Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stealing Our Democracy: Linda Frum, Talking Points and the Dumbf

*Dumbf = dumbfuckery - a condition that appears to be unique to the creation of Harper Government talking points regarding Bill C-23.

On Huffington Post this morning, I read Michael Bolen's commentary on Bill C-23 which led me to Linda Frum's more verbose op-ed defending her TWITter position from earlier this week.

Ms. Frum is a shadow of her brother when it comes to writing political polemics, and the Op-Ed which the Globe and Mail had the poor judgement to publish demonstrates that in spades.

According to Ms. Frum, there's a conflict of interest in the mandated missions of Elections Canada.
Here’s the institutional conflict of interest to which I pointed: 
Elections Canada is a bureaucracy with two missions: to ensure the integrity of the voting process and also to promote voter turnout. Those two missions are contradictory. You want the biggest vote total? Accept every ballot. You want to eliminate voter fraud? Eliminating improper ballots may reduce vote totals. 
In attempting to achieve a balance between these two different missions, the evidence suggests that Elections Canada has favoured its turnout goals over preserving the integrity of the process.
Seriously?  Ms. Frum's "evidence" for this claim?
Elections expert Harry Neufeld – no supporter of the Harper government’s proposed reforms – nevertheless reported that “some 11.8 per cent of all registration activity on Election Day in May, 2011, showed serious errors, according to the national audit undertaken for this review. That … equals 114,693 voters potentially having the validity of their votes put in question.” How serious are those irregularities? We don’t know, because Elections Canada does not investigate. 
Oh ... right.  So, along come the Conservatives with a piece of legislation that responds to this issue by making it harder for so many more Canadians to vote.  Okay, the Neufeld report identifies a significant percent of election day voter registrations had errors in them.  Rather than order an in-depth investigation of the errors and addressing the causes, the Conservatives have written a law which is clearly designed to benefit their electoral goals over addressing the actual problem. 

If these "serious errors" are the result of clerical errors (incorrect transcriptions of addresses into the voter registry, misspelling names etc.), that doesn't speak to any kind of widespread voter fraud, but rather a series of issues with procedures and training.  
Consider the most problematic of all forms of voting: where the voter has no identification. In those cases, current law allows an acquaintance, friend or relative of the voter to “vouch for” that person’s right to vote. The voter in question may be a legitimate voter who genuinely lacks ID. The voter may be a visiting relative who isn’t entitled to vote in that district – or even to vote in Canada at all. Or the voter may be valid – but have already used their ID to vote once that day and is now lining up without ID to do it a second time.
This is classic Harper Government tactics - assert that something is happening, and then claim that it is an enormous problem.  Vouching has been part of our voting system for decades.  To the best of my knowledge, there is not a shred of evidence that there is any significant amount of voter fraud taking place using this mechanism, much less on a scale which has a chance of materially affecting the outcome of an election.

One of the key issues in Bill C-23 is that it is attempting to address "voter fraud", when there is precious little evidence of Voter fraud in Canada.  On the other hand, we have very clear evidence of electoral campaign fraud starting in 2006 (In-and-Out Scandal), and 2011 (Robocalls) perpetrated by the campaign machinery of the Conservatives Party.  These misdeeds are not addressed at all by C-23, and arguably clauses in C-23 are designed to further enable political parties to engage in this kind of electoral cheating.

Notable is that nobody in the CPC seems to be standing up and saying that C-23 is wrong.  Nary a peep from backbench MPs, or the party apparatus at the riding level.  Remember this next election - the Harper Government has not chosen to represent the interests of Canadians, but rather to entrench its own cynical political interests in law.

Wingnut Education In Alberta

I have a problem with these "Lifestyle Covenants" that Christian Schools seem to be in love with.

It is not that these schools are publicly funded, although I do consider it a gross abuse of public resources for them to be used in this manner which so clearly flies in the face of both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial Human Rights Codes.

