A group of (160) professors explains why the government’s proposed changes to our election laws are a threat to Canada’s democratic traditions
Imagine what would happen if the Crown suppressed thousands of pages of police evidence from an important trial? It wouldn’t take a legal expert to tell you there would be an immediate mistrial — especially if the Crown also prepared a false evidence sheet that mislead the judges. And yet, this was done to the survivors of St. Anne’s Residential School. Despite a damning ruling against this abuse of process in Ontario Superior Court, nothing has been done to remediate this situation.
Justice Minister Peter Mackay claims to be the champion for victim’s rights has been silent. But then it was his department and officials who created the false evidence trail that resulted in covering up the abuse at St. Anne’s Residential School.
I must say I admire my colleague Maxime Bernier’s chutzpah in his recent article in the National Post.
Putting aside my admiration, however, I would remind Minister Bernier that throwing stones in glass houses is not usually the best idea.
The last 10 years of the Liberal Chretien-Martin government delivered 10 surplus budgets in a row. The Conservative Harper-Flaherty combination has delivered eight deficits in a row. The Liberal government paid down debt. The Conservatives have raised it. Minister Bernier is a member of that government.
The Harper government has been one of the most profligate spenders in Canadian history, ramping up spending by 30% since 2006, adding upwards of $160-billion to the national debt, and beggaring Canadians by an additional $5,000 each.
Correctional Service Canada (CSC) announced Wednesday that it is cutting its very modest annual funding ($650,000) for CoSA – Circles of Support and Accountability. CoSA is a group of mostly volunteers, 700 across Canada, that takes responsibility for released sex offenders. This is a puzzling decision, as a 2007 study found that participation by sex offenders in CoSA, an option about 10% of them take advantage of, resulted in an 83% reduction in reoffending as compared to those offenders who were not in the program.
On February 6, Conservative MP Brad Butt was only doing his job — parroting the party line in the House of Commons like a well-rehearsed witness at a Stalin-era show trial. All in a day’s work for that lost tribe of un-elevated Tories. They’re the ones even further back in the Commons seating plan than the bobble-head brigade.
Butt’s subject was the Fair Elections Act, a piece of legislation designed to suppress voting, legalize more money for the Conservatives and get even with Elections Canada for depleting the Harper government’s front bench over elections law infractions. The government also has an online description of Bill C-23 for those who prefer fiction.
“All Brad had to do was stand up and like a sulking adolescent say, ‘I did not mean to mislead the House.’ Ironically, he said this in the House, another lie in the House,” Mercer said in his rant Tuesday night.
Dear Minister Alexander,
I have a confession: Two weeks ago, I treated a refugee claimant. At the time I did not feel I had done anything wrong — in fact I felt good about the care I provided. After hearing your recent interviews, however, I can’t help but feel physically ill about the catastrophe I have created.
I had no idea that providing even basic health care to refugee claimants “is irresponsible as it makes Canada… a magnet for bogus asylum seekers” as you explained.
Yes, you read that right. This nation’s parliamentary press corps actually had to hold a vote to affirm the right to ask questions of the politicians they cover at staged PR events. That should tell you a lot about the depth of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s loathing for the fourth estate.
This is an old, depressing story. Despite having been in office for a good many years now, Harper and his cabinet acolytes remain convinced that enemies lurk everywhere in Ottawa — in the press especially, although they also view the civil service with deep suspicion.
FIRST NATIONS WOMEN SWEPT UNDER THE HARPER RUG
OTTAWA—The federal Conservatives rejected appeals for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women Friday, drawing the ire of aboriginal groups and opposition critics.
A parliamentary report tabled Friday afternoon made 16 recommendations intended to address the violence faced by aboriginal women in Canada, but did not suggest the government set up an independent public inquiry — something that aboriginal groups and others have long called for.
“We continue to be, I find, treated as second-class citizens. You know, an aboriginal woman could be disposed of and that’s it, that’s all,” Claudette Dumont-Smith, executive director of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said Friday.
“There’s no new action, just a continuation of what’s in place . . . . So what’s that going to change, really?”
But Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who proposed the parliamentary investigation into the epidemic of deaths of aboriginal women, hoped that this time, the government would rise above partisanship. The homicide rate for aboriginal women was shockingly high. There was clear evidence the RCMP and local police turned a blind eye when First Nations, Inuit and Métis women went missing. The anguish of their families was heart-rending.
Her motion won unanimous consent. The testimony of the witnesses — police, statisticians, family service workers, child protection workers and the sisters, parents and friends of the victims — was compelling. The committee clerk and the parliamentary researchers worked diligently.
The government-led rewrite was a crushing disappointment.
There is currently no Indian Act provision for special education for First Nation children on-reserve, services available to all children attending provincial schools. Specialists are often unavailable or very expensive for First Nation communities, but routinely provided by school boards to provincial schools.
The federal government is currently facing a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to respond to claims that it funds on-reserve child welfare agencies an average 22 per cent less than provincial Children’s Aid Societies.
