Friday, October 29, 2010

The law and order thing

         The Haper Conservatives, like conservatives everywhere, are tough on crime, big on law and order. Under the Liberals, no Canadians serving time in US jails were denied the right (or privilege) to serve part of their term in Canada during the period 1998 - 2005. According to documents obtained by the CBC, in the first 4 years of the Harper government, the percentage of refusals on the part of the federal government rose to 14.5%, 43%, 15.5% and a whopping 62% in 2009.
           Such "toughness" of course appeals to their redneck populist base - and to many closet rednecks - but does it actually "make our streets safer"?
            Here's some food for thought..
"Canadians convicted of crimes in the U.S. and serv(ing) their entire sentence there have no criminal record in Canada after they're deported back to their home country and are not given a supervised release.
This means that a criminal record would not show up on the Canadian Police Information Centre if that person were ever stopped by authorities."

Read more:
            That's right, the "tough on crime" boys, by refusing prison transfers to Canada, are providing criminals, when they return to Canada, with clean police records (at least for the crimes they served time for in the US). "Safer streets" - not so sure about that one..
            It should also be noted that, while serving time in the US, Candian cons are NOT eligible for American rehabilitation programs because they are aliens! Such programs have been shown to reduce recidivism rates (some studies show a halving). Thus the ex-cons turned loose after serving a stint in US jails are more likely to re-offend than if they had been extradited and followed a rehabilitation program here. This is not good, definitely not good.. (But it does put on a good "tough on crime" show for the rubes..) 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Transparency denied: federal scientists complain of being muzzled

        A government elected on a platform of law and order, accountability, decentalization and transparency and which imposes tight - authoritarian / centralizing - controls upon the access of federally employed scientists to the media.. Wha' the hell is going on ???

         This website, representing Federally employed scientist, provides ample evidence that the Harper Conservatives are following the lead of anti-science, populist right-wingers in the States.

          Thus John Geddes in a MacCleans article, 13 sep, 2010, reports:

"For instance, when Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced a $5-million study into the feasibility of creating an Arctic marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound last year, I tried to do a few quick interviews with federal biologists who study the sound’s abundant sea birds. But the bird guys told me they were required to go through an approvals process that would have prevented them from talking to me on the record quickly enough to meet my deadline for posting an item on the subject on this website that same day."

           But, goddamit! these are only bird scientists, BIRD, like the ones that fly around your feeder or shit on statues in the park. This isn't even global warming science.. Good Lord! Have these "transparency" mongers lost it completely? Is their mania for control (centralization) and censorship that strong.. One wonders. And if one believes in democracy, one fears..

           Bruce Cheadle, in The Star, sep 19, 2010:

           Paradoxically, the current restrictive policy flies in the face of the government's own objectives stated in their "Communications policy of the Government of Canada" dated 1 aug, 2006:

"Openness in government promotes accessibility and accountability. It enables informed public participation in the formulation of policy, ensures fairness in decision making and enables the public to assess performance.”

           Why then this puzzling shift in practice relative to their own stated agenda? What happened in the intervening four years? One can only stand puzzled, reflecting on the corrupting influence of power and vested interest on noble goals. For example, Cheadle notes that such "censorship" and "creative re-interpretation" of research on cod stocks was rife in the Dept of Fisheries way back in the 90s, long before the Harperites hit town.

          Of course, the real issue here is the "fit" between "theory" and "practice". In theory, Democracy is rule by the People. In order to rule, the rulers must 1- be informed (that is, they must have access to all relevant data required to make an informed decision) and 2- they must participate in decisional procedures (example: by electing representatives - members of parliament - who "stand in" for their electors in decision making and who are accountable to their electorate for their actions). 

           Is part of the reason so few young people vote because they are aware of the fact that they are not being informed by their governement and elected representatives..

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Transparency and the role of press freedom in a democracy

        Democracy is based on the rule of the People. The theory holds that, in order to make informed and intelligent choices, the populace must have access to the information required to make those choices. Traditionally, this information could come through a variety of chanals: word of mouth, public meeting including debate, theater, and street demonstration; the pulpit, the press and related printed or graphic materials (posters, artwork..)..

         The Canadian Journalism Project provides a litany of broken promises and bad faith on the part of the Harper government with regard to journalistic access to information, the very information - don't forget! - that democracy requires in order that the People make wise decisions in public matters.

          Thus we are left with the intriguing paradox that a goverment elected on a platform of "transparency" and "diversity of opinion" is guilty of seeking to control and direct the timing, spin and accessibility of information in the public domain. "One hand knoweth not what the other does"..

           One can even argue - I do - that even when the letter of the law (Charter of Rights) is respected, the spirit of the law - and of Democracy itself - is being violated. Justice must not just appear to be done, justice must be done.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What would accountable government look like, anyway..

         The Harper Conservative government won the last election on a platform of "law and order", "accountable government" and "transparency". Enough time has passed for us to make a judgement of their performance in meeting their own stated objectives.

