Wednesday, February 27, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series: Media Ownership Concentration Laws

Media ownership concentration laws are legislation which regulates media ownership in terms of market share. These laws are an example of state intervention in the marketplace to prevent excessive media ownership by one or more media group. The intent of these laws are to encourage plurality of media information on issues affecting some or all citizens in democratic society. In addition, during election periods, these laws help prevent narrow and imbalanced electoral discourse by limiting the amount of media ownership by one or more media group. However, the laws are only as effective as the caps on ownership concentration and enforcement of them. Moreover, there is no guarantee that media ownership concentration laws will result in broad and balanced campaign coverage, because for example three of the four major owners of television media may have the same political ideological agenda. Also, if there are laws regulating media content during election periods and/or supporting a broad and balanced media coverage for registered candidates and parties, then media concentration laws become relatively redundant.

In summary, media concentration laws are restrictions on the freedom of the media with the context of media ownership. Yet, these laws themselves do not restrict the freedom of the media in terms of its opinion. 

Both Norway and France, as examples, have media ownership concentration laws.

Norway:

The Norwegian state promotes freedom of expression, genuine opportunities to express one's opinions and a comprehensive range of media by media and broadcasters.

Norway's public and private media are not required legally to provide broad and balanced electoral coverage. However, the Norwegian state restricts the ownership concentration of media and broadcasters by allowing no more than:  
  1. share of 40% or more control of daily circulation of daily press
  2. share of 40% or more of total viewing figures of television
  3. share of 40% or more of total listening rating for radio
  4. share of 30% or more of one of the above media markets and 20% or more in one of the other media markets.
  5. share of 20% or more in the markets above
  6. share of 10% or more in one of the media markets and be owner or part owner in the same market of 10% or more (cross-ownership)
  7. 60% or more in total circulation of regional press market (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit on Norway).
France

Radio and television channels have the duty to keep the public informed during the electoral campaign and special broadcasts are organized so candidates have the opportunity to express themselves. The principle applicable to these broadcasts is one of equal treatment of the candidates. CSA closely monitors the media to verify that this principle is upheld.

In France, the state guarantees the freedom of the press and safeguards the independence of the media by preserving the conditions for diverse opinions and pluralism in the media. The law prevents excessive media concentration by prohibiting any one media group from owning more than 30% of daily newspaper circulation. The Act of 29 July 1881 on freedom of the press provides a framework for press freedom by setting restrictions aimed at striking a balance between freedom of speech, protection of individual rights, and public order. In 1984, the Constitutional Council acknowledged the constitutional value of press freedom and its necessary role in a democracy.

The guidance for public television channels and the agreements signed by private channels set forth ethical principles of independence and pluralism similar to those defined in the legislation. The Higher Audiovisual Council (www.csa.fr), France’s independent media watchdog, guarantees media freedom. It is not empowered either to impose or to prevent the airing of a programme, but supervises programme compliance with the law and channel guidance after it is broadcast. The CSA pays special attention to programmes for young audiences and to ensuring that the same amount of broadcast time is allocated to political parties and candidates during electoral periods. Act 2000-719 of 1 August 2000 on media freedom amends and expands the 1986 Act by increasing the diversity of the audiovisual offering, chiefly through provisions on the introduction of digital terrestrial television and the establishment of local television stations (French Embassy in the United Kingdom; Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit of France).

North America:

Both Canada and the United States, as examples, do not have media concentration laws. In the United States, freedom of the media is protected through the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the FDA's 2012 U.S. Media Study, the FDA found only one instance of excessive media concentration:


From the 2012 FDA U.S. Federal Election System Report, there is no regulation of media in terms of broad and balanced election coverage. From its U.S. Media Study, the FDA measured imbalanced coverage in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election with Obama receiving more total media coverage than Romney, and third-parties media coverage being almost non-existent: 

The pie chart captures the
percentage of prime time news market share ABC, NBC, and CBS has compared to
all other U.S. national news networks, cable news, and public news networks in
terms of prime time audience (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2012)

The bar chart captures the total media exposure in terms of percentage biases of the American political parties and their presidential candidates from the FDA data collection. The bar chart factors in percentage of coverage as well. Barack Obama had more total coverage than Mitt Romney. In addition, Romney had a greater percentage of negative coverage as compared to Obama, and Obama had a greater percentage of positive coverage as compared to Romney. The third-party candidates had 1.25 percent of the total media coverage from the FDA data collection of 7,921 data points (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2012).


The bar chart captures the total media exposure in terms of percentage biases of the American political parties and their presidential candidates from the FDA data collection. The bar chart factors in percentage of coverage as well. Barack Obama had more total coverage than Mitt Romney.  In addition, Romney had a greater percentage of negative coverage as compared to Obama, and Obama had a greater percentage of positive coverage as compared to Romney. The third-party candidates had 1.25 percent of the total media coverage from the FDA data collection of 7,921 data points (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2012).

In Canada, similar to the United States, freedom of the media is protected the Broadcast Laws, and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Consequently, there are media ownership concentration issues in Canada. For example, from the FDA's 2012 Alberta Media Study, two companies have 89.60 percent of the daily newspaper circulation.



