Picture this: it's about midnight, and two black men are walking up the street in their neighbourhood after enjoying a meal out.
Up ahead in the distance, four young white men, guitars on their backs and shoulders, are walking on the street. The two black men notice a Toronto Police Services car coming south towards them. The car passes the young white men, but as it approaches the two black men, it slows down deliberately. The two officers look at the black men, making sure the men see their stare, as they continue to drive slowly down the street.
The old adage holds that law is like sausages, you don’t want to see them being made. The problem is, in making our federal criminal and correctional law, seeing how things are put together is of decisive importance.
The Department of Justice has responsibility for ensuring federal compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Bill of Rights, and for developing policies and legal reforms in key areas such as criminal justice. Unfortunately, it does this work behind closed doors, so the general public doesn’t get to see what is going on.
Left and right-wing politicians have traditionally clashed over economic, social and environmental policy.
Now Ed Broadbent is adding democracy to the list of issues that differentiate so-called progressives from conservatives — at least in Canada.
The former NDP leader says the Harper government's proposed overhaul of national election laws has turned what used to be a shared value among all federal parties into another ideological battlefield.
"Whereas 10 years ago progressives had little or no need to defend our basic democratic values and institutions, today it is essential," Broadbent says in a speech prepared for the inaugural summit of the progressive think-tank founded in his name.
"The mis-named Fair Elections Act is nothing more than U.S. Republican-style voter suppression."
The speech is to be delivered Saturday morning to welcome participants at the Broadbent Institute's sold-out "progress summit."
Text of the speech was made available to The Canadian Press on Friday.
During his 24 years in Parliament, Broadbent says no prime minister ever attempted to rig election laws and undermine voter participation in the way he accused the Harper government of currently trying to do.
"Before Stephen Harper, changes in electoral institutions — the rules of the game — were always made on the basis of an all-party consensus ... He has acted unilaterally and undemocratically."
Broadbent, who worked in developing countries around the world as head of a non-partisan democratic and human rights advocacy group created by Parliament in the 1990s, says Canada used to be seen "as a model democracy."
"Now, as the prime minister promotes democracy in Ukraine, we have 19 serious scholars from half a dozen countries publicly denouncing him for repressing democracy at home."
Experts on democracy and elections, both at home and abroad, have been scathing in their criticism of the proposed overhaul of election laws. They fear it will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, muzzle the chief electoral officer and give a big advantage to the political party with the most money and biggest database — which happens to be Harper's Conservative party.
It would boost, both directly and indirectly, the amount of money parties can spend during campaigns. It would end the practice of vouching for voters without adequate identification. And it would forbid the elections watchdog from communicating with the public about anything other than mechanics of how, where and when to vote.
Thus far, the government has been undeterred by any of the criticism.
In addition to their fight to defend and strengthen Elections Canada, Broadbent says progressives are characterized by their belief that "prosperity needs to be broadly shared," that the gap between the very rich and everyone else must be closed.
They are also characterized by their belief that economic growth must go hand in hand with environmental sustainability.
"Progressives, indeed most Canadians, understand that environmental and economic priorities need to be reconciled and made mutually reinforcing," Broadbent says.
"And at some basic level the federal government has rejected this ever since Mr. Harper came to power eight years ago."
The perception that a Conservative party agenda is written into the so-called ‘Fair Elections Act’ has the national media and pundits talking. And for good reason. In light of recent Conservative run-ins with Elections Canada and the RCMP, the skepticism towards the changes to the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and the Commissioner of Elections Canada are understandable
While the media focus on these elements of the Act is warranted, there are other aspects of the bill that are equally troubling because of their potential effects on local campaigns in Electoral Districts (EDs) across the country.
Posted by NationBuilder Support · March 07, 2014 7:42 AM
For many months the Conservative government has blatantly taken away by fiat the right to strike of union members within federal jurisdiction. They are now threatening to shut down environmental charities that are talking about climate change. And they are ramming through Parliament changes to the elections act that will almost certainly mean that many thousands of Canadians will not be able to vote.
Taken together these actions restrict freedom of association, limit freedom of speech and curtail a citizen’s right to vote. In short, there is a steady chipping away at the underpinnings of democracy.
Inspired by the voter suppression tactics used by the Republicans to disenfranchise marginalized groups in the U.S., the new election law would make it harder for certain groups to vote. The law would end the ability to “vouch” for the bona fides of a neighbour, a tool that allowed 120,000 voters — disproportionately aboriginal, youth and seniors — to cast ballots in the last election.
Conservatives claim that vouching allows for widespread fraud, a charge that experts deny.
