Alternativa Latinoamericana
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Alberta, Noviembre/November 2009
ALTERNATIVA Latinoamericana
"A system of Trading Favours"
Murray Dobbin has said that Primer
Minister Harper has proven himself unable
to provide democratic governance; he has
expressed contempt for his own country
and had shown a disregard for the rule of
law. Harper, he said, suffers from
"malignant narcissism", a heightened
sense of self importance that makes him
unfit to be in such a high office. He has
shown his true character even in public
places, slipping into a state of rage
whenever someone disagrees with him.
Dobbin has argued in favour of any route to
end with the threat that Harper's
government represents to canadians. The
Harper administration has not only ignored
the commitments made by previous
administrations like Kyoto but also it has
withdrawn from the UN's Durban
Conference against racims without any
reference to Parliament (,
"When governments have contempt for the law;"
Harper has used strategies in governing
that bipass consultation with others chainging
even the language used by the Canadian
Foreign Affairs Department without letting
anybody know. Although the changes seem
minor they will impact Canadian foreign policy.
Desmond Morton, a historian and former director
of McGill University's Institute for the Study of
Canada explained to The Current (CBC) that this
took place because "There are people who don't
like Canada to be a leading humanitarian." For
some, he added, the humanitarian role of
Canada is "revolting." thus, the term "child
soldier," for example, was changed to "children
in armed conflict" ­some argued that to protect
the government from charges that is
mishandling the Omar Khadr's case. But, to
General Romeo Dallaire, who started the Child
Soldiers Initiative, the change is but "an
instrument of camouflage". The minister's office
has removed also the words "impunity" and
"justice" from calls for an end to sexual violence
in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and
the new language refers now to "preventing"
sexual violence (
No minority government in Canadian
History, has been so condescending with his co-
governing parties or acted so openly as if
Parliament did not matter at all, said Dobbin.
But the process taking place at federal level can
be identified also at other levels of government in
Canada. In BC, for example, the Harper
Conservatives are doing what they can to block,
delay or derail the ongoing investigation into the
Afghan torture inquiry that looks into whether
Canada violated international law by handing
over Afghan prisoners to the torture-prone
Afghan police.
The Globe and Mail reporter, Tu Thanh Ha,
explained that the government put forward eight
motions seeking, among other things "to
eliminate witnesses, question the inquiry's
jurisdiction and hold up proceedings." Ottawa
wants to remove some witnesses, he said,
including the four generals who commanded
Canadian troops in Afghanistan ­ David Fraser,
Tim Grant, Michael Ward and Guy Laroche ­
and the Foreign Affairs and correctional staff
who were in Afghanistan. It has even tried to
change radically the way examinations are
conducted: The government opposes "the
inquiry's plans to question witnesses." Rather
than the usual process of back-and-forth and
cross-examination of any inquiry, "the
government would prefer that witnesses take
questions in writing and then have the transcript
of their answers edited before the inquiry lawyers
see them" (
Dobbin argues that the government has
engaged "in such an intense campaign of
intimidation of witnesses" that only one witness
has come forward to do pre-hearing interviews.
And then, this witness received a letter from the
Justice lawyer (addressed to all the witnesses
subpoenaed to appear before the commission)
warning them that their reputations (and maybe
even their careers) were at risk if they took part
in pre-hearing interviews.
The witness, the diplomat Richard Colvin,
notified his lawyer, Lori Bokenfohr, who sent a
letter stating the following: "According to your
letter, as a result of participating in pre-hearing
interviews, government servants might face
accusations of lying during public hearings, face
greater risk to reputation and carry the potential
moral burden of unwittingly exposing military and
other colleagues and peers to disciplinary
penalties" (Ottawa leaned on diplomat to stop
Afghan testimony: lawyer, Globe and Mail,
October 13, 2009).
For most part other mainstream media,
including the CBC, said Dobbin, do not appear
concern about these happenings. But these are
issues to be concerned about because as he
said the go to the "core of democracy."
Duff Conacher, at the head of Democracy
Watch, founded in 1993, a graduate from the
University of Toronto School of Law, is oncerned
about this and other issues of government and
the corporate world. Conacher is a former
Ralph Nader's Raider and his work at
Democracy Watch is taking him to challenge the
Prime Minister's actions regarding an alledged
violation of the Fixed Election Date Act. If the
government had respected its own fixed election
law we should have had an election this past
October 19.
