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.]

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Holy parliamentary democracy, Batman! What about ministerial responsibility?

The F-35 fiasco just keeps getting uglier. Has it become the FU-35 program?

For the second time, the message has been delivered to the Harper government that Parliament doesn’t issue blank cheques.

Parliament itself first served notice of that quaint reality of a democracy. In March 2011, the House of Commons found the government in contempt of Parliament for failing to disclose the costs of building new prisons and procuring the F-35 stealth bomber.

Yesterday, the Auditor-General of Canada announced that rogue procurements running into the billions of dollars and falsely reported to the House of Commons don’t qualify as sound financial management or democratic governance. How distraught David Frum must be after arguing just a few days ago that we were the best-governed country on the planet. Oh well, what are speechwriters for?

Judging from the reaction, the Harper government is about to see how far up the Stupid Meter it has led Canadians since it came to power in 2006. When they entered a guilty plea for cheating under Canada’s election laws, they claimed it was just an administrative matter.

RCMP’s Bruce Carson investigation probes contract with former escort, Calgary think-tank emails

Armed with thousands of emails written by Bruce Carson, the RCMP has stepped up its investigation into the activities of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former confidante, APTN National News has learned.

Investigators with the RCMP’s Commercial Crime Unit are actively probing the activities of the former political operative nicknamed “The Mechanic” regarding his dealings with federal Aboriginal Affairs officials, his relationship with an Ottawa-based water company and the role played by Carson’s fiancée, a former escort who went by the name of Leanna VIP.

Investigators already hold thousands of emails written by Carson along with documents on his laptop computer from his time as head of the Canada School of Energy and Environment, a $15 million think-tank created by the Conservative government. The emails would reveal the extent of the electronic networking world of a man who professed links to highest levels of federal political power and Alberta’s energy titans.

Carson, a former adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, is under investigation for alleged illegal lobbying and influence peddling by three different agencies, including the RCMP, the Lobbying Commissioner and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

None of those investigations have reached their conclusions.

Liberals reject NDP’s proposed tax on rich

TORONTO — Ontario’s minority Liberal government has dismissed an NDP proposal for a tax on the ultra-rich.

The proposal would add two per cent to tax on all income over $500,000.

New Democrats made the proposal in an effort to gain Liberal concessions on that party’s restraint budget in return for NDP support. The Liberals are one seat shy of a majority government and could fall if the budget is defeated.

The NDP claim their tax on the wealthy would raise $570 million annually. They want the government to spend the money on removing HST from home heating bills (at a cost of $350 million), an additional 4,000 child care spaces ($50 million) and boosted support for the disabled ($40 million).

Andrea Horwath said the idea was “reasonable” and “well thought out.”

“We’re not drawing lines in the sand at this time,” Horwath told reporters. “But we’re urging the government to listen carefully to our proposal.”

But Liberal house leader John Milloy dismissed the idea late Tuesday, accusing the NDP of triggering a “spending spree.”

Mulcair is no pushover

It’s been a rough month for those of us on the pessimistic left.

Faithful readers will know that I’ve spent my adult life trying to get the NDP to be realistic about its modest status in Canadian life. Until last May I repeatedly pointed out that with a single exception, the party always got less than 20 per cent of the national vote, would not in the foreseeable future form a government, and had to learn to live with moral victories as the conscience of the nation.

This was not a status to be dismissed or minimized. The CCF/NDP played a central role, as opposition, in forcing the governing parties to introduce the welfare state, one of the great contributions to the well-being of Canadians, and now in serious jeopardy. As well, research showed that while most Canadians would not vote NDP, a majority were reassured to have the party around to keep the major players honest.

Then came May 2011, 30 per cent of the vote and Official Opposition. But how could it be sustained. Surely this was a fluke resting on the shoulders of one man, and he, tragically, was gone.

