Monday, December 21, 2009

Canadian democracy is broken. Who is going to fix it?

Subtitle: My best advice for Michael Ignatieff

Canadian democracy has been on a steady decline long before this recent incident involving Stephen Harper’s refusal to release the truth to Canadians about the possible torture of Afghan detainees. This is but the latest example of Canadian politicians using the power of their office to deny Canadians their basic democratic rights as voting citizens.

The real question is who is going to fix it?

All we have witnessed in the past, in situations similar to this, are politicians who position themselves to exploit these circumstances for their own political advantage, rather than correct them, only to constrain their power in office?

This is exactly what happened in the 2006 election in the aftermath of the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal. Seeking an opportunity to exploit, rather than correct, Stephen Harper wrapped himself in a holier than thou robe, and proclaimed that if elected he would usher in a whole new era of government accountability and transparency. It worked. Harper rode that wave of self righteousness right into office.. He even went so far as to pass legislation known as the Accountability Act, which was only meant to placate the voting public with the false aura of a new regime of greater accountability, but has provided nothing of the sort at the point where the tire actually hits the road.

What “Accountability Act” would allow a government to constantly hide behind blacked out documents, be it in the case of income trusts and “proof” of alleged tax leakage or knowing the truth about the conditions that were faced by Afghan detainees? Whose idea of accountability is that? Government accountability under the Harper government is at its lowest level ever, as witnessed by a multitude of things, too numerous to mention. Meanwhile Harper has rendered the civil servants more emasculated than ever, each fearing that they will become the next Linda Keen or Richard Colvin if they dare do their job properly and as called upon.

So the real question is who is going to fix it?

My greatest concern is that the opposing political parties will exploit the circumstances and the fall out of this Afghan detainee matter, as the means for their own political ascension and then do nothing thereafter to usher in the fundamental reforms that are required to restore democracy to Canada and its citizens.

What assurances are there that a Liberal government under Michael Ignatieff believes in democracy any more than Stephen Harper himself? I have no such evidence, do you? Rather than relying on wishful thinking, let’s call a spade a spade. For example, Michael Ignatieff was not elected as leader of the Liberal Party, but rather was anointed. The President of the Liberal Party, Alf Apps, was not elected as the President of the Liberal Party, but was acclaimed the President of the Party, after the other candidates on the ballot were strong-armed into dropping out in favour of Ignatieff’s “guy”. Does this sound like a party that has a fundamental belief in the underpinnings of a true democratic process, or a party that will happily bend those rules, as suits the purposes of the moment?

Therefore, it would be wrong for Canadians to blithely assume that the election of a Liberal party would lead to an outcome concerning democracy, that is any better than which exists under Stephen Harper today. I am no Pollyanna, are you?

What we need as Canadians is fundamental reform concerning the re-establishment and enforcement of the institution of democracies in this country. Things like the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Officer with the powers and resources to match the Government Accounting Office in the US. The obligatory calling of public hearings and public consultation whenever new tax measures are being considered that place citizens on an equal footing with paid lobbyists. The full release of public documents in real time to citizens who request them, except in the most extreme cases of true National Emergency, where such invocations of National Security could be challenged by citizens in court under a process similar to the Court Challenges program. I do not profess to know all the measures that would need to be undertaken in this country to restore Canada to the democracy that many think that it is, but that it clearly is not. But I do know that such fundamental reform is urgently needed will not occur through a process as simple and unreliable as voting a new party into office. That is as unlikely an outcome as winning the lottery.

If political parties want to exploit the electorate’s concern of the day about the need for a democracy with real teeth and real checks and balances on the abuse of power and privilege, then they are going to have to do something a lot more convincing than simply saying “I am not Stephen Harper”, and thinking they can assume power through the process of default. Nor will it be acceptable to simply promise to usher in a new era of accountability, as Harper did in the after-math of the Sponsorship Scandal. We’ve seen that movie before and it had a very bad ending. Promises amount to nothing.

