government accountability

Government Accountability. My encounter with MP Peter Braid.

I have been struggling to write this post. I wanted it to be succinct, eloquent and as respectful as possible. This has proven much more difficult than I had anticipated, especially since I did not have an actual recording of the meeting as I had requested. My meeting with MP Peter Braid was nearly a month ago now, and I am still furious and beyond frustrated with him, his actions and his words. I am still having trouble writing anything mildly respectful for a man who fills me with such contempt.

I first contacted MP Peter Braid’s office on January 3rd, 2010. I did so because MP Braid is my Member of Parliament in Canada and I was concerned about the prorogation of Parliament and the effect this would have on the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. My email went unanswered all week, so I emailed again. On January 11th, 2010, I finally receive an email back. A stock, standard reply, that ignored my concerns and questions entirely. I immediately responded by email picking apart the stock reply and again expressing my deep concerns and asking my questions. Six days later, I received the EXACT same stock response again. Again, I wrote back immediately expressing my concerns with this response.

It was around this point that I started to call the office instead, hoping for an actual response to my questions. On the first call, I reached a message machine that promised to return all calls by the end of business day. I left a message expressing my concerns. The end of the day came and went, and I never received that call back as promised. I waited the next day, and as 3pm rolled around and it appeared I again would not be receiving a call back, I called again. Again, I reached an answering machine. Again it promised to return my call by the end of business day. Again, I waited and received no such return call. In fact, I had to call 4 times and wait 5 full days until his office finally decided to return my call.

I asked the person (whose name I won’t repeat here because I believe they are a given a script with standard answers in it and are not allowed to go outside of that) on the other end three separate questions.

1) Is it routine for a minority government to prorogue Parliament?

2) Is it routine for to prorogue mid-session with so many Bills left to be debated in the House?

3) What is MP Braid going to do to ensure the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan returns in its current form after the prorogation?

To the first question, the employee, clearly flustered and flipping through pages, started to read to me the definition of what prorogation is, and in fact said that he had had to look it up because he wasn’t sure. I said, I already know the definition of prorogation. That’s not what I’m asking. He then started telling me all about the Economic Action Plan, completely skirting my question entirely. I told him this did not answer my actual question and that I would like him to please actually answer what I have asked. After arguing with me that he had already answered the question (he had not), he said that he didn’t have an answer for the first two questions then, but that they would get back to me. As for the third question, I was told, “the committees automatically return in their current form after prorogation”. Really? This is simply untrue. While prorogation doesn’t mean the committee can’t possibly be reinstated, it does in fact mean that all Bills being considered by the House and Senate are terminated, and all Parliamentary committees cease to exist, all orders of reference to committees lapse and membership and committee chairs end their duties. This is what prorogation IS. In order for the committee to be reinstated, all Members must vote for this to happen. It is not an automatic process.

Extremely frustrated, I emailed MP Braid’s office yet again. I explained my frustrations at his office and requested that he please phone me personally since his employees were unable to actually assist me even though they were trying “to the best of their ability”. They were clearly not able, or more likely, not authorized to answer any questions beyond the script in front of them.

I did not receive a call back or return email as promised with my answers within the next few days, so I called back again. This time, I received very similar treatment. The employee started to define for me what prorogation is. Again, the employee skirted the questions entirely. When I told her, I already know that, can you please just answer my question– she responded curtly with “well, if you already know the answer, why are you asking then?”. When I pushed for an answer to the second question I was told “this is what proroguing is for”. Really? Interesting, because half the Bills are still on the table, definitely not the norm and definitely not the purpose of proroguing. The conversation ended without answers to all my questions, but again with a promise of a call back eventually when they find the answers for me.

Six days later I receive this email from the employee to “answer” my questions.

"Dear Ms. Sargent,
 In response to your questions about the Afghanistan Committee,
the  information I received is that this is a special committee
created by a motion in the  House of Commons to which all parties
agree. As a result, we can't be sure  what will happen in the
new session. Mr. Braid is in  favour of the committee continuing
its work as there are many critical issues which must be addressed.
 As you may recall, this committee was created by the Conservative
 government in response to a recommendation in the Manley Report,
 also commissioned by  this government.
On 13 March 2008, a motion was passed in the House of Commons which
specified changes to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, and also
included a description and mandate for a special Parliamentary
committee on Afghanistan.  On 8  April 2008, the House of Commons
unanimously supported a motion “that a special committee be 
appointed to consider the Canadian mission in Afghanistan as 
referred to in the motion adopted by the House on 13 March 
2008.”
 Mr. Braid understands the concern of Canadians  regarding the
treatment of captured Taliban insurgents.  It is important
to note that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by our
Canadian Forces.
 Sincerely,"

I wrote back immediately to again express my frustrations that my questions had again gone unanswered. I also asked what specific actions MP Braid was going to take to ensure this Committee resumed if he felt it was “critical”. No response for several days. At this point, I wrote another email and this time CC’d members of the opposition, and members of the media hoping this would elicit an actual and truthful response. I expressed my outrage at the lack of response, the lies I received from employees over the phone and what I felt as lack of respect for his constituency (keep in mind, his office kept telling the media during this time was that he was in fact, spending the time consulting with his constituency).

