Saturday, March 29, 2014

Stealing Democracy Part XII: More Revelations On Quebec, and Bill C-23

As more incidents of voter suppression in Quebec come to the surface, the picture starts to become a little more clear.  Yesterday, we learned about a Green Party candidate who has been denied registration as a voter.

The issue comes down to the interpretation of "domiciled":
The debate over who can and can’t vote in Quebec stems from different interpretations of the domicile rule, which requires all electors to have been domiciled in Quebec for six months. 
Stéphane Beaulac, a professor in the faculty of law at the Université de Montréal, explains the domicile rule is based on intention. 
“The difference between residing somewhere and being domicile somewhere is that to be domicile, you need to be a resident, but have the intention of making it the centre of your life, of where you live.” 
Beaulac said that a person can have more than one residence, but only one domicile. He said it’s up to Quebec revision officers to make that distinction.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Democracy, As Rob Anders Would Write It

Yesterday, he threatened to sue Ron Liepert over claims that Liepert's campaign made that Anders' campaign was making misleading phone calls to constituents.
Liepert responded with a statement that says Elections Canada is investigating the incident. 
"We've filed complaints based on specific instances of calls from the Anders' campaign phone number claiming to be the Liepert campaign," he said in an email.
Today, he comes trotting out to claim that the dreaded "Red Tories" are trying to hijack his "True Blue Conservative Party", complete with a bunch of "Wanted, Dead Or Alive" style leaflets naming the people that Anders thinks are "temporary Tories".
At a news conference on Thursday Anders revealed the first three names on his list — former federal Liberal candidate and nursing professor Janice Kinch, radio personality Buzz Bishop and Greg Schmidt, former president of the Energy Council of Canada.  
Anders characterized his battle with Liepert as a struggle for the soul of the Conservative Party. He said the political process is being hijacked by people who are purchasing Conservative memberships just so that they can cast a vote in support of his challenger.
Considering that the CPC has moved heaven and earth to protect Anders in past nomination skirmishes, I imagine he's feeling more than a little heat since the Party is somewhat cornered on the matter this time around, having committed to "open" nomination contests for all MPs who haven't faced a nomination race since 2011.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stealing Democracy Part XI: Quebec As A Model For C-23

What kind of fuckery is this?

I had heard the Quebec had made some changes to the requirements for registering as a voter.  I had no idea that it was the inspiration for C-23's voter id requirements which I have analyzed in depth already.
She, again asked me what documentation I had, and I again began to list it out when she told me that my documentation did not seem to be adequate. I pulled out the voter's manual that had been mailed to me by the organization for which she worked and pointed out that it said I merely needed two identity papers to register, and that I had the birth certificate and drivers license which were given as examples. 
She pointed to the Can You Vote section where the conditions for voting were listed. She said that I did not meet the third condition, "domiciled in Quebec for at least the past six months" and that my documents did nothing to prove that. I insisted that I had gone online to find out the additional documentation I'd need and had come prepared with bank statements and letters from businesses and elected representatives. She rejected that such information had been put out by her organization.
I cannot believe how arbitrary this sounds.  Basically the woman at the voter registration office is arbitrarily deciding that perfectly legitimate documentation is somehow inadequate.

This is nothing less than deliberately throwing obstacles in the way of someone participating in our electoral system.  It is as much a violation of the basic tenets of democracy in this nation as the voter id and giving control over the voting stations to partisan employees is in Bill C-23.

Electoral reform needs to make easier for more people to engage in our electoral process, not shut more people out.  Marois' electoral reforms in Quebec do not do that, and neither will Bill C-23.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Politics Of Othering

I don't like Pauline Marois.  I never have.  Frankly, she reminds me of a teacher I had in grade 6 who ruled the classroom through fear and intimidation ... and she keeps on using political tactics that reek of the same stupidity.

Today's entry into the race for the bottom that is the Quebec Election comes from Marois in the form of "voter fraud" claims.

The PQ called a news conference Sunday morning to express concern about media reports of English-speakers and other non-francophones from outside the province trying to vote in the April 7 election. 
PQ candidate Bertrand St-Arnaud wants the province's chief electoral officer to closely examine attempts to register to vote. 
"We don't want this election stolen by people from Ontario and the rest of Canada," St-Arnaud said.
Really?  ... and just who might this sudden influx of anglophone voters be?

The comments come after the head of an electoral office for a downtown Montreal riding, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, resigned on Friday over concerns about the registration process. 
Mathieu Vandal told Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper there had been an increase in the number of non-francophones trying to register and he wasn't confident voters were being properly screened.There have been numerous reports recently of English-speaking university students trying to register to vote in the election. 
Some students have complained they were turned away even though they believed they had the necessary documentation. 
Oh ... students.  Well yes, there's so many of them in Quebec that if all of them voted, they might be able to sway a seat or two.

Of course, this is actually the PQ playing two wedges at once.  The first wedge being to riff on Poilievre's claims of "widespread voter fraud" (which we know are BS), along with playing a blatantly racist card - namely whipping up fear of "anglophone voters" trying to steal the election among rural, french speaking Quebecois voters.  (The so-called "pure laine Quebecois" who have been the backbone of separatist movements in Quebec for years)

Quebec has a population in the 8,000,000 range (give or take a bit), with a fairly large number of post-secondary educational institutions - somewhere around 70 colleges, and 17 universities.  Even if all of them are the size of the University of Calgary - some 20,000 students, that's still a relative handful of voters - even if they were all anglophones from outside Quebec in the first place.

Of course, Marois has been playing divisive politics since she rolled out the bogus "Charter of Quebec Values" legislation, and it's only going to get worse as her polling numbers slide.  Like Harper (whose playbook she seems to be liberally borrowing from), she can't seem to see anything other than hostile solutions to the problems she faces.  