My primary objection to these covenants is that they reach far beyond the walls of the school itself.  It creates an environment where both students and staff are subject to constant surveillance.  If they are seen by a classmate, staff or faculty member engaging in something "unseemly", they become subject to arbitrary sanctions in their education and professional lives.

While traditionally, students are held to a certain degree of propriety outside of the school in general (e.g.  students who are caught vandalizing the neighbourhood in which the school exists may find themselves suspended or even expelled from a school), it's far from the kind of restrictions that these covenants impose:
All teachers will uphold the sanctity of marriage, defined as that between a man and a woman, and abstain from homosexual relations and sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage. 
All teachers are expected to regularly participate in the corporate worship, fellowship and ministry of their church.
Think about these.  Both are very open ended, and place what I would consider to be unbounded constraints on the staff.  The definitions used are extremely vague, and are subject to arbitrary interpretation - something which should render them invalid to start with.

For students, they impose similarly arbitrary constraints and objectives which require interpretation:
To develop the "mind of Christ" toward godliness and sin, and to teach the student how to live an overcoming life through the exercising of self-restraint and consideration of others. 
To encourage the development of self discipline and responsibility in the student based on respect for and submission to God and God ordained authority. 
To help the student develop for himself/herself a Christian world view by integrating life and studies with the Bible.
One can well imagine that this creates an environment where the student lives in perpetual fear of being "caught" doing something "wrong", and being harshly judged for it by the school, their parents and their peers.

I take great exception to these schools exercising this kind of religious control over their students and teachers outside of the school walls.  This is ultimately teaching students nothing constructive except fear and control.

Should these schools have the right to create and enforce these covenants?  If they are a privately held school, funded by tuition fees paid by the parents, then I can (to some extent) look upon these covenants as private agreements between the parties.  I may believe that they set up an environment which is fundamentally abusive to the students and unreasonably invasive in the lives of staff at the school, but the participants in the agreement are free to enter into such agreements.

However, when public money is involved as it is in the two cases recently revealed, then it is my opinion that these schools should be held accountable to the human rights legislation in Alberta and Canada.  Failure to ensure that the schools abide by the same rules that other publicly funded organizations are held to creates double standards that are profoundly troubling.

Stealing Our Democracy: The Senate Takes A Swing

Okay, now the Senate is talking about wanting to see some amendments to the Harper Government's bill to undermine Canada's democracy.
The interim report recommends: 
— Removing a provision which would allow political parties to exempt from their election expenses any money spent to raise donations from anyone who has donated at least $20 over the previous five years. Experts have called this an unenforceable loophole that would allow rich, established parties with big donors' lists to spend untold millions more during campaigns. 
— Requiring automated call service providers to retain records of campaign robocalls for three years, rather than the one year retention proposed in the bill. 
— Clarifying that Elections Canada's reduced role in promoting democracy and voter participation will not affect the independent agency's involvement in Student Vote or other educational programs aimed at elementary and high school students. 
— Specifying that both the chief electoral officer, who administers election laws, and the commissioner of elections, who enforces the law and investigates breaches, be able to inform the public of any problems they uncover in the electoral system. 
— Specifically authorizing continued communications between the chief electoral officer and the commissioner, whom the bill proposes to hive off Elections Canada and move under the auspices of the director of public prosecutions. 
— Encouraging Elections Canada to post photos of candidates on ballots, to help voters who can't read. 
— Encouraging Elections Canada to provide information about braille ballots to blind voters and to conduct a pilot project using specialized voting kiosks for the blind.
The first change on the list actually addresses one of the problematic aspects of the bill, but it is one that I consider comparatively minor.  It's a loophole that allows parties to spend stupid amounts of money contacting "previous donors" - those are people who are to a large extent already engaged in the political system.

However, it does not address the key problems with C-23 that have been identified on this blog and by others.  They have not addressed at all the issues with removing vouching, voter id requirements, the appointment of polling station officials, investigation of fraud in the electoral system and so on.

