Saturday, January 23, 2010

Waterloo Anti-Prorogation Rally a Great Success

The Record estimated 500 at today's rally in front of Waterloo Square, but I made it more like 600.

It was a great event. The atmosphere was upbeat but serious. The speakers were excellent (in part because their remarks were brief) and they crossed the spectrum: all the opposition parties, independents, religious groups, and so on. It was organized brilliantly: many thanks to those behind it. Afterwards there was free hot chocolate and then a benefit for Haiti at a nearby eatery.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Only in Canada: Harper's prorogation is a Canadian thing

From Only in Canada: Harper's prorogation is a Canadian thing in today's Montreal Gazette:
Go searching for the last time a Westminster-style parliament was shut down to free its leaders from unwanted censure or scrutiny — and you'll end right back in Canada, where you started.

It turns out, no other English-speaking nation with a system of government like ours — not Britain, Australia or New Zealand — has ever had its parliament prorogued in modern times, so that its ruling party could avoid an investigation, or a vote of confidence, by other elected legislators.

Only three times has this happened, all in Canada — first in 1873, when Sir John A. Macdonald asked the governor general to prorogue Parliament, in order to halt a House of Commons probe into the Pacific Scandal. Lord Dufferin gave in to the demand, but when Parliament reconvened Macdonald was forced to resign.

No prime minister dared use prorogation to such effect again, until Stephen Harper convinced Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to suspend Parliament in 2008, so the Conservatives could evade a confidence vote.

About 12 months later, he did it again.


But as Ned Franks points out, the strength of the federal government — and the prime minister's own authority — must flow through Parliament. If Parliament is weak, and if the prime minister ignores its members and tries to rule without their consent, then his legal right to govern evaporates.

In a Westminster system, this is Parliament's core democratic function — to legitimize executive power.

King Charles I learned this lesson the hard way more than 300 years ago, by trying to govern without the English Parliament's consent. When he finally dismissed it, political opponents responded by cutting off his head.

"By shutting down Parliament all by himself, Harper is acting in muchthe same fashion," says Franks. "We should call him King Stephen the First of Canada, for that, in effect, is the way he is behaving."

The Conservative Lie Machine has been so effective that many Canadians actually believe that prorogations by Chretien and Trudeau were equivalent to Harper's prorogations. Eventually knowledgeable people will prevail in getting out the truth, but it will be too late and we may very well be saddled with a dangerous extremist majority government.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Make Perogies Not Prorogies!

After a Ukranian friend taught me how to make perogies, I played with the recipe to make it foolproof, added some non-traditional options, and published it in my 1994 cookbook, Akiddeleediveydoo. Here it is, for your foodemocractic pleasure...


These are extremely tasty perogies, and easy to make. The mix of flavors is wonderful. Use fairly smooth mashed potatoes, made with potatoes, milk and butter - or however you usually make it.

1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
2 T oil
1 cup milk
3 cups flour

Filling base:
8 oz pressed cottage cheese (250 g)
4 oz cream cheese (125 g)
1 cup mashed potato
1/2 tsp salt
1 large garlic clove, minced

To make the dough, mix the egg, salt and oil, and then stir in the milk. Stir in the flour. Knead for 5 minutes, adding more flour to keep the dough from sticking.

To make the filling, blend the pressed cottage cheese, cream cheese, potato, salt and garlic. Optionally, separate into four small bowls and add one of the following seasonings to each bowl.

Bacon and cheese:
2 slices bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 tsp bacon fat
1 T grated cheese (provolone, cheddar, or whatever you like)

1/4 cup sauerkraut, drained
1 tsp caraway seeds

1/2 tsp dried dill weed
1 T pine nuts, diced
1 tsp butter, softened
1/2 tsp Tabasco

1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/4 cup green onion, diced
1 tsp softened butter

1 T walnuts, dcied
1 T Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated
I T grated cheese (cheddar, provolone, or whatever you like)
1 tsp softened butter

2-3 T cheese, grated (cheddar, provolone, or whatever you like)

Roll the dough out very thin, using more flour to keep it from sticking. Place a mug of warm water next to you. With a sharp knife, cut a piece about 4" square. It doesn't matter if the piece is irregular or if it is larger or smaller. Put a glob of filling on the dough, as much as will fit, and stretch the dough over it. Dip your index finger in the water and use it to seal the dough. If desired, press it with the tines of a fork. Seal well. Do this with all the dough and filling: each of the four bowls will make six large or ten small perogies.