But then came March 2012. Naturally the media was happy to peddle Liberal spin that their candidate in the by-election to replace Jack Layton was coming on strong. It had seemed that New Democratic contender Craig Scott – law professor, international human rights activist, a real prize for the NDP and for parliament – was a shoo-in. Suddenly it appeared there was a real chance for an upset. Some upset. Mr. Scott won walking away, doubling the Liberal vote; the Conservative were missing in action. As it happened, the NDP leadership convention was only four days away.

An open letter from a Katimavik participant

My name is Gabrielle de Montigny and I am 20 years old. I currently live in Toronto, Ont. and I would like to share my story.

First of all, I would like to state how deeply hurt and saddened I am by the Conservative government's decision to cut the Katimavik program out of the federal budget.

When I heard the news, I felt sad for those who would never experience what I have experienced. In this letter I would like to tell you specifically how Katimavik impacted me and those around me and how it has the potential to impact so many other youth and communities around Canada. I am not one to write letters personally but given the profound impact Katimavik has had on me, I strongly believe that you need to hear my story.

So please take a few minutes of your time during your busy workday to hear me out on the issue of cutting Katimavik out of the budget. I ask you to please give me that respect and common courtesy; it's all that I can ask for.

In my last year of high school, while my friends were gearing up for university, I felt lost in a sea of discomfort. I had no idea what I wanted to do and strongly felt that it just was not my time to go into post-secondary education as of yet.

Where Bigotry Runs Deep

In central Florida, where Trayvon Martin was gunned down, racism is all too commonplace.

I grew up in Central Florida, not far from Sanford, where the killing of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 has garnered international attention. Martin was out in the evening walking to a store for some snacks, unarmed, when George Zimmerman, a local self-appointed neighbourhood watch captain, shot him after pursuing him on the grounds of his own personal judgment that Martin posed a danger. Martin’s body was kept overnight without any apparent effort to find his family, despite the fact that police possessed his cellphone. Zimmerman claimed self-defence and has yet to be charged with a crime. Yet, a 911 distress call has a recording of the shooting and reveals that Zimmerman used a racial epithet to refer to Martin. The recording also reveals that Zimmerman pursued Martin after authorities asked him to stop, and includes what sounds like Martin begging for help before he the gun shots that ended his life are heard. Zimmerman had 80 pounds on Martin, and a gun. Martin had a package of skittles and an iced tea.

I don’t know George Zimmerman, but I know that the racist epithet he could be heard using on the 911 call – a four-letter word starting with “c” that I still find too painful to repeat – was, and is, the epithet of choice among white racists in the area. Dr. Martin Luther King’s name was often changed so that this word replaced “King.” In fact, I heard that phrase used in a conversation with someone from the area just a few weeks ago.

The Commons: Stephen Harper’s Royal Canadian Air Farce

The Scene. “They knew it.”

What did they know? They knew the cost of purchasing the F-35 would be higher than they had let on. This much, Thomas Mulcair explained, had now been proven by the Auditor General.

“Why,” the leader of the opposition thus asked, “did the Conservatives deliberately gave false information to Parliament and Canadians?”

The Prime Minister stood here, shrugged and dismissed it all. “Mr. Speaker, I do not accept these conclusions of the opposition leader,” Mr. Harper said, without elaborating. The Auditor General had, Mr. Harper explained, made “certain findings” and “identified the need for greater supervision.” The government accepted this much.

Switching to English, Mr. Mulcair was sharp and stinging in response.

“Mr. Speaker, this is a question of ethics,” he posited.

For the Prime Minister’s benefit, he succinctly offered his own review of chapter two of the Auditor General’s spring report.

Liberal MP tables motion at Public Accounts Committee to investigate AG's findings that government hid F-35 costs

OTTAWA—The opposition parties have set the stage to confront the Conservative government over scorching allegations from Auditor General Michael Ferguson that the Department of National Defence failed to disclose billions of dollars in costs for the F-35 stealth-fighter jet project.

