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.]

Monday, June 13, 2011

Is Collaborative Governance the Future?

Recent years have been no golden age for government-business relations in the United States. The financial meltdown of 2008, and its aftermath, set the tone – and the dominant note was decidedly sour. Major private-sector institutions collapsed, and trillions of dollars were lost in a catastrophe that most commentators think could have been avoided if the parties involved – the government and businesses – had been more responsible. The ultimate bailouts – many to institutions now revealed to have been (at best) imprudent and (in most cases) deceitful – have put the nation in poor fiscal health for years to come. Canada was fortunate to escape comparatively unscathed from these events, and its citizens surely must think that the government-business nexuses in its large southern neighbour have gone severely awry. But, as is often the case, the conventional wisdom represents a combination of overreaction and tunnel vision. There have certainly been lamentable instances of public-private collaboration in recent years, but there have been many admirable successes as well.

Our recent book, Collaborative Governance: Private Roles for Public Goals in Turbulent Times, identifies an important phenomenon that has greatly enriched public performance in the U.S., as well as in other nations. But the good news about collaboration – the neglected part of the landscape – has received less notice than its promise warrants. Governments at all levels in the U.S. have increasingly called on private parties – both for-profit and non-profit – to deliver services that were formerly provided directly by governments themselves. We are not referring to traditional outsourcing, such as contracting with private companies to pick up garbage or pave roads. Outsourcing has its place (and its hazards) but we are concerned with something different. The distinctive feature of collaborative governance is the sharing of discretion between the public and private parties on a deliberate and attentive basis.

A hallmark case, noticed by any periodic visitor to New York, is the resurrection of Central Park. By the early 1990s, the park had fallen into complete disarray. The city’s park-system budget had been slashed in response to financial woes. A venture into Central Park was a tour of graffiti, litter, untended landscapes, and the not-so-occasional mugger. Through a series of negotiations among visionaries on both the public and private sides of the table, day-to-day management of the park was turned over to a non-profit group, The Central Park Conservancy. The conservancy has poured in tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of volunteer hours, and today the park shines. It is filled with youngsters and oldsters, ballparks and flowerbeds, and citizens walk its paths in safety and comfort late into the evening.

An equally stirring success story of collaborative governance – and a useful illustration of the distinction between collaboration and conventional contracting – was the cleanup of Rocky Flats, a highly contaminated former nuclear-weapons site, which was the responsibility of the Energy Department. Two prior contracts to deal with this contaminated wasteland had failed, and, in the mid-1990s, it was projected that the effort would take another 70 years. The Energy Department tried a new approach. It gave a new contractor, Kaiser-Hill, considerable guidance as to objectives, but a great deal of discretion on how to conduct the cleanup, along with significant incentives for controlling costs. A mere decade later – more than 50 years ahead of schedule – the site had been restored. And its cleanup had been accomplished at a cost of half a billion dollars below the allowed budget.

Canada has major industries dragging metals and petrochemicals out of the ground. Many of the sites where such processes take place, like their equivalents in the United States, are current or future environmental threats. Cleanup efforts will be required. The collaborative governance approach – giving discretion and appropriate incentives to private parties – should be considered.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

F.B.I. Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds

WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.

The F.B.I. recently briefed several privacy advocates about the coming changes. Among them, Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it was unwise to further ease restrictions on agents’ power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing.

Full Article
Source: New York Times 

Senate reform goes centre stage

Why the Tories believe slow-moving Senate reform might work this time

Last week’s Throne Speech was expected to be bereft of surprises. As it happened, a cranky Senate page with a handmade sign ensured that the event wasn’t a complete bore. But there was another, subtler eyebrow-raiser in the works. Despite prior reports of Conservative caucus dissension over Senate reform, Governor General David Johnston’s scripted words expressed the Prime Minister’s determination to act fast on it. Reform “remains a priority for our government,” Johnston reported, promising to reintroduce legislation—thwarted by weighty Oppositions in the past—“to limit term lengths and to encourage provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees.”

