It’s democracy, stupid.

Years ago, Bill Clinton ran a campaign in the US on the slogan, ‘ it’s the economy, stupid.’ Stephen Harper wants to make this election about the economy, too, but it’s increasing clear that it isn’t. Because if democracy doesn’t work, nothing works. Ask the people in Libya who are dying, not because of economic hardship, but because they want the freedom to choose their leadership. Our forces are over there right now, defending their democratic rights, even while our Prime Minister denies them at home.

“Rise up,” Michael Ignatieff implored supporters at a rally in Sudbury yesterday. “Rise up.” 

There are people who have posted portions of his comments on Youtube out of context, claiming it was a Howard Dean moment. But when you listen to what he actually said,  you can see why he’s worried and why we should all be worried, too.

Because he’s right. For too long, Canadians have sat on our hands and said ‘so what?’

We did nothing when Linda Keen was fired  by the Conservatives as President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for trying to protect the safety of the Chalk River Nuclear site. We kind of shrugged when diplomat Richard Colvin testified that Afghan detainees were being tortured when they should have been under our protection, only to be called a liar and smeared by the Conservative government.

We said ‘so what?’ when  Peter Tinsley, the Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission inquiring into those issues, wasn’t reappointed, shutting down that work.  We didn’t seem to care when Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada, felt he had to resign because of lies the Conservatives told, claiming Sheikh supported the cancellation of the long-form census when he so clearly didn’t.

We didn’t do anything when Veterans Affairs Ombudsman Pat Stogran slammed an obstructive bureaucracy and a government that didn’t give a damn about our veterans. And we didn’t pay much attention when Sean Bruyea, another veteran who complained about that shoddy behaviour, saw his confidential medical records about the post-tramautic stress disorder he’d suffered in the services circulated to smear him too.

The polls barely moved when our Access to Information Commissioner resigned, saying the Conservative government had tarnished our international reputation for transparency. Or when the Harper government was found in contempt of Parliament for the same reason.

I think we started to take notice when Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s leaked reports into the G8/G20 also lambasted the Tories for their lack of transparency. And when we learned that her praise for the Liberal government’s management of security spending had been twisted and put forward to Canadians as if she had praised the Conservatives instead.

But it was when the Conservative government tried to stop students at the University of Guelph from exercising their vote, when the Prime Minister had the temerity to say that his concern, his reason for doing so, was that the ‘rules needed to be followed,’ that Canadians began to say ‘enough is enough.’

Parliament can’t make economic decisions if it’s denied good information. Independent public watchdogs can’t keep politicians accountable on money issues if they don’t get the information they need, either. That’s why Sheila Fraser’s draft report was so important. If you don’t get democracy right, you get pork-barrelling. You get money being funnelled into things like 100K gazebos and 300K toilets that aren’t needed because it’s a cabinet minister’s riding. If you don’t get democracy right, agencies that should be arms’ length get politicized, like the ones I’ve listed, where independent watchdogs were fired for doing their jobs.

I’ve been an election observer in the Ukraine where the police and military were arms of the government. I worked with the UNDP in Serbia, too. Believe me, once you put police representatives on judicial selection committees, it’s a small step to arresting 1,100 citizens engaged at the G20 without cause,  or to having the police frog-march students out of a Conservative campaign rally because one has an NDP bumper sticker on his car and another has photographs of the Liberal Leader on Facebook.

It’s not about the economy. It’s about democracy. We’re Canadians: we’ve fought to defend democracy on every front that we’ve ever been called to, every time we’ve been asked, from the first World War through to the ones we’re in right now. It’s time for us to ‘rise up,’ alright. Yes, it is. To defend our democratic rights here at home.

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8 Responses to It’s democracy, stupid.

  1. Amen. We hear a lot of talk about the Arab Spring, but how about a Canadian Spring? If people don’t wake up soon, we’ll have to take similar measures to get our democracy back.

    Personally, I think the Liberals made a mistake by framing the issue as “contempt for parliament” (even thought that is what it was). They should have focussed the voters’ attention on the fact that withholding information from the people’s representatives is, in fact, withholding it from the people themselves. By making it about parliament per se, they left themselves open to charges of egotism and bickering.

    I really hope they turn it around. There’s a lot at stake.

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      I don’t think the Canadian people really had time to figure out what ‘contempt for Parliament’ meant — as soon as the election was called, Harper had re-framed it as being about procedural bickering/the budget. But I agree with you — what’s at stake is how we define our country. I really believe that Harper blew it with the students at Guelph. My daughter says that there is an overwhelming anti-Harper sentiment now out there among students. Whether those votes land with the NDP or the Liberals, we won’t know until voting day, but I think it’s enough to make a difference. And there’s still two weeks left.

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  2. Brian Aguinaga says:

    I remember complaining during the 1997 election how so much was focused on the party leaders and not enough on local candidates and party platforms. I have to admit now that I was wrong back then because it has been very clear for the past five years that it is the party leader who decides how arrogant and anti-democratic a government will be.

    I haven’t decide yet where my vote will end up, but I have been reciting a mantra that goes “Anything but a majority.” since shortly after this election began. I have become more adamant in that belief with each new revelation.

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      Local results are rarely determined based on the local candidate, with rare exceptions (Guergis may prove to be one of them). With the kind of centralized power this leader has created, he really does set the core values. I feel like the Canadian people have been the proverbial frog in slowly heated water — for the most part we haven’t noticed. (I use the royal ‘we.’ I’ve noticed, and blogged, and posted about these excesses, but nothing seemed to resonate with the Canadian population.)

      I actually think that Quebec ‘gets ‘ it post-Duplessis, and that the reason Layton is so popular there is because he reminds them of Rene Levesque, who, because of his honesty and populism, was able to show up the abuse and get people out to vote, despite the brazen attempts at intimidation.

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      • Brian Aguinaga says:

        Excellent point. There are many things happening that smack of Duplessis-like tactics. Of course the government could be more openly draconian in those times, but the sentiment remains the same. The difference then was that people felt powerless to challenge the establishment where now they are simply apathetic towards it.

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        • Peggy Blair says:

          There’s certainly a great deal of apathy among the general population but (as with Duplessis), in Ottawa, at least, there are fears of reprisals. I think this government has been abusive: so far the only barrier that I’ve seen to it doing whatever the hell it wants to has been the courts. But it takes a long time to get in front of a judge these days, and it’s expensive. The Supreme Court of Canada found Duplessis’s conduct towards Roncarelli abusive (he had the Liquor Control Board cancel Roncarelli’s liquor licence, as you’ll recall, for openly criticizing Duplessis’s government). But here, so far at least, it’s been independent watch dogs that the Harper has had to answer to, and so far, he’s simply fired them, smeared them, and/or failed to renew their appointments. This includes his own appointees, like Bernard Shapiro, the ethics commissioner, when Shapiro began to criticize the government too.

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  3. Thanks for this Peggy. Watching with interest in NZ – we have an election in November, and we face many similar issues.

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