The move is part of a broader sweep of changes that also serves to suppress the vote. For example, the new law will remove the ability of electors to use voter identification cards. Elections Canada had only in the last few years piloted the use of the cards to make it easier to cast a ballot at polling sites serving seniors’ residences, long-term care facilities, aboriginal reserves and on-campus student residences. The conclusion of this pilot project was that the “initiative made the voter identification process run more smoothly and reduced the need to ask the responsible authorities for letters of attestation of residence.”
In other words, voter identification cards had been successful in enfranchising these groups. Conservative MP Brad Butt, a member of the committee dealing with this measure, has been compelled to retract a completely fabricated story he had told in the House about this so-called fraud. Despite his apparent breach of parliamentary privilege, the Conservatives rejected an opposition bid to have a House committee look into Butt’s false claims that he saw voter identification cards stolen from recycling boxes to commit fraud.
Just as anti-democratic are changes that amount to a massive clawback to Elections Canada’s outreach mandate. This would severely restrict the agency’s public education and information programs, essentially prohibiting Elections Canada from encouraging people to vote. Gone would be its ability to support programs in our schools, like Student Vote’s mock elections, or the outreach work in aboriginal communities. To believe it’s accidental that these groups normally prefer the opposition parties is to believe in the tooth fairy.
The government’s bill also denies Elections Canada the kinds of powers it needs to investigate serious electoral wrongdoing, such as the robocalls fraud perpetrated by Conservatives in 2011 — the most important new powers requested by Elections Canada.
It is fitting, then, that the new law is being rammed through Parliament. Once more, Harper is using closure — a way to end debate early — to prevent people asking, for example, why school programs that teach kids how to vote are so bad. Why let MPs actually debate democracy when it’s not valuable enough to educate children about? The government has also voted down an opposition motion to have public hearings on a bill that will make such fundamental changes in our electoral system.
But such is the new normal in Ottawa, where sweeping bills that change dozens of laws are rammed through without debate. The government is also vowing to silence environmental charities because they engage in “political” activity. In Canada and other democracies such activist charities are widely seen as core institutions in a democratic civil society.
Canadian charities helped stop acid rain and smoking in restaurants. Their advocacy helped bring about mandatory seatbelts and led to tough drunk driving laws. Charities participating in public debate are helping the whole world understand how environmental degradation is threatening the planet.
While shutting down environmental charities would make it harder for Canadian voices to join others to tell the world what’s happening to the planet, it is also the case that the U.S. and Europe see the Canadian government’s indifference to the environment as a negative in reaching major decisions on trade in oil.
Having spent more than two decades in the House of Commons, I can think of no prime minister who has been so focused on undermining electoral participation and public debate.
We have a tradition of Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals respecting everyone’s right to have a say. Past governments have avoided turning democratic process into a tool for one party’s advantage. Changes in electoral processes were always based on all-party consensus.
That Harper derides such all-party consensus is, sadly, no surprise. That his robotic backbench will unquestioningly obey is not news either. Except now, the victims of his disregard for debate aren’t only the people we elect. It’s those doing the electing as well.
Column space in Canadian newspapers remains dominated by middle-aged white males – even while our communities become increasingly more diverse.
Dylan Robertson, a freelance journalist, recently published a piece on J-Source citing a survey that showed new evidence of distorted age and gender representation among Canada’s newspapers columnists.
Seventy three percent of the 339 news and general-interest commentators at 76 English-language daily newspapers looked at in the survey were male at an average age of 58. Women weighed in as the clear minority, numbering only 27% for both national and regional columnists.
The statistics are disappointing, but they should not be surprising.
Posted by Patti Tamara Lenard and Emma Kenyon · November 01, 2013 4:48 AM
The Speech from the Throne has come and gone. Buried in the hoopla surrounding the demise of cable television bundling were some terrifically misleading claims about “progress” towards meeting Canada’s immigration priorities.
The government claimed victory in nearly halving its application backlog for permanent residency, and for eliminating entirely the backlog for economic migrants. Absent from mention in the speech was the mechanism by which the latter backlog was eliminated— a mechanism so egregious that the matter is before the Canadian courts for the second time.
As it turns out, the means by which the government has accomplished this feat may be unconstitutional.
Canadian development economist Kari Polanyi Levitt has a reputation in Canada and abroad as an advocate for economic policies rooted in social justice and distributional equity. Levitt has worked tirelessly to build development studies as a multi-disciplinary field of scholarly endeavour, in which development economics plays an essential role but must be complemented by essential contributions from other social scientists and historians. Now in her ninety-first year, the Professor Emerita of Economics at McGill University has published a new book entitled From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization: On Karl Polanyi and Other Essays
It’s an odd title for a Throne Speech that was absent any kind of momentous vision for this country.
“Seizing” the moment would mean tackling the challenges that today’s Canada faces: stagnant or falling wages for middle- and lower-income Canadians; crises in Aboriginal education, food, housing, and missing and murdered women; high youth unemployment; eroding citizen trust in democracy; and environmental degradation, to name but a few.