Lawrence Martin Speaks

Lawrence Martin
Notes  by Tina Agrell

November 24 was a beautiful sunny day. Approximately 100 attendees signed in. There was a buzz of anticipation.

Bev Lefrancois, Coodinator of RODC, welcomed everyone to the Symposium.

Clare Henderson, Coordinator of the Symposium Committee, gave a brief history of RODC. He explained why the Symposium is not being livestreamed as we originally intended, as we want all speakers to feel comfortable and speak their minds.  A Statement will be prepared and e-mailed later.Today is an opportunity to listen to the speakers and to each other.
How do we rise up and take back democracy?

Hart Jansson introducing keynote speaker Lawrence Martina distinguished writer and journalist, author of many books and articles.  Harperland is well known. He is not just the Wikipedia “Big L Liberal”.  He has criticized both Chretien and Harper. He is “against government when it does bad deeds.”

Lawrence.  Great to be out of Ottawa!  Speaking about the collapse of democracy in Canada.  Article in today’s Globe and Mail on the "No Comment Government".  Harper has a democracy of one.  Only thing comparable is the era of Reagan, the admirable dunce.  He was said to own more horses than books.  You could walk through Reagan's deepest thoughts and not get your feet wet.

     Lawrence compared the political systems in Canada and the US, then had the opportunity to work in Moscow, at that time a centralized non-democracy. All communications were vetted, the science community was gagged, and leaders had contempt for parliament, which they would shut down at will…
     Sound familiar?
     He was in Moscow when Gorbachev, whom Lawrence regarded as a great leader, brought democracy to the USSR.
     Now Lawrence is here in Canada while Harper as our current leader is beginning to take democracy away.

Power first began to be centralized in the hands of a few close to the PM under Pierre Eliot Trudeau, then continued under Chretien, who, although he respected the democratic system, often reacted unilaterally and emotionally to criticism.
     Then an outlying right wing faction of the Conservatives formed the Reform Party under Preston Manning and his policy director Steven Harper.  Historically Canada has always been led by a moderate party, just slightly to the left or right of center. Manning and the Reform Party staged a takeover of Red Tories to form the PC. 
Harper has never been interested in subordinate’s opinions.
He is the antithesis of a grassroots politician. -Lawrence Martin
     Harper has never been interested in subordinate’s opinions. He is the antithesis of a grassroots politician. The role of the Canadian Prime Minister embodies a lot of power and our checks and balances are only hazily defined. 
While he led a minority government Harper worked on diminishing those checks and balances.

Public Service
     Every press release must be approved by the PM. Civil servants are denied the right to speak out – these are forms of censorship.
    Distinguished scientists may only speak if chaperoned by a government apparchik.  Even the release of stories like the mating habits of black bears had to be officially sanctioned.
The Civil Service at one time was policy development centre - now it only implements policy.
     The government believes it already knows the answers and needs no outside input.  It does not believe in empirical data. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration even staged a fake ceremony – reminding one of events in North Korea.
     The Justice Department, which at one time did excellent research, has announced that they don’t care what the research says, they govern by their gut.  A Neanderthal approach.

Checks and Balances 
     Omnibus Bills are Trojan Horse bills – pile in all kinds of legislation (200+ pieces) and the individual pieces are not subject to individual scrutiny. 
     The Committee system has been rendered dysfunctional.  The PM’s office circulated a handbook on how to disrupt or close down committees. Cabinet Ministers are now exempt from testifying at committees
     There has been a record use of closure, time–out, in-camera meetings,
     Prorogation has been used twice for crass political purposes.  
     Harper is the first PM ever to be found in contempt of Parliament.
     He has removed public subsidy for political parties, in order to diminish financial support.
     He has deliberately misled the public on the cost of the F35 fighter planes and on the G8 spending scam.
     This government originally campaigned on a promise of openness and transparency, but now when called to task, the Ministers sit mute.

Media Control  
     Information is the life-blood of a democracy.  There are no more open-ended press conferences.  The PM now gives prepared answers to a few issue specific questions.  There is less access to Cabinet than ever before, no more media scrums.  Harper has close connections with Sun Media, Fox News, the Post Network, the Globe and Mail editorial board and AM radio.  All are steering Right.  Is there no one in the media any more to sing a left wing song?
     Talking points on any issue come from” Kremlin Central” and the manner and content of responding are rehearsed before TV shows. This can be comical to watch.
     Our watch dogs have been replaced by lap dogs, whistle blower reports are ignored or swept under the rug.
Oversight bodies like the National Energy Board, the CRTC, The Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nuclear Agency are no longer independent.  The Budget Officer is challenged and stymied at every turn.  The Rights and Democracy group in Montreal is stacked with Tory appointees; the church group KAIROS was denied funding because its advocacy did not fit with government policy.
When campaigning, Harper said he wanted to eliminate patronage appointments and have a public appointments commission.  However, he wanted to appoint his own cronies to lead the commission.  When the Opposition challenged this, Harper rapidly abandoned the whole idea.
     He shut down the Military Police Complaints Commission examining the treatment of Afghan detainees.  The reputation of the respected diplomat who testified was smeared,
     There was a robo-call campaign against Irwin Cotler. 
     As a rule a PM faces criticism from within his own party. Currently the Conservative rank and file have no power   Tom Flanagan was Harper’s campaign strategist and he wrote a book on their work together.  Harper tried to block publication and did manage to have sections deleted.  He and Flanagan are no longer friends.
     The Conservative back benchers are trained seals or wind up toys.
     Parliamentary democracy has become, "What you Can Get Away With."