The Conservative plan to tweak the Senate without opening up a politically unthinkable Constitution-amending process seems about to take its long-awaited first step. And that implies a reignition of the debate over whether a prime minister can actually get away with such a thing. Quebec’s government is already threatening to haul the feds before the Supreme Court to block term-limit and Senate-election legislation. “If they try that, the Court is literally going to laugh at them,” says a confident Sen. Bert Brown, the Conservative reform advocate elected as an Alberta “senator-in-waiting” in 2004 and appointed to the upper house in 2007.

Constitutional scholars are unsure whether Brown is right. The government’s theory is that there is no “manifest conflict”—to use the phrase of Simon Fraser University political scientist Andrew Heard—between Senate elections and the text of the Constitution. The Constitution merely says that the governor general will “summon qualified persons to the Senate”; it does not say Parliament cannot invent new methods of making candidates available for his consideration.

Under the 1982 Constitution, a constitutional amendment would be necessary to change “the method of selecting senators.” (Term limits, on the other hand, are kosher.) “But there is no element of command in Bill S-8,” argues Brown, referring to a Senate-election law briefly brought before the upper house in April. The appointments of elected senators would still adhere to the form prescribed in the Constitution, with the governor general having final say. “The bill merely establishes a guidance framework for the elections themselves.” Brown expects the government to go ahead with an exact copy of S-8, which would allow provinces to hold Senate elections simultaneously with the elections to their own legislatures.

A slightly earlier pass at Senate reform, 2008’s Bill C-20, inspired House of Commons committee hearings on the constitutionality of Senate elections. Most scholars thought they would pass muster with courts, though not without considerable grudgingness. There is confusion over the exact test to be applied. A 1980 Supreme Court decision, the so-called “Upper House Reference,” established a principle that “fundamental features” of the Senate cannot be altered by Parliament alone. Some thinkers, notably oft-cited Osgoode Hall constitutional expert Peter Hogg, insist that the Upper House Reference was made moot by the renovated Constitution of 1982. A few others, like Heard, think the reference possesses lingering force.

“I don’t think the material logic of that case has been altered by other constitutional changes,” Heard reiterates. If he is right, and if unelectedness is “fundamental” to the Senate, a court would have to decide whether to regard provincial Senate elections as a mere means of allowing the PM and the GG to consult with the provinces, or as an illicit provincial obtrusion onto federal territory.

Source: Macleans 

Canada’s foreign policy, in black and white and orange

Further proof of the Americanization of our politics: the journalistic elevation of the drunkard’s walk known as Stephen Harper’s foreign policy to the level of a “doctrine.” We spent the post-Gulf War nineties hearing about “the Powell doctrine”, and in 2001, Charles Krauthammer gave George W. Bush a doctrine of his own as a post 9/11 present. Today, the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson gifts our prime minister with his very own “Harper Doctrine,” spelled out as follows:

 “We know where our interests lie and who our friends are,” he declared, “and we take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.”

I’m no foreign policy guy, and John Ibbitson has taught me more about how Canada works over the years than I like to admit. But apart from supporting Israel “four-square, without reservation” — which Harper does seem keen on — I don’t see the evidence for the rest of it. “No foreign aid funding for abortion” doesn’t seem like much of a doctrine to me. As for “aggressively asserting our sovereignty in the North” … how so?

My lay understanding of a foreign policy “doctrine” is that it is a general set of rules or principles that a nation sets out, both to frame its own internal decision-making, but also – most crucially – to enable other countries to anticipate its behaviour. Take that most famous of foreign policy doctrines, the Monroe Doctrine, which told the European powers in no uncertain terms to forget about any more colonies in the Americas, and that any attempt to do so would be considered an act of aggression against the USA. Hard to misinterpret that.

The point is, it doesn’t help to say “we know what our interests lie, and who our friends are,” if no one can predict, in advance, what interests you will advance, and who you will choose as your friends. Do Canadian interests lie in killing Ghadafi? Because that’s what we’re up to over there. Was that an avowed principle of Harper’s five months ago?  Do we have stronger interests in Libya than in, say, Yemen? Or Haiti? As for “knowing who our friends are,” ask any of our friends in Britain and the US how they feel about Canada peeling rubber out of Kandahar in the middle of the fighting season.

