rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Okay Harper, you get all the credit for Canada's 'democracy'

The accelerated decline of Canada's democracy began long before Stephen Harper and will continue after him -– unless an awakened Canadian public demands changes. But it appears that our prime minister would prefer to have exclusive credit for the sorry state of Canadian democracy, given the way he and his party have intensified their assault in recent months.

Let us consider two examples that have been in the news of late.

Misusing taxpayers' money

While estimates vary, it appears that the Harper government has spent half a billion dollars on advertising contracts over the five year period ending in 2014. These expenditures included $15 million promoting "Canada's Economic Action Plan," a stimulus spending initiative that ended nearly two years before.

Also included were expenditures promoting initiatives that had not yet been legislated. 

The latest example of this practice is a new video of Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre approaching parents in a clothing store and telling them about the benefits they will receive as a result of the latest federal budget. This item is presumably part of the $7.5 million that it is estimated will be spent by the government promoting its budget.

What is particularly disturbing about the Poilievre video is that it was produced by staff in his department, including three public servants who were paid overtime on a Sunday to make the film. The department confirmed that there is a five member "creative production team," first established in 2008, which is responsible for producing videos and photography.

Using money from taxpayers to finance blatantly political ads is unethical. Spending half a billion dollars in this manner while constantly claiming to be concerned with leaving money in the hands of hard-working Canadians is spectacularly hypocritical. Having public servants involved in such activity is a dangerous politicization of a role which is supposed to be carried out in a neutral, impartial manner. 

Abusing the rule of law

One of the fundamental principles of our democratic system is that governments can only act on the basis of laws that are examined, debated, and then passed by parliament. Ensuring adequate scrutiny of proposed laws has been an increasing challenge for opposition parties, especially given the growth in the scope and complexity of legislation over the past half century and more.

As I have written elsewhere, opposition parties now find their work stymied by the frequent use of omnibus bills and by the imposition of closure motions that restrict the time available for debate. 

The Conservative government has established a practice of introducing budget omnibus bills that often contain legislative changes entirely unrelated to the budget. They have done so again with respect to the 2015 budget and one of the legislative items that they tried to tuck away in the omnibus bill is a breathtakingly brazen retroactive law that sets a very dangerous precedent if it as allowed to stand.

The issue in question concerns the actions of the RCMP in 2012 in destroying records from the long gun registry that the government had scrapped. Canada's information commissioner had requested that the Mounties not take this action because the records were the subject of a request under the Information Act. That Act makes it a criminal offence to obstruct the commissioner and to destroy records with the intent to deny a requester's right to information.

In an attempt to ensure that there would not be any legal repercussions from the actions taken by the RCMP, the government included a clause in the new 167 page omnibus budget bill that exempts all records from the long gun registry from the Freedom of Information legislation. This exemption is to be retroactive to October 2011, when the government introduced legislation to scrap the registry.

Let's take a moment to digest this. What we seem to have is a government which, faced with the possibility that actions taken on its behalf may have been illegal, changes the law and extends it backward in time so as to render the offending action acceptable.

Talk about a slippery slope! Is there no end to the democratic abuses that this government will perpetrate?

Is there a limit to the public tolerance of this kind of behaviour?

 

Richard Tindal, Ph.D, has been teaching, researching, writing and consulting in the field of government for close to 50 years. He is the author or co-author of several text books including A Citizens's Guide to Government and Local Government in Canada, now in its eighth edition, with a ninth forthcoming. He writes from his home in Kingston, Ontario. His latest book, Reviving Canadian Democracy, is a short call to action book designed to enrage and then engage Canadians in the battle to restore our democratic principles and practices.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.