginalized people. Undoubtedly, particularly as the temperature drops, vulnerable street youth and homeless people are safer at the Vancouver Art Gallery than elsewhere.

Removal of the tents from the public square on the north side of VAG would deny the Occupy Vancouver people their Charter-protected right to publicly protest and to engage in public education and debate on the quickening erosion of the most basic freedoms. It would also expose the vulnerable residents of Occupy Vancouver to greater harm. The mayor and city council ought to be providing solutions, not seeking to use the law to impose greater harm on the most helpless members of our community.


Want political change? Talk to a farmer

In parks and public squares across the land, Occupy protesters are bivouacking in the name of social justice as the mercury dwindles. On Parliament Hill, MPs are battling in comfort over the fate of a bill to chop up the Canadian Wheat Board’s “single desk” control of wheat and barley exports.

Unrelated phenomena? Maybe. But it’s worth remembering that the moral case against the CWB was driven home by civil disobedience—in particular, by Manitoba farmer Andy McMechan’s 1996 cross-border protest trip with a wagonload of his own wheat. That jaunt fuelled the growth of activism against the Wheat Board and inspired dozens of imitators (among them a pro-liberalization CWB director, Jim Chatenay).

When it comes to Bolshevik-like bloody-mindedness, there probably isn’t an Occupy protester on the continent who can hang with McMechan. Other farmers had been thumbing their noses at the board and accepting small fines for a while; before McMechan the whole thing was almost an intramural game, a kitten-fight between anti-CWB farmers and authorities who were still improvising a hitherto-unneeded enforcement system. The Wheat Board, the feds, and the Mounties were itching to make an example out of somebody. McMechan gave them one, crossing the border and refused to surrender his tractor to customs officials. He was arrested, convicted, and, after some unseemly judge-shopping by the prosecution, jailed.

He spent 155 days in prison, living on a cell block with murderers. When the Crown brought him to his bail hearing with shackles around his ankles and wrists, he made sure the photographers could see them. He counted every strip-search he suffered in prison; there were more than 50. Every little humiliation was faithfully recorded and passed along to the Farmers For Justice group (along with Amnesty International, though they never took much notice), and from thence to the western media.

A war by any other name

By late August 2006, the headlines had started to scream at you. What seemed like a never-ending series of increasingly brutal firefights and bombings spilled across front pages and on to television screens - a cascade of violence so intense, so unexpected that it stilled much of the usual political burble. History uninterrupted, unvarnished, the kind you can't turn off or away from, intruded into those hazy, late summer days with the sharpness of a branding iron.

Among those who followed the mission, there was a debate on when exactly the country realized it was at war. Some argued for the very first firefight in Sangin, the one that killed Private Robert Costall. Skeptics scoffed, saying it was later, around the time of Captain Nichola Goddard's death. Measuring the pulse of a sleeping nation is never precise. Some academics and politicos insisted the acknowledgement in the public's heart, if not its mind, went all the way back to cabinet's approval of the Kandahar mission. But this was not the kind of war you could put a time stamp on. There was no start clock, mostly because everyone wanted it to be something other than what it was. By late summer that year, there was no debating or hiding from the realization that Kandahar had turned into a bloody morass. Yet, in the politically correct world of Ottawa, politicians and mandarins refused to use the word "war." Afghanistan was a "mission," an "operation," an "exercise," an "intervention." The last one used to crack me up; it made it sound as though we were packing the Afghans off to rehab, even if it was Ottawa that was lodged in deep, intractable denial.

Arguments about timelines occasionally got right down into the weeds and extended to specific battles. There are some who say that the largest battle to that time in the war - Operation Medusa - began not on September 2, 2006, as the official record states, but a few weeks before. The revisionists call what happened in Bazaar-e-Panjwaii on August 19, 2006, "Pre-Medusa" and painted it as a warm-up for the big show. It happened on the very cusp of the handover between Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope's 1 PPCLI battle group, which had been bloodied almost from the moment it hit the ground, and Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie's incoming team of the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment. The firefight in and around the dustbowl farming town was an orphan. It belonged to nobody, or so it seemed.