It's unfortunate, but not entirely shocking.    In some ways, Harper and Marois are political allies.  

Harper doesn't care what happens in Quebec - it just creates opposition seats as far as he is concerned, so if Quebec chose to separate it's to his political advantage.  Marois, of course, doesn't want to see anything working in Quebec's favour federally so that she can claim that "Federalism Doesn't Work" (which really makes the SCoC decision WRT Marc Nadon a double whammy - it shoots both Harper and Marois' positions full of holes).

Frankly, I don't believe that the majority of Quebec wants to even consider a referendum on separation at this time.  Marois got elected the same way Harper did - it wasn't a vote _for_ the PQ, it was a vote against the incumbent government that had been in power too long.  Now that the referendum discussion is back on the table, she's back-pedalling fast trying to change the channel.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Further Analysis On Marc Nadon's Appointment

Marc Nadon is, for now at least, out of the picture as far as Canada's Supreme Court is concerned.

Frankly, I know very little about Justice Nadon's beliefs and history as a judge.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if he happened to lean towards Mr. Harper's "hang-em-high" approach to justice - generally speaking Harper is far more prone to basing his appointment decisions on ideology and politics than other Prime Ministers in our history.

However, the Supreme Court's ruling on Nadon's appointment is not about Mr. Nadon or Mr. Harper's views on justice.

The Supreme Court's ruling is very interesting as it went after many of the same issues that I suspect strongly affect Harper's desires to unilaterally amend the Senate.  In effect, in appointing Mr. Nadon, Harper was ignoring a set of rules that had been clearly established for over a century.
The government does not have the authority to amend the Act, wrote six of seven judges, saying "the unanimous consent of Parliament and all provincial legislatures is required for amendments to the Constitution relating to the 'composition of the Supreme Court.'"
Frankly, it comes to me as no great surprise that Mr. Harper and his gang are once again attempting to modify the structure of government without regard for the laws of Canada and the Constitution of this nation.  First, Harper is not a lawyer.  He never has been, nor has he shown any particular interest in coming to understand the finer points of law.

Second, and more concerning, is that Harper is an ideologue.  His government has repeatedly pushed through laws only to have them struck down by the Supreme Court time and again - often on Constitutional grounds.  He doesn't guide his ministers to legislate effectively and within the framework of Canada's legal systems, but rather is attempting to forge an entirely new system by writing tons of laws and hoping that they stick.

Fundamentally, he's using the same tactics that we see the far right in the United States using - throw tons of obviously ridiculous legislation into the system, and hope that enough manages to survive to fundamentally change the underlying structures beyond recognition.

At this point, I'm beginning to suspect that the first step in undoing the appalling damage that this government is doing to Canada and its legal systems is going to have to be an omnibus bill that rescinds 95% of the legislation pushed through since 2006.  Most of it is unconstitutional, and of the remainder, much of it is just plain cruel and punitive.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Harper Loses 2 Gambits In 2 Days

Harper has lost two gambits to undermine Canada's legal system in two days.

Then, this morning, the Supreme Court swatted down Harper's appointment of Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court.  Even after attempting to change the rules to make Nadon "eligible" by amending the Supreme Court appointment rules in one of their infamous "Omnibus Bills".

These two occasions tell us a lot.  In nearly a decade in power, Harper and his band of goons still do not understand the framework of laws in this country.  One could argue that they do not care, and be at least partially correct.  Harper's disdain for the law and due process are well known.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

No, Transition Does Not Absolve You Of Your Past

I'm sure that the far right is going to use this story in the war currently being conducted on transgender rights in both Canada and the United States.  

In fact, LifeSite has already picked up on the story:

According to the ABC News story, Donna Perry is trying to claim that she cannot be held accountable for murders that she committed prior to undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
When detectives interviewed Perry and asked why the murders had stopped, she replied, "Douglas didn't stop, Donna stopped it," according to the affidavit. 
The accused's reported defense that it was not Donna Perry but Douglas Perry who killed the women is headline-grabbing, but not necessarily a true reflection of how transgender people view their nonconforming identity, according to mental health experts.
I have enormous problems with this as any kind of defence in a court, and I would hope that her lawyers would advise against it as well.  Simply put, although it is hardly uncommon for transsexuals to talk about their pre-transition lives in a somewhat dissociated manner, transition does not produce a "whole new person".  More realistically, one is the sum of their experiences before and after transition.  Transition is an opportunity for enormous personal growth, but it hardly absolves one of what happened before transition.

"For some people, it's a metaphor: 'I was a different person before I came out,'" said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who sat on the work group on sexual and gender identity disorders contained in the DSM-5 -- the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 
"It's a certain way that they use the metaphor when transitioning for those who were very unhappy before and now are happy," he said. "But it's different when a person makes a claim that somehow they have no linkage to the person they used to be –- that would be more of a disturbed presentation." 
Having what is now called gender dysphoria in the DSM-5, does not necessarily mean that a person has impaired judgement, which is often a legal defense, according to Drescher. 
"It's wrong to generalize from this person's life – it's not typical of the transgender experience," said Drescher, who does not know Perry and is not connected to the case. 
Dr. Drescher makes some very clear points, and his second statement is in fact what I thought when I first read the article.  If Ms. Perry in fact thinks of "Doug" as a distinct entity quite separate from herself today, there could well be a much more serious psychological issue over and above Gender Dysphoria.

Regardless, I would very surprised if any court would accept core of the argument that is being made by Ms. Perry.  At its core, it implies that because she underwent gender transition that she cannot be held accountable for criminal acts which occurred before transition.

My concern is twofold.

First, I do not believe that Gender Dysphoria should be seen as sufficiently debilitating to result in a "not criminally responsible" finding.  It is a serious condition, to be sure, but I would find it extremely difficult to swallow the notion that someone who is transsexual is not capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong in making their day to day decisions.