We need fundamental democratic reform in this country and the re-establishment of the institutions of democracy. If politicians in this country want my vote and the vote of millions upon millions of like minded Canadians across this country, then they are going to have to come up with something better than what we have seen to date and show some real back bone and conviction. The prize will no longer go to politicians that proclaims the greatest outrage, but rather to the one who firmly commits to fundamental democratic reform on terms previously defined and in a fully binding fashion.

As for Michael Ignatieff, this upcoming Liberal gathering in Montreal in the new year, of what Ignatieff calls the “best and brightest minds in the country’ (whatever that means?), provides the perfect forum for hashing out precisely what needs to be done in order to re-establish true democracy in Canada. Everything else is secondary in importance to that. The best advice I can give the Liberals. is to wipe the slate clean on the planned agenda for that gathering, and focus on the single most important issue of the day, namely democracy.

Ignatieff should tell Canadians that he wants to be the leader of a true democracy, rather than merely the Prime Minister of Canada, like those before him, by campaigning on a binding set of democratic reforms, decided upon through major public input.


Dr Mike said...

This hits the nail right on the head as it all comes down to the loss of our  democratic rights---the lack of accountability , blacked-out pages , muzzling of the bureaucracy , the Keens & the Colvins.

The people are being denied their basic right to know that their gov`t is doing what is right & doing what is in the best interests of the citizens--right now we know nothing at all.

The worst thing is that the people of this country are becoming accepting of this same loss & are willing to put-up with the thugs in the PMO & are letting them run the show despite most of them being unelected.

Man that pisses me off to no end because the more accepting people become , the more power these guys will seize & make it the norm.

The big question becomes  , is it even possible for change anytime in the near future.

I personally cannot see it with the present crop of politicians & the present makeup of the parties.

We need a wholesale reworking of the status quo.

The problem is that as long as 40% of the people do not vote & the other 40% who do vote think that these Cons are the old PC party , then how do we change anything.

I just hope we are not as screwed as we appear to be.

Dr Mike

PS---imagine if the Libs ran on a chant of " Return the Power to the People" or "Democracy is Job ONE" --- winnerrrrrrrrrrrr.

Harmony Dial said...


No party is going to take on your get rich scheme of income trusts. The poor and middle class also matter in this country.

Now you are bad mouthing the leader on this site and on liblogs.

Please get out of the party and get off liblogs if you cannot accept that the income trust scam is up. Pay your taxes like everyone else does!!!

Kephalos said...

Mr. Fullard,
I feel that the single most important change to Canadian democracy will be run-off elections.

With run-off elections, Harper's wacky wedge politics (or any other minority-is-majority new-speak thinking) will melt like a soft ice cream cone in an Afghan holding cell.

Dr Mike said...

Harmony Dial

Another chicken hearted Con without a name.

Well done.

When you are devoid of proof of what you say , then anonymity is your name.

Sucks to be you I guess.

Unless of course , you have the proof to back up your claim.

How did income trusts affect the poor & middle class for God`s sake.

We invested & were the owners of the trust--we make money & we pay tax to look after the poor--we pay tax at a much higher rate than the average of 6.9% these trusts would have paid as corporations.

If you have some proof come on back & I will debate you anytime.

My name is Dr Mike Popovich , Rodney Ont.

CAITI said...

Harmony Dial:

Re: "No party is going to take on your get rich scheme of income trusts."

What get rich scheme are you taking about. Income trusts involved Canadians making investments in the Canadian economy and getting taxed on the distributions paid by those investments at a tax rate equal to the tax rate paid on income from employment, that avergaed 38%. Meanwhile had that money been invested in common shares, those returns would have taken the form of capital gains (taxed at half the rate of income trust distributions) and dividends (also taxed at half the rate of income trust distributions). If you hate income trusts, then you must doubly hate common shares. What do you want us to do with our investment dollars? Burn them?

Re: "The poor and middle class also matter in this country."

When and where have I said otherwise? Meanwhile how exactly do you propose to fund the social prograns for the poor (and middles class)? With good intentions or with hard currency. The income trust policy will soon lead to the loss of $7.5 billion in ANNUAL tax revenue to the government. Where is that money going to come from now? How does the loss of that massive tax revenue aid the poor and the middle class?

Re: "Now you are bad mouthing the leader on this site and on liblogs."