Alberta daily newspaper companies
2010 weekly paid circulation
% of weekly circulation
Black Press
83,987
3.30%
Glacier Cdn/Alta Newspaper Group
183,074
7.10%
Postmedia Network
1,670,313
64.80%
Quebecor/Sun Media
641,594
24.90%
Total
2,578,968
100.00%
Total of Alberta Daily Market by Postmedia and Quebecor/Sun Media
89.60%


In terms of Canadian federal elections, there is minimal processes to ensure broad and balanced coverage, and a national private media consortium determines which party leaders will be allowed to participate in the two national debates. The FDA has no data on actual national media concentration with the exception that there are only two national newspapers owned by two different companies, and five national television networks.

The following is a summary of the FDA’s key findings regarding the Canadian federal media laws:

1. There is no legislated media requirement for broad and balanced political coverage both during and outside of the campaign period.

Impact:

Political coverage of candidates and parties both during and outside of an election can be narrow and imbalanced. This system favours certain established, large, or incumbent parties over smaller or new candidates and parties, and as a result, the public lacks information regarding their complete electoral choices.

2. There are no media ownership concentration laws.

Impact:

With no media ownership concentration laws and no requirement for broad and balanced election coverage, there is the potential for oligopolistic and monopolistic media ownership, and thereby narrow and imbalanced election coverage.

3. The Canadian press has no legislated or private code of conduct/practice for broad and balanced coverage during elections.

Impact:

Political coverage of candidates and parties both during and outside of an election can be narrow and imbalanced. This system favours certain established, large, or incumbent parties over smaller or new candidates and parties, and as a result, the public lacks information regarding their complete electoral choices (2013 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit of Canada).

Discussion:

The FDA takes the position that elections center on the views of the electors, and that the media's role during election periods is to provide broad and balanced election coverage, and thereby help to ensure that electorate is fully informed of the backgrounds and policies of all registered political candidates and parties. The FDA acknowledges that being fully informed requires effort on the part of the electorate to become informed. The FDA does not agree with the argument that freedom of speech and the press should supersede a fully informed electorate, because as mentioned, the elections are fundamentally about the electorate and their voice.

Questions: 

Should the protection of freedom of speech take precedence over creating the conditions for a fully informed electorate like in France and Norway? Does freedom alone guarantee the optimal democracy? The FDA takes the view that excessive freedom will allow those persons the most political and economic power to dominate electoral discourse (in a Darwinian like way), and thereby potentially weaken the conditions for a fully informed electorate. By the same token, excessive controls on freedom of speech will allow those persons the most political power to dominate electoral discourse (in a communist like way), and thereby potentially weaken the conditions for a fully informed electorate. Therefore, the FDA believes a balances needs to obtained between freedom of media during election periods and regulation of media.

In terms of the FDA audits, media ownership concentrations laws are valued over no media ownership concentration laws, subject to others measures which achieve the same ends as these laws. Is this valuation consistent with democratic principles and a fully informed electorate?

If you have any questions or comments either post them in the comment section to the post, or email them to the Foundation for Democratic Advancement. We answer all questions and consider all comments within reasonable limits. 







Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director






Thursday, February 21, 2013

Democracy, Governance, and Environment: Mayor Dianne Watts Interview


In this podcast, Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Executive Director, interviews Ms. Dianne Watts, three-term Surrey, British Columbia, Canada council member and three-term Surrey mayor which she currently holds. In 2010, The City Mayors Foundation determined Dianne to be the fourth best mayor in the world for her long-lasting contributions to her community. The interview begins with Dianne sharing her perspective on the controversial Gateway Casino application which failed to be approved by the Surrey Council in January, 2013 and despite various opposition including from the British Columbia provincial government. Dianne says decisively that the development application and any other application rests with the Surrey Council and no one else, and that there is always outside noise that councillors need to cope with when making decisions on development applications. Dianne says the important thing is to make the right decision which reflects the better interests of the community as a whole. In addition, Dianne says that she supports the recall of elected officials subject to sufficient process to avoid the politicizing of any recall initiatives, and that she is open to citizen referendum on development applications subject to reasonable criteria. She voiced concerns that such a governance model based on citizen referendum may prevent for examples homeless shelters from ever getting approved so concrete guidelines for referendum need to be established. Also, decisions on development applications are far more than a numbers game in terms of public opinion; these applications are often complex in nature and involve various conflicting perspectives that need to be taken into account. In regard to economic growth and environmental protection, she says that these two areas require constant attention and a balanced approach. To deal with this balance, she refers to safeguards she help implement in Surrey such as protected forests and green zones, practical land usage application requirements, replacement of trees program, and citizen consultancy. Finally, she shares her thoughts on democratic issues facing the people of British Columbia, such as the strict provincial political party discipline and the need to reform that practice in order to ensure that elected officials are able to truly and freely represent their districts. Overall, Dianne touches on issues affecting many communities throughout the world, and she provides examples, leadership, and direction as to how best to deal with them. Dianne demonstrates that she approachable and willing to talk directly about sensitive and important issues, and thereby providing some cause for her popularity and being deemed a people's representative. This podcast is a refreshing interview of an elected official who is truly trying her best for her community. After listening to the podcast, it should not be surprising why Dianne was determined in 2010 to be the fourth best mayor in the world. For non-mainstream, insightful, and provocative discussion from people working in the field of international politics, listen in or download the FDA podcasts.

The views expressed in the Foundation for Democratic Advancement's podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation. The FDA supports broad and free speech, and the purposes of its blog posts and podcasts are to encourage discussion and education, and to compensate for deficiencies in mainstream media coverage.