Harper's Senators are apparently acting as the trained seals that Harper likes.  They are proposing a bunch of amendments to address the "shortcomings" of the bill which do nothing to address the key problems which turn Canada's electoral system into a partisan farce on the scale of elections in Ghadaffi's Libya.  These aren't meaningful amendments, this is chaff thrown up to distract Canadians from the vileness of C-23.

Monday, April 14, 2014

TFW Program: Shut It Down NOW!

A few weeks ago, we learned of a few McDonald's restaurants abusing the Temporary Foreign Worker program by giving preferential treatment to candidates coming in under the TFW program over Canadian citizens and permanent residents.  

Today, we find out that it has been much broader in scope than just a franchise owner in Vancouver.
“I feel it’s definitely discrimination against Canadians,” said Chris Eldridge, from Lethbridge, Alta. 
Eldridge just quit his managerial job for six McDonald’s locations in Alberta, because he said he could no longer stomach denying local employees much-needed shifts to accommodate temporary foreign workers. 
“Honestly, some days I wonder, is this still Canada? Everyone is supposed to have equal rights.”Eldridge was a manager who did the worker scheduling for McDonald’s franchisee Dan Brown. He's also upset about differences in pay. Many foreign workers started at $10.80 an hour, he said, while local employees doing the same job made less.
Think about this.  We're talking about a McDonald's here.  Not exactly the kind of jobs that require a degree or specialized training to do.  We're bringing in people from overseas to fill these jobs?  What happened to the local teenagers who used to regularly fill those roles?

The TFW program was intended to fill specific gaps in the workforce where allegedly employers were "unable" to find workers with certain skills.  Then the Harper Government opened the floodgates up to allow just about any company to bring in TFWs for any reason.

The Globe and Mail published an extensive list of the companies authorized under this program.  A quick glance at the list of authorized companies shows us restaurants, fast food outlets and car washes all authorized under this program.  I find it incredible that there are shortages of workers in these areas...especially not with Canada's youth unemployment rate running between 13% and 15%.

This entire program has outlived its purpose.  It has become a tool for businesses to evade paying fair wages to Canadians.  You run a Tim Horton's franchise, and you can't find workers?  Maybe you aren't paying enough.  Oh gosh ... you might have to cut back on a couple of cruise vacations next year ... tsk.

Time to shut it down.  You want to live in Canada? - there's an immigration system for that.

Jobs for Canadians FIRST.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Implications of Flaherty's Death

Flaherty passed away suddenly this week.  I did not like Jim Flaherty's politics - a follower of Mike Harris in the 1990s, and a minister to Harper since 2006, Flaherty has consistently subscribed to following political leaders that I fundamentally disagree with.

However, I'm not writing to speak ill of the dead - that's for another time and place when I can speak more clearly and fully on the subject.  Others have already done a far more succinct job of critiquing his time as Minister of Finance than I have time for.

Even his resignation from Cabinet and the House of Commons would not have erased his voice on parliament hill.  Flaherty had been part of the political landscape in Harper's Canada for too long to not remain influential even in private life.  However, with his death, a key voice in the Harper Government has been silenced forever, and that has significant implications for the trajectory of Harper's regime.

Philosophically, Flaherty and I wouldn't see eye to eye on much of anything.

However, that said, Flaherty may have been one of the few voices in Cabinet that Harper actually listened to.  While the budget legislation that the government has tabled repeatedly has grossly abused the notion of a budget implementation bill, Flaherty's budget speeches have told a story somewhat different than I would expect from someone of Harper's ideological stripe, and recent musings of disagreement over "income splitting" tax credits suggest that Flaherty may have had a somewhat different view on the matter than Harper.

In general, I have suspected for quite some time that on economic matters at least, Flaherty has been a moderating influence on a government with little to keep its worst instincts in check.  This government has now lost that moderator entirely.