Second, such a finding would effectively undo any equality rights gains that have been made in the last thirty years.  While I have no doubt that the writers at LifeSite News would be positively ecstatic with such an outcome, the consequences for the real lives of a lot of people would be devastating.

Most likely, I expect Ms. Perry will find that she is found guilty of murder, and locked away for the remainder of her life for actions done long before she transitioned.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Stealing Democracy Part X: How Far Does The Rot Go?

There is no doubt any more that Bill C-23 is deliberately designed to enable the CPC (or other political parties) to engage in the kind of electoral fraud that the CPC has attempted, and been caught out at repeatedly in the past.  Worse, it goes so far as to politicize the staffing of voting stations.  None of this can end well.

Consider the following list of malfeasance on the part of the CPC since 2006:

  1. The "In and Out" Fundraising Scheme (Money Laundering Fraud) 2006
  2. Dean del Mastro is facing charges relating to campaign spending in 2008
  3. Peter Penashue forced to resign over campaign spending issues in 2011
  4. Robocalls in 2011 (direct voter suppression)
  5. Appointment of Mike Duffy to the Senate
  6. Appointment of Pamela Wallin to the Senate
  7. Appointment of Patrick Brazeau to the Senate
  8. Bruce Carson - appointed to be an advisor to Stephen Harper in the PMO - facing criminal fraud charges.
  9. Bill C-23 an act designed to undermine our elections system.
  10. Bill C-24 which is designed to politicize immigration to an even greater degree, and can be used in conjunction with C-23 for voter suppression.
  11. Massive government spending on propaganda campaigns at taxpayer expense.  (Economic Action Plan ads, Canada Job Grant ads, etc)
There's no doubt quite a bit more that has escaped my notice.  

In today's news, we have another addition to the list - Hubert Pichet, policy advisor to Conservative Senators, has been charged with fraud as a result of the RCMP investigation into the Senate.  

We have to ask ourselves how pervasive is the rot in Harper's government?  At the highest levels, appointees to very senior positions are being charged with fraud and other criminal activities.  This is a government that is unique in Canada's history.  Not only is it clearly corrupt, but it is passing laws designed to entrench its particular brand of corruption into our politics for the foreseeable future.

On The Crimea Referendum

Okay, Crimea has had its referendum, and apparently over 95% of those who voted, chose to align with Russia.

I don't know the full context of the politics in Crimea.  I do understand that Kruschev signed control over Crimea over to Ukraine back in the 1950s, so I'm sure that there is quite likely some sense of tension in Crimea with respect to being part of Ukraine.  There are also a number of ethnic minorities on the peninsula who no doubt have their own unique concerns.  Whether Crimea is "legitimately" part of Ukraine, or merely as a matter of Soviet-era political expediency is no doubt a matter of some discussion.

As a Canadian, I've lived through two referendums on Quebec independence from this country.  All of those have been quite lengthy debates - practically speaking, on the order of years really - over the merits of Quebec separating from Canada.

A referendum on such a matter held in a mere two weeks seems to me one in which there has not been an adequate discussion of the issues.  How can you reasonably discuss that kind of change over two weeks?  It isn't a trivial discussion - there are pros and cons to be weighed on both sides.  I just cannot imagine that it has been openly discussed fully in the time allotted.

A second concern with the Crimea referendum is the fact of undertaking such a referendum when the region has been under the direct military control of the Russian Army, I find it very difficult to believe that this is an open vote.  Military occupation, of any sort, inherently distorts the local political landscape.

Third, there are questions around the ballot question itself.  In Canada, the separatists have long played some very strange games with semantics.  The ballot options themselves seem to be somewhat loaded, and that is also questionable.
The referendum offered voters the choice of seeking annexation by Russia or remaining in Ukraine with greater autonomy. After 50 percent of the ballots were counted, more than 95 percent of voters had approved splitting off and joining Russia, according to Mikhail Malishev, head of the referendum committee.
This strikes me as something of a "loaded question" - it essentially appears to be a matter of "Join Russia or Separate From Ukraine".  That seems deeply problematic to me as well.  Again, this speaks to a problematic execution of the referendum.

I won't go so far as to declare the referendum invalid, but I am profoundly concerned that the referendum itself is likely more political theatre than it is a valid piece of statecraft. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014


In the department of "no big surprise here", we have The Taliban mocking the departure of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban's information arm issued a statement Thursday to followers in Kandahar congratulating its fighters in the rural districts of Panjwaii, Zharey, Dand, Maiwand and Shah Wali Kot claiming that Canada has been defeated and has now fled the country. 
"Your sacrifices have brought us freedom. The beacons of your blood have lit the way to independence. Celebrate the victory and freedom from the Canadians," said the statement, written in Pashtu, but translated for The Canadian Press. 
It said that the Canadians followed Holland, Denmark, Australian, Poland, and Spain in "retreat and failure." Those nations have also begun withdrawing their forces from the International Security Assistance Force mission run by NATO.
If you are feeling surprised by this, you probably shouldn't be.  The brutal reality is that when Canada and other NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in 2002, they really just pushed the Taliban and its allies underground.

There is no reason to believe that they went away, or were in any way dismantled by the NATO occupation.  These groups seldom are easily dismantled.  When confronted with a large, organized force like NATO, they simply vanish into the woodwork and bide their time until the overwhelming forces decide to leave.  (A pattern which echoes through Afghanistan's history - invasion, occupation and eventual departure)

The current government will continue to stand for a while yet, but I do not expect Karzai to hold on to power for very long once the Taliban decide to push him out.