UNFAIR ELECTIONS ACT: MORE AND MORE SICKENING
No wonder the Tories were so nervous. The government had been noticeably skittish about what Marc Mayrand would say before the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee Thursday: not only had it kept the chief electoral officer largely out of the loop in the months before it introduced its landmark Fair Elections Act, but there was doubt whether he would even be allowed to testify about it afterwards. A promise to that effect had been made to the NDP’s David Christopherson the night before to persuade him to end his filibuster of the act in committee. Yet on the day Mayrand’s testimony was interrupted by the calling of not one but two votes in the Commons just as he was scheduled to speak.
“We are going to keep quoting Mr. Neufeld’s report because it contains the facts that obviously support our position that people should have ID when they show up to vote,” the minister for democratic reform told the House of Commons on Friday.
He accused opposition MPs of ignoring the “hard facts” contained in last year’s report by Neufeld, a former chief electoral officer for British Columbia who was commissioned by Elections Canada to review the problem of non-compliance with the rules for casting ballots in the 2011 election.
However, Neufeld suggested it’s Poilievre who’s ignoring the facts.
“My biggest concern is that at the end of the day, Canadians will be denied the right to vote”
The head of Elections Canada delivered a harsh and detailed critique of the Conservatives’ new elections act at a parliamentary committee on Thursday, but the Tories swiftly signalled that they are unlikely to make many of the changes he proposed.
Minutes after Marc Mayrand finished his testimony, Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform, rose in the House of Commons and repeatedly contradicted his testimony.
Mayrand began by telling MPs that although the act introduces some positive changes it “also includes measures that, in my opinion, undermine the bill’s stated purpose and will not serve Canadians well.”
PARLIAMENT HILL—The government has disclosed the type of Elections Canada advertising campaign the Conservatives want to prohibit under controversial legislation to radically amend federal election law—a 25-second video that contrasts urban pollution and emissions to an evergreen forest as it urges youth to “vote, shape your world.”
The 2008 Elections Canada ad 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.’
HARPER LETS LYING “BUTTS” LIE
After a rancorous daylong debate, Conservative MPs resoundingly rejected an opposition bid to have a House committee look into their MP’s claim — now retracted — that he saw voter information cards stolen to be misused to commit fraud.
Earlier in the day, the government invoked closure, a measure that’s rarely used, to force a time limit on debate about whether the procedure and House affairs committee should study whether Conservative MP Brad Butt breached MPs’ parliamentary privilege.
An unprecedented court injunction has barred the Department of Fisheries and Oceans from opening a commercial fishery off Vancouver Island after a judge concluded DFO was “fudging the numbers” and that the federal minister declared it open against her own bureaucrats’ advice.
VETERANS: HARPER LIKES THEM BETTER DEAD THAN ALIVE
(Gotta love this guy! “If they put it down at Green Cove,” he says, laughing, “all you’re going to see is her arse.” )
A massive monument to honour war dead, featuring a 10-storey-high statue called “Mother Canada,” is igniting a fierce battle among Cape Bretoners living near and along the ruggedly beautiful Cabot Trail on the island’s east coast.
From the village of Baddeck to the fishing community of Ingonish, passions are running high as residents debate a plan by a Toronto businessman and Parks Canada to build the “Never Forgotten National Memorial” at Green Cove, one of the most picturesque sites in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
The memorial, featuring the statue and parking for about 300 vehicles, is the brainchild of Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani. It has the backing of the Harper Tories, who have made a mission of embracing patriotic symbols, especially military ones.
“The thing is with this war memorial – it’s starting a war,” says Aaron Schneider, a retired engineer who has lived on his old highlands farm near Ingonish since 1980. “It’s being very divisive of a community, creating a lot of rancour and anger.”
OTTAWA – The Royal Canadian Legion is set to call on the Harper government to take better care of wounded veterans and their families.
Representatives from the legion are scheduled to appear today before a parliamentary committee.
One of their requests is for more frequent reviews of the New Veterans Charter, marquee legislation championed by the Harper government since it was enacted in 2006.
The legion wants to see mandatory reviews of the charter every two years. The government took five years to overhaul the charter after veterans criticized it as being less generous than the previous system of compensating veterans under the Pension Act.
GRAIN TAKES THE SLOW TRAIN
Why won’t the Conservatives in Ottawa do anything to help Prairie farmers get their grain on trains and — wait for it — stave off a national Cheerios shortage? Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says that “the railways have arbitrarily decided that they’re not going to run cars that direction… They are a service industry that does not care much about service.” But businesses should be left alone to run their own affairs, says Ritz. That’s why he’s “loath to regulate” the rail companies.
While the Harper government wants to look like it’s doing something to get grain moving, what it’s really doing is making the railways do what they’ve already promised to do and slap them on the wrist if they don’t.
Moreover, Ritz’s promise of legislation is simply an admission of the government’s failure to adequately regulate the grain transportation system after ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s role in getting wheat and barley to export markets in 2012.