Flaherty's replacement, Joe Oliver, seems to have been Harper's axeman in his war on environmental science - which suggests strongly that he is more of a puppet to Harper's predatory desires rather than a minister who advocates for his department(s) at the cabinet table.

At the moment, looking around the cabinet table, I see few who would dare challenge Harper even if they disagreed with him.  Jason Kenney certainly isn't likely to openly challenge Harper - he's spent far too much time and energy quietly building his position as future kingmaker when Harper steps down, and frankly if Harper is a vindictive authoritarian, Kenney is cut from the same cloth, with an added stripe of religious fundamentalism for good measure.  Nor do I expect much different from the other members of Harper's Cabinet.  A few are there "for show", and are seldom allowed to speak openly; and the rest repeat talking point scripts issued by the PMO on the rare occasions they are allowed near a microphone.  Not exactly a government front bench that seems likely to challenge Harper's most destructive instincts.

I don't expect the current budget bill to be pulled and amended, but I do expect that sometime in the future, perhaps around September, new legislation will be introduced which implements policies that Flaherty might have resisted more vigorously than others in cabinet.  The new legislation will be in response to a conveniently placed "economic update" which will show that the nation's finances aren't as "good as they thought", no doubt.  What will be in it is hard to say, but I imagine it will be destructive - with a "candy coating" wrapped around it to make it seem more palatable going into the expected 2015 election cycle.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Con$ Only Want Cons To Vote

Bill C-23 is an appalling piece of legislation.  It is filled with more underhanded deceitfulness than any piece of legislation should ever contain.  If there ever was any doubt about the motivations of the Harper Government in tabling this piece of poison, I think Senator Linda Frum's comments on Twitter yesterday did that in:

Wait a second, the argument basically becomes "a fair election is one where the motivated voters win".  That is, of course, far from the truth.  In our democracy, it is a plurality of votes cast that wins. In the hyper-partisan world of The Harper Government, it is instinctive for the Con$ to argue that getting out the vote is necessarily a "partisan" activity.  If you aren't a Con$ supporter, they would really much rather that you stayed home.

Elections Canada encouraging _all_ voters to get out and vote works against the Con$ - they know full well that historically, the majority of Canadians will vote against them if they actually vote.  So, they claim that it is a "conflict of interest".  Elections Canada however, rightly recognizes that there is a threshold voter turnout below which the legitimacy of an election's outcome becomes questionable in the collective minds of Canadians.  I'm not sure what that line is, but I would imagine that if only 20% of the eligible voters turned out, that the 80% who did not vote might rightly argue that the government elected has no legitimate mandate to govern.  

A free and fair election is one not only where a government is elected, but that it is seen to be legitimately elected by a plurality of the eligible voters casting their ballots.

We all know that parties spend huge money on their GOTV efforts on voting day.  We also know that the Con$ in particular go out of their way to get out _their_ vote and if they can discourage non-supporters from voting (e.g. Robocall Scandal), they will do that too.

In an election, parties have a natural desire to ensure that their supporters vote.  However, party supporter lists do not include all voters, and _all_ voters have the right to vote and should be encouraged to do so.  

The fact that the Harper Government thieves are arguing that a non-partisan GOTV effort is a "conflict of interest" tells us that in their mind that their interests are purely to discourage those who are not partisan supporters from participating in our democracy.  This is NOT democratic.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Bill C-23: Accountability for Thee Not For Me

It's not exactly news that Harper has never liked Elections Canada.  In fact, it's less than news.  His outraged utterances about Elections Canada when he was head of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) in the 1990s set the tone for the content of Bill C-23.
“The jackasses at Elections Canada are out of control.” 
In 2001, Stephen Harper was president of the National Citizens Coalition. That was his opening line in a fundraising letter. 
His loathing for the election overseers was almost pathological, recalls Gerry Nicholls, the conservative commentator who worked with Mr. Harper at the NCC. It was a “blood feud,” he says, one that appears to be “never ending.”
One would have to be blind not to see the blatant and partisan attack on Elections Canada that Bill C-23 so clearly embodies.  It is designed to render it all but impossible for Elections Canada to investigate electoral fraud - in particular of the kind that has been perpetrated by the Harper Conservatives; it constrains the ability of Elections Canada to communicate with the people of Canada at all; it makes the appointment of polling station overseers the domain of incumbent MPs.