While the Taliban may be a reprehensible government, the process of getting rid of them is not one that can be completed in a decade.  It is one that ultimately requires at least three generations to undertake, and possibly longer.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bill C-23 - Stealing Democracy Part IX: The Shackles On Elections Canada Advertising

Ever since Bill C-23 was tabled, I have been baffled by the fact that the bill so viciously curtails the ability of Elections Canada to advertise and communicate with voters in S18:

18(1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only: 
(a) how to become a candidate;
(b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting 35  the elector on the list;
(c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations for voting;
(d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification that they may use to that end; and
(e) the measures for assisting electors with a 5  disability to access a polling station or advance polling station or to mark a ballot.(2) The Chief Electoral Officer shall ensure that any information provided under subsection (1) is is accessible to electors with disabilities.
(3)  The Chief Electoral Officer shall not provide information under this section by the use of calls as defined in section 348.01, that are unsolicited.
The obvious intent is to hamstring Elections Canada, especially in terms of tackling broad based issues like trying to get the voter turnout improved on election day.  But why?  What on earth is bad about encouraging people to vote?

Well, we know that in part, the Conservatives have no love for anyone who doesn't vote their way - as evidenced by the Robocalls scandal, where a bunch of calls were made to divert voters who weren't likely to vote Conservative away from the correct polling stations.  So voter suppression is part of the discussion.  But it doesn't fully explain things for me.

In today's Hill Times, we get a little more insight into what the government's motives are:

The 2008 video that did not run begins with a sketched portrayal of a ballot being cast, then a moving sketch portrayal of a lively rock concert crowd and electronic music, as the images change to include a recycle symbol, with a backdrop of freeways, industry chimney emitters, and then a quiet forest. The brief clip ends with the printed words 'Vote. Shape your world.' 
The ad and two other Elections Canada videos uploaded to YouTube in October 2008, also were cancelled and not aired, said John Enright, communications director at Elections Canada. 
“This advertising campaign was developed for the 2008 federal general election,” Mr. Enright said in an email. “However, the campaign was cancelled by Mr. Mayrand when he became Chief Electoral Officer. The ads were never aired by  Elections Canada.”
This tells us a lot - it basically boils down to the fact that Elections Canada started to create an advertising campaign to encourage younger voters to participate, and did so by playing on issues that the Conservatives don't like - the environment and climate change at the top of the list.

In short, the CPC doesn't like the fact that the Elections Canada ad would have encouraged voters who are more likely to vote against the party dogma.

Just as the Conservative government has been strangling Environment Canada gradually since 2006, and science in general in this country, they will be mightily offended by any department of the government who doesn't toe the party line on a particular subject - regardless of the evidence.

Like the rest of the very dubious provisions in this legislation, it comes down to the Conservatives working very hard to dismantle the very apparatus that ensures that elections in Canada are in fact free, open and fair.  It makes voting against the CPC not merely a vote against them, but rather makes it an act of subversion.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Craaaaack ...

I wanted to like Allison Redford, I really did.  But an ongoing series of missteps, clumsy decisions such as major cuts to education and overt hostility to this province's workers in the form of Bills 45 and 46 have thoroughly alienated this voter.

Yesterday, as Redford was at long least agreeing to pay back the $45,000 that she spent on flying to and from Nelson Mandela's funeral, veteran MLA Len Webber chose to cross the floor and sit as an independent.

This isn't a big deal in itself - but it does tell us that not all is well in caucus:
“I will sit as an independent. Because the things that the premier has been doing the last little while — actually for quite for some time — has really affected me in a negative way. I cannot continue ... with her as the leader of the party,” said Webber, the MLA for Calgary-Foothills since 2004 and cabinet minister in the Stelmach government.
This is a pretty clear indication that Redford's support in caucus is increasingly shaky, and likely to face a serious challenge in the coming months.  When Stelmach stepped down, I wondered just where his supporters went.  While Stelmach may have been a disaster as a Premier, he did have the support of his caucus.  I didn't think that Redford's support was a clear base so much as a coalition of the elements of the party focused on getting re-elected.

Ms. Redford has alienated the coalition of voters that swept her to power.  The PC's didn't get elected on having a great policy platform - they got elected by a whole lot of people who were horrified by the far right elements of the WildRose party, and Danielle Smith's naive libertarian response to a series of "bozo eruptions" by WRP candidates.

Labour, youth and centre-left voters shifted to back the PC's to keep the WRP out of office.  Cutbacks to education, ongoing bungling of the healthcare portfolio and actively hostile legislation in Bills 45 and 46 have alienated that voter support.  The PC party is experiencing this quite directly as their fundraising has slowed to a crawl.

I think Redford will find her ability to keep her caucus in line will be profoundly compromised in the coming months.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

An Act Of Aggression Is Still Wrong

I'm angry beyond words at this:  Transgender Woman's Jail Treatment Prompts Complaints
Baxter said Griffith was concerned about her safety and asked to be put into protective custody. 
Guards moved her to the protective custody section and placed her in a cell with two accused male sex offenders, Baxter said.
We've heard this kind of BS before, and not long ago.

Let me be abundantly clear on this:

Placing a transgender woman in a male prison facility is just plain wrong.  It puts the prisoner in a situation of unprecedented danger.  Placing such a prisoner in the same cell as two sex offenders is incomprehensibly stupid.

However, let's put the outrage over these two incidents to one side for a minute and reflect on the situations and what they tell us about our prison system.

First, I recognize that prisons are necessarily going to be fairly conservative in how they run.  There is a lot of ugly issues that emerge when incarcerating people, and a lot of those behind bars aren't going to be very happy about it.  So, fair enough, guards have a tough lot.

That said, they are still intelligent agents in their actions.  Under what circumstances does placing someone who is known to be transgender in a male prison cell make sense?  (especially in the case of Avery Edison, who was so obviously female in her presentation)  Under what circumstances does it make sense to put that person in the same cell as a pair of male sexual offenders?

It doesn't.  It cannot.  Unless one looks at it as an act of cruelty on the part of the guards.