Wow, are you so unsure of your position that you want to stifle debate? Is Michael Ignatieff so precious that he can't be engaged in a debate about public policy? Meanwhile if you read the piece, you will realise this posting is actually about "My best advice for Michael Ignatieff". Where is your best advice for Michael Ignatieff?

This advice that I am providing to Ignatieff, if heeded, would provide him with a real shot at becoming the PM, and improving this country for generations to come. I guess you and I share different goals?

Re: "Please get out of the party and get off liblogs if you cannot accept that the income trust scam is up." and "No party is going to take on your get rich scheme of income trusts."

Where were you in the 2008 Election? Were you not aware that the Liberals campaign platform read:

"Building upon our initial proposal to retain income trusts as a high yield investment option so that Canadians have diversity of investment vehicles, while ensuring tax neutrality between corporations and income trust, a Liberal Government will repeal the punitive 31.5 percent on income trusts and replace it with a 10 percent tax that is refundable for Canadian residents.”

Re: "Pay your taxes like everyone else does!!!"

You are making two fundamental mistakes in that one sentence. First it is not clear whether everyone else pays there taxes, like the clients of Royal Bank Of Canada who are advised to maintain offshore accounts for the sole purpose of evading taxes. And second, I do pay my taxes, including taxes paid on income trusts distributions that are taxed no differently than income from employemnt and at twice the rate at which common share dividends and capital gains are taxed. Meanwhile, all income trusts distributions across the nation are taxed at an average rate of 38%. Why is there the need to double tax them at an additional tax rate of 31.5% for a conbined tax of 62%. name one thing in this country that is taxes at 62%?

Harmony Dial: You are a living example of "too little information is a dangerous thing". That, combined with your intolerance for debate, makes you laughable/pathetic.

Sure you aren't a CONservative troll?

Brent Fullard

Bruce Benson said...

Wow, so many assholes, so little time! This guy does not deserve the time of day. Hmmmm, Ignorance can be fixed but stupidity is forever! Brent, your reply and excellent comments probably fell on ears connected to a dead brain.

Anonymous said...

"Ignatieff should tell Canadians that he wants to be the leader of a true democracy, rather than merely the Prime Minister of Canada, like those before him, by campaigning on a binding set of democratic reforms, decided upon through major public input"

Nice thought but Iggy missed the chance when he supported the Harper Sales Tax when the people were very clear they did not want against the HST would have been a good start at showing the voice of the people is heard. I have no confidence in Iggy doing anything to help anyone but himself.
Any Liberals reading? I have stopped donations until you get your act in gear with a platform that supports Canadians instead of Harper.


Dr Mike said...


The HST support was a killer & a true indicator of the mess we are in---it appears that none of the major parties are willing to act on behalf of the wishes of the people.

Maybe I am naive or maybe just stupid , but when near 80% do not want a tax , then vote to hell against it.

By voting for , they are saying that only they know best.

i thought we elected these clowns to do our bidding--that is "our bidding" & not theirs.

That is not democracy--that is big business pulling the levers of gov`t.

I have put my money in my sock & unless someone can step-up & show me they will do any differently , it will remain right where it is

Dr Mike

Anonymous said...

To repeat what I said a few weeks ago - I sent the National Liberal Party office a nasty letter saying that Iggy had lost my trust with all the waffling and not taking advantage of obvious Conservative misdemeanors, the LAST STRAW being his support of the HST (Ontario). I quit the party AND stopped my monthly bank withdrawls for their Victory Fund. Screw 'em.


Anonymous said...


Excellent piece. I would also add that the media in this country are duplicitous in the decline of democracy. Given that they are afforded special rights within our constitution, they should be using this right as one of the checks and balances in democracy. I do not know how to solve the problem of the media other than to take the first step in getting the public to realize how they are being so manipulated by that industry.

When you have so many media types, Duffy, Jean, Wallen and so on being appointed to plum and important jobs like Senator and Governor General, something smells to high heaven. Maybe the first place to start is that if you’ve exercise your protective rights as a professional paid journalist under the constitution, you are ineligible for appointments to positions such as these and others.