Canadian democracy – pulse found!

On Thursday, May 9th, 2013 in Island Tides

Center BlockThe essence of Westminster Parliamentary democracy is that all MPs, including the Prime Minister, are equal, all are elected to represent their constituents, and that, even though a Prime Minister with a majority government can gather up all the levers of power, the Parliament is ultimately supreme. All of this relates to Canada’s other distinguishing feature—that we are a constitutional monarchy. None of this applies to the US system of government, in which checks and balances prevail and the Executive is directly elected.

Parliamentary democracy in Canada has been on the ropes for awhile. The Prime Minister does not act as ‘first among equals’, but increasingly like a Roman Emperor. The Prime Minister and his cabinet do not respect principles of the supremacy of Parliament, but act in arrogant and unaccountable ways—denying Parliament key information, even information as essential to good government as basic background to fiscal decisions.

RELATED: Elizabeth May Tables Bill Targeting Excessive Party Discipline

Fundamental to these dangerous trends is the rise in control of MPs by political parties. The political party overlay on Westminster parliamentary democracy is a relatively new and growing phenomenon. Not until the late 1960s did the name of the candidates’ political party appear on the ballot. Simultaneous with that development, the Elections Act was amended to require the leader’s signature to verify that a candidate was properly from the party claimed. A seemingly innocuous change has led to the ability of leaders of political parties to use the threat, that nomination papers will not be signed, to keep their MPs in line.

And the role of leaders of parties has started to ape the US system to such an extent that federal (and provincial) election campaigns are run as though the ballot choice was the election of a Prime Minister (or Premier). We do not elect Prime Ministers in Canada, but this confusion is undermining the essence of representative democracy.

Compounding these trends, which to greater or lesser degree pre-date Stephen Harper’s administration, we now have the political arm of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) reaching into previously off-limit areas. The PMO operatives are bullying the civil service into corrupting the policy making process with blatant spin and doctoring of evidence.

When Kevin Page, Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), spoke on April 4 at a Green Party sponsored lecture at UVic (well worth watching in its entirety on Youtube:, he noted that ‘every Parliamentary institution is under assault.’ His two take-away messages: that the control of the public purse must return to the House, and that decisions must be based on evidence.

The Court Ruling

For a while, knowledgeable commentators have taken to pondering if Canadian democracy has a pulse. Then on April 22 and 23, two unrelated events took place, quickening the pulse of Canadian democracy.

The first was the ruling of the Federal Court of Canada on the lawsuit launched by the PBO. Kevin Page refused to accept the refusal of the Clerk of Privy Council, shamefully telling the PBO that none of what he wanted was available; accepting commands from the PMO and denying that the impacts of the falling of the axe must be transparent to MPs and to Canadians.

And so Kevin Page went to court. The court ruled that the PBO was within its mandate to request information about the impact of the cuts in the 2012 budget. The Federal Court confirmed the supremacy of Parliament, the right of each MP to have access to information: about where the budget cuts landed and what effect they have on government programmes. In fact, the court ruled this information should be available to any back-bencher.

Thanks to Kevin Page, the right of any MP, and the PBO itself, to access documentation about government finances has been confirmed. The court went on to find that Page had not fully demanded the information after the clerk said he couldn’t have the information. So, on that technicality, it might appear Page lost. But the right to access that information has led the acting PBO to demand the information.

The SO31 ‘Game’ – Not

The very next day, the Speaker ruled on a recent complaint by Mark Warawa, Conservative MP from Langley, BC. To understand his complaint, you need to know that for 15 minutes every day in the House of Commons, there is something called Members statements (under Standing Order 31, so sometimes called “SO31s”). An SO31 allows a member 60 seconds to make an uninterrupted statement. They are usually about events in the riding, or eulogies for recently departed local heroes. Lately, the Conservatives have mis-used the opportunity for prepared attacks on the NDP claiming they want a $21 billion carbon tax.

Each party whip coordinates which MPs are going to make their SO31s. Apparently, the Conservative whip also vets (and censors) the statements. One day, Mark Warawa was told his statement was unacceptable and his chance to speak was withdrawn. He did something unprecedented in the life of Mr. Harper’s reign. He complained to the Speaker.

Over a few weeks, many MPs supported the complaint, making the case that MPs have the right of free speech. Of course, I spoke in support of Warawa’s complaint, but so did about 7 other Conservative MPs.