The only way this makes sense is if the guards believe that their role is to mete out arbitrary punishment over and above what incarceration already is.

Where would they get this idea?  In part from the ongoing flood of US entertainment nonsense that streams across our borders, no doubt.  But also because the policy environment that they live in enables them to ape the kind of behaviours that are commonly shown in television programs.

I suspect strongly that the guards in the Katlynn Griffith case were doing it because they were in a position of power, and they decided it would be "fun" to see what happens.  In an era where our governments are becoming progressively more aggressive and punitive, the message to the prison apparatus is clear:  be nasty - we won't stop you.

When the police have been granted extraordinary powers of search and seizure at the roadside, and the laws are being overhauled to impose ever harsher penalties, it isn't hard to see how the mentality that is being pushed by our federal government is being reflected in the actions of the civil servants tasked with enacting the resulting laws and policies.

The fact that we still have policies in place that say we must incarcerate people based on what is dangling between their legs (or not), says a great deal about a government which has become all about not just punishing offenders, but extending that punishment in as many directions as possible.

Incarceration is the government removing an offender's (or accused's) liberty.  It does not, to my knowledge, suspend the right to Security of the Person.  Guards who place someone in a situation that is inherently dangerous are violating that fundamental right, and are failing to do their job - which is to keep prisoners from escaping on one side, but to keep the prisons relatively safe at the same time.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Attacking Democracy: Adler's Bill C-520

Just as Bills C-23 and C-24 interact with each other in some very concerning ways, Mark Adler's bill C-520 can be seen as part of the Harper Party's active undermining of Canada's democracy.
6. (1) Every agent of Parliament who intends to occupy a politically partisan position while holding his or her position as an agent of Parliament must make a written declaration of their intention to do so as soon as possible and before starting in the politically partisan position. The declaration must indicate the nature of the position, as well as the period of time during which the agent intends to occupy it.
So, someone who is leaving a position as an "agent of parliament" has to declare what they are moving on to?  This is ridiculous indeed.  More disturbing is the broad, and ill-defined term "politically partisan position".

“politically partisan position” means any of the following positions:(a) electoral candidate;(b) electoral district association officer;(c) member of a ministerial staff;(d) member of a parliamentary staff; or(e) member of a political staff.
Wait a second ... that basically means that anyone who chooses to participate in Canada's political system is effectively being constrained from becoming an "agent of parliament" (which is basically anybody on the staff of the parliamentary oversight bodies such as the Auditor General).

What this declaration would do is essentially enable MPs to dismiss as "partisan" the work of anybody who leaves a job as an agent of parliament to work in a "partisan" role.
7. (1) Every applicant for a position in the office of an agent of Parliament must, as soon as possible in the selection process, provide the relevant agent of Parliament with a written declaration stating whether or not, at any time in the 10 years before applying for the position, they occupied a politically partisan position. The declaration must indicate the nature of any such position, as well as the period of time during which the person occupied it. 
This is more than a little bit extreme, and given that the hiring of "Agents of Parliament" is inherently somewhat political in nature, you can bank that this information will be used to determine who is going to be be receiving these appointments - not based on their capabilities and qualifications, but on their political stripe.
9. On written request to the office of an agent of Parliament by any member of the Senate or House of Commons that alleges that a person who occupies a position in that office has conducted their duties and responsibilities in a partisan manner, the agent of Parliament may examine the matter and take such steps as they consider necessary.
In itself, one might find it somewhat ironic that the most extremely partisan government in Canada's history is suddenly worried about the agents of parliament becoming "partisan".  Of course, the Harper Party has long held a persecution complex, claiming that the courts, bureaucracy and everybody else is "biased against them".  There is no doubt that the Harper Party has been more willing to accuse others of being "partisan" than any governing party before them, and views anyone who dares challenge their assumptions as being "partisan".  

The reality is that we have a government that is so self-absorbed in the "rightness" of its mission that they perceive themselves as under siege at every turn.

This bill is ultimately about accomplishing several goals at once:

1.  To make someone's political history part of the hiring decision process for a position in any of the parliamentary oversight bodies.  In short, the governing party suddenly has a sledgehammer it can use  to suppress the hiring of otherwise qualified candidates into senior positions in the parliamentary apparatus.

2.  It acts as a suppression tool to inhibit people who worked on campaigns or for MPs who didn't win the last election from applying for these positions.

3.  It gives the governing party the ability the ability to be dismissive of reports from these various entities that are "inconvenient" by accusing them of being partisan.

4.  It will make some people more cautious about being involved in election campaigns or riding level politics if they belong to parties other than the dominant political party of the day, thereby subtly hamstringing the efforts of those parties to compete for votes.

Think about this in light of the various aspects of Bill C-23 that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog, and suddenly Bill C-520 looks like it is another part of a larger tapestry of legislative initiatives that the Harper Party is pushing forward to undermine our electoral system and parliamentary accountability.  

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Bill C-23: Stealing Democracy Part VIII: Brad Butt Lies To Parliament

One of the centrepieces of Bill C-23 are a series of measures intended to put a stop to voter fraud.

Central to all of this is the testimony of one MP - Brad Butt who rose in the House of Commons to state the following:

  Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that there are 30-plus documents that individuals can bring with them when they want to vote that will verify that they are, indeed, the persons they are. 
    Earlier this afternoon I asked the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversificationa question. I think my friend from York South—Weston will appreciate this because, just like the riding I represent, there are a lot of apartment buildings in his riding. I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop. [emphasis added]
Remember, the House of Commons is part of the legislative branch of our government.  On that basis alone, the words spoken in that chamber are assumed to be truthful at all times.  Just as lying before the Supreme Court carries such fell consequences, those who lie to our parliament are subject to being found in contempt of parliament and punished appropriately by that body.