In fact, if you are looking for a serious foreign policy doctrine out of Harper — that is, one that specifies a general principle that can be used by our friends and our enemies to predict Canada’s future behaviour — Afghanistan provides a great example. At the end of May, Stephen Harper took a quick tour through Kandahar, during which he was quoted by the Globe and Mail as saying  “Canada has been in Afghanistan now longer than we fought in the two World Wars combined.” Harper’s office claims that what the prime minister actually said was that we’d been in Afghanistan “almost as along.”

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

Prostitution laws go back before the courts

Federal and Ontario governments appeal ruling that struck down existing laws
The federal and Ontario governments’ appeal of an Ontario Superior Court decision last fall which struck down several key prostitution laws, began on Monday. Last year, Ontario Justice Susan Himel overturned three anti-prostitution laws that were ruled to endanger sex workers—keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and living on the avails of the trade. Alan Young, a York University law professor who represent sex trade workers, argues that making communication for the purposes of prostitution illegal prevents sex workers from being able to “screen” their potential clients or take necessary safety precautions. Terri-Jean Bedford, an outspoken advocate for the legalization of prostitution and a practicing dominatrix, and two other sex workers, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, are the three litigants who have maintained that the existing laws expose them to violence on the streets. The Crown is appealing Judge Himel’s ruling on the basis that prostitution is a degrading criminal pursuit that should not be encouraged under relaxed laws, which themselves do little to protect sex workers from violence. Young says he expects that regardless of the outcome of the appeal, the case will most likely be argued at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Source: Macleans 

Let’s show a little fiscal restraint here

The first signs of what was to come appeared in the Globe the previous week. “Public sector layoffs may be the tip of the iceberg,” teased the headline, leaving the story to convey the grim news: “The federal government’s bid to curb spending amid a multi-billion-dollar fiscal shortfall has delivered some of its first job casualties of the year.” Brace yourself, it gets worse. “Five curators at the country’s pre-eminent art gallery have been given layoff notices, while about 50 Environment Canada term employees, including scientists and scientific support staff, have been told they’ll no longer have jobs by the end of the month.”

OH MY GOD, they’ve—wait, what? Five curators? Fifty Environment Canada employees? Nobody likes to see anybody lose their job, but how exactly is this evidence of a bid to curb anything? Some perspective: the federal public service, not counting uniformed military or police, employs more than 280,000 people. That’s an increase of about 33,000 since the Tories took power in 2006. Those unfortunate gallery curators and weather forecasters make up about one-sixth of one per cent of the extra employees the government has taken on over the last five years. If this is the “tip of the iceberg,” and if, as every schoolboy knows, four-fifths of an iceberg is below the surface, then we can look forward to reductions in the public service roughly equivalent to about two weeks’ worth of new hires.

Nevertheless, when at last it was “revealed” that the federal government would, as it said it would in its first attempt back in March, and as it repeated it would every day of the election campaign, cut $4 billion out of federal spending by fiscal 2015, well, you could knock us over with a feather. “Budget on the table, public service on the chopping block,” the Globe told readers the next day, while the Star screamed: “Cuts loom as Harper vows to slay deficit.” It would be, the Globe story said, “the most aggressive period of government restraint since the mid-1990s.” Which is fair enough, since it would be the only period of government restraint in that time: since 2000, spending has more than doubled.

Well, unless you count the period of restraint that happened toward the end of last year, when spending mysteriously dropped $4 billion below forecast. That’s right. As recently as the March budget, program spending for fiscal 2011, the year just passed, was projected to come in at $245 billion, yet here we are three months later, and it comes in at “only” $241 billion. So the target to be achieved four years out by the grandly named Strategic and Operating Review might well be achieved by September, for all we know, just through forecast error.

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

With 6,000 jobs on chopping block, watchdog warns of deeper cuts

The Conservative government is planning to chop at least 6,000 jobs over the next three years, even before it draws up a more aggressive plan for erasing Canada’s deficit.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released the figure Monday in a report based on recently released data from Ottawa.

