Democracy

Fri, 2014-09-26 12:25Sean Holman
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It's Time to Put the Spotlight on Government Secrecy

#cdnfoi, transparency in government, sean holman, freedom of information

Partisans may not believe it, but Canada’s “culture of secrecy” existed long before Stephen Harper moved into the prime minister’s office. And it’ll be around long after he moves out, unless Canadians do more than just cast their ballots in the next election.

That’s why four groups concerned about freedom of information, one of which I’m part of, are launching a campaign encouraging Canadians to take a small but vital step on social media that would raise more awareness of just how much is being hidden from us: spotlighting examples of government secrecy with the hashtag #cdnfoi.

Such secrecy has its roots in our political system, which has a tradition of strict party discipline. Because of that discipline, decisions made by the government behind closed doors – in cabinet meetings, for example – are rarely defeated in the House of Commons, making secret forums the principle arbiters of public policy.

To be sure, the Harper administration has done more than its share to cultivate a backroom state, frustrating access to government records and officials, as well as failing to fix our broken freedom of information system. But Canadian society is an especially fertile ground for the growth of policies that violate our right to know.

In part, that’s because our country doesn’t have any groups that exclusively and routinely advocate for greater freedom of information at a national level. Probably the closest we have to that is the small BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

Fri, 2014-08-08 15:31Carol Linnitt
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Evangeline Lilly: It’s My Job To Stand Up For Canadian Scientists

evangeline lilly desmog canada, war on science

You may know the Canadian actress for her tough-girl roles in Lost or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But Evangeline Lilly has a battle – besides those with orcs and island smoke monsters – to fight: the battle for Canada’s scientists.

Lilly first heard about the defunding and muzzling of Canada’s federal scientists when she was reading DeSmog Canada just over a year ago. In a spate of funding cuts, the federal government eliminated some of Canada’s most prestigious scientific institutions, to the dismay of scientists and Canadians across the country. And since the Harper government has been in power, strict communications protocols have prevented scientists from speaking with the public about their research, limiting public awareness of taxpayer-funded science.

Lilly, who now lives in the U.S., said she keeps an eye out for stories about her homeland. And it always concerns her when she stumbles across something so disheartening.

I think it’s always a little bit scary and astounding when as a citizen of what you consider to be a free nation you discover one day for various reasons…that something awful has been going on under your nose and you didn’t know,” she told DeSmog Canada. “And that happens to me a little more often than I’m comfortable with nowadays.”

Lilly was dismayed to learn that “all over Canada right now scientists are having all their funding pulled,” she said, “especially scientists who are speaking about climate change.”

Sat, 2014-06-21 13:14Carol Linnitt
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Katie Gibbs: Canada's War on Science is Raising a New Generation of Science Advocates

Katie Gibbs. DeSmog Canada.

There has been a lot of discussion around Canada’s “War on Science” over the last two years, prompted by a major gathering of scientists in Ottawa during the summer of 2012 who announced the “Death of Evidence” in the country. The scientists marched in response to the infamous Budget Bill C-38 that killed funding for numerous federal science positions and research labs coast to coast. The rally’s lead organizer, scientist Katie Gibbs, says the Death of Evidence protest made way for a whole new breed of young Canadian scientists who are eager to stand up and defend their laboratories. It’s about more than just science, says Gibbs, it’s really all about democracy.

Katie Gibbs was known around the lab as the graduate student who cared deeply about the implications of her science. “While I was doing my PhD, I was kind of the rabble-rouser on the floor. You know, I always had volunteers coming to the lab to pick up posters, or storing protest signs under my desk, that sort of thing,” she told DeSmog Canada.

Most of the professors she worked with didn’t participate in any kind of advocacy, she said. “My supervisor, in particular, he wouldn’t even write a letter to the editor.”

In the summer of 2012, however, it wasn’t Gibbs pushing for the Death of Evidence rally, the event that forced Canada’s science crisis into the public eye. Instead a group of professors at the University of Ottawa began organizing a public event and turned to Gibbs when they realized they needed someone brave to be the face of the march.