Perhaps particularly galling about this situation is the fact that Mr. Butt rose and lied to the House of Commons in defence of the changes that Bill C-23 makes to voter identification requirements on voting day.

Then, a few days later, Mr. Butt rises again in the House to tell us that he was "inaccurate" in his earlier statements:

"I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate, and I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas of apartment buildings," he said. 
"I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that." [emphasis added]
It seems to me that Mr. Butt has deliberately mislead the House of Commons to defend an appalling piece of legislation with an appalling lie about the extent of alleged voter fraud at the ballot box.

Now we find Prime Minister Harper opening his mouth on the topic, and apparently he doesn't see anything wrong with lying ... as long as it is done by a Conservative MP who "apologizes" for it after the fact:
Harper responded, saying "the member in question" did the right thing by apologizing. 
"He, at his own initiative, brought this to light in the House of Commons and corrected the record, and he is to be commended for doing so," he said.
Given that Mr. Butt so blatantly lied to the House of Commons on this matter at the outset, I am considerably less willing to give Mr. Butt a pass.  Lying to the House of Commons is lying to Canadians - all of us.  His apology is a start, but it does not address the fundamental point - he lied during time limited debate on a bill that is at the centre of the Harper government's legislative agenda.

Mr. Harper's defence of his MP makes me suspect even more that Mr. Butt's lie - and subsequent retraction - may well have been staged.

As for Bill C-23,  I agree with Elections Canada head Marc Mayrand - this bill is profoundly flawed.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Thoughts on the Ukraine Situation

There has been an enormous amount of speculation around the Ukraine situation on social media today.

First, let me be abundantly clear:  I do not support the Russian actions towards Ukraine in recent days.  Russia would be far wiser to allow the Ukraine to have an open election or referendum focused on the issues that started the riots in Kiev (or Kyiv - I've seen both spellings and I'm not sure which is more correct).

My personal speculation is that Putin is working to do two major things.  First, he wants to reignite the old cold war hostilities.  He knows full well that the western powers are unable or unwilling to intervene directly in a conflict with Russia, and the fact that he has very successfully embarrassed the US on both Syria and Iran in the recent past has bolstered his ego.

Second, I suspect that Putin is trying to rebuild what we often referred to as the "Iron Curtain" from the Soviet era.  This has been quite apparent in the way that he has gone after conflicts in several former Soviet republics in recent years.  As much as possible, he will try to make these "bloodless" takeovers.  He wants nominally friendly "puppets" in place for now.  That's all he needs.

Putin knows full well that the spectre of the cold war era has not been forgotten in the west.  If he can push things back to their old cold war footings, it allows him to play on a field that he knows very well.  The cold war situation serves Putins immediate and long term interests quite nicely.  It gives an enemy that he can "demonize" in much the same way that the Bush II presidency went after "terrorism" - the enemy is so abstract that you can accuse it of anything and nobody will call you out for it.  That allows Putin to "shadow box" with this enemy and look as if he is being a hero, which plays fairly well in Russia itself.

Rebuilding the "Iron Curtain" is another hero moment for Putin.  He can claim that he is taking Russia back to its grand status as the anchor of an empire, returning it to its former glory.

Is he likely to try invading across the north pole into Canada or Alaska?  I seriously doubt it.  The logistics of doing so are enormously complex, and there would be little to be gained compared to the costs of such an invasion and occupation.  The threat will be present, but for the same reasons that the old Soviet Union regularly flew heavy bombers over the pole.  It's easier for Putin to gain control over the old satellite states of the Soviet Union, and there is more political gain to be had for doing so.

In terms of the Ukraine itself, I expect Putin will end up splitting it, keeping the eastern third of the country which borders Russia itself, and allowing the remainder to align with the EU for now.  The one thing that will stay Putin's hand in this matter will be the political cost of trying to put down the uprising that has already begun in western Ukraine.  He can make an argument for taking control of the eastern portion of the country that would be at least moderately palatable to his allies on the world stage, and what he is taking over isn't something that the western powers would be terribly interested in trying to do anything about. 

Municipal Voters: Partisan Intervention is Coming Your Way

Did you mistakenly think that the Manning Centre's attempt to bend the 2013 Calgary municipal election to more "conservative" was an aberration?  You would be quite wrong.

The author of the Metro News article is considerably more charitable than I am about the matter - but then again, he was in Ottawa, not Calgary and didn't necessarily see the full breadth of the effort on the part of the angry right wing to twist the election.
When right-wingers from across the country huddled in Ottawa last weekend for the Manning Networking Conference, they understandably had their eye on the next federal election, but they also examined city politics and their perceived weakness there. 
One talk on the conference agenda was entitled, “How conservatives can succeed in the last bastion of the left – City Hall.” 
The title — and the talk — began from the assumption that the bicycle-riding, fancy-coffee-sipping socialist hoards by and large have a lock on city councils. ...
That's far from true, but what does happen at the civic level is that council decisions have a more direct impact on people's day to day lives than does a decision about interest rates in Ottawa, or Harper's rather naive and bellicose approach to foreign affairs.

Consequently, people tend to vote for councillors that actually do a good job of representing their local interests.  Whether that's ensuring that garbage gets picked up, or the snow is removed from the roads - political stripe doesn't usually matter to most people.

On the other side of the coin, apparently the far right thinks that they are imperilled somehow.
One might argue that as tax and spending cuts became orthodox at the other two levels of government, municipalities have had to step into the resulting gaps. And Ottawa had a right-leaning mayor not so long ago who vowed to hold the zero-means-zero line on tax increases — until reality caught up with him. 
Pantazopoulos allowed that conservative ideology as it’s articulated at the federal level may not filter down perfectly to Main Street: “What does smaller government really mean at the municipal level? Does it mean fewer roads get paved? Does it mean less snow gets cleared?” 
In city politics, he said, it’s more helpful to talk about supporting “market-oriented” candidates. That’s what the Manning Centre tried to do in Calgary’s elections last year with their Common Sense Calgary campaign.
"Market Oriented candidates"?  If you're as surprised by that mealy sounding term as I was when I first saw it, I can't blame you.  Once again, the far right is trying to sugar coat a turd.   In this case, the turd being a candidate who is on the political right wing, but madly running about trying to mask how far right wing they are, or what interest groups think they can control them.