The Chief Government Whip argued that the Speaker was a mere ‘referee’ and that the party leader and his operatives were like the coach with the right to decide which players to play.

On April 23, Speaker Scheer’s ruling supported the right of free speech. He completely rejected the sports metaphor and confirmed that only the Speaker has the right to recognize MPs. The convention of the party whips in giving the Speaker a list of MPs to call on was only adopted to assist a previous speaker who had difficulty remembering names (or so goes the story).

The Speaker’s ruling confirmed the absolute right of Members of Parliament to free speech. And it is the duty of the Speaker to maximize that right of free speech. The Speaker, similar to the PBO court ruling, went on to find that Mark Warawa had not tried to speak, by catching the speaker’s eye and trying to get the floor. As such, the Speaker found his rights had not been infringed.

Nevertheless, two rulings, back to back have confirmed the absolute right of free speech and of the right of all MPs to have fiscal information essential to the role of the Parliament as a whole to govern.

We have a pulse!

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  • Susan Fleming

    Thank you Elizabeth. Your information is priceless and your wording and explanations are spot on. I like that you take opportunities to explain our Parliamentary System of Governance, as so many Canadians think along the lines of the US system – largely because of the influence of American media. If Mr. Harper has his way our National Broadcasting System, the CBC, will be flat lining before anyone knows about it. The CBC links Canada from coast to coast to coast. Without it … perish the thought!

    • Gyan

      I agree wholeheartedly with Susan!

      • Jordan

        I too join Susan and Gyan in appreciation of the article that Elizabeth May has given us. It behooves us all to learn about our Parliamentary Democracy and to insist upon its sanctity. Look south of the border and see how quickly a different system can produce a “police state”. While all terrorism is tragic and senseless, it is essential to understand where it begins. We need to “stay awake” so that we do not become a target of an invasion, with our natural resources being the prize.

  • M L Stathers

    wonderful, courageous, thorough & True Canadian Warrior Princess, Elizabeth May, for keeping on the issue of the rights of all parliamentarians, the PBO Kevin Page, and all the valuable Canadian institutions that keep this broad country together. The dismantling of our Country by the hubris of the present PM & his cohorts is ILLEGAL, & that TRUTH MUST BE KEPT FRONT & CENTRE! Thankyou!

  • Paul Kantor

    I think that our political system would benefit greatly if the Prime Minister was actually chosen / elected separately instead of as the leader of the majority. This way MPs would have their autonomy and could actually represent the opinions of their regions constituents. The Prime minister would then be elected for his or her vision and candor. Blurred and muzzled party policy’s would dissolve and then we could let true democratic debates and decisions begin. :)

    • Seeking Truth

      EM’s research has told us that the Supreme Court ALREADY has pointed out that parliamentarians have that RIGHT – to free speech in the House, to free access to all the info needed to make informed decisions. It’s the PMO that seems to be the MUZZLER! & his intimidated followers either believe him or are too scared to stand up for the truth. Their eyes are slowly openeing!

    • Cheryl Erland

      In theory I might be persuaded by your argument. A look at American politics, however, in addition to the reality of the leader’s role being one of ceremony more than reality – much like the Queen in England (Noam Chomsky talks about this and I accept his argument as valid), leaves me on the side of the system we have now. It’s imperfect but better than the alternative you suggest, in my opinion.

    • AJamie

      I think I would rather have no PM than a set-apart, Prime Minister-in-chief. What ever happened to “first among equals”? How about we just make that equals all around?

    • ElectroPig Von FökkenGrüven

      I wish that we could abolish political parties entirely, and force ALL politicians at ALL levels of government to run on the actual issues, rather than whether they wear a blue shirt or a green shirt or a red shirt or an orange shirt.

      The longer we have no other choice but to “vote for a political party”, and we refuse to vote on the actual issues that we “seem to believe we are voting on”, the longer the fraud that we have any choice over anything will continue.

      If we stopped voting based on shirt-colour, it would also be one hell of a lot easier to know exactly who was responsible for failures, and kick them the hell out of office before they do any more damage than we ignorantly allowed them to do to us in the first place, as well.

  • John Grogan

    Essential to taking the “K” out of deMOCKracy . Thank you Elizabeth. This message needs to be heard and understood at every kitchen table coast to coast to coast.