The Liberal Party on Tuesday served notice at the Commons Public Accounts committee that it will seek “immediate” public hearings into Mr. Ferguson’s report that National Defence kept risings costs a secret—failing to publicly disclose in March, 2011, that it had expected for a year that the total cost of buying, maintaining and operating the fleet of 65 stealth fighters would be a minimum of $25-billion over 20 years instead of just over $14-billion it was claiming publicly.

At the time, as the opposition parties were poised to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) minority government over a scheduled budget and force a general election, National Defence told Parliament that the trouble-plagued stealth jets would cost only $14.7-billion for acquisition and ongoing maintenance and operations, Mr. Ferguson's report states.

NDP MP Malcolm Allen (Welland, Ont.) told The Hill Times on Tuesday New Democrats on the Public Accounts Committee are prepared to support a Liberal motion calling for immediate hearings into the report’s findings. The opposition is ready to go “all the way up” to Mr. Harper if necessary to find out what happened, he said.

Wildrose poised for majority in Alberta: poll

A new poll has put Alberta's Wildrose Party firmly on track for a majority government, holding a 13-point lead over the incumbent Progressive Conservatives who just months ago were a shoo-in for victory.

The poll, conducted by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. for CTV News, is the latest in a string showing clear patterns: the PCs are sinking, Wildrose is surging and people prefer the Wildrose leader Danielle Smith to PC leader Alison Redford.

“It just continues the trend and it sort of manifests the momentum they’ve had last week,” ThinkHQ pollster Marc Henry said, adding time is running out for Ms. Redford and the PCs. “They’ve got an awfully big hole dug for themselves.”

It leaves Alberta poised to elect a right-wing government in lock-step with the Reform wing of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, one that will embrace its energy industry, slow spending growth and turn to tax credits and rebates to lower taxes in what is already Canada’s lowest-tax province.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday through an online panel of 1,050 respondents and shows the right-wing Wildrose at 43 per cent of decided voters, the PCs at 30, the New Democrats at 12 and the Liberals at 11 per cent province-wide. Of those sampled, 19 per cent were undecided.

F-35 fighter jet planning a game of fun with figures

OTTAWA—As Auditor General Michael Ferguson laid out details of how the country’s largest military purchase had become a fantasy featuring rejigged requirements, buried costs and bureaucratic smoke-and-mirrors, one question kept recurring.

Where was Peter MacKay?

It was clear that the brass at national defence didn’t bother to keep their minister in the loop, so blinded were they to that shiny object in the showroom.

But there is nothing in the cabinet minister handbook preventing a few questions being asked, or some assurances sought.

How about poking your head in the door to check from time to time on the biggest expenditure of taxpayers dollars you have ever overseen?

Instead, MacKay looked like a tourist on a magic bus of broken rules and financial sleight-of-hand, getting off just in time to announce the government’s decision to buy the F-35s in July 2010 — before anyone had even formally bothered to make up a phony rationale for sole-sourcing the contract.

Teen Who Ran From Chemo 18 Years Ago Now Cancer-Free

BOSTON -- Eighteen years ago, 16-year-old Billy Best's story made national headlines when he ran away from his adoptive Norwell home, refusing anymore chemotherapy treatments.

Best had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and doctors said he had six months to live without the treatment. But Best wanted alternative measures.

Today at age 34, Best is cancer-free, happy, and he and his girlfriend, Maya, are parents of 14-month-old Max.

Best said when he was 16, he didn’t think he'd live to see 18, let alone have children.

Initially following doctor's orders, he endured five rounds of chemotherapy. Best said he lost weight and smelled different.

"I could smell what I thought was poison coming out of my body. I didn't think I would make it through the treatments," said Best.

His solution was to sell some of his possessions and run away to Texas, where he lived in a warehouse. Three days later, he learned of the worry his parents who did not know where he was or whether he was dead or alive.