Ms. Dianne Watts Interview

FDA RSS Feed

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series: Public Subsidies for Political Candidates/Parties

Gary Johnson was one of three 2012 U.S. presidential candidates to receive public subsidies in the form of matching funds. The other two candidates were Jill Stein and Buddy Roemer. Obama and Romney opted for the privately funded route to avoid caps on their campaign expenditures. With the Citizens United ruling, there is the possibility that the U.S. presidential matching fund will be eliminated to prevent government bias when it comes to public election funds.
The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) supports public subsidies for political parties and candidates as long as the subsidies are equally available in amount to all registered parties and/or candidates. The FDA does not support public subsidies to parties and/or candidates which favor some parties and/or candidates over others. In addition, the FDA acknowledges that a balance needs to be obtained between very high public subsidies and thereby the potential for party dependency on them versus very low public subsidies and thereby the potential for highly underfunded parties.

The common arguments used to justify biased public subsidies are:

1. the parties and candidates more successful in the previous election should get more subsidies over parties and candidates less successful in the previous election;

2. the parties and candidates with the most public contributions should get the most public funds, and thereby linking level of contributions with public support;

3. the parties and candidates with most popular support should receive public subsidies or receive the most, and thereby justifying levels of public support needed in order to receive public funds;

4. the new and small registered parties are fringe and radical parties, and therefore, they should not be given public funds.

The FDA believes that all registered parties and/or candidates should have equal amounts and access to public funds in order to maximize election competition, or none at all. The FDA assumes that the highest level of election competition will produce the best election results for democratic society. Therefore, the FDA supports an equal playing field within reasonable limits for all registered parties and candidates. To support an unequal distribution of public subsidies favors some parties and candidates over others, and thereby weakens the democratic process. To say that these parties were more successful in the previous election favors unfairly a party based on past performance. To say that some parties are fringe or radical and therefore should not receive public subsidies is biased. It is up to the electors and not anyone else to determine which parties and candidates are worthy of their support. To say that some parties and candidates have more popular support is to argue based on past results, rather than an election yet to occur.

Examples of Public Subsidies: 

1. United States:

Presidential candidates which adhere to caps on campaign expenditures are entitled to a public matching of contributions raised. The more contributions raised, the more public funds the presidential candidate can attain up to the maximum expenditure limit. There is no basis of equality in the public subsidy except that  public subsidy matching process is available to all registered presidential candidates subject to subsidy qualifications.

Research: 

Public subsidies of parties are based on the percentage of total votes received in previous election (Federal Election Commission, Public Funding of Presidential Election Brochure, 2012).

Publicly funded Presidential candidates are subject to campaign expenditure limits. Privately funded Presidential candidates are not subject to expenditure limits (Federal Election Commission, Public Funding of Presidential Election Brochure, 2012).

U.S. taxpayers have the option to decide whether or not to direct $3 of their tax to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund on their tax returns (Federal Election Commission, Presidential Election Fund, 2012).

Funds in the Presidential Election Campaign Fund are divided up in three ways:

(1) Primary matching payments are based on the government matching individual contributions to a candidate, and only the first $250 of a contribution is matchable. To be eligible for matching, a candidate needs to raise more than $5,000 in each of 20 different states.

(2) General election grants are for Republican and Democratic candidates who win their parties' nomination. The candidates are eligible to receive $20 million, adjusted for cost-living-adjustment to cover campaign expenses. In 2008, candidates could receive $84.1 million. Third party candidates are eligible to receive a percentage of this grant if the candidates receive at least 5 percent of the popular vote. (The 2008 expenditure limit in 2008 was $88.45 million.)

(3) Party convention grants are for major political parties for their national Presidential nominating convention. The parties are eligible to receive $4 million, adjusted for inflation. In 2008, the major parties received $16.82 million. Third parties are eligible for the grant if they received at least 5 percent of vote in the previous Presidential election. The Federal Election Commission defines a majority party as 25% or more of the total popular votes in the previous election; minority party as between 5% or more and less than 25% of the total popular vote in the previous election; new party as a party which did not participate in the previous election (Federal Election Commission, Presidential Election Fund, 2012).

The 2012 general campaign limit for publicly funded candidates is $91.2 million. The 2012 primary limit for publicly funded candidates is $45.6 million (Federal Election Commission, Presidential Spending Limits for 2012).

Publicly funded candidates have a campaign national expenditure limit of $20,000,000 (subject to cost of living adjustment) and a primary expenditure limit of $10,000,000 and in anyone State shall not exceed either 16 cents times the number of voters in the State or $200,000, whichever is greater (Federal Election Commission, Presidential Election Fund, 2012).

Limitations:

The U.S. presidential candidate public subsidy favors the better fund raiser, and it does not produce electoral finance equality among publicly funded presidential candidates or publicly and privately funded presidential candidates. In addition, the public subsidy is based on popular support in the previous election, and thereby does not reflect popular support in the current election. In addition, the public subsidy influences the opinion of the electorate by favoring some presidential candidates over others.

2. Canada:

From the soon to be published 2013 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Canada, registered political parties are entitled to public subsidies if they receive 2 percent of the popular vote in the current election or 5 percent of the valid votes cast in the electoral district of the candidates they endorsed. In 2015, this public subsidy will be phased out. However, also, registered parties receive a 50 percent reimbursement on their campaign expenditures if they receive 2 percent of the popular vote in the current election or 5 percent of the valid votes cast in the electoral district of the candidates they endorsed.