  • Richard Meaden

    Jack Mintz: Canada unfairly Gored

    ‘Which country has proportionately reduced more CO2 emissions since 2005, Canada or the U.S.? If you think it is Al Gore’s native country, you are dead wrong. Canada has lowered CO2 emissions from 2005 to 2011 by 11.4% compared to 8.5% by the United States in the same period.’

    ‘As shown in the accompanying table, Canada’s record in reducing CO2 emissions has been more exemplary than that of many other countries since 2005. Our proportionate reduction in the years 2005-11 is more than that managed by Europe and Japan. It is almost the same as Germany’s and less than the U.K.’s.’

    • ElectroPig Von FökkenGrüven

      Carbon taxes, carbon credits, and carbon offsets are all a scam designed to bleed money from everyone, while contributing absolutely nothing to anything of benefit.

      The polluters buy carbon credits from non-polluters so that the polluters get to keep polluting, and the non-polluters keep not polluting. The next result is ZERO BENEFIT…but a LOT of money changes hands, and “someone has to pay for it all.”

      People really need to wake up on this…

  • Heinz Mayr (PEI)

    All i can say to those lame-brain MP’s : ” Use your right to free speech”

  • Steve Caunce

    Thank you for this good news.

  • Klaus-bud Oracle-kaczor

    It’s the fine points which underpin our democracy. Thanks for keeping an eye out, Elizabeth!

    • Seeking Truth

      “the devil is in the details” – so true!

      • ElectroPig Von FökkenGrüven

        Technically, the devil is in Ottawa…just wait until March when, rather than repealing cannabis prohibition and no longer wasting 2+ BILLION dollars annually, he actually increases the waste by over 1.8 BILLION MORE!

        How’s he going to manage this? By creating a government-controlled cannabis monopoly, removing all 15,000+ medicinal cannabis patients’ rights to grow their own medicine that works, and replacing it with a lower-grade, ineffective, and potentially toxically-grown strain “that’s good enough for you” in his eyes.

        What’s going to happen when those 15,000+ people can’t afford to pay the estimated $1,500.00 to $5,000.00 PER MONTH for this “much better monopoly-supplied inferior product that won’t work for them?” They get to go to prison, and we all get to pay for it!

        $120,000.00 per person per year, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, for more than 15,000 SICK, DYING and NON-VIOLENT CANADIANS, that’ll only set us back about ten billion over those “mandatory minimum 5 years.” On top of the existing ten billion we already waste.

        What we need to do is to stop following idiotic foreign government’s policies, and do what is right for Canada, and for the Canadian people.

        It all boils down to a simple choice: We take back our country and regain our freedoms, or we keep doing “more of the same” and continue to honestly wonder why everything keeps getting worse.

        So far, “more of the same” has always been the choice given to us…and the one we seem to think will work. I wonder how many times we have to do the wrong thing, see the wrong thing fail to provide anything promised, and come to the realization that we COULD stop doing the wrong thing at every possible turn?

  • radster

    Thank you SO much for your diligence in standing up for a system which has been and is being inexcusably abused by someone (and his cohorts/henchmen) who regards himself as a dictator- with the right to do exactly as he chooses, when he chooses. You are a stellar example of a dedicated public servant.

  • colandpet

    mr harper’s policies in this matter will be his downfall… trudeau would never do this; would you mr. trudeau??? all leaders must learn to respect the principles of parliamentary democracy… if a bill is to be passed there should be healthy discussion within the house and privately between members of any particular party with no pressure to vote one way or the other…

  • Patricia Weese

    I wish that all voting Canadians could read and understand this very significant article. Much appreciated. Pat Weese

  • Mark Fullarton

    Elizabeth; you are the awakening in Canada’s Government! Keep up the GOOD work. You are on your path of destiny. :) <3

  • 11michele_christine04

    Keep up the ressucitation efforts; there are still two more years of this dictatorship to go before we can boot Harper & Co out of office. This is no time to rest on your laurels.

  • Jane McCulloch

    Thank you Elizabeth for the information and after reading this I wonder how on earth our we going to be able to stop Harper and his lust for power??

