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Errol P. Mendes


The Most Undemocratic Moments of 2012

Posted: 12/26/2012 11:06 am

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher argued that "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." As 2012 ends, what do we in Canada understood as enduring truths that can we take into living forward in 2013? On the home front, we should have understood that democracy in Canada can be taken too much for granted, even while in other places, in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, people are willing to fight and die for it.

We take for granted that Parliamentary democracy is only as effective as the power concentrated in the Prime Minister's Office allows it to be. In the wrong hands, it can make MPs mostly irrelevant as demonstrated by the Harper PMO.

This year saw yet another massive omnibus budget bill in C-45 rushed with time allocation through Parliament. Do the majority of citizens even care that what should have been according to Parliamentary tradition, a financial and revenue bill, has the potential to undermine the protection of thousands of rivers and lakes?

Do they care that this bill also takes a potentially significant step to undermining the land and treaty rights of our First Nations? The provisions of C-45 dealing with First Nations land and treaty rights has now spawned the twitter #IdleNoMore movement and the hunger strike by Theresa Spence, the Chief of Northern Ontario's reserve which first caught the nation's attention when we witnessed on our screens the abject third world living conditions in the reserve.

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  • The Conservative government has introduced Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget implementation bill. Here's a brief look at what's inside the 450-page document. <em>With files from CBC</em>

  • MP And Public Service Pensions

    <strong>UPDATE</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/19/mp-pension-changes-passed-bill-c-45_n_1987522.html">MP Pensions have been hived off from the omnibus bill and passed without further debate in a surprise deal between the government and opposition parties</a>. Starting as early as January 2013, public servants and MPs will have to contribute 50 per cent of the payments into their pensions. MPs will also have to wait until age 65 to start collecting their pensions, or be penalized if they start at age 55. The precise date for MP pension changes is Jan. 1, 2016. There will be no change to the current eligibility for MP pensions of six years of service.

  • Unemployment Insurance

    The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board will be dissolved, and an interim means of establishing premium rates set up to replace its work. The Crown Corporation is currently run by a seven-member board. This move continues employment insurance changes started with the first omnibus budget bill, as cabinet gradually receives more authority to reform EI.

  • Changes To The Indian Act

    The bill makes what could be controversial changes to the Indian Act, amending it to change the rules around what kind of meetings or referenda are required to lease or otherwise grant an interest in designated reserve lands. The aboriginal affairs minister would also be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering an absolute surrender of the band's territory.

  • Environmental Assessment Act Tweaks

    Last spring's changes to the Environmental Assessment Act are tweaked further in this omnibus bill.

  • Hiring Tax Credit

    The bill will extend a popular small business hiring credit.

  • New Bridge To U.S.

    C-45 also facilitates the construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River at Windsor, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last summer. Certain legislation will be changed and other legislation won't apply to this bridge. Three federal bodies will cease to exist with the passage of this legislation.

  • Grain Act Amended

    The bill also amends the Canada Grain Act, simplifying the way it classifies grain terminals, repealing grain appeal tribunals, and ending several other requirements of the current Act, giving the Canadian Grains Commission more power to regulate the grain industry. These changes follow the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over wheat and barley sales in Western Canada, which take effect for this year's harvest.

  • Hazardous Materials Under Health

    All the work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will be transferred to the health minister.

  • Merchant Seamen Board Under Labour

    The Merchant Seamen Compensation Board will see its authority transferred to the Minister of Labour. The three-person board currently hears and decides benefit claims for merchant seamen who are injured or disabled as a result of their work and are not currently covered by provincial workers' compensation benefits.

Now the hunger strike has received worldwide attention. Chief Spence has asked to meet with Harper and Governor General David Johnson to demand another high level national meeting to address the dire poverty in First Nations communities and the undermining of their rights in the budget bill.

As an opposition MP in the Reform Party, Harper himself decried these unprincipled massive budget bills. He tore into a much smaller Liberal omnibus budget bill in 1994 arguing that such bills violated the principles that was the foundation of his Reform Party. He asserted that they undermined the very reason why MPs were elected, namely to carefully scrutinize laws on behalf of those that elected them. This was supposed to be a bedrock of principled conservatism. Now, the supreme irony is that the NDP and the Liberals are using those same principles to protest against the budget bill.

Perhaps the Harper government is also counting on most Canadians not either knowing or caring what is in these massive bills as long as they can be sold on the talking points that these Parliament eroding measures are essential for "jobs and the economy." The talking points are encapsulated in the title of the C-45, "The Jobs and Growth Act". In those often used talking points lies what those who oppose this slow undermining of our democracy may wish to urge Canadians to live their lives forward.

The Communist Party of China has also tried to develop an authoritarian social contract with the masses that if they do well for the majority of citizens through jobs and the economy, they can deny them the most fundamental rights and freedoms that Canadians in this country enjoy.

There are signs that the authoritarian compact is starting to fray as China has produced its own version of industrial "robber barons" and hundreds of thousands of Chinese are starting to protest against rampant corruption, severe environmental degredation, violation of land rights and universally accepted human rights.

This is the dangerous slippery slope of the Harper government talking points that "jobs and the economy" can justify anything, even if it damages the democratic values that Harper and true conservatives once cherished.

Most Canadians want to live their lives forward having good jobs and thriving in a strong and vibrant economy that respects the fundamental values of our democracy and human rights, our legal and moral duties to our First Nations and that preserves our natural heritage to those that come after us.

Justifying anything in the name of "jobs and the economy" requires Canadians to live backwards in an authoritarian social contract. Living our lives forwards demands that citizens reject the dangerous slippery slope of the Harper government talking points.


Follow Errol P. Mendes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@3mendous