To cook, bring a large pot of water to a low boil. drop one batch of perogies in at a time, and boil about 5 minutes, until they float to the surface. do not let the water boil too hard or the perogies will burst. Drain the perogies and pour a little melted butter over them. If you like, you can lightly fry the perogies in butter after boiling them.

Serve with sour cream. Optionally, also serve with fried onions.

The cooked perogies freeze very well if spread out (not touching) on wax paper.


PM creates 'dictatorial environment' by shutting down Parliament

From today's Hill Times:

PM creates 'dictatorial environment' by shutting down Parliament

Peter Tinsley says the latest confrontation between the opposition and the government over the detainee issue could lead to a 'crisis' in Canada's system of government.

Published January 11, 2010

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament for two months has added to a "dictatorial environment" that took root during a military police watchdog inquiry into the fate of Afghanistan war detainees and a Commons inquiry into the same controversy, says the former head of the Military Police Complaints Commission.

Former commission chair Peter Tinsley, whose tenure Prime Minister Harper (Calgary Southeast, Alta.) declined to renew last month when the commission was locked in a battle with the government over access to witnesses and documents, said the latest confrontation between the opposition and the government over the detainee issue could lead to a "crisis" in Canada's system of government.

Mr. Tinsley said in an interview with The Hill Times one of the country's democratic foundations—the supremacy of Parliament—is at stake in the unprecedented standoff.

As public rejection grew last week over Mr. Harper's decision to ask Governor General Michaƫlle Jean to end the Parliamentary session on Dec. 30, Mr. Tinsley appeared to have little doubt the move was primarily aimed at removing the opposition's ability to continue to probe allegations of detainee torture through a special Commons committee on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

The committee launched an inquiry into the torture allegations after the government began challenging the Military Police Commission inquiry in Federal Court and invoked the Canada Evidence Act to prevent testimony from a key witness who served with the Foreign Affairs Department as a political affairs officer in Kandahar.

The suspension of Parliament also allows Mr. Harper to delay a confrontation in the Commons over a motion the opposition majority passed ordering the government to disclose evidence, in the form of redacted and undisclosed military and government documents, that could prove or refute allegations by the Foreign Affairs officer that the government attempted to suppress his warnings detainees Canadian troops transferred to Afghan civil and secret police were likely tortured.

Mr. Tinsley said the sudden end to Parliamentary business—which Mr. Harper insists was necessary to allow the government to "recalibrate" itself and begin planning for a March 4 budget while taking control over Senate committees from the Liberals—is the culmination of a disturbing trend that began in late 2007 when his commission began an inquiry into allegations of detainee torture.

"That's where it all started," Mr. Tinsley said, adding that the government's refusal to cooperate with the commission, including a successful Federal Court case limiting the extent of its inquiry, has contributed to public speculation, also spurred on by statements from diplomat Richard Colvin, the former political officer with Foreign Affairs, that there is "some sort of cover-up."

"That heats up as public servants are attacked [the government attempted to discredit Mr. Colvin after he testified at the Commons committee and invoked national security to prevent him from testifying at the commission], a Parliamentary committee becomes involved and now we have constitutional issues, supremacy of Parliament issues, being raised to the point that we could have a form of crisis in our government system," said Mr. Tinsley.

"We have now, with the prorogation, moved to a point that one could say Parliament has been dismissed," said Mr. Tinsley. "For one, like myself, who believes that fundamental to our legal structure is the supremacy of Parliament, that's very disturbing, so I would use the term dictatorial, in a metaphorical fashion."

The chief law clerk of the Commons has advised the Special Afghanistan Committee that Parliament is supreme under the Canadian Constitution and has the authority to compel the government to disclose the documents and information it is withholding on grounds of national security. The opposition has proposed receiving the contested documents in camera, and even swearing-in selected opposition MPs as members of the Queen's Privy Council, an office normally reserved to members of Cabinet, who take an oath of secrecy when assuming their titles.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson (Niagara Falls, Ont.) has challenged the opposition to take their demand to court, even though Conservatives hold a longstanding view that courts have too often interfered with Parliament by striking down controversial laws for Charter of Rights violations. Some opposition MPs have raised the possibility of calling Cabinet ministers to the bar of the Commons to compel disclosure of the evidence.

