20 May 2013

Democracy Crisis In Canada

An Open Letter to His Excellency the Right Honourable Governor General of CanadaDavid Johnston C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.


Canada is in crisis.  Citizens need you to exercise your authority and preserve our system of responsible government.

Canadians have become aware that, amid scandals and anti-democratic activity, Prime Minister Stephen Harper intends to request proroguing of Parliament in early June.  In as little as two weeks, the Prime Minister intends to silence debate, thus avoiding answering for his government’s actions. 

If successful, this will be the third occasion Prime Minister Harper has used prorogation avoid responsibility.  In 2008, PM Harper used prorogation to avoid a non-confidence vote.  In 2009, he used it to avoid answering for the Afghan Detainees scandal.  Now, he appears set to use prorogation to duck questions regarding his Chief-of-Staff buying a Senator, among other issues.

The Government of Stephen Harper has become the least-democratic and least-responsible government Canada has had.  Its offences against democracy are varied and numerous: Charter Rights violations; intimidating advocates; bullying government employees; terminating bureaucrats for exercising their duties; hindering or halting investigations; and much more. 

PM Harper denies the core principle of responsible government - that government be responsible to Citizens.  His actions have shown contempt for Canadians and for our democracy.  Stephen Harper uses omnibus budget bills to avoid debating legislation; even as Parliament readies to vote on the current budget, we still lack information on Budget 2012.  This Government stalls or blocks Access To Information requests, hides behind legal privilege, and, in the new Budget, will restrict Citizens from participating in public hearings.  The Conservatives routinely move committee discussion behind closed-doors, away from our scrutiny.  This Government has repeatedly refused to provide information on multiple issues, from the treatment of Afghan detainees to the cost of new fighter jets.  It has shut down departmental archives, thereby preventing Citizens from checking facts.  The Harper Government is now moving towards direct control of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, thereby eliminating a key public accountability service.

The Conservatives have implemented frightening restrictions on our civil service.  The new Code Of Conduct policy requires all employees of the Government of Canada to be loyal to the Harper Government; to not speak against it, even in private; and to obtain approval for public statements.  Failure to comply results in loss of employment.  This policy not only violates our Charter Rights to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; it also violates the Canada Labour Code, as it prevents union members from disagreeing with the government.  This Duty of Loyalty policy has already seen extensive use against our scientists and librarians.  And recently, civil servants received emails linking them to the Harper Government’s Economic Action Plan, and inquiring how they will vote in future - an obvious attempt at voter intimidation, and a gross offence against democracy.

The Harper Government has also targeted Canada’s volunteer sector for loyalty.  The Canada Revenue Agency has notified charities that engaging in activities deemed ‘political’ will cost them charitable status.  Not-for-profits risk audits for similar activity.  Step by step, this government is stifling dissent, stamping out discourse, and erasing the rights of Canadians.

This government is acting against the best interests of Canadians, is refusing to be responsible to the Citizens, and appears bent on creating an autocracy in the person of Stephen Harper.  The Loyal Opposition is unable to hold this Government to account.  PM Harper has engineered and manipulated the Senate to guarantee his domination. Citizens who protest are either ignored by Harper or targeted for intimidation.  The voices of Canadians are being silenced.

We cannot simply wait two years for election day.  By then, irreparable damage will have been done to our democracy.  Stephen Harper will have made it difficult, if not impossible, to oppose him.  In two more years, we may no longer have elections at all.

Excellency, Canadians need you.  Citizens cannot themselves legally stop this Government.  Action must be taken now to preserve democracy.  Otherwise, our future is bleak.

As a Citizen, I humbly request, Excellency, that you discharge the duty entrusted to you: to preserve our democracy.  I request that you exercise your authority as Head of State for Canada to remove from office those who have violated the sacred trust placed in them by Citizens.  Please, restore balance to our system. 

Do not prorogue parliament and permit another loophole-escape from public accountability; ensure that we Citizens learn the truth. 

Under Section V of the Letters Patent, please remove from office such Senators, Ministers, Members of Parliament, or other individuals - of any party - who have acted against Citizens, who sought personal gain over duty, or who have otherwise disgraced the values of responsible government and democracy. 

Withhold or withdraw Royal Assent from any and all legislation which runs counter to the Charter, or to the principles of democracy. 

Act within your power to lift policy and legislative restrictions on dissent and discourse, as all Citizens should be able express their political views without fear of retribution.

When Citizens have been able to review the actions and behaviour of those who act in our names, and when democratic balance has been restored, please dissolve Parliament that Canada might have a proper, free, and fair election. 

As you noted recently, Excellency, a Governor General’s reserve powers are rarely used, but are of supreme importance to preserving democracy.  The time to act has arrived.  Canada needs you.  Democracy needs you.  We Citizens need you.

Please, save our democracy.


Jeff Rose-Martland
Citizen of Canada

08 May 2013

The Re-birth of the Stupid Newfie

[A version of the following was published by The Telegram on 8 May 2013]

The Re-birth of the Stupid Newfie
Jeff Rose-Martland

The Dunderdale government likes to yammer on about investing in our future: hydropower and industry and jobs galore.  A future of resources and trade and high employment.  A debt-free future, according to their budget.  But do they care what kind of Newfoundlanders will live that future?

