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.

04 June, 2012

Speakout for the Environment

 ABOUT BLACK OUT SPEAK OUT (blackoutspeakout.ca):

Launched on May 7, Black Out Speak Out (or Silence, on parle!, in French) invites organizations, businesses and citizens from across Canada to darken their websites on June 4, and speak out against changes introduced in the federal government’s budget act (C-38) by darkening their websites and taking other actions on June 4.

Black Out Speak Out is a joint project of CAPE, CPAWS, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club Canada, West Coast Environmental Law, and WWF Canada.

For more information: http://blackoutspeakout.ca/about.php

From the Blackoutspeakout.ca website above:

Right now, Parliament is pushing through a bill (Bill C-38) to weaken many of the country's most important environmental protection measures and silence the voices of all Canadians who seek to defend nature. Today it's our voice; tomorrow it could be yours.

Here are the top five reasons to Speak Out:
  1. Charities are being targeted. The government is adding $8 million in new funding for the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities like environmental groups in spite of the fact they have simply exercised their legal right to advocate for things like laws to fight global warming. This will have a chilling effect on democratic debate. What's more, under these new laws, citizen groups will likely be shut out of environmental reviews of big projects like oil pipelines. Key government agencies with expertise will also have less input. Well-funded backroom lobbyists and political operatives will have greater influence
  2. Canadians' participation in Parliament is being disrespected. Instead of following the established process for making sweeping changes, which allows for thorough public debate, these changes are being shoehorned into a massive budget law. This drastically reduces the amount of consultation on a whole variety of topics. These changes will have serious consequences for all Canadians and our voices are not being heard.
  3. Nature is being put at serious risk. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is being replaced with a totally new law. Under it, Ottawa will play a much smaller role in protecting people from harmful projects, while retaining the right to basically rubber-stamp big projects that powerful oil interests want. And the new weaker rules are being applied to review processes that are already underway–so projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway tankers and pipeline project could get an easier ride.
  4. Too much power is in the hands of too few. The National Energy Board will no longer be able to say "no" to oil pipeline projects that are not in the public interest. Politicians in Cabinet will be able to overrule the expert energy regulator if powerful oil interests don't like its decision. Permits that allow the destruction of habitat for fish and threatened or endangered species will now be issued behind closed doors without public scrutiny, if they are required at all.
  5. Trusted advisors to government that provide high-quality analysis for balanced policy are being ignored. The 2012 budget eliminates the funding for the last remaining government advisory body – the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy (NRTEE). The NRTEE provides analysis and advice on how to meet our international commitments to reducing greenhouse gas pollution. Many lakes, rivers and streams that provide habitat to fish will be at greater risk of destruction because of changes to the Fisheries Act contained within the budget implementation bill. Healthy fish habitat is important for fish and for the people and businesses that depend on them.

What on Earth is Happening to Canada? at huffingtonpost.

Please sign the Care2 petition.