          The results have - alas! - been, to say the least, disappointing. Take the issue of "accountable government". According to one on-line definition, the adjective "accountable" means:

"subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable"

        In general terms, authorities (parents, teachers, health professionals, ministers of religion, civil servants..) are under obligation to protect those they are held accountable for. This is often expressed in legal language with penalties attatching to those authorities failing to meet their stipulated obligations. Penalties, including fines, loss of office or renumeration, and prision may be applicable. Thus parents who do not provide adequately for their children are indictable under child protection legislation. Applying the same logic, a government which does not provide its citizens with adequate information concerning potential risks associated with industrial activities is morally indictable for breach of trust with its citizenry.

         An article appearing today, october 14, in The Globe and Mail raises the spectre of moral indictability on the part of the Harper government in its (mis-)management of the shale gas extraction file:

".. there is no requirement in Canada for companies to disclose what chemicals they use in fracturing – as there is in several (American) states."

           Now the hick is that several of the chemicals used in "fracking" operations to liberate natural gas from its mineral matrix are toxic and potentially capable of contaminating potable water aquifers. Why does our government not require gas extraction companies to divulge the chemicals they employ in their operations? If they do not establish such regualtory frameworks are they not showing a lack of accountability, one of the planks they ran on last election?

            In reality, the list of failures of accountability on the part of the government is quite shocking:

- lack of adequate Federal (or for that matter Provincial) regualtory frameworks for the rapidly emerging shale gas extraction industry

- lack of knowledge of adequate treatment / long term storage of the large quantities of contaminated water resulting from extraction

- the provinces estimate badly, if at all, the nature or extent of potential conflicts between various categories of water consumers: domicile, industry, agriculture, tourism, natural ecosystem services upon which we all depend.. 

      Do we have accountable government in Canada today?  

      In closing, I would merely like to underscore the overlap (?redundancy?) of the nature of "transparency" and "accountability" when applied to those holding high government office. A lack of transparency - failure to divulge information necessary for enlightened decision making on the part of the citizenry - is a precursor of failure to act accountably (responsibly). Transparency is not a question of governmental "style": it goes to the very heart of democracy itself. The people cannot decide intelligently unless and until they have all relevant fact before them. As democrats, we should hold this to be the sine qua non of responsible government in any democracy, ours included. Clearly, the Harper government, while talking the talk does not or cannot walk the walk.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Climate Science Suppressed?

BUT, BUT, BUT... I thought this government was elected on a platform of law 'n order, government accountability and.. and.. TRANSPARENCY

Francophone? Noam Chomsky explique comment les néolibéraux manipulent la conscience collective. Leur cynisme est agaçant, mais leurs jours sont comptés..

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lies, lies, lies and more damned lies..

Populism once more rears its ugly head in Canada

      Maxime Bernier, conservative backbencher, has claimed that he received "thousands" of complaints from Canadian citizens concerning the intrusiveness of the long form census back in 2006 when he was industry minister.

     However, a CBC follow up has revealed that - untransparently - the truth may not have been well served by M. Bernier and his anti-long form Conservative supporters. The actually number of complaints generated by the 2006 census was not "thousands" but just under a thousand, of which an impressive twenty-two were complaints about census question "intrusiveness" - 22 ! And for twenty-two complaints we scrap the long form - at high cost to the taxpayer, while reducing the - internationally recognized - effectiveness of the government's data collection capacity. Incredible! - but why would any party - especially one so committed to "cutting fat" and waste - deliberately waste taxpayer money to reduce the effectiveness of a well-run government program??

Is that an ideological rat we smell?
        As is so often the case with this curiously untransparent government - which ran on a platform of transparency - one suspects that the truth lies deeper than appearences. The message conveyed by Conservative MPs is that Canadian citizens' "freedoms" are being trampled on and they didn't like it. 

       But whose freedoms exactly? The twenty two people who actually did complain about the long form census questions' intrusiveness? Or, perhaps more pertinently, those groups receiving funding and who depend upon accurate sociological data to determine funding levels? Little groups (linguistic minorities..), disenfranchised groups, municipalities (especially smaller and rural ones - ironically just the folk who tend to vote Conservative!)..? Politically expendable groups..? 

      One suspects that we have another case here of our neocon wanabe government playing the populist card to its hard core voter base. Whip up the angst and /or ire of the rednecks against convenient scapegoat groups to win the cheap vote..

      No policy, no program, no political vision, philosophy or thinking required but instead the easy recourse to the basest, lowest common demoninator; scapegoat bashing: "artists", "intellectuals", "elites" (unspecified), "peaceniks", "baby killers", "atheists", "tree huggers",..

      It's a low blow but, hey, politics is a dirty game.. even for those who promised us "transparency", "responsible government", "law and order", and even "justice" (apparently this does not include "social justice" since the long form census provided data required by government programs providing a measure of social justice and equity..)