The "Common Sense Calgary" thing was, fortunately, more or less a failure.  But it didn't fail because they weren't trying to get their message out - they spent hugely on advertising.  It failed because someone saw Cal Wenzel talking about trying to buy control over city council in the upcoming election via the Manning Centre and leaked it to the media.  People were expecting a bunch of Astroturfing to take place, and when it arrived, it mostly fell flat.
‘The idea was to really try and talk about some of the issues from a conservative perspective. And if you think that would be very harmless and that people would have no objection to that, you’re wrong,” said session moderator Monte Solberg, a former Conservative MP. “Mayor (Naheed) Nenshi was really quite outraged about all of this because it drew great scrutiny to his record.”
Well, actually the attempts to "scrutinize" Nenshi's record were not only blatantly partisan, they were full of lies to boot, and the Manning Centre's report on "council voting patterns" turned out to be a bunch of poorly analyzed statistics which really did not show what the far right claimed they did.

I don't think the Manning Centre/Developers did themselves any favours by having Jon Lord play the "angry old white guy" candidate for Mayor either.  He simply ended up looking stupid, especially when competing against incumbent Naheed Nenshi whose tireless work during the June flooding crisis had likely already won him the election entirely.  The real fight was to ensure that the developers didn't get their way with controlling the individual members of council.
But the Manningites also have some ideas about how citizens can use information technology to keep better tabs on city council. Researcher Jeromy Farkas crunched numbers from Calgary city council, from councillors’ attendance to the number of questions they ask staff to how often they vote with or against the majority. 
Some of the data’s meaning is open to interpretation. A councillor who asks a lot of questions may be keeping a skeptical eye on the bureaucracy, or just fond of the sound of his own voice. But the point is voters get more data to interpret. The Manning Centre intends to offer this analysis for other cities, including Ottawa, and that’s pretty cool.
 The problem is that these kinds of statistics aren't overly meaningful, especially the way that the Manning Centre went about the analysis.  It was clear enough that they were trying to interpret things to draw a particular picture.  As the old saying goes:  "There are 3 kinds of lies in the world:  Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics".  Like the Fraser Institute's "ranking" of schools, you have to realize that there is a political agenda being played out, and groups like the Manning Centre are pushing their agenda.  Examine their statistics very carefully, and interpret them with a healthy dose of skepticism.

One last reminder about the creeping partisanship in Canada's municipal politics:  The Fords in Toronto are very well connected to the federal CPC.  It is no big secret, or surprise, that Rob Ford received significant help from the CPC campaign machinery when he was last elected.  Further it is no surprise that we keep seeing the Fords using the same rhetorical practices that Harper has used.

This isn't healthy, it is ultimately undermining Canada's democracy at all levels.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

C-23: The Theft Of Democracy Part VII

I've more or less gone as far with analyzing the text of C-23 myself at this point in time.  I'm sufficiently convinced that this legislation is nothing more than an overt move on the part of the Harper Conservatives to undermine Canada's democracy, and should be tossed in the garbage bin sooner than later.

However, it is also relevant to discuss the revised Section 44 of the legislation.

Harry Neufeld, who wrote a report on problems in the last federal election, is warning of the potential for more abuse at polling stations if one part of the government's proposed fair elections act goes ahead. 
Neufeld, B.C.'s former chief electoral officer and now an independent electoral management consultant, wrote the compliance review that identified polling problems in the 2011 election and made recommendations on how to fix them. 
He says Section 44 of the government’s new legislation would allow all central polling supervisors to be appointed by a riding's incumbent candidate or the candidate's party.
"It’s completely inappropriate in a democracy, " said Neufeld. 
Under current legislation, central poll supervisors are appointed by returning officers, who are hired by Elections Canada. The supervisors are put in place at polling stations to make sure voting unfolds smoothly.
I don't know about anybody else, but just like the objections I raised regard section 143(3.3), I see enormous problems with having the parties appointing _any_ electoral officials at the polling station level.  There is no need for this, and in fact it calls into question the very credibility of the voting system.  Political parties already have the right to appoint scrutineers to oversee the voting and vote counting processes.  That is as far as their involvement should go.  Anything more than that steps into the realm of electoral manipulation and fraud.

There are already enormous issues with C-23 that give the Harper Party far too much ability to manipulate the voting process as it is, having the right to appoint the staff who oversee the polling station just reeks of not just opportunism, but part of a larger strategy to engage in voter suppression.

Rex Murphy: We All Know You Are A Tory Hack ...

... now just shut up about it and let the grownups talk, please.