What was interesting was that it was a group of professors that started thinking around the rally. My supervisor poked his head into my office one day and said a bunch of professors were meeting to talk about doing something in response to the Omnibus Budget Bill. He said, ‘does anybody want to come,’ and I was like ‘hells yeah!’” Gibbs said, adding she became lead organizer after that meeting.

Tue, 2014-04-22 12:27Guest
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If the U.S. is an Oligarchy, What Does that Make Canada?

oligarchy, democracy, canada

This is a guest post by author and filmmaker Michael Harris. It was originally published on iPolitics.

Why do I know that Stephen Harper would hate these guys?

You have probably never heard of Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page but their message just might wake up dozing Canadians oblivious to the decline of our democracy.

They are professors from Princeton and Northwestern universities and they have just pronounced American democracy dead. Some have already called this the “Duh Report because the ugly truth has been apparent for quite some time: The United States is now the land of the rich and the home of the knave; an oligarchy.

I know. Stephen Harper would say the professors are perpetrating sociology. Perhaps. But sociology beats the ongoing Big Brother impersonation that this prime minister passes off as democracy.

Mon, 2014-04-21 10:38David Ravensbergen
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Democracy in the Pits: How Canada Uses Foreign Aid as PR for Mining Companies

miner

Democracy in the Pits is a two-part series outlining the tarnished reputation of Canada's mining sector and the Harper government's role in supporting it. Read Part 1: The Corrosive Effect of Canadian Mining Companies Worldwide.

When your industry finds itself faced with a deteriorating reputation after its harmful practices have been exposed to the world, you have two available courses of action. The first is the honorable route: take the concerns of the public seriously, listen to the relevant experts, and figure out how to fundamentally change the way you do business. Admitting your mistakes and putting an end to your violent or unscrupulous behavior may be the first step to recuperating your standing in the community, even if damaged trust does take a long time to rebuild.

The second option is damage control. Rather than accept the fact that social, environmental and economic justice may pose legitimate constraints on your industry’s profitability, forge ahead with business as usual while trying to manage public opinion. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, ranging from discrediting your detractors to devising a flashy but shallow community engagement campaign, changing the style but not the substance of your actions.

Both of these responses fall under the rubric of corporate social responsibility. But while the first takes seriously the idea that a company requires a social license to operate, and has duties to the human community beyond earning a profit for its shareholders, the second only sees unprofitable distractions and collateral damage.

Wed, 2014-04-16 16:44David Ravensbergen
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Democracy in the Pits: The Corrosive Effect of Canadian Mining Companies Worldwide

UN photo, mining in brazil

Democracy in the Pits is a two-part series outlining the tarnished reputation of Canada's mining sector and the Harper government's role in supporting it. Read Part 2: How Canada Uses Foreign Aid as PR for Mining Companies.

In a recent article chronicling the demise of Canadian social democracy at the hands of the Harper Conservatives, Marianne Lenabat draws an important comparison: what the financial sector is to the United States, so are the extractive industries to Canada. The similarity isn’t just about the two sectors’ relative size or contribution to GDP, although it starts there. It’s about how each country’s respective darling industry has come to dictate government policy, even when the social harm they inflict far outweighs their economic benefits.

In both countries, the same platitudes are trotted out to justify the government’s helpless devotion: The industry is vital to the economic health of the nation. It leads the world in innovation. It creates the jobs we need to build communities of hard-working families. 

In the United States, where a frenzy of speculation in the housing market spawned a global economic crisis that continues to ravage the world, the government love affair with Wall Street shows no signs of faltering. The big banks were bailed out with no significant strings attached, and the stock market is now back to record highs.