Democracy Watch is challenging Prime
Minister Harper in Court. It is the world's first
case ever of a leader violating this own fixed
electin law. Prime Minister Harper is either a
promise breaker or a Law breaker, explained
Conacher in the radio program Five o'clock
Train. But, he had no right to go to the Governor
General and tell her to call an election after his
own government passed the Fixed Election Law.
Conacher's struggle, however, is a larger
one, he is concerned about the state of
democracy in Canada and challenges the
system of trading favours, and gifts, favoured. he
argues in favor of "honesty" in politics, and many
people think that he has lost his mind. We have
come to accept that politicians are lyers that few
challenge it anymore. Tracking governance and
corruption and issues of government
accountability and corporate responsibility,
Conacher has come to understand that lack of
honesty is crucial issue. Making visible the
system of trading favours and/or gifts in the
world of politics is a first fundamental step.
Although government has established its
own watchdogs, Conacher explains, they are
completely domesticated and often, like in the
case of the Federal Ethics Commisionaire, he
said, they are not obligated to investigate issues
if they do not want to. Or when they do
investigate they have few teeth to deal with those
breaking the laws -the maximun fine they can
impose is 500 canadian dollars and have
no power to impose any change (http://
The culture of lying in politics,
explains Conacher, is very linked to
people's reluctance to even vote. Turn
out during elections continues to drop
because it make little difference to vote
one party or another if they are lying to try
to get your vote and will not implement
their programs. Voters are tired of being
deceived by campaign promises that
never become a reality. The issue may
fail to appear in the polls made, he argue,
but it is the most important issue in any
election, credibility. This acceptance of
dishonesty is not only blatant but is also
very dangerous.
When compared with other
countries, Canada, he explains, does not look
bad in paper, and yet there is a big gap between
our policies in paper and their implementation.
Not only is dishonesty allowed for politicians,
waste is allowed too. And yet, lying is not
acceptable behavior anywhere, he explains. If
you plan to immigrate to Canada you are
expected to tell the truth, as you are expected to
tell the truth if your are a lawyer as it is illegal to
lie in Court, it is illegal for taxpayers to lie when
filing their tax declaration, it is illegal for
Corporate executives to lie to their shareholders
but it is not illegal for politicians to lie.
In the past, Conacher explains, there was
the argument that dishonesty (and corruption)
was not an issue in Canada because we were
not dealing with the kind of monies that would
tempt politicians. The Liberal add scandal,
however, proved this argument wrong by
showing that for as little as 5,000 dollars a
politican will change his/her decisions. Since
this scandal, things have changed and it is now
illegal for lobbyists to give any kind of gifts or do
any type of favours for politicians if they either
lobby them in the present or will lobby them in
the future.
There is much to be done. Patronage is
rampant in government, argues Barbara Yaffe in
her article (Harper matches Chretien in the
patronage game, Vancouver Sun, October 15,
2009). Although Conservatives had pledged in
2006 and 2008 elections that they would create
a Commission responsible for awarding jobs
based on merit and ensuring competitions were
publicized and conducted in a fair manner,
Harper seemed to be moving in this direction but
any discussion on the topic stopped when his
efforts to appoint Gwyin Morgan to head the
Commission failed. It was deeply ironic and
hypocritical move, said Conacher, to appoint a
crony to head the Commision that is suppossed
to stop cronysm.
Recently there have been 37 appointment
approved by Harper's Cabinet, most with ties to
the Conservative party, including the 5 judges
appointed. For example, Doug Finlay, is the
husband of the Human Resource Minister, Diane
Finlay, and ex Political Operation Director for the
party and he was appointed to the Senate. Also
apointed were Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, a
longtime Harper aid, and Don Plett, former party
Democracy Watch is involved in
coordinating the Government Ethics Coalition
(31 groups across Canada), the Money in
Politics Coalition (50 groups across Canada)
and the Honesty in Politics Campaign that
pushes for federal government to past honesty
in politics laws. Open government Campaign
focuses on access to information and the Voter
Rights Campaign who focuses on the rights for
voters. In 2006 the federal conservative
government approved the Accountability Act Bill
C-2 with 30 accountability measures -there are
still 90 loopholes identified that require an Act 2
and the involvement of all political parties.
By Nora Fernández
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