Research: 

The Chief Electoral Officer determines for each quarter an allowance payable to a registered party whose candidates received either 2% of the popular vote or 5% of the valid votes cast in the electoral district the candidate ran in for the most recent general election (Canada Elections Act, 435.01(1)(a)-(b)).

The quarterly allowance is the multiplication of the valid votes cast in the most recent general election by $0.3825 for 2012; $0.255 for 2013; and $0.1275 for 2014. All quarters begin on April 1st (Canada Elections Act, 435.01(2)(a)-(c)).

The Conservative government revised the federal budget to phase out the public subsidies for federal political parties beginning April 1st 2012 (Smith, J., July 4, 2012).

The annual subsidy was lowered from $2.04 in 2011 to $1.53 per vote in 2012 and will be further reduced each year on April 1st until it is eliminated in 2015 (Smith, J., July 4 2012).

If a registered party receives 2 percent of the votes cast in the election or 5 percent of the number votes cast in the electoral district in which the part endorsed a candidate, then 50 percent of the parties’ electoral expenses are refunded (Elections Canada, Article 435 (1)).

Limitations:

The 2 percent and 5 percent thresholds favor large, established registered political parties over new and small registered political parties. Also, the thresholds support electoral finance inequality between large, established parties because parties with larger expenditures will get larger refunds.

In summary, the FDA takes the position that public subsidies should be equal in amount to all registered parties on grounds of legislative neutrality and electoral competition. The FDA assumes that legislative neutrality and electoral competition are central to attaining the best electoral outcomes for democratic society.

Question:

Do you agree or disagree with the FDA position? Tell me why in the comment section, and I will respond with what I know. The purpose of this dialogue is to share ideas and expand one's understanding of important democratic issues. 






 Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director







 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Assimilate Canadian First Nations or Respect/Protect Their Rights/Culture/Identity

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 established the legal basis for Canadian aboriginal treaty rights and aboriginal rights. This British declaration of law by King George the Third has not been appealed and is technically still in force.
The Canadian First Nations are under pressure by the Canadian federal government to assimilate into mainstream Canadian society. The policy of the federal government amounts to annihilation of the Canadian First Nations through denying them their treaty rights, caps on and reduced federal payments to First Nations, privatization First Nations' lands, and individualization of First Nations' people.

Many First Nations people believe that these policies will annihilate their culture, identity as peoples, way of life, and leave them the poorest minority in Canada.

The actions of the federal government violate the United Nations' declared rights for aboriginals and Canadian treaty process in which purchases of First Nations' lands must occur through treaties.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The issue at stake for all Canadians is destroying First Nations culture and identity or respecting, protecting and preserving First Nations culture and identity. In my opinion, Canadian First Nations are an integral part of Canadian culture, history, and identity, and First Nations provide unique guidance and perspective on the direction of Canadian society due to their strong ties to the land and collective spirit.

Below is relevant information on this issue that I have recently collected:

A. On February 7, 2013, I attended a teach-in at the University of Calgary on the issues facing Canadian First Nations. These are the main points I took away from the teach-in:

1. Royal Proclamation of 1763 is declaration of law by the King George the 3rd that establishes indigenous rights and indigenous territory free of settlers, and a policy of purchase of indigenous lands through treaties. The Royal Proclamation has never been appealed, and it is still technically in force today.

2. Section 35 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes the inherent rights of aboriginals.

RIGHTS OF THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLES OF CANADA

Recognition of existing aboriginal and treaty rights

35.(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

Definition of "aboriginal peoples of Canada"

(2) In this Act, "aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Marginal note: Land claims agreements

(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) "treaty rights" includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.

Marginal note: Aboriginal and treaty rights are guaranteed equally to both sexes

(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. (96)

Marginal note: Commitment to participation in constitutional conference

35.1 The government of Canada and the provincial governments are committed to the principle that, before any amendment is made to Class 24 of section 91 of the "Constitution Act, 1867", to section 25 of this Act or to this Part,

(a) a constitutional conference that includes in its agenda an item relating to the proposed amendment, composed of the Prime Minister of Canada and the first ministers of the provinces, will be convened by the Prime Minister of Canada; and

(b) the Prime Minister of Canada will invite representatives of the aboriginal peoples of Canada to participate in the discussions on that item. (97)

Section 35 is ambiguous as what the actual aboriginal rights are. Article 35.1 merely establishes a requirement to consult aboriginal peoples regarding constitutional changes.

3. The Indian Act establishes that the Canadian Parliament supersedes the authority of aboriginals over their lands. 

4. The Canadian Supreme Court over a number First Nations cases has established the legal duty (or fiduciary duty) of the federal and provincial governments to consult on matters that pertain to First Nations peoples via Chiefs and Councils. Aboriginal communities often times cope with Chiefs and Councils who do not consult their own people on matters that pertain to them.

5. The recent federal government omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 contain many loopholes for Canada's oil and gas industries in regard to First Nations rights and the environment. (These loopholes are similar to what occurred in the United States during the G.W. Bush administration and in regard to U.S. gas fracturing.) For example, there are provisions in Bill C-45 in which endangered species legislation does not apply to the oil and gas industry. These bills which were forced through the Canadian Parliament in 2012 contain 130 bills in just two bills. In addition, the federal government is in the process of passing a series of legislation on First Nations such as bill C-212 which would accelerate the process of First Nations assimilation.