Mr. Tinsley was a United Nations war crimes prosecutor in Kosovo following the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, a former director of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit that investigates police incidents resulting in death or serious injury, and served in the Canadian Forces for 28 years as a member of the Military Police and a lawyer. He took part in the prosecution of Canadian Forces members following the beating death of a Somali civilian at the hands of a Canadian soldier during an ill-fated international peacekeeping mission in 1992. Mr. Harper named a former chief of the Windsor, Ont., police service, Glenn Stannard, as acting chair of the commission.

Evidence the police commission obtained before Mr. Tinsley's departure were explosive statements from military police officers who served in Kandahar in 2006 and 2007, when the government secretly ordered a halt to transfers as the controversy over possible torture began. The documents have never been aired publicly at the commission because of government court delays and objections.

An Ipsos Reid public opinion poll last week found 38 per cent of respondents across Canada agreed with the opposition that Prime Minister Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament was intended to "curtail" the Parliamentary inquiry into the torture allegations. Only 23 per cent agreed with the government's claim the break was necessary to begin planning the second stage of the Conservative economic recovery plan. Thirty-nine per cent of the respondents were unsure.

In Ontario, however, 40 per cent of respondents agreed with the opposition, and only 20 per cent sided with the government. In the Atlantic provinces, 49 per cent agreed with the opposition.

Liberal MPs Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, B.C.) and Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Ont.) and NDP MP Paul Dewar (Ottawa South, Ont.) said the three oppositions parties have informally agreed to join forces and resume informal meetings of the Afghanistan committee after Jan. 25, the day the Commons had been scheduled to resume sittings following the Christmas recess.

"Why did they prorogue now?" said Mr. Dewar. "They could have prorogued two days before we were to come back and then had a Speech From the Throne. They didn't want this issue to have any more oxygen."

Conservative MP Rick Dykstra (St. Catharines, Ont.) said the issue had nothing to do with prorogation, adding that although he has received several phone calls and emails objecting to the Parliamentary suspension, no constituent has raised the Afghanistan controversy.

"I can tell you I have had zero calls and zero emails from anyone in my constituency about that issue," said Mr. Dykstra, Parliamentary secretary for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Alta.).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Extending the Protest

Across Canada, rallies are scheduled for January 23, and tens of thousands of Canadians have already signed up to participate.

That's fabulous, but most Canadians are older and many older people are not comfortable with the idea of rallies. In addition many Canadians live too far away from a scheduled rally to attend, or they won't be able to get off work, or they have kids, or lots of other reasons why the rally won't work for them. In addition, it is quite possible (given that it's January) that the weather will prevent many people from attending.

We need to think of some ways of extending the January 23 protest... preferably something that Canadians can do on January 23 to participate in the protest without attending a rally.

That's as far as I've got. Any ideas?

Update: Some ideas:

Wear a black armband on January 23.

Ask people to sign a symbolic protest - e.g. a giant pink slip for Harper, or a giant "Get Back to Work" notice, and display this signed banner/notice in a public place, like the local shopping mall/community centre.


The Most Likely Outcome

The most likely outcome of the current democratic crisis is that the opposition will come to nought. Harper will get most Canadians to believe that there is no difference between his prorogations and the 104 that went before. When parliament resumes, the new parliamentary committees will shuffle off the Afghan detainee issue to the dustbins of history. Harper will successfully set a precedent that strips all power from the majority of elected federal representatives. He will not suffer in the polls.

Why do I think this? It's the third time in 15 months that he's dissolved parliament under highly dubious circumstances (starting with breaking his own fixed election law in September 2008), and he got away with it the first two times. He doesn't care about those of us who joined the Facebook group or who will march on January 23: we weren't going to vote for him anyway. In fact, it is his goal to polarize Canadians as a way to intensify the support of his base. That's an old Republican trick that was also used successfully by Mike Harris.

So what can we do?

I think we need to keep three goals in mind:

  • Loudly express our objection to the prorogation. The January 23 rallies are great but they aren't enough. Keep this issue on the front page.

  • Loudly demand that the Afghan inquiry continue. This whole issue is about not wanting certain documents and facts to be revealed. They must be.

  • Punish Harper in the next election. Right now, this means sending money to the nonCon party of your choice (you get most of it back in a tax credit, anyway).

Any other ideas on how to stop Harper from getting away with this?


Chretien Did the Same Thing and Other Myths of Proroguing

The PMO sent out some talking points about Chretien's history of prorogation. Conservative operatives have been posting them in comments all over the place and they have totally muddied the debate. There is nothing normal about this prorogation.

