5 things you need to know about Orwellian "Fair" Elections Act

Updated Feb. 10.

The Conservative government tabled their so-called Fair Elections Act in the House of Commons last week -- 70 weeks late.

Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform, claimed the changes will "increase democracy." Twenty-four hours later, Poilievre moved to cut off the democratic debate about the bill in the House of Commons.

The followin day, the Harper government shut down the debate.

This is just the beginning of the government's doubespeak on this file.

Given the Conservatives'  track record of ignoring or circumventing Canada's electoral law, it's worth fact-checking the spin, so here are 5 things you need to know about the legislation.

1. Conservatives did not consult Elections Canada

On the eve of tabling the bill, Poilievre stood up in the House of Commons on Monday to declare that the government had consulted with Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand. "I did meet with the CEO of Elections Canada some time ago and we had a terrific and a very long meeting, at which I listened carefully to all of his ideas," Poilievre declared. Not so, Mayrand's office shot back within minutes.

"The chief electoral officer has not been consulted," Elections Canada spokesman John Enright said. "There's been no consultation on the contents of the bill."

Tough start.

2. Elections Canada wanted investigative powers: request denied and then some.

Elections Canada, facing an intransigent Conservative Party during its investigations, wanted investigative powers. Instead, the bill is proposing to take away power from the agency by moving the Commissioner of Canada Elections office to within the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"The referee should not be wearing a team jersey," Poilievre explained, revealing the government views the non-partisan, independent agency as an opponent.

The Ottawa Citizen editorial board says this move should be analyzed through the prism of the agency's voter suppression investigation into fraudulent robocalls in Guelph (using the Conservative Party database of voters) during the 2011 election.

"With another election coming soon, Canadians still don't know what really happened in 2011 or who was responsible. Mayrand has said that the Commissioner of Canada Elections should have the power to compel testimony; this bill does not create that."

3. The bill "closes loopholes to big money"... by raising donation and spending limits?

The legislation proposes to increase the maximum donation limit to $1,500 annually, up from the current $1,200. This back and forth from an Ottawa Citizen editorial writer and a columnist sums it up:

So what will this mean?

Fewer people earning a modest income are able to scrounge together anywhere close to the current limit. And which party is best positioned to take advantage of a higher limit? In the first nine months of 2013, the Conservatives had 10,780 donations worth $200 or more, the Liberals had 7,133, and the NDP had 3,492.

On the spending side, the Conservatives are proposing a giant loophole so they can spend more than the election-spending cap. Kady O'Malley of CBC News and the Ottawa Citizen's Glen McGregor explain:

4. Make it harder for First Nations, youth and poor people to vote

The bill proposes to tighten up voter identification rules and to eliminate the practice of "vouching" for other voters who lack proper identification at polling stations. It isn't tough to figure out who is likely not to have government-issued ID: First Nations, students and people who live in poverty.

"One might have thought that when the Conservative government finally got around to reforming election law, it would be to try to prevent the kind of voter suppression and electoral fraud Canada saw in the 2011 election. But when they said they would make it harder to break the rules, it seems they were talking about cracking down on homeless voters, not party bagmen," the Citizen wrote Tuesday to prove a point.

The bill also proposes to ban Elections Canada advertising to encourage people to vote. That ban is so sweeping that it will put an end to Elections Canada kits for schools designed to teach kids about democracy and voting in Canada.

Call this the one-two punch of voter suppression.

5. Rush and cut off the debate on complex legislation

Procedural and data wizard Alice Funke of Pundits' Guide sums this up.

Photo: colindunn. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence. 

Appointed Senate takes another hit with criminal charges

Appointed Senate

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right back in 2005, when he declared that an "appointed Senate is a relic of the 19th century."

The developments on Tuesday just reinforced this point, when the RCMP announced criminal charges against Mac Harb, who served as a Liberal senator for years before stepping down last year amid allegations. Patrick Brazeau, appointed by Harper in 2008 as a Conservative senator who is now a suspended independent senator, was also charged.

Both men face one count each of breach of trust and fraud related to expense claims. The RCMP's broader investigation into the Senate spending scandal is still ongoing, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, let's step back and see why Canada has appointed senators in the first place.

The country's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, explained in 1864 why an appointed Senate filled with people (who owned land) was needed as a check on commoners elected as Members of Parliament.

"We must protect the rights of minorities, and the rich are always fewer in number than the poor."

 Photo: Chocolatedisco. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence. 

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Rex Murphy and Big Oil: friends with benefits?

Friends With Benefits

Rex Murphy has long admired Canada's oil and gas industry from afar, it seemed.

Like the protagonist in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, Murphy has delivered many romantic soliloquies to the tar sands from his weekly soapbox on The National, the flagship news show of Canada's public broadcaster.

And he's penned many eloquent, passion-stirring opinion pieces denying climate change in the newspapers. Many. Many, many, many

But has it really been from afar? Have Murphy and Big Oil  to borrow a term from the parlance of millenials  been hooking up, unbeknownst to his viewers and readers?

More than just friends?

If you Google the heck out of Murphy's name, you'll discover that he's Newfoundland's most eligible keynote speaker at oil, gas and mining industry events all across the country. Since 2009, Murphy has been spotted or booked at the podium as a keynote speaker not once, not twice, but at least 25 times.