B. This article "Harper Launches Major First Nations Termination Plan: As Negotiating Tables Legitimize Canada’s Colonialism" by the First Nations Strategic Policy Counsel outlines the federal government threat to the Canadian First Nations, namely the acceleration of the First Nations assimilation and thereby rejection of their aboriginal and treaty rights, and their very existence as First Nations people.

Excerpts from the article:

On September 4th, 2012 the Harper government clearly signaled its intention to:
1) Focus all its efforts to assimilate First Nations into the existing federal and provincial orders of government of Canada;
2) Terminate the constitutionally protected and internationally recognized Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights of First Nations.
Termination in this context means the ending of First Nations pre-existing sovereign status through federal coercion of First Nations into Land Claims and Self-Government Final Agreements that convert First Nations into municipalities, their reserves into fee simple lands and extinguishment of their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights....

The long-term goals set out in the Harper government’s policy and legislative initiatives listed above are not new; they are at least as old as the Indian Act and were articulated in the federal 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy, which set out a plan to terminate Indian rights as the time.
Previous Termination Plans: 1969 White Paper & Buffalo Jump of 1980’s
The objectives of the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy were to:
1. Assimilate First Nations.
2. Remove legislative recognition.
3. Neutralize constitutional status.
4. Impose taxation.
5. Encourage provincial encroachment.
6. Eliminate Reserve lands & extinguish Aboriginal Title.
7. Economically underdevelop communities.
8. Dismantle Treaties.

Conclusion:
Given their silence over the Harper government’s “results based” “take it or leave it” negotiations approach, it seems many of the negotiating First Nations at the Comprehensive Claims and/or Self-Government tables are still contemplating concluding Agreements under Canada’s termination policies.

This can only lead to further division among First Nations across Canada as more First Nations compromise their constitutional and international rights by consenting to final settlement agreements under the terms and conditions of Canada’s termination policies, while undermining the political positions of the non-negotiating First Nations.

In the meantime, Harper’s government will continue pawning off Indigenous lands and resources in the midst of a financial crisis though free trade and foreign investment protection agreements, which will secure foreign corporate access to lands and resources and undermine Indigenous Rights....

It appears First Nations are at the proverbial “end of the trail” as the Chiefs seem to be either co-opted or afraid to challenge the Harper government. Most grassroots peoples aren’t even fully informed about the dangerous situation facing them and their future generations.

The only way to counter the Harper government is to:
1. have all negotiating First Nations suspend their talks; and
2. organize coordinated National Days of Action to register First Nations opposition to
the Harper government’s termination plan;
3. Demand Canada suspend all First Nations legislation in Parliament, cease introducing
new Bills and
4. Change Canada’s Land Claims and Self-Government Policies to “recognize and affirm” the Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights of First Nations, including respect and implementation of the Historic Treaties.
If there is no organized protest and resistance to the Harper government’s termination plan, First Nations should accept their place at the bottom of all social, cultural and economic indicators in Canada, just buy into Harper’s jobs and economic action plan—and be quiet about their rights.


C. In a recent FDA podcast interview of Ms. Lillian Crow-chief, Lillian says that land and money are the motivating factors in assimilating Canadian First Nations. In addition, she says that the current federal government policies, which include divide and conquer and take it or leave it approaches, amount to culturecide.

Insight into the Struggles and Hopes of Canadian First Nations people


Issues:

Should money interests supersede Canadian values, and its history and culture as represented partly by First Nations?

Should industrial development supersede First Nations' rights and the environment including protection of endangered species?

To what extent can First Nations' culture and identity be protected and preserved? Is this simply a matter of political will?

Should aboriginal rights and way of life be respected?

Is peaceful co-existence and share of wealth and resources attainable between First Nations and non-First Nations? How can neo-liberalism and capitalism co-exist with harmony and balance with nature? Should the constant drive for money and profit supersede basic Canadian rights and values? 


Article 8 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which Canada is signatory to, states:

1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.







Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

 





Question for Readers:

Is the annihilation of Canadian First Nations culture and identity in the better interests of all Canadians or is this annihilation simply in the better interests of a minority of Canadians who stand to benefit from access to First Nations lands and the resources contained on them?


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Insight into the Struggles and Hopes of Canadian First Nations

Siksika First Nation Chief and Council for the period 2010-2013. The term of the Chief and Council expire in December, 2013. Members of the Siksika First Nation people, including Ms. Lillian Crow-Chief who is interviewed by the FDA, accuse the current Chief and Council of selling out the interests of their people to special interests and the federal government.
In this podcast, Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Executive Director, interviews Ms. Lillian Crow-Chief, member of the Siksika School Board and mediator for the Siksika Justice. Lillian is considering running for chief of the Siksika First Nation in its December 2013 elections. The Siksika First Nation is located one hour's drive east of the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Alberta is infamous for the tar sands and the oil derived from it. Lillian discusses the Siksika peoples' struggle to protect their water and land with reference to a case of water contamination in the form of sewage flowing from the city of Strathmore, Alberta through the community, and the Hidden Valley resort and golf course which is seeking to renew a 50-year lease on the Siksika land. In regard to the resort lease, Lillian says that the current Chief and Council has acted in the interests of themselves, outside developer, and the federal government, rather than the interests of the Siksika people. She documents how the Siksika Chief and Council tried to force the 50-year land lease on the Siksika people, but somehow against all odds the people rose up and said no. Lillian talks about the importance of the Siksika land to their identity and culture, and her commitment to protect the First Nations people's sovereignty against constant pressure to assimilate into the settlers' system. She says that the current direction of the Canadian federal government with Bills C-38 and C-45 violates the process of Indian treaty agreements, and the Canadian First Nations have never surrendered their lands. In addition, Lillian talks about the Canadian Idle No More grassroots movement, and how it has created hope in the struggles that face all Canadians against neo-colonialism and government policies which put special interests over the interests of the people. Lillian believes that people around the world need to stand up and protect the water and land as it is integral to all life. This podcast shows that Lillian is a true First Nation and Canadian leader by putting the interests of her community and Canadians first. Her interview is both informative and inspirational. For more information on the Siksika First Nation, issues facing all Canadians and the Idle No More movement, Lillian can be contacted at crowlf@uleth.ca. For non-mainstream, insightful, and provocative discussion from people working in the field of international politics, listen in or download the FDA podcasts.