  • karoly ban matei

    Great article! Not to say that not only MP’s, but all of us, not only have the right to speak, but we should use it! The name itself of DEMOCRACY gives us this right: DEMOS=people, CRATOS=leadership (from Greek).
    If we ever want to have a society that has good values we need to find a way to reflect the will of the society as a whole, not of a powerful group.
    We can go on and on with this, but the essence is FREE SPEECH!
    Great job Ms. May!

  • Joyce Cruickshank

    Government is supposed to work in favour of the country and its people, first and foremost. Unfortunately, Harper and his minions seemed to be bent on imposing their conservative will upon everyone in the country, with benefits only to the wealthy and powerful. Shame on them, there’s more of us than them, and hopefully we will all vote next time, and oust them!

    • ElectroPig Von FökkenGrüven

      The Great And Powerful EMperor Harperius Mandatorius Minimus doesn’t work for Canadians, or for Canada. He works for the bankers, corporations, and the United Nations.

      That is the only logical reason that everything he does puts Canada further in the hole, and closer to a complete collapse.

      The global economic collapse IS coming, regardless, but this is not the time for Canada to just throw up our hands and give up…we have our own resources, and if managed properly, by someone who gives a damn about 35,000,000 CANADIANS’ LIVES AND FUTURES, we could weather the collapse that’s coming up.

      Since we refuse to do anything about our employees running the country into the dirt, the future for Canada is, sadly, assured to be the same as the states, Europe, and all of the other countries who have allowed the corporate and banking kleptocracies to completely take over.

      It just didn’t have to be that way, if we cared to do anything to stop it while we still had the chance.

  • Tanya Van Valkenburg

    Fantastic! Two big victories in favour of democracy (although, sadly, we should never have had to fight so hard for them. Thank you for providing us with all this background information!

  • Marlene Kramer

    Bravo to Elizabeth May! I now know what a S031 is! You are doing a fantastic job keeping everyone informed. Keep up the good work.

  • Chris Biensch

    Your frank tone and accuracy of comment emulate a well known credo that although the truth may be quelled, twisted and abused, it often comes out.
    Thanks for reminding me what is absolutely different (thank goodness) about our system compared to the Americans. I only wish I had a local candidate with as much insight and eloquence to support in my area.
    Keep up the great work. It’s much appreciated.

  • Ann Juurinen

    Thank you Elizabeth….for being that thorn in the PM’s side. I applaud you for being that gadfly. And thanks to the Conservative MP’s who FINALLY stood up and were counted. More MP’s should exercise their parliamentary rights… this is after all a democracy.

  • Bill Tilland

    Just adding another “thank you” for your clear-headed, articulate pursuit of transparency and democracy in Canadian government. You are a force for good.

  • Kathy Leveque

    Thank you Elizabeth for standing up for Canada. I commend you for your work and I respect and admire you so much. Keep up the good work. Blessings.

  • Matthew

    Awesome job Elizabeth. Thank you for fulfilling your mandate so much better than so many others currently in the house.

  • Cheryl Erland

    I am grateful to honest politicians when they can be found (thank you Elizabeth) and most of all to the existence of the internet, whose freedom needs protecting at almost any any cost as far as I’m concerned. Signs of government interference are starting to appear in some countries and, given who we are currently stuck with, I wouldn’t be shocked to see attempts, however subtle, to go on here between now and 2015.

  • Benny Boudon

    That explains a lot I didnt understand in the press.

  • Betty

    Thank you Elizabeth. I can’t believe how much is hidden and not debated , for instance the deal with China. So much is hidden in omnibus bills that the average citizen, and perhaps the average MP has no idea to what we are being committed.
    I never imagined a day when I would be living in a virtual dictatorship. I appalud your research, your frankness and your concern for all Canadians!

    • ElectroPig Von FökkenGrüven

      “Virtual” dictatorship? Look around you…there’s nothing virtual about the increasing slavemaster mentality in Canada.

      Just try to tell YOUR EMPLOYEES what you’d rather see them do FOR Canadians, instead of TO Canadians, and you’ll learn that things are nothing like what you are told they are.

  • Jan Church

    Thank You Elizabeth for keeping us informed! We are getting our eyes opened about a government that persists in ramming so much down our throats, and making decisions that hurt our country and all Canadians!