Talk about pathetic.  In a previous column, Murphy was emphatic about how he speaks to his own beliefs and none other.  While one might almost believe that, when Murphy's "own beliefs" sound suspiciously like talking points out of the PMO, Murphy's audience needs to get a little more suspicious.
Generally speaking, the idea of political parties blending forces, making deals with one another during elections, is not a sound one. Political parties have identities, and those identities emerge from their policies and history — and from their differences with other parties.
Hmmm...I've seen this before ... back in 2011 as I recall.  It was drivel back then, and it's drivel now.  Mr. Murphy needs to look around the world a bit more - you know to countries which have routinely had coalition governments for years.  One might, for example, point to Israel whose electoral system more or less ensures that there will never be a majority government.  I don't believe that any of the parties in the Israeli system have "lost their identity" as a result of participating in a coalition, although to be sure, the parties who get pulled into coalitions find themselves living out the old adage about "politics makes for strange bedfellows".
Such deals are, of course, the enduring dreams of parties without a hope. For example, Elizabeth May’s Green party has often nursed the hope of some “strategic” co-operation with the Liberals.  
Ah yes, let's drag out the absolutist language of winners and losers.  How very partisan of you Mr. Murphy.  Canadians are supposed to disregard the reality that we elect our representatives and send them to Ottawa to form a functional government - whether that is a majority, minority or coalition is really quite irrelevant.
We all remember the ructions from the last time a coalition was sprung on the public.  It was a mere six years ago, after the 2008 election.  A "coalition of losers" ... There was a horrified recoil from the idea, which offended mathematicians and Hansard devotees in equal numbers....Naturally the thinking part of the nation was outraged.  It had all the odour of an insider's deal and, as it turned out, Mr. Layton had gamed it before the elections and was later heard to brag about his tactical prescience.  Despite the backlash over the idea they pressed on.  The very power of the idea of foiling Stephen Harper was so string in those partisan hearts, they could not resist attempt to finesse an election they simply had not won. 
Wow.  Talk about repeating the talking points, Rex.  People who actually understand how our parliamentary democracy is supposed to work were not outraged at all.  In fact, the real outrage was that our graceless Prime Minister of the day had the audacity to claim that a coalition was somehow "undemocratic" - in spite of the fact that the opposition parties in fact represented a greater percentage of the Canadian electorate than did the governing Conservative Party.

The claim that a coalition is somehow "undemocratic" is absolute nonsense.  That's language the Harperites reserve for when they aren't at the head of the proposed coalition, as Harper demonstrated in 2004.

Mr. Murphy, if you truly believe the nonsense you are spouting, at least respect Canadians enough to not so obviously parrot the talking points that the PMO is handing out.  If you are just being a shill for the CPC, kindly do all of us the favour of announcing that you are going to run as Stephen Harper's lead fluffer in the next election - that way we'll all know exactly where you stand.


Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Future Of The CPC

Andrew Coyne made an excellent point in his column about the Manning Networking Conference that the Manning Centre is hosting in Ottawa:

So this is what a Conservative convention looks like.  After that bizarre lockdown in Calgary last fall - reporters harassed and penned in at every turn, the prime minister's defiantly empty speech, the air heavy with self-congratulation and paranoia - the annual Manning Networking conference exudes an altogether different spirit:  thoughtful, open, introspective and conservative.
The party that met in Calgary was not so much the Conservative party as the Harper party.  It was run by and for Harper loyalist - think Pierre Poilievre - people who are happy to do whatever the leader wants done, say whatever the leader wants said, even if that means abandoning every core conviction the party has ever held.  In its place is Harperism, less an ideology than a set of behaviours:  the nastiness, the ruthlessness, the almost universal gracelessness, of which the decision to exclude opposition parties from the mission to Ukraine was only the latest example.
If you are looking at this and wondering if I've lost my marbles - I usually don't agree with much of anything that Coyne says.  Philosophically speaking, he and I live in different worlds.  However, he is very correct in saying that the CPC has very much become "The Harper Party".  This has been emerging since 2006, and since 2011 it has become much more pronounced.
Who is not here?  No one from the Prime Minister's Office, it appears, nor any member of the party hierarchy, nor any member of cabinet, other than those invited to speak.  The speaker's list, by contrast, features Jason Kenney, the Employment Minister; Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan; Jim Prentice, the form Industry and Environment Minister; Michael Chong, the backbench MP and author of the Reform Act. 
It would be hard to categorize them as a group, except that they are all from outside the circle of Harperite hyper-partisans.  And they have not been shy about expressing their discontent with the party's direction, albeit in the coded indirect language that politicians employ when they do not want to be accused of disloyalty.
I've said for some time that Harper is a totalitarian, with healthy dashes of authoritarian and fascism thrown in good measure.
Mr. Prentice, for example, admonished Conservatives to "take back the environmental debate," saying "we cannot be in the business of providing our rivals with the opportunity to portray us as being out of touch" with environmental concerns. 
Sounds eminently reasonable, and in fact Mr. Prentice is one of the more reasonable members of the CPC.   That said while Mr. Coyne's article suggests a more reasonable wing of the party is meeting in Ottawa this weekend, there's a little more to it.

As PressProgress points out, the far right groups are very much in evidence too.  "", Campaign Life (the people behind LifeSite News), Focus on the Family and The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada are all represented at this get-together.  There is no secret that Jason Kenney is closely affiliated with the "pro-life" social conservative wing of things (and was no doubt a key player in connecting these groups with the Manning Centre and its organizing committee for this conference).

Do not be fooled, once Harper's iron-fisted grip on the party weakens, I fully expect the coalition of fiscal and social conservatives that he has welded together by sheer force of will to once again start openly pushing for their particular agendas much more vocally.

Just because Harper has not been willing to open the Abortion debate, or touch gay marriage since 2006, does not mean that others are satisfied with that stance.  The far right desperately wants to push a social agenda forward that is just as insane as the Tea Party wing of the GOP is currently trying to sneak in.  I fully expect the upcoming prostitution law from MacKay will turn out to be a piece of "red meat" to the social conservative base.  It won't criminalize prostitution per se, but by criminalizing the consumption of paid sex, it will reinstate exactly the same conditions that made things dangerous under the laws the Supreme Court just struck down.

The post-Harper CPC may not be as authoritarian as Harper has been, but I would not be optimistic about it returning to the much more moderate roots of the PC party under more adult parliamentarians such as Joe Clark either.

On Coded Language and Political Policy

In the last few years, coded language has become a significant factor in how political parties present themselves.  This is especially preva...