The views expressed in the Foundation for Democratic Advancement's podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation. The FDA supports broad and free speech, and the purposes of its blog posts and podcasts are to encourage discussion and education, and to compensate for deficiencies in mainstream media coverage.

Question for Podcast Listeners:

How are the struggles of the Canadian First Nations similar to the struggles you face in your own communities?

Ms. Lillian Crow-Chief Interview

FDA RSS Feed

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lake Winnipeg and Bill C-45

Lake Winnipeg, one of the Canada's largest lakes, has been determined to be the most threatened lake in the world in 2013.
Canada’s own Lake Winnipeg has been named the “Threatened Lake of the Year 2013” by the Global Nature Fund (GNF). Previously named threatened lakes include the Dead Sea in the Middle East, Lake Titicaca which runs through Peru and Bolivia and Lake Victoria in Africa. In comparison to the developing regions listed above, the unfortunate title has caused an out pour of criticism aimed at Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Bill C-45.

Bill C-45, which has been made famous by Canada’s homegrown First Nation’s movement, Idle No More, eliminates government protection and responsibilities of thousands of lakes, rivers and water ways. Lakes like Lake Winnipeg would see no federal regulation to prevent further depletion of the aquatic life. Experts argue that Lake Winnipeg’s recovery will take a number of years, as the high levels phosphorous and E. Coli are difficult scenarios to reverse. The high levels of phosphorous, especially threatening can spawn into an increase in algae population, called an algae bloom. When there is an occurrence of algae bloom in a body of water, the process of decomposition of algae consumes oxygen which kills fish and produces extremely toxic water which was once drinkable. The worst kind of algae bloom is the blue-green algae, now the most dominant algae produced in Lake Winnipeg. Aside from the threatening algae production and E. Coli levels, Lake Winnipeg produces over $125 million in revenues annually economic development, tourism, fishery and agriculture

The importance of restoring Lake Winnipeg is unquestionably a difficult and costly undertaking; reportedly it will take years of commitment by the business, agricultural and government to restore the levels of algae. Recent federal cut backs to research centres like the world renowned Smithsonian Institute and Bill C-45 only reinforce the lack of care on behalf of the Harper government. While making an $18 million pledge to clean up Lake Winnipeg in August 2012, the Harper government is sending mixed messages to environmentalists actively involved in clean-up efforts. The money mentioned has been provided to the small projects to reduce nutrients in the lake, at the same time fewer dollars are given to research initiatives such as the aforementioned Smithsonian Institution and Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium. Yet, the most alarming set-back for clean-up efforts is the recent Bill C-45.

Bill C-45, makes vast changes to the Navigation Protection Act, of the changes, regulation of lakes, rivers and other bodies of waters will be transferred to the functions of the Minister of Health (dissolving the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission). Furthermore, the Fisheries Act will only concern fishing issues which are related to “commercial importance”. Most crucial is the expansion of Alberta Oil sands; Bill C-45 enhances the rights of private representatives of the Oil Sands and developers. This ultimately concerns the First Nation Population on and off reserve land. According to Devon Page the executive director of EcoJustice; "Simply put, lakes, rivers and streams often stand in the path of large industrial development, particularly pipelines. This bill, combined with last spring’s changes, hands oil, gas and other natural resource extraction industries a free pass to degrade Canada’s rich natural legacy."

This is where Idle No More makes its constant appearance as the grassroots Canadian initiative to enforce government compliance with environmental standards and First Nations treaty rights. Idle No More approaches its movement on a locally driven people’s movement, focused on transferring the knowledge of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protection. A full interview of one of the founders of Idle No More by the FDA’s very own Stephen Garvey can be found here.







Ms. Mansharn Toor, Foundation for Democratic Advancement blogger and researcher with a background in international relations

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Watts' Open Letter Raises Questions about Municipal Democracy in B.C.

Ms. Dianne Watts has been the B.C. Surrey Mayor since 2005; she has a policy of ensuring public consultation even when B.C. municipal law says don't bother as is the case with gaming applications. Her refusal to succumb to political pressure from the B.C. provincial government, developers, and fellow council members in regard to the Gateway casino application is evidence of her commitment to the Surrey people.  

Background on Mayor Watts' Open Letter: 

On January 19th, Mayor Watts cast the final council vote against the Gateway Casino application for South Surrey.

