Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, December 13, 2010

Signs of the devolution of democracy and freedom surround us

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
December 13, 2010

There are many attacks on our democracy and freedoms, these cherished rights won by countless struggles, countless persecutions, countless wars, and countless deaths going back over the centuries.

Democracy and freedom are devolving on many fronts at home at the very time our soldiers are fighting and dying, as they’ve done on many fronts, to bring these human rights to people as they’re doing in Afghanistan today.

All citizens have a responsibility to work to preserve our freedoms….to monitor the actions of governments at all levels….and to speak out when they feel the rights of Canadians are being compromised. Losses of freedom can come imperceptibly slowly causing disastrous results….and once lost, are hard to be regained. Just ask the East Germans and citizens of the other Eastern European Countries.

This was brought close to home once again by a group of Oshawa Citizens, led by Bill Steele, who wanted to watch the initiation meeting of Durham Regional Council last Wednesday.

The meeting was in the Regional Council Chambers, a public meeting in a publicly owned hall in which the public is ordinarily entitled to attend.

Steele and the other citizens were interested to watch the vote for Regional Chair, the most powerful regional position, which is appointed, rather than elected. They were also interested in viewing the votes for leadership of the various regional committees whose important role it is to perform the preliminary review, and hold hearings, and discussions in order to recommend action to Regional Council.

The Oshawa assemblage wanted to witness their elected representatives’ votes for Regional Chair since this is the same group that strongly and verbally supported John Mutton for Chair. They had also supported most elected Regional Politicians from Oshawa in anticipation of their support for Mutton.

They were gravelly disappointed as all Oshawa votes went to Anderson. He was even nominated by Oshawa Mayor, John Henry, for the job.

Henry had not previously disclosed his vote but probably felt compelled to vote Anderson for fear of alienating the powerful Nancy Diamond alliance who had met privately a few weeks ago divvying up Council Committee Chairmanships in return for their Anderson votes. There will probably be the same payoffs at the Regional Level for the Anderson supporters.

All of the foregoing just demonstrates the power of the backrooms despite all of the elected politicians campaigned on a promise of transparency and accountability. It’s amazing how politician’s personal ambitions interfere with promises they make to people during elections.

Steele, and the other Oshawa supporters, were denied entry to the “public” meeting. It is unclear at the time of writing whether there were “Standing Regional Policies” denying access to inaugural meetings, or whether special orders were given for this day because of the extraordinary interest generated by the “contested” run at the Regional Chair position by “outsider,” John Mutton, who ran an ambitious campaign to oust Roger Anderson. Anderson has served in the powerful position ever since being defeated as a Regional Councillor 13 years ago.

While visitors were barred from this Regional Meeting, they are entitled, subject to available space, to view Canada’s Federal Parliament from the public gallery.

Access to special meetings like the “Speech from the Throne, that signifies the opening of every new Parliamentary Session is denied even to Members of Parliament who must cluster in the small alcove just inside the Senate Doors, since by British tradition, the House of Lords is only accessible to the Nobility...or in Canada, those “nobles” so anointed as Senators. Maybe this inaugural Regional Meeting had that significance---and thus common folk were denied entry!

All citizens have a responsibility to work to preserve our freedoms….to monitor the actions of governments at all levels….and to speak out when they feel the rights of Canadians are being compromised. Losses of freedom can come imperceptibly slowly causing disastrous results….and once lost, are hard to be regained….and so we commend Bill Steele for his leadership on this.

News reports of the last week indicate several threats to other aspects of our freedoms and democracy which depend so much on access to information provided by investigative reporting of a free and independent press.

Recently, we had the wikileaks releases. None of the releases indicated any “top secret” information like weaponry or other strategic technology in development, or any military deployment or strategy secrets, or details on the existence of any spy networks, or any secret economic strategies potentially to be implemented to retain American worldwide economic dominance, etc. They did seem to release a lot of “name calling” much as you’d find around the office water cooler. While there were some embarrassments, there were no earth shattering revelations.

The inventory of documents were provided weeks in advance of their wikileaks.com release to The New York Times, Britain's Guardian, Der Spiegel in Germany, El Pais in Spain and France's Le Monde all of which participated in simultaneous publication of some of the more enlightening details of the “so called” secret communications.

