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Suggestions for the Canadian Federal Government

Posted by bryan on July 31, 2012 in E-Government with No Comments

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WikiProject Political parties and politicians in Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With all the world events going on these days (both good and bad news), there’s plenty I’d like to write about. The purpose of this post, however, will be to focus on the Canadian Federal Government (in as party-agnostic a manner as possible) and what we can do as a nation to not only keep up with other countries technologically and economically, but to also take a step forward and lead by example, thereby gaining the respect we deserve in the international community in the 21st century and beyond.

To get it out of the way, I’ll start with a little obvious bias and state that I think Stephen Harper and the current Conservative Party are not doing a great job, but can also agree they’re not doing a terrible job; instead, we’ve ended up with something in between which looks more like stagnation than progress. Even I will concede though, that in these tumultuous times, staying where we’ve already been is certainly not the worst we could have ended up. This is especially true when you look at the total and complete destruction of other developed nations‘ economies including our biggest trading partner and ally the United States, and the ongoing financial calamities in Greece, Spain and Italy that threaten to spread to the rest of the EU and potentially result in the dissolution of the Euro.

Certainly, many countries other than Canada are also experiencing tough times and are no strangers to poor decisions (or indecision) by their appointed leaders. The story that had everyone’s attention the past few weeks though, was the “Death of Science” protests that took place in the form of a mock-funeral with casket representing “the body of evidence”. While I appreciated seeing such a peaceful gathering of Canadians voicing their concerns with the direction of our country, like Occupy Wall Street’s “Canadian branch” of protests, I failed to see any positive progress let alone any reaction at all from our government. The reason why the government’s predictable chess move of going for a stalemate has been so successful, and subsequently, why we’ve made little to no progress, is because of a combination of media and government collusion to largely ignore, disparage and disavow any responsibility for the protests along with a complete lack of solutions being presented in a coherent manner by the protesters themselves.

To succeed, any mass movement needs leaders even if those leaders are no more than symbolical figureheads. From the beginning, there didn’t seem to be many notable public figures, scientists or research leaders speaking out as part of the scientific protests. Where are David Suzuki, Paul Watson, Margaret Atwood, Neil Young and other leading activists of our nation; they have led numerous initiatives in the past on environmental causes, but the fact is that environmental degradation is highly interlinked to the broken economic system which emphasizes exploitation of natural resources and maximization of profits. While they may be beyond their most active years, simply having them lend their voice to an initiative by video message for example, could energize a real movement; indeed their most valuable contribution to Canadian society could prove to be their role in encouraging the next generation of activists. Furthermore, the media’s near blackout silence in this regard (or I should say, one-day intensive coverage back in April, followed by completely ignoring the protests themselves) has no doubt helped the government placate an angry community of some of Canada’s best and brightest. With a strong figurehead and some basic contact information though, at least alternative media would know who to reach out to and could thus conduct interviews and open a dialogue with the protesters.

Just as the government can do a much better job running the country and responding to protests in a reasonable manner, we too as responsible citizens can do better at getting our points across peacefully. We need to organize our protests better, and learn a thing or two from the Middle East’s ongoing protests which have effectively used Social Media and mobile telecommunications systems to coordinate and implement protests with a massive scale, that send such a powerful message to their elected governments that they can’t possibly be ignored. Despite Western media’s portrayal of these protests as barbaric sieges, by and large (with an important exception being suspiciously heavily armed rebels, as well as a few notable terrible incidents and armed rebel instigations aside) the demonstrations themselves have mostly been peaceful, massive in scale and certainly very effective. By contrast, “Occupy Wall Street” and its Canadian factions were swiftly shut down because they broke many municipal by-laws when they encouraged protesters to set up overnight camps in public parks, on government or public property. This was an easily avoidable mistake, and the act of camping out in make-shift tents and shacks had little to no impact on gaining wider support (if anything, seeing unbathed noisy hooligans downtown and hearing them at all hours of the day quickly cut off support and sympathy from the general public). What has happened in Occupy of any substance since then? Not a whole lot (looking at dates of the major Occupy protests there hasn’t been many in 2012). Likewise, the latest protests in support of science and research have been easily ignored, co-opted or by their own lack of organization and goals, have petered off rather ineffectively. To finalize this point, how did the government react to the student protests against tuition increases? They shutdown freedom of speech by enacting Bill 78. Case in point, we have people willing to pass legislation that takes away freedom of speech currently in power in government, and once these bills are passed they are very difficult if not impossible to reverse. Let’s not give tyrants an excuse to be tyrants. If the protests had simply dropped the vandalism, taunting of police in riot gear and blatant disregard for those not participating in the protests (thereby turning a protest into a borderline riot), then we might not have been in this position.

What would I like to see? Well I don’t think it takes that much but a little more organization could go a long way. Why not have a single website for Canadians that allows them to voice their concerns and organize peaceful protests lawfully. Something as simple as a live, real-time protest location map such as that at GlobalChange, plus some sort of system for voting on hot-topic issues of the day such as federal government budget cuts, tuition/tax increases and bills proposed in the house (like Bill 78) where each vote could quickly be given a unique URI where all related data could be pulled in such as StatsCanada statistics, parties involved and related laws/issues. This site would have local contacts with city planning staff, politicians, police, fire departments, ambulance/medical and city planning staff, so protests could be legally approved and the need for paramilitary stormtroopers to come trample on our rights (and bodies) could go away.