Two days later, I receive this response:

"Rebecca,

 The information you are looking for regarding Parliamentary
Procedure  may be found in House of Commons Procedure and
Practice, 2009 edition,  and can be accessed online at:
 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/procedure-book-livre/Document.aspx?sbdid=7C730F1D-E10B-4DFC-863A-83E7E1A6940E&sbpidx=1&Language=E&Mode=1

 General historical information regarding Parliament can
 be found here:
 http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/AboutParl_Process.asp?Language=E&Sect=infohist

 thank you for your interest,"

If you actually follow those links you will know that it only leads you on a wild goose chase through mounds and mounds of Parliamentary paperwork. To me, it seemed that if you are using the line “it is routine to prorogue” then you should have some evidence of this and be able to answer my questions about how it is in fact routine. It is not routine to use Parliament in the way it was used and the answers to my first two questions clearly demonstrate how different this prorogation is from past usages.

At this point, I called MP Braid’s office again and requested a personal meeting with him and was told they would have to get back to me with a meeting time. I was then told that procedure is to email this request to his braidp6@parl.gc.ca email (even though I had already asked for a personal response from him repeatedly in past emails), so I did. At this point in the phone conversation I asked when exactly they would have the information about a meeting time for me. I was told by Friday (the 29th of January). Friday came and no call or email came. At 4pm, I decided to call the office again. I was met with the answering machine again, so I left another message.

I called again on Monday, and again reached the answering machine. I called for a second time on Monday, and again, got the answering machine. So I tried a different approach less than 2 minutes later. This time, I used call block to block my outgoing number and called again. This time, to my surprise, my call was answered. To my shock, they not only seemed to recognize my voice but asked, “Is this Rebecca?”. I asked the woman whether or not they had an appointment time for me yet. I was finally told the meeting would be February25th, a full month away and only days before the end of prorogation– the object of my original concern.

I then saw this video on Power Play where MP Braid essentially says that to investigate allegations of torture in Afghanistan is tantamount to being unpatriotic:

How can you think the Afghan Committee critical while at the same time saying that investigating allegations of torture is somehow unpatriotic? Seems quite contradictory to me.

I was told to send in questions prior to our meeting, so that MP Braid could be prepared and not waste my time. I sent in these questions:

1) I have been repeatedly told by your office that this prorogation is
routine. Please explain to me HOW it is routine in comparison with
other prorogations. Is it routine for a minority government to
prorogue? Is it routine to prorogue mid-session of Parliament?

2) After several inquiries into your office regarding the Afghan
Committee, I was provided with this response: “Mr. Braid is in favour
of the committee continuing its work as there are many critical issues
which must be addressed.”, yet several days later, I watched an
interview with you on CTV’s Power Play where you insinuated that this
committee is essentially unpatriotic and calling into question the
actions of our troops. Where do you actually stand on this committee’s
work and what will you do to ensure it continues undisturbed after the
prorogue? Why, if you are in favor of the committee continuing, did
you NOT attend the all-party committee on Feb 3, 2010?

3) Over the past several weeks, I have called and emailed your office
repeatedly trying to seek answers to very specific questions about the
prorogue. During this time, I was lied to on two separate occasions,
by two separate employees, once on Jan 20th and again on Jan 26th.
What do you plan to do to ensure your office is not lying to your
constituency? Will those who have outright lied be reprimanded?

So I waited for my meeting and didn’t call or email his office anymore during this time.

When I first came into the meeting I asked MP Braid, ” do you mind if I tape this conversation”.
He responded “No, you cannot. It is my policy that only journalists are allowed to record”
Me, ” Well, actually, I freelance for this org…”
Him ” tough”.

This frustrated me to no end. I was here to talk about his office lying to me and he wasn’t going to let me tape the conversation? What about accountability and transparency in government, a platform his party promised during the last election? This would mean if it came down to it, it would be my word against his. Are you afraid of being quoted Mr. Braid? Is this why you will not let me tape you? If you have nothing to hide, there is no reason I cannot tape you. You are a public official, who was meeting with me about public business in your office. There is, in my mind, no reason I cannot tape that conversation. If I had met up with you on the street, I could understand your concern, but this was business. You had the specific questions I was going to ask you already spelled out and researched for you beforehand. Why can I not tape that?