Harper has NOT run standard or even acceptable sessions of parliament. He has made three controversial and questionable dissolutions of parliament since he took power less than four years ago, in February 2006:
(1) September 2008 - Harper dissolved parliament and called an election (or rather, forced the Governor General to) despite his own law, passed in 2007, that created fixed election dates every four years. He did this because two months later Canadians would have known that he had created a structural budget deficit.
(2) December 2008 - Harper prorogued parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote.
(3) December 2009 - This prorogation.

This prorogation was NOT done so that MPs can watch the Olympics or create a budget or have time to think. Parliament was prorogued because the special House of Commons committee focusing on the 2006-07 treatment of Afghan detainees had attained such overwhelming evidence that they held an emergency meeting on December 14 and then announced that they would widen the inquiry. On December 15, rumours started swirling that Harper would prorogue parliament.

It is NOT the case that Harper's use of prorogation is the same as the 104 other prorogations in Canada's history. Other than incidents in 1873 and 1926, prorogation has not been used to avoid being accountable to parliament.

It is NOT true that Chretien's 2003 prorogation was the same as this one. (1) In the 2003 incident, Chretien prorogued when Martin was voted in to replace him as PM, so the parliamentary agenda needed to be reset, which is the purpose of proroguing. (2) Chretien had a majority, so there was no contempt of parliament. Yes, it was probably a side benefit for Chretien that he got to let Martin take all the heat on the A-G's report, but that wasn't the main purpose or justification of the prorogation. See this news article from the time.

Update: Only in Canada: Harper's prorogation is a Canadian thing


Saturday, January 09, 2010

No Prorogue! Protest Update

The No Prorogue! web site is up.

The Waterloo protest will be:
Where: Waterloo Public Square (King Street, in front of Waterloo Town Square)
When: Saturday, January 23, from 11 am to 1 pm
Facebook page: Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (Waterloo Region Chapter)
NoProrogue page:

Other protests:
Where: Canada-wide
When: Saturday, January 23, 2010
Info: Facebook rallies page or

If you haven't yet joined the main Facebook group, do so here: Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament


Thursday, January 07, 2010

More on the Democratic Crisis

  • For those who are complaining that Ignatieff and Layton are on holiday... did it occur to you that Harper timed this to embarrass them by choosing a time when it would be difficult for them to get back to Canada quickly? Just have a little patience. We need leadership from Ignatieff and Layton - not just one but BOTH - and it needs to be good. But quality is more important than fast in this case. We can wait a few more days or weeks.

  • To Ignatieff and Layton... I hope you are working on something and that it is good. Something like... a press conference denouncing this act in firy tones, and announcing a public conference to be held immediately, called "Democracy in Crisis" at which a line-up of respected speakers (including all our living ex-PMs, ex-GGs, ex- supreme court justices, etc etc) denounce this assault on our parliamentary system and explain to the people why annual prorogations to avoid accountability cannot be tolerated.

  • The latest: Harper is asking Canadians for budget advice. At first I thought it was a stunt to deflect attention from his very unpopular prorogation of parliament (which has caused a massive fall in his polling numbers), but on a little reflection I see that this is all part of his plan. He repeatedly circumvents our elected representatives, and now tries to slip in a form of direct democracy. Geeze, maybe those old Liberal/NDP "Harper is scary" ads weren't just fear-mongering... as I said at the time.

  • Day of Action: Saturday, January 23, 1 pm - 5 pm, Canada-wide. Details to follow.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why Parliament is Prorogued

In a nutshell, Harper is trying to destroy our parliamentary democracy.

From the Hill Times:

Harper assumes powers of executive privilege, U.S.-presidential style

A dispute that began with stonewalled reports of Afghan prisoner abuse is set to become the crucible that determines if the Prime Minister or Parliament is now supreme.

Published December 21, 2009

OTTAWA—Pierre Trudeau first freed the genie of expansive prime ministerial power. Now an increasingly feeble Parliament is trying to stuff the monster back into the bottle by demanding Stephen Harper release uncensored documents on Afghanistan prisoner abuse.

At stake is the ability to hold the ruling party accountable between elections. Already dangerously diminished, that capacity will shrink to irrelevance if the Prime Minister wins what is fast becoming an annual Parliament Hill showdown.

On the surface, the current clash favours opposition parties. Armed with legal opinion and the majority of seats won in the 2008 campaign, they have the theoretical right and political numbers to insist the government reveals what Conservatives are desperate to keep secret.