Last week, all departments released “plans and priorities” documents that outline future spending and staffing plans. The PBO combed through the reports to arrive at the tally.

In Monday’s report, the budget office suggests MPs should ask officials why staffing levels are on the way down, while personnel costs are scheduled to rise.

Former Treasury Board president Stockwell Day has previously said Ottawa’s personnel costs are on the rise partly because an ageing workforce is running up higher employee drug plan costs.

The PBO was looking for details on a pledge in the 2010 budget to freeze the government’s operating budget for three years. Yet the savings outlined in these latest government documents are not enough to meet that target, according to the PBO.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Monitoring of First Nations beefed up in '06

The federal government stepped up surveillance of First Nations across Canada shortly after the 2006 election to better monitor political action such as protests over land claims, according to internal Indian Affairs and RCMP documents obtained by a Mohawk policy analyst.

The goal of the beefed up monitoring, after Stephen Harper first became prime minister, was to identify First Nations leaders, participants and supporters of occupations and protests, and closely monitor their moves, according to Russell Diabo, who obtained the documents under an Access to Information request.

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) was given the lead role to monitor First Nations, according to the documents, copies of which were given to CBC News.

To do this, INAC established a “hot spot reporting system” — weekly reports highlighting First Nations that engaged in "direct action" to protect their lands and communities, said Diabo, who is based in Orillia, Ont.

In one document, titled "Aboriginal Hot Spots and Public Safety," and dated March 30, 2007, it was noted that the vast majority of "hot spots" were related to lands and resources, and led by "splinter groups" in protests including the Douglas Creek Estates occupation in Caledonia, Ont., and the Grassy Narrows blockade of the Trans-Canada Highway by environmentalists.

"Incidents led by splinter groups are arguably harder to manage as they exist outside negotiation processes to resolve recognized grievances with duly elected leaders," the document says. "We seek to avoid giving standing to such splinter groups so as not to debase the legally recognized government."

Full Article
Source: CBC News 

Union frustrated with slow talks as Air Canada strike looms tonight

The Canadian Auto Workers union says contract talks are moving slowly as it tries to get a deal to avert a strike at midnight Monday of its Air Canada ticket agents.

“There’s really been no change since yesterday,” said CAW president Ken Lewenza in an interview on Monday morning. “I’m very disappointed actually.”

The union made a counter-offer on pensions—one of the main sticking points—to the company and was expecting a response late Sunday night, but had not received anything as of 10:30 a.m. Monday. The union opposes a proposal to move to a defined contribution plan, limited to new hires only, from a defined benefit plan, which has a guaranteed payout.

The CAW has been talking tough, saying its 3,800 members across the country will walk off the job, at midnight Monday if there’s no new agreement.

Lewenza said last week that the CAW would not be considering rotating strikes or pushing back its deadline, arguing that the full threat of a labour disruption forces decisions.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Canada Post trying to provoke full walk-out, union charges

The union representing 48,000 postal workers says Canada Post is trying to provoke a full walkout by cutting delivery to three days a week.

“Canada Post is doing everything it can to provoke the union into a national walkout in the hope that the government will intervene,” said Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, at a news conference in Ottawa on Monday.

Lemelin said it was part of a plan to have the federal government bring back-to-work legislation.

The union began rotating strikes on June 3, hitting cities large and small across the country, usually for no more than 24 hours. The Greater Toronto Area, which has two of the largest mail and parcel sorting plants, has not been hit yet.

Canada Post said last week that since job action began, its mail volumes have dropped from 40 million items a day to 20 million and that losses to direct revenue caused by the union’s actions are already at $65 million and growing as major customers cancel contracts.

As a result, it said home delivery would be cut to three days a week, in most urban areas, with service only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, beginning this week.

The union labelled the move, “a partial lockout,” where its members’ hours were being cut, which would affect their paycheques. Lemelin also disputes that volumes have that much, showing photos from Vancouver and Calgary with lots of mail.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star