Air Canada union calls arbitrator ruling ‘profoundly disappointing’

A federal arbitrator has ruled in favour of Air Canada (AC.B-T1.38----%) management, imposing a tentative agreement that flight attendants rejected last month.

The main sticking points included wages, working conditions and employees’ anxiety over a proposal to start a low-cost carrier that would introduce a reduced pay scale for new hires.

The airline and the Canadian Union of Public Employees had hammered out a proposed contract, but flight attendants turned down the deal. “I am unable to find that any extraordinary circumstances exist to justify further improvements” for union members, Elizabeth MacPherson wrote in her decision.

CUPE complained about management’s withdrawal of voluntary retirement packages previously offered and plans to charge more money for employees travelling on flight passes.

But the arbitrator disagreed with CUPE’s request for better wage increases than envisaged in the proposed contract. She also rejected the union’s efforts to restore the voluntary separation packages, reinstate certain travel discounts for commuting staff and set aside seats to prevent flight attendants from having to eat meals next to the washroom in Embraer jets.

Bilingualism needed? No for judges, yes for auditors-general

Should all Supreme Court judges be bilingual? Should all parliamentary officers be bilingual? This is a complex issue that can hardly be solved by blanket pronouncements, even though – big surprise – Quebeckers reacted with near-unanimous anger at the nominations of two unilingual anglophones for prominent posts.

Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver, a recent Supreme Court appointee, and Michael Ferguson, chosen as Canada’s new Auditor-General over the opposition parties’ protest, do not speak French, although they pledge they’ll learn. Mr. Ferguson said he'll learn the language within a year.

Alas, by promising they’ll quickly become fluent in French, these two gentlemen show they’re either presumptuous or completely ignorant of what learning another language entails. French is not a language one can learn in a year or so, especially not as an adult (and both men are well over 50). It takes years of study and practice to become fluent in either French or English, and my guess is that, despite their goodwill, neither Judge Moldaver nor Mr. Ferguson will ever become functionally bilingual, let alone able to write in French (given that written French is fraught with arcane rules).

Writing proficiency is not what is expected of a Supreme Court judge or an Auditor-General – their texts can go through the expert hands of professional translators. But it would be nice if they could read a French-language document, understand arguments made in French and then, in the case of the Auditor-General, be able to answer questions asked in French. Still, unless one is exceptionally gifted at learning languages, such relatively modest goals represent a huge challenge that will require years of hard work, especially for people whose day job is extremely demanding.

U.S. report raises doubts over logic of Conservatives’ crime measures

A new report from the U.S. shows a growing number of American states are cutting costs and enhancing public safety through evidence-based correctional and sentencing reforms – and Canadian critics say it’s proof the Conservative government is heading down the wrong path with measures that aim to put more prisoners behind bars for longer periods of time.

The National Governors’ Association Centre for Best Practices study called “State Efforts in Sentencing and Corrections Reform” outlines how the tough economic climate is forcing states across America to rethink long-term criminal justice strategies. The homeland security and public safety division report suggests ways to achieve lower recidivism rates and reduce costs by shrinking prison populations.

“By adopting evidence-based practices and a cross-governmental approach to reform, focusing resources on high-risk offenders, supporting mandatory supervision and treatment in the community and using real-time data and information to drive decisions, states can cut corrections costs while at the same time improving offender outcomes and ensuring public safety,” the report concludes.

Harper’s crime bill is government by angry old uncle

In an important article, Globe journalist Kim Mackrael recently called attention to a little-discussed amendment in the Conservative government's omnibus crime legislation. The amendment would eliminate the principle that prison guards must use the “least restrictive measures” required to control inmates.

Ms. Mackrael quoted a number of experts in corrections speaking politely about what a bad idea this would be.

To be specific, the Tories want to amend article 4(d) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (1992). The relevant clause establishes the principle “that the service use the least restrictive measures consistent with the protection of the public, staff members and offenders.”