  • Diane

    I will totally agree with Susan Fleming.Thank you Elizabeth May for keeping me up to date and informed about how our Parliamentary System really should work. We are often swept off the real facts or we really have never known them!! We really need a true Canadian Parliamentary History course in all Canadian schools!! As far as our MP’s right to speak, well I have to say, speak up!! You have been elected into our House of Parliament to speak on behalf of your constituents, so speak up!!
    As far as the CBC, all I can say is “Don’t you dare!”

  • G D Kay

    let us cease and desist with our concerns about the status of “Canadian Democracy” and label the form of government to be what it is — an “inverted totalitarianism”….. i highly recommend for starters a quick look at this article, and do your further research from there. it really is alarming…..
    i’d be more than happy to hear of anyone else’s comments in this regard.

  • Jaroslaw

    The disturbing thing here is that these two brave people were still denied their rights on technicalities. It’s the same old story.. “oh, of course you have the right to do this!”.. but then because of a “technicality” (AKA, someone with more power ordered them to make this ruling), these people were still denied what they requested. How many more times will this happen before people stand up and say that’s simply not good enough?

  • Jaroslaw

    The disturbing thing here is that these two brave people were still
    denied their rights on technicalities. It’s the same old story.. “oh, of
    course you have the right to do this!”.. but then because of a
    “technicality” (AKA, someone with more power ordered them to make this
    ruling), these people were still denied what they requested. How many
    more times will this happen before people stand up and say that’s simply
    not good enough?

  • Martin Golder

    Thank you Elizabeth. Parliamentary defibrillator.

  • Canadian

    It is a shame that you think firearms in the hands of good people turns them into evil people, otherwise 5,000,000 Canadian firearms owners who voted Conservative may actually vote green.

    Oh, we tend to love nature too, us firearms owners, the legal ones who hunt….in the woods.

    Well written.

    Freedom is not free.

    • ElectroPig Von FökkenGrüven

      Well, everyone knows that if anyone does anything that anyone else disagrees with, that the other person (but not ourselves, of course) needs to have all of their rights stripped from them, so that they can’t do anything that offends us in any way. Especially if we will never meet them, or never live in their circumstances, or even care about whether they might have a valid point to disagree with our position on anything that we do.

      After all, anything that WE do is perfectly OK, and it should all be fine. It’s just the things that “those other people do” that “needs to be stopped at any cost.”

      Trouble is, people NEVER stop to think for that critical picosecond that while they’re busy attacking everyone else’s rights, everyone else is busy attacking their rights, too. People also NEVER consider the fact that in order to take away someone else’s rights, YOU also lose the same rights that your victims have lost…but just because you “chose not to exercise those rights” is not a logical or acceptable justification for taking away the rights of everyone else.

      Personally, I think that we’d be safer if everyone had a gun, and had proper training in using and safely storing them. Since nobody I know is a mass murderer or serial killer, I’d feel a lot better knowing that honest people were armed, than to know that NOBODY EXCEPT CRIMINALS are armed.

      Sure, you could make the argument that we need to keep all honest, non-violent, non-criminal Canadian citizens completely unable to protect themselves, in order to create a safer work environment for criminals…but when you really look at it objectively, from the “dark alley perspective”, would you rather have a gun yourself if you were being followed, or do you think that the current “Well, let’s see if a cop shows up in the next two seconds before this guy sticks that knife through my throat?” is good enough?
      Wait for the economic collapse…then every single person out there who was for “more gun control” and “you have no right to save your own life” is going to suddenly change their position 180 degrees. Or they’ll just need to go rabbit hunting to keep themselves alive. Either/or.

  • Bill

    I tell you, Harper was “Bullied” as a kid and now that he is in a position of power and majority he has become a “Bully”, Loreen should spend her time working on him. This idiot wants a U.S. style of Government where nothing gets done when they are sitting, back door policy’s, and a his “Napoleon” attitude. Look at how “Chubby” he has gotten since coming to power, his suit jacket hangs 8″ in front of his pants and his arrogance has grown to match his waist. Keep up the good work Elizabeth and keep the info coming. P.S. Tell “Chubby” to keep his paws off the CBC

  • ElectroPig Von FökkenGrüven

    The best part is that finally, someone else has caught up to my thinking of several years back:

    The attached image (if it appears below) is a complete summary of what the vast majority of Canadians have to say to Emperor Harperius Mandatorius Minimus about “what a great job he’s doing for Canada, and for Canadians.”

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