The latest came on Tuesday, when the Economic Club of Canada presented Murphy at a Toronto luncheon to talk about "Canada, Natural Resources and Our Future."

The event is sponsored by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Mining Association of Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada and the Railway Association of Canada.

Big Oil knows what they're getting with Murphy because the National Speakers Bureau, which negotiates Murphy's speaking fees, includes a snippet of his friendly views with an embedded YouTube video in his profile. It's called "Rex Murphy of CBC's Point of View Rips into Environmentalists."

It's impossible to know how much Murphy has collected in fees at these speaking engagements, but fees for high-profile speakers can range in the many thousands of dollars (plus expenses) a pop.

According to post-event reports, Rex usually pleases the audience with a mix of flattering comments about the oil and gas industry and polysyllabic denouncements of envious, green-eyed environmentalists who blame them for their success.

What we do know is organizers and sponsors of these events include major corporations and industry groups with investments in oil and gas projects across Canada.

They include: Enbridge; TransCanada; SunCor; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers; Halliburton; First Energy Capital; Pipeline Contractors Association of Canada; the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum; Canadian Natural Resources Corp.; Esso; Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, BP; and Chevron.

Here's some juicy details about Murphy's speaking engagements

Now compare and contrast Murphy's most recent rant on The National with a recent speech to oil executives in Calgary:


Photo: YouTube

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You won't believe what John Tory said about why women get paid less than men

John Tory,  a serial loser in electoral politics, seems hell bent on keeping his losing streak alive if he decides to jump into the Toronto mayoral race.

Appearing as a guest on Toronto's CP24 with another electoral loser, Stephen LeDrew, Tory raises the issue about why women in Canada make less than men. The gender pay gap is well-established and stubbornly persistent, and Tory hints that perhaps women are to blame because they just don't ask for a raise.

"When I've had to negotiate, but I will say to you that the number of men who came to negotiate with me when I was running a law firm or a company was much higher than the number of women. The women don’t come as often to complain. The men do, so my experience is a little different in that I do think that more men put a fuss up about their money and that may say a lot about," said Tory, who is cut off by LeDrew.

"It’s a lot harder to say no to women, there's no question about that," LeDrew quips.

"No comment," responded Tory.

He later complained that people were characterising his comments as sexist because a guy was pushing the story for partisan purposes. We're not kidding.

Tory later clarified that girls should learn to play golf. "It's immensely advantageous to your career" because it "puts you in places." Again, we're not kidding.

Watch what Tory said that kickstarted the whole affair (fast-forward to the 3-minute mark):

John Tory

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3 ways conservatives peddle retirement insecurity

Need more proof conservative solutions to Canada's retirement crisis (encourage people to save more in private savings; block the expansion of the Canada Pension Plan; and get rid of defined benefit pensions) make no sense

Here are the latest examples:

1. Winning the lottery is not a retirement plan

A new survey of BMO Financial Group found that 34% are relying on winning the lottery so they can pay their bills in their retirement years, including 14% who said they're relying "heavily" on a lottery win. And 89% said they're relying on CPP or the Quebec Pension Plan to cover their costs, including 31% saying they're relying "heavily" on their public pensions. Yet, the average monthly CPP payout is less than $600, BMO notes.

We could double CPP pension benefits by saving less than 3% more of our salaries because the CPP structure is cost-efficient. The Conservative government, though, is fighting the expansion of the CPP. Instead, they're encouraging Canadians to save money in private retirement options, even though people don't have the cash at the end of the month.

2. Rolling the dice on the market is a bad idea

Here's some advice that appeared recently in the Globe and Mail's investor section:

"Secure a job with a defined benefit pension, ideally one with a union that protects you from the wiles of a topsy-turvy job market. Union fees are negligible compared to retiring without a healthy pension. If possible, get a job as a public servant, which can be anything from working directly for a government ministry to teaching. Public service is the only environment where defined benefit pensions will remain fully funded. My pension plan allowed me to retire at 62. Without it, I would have worked full time until I turned 67 and left work without the peace of mind of knowing exactly what will be deposited in my bank account every month by the pension plan," wrote Joyce Wayne.

The problem? The Conservative government is working hard to weaken unions so they can't fight for fair wages and benefits like defined benefit pensions.

3. Attacking pensions (with breathtaking hypocrisy) from Canada's corporate elite

Gwyn Morgan retired as a top executive of Encana Corp. with a defined benefit pension worth $26.5 million, paying out $1.7 million annually. There's no such pension for employees of the company. And yet, there he was in the Globe and Mail recently, arguing that "gold-plated" defined benefit pensions in the public sector are too generous (the average is $24,000) and unaffordable. He's calling for the conversion of such plans to "defined contribution" to match the growing trend in the private sector (for employees, not bosses like him).

The Canadian Union of Public Employees' Toby Sanger sums up the breathtaking hypocrisy: "Does this guy ever look in the mirror to do anything more than admire his own magnificence - and perhaps maybe consider the contradictions in his columns or his own hypocrisy?," Sanger asked about Morgan, who boosted his Encana pension as chair of the board of SNC-Lavalin. During his time there, senior execs got into trouble over allegations of bribery and corruption around the globe.

"I could go on and on, but if there were a Petulant (and hypocritical) Plutocrat of the Week award for Canada, Gwyn Morgan would surely drive, walk and run away with a lifetime achievement award," writes Sanger.

Photo: degoaty. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.