The meeting only went downhill from there. When asked about the Afghan Committee, MP Braid started spouting off the standard party line about non-related issues. I interrupted him and said, “that’s not what I asked.” To which he responded, “well, that’s what I’m answering.”

He then started aggressively asking me what specific evidence I had about the troops being involved in torture. I started by bringing up Graeme Smith, and Ms. Ouimet, two journalists who have brought forth allegations of wrong-doing. He then again asked me what evidence I had specifically, as if it was my personal duty to prove Canadian involvement in torture to him. It is not in my power as an individual citizen to investigate Mr. Braid, not that I could even get the proper information if I tried. If Parliament can’t even get its hands on documentation, how can I as a private citizen be expected to?

The conversation continued, “Perhaps you should check your facts, there is no proof of any wrongdoing.”

To which I said, “So allegations of wrongdoing shouldn’t be investigated?”

To which Mr. Braid again replied, “You tell me the specific proof of wrongdoing.”

It went back and forth in such a manner with no real answer, so I moved on to the last question regarding his office lying to me. He was clearly getting annoyed with me at this point, as I was with him and started pressing me continually in an aggressive manner, ignoring my actual complaints and instead focusing on repeating the same lines back to me in an effort to ignore the question. It wound up in another back and forth and before I even explained the lies his office had told me in full, he abruptly stood up and said, “this meeting is over” and I was then escorted out of the office.

It shouldn’t be this difficult to get straight answers from my Member of Parliament. I should not have to be lied to and if I am, I should be able to fully detail these accounts and have assurances that it will not happen again. There is no reason I should not have a tape recording of this meeting so I can more exactly detail the interview to my readers and actually be transparent and accountable as I had wanted.

A week after the meeting, I received this letter in the mail:

"Dear Ms. Sargent,
Just a quick note to  thank you for coming in recently to meet
with me at my constituency  office. I appreciated the
opportunity to hear your questions and  concerns, and that
you took the time to hear my  thoughts as well.
Again, thank you for coming in to share your  concerns.
Please let me know if my office can be of any assistance
or  support in the future.
Sincerely,
Peter Braid"

Yes, your office can be of further assistance. How about addressing the main concern I had in our meeting– what are you going to do to ensure your office is not lying to its constituency? Or even better, actually answering my questions. If I was lied to twice in two separate phone conversations, who else was lied to during this time and who actually believed those lies? How often is this happening? What else are they lying about?

I didn’t know what else to do, so I started this group, called MP Peter Braid Out of Office. Peter Braid only won the last election by 17 votes. 17. Can we convince 18 people to switch to another candidate in the next election or 18 non-voters to vote for any other candidate? I certainly hope so. This man, in my opinion does not deserve to be in office. I am disgusted to call him my MP. Peter Braid does not represent me. He does not listen to my concerns. He is not looking out for his constituency. He is looking out for his party and himself.

Do you have letters or stories of an encounter with MP Peter Braid that you would like to share? Please add it in the commentary below. Please use your voice and express your concerns to your own MP as they arise. Keep on them and if they don’t answer your questions, tell them so, and tell everyone else who will listen. In Canada, we supposedly have a democracy, the voice of the people. I feel like the people of Kitchener-Waterloo are being ignored by this MP and that’s just not right. Peter Braid, we do not have to agree on all the issues, but I should still be treated with respect, and should not be lied to. You should answer questions honestly and forthrightly, and if you don’t want to answer it, then say so. Don’t skirt the issue. At least then I would respect you. You should be able to properly explain your actions in Parliament. If you can’t– you don’t deserve to be there.

If you have any ideas of how we can ensure this man is never re-elected, please share them with me. The K-W Anti-Torture Coalition meets in protest every Wednesday morning in front of MP Peter Braid’s office at 830 am (22 King Street, Waterloo– right across from Waterloo Public Square) to demand a public inquiry into allegations of Canadian complicity in torture in Afghanistan. Join them if you can or at least honk on your way by them to show your support!

Here are some additional stories of MP Peter Braid’s appalling actions since being in office:

Peter being part of a gang that ambushed a family doctor.

Peter giving advice on how to siphon money from university student unions through front organizations to further the goals of the Conservative Party.

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Canadians unite. It’s time for accountable and transparent governing respectful of human rights.

I don’t usually delve too deeply into Canadian politics and legislation, but I’m starting to think that big change is in order in our system. It’s not a matter of removing Harper from office. Many aspects of our government are shameful but it lies not only with the one party. Separating into polarizing options is doing no one any good. We don’t need separation in politics, we need to come together to say that things must change. The whole system needs an overhaul for it is inequitable and flawed. It is undemocratic and that needs to change. We have an appointed representative of the British Monarchy overseeing and signing all our laws with enormous privileges. We have leaders who think they can all hijack politics to forward their own agenda. We have representatives who think they can hide their actions and be unresponsive to our inquiries even though they are there supposedly representing us. I’m sad to say that most of my letters to government go without response. Sometimes I do receive a stock form letter in return thanking me for my inquiry. I  try to always ask questions and to be respectful (it can be really difficult!), but in all my years of sending, I’ve received less than a handful of actual responses, and none that ever answered my inquiries.

