14 June, 2012

Shame on Canadian "Democracy" (Bill C-38)

As I sit here writing this, the House of Commons in Canada is in a marathon voting session on the infamous omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38, put up and being rushed through into law by the Conservative Party of Canada.

The opposition New Democratic Party, Liberal Party, and Green Party are staging a heroic effort to delay passing of the bill by introducing multiple amendments, each of which requires a vote. The members of parliament have been at it all night and are expected to be there, standing for each vote, for 6 hours more.  Although the opposition parties won't be able to stop the vote due to an overwhelming majority of conservative seats, they are supporting democracy by not making it easy for the government, who has hidden environmental oversight killing measures, attacked old age security, and even killed our fisheries protection in this legislation.  In fact the bill is so long, comprising some 400 pages, that it is as unwieldy as it is vague in allocating directly to Ministers and their sole discretion, protections that were formerly written into Canadian law.

Like most other unpalatable legislation the government has rushed through, this bill has allowed the government to grab powers that should properly be left to already carefully considered legislation developed after years of measured consultation. Our environmental study protections were painstakingly crafted and are presently working quite well to help protect habitat and First Nations' rights. When this legislation is passed, it will considerably shorten the process and allow the minister powers to override it.  We all know that this government is in favour of ramming in pipelines without any care at all for wildlife in their paths, and I predict this is exactly what will happen now.

I've been watching CPAC for the last several days.  For any of you abroad, that's the House of Commons on TV.  What that has made clear to me is that Canadian democracy is not working.  About 100,000 Canadians on 2 petitions that I have seen, the Avaaz petition and the Care2 petition, have spoken loudly about their opposition to this bill.  Many, many people have tweeted and emailed their representatives in Parliament;  yet I watched, as one Conservative minister sniffed at them as an odd "assortment of tweets and emails".

In fact, as I watched the pre-voting debate, Conservative ministers and members responded to well-thought out questions by opposition members who were speaking out for their constituents and the people with pre-scripted PR statements that they read off papers in their hands.  Rarely was a question answered at all.  If it was, it was usually with a snearing personal attack on the questioner or the questioner's party.  The lack of gravitas on the government's part was shocking to me.  I had somehow not quite realized that parliamentary debate had descended to name slinging and non-answers prepared by and rubber-stamped by the Government, designed to avoid real debate.

Any sense of our government cooperating in developing policy that was good for Canada, any sense of Parliamentarians as servants of the public, and as people held to a higher sense of purpose for the good of us all, has vanished from Canadian politics.  It's easy to see why many Canadians are so discouraged and turned off of politics that they won't even vote.  It's apparent that we have turned over our so-called democratic process to a Parliament that neither works nor cares to work.

Is it all about self-interest, self-satisfaction, doing whatever you want with no regard or reaction to public protest?  With the present system, all you need to be a defacto dictator is a cadre of yes-men and women who will vote with you no matter what their conscience and constituents dictate. There's no room and no notice taken of what the public wants. As long as you can keep the larger majority from figuring out what you're doing in time (witness the cuts to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation), you can do what you like and then put a PR spin on it to appease the masses.

Bill C-38 is named the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act. This, despite the fact that it will cut 19, 000 civil service jobs, curtail eligibility to unemployment benefits, especially for seasonal workers, and raise the Old Age Security entitlement from 65 to 67, ensuring more poverty for seniors who can't work or don't have jobs in those last few years. Yet the government says there will be JOBS. No doubt they expect some of those civil servants and senior workers to move across the country to work on the new oil pipeline.

We need reform to take account of the public's opposition to legislation and to allow politicians to cooperate more fully in developing good laws without resorting to curtailing debate and ramming contentious legislation through without sufficient consideration.  I'm calling on the Canadian Parliament to become better, to supplant partisan politics with a more democratic system. I'm tired of watching empty debate and political spinners. I want people in Ottawa who will carefully consider the welfare of the people and what they want and not their own smug self-promoting ideas.

Further reading :

In The National Post: Andrew Coyne: Bill C-38 shows us how far Parliament has fallen

An overview of the changes in Bill C-38 from MOP Jean Crowder.


Hila said...

Thanks for posting about this, because being in Australia, I didn't know about it in such detail. Really though, it's much the same here - I'm so disheartened by the level of political 'commentary' and 'debate' in Australia - both within and outside of parliament.

vegetablej said...

Sigh. And I had such hopes for about a month -- the month of Occupy.