Governments claim to operate with transparency and accountability and one of the main functions of newspapers is investigative reporting to insure this, and they are guaranteed “Freedom of the Press” to report fact and opinion to do just that. In this internet age, the journalistic freedom of fair comment and opinion has been extended by the courts to bloggers and other forms of online reporting.

Much of what has so far been released by wikileaks is far less damaging to governments than we find in major newspapers, magazines, or on television newscasts any day.

The media functions, in part, to ensure an informed public to allow us to retain our freedoms and control and keep the actions of government in check. Otherwise politicians and governments could run wild. Everywhere the press is muzzled, freedoms are lost.

And yet, wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, founder and spokesman for wikileaks, whose personal philosophy is in opposition to secrecy-based, authoritarian conspiracy governments, obviously, like you and I, and many in the conventional press, supports more openness and transparency of governments worldwide….he believes in freedom of the press, no censorship, and investigative reporting---not at all radical ideas.

The powerful, though, have now had him imprisoned without bail on trumped up charges for his apparent consensual sex in Sweden, the land of free love. Such is the price for his release of documents embarrassing to the American Government.

This co-operation of governments is striking in that governments oftentimes fail to co-operate on the return of suspected criminals for quite serious charges. I guess there are extra pressures to co-operate with governments that have been embarrassed.

Around the world, political prisoners are imprisoned for speaking out against authoritarian regimes.

Assange’s release of the documents is not near as radical as calls for his assassination like Republican Rep. Peter King of New York who stated that Assange should be charged and terminated under the Espionage Act, Sarah Palin who called him an anti-American operative with blood on his hands, and past Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee who called for him to be tried for treason and executed, and former Top Aide to Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan, who called for his assassination on a CBC political talk show in which he said, President Obama should take out a contract on Assange.

One outraged Canadian citizen flew off an email to Flanagan objecting to his remarks at which Flanagan’s immediate email response was, “Better be careful. We know where you live”.

Maybe this kind of communication is acceptable from a Prime Minister who prorogues Parliament when he is in danger of losing control or when Parliament would endanger his enjoyment of the Olympics. But I figure Parliament is a place that serves us and represents Canada’s values, neither of which were shown by these actions by Harper or Flanagan.

In term of citizen’s freedoms, the US has even threatened government job loss to those who read the wikileaks documents.

All of these government actions threaten our freedoms and our democracy and we all have to be diligent in protecting our hard won rights at every turn. Societies have suffered where their rights have been compromised.

A most serious challenge to our rights was confirmed this past week by Ontario Ombudsman, Andre Marin, who released his report entitled “Caught in the Act” regarding policing violence during the G20 summit. Marin exposed what he called “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian History” and which he further defined as “likely unconstitutional.”

While the Premier hardlined initially on the police actions, after the media reporters wrote what most of us knew from the outset, the Premier belatedly admitted that the G20 law he invoked was not likely in keeping with the balance of public safety and freedom of expression that he would want to strike. Let’s hope not, as the policing thuggery and the high profile world wide television coverage gave Canada a black eye that will take a long time to erase. And Canada is not alone in the "free world" in actions of police brutality.

And then we got the largely incorrect election backroom musings by the Oshawa Newspapers about their election choices which would best serve their city advertising revenues. While their backroom musings were hugely wrong in terms of politicians actually chosen by the people, they did, in all likelihood, tilt the balance towards those elected. Their role in the election was undemocratic and wrong---their unbalanced and biased reporting worked to influence public opinion rather than doing polling to report on public opinion which is the approach of all professional news organizations.

Newspapers which take this approach miss the important historic role of journalism by being simply propagandists for the politicians. Such reporting is a danger to democracy which depends upon an accurately and fairly informed public.

But hey, there’s still a twinkling of democracy here in Oshawa. Council in its first meeting turned down John Henry’s idea of assigning politicians to wards in something Henry defined as a “Community of Interest,” an action contrary to every principle of democracy we know, the right of voters to choose their own representatives. Hopefully Henry’s idea is now trashed and confined to the dumpster where it belonged.

And hopefully Mayor John Henry has brighter ideas to advance for the governing of Oshawa in the future.

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

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