There is no coherent response to these criticisms from the Harper Government.  In fact, when so many knowledgeable and experienced people have criticized this bill for the obvious problems in it, it comes as no big surprise that the Conservatives have turned to attacking the message bearers:
“His recommendations really boil down to three broad requirements for him,” Poilievre told the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee as it launched a “pre-study” of the bill before the House of Commons considers amendments or passes it. 
“He wants more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.”
Considering the damage that this bill does to holding our politicians and their parties accountable for their antics during an election, it seems more and more clear that the party who promised Canadians greater accountability and transparency in government is in fact delivering quite the opposite.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Time To Get Your Eye Back On The Ball, Tom

Apparently NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair hasn't figured out what the ball is in Canadian politics today.
He also took shots at both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Trudeau.Trudeau, in particular, bore the brunt of Mulcair's attack.
The Liberals under Trudeau have been trying to court middle-class voters in the run-up to the next election, scheduled for Oct 19, 2015.
Let me be abundantly clear, Tom:  The problem in this country today is sitting two sword-lengths away from you in the House of Commons.  It is not the third party in the house, it is not the leader of that party, nor anybody else in the house - it is Harper and his government.

If the NDP is truly "The Government in Waiting", as the official opposition is often characterized, it needs to be focused on the malfeasance of the governing party.  There is no shortage of material to work with.  The "Fair Elections Act" (one of the most ironically named pieces of legislation ever tabled in the House of Commons) comes to mind, as do the government's abuse of omnibus bills, time allocation, and a litany of other topics that could be used to make political hay.

The only person that profits when Mulcair attacks the Liberals is Stephen Harper.  If he can show the NDP as unfocused, and just for fun gains a little bit from Mulcair's random attacks on the Liberals, he wins.  

Every time Mulcair takes a shot at Harper, he seems to think he has to take a shot at Trudeau.  I have no idea who is telling him this is effective rhetoric.  It isn't.  It dilutes his message, it takes the focus off the malfeasance of the governing party and actually makes Mulcair look like a dog who can't figure out what to bark at.

Mulcair has done an excellent job in the House of Commons grilling Harper over the Senate Expenses Scandal, so we know he's capable of excellent rhetoric and focused attacks on the government.  

The ball that he needs to focus on is NOT Justin Trudeau and the Liberals ... it is Stephen Harper and his band of criminals who are madly trying to steal Canada's democracy from Canadians.  Want to make political hay, Mr. Mulcair?  Keep your eye on the ball - in this case Harper and his government.  

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Bill C-32: Is This Even Necessary?

As I start to review the content of Bill C-32, the so-called "Victim's Bill of Rights" legislation, I find myself wondering if this piece of legislation is even meaningful.  

The first thing that made me wonder about this was the following:  
11. Sections 380.3 and 380.4 of the Act are repealed.
I went on a fishing expedition and dug up the to be repealed sections of the Criminal Code, and what do I find but the following:

  • 380.3 (1) When an offender is convicted, or is discharged under section 730, of an offence referred to in subsection 380(1), the court that sentences or discharges the offender, in addition to any other measure imposed on the offender, shall consider making a restitution order under section 738 or 739.Marginal note:
    Inquiry by court(2) As soon as practicable after a finding of guilt and in any event before imposing the sentence, the court shall inquire of the prosecutor if reasonable steps have been taken to provide the victims with an opportunity to indicate whether they are seeking restitution for their losses, the amount of which must be readily ascertainable.Marginal note:
    Adjournment(3) On application of the prosecutor or on its own motion, the court may adjourn the proceedings to permit the victims to indicate whether they are seeking restitution or to establish their losses, if the court is satisfied that the adjournment would not interfere with the proper administration of justice.Marginal note:
    Form for victims(4) Victims may indicate whether they are seeking restitution by completing Form 34.1 in Part XXVIII or a form approved for that purpose by the Lieutenant Governor in Council of the province where the court has jurisdiction or by using any other method approved by the court, and, if they are seeking restitution, shall establish their losses, the amount of which must be readily ascertainable, in the same manner.Marginal note:
    Reasons(5) If a victim seeks restitution and the court decides not to make a restitution order, it shall give reasons for its decision and shall cause those reasons to be stated in the record. 
    380.4 (1) For greater certainty, for the purpose of determining the sentence to be imposed on an offender, or whether the offender should be discharged under section 730, in respect of an offence referred to in subsection 380(1), the court may consider a statement made by a person on a community’s behalf describing the harm done to, or losses suffered by, the community arising from the commission of the offence.Marginal note:
    Procedure(2) The statement must(a) be prepared in writing and filed with the court;(b) identify the community on whose behalf the statement is made; and(c) explain how the statement reflects the community’s views.Marginal note:Copy of statement 
    (3) The clerk of the court shall provide a copy of the statement, as soon as practicable after a finding of guilt, to the offender or counsel for the offender, and to the prosecutor.
Wait a second ... isn't restitution one of the "big things" in bill C-32?

Why, yes, it is:
16. Every victim has the right to have the court consider making a restitution order against the offender.17. Every victim in whose favour a restitution order is made has the right, if they are not paid, to have the order entered as a civil court judgment that is enforceable against the offend- er.
The change the ReformaTories are making here is to remove the very specific and focused clauses already present in the Criminal Code and generalizing it.  This is a very foolish thing to do.  What is "restitution", but a form of economic punishment.  For economic crimes, that isn't necessarily unreasonable.  For other forms of crime, how do they propose that a judge make an assessment?  In cases of bodily injury, is the government going to come up with a table of values of some kind?  A broken finger is so much, a broken leg is more money and so on?

To this point, the notion of restitution has been focused quite clearly in specific areas of law where the concept of restitution is relatively clear.  In making this change, the Harper Government has turned it into something which is effectively an arbitrary additional punishment to be levied on top of whatever other punishment the court metes out.

Then there is this little gem, which rewords the sentencing guidelines in the Criminal Code:

718. The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to protect society and to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:(a) to denounce unlawful conduct and the harm done to victims or to the community that is caused byunlawful conduct;
(2) Paragraph 718(f) of the Act is replaced by the following:(f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims or to the community.
This is changed from the following:
718. The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;(b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary;(d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders;(e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and(f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.
  • R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 718;
  •  R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 155;
  •  1995, c. 22, s. 6.
  • This is a completely unnecessary change to the sentencing guidelines part of the Criminal Code.  What it fundamentally attempts to do is write into the laws of this country a philosophy that the Harper Government has been trying to ram down Canadians' throats for years - the idea that criminal justice is about punish, Punish, PUNISH.  We already know, from the example of the United States, that when you make the punishments all the more harsh, that you will simply create a situation where you have more and more people in prison, and those caught in that system have nothing to lose.

    Then, as if to drive home my point for me, the Harper Government inserts the following into the sentencing guidelines:
    739.1 The offender’s financial means or ability to pay does not prevent the court from making an order under section 738 or 739.
    This underscores the fundamental unreasonableness of this legislation in my view.  A restitution order is utterly meaningless if the offender has no means to meet it.  All that this will do is create another obstacle to meaningfully rehabilitating and reintegrating an offender into the broader fabric of society once their term of incarceration is completed.

    On top of it all, several provinces have already implemented significant "Victims Rights" legislation already.  It seems gratuitous for the Federal government to add this sloppy bill to the mix.  So, do we need this legislation at all?