Fair and Free elections
     Robo calling and voter suppression. Elections Canada is in the process of investigating.  If they find that the charge is substantiated, there would be a big scandal. The Council of Canadians is bringing a court case but lacks substantial evidence to support their case.
     The Tories have treated Canadians as fools and we have not kicked up a fuss.  This is an Orwellian assault on democracy.
     We need all our checks and balances to be reset.
     We need to have the size and powers of the PMO cut in half.
     The Opposition must offer not just protest and criticism but alternative solutions.
     The Tory Press asks, who cares about Process?
But we fought for hundreds of years to achieve due process in this country.
Without the Public speaking out- nothing is going to happen.

Q and A Session
Q.  Please talk about Harper’s attitude to women.
A.  There are no strong female representatives in Cabinet.- possibly because Harper feels that none are strong enough.
The PMO is totally male dominated.  Harper has a 1950’s world view.

Q.   Are Liberals voting with the government in order to curry favour with Bay Street?
A.    Are they voting with the government?  It is true that they will  need to work with Corporate Canada.

Q.    How do we get rid of Harper?
A.    25% percent of the electorate do support conservatives. Under the current system we only need 33% to win a majority.  Harper is a very smart person.  He avoids contentious issues while pandering to his conservative base.  Perhaps amalgamation of the progressive parties would help.

Q.   What action can we take?
A.   Making a noise is important.
Make policy recommendations to party leaders.
Lots of groups are being formed to oppose changes.

Q.   How to strengthen the CBC?
A.   It is not as Liberal as once it was.  Top executives are afraid to lose more funding.  The CBC is worth preserving.  It is the cornerstone of our Canadian identity.

Q.   Are we too polite when Ministers avoid answering?
A.   The rules of the House need to be tightened. The power of the Speaker is limited.  There is a need to reform this.

Q.   We are seeing the erosion of democracy to the point of dictatorship. Will there be pressure to change at the next election?
A.   Hopefully.  We seem to be moving towards a critical mass. A coalition of Liberal and Labour needs to be brought together – around process, not ideology. We need all parties to collaborate in common cause. It is not a Left or Right issue, there IS potential for collaboration.

Q.   How independent is Elections Canada? 
A.   Does it have the guts to chase down complaints of voter suppression?  Probably not.  The report of their investigation will not be whitewash, but it likely will not be enough to stir things up.

Q.   Would Proportional Representation help?
A.   It has the potential to lead to more checks and balances, but no party is willing enough to move it forward.  We would need a national commission to travel the country informing the public and listening to their views.

Q.   How valuable are campaigns like that of AVAAZ against FIPA?
A.   The treaty will go through and no debate will be allowed.  This is a sore point in Quebec – but Harper can ignore Quebec.

Q.   Isn’t Tory policy all designed to support the Economy?
A.   It’s a sledgehammer approach but it has helped.

Q.   Who is in the wings to take over the Tory leadership?
A.   Harper wants to stay and run again and again.  Jason Kenney, John Baird, Jim Flaherty spring to mind.

Q.   Please write an article in support of Proportional Representation.
Notes on the address by LAWRENCE MARTIN to the RODC Symposium on November 24, 2012 

Notes by Carol Brayman

Lawrence Martin opened: 

In Moscow I watched a leader [Gorbachev] introducing democracy. In Canada, I’m watching a Prime Minister [Harper] take it away. 

[Until now] Canada has always been governed by a moderate party. 

The Reform party members are “outliers”- offshoots of the American Republican extremists. 

About control of the Public Service: 

1. A new development with this party in power is that everything from government departments has to be vetted. Public servants have no right to speak out eg. Parks Canada -> on the mating season of the black bear. 

2. Members of the scientific community are gagged – if speaking a party “handler” must be present 

3. Journalists must now submit questions to any government person in writing and wait at least a day for answers 

4. Government documents have changed 

5. Privy Council has been politicized and now just endorses the policy rather than shaping or changing it 

6. The prevailing attitude of Conservative Party elected members is “We don’t care what research says, we’re going by our own guts. Eg the Justice Dept. Research division has been slashed and is ignored.” 

7. Proroguing is now occurring not for administrative purposes, as in the past, but for crass political purposes. Hence Harper was found in contempt of parliament. 

About further erosion of democracy/the democratic process

1. Election subsidies to parties have been cut 

2. Parliament has been deliberately misled more than once; eg the F-35 scandal, Tony Clement and the G-8 scandal 

3. In 2006 Stephen Harper promised openness and transparency but not Conservative government MP’s don’t even answer questions in the House. 

4. Media openness is gone – Harper doesn’t have open scrums, and only answers questions that are issue specific and have been screened. The press has less access to govt. officials than ever before. Cabinet meetings are now sometimes secret. 


Further on Media- Harper was instrumental in bringing Sun media here. The Sun, National Post, and most a.m. radio talk show “jocks” are all Conservative. The Globe is Conservative/Liberal. Only The Toronto Star and a couple of papers in Quebec are not Conservative. 

“The watch dogs of parliament have been replaced by lap dogs.” Example, the current Integrity Commissioner has swept more than 200 whistle blowing complaints under the carpet. NGO and other groups that do not reflect the new Conservative ideologies are being denied funding. 

The Conservative Party is now a propaganda machine. Tom Flannigan (a former top advisor of Harper) talks about the “garrison party out to raise funds and fight wars.” 

Process is important to a healthy democracy. Didn’t we work for hundreds of years – since the Magna Carta- for this??????? 

Radical change is needed. The opposition parties should have polices for bringing about change and electoral reform in their platforms. 

Q. From participant to Martin -Is there any sign of courage on the Conservative side to reform democracy? 

A. There’s nothing ideological about believing in democracy.