During this hearing process, there are reports that the B.C. provincial minister for gaming, Mr. Rich Coleman telephoned two Surrey council members, and publicly threatened the Surrey council that if they don't vote in favor of Gateway's application, Surrey will have no more gaming developments. Critics views Mr. Coleman's actions and comments as interference in B.C. municipal democracy (Peace Arch News, Alex Browne, January 29, 2013).

Following the Surrey council vote, Mr. Michael Graydon, CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, said publicly that Mayor Watts never voiced any concerns about the Gateway casino and yet voted against it, and that Surrey is "very difficult to deal with" (Peace Arch News, Alex Browne, January 29, 2013).

The four Surrey council members who voted in favor of the Gateway casino argue that the applicant was fully compliant with the Surrey council's gaming policy, and that the council could have imposed development related provisions, which may cause the rejection of the application as being perceived as "not acting in responsibly or in good faith" (Peace Arch News, Alex Browne, January 29, 2013). The four council members make no mention of the Surrey public opinion for or against the casino application. Mayor Watts says "when you’ve got that amount of opposition just for the gaming licence you really have to sit back and take note" (Vancouver Sun, Kelly Sinoski, January 21, 2013). The public hearing on the Gateway casino lasted a record-setting 13 hours with hundreds of speakers and spanned two nights (The Province, Sam Cooper, January 19, 2013).

Under B.C gaming law, there is no regulation for a formal, legal public hearing process. Mayor Watts and the rest of the council held a public hearing nevertheless in order to uphold their commitment to public consultation.

Mayor Dianne Watts was elected Surrey Mayor in 2005, and she has won three straight mayoral elections. In 2010, through the 2010 World Mayor Prize run by The City Mayors Foundation, Mayor Watts was selected as the fourth best mayor in the world. The award goes to mayors who make long-lasting contributions to their communities.

The Foundation for Democratic Advancement's scheduled interview of Mayor Watts on the FDA's World Democracy Discussion, has been delayed due to Mayor Watts recovering from an illness. This interview will be aired on the FDA's World Democracy Discussion podcast in the next one or two weeks.

Currently, the Foundation for Democratic Advancement is working on a report on Alberta municipal democracy which deals with similar issues as in British Columbia. This report will be published in late February, 2013.

Related Articles:

More Background Information on Mayor Dianne Watts






Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director







Surrey Mayor Watt's Open Letter to the British Columbia Gaming Corporation (B.C. crown corporation): 

I feel compelled to address the inflammatory public comments that have been made by BCLC CEO Michael Graydon.

The statement that “something transpired in the last few days and I don’t know what,” implies that I acted irresponsibly.  The only thing that transpired was public consultation.  Mr. Graydon’s comments show a complete disregard for the public process.

To state that he is “disappointed” in my actions and “if she truthfully had issues,” is crossing a line that a regulator should not cross.  I did not have any issues with Gateway or the proponent.  I was concerned with the public opposition, which no one can “fix”.

The facts are as follows:

1.    A rezoning application came forward and I did not support 1st and 2nd reading.

2.    On January 25, 2010, a public hearing occurred related to the site and the rezoning by-law in question, and the architect stated the development will be a 200 room hotel, including a restaurant.  Council and the public were told:

“if the casino component does not receive a license then the convention centre would be expanded to support trade show and other such uses.” Richard Holvert, Architect; Regular Council – Public Hearing Minutes.  January 25, 2010.

I supported 3rd reading of the rezoning bylaw because there was little public concern raised at that public hearing, and I knew that before a casino use could be included on the site a separate Council approval process would be required, including a separate public hearing.

3.    The developer, prior to the 2010 public hearing, stated:

“But, failing to get approval for a casino from B.C. Lottery Corporation won’t be a deal-breaker… the hotel and convention centre would still proceed.” Vancouver Province, October 4, 2009.

4.    The Newton bingo facility has been located in Newton for several decades, and there was considerable public support in October 2009 when the slot machines were approved.  In fact, 4,273 people were in favour and only 84 opposed the project.  More than 17 community organizations spoke in support, including non-profit organizations, sporting and arts groups, businesses, and social service agencies.

I, along with Council, worked with the proponent to define a project that would have the best chance for success, and serve the residents of Surrey, as we moved forward to the public consultation component of the process.  Our input was intended to assist the developer, but was not approval for the project because we are committed to public consultation prior to making decisions.

If, in fact, the CEO of BCLC expected this to be fully supported, then why bother going through with the public consultation process and a public hearing that continued for 13 hours?  We must ensure that we have an open and transparent process where the Mayor and Councillors can make decisions and be supported, whichever side of the issue they are on.

Sincerely,
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Violence against Women in India

On December 16, 2012, five Indian men from Delhi brutally assaulted and gang-raped 23-year old Nirbhaya (nick name; real name has not been disclosed by Indian authorities). She died thirteen days later in Singapore.
The now infamous tragedy of Nirbhaya has created the impetus for the recall of the Indian Criminal Law Bill. The recall is led by retired Indian Justice Verma. Justice Verma set out to complete the proposed amendments to the Criminal Law Bill within 30 days, in other words before parliament begins its new session in February, 2013.

In Justice Verma’s own words in a televised news conference; "We have submitted the report in 29 days…if we are able to do it in half the time available, the government, with its might and resources, should also act fast."

Of the provisions, Justice Verma’s bill will focus on harsher punishment for rapist, rape defined as a gender neutral issue and a commitment to process rape trials in an efficient and speedy manner. Justice Verma condemns the death penalty, instead issuing a strict seven year minimum to life time in jail for those who commit such heinous crimes.