Worse still for the ruling party, the defence is porous.
National security concerns can be easily satisfied either by releasing the documents to MPs under the protection of secrecy laws or, by naming a judge—as Ottawa did in the Maher Arar case—to decide what is damaging to the country as opposed to injurious to politicians.

But the opposition's upper hand is deceptive. As the coalition parties learned during last year's Christmas crisis, a cornered Prime Minister is formidable prey.

Facing certain defeat, Harper escaped by persuading the Governor General to suspend Parliament and by convincing a surprising number of civics-challenged citizens that he alone could rule. On balance, Michaƫlle Jean was right. By any measure beyond a propaganda triumph, Harper was wrong.

Americans directly choose presidents; Canadians elect Members of Parliament. In the absence of U.S. checks and balances, prime ministers are controlled by the confidence of the Commons.

How loose that control has become was exposed by the Quebec sponsorship scandal. Not only were MPs in the dark about how Liberals were misspending public money, Justice John Gomery couldn't follow the dollars through the maze of "mechanics" up the command chain to a responsible minister.

Conservatives won the 2006 election in part by promising transparency. Since then, Ottawa has become only more opaque as the result of the resolute Conservative effort to mute public watchdogs, pass the buck to civil servants and continue concentrating power among appointed partisans in the Prime Minister's Office.

Those factors are coalescing again in a replay of recent history. Denied vital facts, MPs are lost along the Afghanistan prisoner paper trail. Bureaucrats, most notably diplomat Richard Colvin, are the designated scapegoats. By balking at Parliament's demand for information, Harper is assuming powers of executive privilege normally associated with U.S. presidents, not Canadian prime ministers.

Forcing compliance and re-establishing the democratic balance of power is as straightforward as it is twisted. At the first opportunity, opposition parties can defeat Conservatives in the Commons, forcing election-weary voters back to the polls.

Not an appealing political proposition. The loss of Commons confidence is still the appropriate democratic response if the threat of an unwanted campaign, the possible embarrassment of a court challenge or Parliamentary censure fail to cool overheated heads. If not, a dispute that began with stonewalled reports of Afghan prisoner abuse is set to become the crucible that determines if the Prime Minister or Parliament is now supreme.

James Travers is a national affairs columnist with The Toronto Star. This column was released on Dec. 15.

Join Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament here.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Rallies are planned for January 23. I'm no good at initiating things, but if anyone plans one for Waterloo I'll be there.

Update: An event is being organized for K-W; sign up here. Info about rallies in other cities is here.


There are two Facebook groups I know of that anti-proroguers can join:

* Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament
* Canadians Against Suspending Parliament - Rally for the Cause

On each site, click on the Discussion tab to see information about rallies in cities across Canada, and to add your own ideas. There is more information about events here.


Sign the petition.


Harris Decima announced that they did a poll that showed that most Canadians don't care about prorogation. Turns out that the survey was done on December 17-20, nearly two weeks before prorogation occurred.


Liberal Woes: What We Do Know

There has been a lot of criticism recently of Michael Ignatieff's leadership (eg here, here). I don't know what to suggest to our leadership, but a few things seem clear:

1. Nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure
Ignatieff was doing well in the polls until he threatened to force an election; his current standing seems more to be a reaction to that than to any underlying problems with his image. Consider this: every criticism of Ignatieff would appear very different if our polls were better. For example: I keep hearing the complaint that he takes too much time off, but if the polls were better this would likely be ignored - or maybe even seen as a benefit (he knows how to pace himself, etc).

2. Third up at bat can't afford to strike out
After two failed leaders (Paul Martin and Stephane Dion) who we booted out early in their terms, we got the Number One pick of our party. If we boot him out, we become a national joke. No matter how good Number Four is, he would come in with an impossible legacy. We must stick with Ignatieff.

3. We know who Ignatieff is
We all knew, right from the first day of his first leadership campaign, that Ignatieff has no experience in politics. He was the number one pick of the party in both leadership campaigns. We wanted him and now we can't act surprised that he has a learning curve.

We also knew that Ignatieff is a brilliant thinker with the potential to transform longstanding problems in our country. He has a depth and scope of understanding that we have never had before. In a couple of years, if we can get him elected, he might do magnificent things. I'm thinking about Quebec, first nations, and our role in the world.

4. Responsibility for our current state does not lie solely with the leadership
We Liberals have to look to ourselves for a lot of the responsibility. Many of us seem to be fair weather fans who only support the team when we're winning. The party needs money. You get most of your donation back in a tax credit at tax time. You want the party to be more effective in opposing Harper? Donate here.