Nov 21, 2010

Reducing the space for democracy – one speaker from the CCPA’s 30th anniversary


Last week I was lucky enough to join 250 people in Ottawa for a daylong conference to honour the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

Nine different speakers and two intelligent moderators focused the audience on the democratic and economic challenges we face as a Canadians and some solutions we need to think about.  It was a refreshing change from the tendency to only discuss politics in terms of sports metaphors.

Every one of the presentations would have been fodder for half a dozen different blogs but I will only mention one here.  If you are interested and have the time the CCPA has posted the speeches on their website here.  Rabble also streamed the event here.

The first speaker in the morning was Alex Neve, the Director of Amnesty International Canada.  Neve provided a history of the federal Conservative government’s ruthless efforts to silence voices that are critical of their policies.  Organizations have been defunded, particularly women’s organizations.  Critical voices in the public service have been choked off through firings, lack of reappointment and through new rules preventing even scientists from speaking. 

Neve highlighted Bill C49, the government’s legislation to change immigration rules which he argued was riddled with human rights breaches.  However, many immigrant serving organizations are afraid to speak out.  Immigrant organizations that exist on paper only are publicly supporting the government in hopes of getting future funding.

Not all organizations are seeing cuts in federal funding.  The right wing Conference Board, CD Howe Institute and the Canada West Foundation have all seen big increases.

Nearly 200 organizations and 4000 people have signed a declaration opposing the government’s undermining democratic debate.  The declaration begins this way:

Since 2006 the Government of Canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices, and has eroded the protection of free speech, and other fundamental human rights.  It has deliberately set out to silence the voices of organizations or individuals who raise concerns about government policies or disagree with government positions. It has weakened Canada’s international standing as a leader in human rights.  The impact and consequences for the health of democracy, freedom of expression, and the state of human rights protection in Canada are unparalleled.

People and organizations that want to sign on to the statement can find it here.

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