Can we agree this was a bad week for Canadian democracy?



This has been quite a week, if you're counting sustained attacks on democratic institutions and traditions.

 Here are the highlights courtesy of the Harper government:


1. Take a whack at Elections Canada

Elections Canada, facing an intransigent Conservative Party during investigations, wanted new investigative powers. Instead, amendments to Canada's election act, tabled this week, propose to take away power from the agency by moving the Commissioner of Canada Elections office to within the Director of Public Prosecutions. "The referee should not be wearing a team jersey," Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform, told reporters.

Canada's Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, translates what this means: you're taking "the referee off the ice" — and a hockey-loving country like Canada knows what can occur when this happens. "Listen, the only team jersey that I think I’m wearing — if we have to carry the analogy — I believe is the one with the stripes, white and black," Mayrand said following a committee hearing on Parliament Hill. "What I note from this bill is that no longer will the referee be on the ice."

The bill also proposes to muzzle Elections Canada about probes by the Commissioner of Elections. Elections Canada will also be forbidden to advertise to under-represented groups about voting, while making it hard for these people for vote through tighter voter identification rules. No wonder the Conservatives this week voted to shut down debate about the bill.

2. Silence environmental groups

Any vibrant democracy needs non-governmental groups and charities to engage in public-policy debates and propose solutions. But if you're the Harper government, and you don't like to hear criticism of your policies, these groups end up on your enemies list.

That's why the Harper government gave millions of dollars to the Canada Revenue Agency back in 2012 to audit environmental groups as way to muzzle them. Today, that money is being spent on ongoing audits of at least 7 environmental groups. The taxmen is looking for any evidence that groups spend more than 10% of their time and resources on ill-defined "political" work.

If a group exceeds that, their charitable status is yanked, effectively shutting them down. It doesn't stop here, though.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed Friday that he will build on this in next week's budget.

The Globe and Mail reported that Flaherty made it clear with reporters at a pre-budget event in Toronto that "Tuesday’s federal budget will include measures aimed at exposing links between charities, terrorism and organized crime."
Here's Flaherty in his own words in response to a question about possible rule changes for charities that have "political affiliations."

"You’ll have to wait for the budget on the exact measures that are taken. The concern though remains the same, that there are some terrorist organizations, there are some organized crime organizations that launder money through charities and that make donations to charities and that’s not the purpose of charitable donations in Canada, so we are being increasingly strict on the subject. You’ll see some more on Tuesday," he said.

3. Go after democratic rights of workers

 The Harper government indicated this week it plans to rush through the House of Commons a bill to destabilize the labour movement and weaken the ability of unions to fight for fair wages and a shared prosperity.

The anti-union private member's bill (C-525), tabled by a Conservative backbencher and backed enthusiastically by Stephen Harper and his cabinet, is now at the committee stage in the House of Commons. The Conservatives seems poised to ram it through.

Borrowing heavily from Republican-style tactics in the United States, C-525 proposes that a majority vote in favour of joining a union is no longer enough while letting a minority of the membership sign a petition to trigger a decertification vote.

And by forcing a mandatory secret vote on employees who have already signed union cards, the bill makes the union certification process more difficult, allowing employers to intimidate employees.

This two-step process would put federal labour laws at odds with the rules in a number of Canada's provinces, where a "card check" of a majority of workers is enough to organize a union. 

What a week (and that's not even counting the developments in Canada's corrupted appointed Senate).

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