Harken back to the early- to mid-20th century.  Newfoundlanders were the butt of jokes throughout
Canada, if not the world - The Newfie Joke.  The jokes revolved around a central theme: the Stupid Newfie.  Sometimes, the protagonist was someone so dense that simple situations were beyond their grasp.  Most often, the Stupid Newfie had a great deal of common sense, but was ignorant, unworldly, and uneducated.  The character would attempt to apply this simple reasoning to complex situations.  Oh, the hilarity.

Those jokes had some basis in fact.  After all, Newfoundlanders during that time were, by and large, uneducated academically.  They fled poverty to distant locations for jobs.  Newfoundlanders brought our hard working nature, but also our tendency to dive in, even when over our heads, especially if there’s money involved.  Anyone faced with a brand-new situation is likely to say or do the wrong thing, and Newfoundlanders are an especially humorous people, so it is easy to see how comic situations might result.  But the Newfie joke quickly morphed into a vehicle of bias and intolerance, with the people of this province branded ‘stupid’.

We have had a long, hard fight against that reputation.  We object to the term ‘Newfie’ as offensive.  We are quick to point out the cutting-edge medicine, science and engineering being done here.  We boast of Memorial University’s rank as a top-notch school.  We push the message that the Stupid Newfie is no more.  We are winning, but have not yet won.

The Dunderdale government is going to resurrect the Stupid Newfie.  Amongst all the talk of resource projects and deficit reduction, the PCs are acting to turn us ignorant again.  And, with only limited objections, we are happily boarding the train with them back to Stupid Newfoundland.

Adult Basic Education – a program designed to help anyone who dropped out of high-school.  Not so many years ago, ABE had been handled by private institutions.  They dropped the program because they couldn’t make enough money.  It was government that moved ABE into CONA, to ensure the program would be available throughout the province to those who need it.  By dumping ABE back to the private sector, Kathy Dunderdale has effectively killed the program - it won’t be too long before private schools announce - again - that Adult Basic Education is not profitable.

Lack of ABE programs will mean more people stuck with whatever education they got when they quit grade school; low education is a primary qualification for the Stupid Newfie.

Then there’s the libraries.  We have 96 of them.  We need more because libraries are wonderful places.  First, everything is free – something one appreciates in this crazy world of unreliable income.  Second, libraries don’t just have books; they have videos and music and Internet.  The are one-stop-shops for entertainment.  Libraries also host courses, sessions, groups, lectures, readings – all sorts of ways to have fun and learn more. 

Also, the Librarian.  (That’s capitalized because it should be a title, not a job description.)  Librarians are rare people.  They not only know things, they know how to learn more about things.  They hold the keys to finding out anything you ever wanted to know.  They might appear to spend their time tidying the books and calling the overdue borrowers.  They may seem to be quiet people armed with date-stampers.  But Librarians are some of the most important people in our society.  Librarians are the guardians of all our accumulated knowledge. 

Disagree?  Go ask one a question.  Any question.  You’ll get the answer, in detail, with annotations and cross-references.  And an Librarian doesn’t care if you are 6 and in Grade 1, 46 and a doctor, or 86 and a war vet.  They will help anyone, free of charge.  Because a Librarian is your guide through the Kingdom of Knowledge. 

But Kathy Dunderdale doesn’t think that’s important.   She must feel that librarians are not important for our future, since she laid off 40% of them.  Plus support staff - assistant librarians and IT people.  And she cut the modest wages of those who remain, making this an even less-attractive field.  Libraries, we have been assured, will still have funding for books and will remain open.  How that is going to work?  There won’t be a Librarian to buy the books, nor assistants to man the counter and keep the doors open.. 

The system has already been scuttled; the Conservatives have rendered libraries unsustainable.  In five years, maybe less, government will be able to closing the doors, claiming lack of use.  Which there will be, as out-of-date materials, lack of programming, erratic hours, and, above all, no Librarians to guide people all combine to drive patrons away.

That doesn’t matter to the PCs.  After all, libraries don’t generate revenue.  Neither does sitting in a classroom - one need only look at the number of education cuts to see government’s view on that.  Dunderdale is promising jobs while slashing away at the tools we need to obtain that employment.  Are we to become janitors at Muskrat Falls?  General labourers for rich, Come-from-Away bosses?  Is she planning on making a personal fortune selling Newfie Joke Books?

If we really are concerned about our future, if we really want to excel and exceed, then we need to have smart, educated people.  The way to get them is to invest in education and libraries.  Learning needs to be available to all, not just those with funds.  Otherwise, the rich get educations and the poor get ignorant.

The Dunderdale Government says it cares about our future, but its actions are ensuring we will only have one role in it: The Stupid Newfie.


Jeff Rose-Martland is an award-winning author, member of the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild, and recipient of the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work advocating for veterans.