Sure, I fully understand that we “shouldn’t need” to let TPTB know we’re coming; we should be able to execute our rights to free speech at any time, in any public place, and in almost any way we wanted to. However, the reality is that Big Brother seems to be here, they don’t like protests, they’ve got fire power, and they are always a step ahead. Rather than making it an “Us .vs. Them” kind of battle, why don’t we make it more of an “Us & Them” discussion.  We need to give them no excuse to shut down protests authoritatively, and we need to do an even better job of identifying and preventing violent protesters (i.e. false-flag provocateurs or instigators from their side, as it were) from acting out in a way that invites police or military to come in and confront citizens violently to quell all descent (and perhaps spirit) we have left. All too often, innocent people end up getting caught in these police .vs. protester conflicts, for example:

Montreal (Students protest tuition hikes; law prohibiting protests on campus & mask wearing)

(G20 Summit; Charter Rights suspended due to select few “suspicious Anarchists”)


Vancouver (Canucks’ loss in Stanley Cup playoffs, possibly the dumbest reason to protest ever)


Hindsight is 20-20 as they say, but even Canada’s first OWS organizer seems to agree with my sentiment. Their own documents (whose figures are probably underestimates) highlight the problem that innocent bystanders and peaceful protesters get unfairly caught in the crosshairs of police crackdowns that happen as a result of violent or destructive actions of a select few people, who almost always get away before the crackdown occurs.


Waste in Government
There’s definitely plenty of waste that can be cut in government, but this “cut everything” policy is the wrong approach. What we need are more transparency and public participation in deciding which researchers and projects get funded funded, and less “lifer” positions which serve as little more than revolving doors for business and academia, allowing people to “retire” before they retire to easier, even cushier positions wherein they travel the world on tax payer dollars to attend redundant conferences and publish little more than a paper or two per year that virtually no one ever reads.

Improvements for Government

One thing the Harper government has done well is to push back against the constant Environmentalism rhetoric coming from many leading UN and G20 nations. It makes absolutely no sense to punish Canadians or the economy by needlessly slowing down oil sands production or forcing Canadian energy companies out of the process (while foreign companies, who are notoriously less environmentally cautious have the chance to buy up access to the sands and pollute away). At the same time, I see a major failure in planning for the future by not making sustainable energy sources more of a priority, so we can eventually kick our addiction to dirty oil.

My Humble Suggestions

  1. Use the web to improve transparency.
    (especially take a cue from the Linked Open Data US and UK to greatly improve the early beta site to make better use of Stats Canada census data, geographic/mapping, transport, energy, environmental, economic, trade and election data we are already paying for collection thereof, but which is not easily accessible; interlinking to provincial and municipal data will also be the next important step once Federal data is part of the Linked Data graph)

  2. Solicit more public feedback and citizen participation before making major decisions.
    (offer public polls via the web and telephone then utilize the data for descision-making on hot button or critical topics such as Military spending, Shale Gas Fracking/Exploration, Keystone Pipeline, Natural Resource usage, Vaccination & Prescription Drug Approvals, Agricultural Legislation, Education, Research Projects that should get funded, Budget/Tax priorities, etc)

  3. Get the money out of politics.
    (no politician should make more than the mean Canadian household income, an incentive for them to raise everyone’s standard of living before )

  4. Both nepotism and cronyism are rampant in government and have to be put to a stop.
    (rather than being rewarded for supporting a specific party with a cushy, pensioned, back-office government administration job, candidates of any party who have lost elections and their immediate campaign staffers should be temporarily relieved of any government positions or contract bids for at least 2 years without benefits, and thereby be forced to look for work in the private sector, academia, or start their own small business to prove their worth and gain a more varied experience to enhance their socio-political perspectives; after this “probation period” they could run again, work in a party campaign office, or choose to solely focus on providing a public service by working effectively in a government role)

  5. The revolving door between government and enterprises must be closed.
    (at the executive and upper-management levels in particular, we must avoid giving top executives with conflicting interests any law-making powers)


Back to the struggles of other nations, you could point to the ongoing corruption charges and investigations going on in the UK over the , Italy’s recent ouster last year and ongoing trials of pervert Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (of “bunga-bunga party” infamy), and last but not least France’s raiding of Nicolas Sarkozi’s mansion in Paris while he hides out here in Canada (ironically enough). What this all points to is that the “old order” is crumbling and a new order is indeed taking form, let’s just hope its not the “New World Order” several power-elite businessmen, politicians, bankers and others have had their sights on, not least of which include both Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. who have spoken fondly of the concept in the past.

On the contrary, what recent events should prove is that we’re moving towards a more free and independent existence, with decentralized government and more transparency, whether the old guard likes it or not. In Canada, we have a leadership who, while not seeming particularly nefarious, can at least easily be reprimanded for their poor decisions or lack of effectiveness of their policies. What we need to do is take our freedom into our own hands rather than leaving it up to government to decide how much freedom we should get. We also need to continue to work to point out areas of blatant waste or inefficiencies, and make decisions about what alternatives could work better.