Why do the Tories want to remove this principle? They have been talking to themselves about it for some time. For example, in 2007 a review panel presented a detailed report to then-minister Stockwell Day on corrections issues. Entitled A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety, it takes direct aim at the clause in question:

Retired Senator Murray’s stinging attack on ‘broken Parliamentary, political institutions,’ flies under Hill radar

Newly-retired Progressive Conservative Senator Lowell Murray recently said Canada’s Parliamentary and political institutions are broken, deputy ministers are doing “end-runs around their own ministers,” Cabinet ministers are allowing themselves to be treated like “ciphers,” the permanent voters’ list is “vastly overrated,” the spending estimates process is a sham, “political assistants are running rampant around town,” and the fixed Parliamentary calendar is a problem, but while MPs on the Hill point to their political rivals as the root cause, those watching on the outside see plenty of blame to go around.

Mr. Murray, who served as a Progressive Conservative Senator for Ontario and was a member of former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s Cabinet, has leveled several serious criticisms on how Canada’s democracy functions since his retirement at the end of September.

Last month Sen. Murray told CBC Radio’s The Current that Canadians needed to take back their democracy. He cited a litany of problems that have contributed to the erosion of democracy in Canada, beginning with the demise of door-to-door enumeration in maintaining Elections Canada’s permanent voters list. Sen. Murray stressed the need for face-to-face outreach in bolstering Canada’s dismal voter turnout.

In the last federal election, voter turnout was 61.1 per cent, a negligible improvement on the 2008 election’s 58.8 per cent participation.

Feds bring in political loans limits, opposition parties want PM to disclose leadership contributors

If the government wants to make political loans to party leadership candidates more transparent, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Conservative leadership candidates should disclose who funded their campaigns before the rules were changed, say opposition MPs.

“Until he actually openly discloses where he got his own money from and who paid his bills and where his minister of defence got his money from and who paid his bills, you cannot trust Stephen Harper when it comes to political money,” said Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.).

Democratic Reform Minister of State Tim Uppal (Edmonton-Sherwood Park, Alta.) introduced Bill C-21, the Accountability with Respect to Political Loans Act, in the House last Wednesday. The bill makes changes to how party leadership candidates can finance their campaigns through loans. Unions and corporations will no longer be allowed to loan candidates money, and loans from individuals will be capped at $1,100.

Leadership candidates can still seek loans from traditional financial institutions, however. Loans from individuals that are not repaid within 18 months will be considered contributions and loans not repaid to financial institutions will be turned over to the riding association for which they will be responsible for repaying.

More than 6,000 public service jobs to be lost over next three years: PBO report

The Parliamentary Budget Office has dug deep into the obscurity of hundreds of departmental reports on plans and priorities and used the government’s own numbers to come up with a unique government employment forecast, which shows that the public service will lose more than 6,000 jobs over the next three years.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page told The Hill Times that a clear picture of government employment is important as the government tries to balance the budget by trimming the public service.

He said his office has been working to determine whether the government’s austerity plans will actually achieve the results it wants, without greatly damaging the work of the public service.

“Do we have an employment forecast from departments consistent with the level of reduction necessary to achieve targeted savings? And, do deputy ministers have a plan in place to address potential risk implications related to maintaining service levels?” he said.

The PBO looked at the spring Reports on Plans and Priorities of 99 departments and agencies. The reports are formatted differently by each department and they vary in the amount of detail reported and in length.

By 2013-2014, a total of 39 departments and agencies will have fewer staff, while 31 will have more workers, and the employment levels of 28 will remain the same. One department, CIDA, did not post planned staffing numbers past 2012-2013.

Opposition MPs question ‘Minister of Muskoka’s’ ability to preside over $250-billion

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who was called before the House Public Accounts Committee last week on accusations he personally presided over the distribution of a $50-million G8 Legacy Fund, moving requests for projects last year directly into his Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont., riding through his political office in Huntsville, told MPs that in hindsight, the government could have handled the money better. Opposition MPs say they aren’t buying his “dog ate my homework” excuses and are questioning the man—now dubbed “the Maverick Minister From Muskoka”—over his ability to preside over $11-billion in federal government cuts over the next four years.