In Canada, the extractive industries enjoy a similarly cozy arrangement. The government spies on activists and meets with corporate executives to help ensure the speedy implementation of pipeline projects. The oil sands are given the green light for massive expansion, despite the indisputable fact that we need to immediately phase out fossil fuel extraction if we want to continue to enjoy a climate that remains hospitable to human life.

Tue, 2014-03-11 11:33Carol Linnitt
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Fair Elections Act Would “Damage…the Heart of Our Country’s Democracy,” Group of Professors Say

Fair elections act Bill C-23

The changes to Canada’s federal elections proposed in the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), threaten to “seriously damage the fairness and transparency of federal elections and diminish Canadians’ political participation,” according to a collective of 160 Canadian professors. The group, comprised of academics specializing in “the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy,” released an open letter Tuesday requesting the federal government “heed calls for wider consultation in vetting this Bill.”

Beyond our specific concerns about the Bill’s provisions (see below), we are alarmed at the lack of due process in drafting the Bill and in rushing it through Parliament. We see no justification for introducing legislation of such pivotal importance to our democracy without significant consultation with Elections Canada, opposition parties, and the public at large.”

The group of signatories highlight four significant concerns associated with the proposed Fair Elections Act:

Tue, 2014-03-04 16:50Guest
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Harper’s “Dictatorship for Democracy” Coming to an End?

This is a guest post by journalist and filmmaker Michael Harris. A longer version of this article originally appeared on iPolitics.

Don’t be surprised if something big happens inside the hermetically sealed world of the Stephen Harper Party — and sooner rather than later.

It could be the departure of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, or a spectacular policy pivot, or even an election from space. Some people think there is still a chance it could be a Harper resignation.

Prime Minister Harper, like senators Duffy and Wallin, is beginning the most painful journey of all — from key political asset to major party liability.

It is a slow process, but can reach runaway elevator speed if the cable snaps. Harper is at the stage where it is beginning to fray.

Wed, 2014-02-26 09:55Russell Blinch
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Harper‘s Support for Democracy Falls Short at Home

obama harper north american leaders summit

Do democracy and freedom begin at home for Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Recently the Prime Minister told Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych he will be judged on his actions, not words, as violence against the country’s pro-democracy protesters steadily escalates. Harper signed a joint statement at the North American leaders summit in Toluca, Mexico, saying “[the leaders] agreed they will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that actions mirror words.”

The Prime Minister also called for an emergency debate in Parliament this week, saying “we understand that this violence is occurring because the majority of the population is very worried about the steps taken by their government that very much remind them of their anti-democratic and Soviet past.”

While Canadians will no doubt be relieved to see the country and its leadership take a meaningful stance against the oppression and violence of President Yanukovych’s regime, there’s sure to be some cognitive dissonance associated with Harper as a ‘democracy-for-the-people’ spokesperson here at home.

Thu, 2014-02-13 09:00Adam Kingsmith
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8 Logical Fallacies That Misinform Our Minds

Imagine coming across a piece of reliable information that contradicts everything you’ve ever believed about, say, global warming or the war on terror. It would likely prompt the question: if you were wrong about such an important issue, what else could you be wrong about? What’s more, if you’ve been wrong about a bunch of things, then perhaps you’re not quite as well-informed as you had previously believed.
 
Thoughts like these are jarring ones because they threaten our sense of self — making us feel stupid, empty, even worthless. Unsurprisingly then, most people’s willingness to open up to new information depends largely on how this information will challenge or coincide with their preconceived notions of what is good or bad, right or wrong, true or false.
 
According to a study by researchers at the University of Waterloo, called Self-Affirmation and Sensitivity to Argument Strength, when people are presented with corrective information that runs counter to their ideology, those who most strongly identify with the ideology will intensify their incorrect beliefs. And as such, the greater the challenge new information poses to a person’s self-worth, the less likely it is to have any impact at all on them.
 
If there's something positive to draw from these uncomfortable realizations of our purposeful ignorance, it's that if we take the time to better understand why and how people think and feel the way they do, these inherent biases can be successfully mitigated and controlled.
 

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