Fortunately the urgency is not missed by Prime Minister Singh who reassured the public and Justice Verma that the proposed bill will be passed to the Cabinet and Parliament in time for the annual budget session.

However, as noted by Democracy in Development’s Isobel Coleman, "a handful of state-and national-level law makers currently in office in India face charges of rape or other crimes against women". As well, many women are advised by the police to not pursue any charges against their attackers.

Though some see Justice Verma’s commitment to women’s rights a step in the right direction, Isobel Coleman is still wary of the outcome. Mrs. Coleman recommends the need for vast cultural shift including a commitment to increase female literacy and eliminate child marriage. However, the out pour of demonstrations and the reaction of both men and women in India are evidence that times are changing. The question now being asked is if political affiliates are ready to conform to the growing demands of the middle class, which include a serious discussion on gender roles, caste hierarchy and corruption within the public sector.

Perhaps the largest issue when addressing women’s safety is the high rate of police apathy or disregard for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Arguably, Mrs. Coleman’s cultural requirements can be facilitate by a commitment by India’s national police service. With a national police service campaign directed at increasing awareness and reducing violence against women, the female population of India will feel more inclined to report their accusers. This will set precedence to public servants to act to protect women and address their pressing socio-economic concerns.

Indian women are subjected to neglect, violence and outright hatred, and for some women from the moment of birth. Indian gender sensitive abortion rates inexcusably yields more aborted female fetus deaths than male. The complete shift in culture is a sensitive topic to manoeuvre but there is no better time than the present to focus on the issues which plague female development. In the coming weeks the public will hear the government’s opinion of Justice Verma’s Criminal Law Amendment Bill. Nevertheless, the end to violence against women cannot stop with this legal provisions, as noted by Mrs. Coleman.

Related articles:

Isobel Coleman's Article

5 Charged with Nirbhaya Gang-Rape Face Maximum Sentence of Death





Ms. Mansharn Toor, Foundation for Democratic Advancement blogger and researcher with a background in international relations

 





Question to the Readers:

Is Isobel Coleman’s wariness of the resulting outcomes of Justice Verma’s Criminal Law Amendment Bill justified?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Corporate-Driven Democracy

The documentary 'Elemental--Three Stories' captures Mr. Rajendra Singh's 40-day pilgrimage down the Ganges river in India. Mr. Singh, a water conservationist from Rajasthan is on a mission to bring back to life the polluted and near-dead Ganges river. At one point in the documentary, Mr. Singh says that India is a "corporate-driven democracy".
In my opinion, for meaningful and productive political discourse, people need to know what they are talking about.  

Here is my informal take on the concept, corporate-driven democracy: 

Corporate-driven democracy may be equated with special interest-driven democracy. In a corporate-driven democracy, corporations guide and direct government and society for their own gain.

Special interests are individuals, corporations, or groups with wants and needs particular to them as opposed to all people of a society.

Corporations are public or private organized economic services or productions, in order to maximize efficiency, output, and ultimately profit for shareholders (rather than the overall public good) or non-shareholders.     

Is corporate-driven democracy a contradiction in terms?

A corporate-driven democracy is about the voice of the corporations. An ideal democracy is about the voice of the people (in all electoral districts) as a whole.

The Foundation for Democratic Advancement measured the U.S. federal electoral system, for instance, as a system driven by special interests. Viz., the loopholes in the system favor political influence by special interests over influence by the people as a whole. For examples, the lack of regulation of private media during election periods favors individuals and groups who are able to influence the political content of media. The lack of campaign expenditure limits on privately funded presidential candidates, congressional candidates, and non-connected political committees favors candidates and committees with connection to individuals and groups which are willing to contribute and have the finances to do so.

In an ideal democracy, government functions for the overall public good or acts in the interests of the people as a whole. In a corporate-driven democracy, government functions for the interests of corporations or acts in the interests of corporations, while convincing itself or pretending that the interests of the corporations are necessarily the overall public good. For example, in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, Mitt Romney said "corporations are people."

What kind of political system is a corporate-driven democracy?

It is not a democracy by the mere fact that the overall public good is not the focal point of the system.

It could be called an oligarchy, but that implies only a few players with control.

In my opinion, corporate-driven democracy or special interest-driven democracy is a plutocracy within a shell of democracy.

Plutocracy refers to the rule of the rich (in terms of financial wealth and media access), and I assume that the rich have reason to influence government policy and the financial resources to do so through lobbyists.

The shell of democracy refers to electoral and governmental systems which contain various loopholes which favor special interests.


I did a brief search of the Internet to see what related concepts are part of the online political discourse. This is what I came up with:

Elite-driven democracy (I assume this concept means that democracy is guided and directed by so-called elites in terms of social status, financial wealth, educational background etc.,)

Market-driven democracy (This concept is an extension of neoliberalism and associated with special interest-driven democracy through the major players in the global marketplace guiding and directing government and society for their own gain.)

People-driven democracy (I associate this concept with ideal democracy in which the people as a whole guide and direct government and society for the overall public good.)

As you likely can tell, the political discourse is a key component of any meaningful change, because ideas are the seeds of reform, change, and progress. If the political discourse is narrow and restricted, then reform, change, and progress will be impeded. I encourage people to share your ideas, because in my view the health of the political discourse is directly linked to the health of the society.

Related links:

Romney's Corporations are People

Ideas on Neoliberalism







 Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director