“The issue here is above and beyond the G8 Legacy Fund. The issue here is Minister Tony Clement has become the minister responsible for the Treasury Board, he’s the minister responsible for the spending of $250-billion a year…his judgment has been called into question through the G8 fund, he did not exercise good judgment,” said Liberal MP and Public Accounts Committee vice-chair Gerry Byrne (Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, Nfld.) in an interview with The Hill Times.

On Nov. 2, Mr. Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont.) made a highly-anticipated appearance before the House Public Accounts Committee to answer questions about their alleged mishandling of a federal fund meant to give Hunstville, Ont.—the host location of the 2010 G8 Summit—a facelift, ahead of international dignitaries and attention.

John Ivison: Harper may let Canada’s spy service conduct foreign espionage

As the Harper government prepares to re-introduce the anti-terrorism measures that were allowed to lapse because of opposition concerns about privacy and Charter rights, there are whispers Conservative plans to expand the role of Canada’s spy service to operate overseas are being dusted off.

Currently, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is largely concerned with domestic intelligence and is able to conduct covert operations overseas only if there is a direct threat to Canada.

In their 2006 election platform, the Tories promised to overturn this arrangement and set up a separate foreign intelligence service. Once elected, they were persuaded by the bureaucracy that it would be quicker and cheaper to allow CSIS to take on the role.

When Stockwell Day was Public Safety Minister, from 2006 to 2008, progress was made on expanding CSIS’ role and the plan was to reform the 1985 CSIS Act by removing the words “within Canada” from its mandate, allowing the agency to replicate its domestic operations overseas. Negotiations were held with U.S. and U.K. spy agencies on how to go about foreign operations.

Steve Sullivan: Omnibus crime bill ignores the true victims

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to pass his Omnibus Crime Bill in 100 days and his government is on track. The Commons Justice Committee is hearing a little from a lot of witnesses and most are being cut off mid-sentence. The Committee is moving at lightning speed.

Government officials say Bill C-10 will “provide support and protection for victims of crime.” They herald it as a “fundamental pillar of our commitment to victims of crime.” They promise it will “ensure justice for victims of crime and terrorism.” With Stephen Harper’s government, “victims come first.”

Having advocated for victims of crime for almost 20 years, I reviewed the proposed legislation. In the hundreds of pages of would-be law, I found only a few that deal with victims. Among those are several provisions that enhance the rights of victims in the corrections and parole system. These are important provisions, but were first introduced in 2005 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin.

Tim Harper: The public service muscles up


If you were headed for a brawl — maybe you would call it the “fight of your life” — you might want to look for a tough friend to back you up as you head for that showdown in the schoolyard.

Muscle up, if you will.

That’s precisely what professionals in Canada’s public service did this weekend, deciding to join the Canadian Labour Congress as they gird for battle with a Conservative government intent on cutting jobs.

The move by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada — the people who police our food safety, monitor the ozone layer and the threat of invasive species, protect the security of your personal information and forecast the weather — have, in effect, fired the first shot in the coming war.

This is a union that has resisted the pull of big labour in the past.

Beyond the cost to members of aligning with the CLC, the professional institute has steadfastly attempted to remain non-partisan and was leery of the CLC’s historic ties with the NDP.

Canada’s climate change plans to fall short, new study says

OTTAWA—Federal and provincial programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions won’t even get Canada half of the way toward meeting the reduction targets that have been set for 2020.

But the fact that they will even go that far is being presented as a sign of progress in a new report. Such are the low expectations surrounding the policies to tackle global warming in the country.

The study, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a respected, non-partisan environmental think-tank, suggests Canada is on track to cut out 103 megatonnes of greenhouse gases by 2020. That works out to 46 per cent of the emissions reduction goal that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has set for the country.