Democracy

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.

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.
 
Tue, 2013-12-31 10:42Adam Kingsmith
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9 Reasons Why 2013 Was a Slow and Painful Year for Freedom In Canada

freedom in canada desmog canada
Earlier this year I wrote an article attempting to cut through tired, rhetorical pandering in order to shed some much-needed light on the ways in which the Harper government has been overseeing The Slow and Painful Death of Freedom in Canada.
 
Fri, 2013-09-20 11:26Guest
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David Schindler: Unmuzzle Government Scientists

muzzling of scientists, stand up for science event vancouver zack embree

This is a guest post by David Schindler, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology emeritus at the University of Alberta. His 50-year scientific career has included 22 years as a federal government scientist. 

Most scientists are by nature introverts, happiest in the field or the laboratory, willing to talk about their work if asked but not inclined to be self-promoters. But on Monday, they demonstrated in public in several Canadian cities to protest the muzzling of government scientists and the de-emphasis of government environmental science.

That scientists would take the time and effort to demonstrate publicly should be deeply disturbing to Canadians. It indicates some dramatic and important changes in the purpose of government science departments.

In the 1960s and 1970s, government scientists were encouraged to speak publicly about their work. The resulting science-based policies were the envy of scientists and policy-makers around the world. Canada was the first country to regulate phosphorus in sewage and detergents, leading to the recovery of many lakes from algal blooms. Much of the science behind that decision was done by government scientists. It was welcomed by policy-makers eager to anchor their policies in solid science. Canada also led global efforts to decrease emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals, resulting in the Montreal Protocol.

Thu, 2013-06-06 12:37Guest
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Taking Back Our Democracy: Bridging the Generational Divide

Alex Himelfarb

This is a guest post by Alex Himelfarb. Originally from his blog, this reflection on Canadian democracy is no less relevant today than it was at the time of its publication, nearly one year ago. 

Mon, 2013-06-03 07:13Carol Linnitt
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Harper’s Attack on Science: "No Science, No Evidence, No Truth, No Democracy"

This is a DeSmog Canada post originally commissioned for the Academic Matters: The Journal of Higher Education May edition “The War on Knowledge.”

Science—and the culture of evidence and inquiry it supports—has a long relationship with democracy. Widely available facts have long served as a check on political power. Attacks on science, and on the ability of scientists to communicate freely, are ultimately attacks on democratic governance.

It’s no secret the Harper government has a problem with science. In fact, Canada’s scientists are so frustrated with this government’s recent overhaul of scientific communications policies and cuts to research programs they took to the streets, marching on Parliament Hill last summer to decry the “Death of Evidence.” Their concerns— expressed on their protest banners—followed a precise logic: “no science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy.”

No Science”

Since 2006, the Harper government has made bold moves to control or prevent the free flow of scientific information across Canada, particularly when that information highlights the undesirable consequences of industrial development. The free flow of information is controlled in two ways: through the muzzling of scientists who might communicate scientific information, and through the elimination of research programs that might participate in the creation of scientific information or evidence.

Tue, 2013-05-07 10:24Adam Kingsmith
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The Harper Government's War on Critical Thinking

The oligarchy on Parliament Hill has spoken – the next phase of operation “The Slow and Painful Death of Freedom in Canada” is an all-out war on critical thought.

For no more is Canada a place to irreverently “commit sociology,” or disrespectfully engage in “academic pondering” over simple problems like terrorism. We’ve not the time for petty scientific inquiry regarding such trivial matters as environmental degradation or global warming. And it’s best to just ignore frivolous problems like increased inequality, abhorrent aboriginal conditions, and unflinching gender gaps.

After all, “the root cause of terrorism is terrorists.” That’s it, case closed. Just as the root cause of pollution is the environment. Unemployment - that’s employees. Drug abuse, the abusive drugs, and gun violence, well it’s all those violent guns we’ve got.

So keep calm, we’ll win the wars on drugs and terror if we continue trading rights and freedoms for safety and security. As for the rest of our hindrances – fear not, the free market will fix everything. In the mean time, we’ll continue to chip away at those cumbersome social safety nets and outsource any means of production, if you promise to continue spending money you don’t have on things you don’t really need.

After all, according to Dear Leader Harper, “we know what Canadians want.”

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