THE EPITOME(S) OF HARPOCRISY
In 2004, Conservative justice critic Vic Toews criticized then Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler for appointing his former chief of staff, Yves de Montigny, to the federal court.
Toews acknowledged that de Montigny was qualified, reporter Janice Tibbetts wrote, but said it looked bad all the same.
“It’s just one more illustration of how who you know gets you on the bench,” Toews said.
The Toews appointment — less than a year from cabinet table to the bench — seems to set a new standard for blatant patronage, which shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has watched Harper appoint senators.
OTTAWA — Conservative MPs have rejected a call to have Canada’s auditor general take a good look at their expenses — or those of the prime minister and his cabinet.
“NO!” was the word emanating from the Tory benches when MPs were asked by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on Tuesday to give their unanimous consent to allow Michael Ferguson and his team to review their books.
The dismissal came entirely from Conservative MPs, May said.
OTTAWA – The union representing lawyers working for Canada’s parliamentary watchdogs say a Conservative MP’s bill to compel employees in those agencies to disclose their past political activities will politicize the public service and risks “witch hunts” for partisan bureaucrats.
Lisa Blais, president of the Association of Justice Counsel, said the union has nearly 40 members working for the agents of Parliament who are targeted by Conservative MP Mark Adler’s private member’s bill. The bill would force employees to make a public declaration of their political activities going back a decade. If passed, the legislation would extend to current employees to disclose their political pasts.
OTTAWA – “Our call volume is high and we are unable to transfer your call” – that’s the message a growing number of Canadians are getting from the government when they ring phone centres looking for help with Employment Insurance.
Thirty per cent of callers to Service Canada’s EI help centres received that message last year, according to government numbers filed with the House of Commons in January.
That’s compared to just eight per cent of calls sidelined by high-volume messages back in 2006, even though the number of calls hasn’t changed.
OTTAWA – The Canadian Labour Congress is asking Statistics Canada to change the way it reports on unemployment, saying a more fulsome analysis of the data it collects would paint a very different picture of the country’s labour market.
The labour group is presenting its findings to the Commons finance committee later Thursday, with officials of the national statistical agency also present and giving testimony.
The CLC is making its position known a day before the agency issues its latest labour market findings on Friday, which many economists say will show about 15,000 jobs were created in February, with the unemployment rate hovering at about seven per cent.
And that’s the problem, says the CLC.
Canada’s department of foreign affairs admits it no longer has any in-house expertise on multilateral chemicals conventions to which Canada is a signatory.
SPYING BY ANY OTHER NAME IS STILL SPYING
Telecom companies would be granted immunity for handing over information on their customers without a warrant under a law meant to target cyberbullying, civil liberties groups say.
OpenMedia is leading a coalition of organizations that are lining up against Bill C-13, which the Harper government tabled last fall in response to a series of high-profile cyberbullying cases.
Digital law experts and civil liberties groups say the law goes far beyond targeting online bullying, and essentially revives many of the elements of a controversial earlier online spying bill.
TAX DOLLARS WASTING AWAY
OTTAWA — The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal program, meant to recognize Canadians for their contributions to the country, cost taxpayers $8.1 million —more than half a million over budget, newly-released documents obtained by Global News show.
“Although well-meaning by the governor general, I think it’s a bit much,” said Peter Emon, mayor of Greater Madawaska, Ont., in line to receive two jubilee medals just for being an elected official.
Emon returned his, saying it held little meaning since so many were handed out. He didn’t feel the need to be counted among pop star Justin Bieber, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Conservative party organizer Jenni Byrne.
OTTAWA — The Prime Minister’s Office and the federal Conservative party appear to be blurring the lines between official government business and partisan work in their online activities, as they look to identify new supporters the party can tap for financial contributions.
TOUGH ON CRIME AND CRIME PREVENTION
The program has been supported by the federal government since 1994 when it began in Ontario. A community of concerned Canadians responded to the release of Charlie Taylor, a notorious child-sex offender. Taylor was surrounded by a group of volunteers committed to supporting him while holding him accountable for his actions. Taylor died 12 years after his release with no more victims, Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) said in a news release.
The program has become a model copied in the U.S., United Kingdom and several other European Union countries.
TOUGH LUCK FOR CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION
Staffing levels at the climate change division are expected to see a sharper drop to 338 FTEs in 2016-17 from 699. The projections are based on Environment Canada’s estimates for how much it will pay out in salaries, divided by the average salary at the department.
“Knowing what the situation is with greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, one would think they got the numbers backwards. And that we would be ramping up rather than ramping down,” said Halifax MP Megan Leslie, the opposition New Democrats’ environment critic, on Tuesday.
“That is a shocking decrease, it really is.”
Those employees, mostly Department of Justice lawyers and senior bureaucrats at the Privy Council Office, could face as much as 14 years in prison for disclosing “special operational information” without authorization.
But while the government maintains the secrecy is necessary to maintain Canada’s most “operationally sensitive” information, critics say it’s designed to discourage whistleblowing and hamper the public debate now swirling around modern state espionage.