Our government cannot continually ignore us if we do not let them. They are responsible to us and must hear our voices, even if they disagree with what is being said. They are supposed to answer to us, they are supposed to represent our interests– and how can they do that if they aren’t even listening to what we need and want. We are wasting money left, right and centre on personal power projects and padded bureaucracy. We are allowing corporations to take the reigns and whisper in the ears of our politicians with fantastic lures. This is not democracy people. My voice is not being heard, and I am not alone in this. I have yet to meet someone who I can say is truly confident in the government and not highly uncritical of at least parts of the political system. We do have to compromise and come up with a solution that works the best for everyone and we are not always going to like every aspect of it, but it should at the very least, be fair and open. We need to work together and open dialogue instead of shutting doors and walking away. There is a better system, but we will never know unless we make it happen ourselves.

The government reps talk of accountability and transparency– but I see none. I see sneaky manoeuvrings and a lot of cries of outrage from those who cry to cover up their own transgressions.

Now I’m nowhere close to being an expert in Canadian politics, but I know the system we have is undemocratic and unfair in many ways. No, I’m not a member of the Liberal Party. I’m not a Conservative. I’m not NDP or in the Green Party or Bloc Quebecois. I don’t subscribe to partisan politics mostly because I don’t like what any of them really have to say and find very few I’d ever fully put my name and confidence behind. I also believe that standing too firm on anything can quickly progress to fanaticism or hypocritical behaviour and I’m no fan of that either. I dread election time with petty attacking ads that skirt the candidate’s own goals, record or previous accountability. Didn’t their mothers ever teach them, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? To me, this attacking just shows they have probably have no moral ground to be running themselves and no real goals that they are going achieve other than their own personal agenda.

I want politicians to tell me what they are going to do for me, other Canadians and those abroad; how they are going to do it, with what money and then I want them to actually stick to it. Is that too much to ask for? What are they going to do to better my life and your life and everyone else’s lives? What are they going to do to represent my values that I care about in government? How are they going to better our international relations and increase all our well-being? How are they going better our human rights record and democracy?

I also want them to be held accountable for what they say.

If they make a promise– they had better follow through (or have an excellent, justifiable excuse for why it can no longer possibly happen!). If they don’t, then they deserve to be removed from office– immediately. Simple as that. Maybe massive turnover for a few sessions of those who faulted would set those who felt arrogant and power-hungry in place.

What I’m curious about is this, with all the wonders of technology that are now in existence– the massive connectivity of people that allows us to voice our opinions instantaneously with millions of people around the world in real time– do we really need these people to make all our decisions for us in the first place? Should they not be making more of an effort to reach out to us and discover what we want and need as Canadians? Is there not the possibility of real time discussions on issues initiated by the government to the people and polling that could be done continuously online in an open manner to have a better sense of real democracy ensuring the politicians must hear our voices? Could our politicians not actually engage with us about real issues and poll us on our feelings using different types of real-time systems? How much time do they spend each and every year actually working and listening to us and how much time do they spend scrambling trying to secure their own future positions? Why can we not use our own voices to make them listen to us. Use them to rally together and speak out against injustice? Find ways to connect and pressure governments to listen to our voice?

The voice of the people? Hardly. Sometimes I feel like our voices are lost. Or maybe there are only so few speaking.

I write letters and speak out, but do the powers that be actually listen? Do they actually track the number of responses and take notice? Does it get handed to them on a slip of paper by an aide and is then filed under “G” for “garbage”? Do they engage in conversation with those who they represent, or do they hide behind canned responses crafted and forwarded by aides?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. This means they are shutting down Parliament until March, dumping loads of Bills that are mid-progress and still in discussion and all committees that have been formed this session to discuss issues. Bills and committees that they have possibly spent months debating and working on and hammering out details that would make them more agreeable. They will now have to start over and all the Bills be re-introduced and discussed anew and they get paid for two months away from Parliament. This stands in our system as a legal political move so that if all business has been dealt with for the year, Parliament can rest early. It has happened an apparent 105 previous times as we are constantly told. It is now being used as a dodge so that the current government can give themselves time away from their shameful Afghan torture scandal and refresh the House with a crony Senate appointed so that they more likely to agree with the PM’s views and vote accordingly.

This government is not the first to do such. In fact, Stephen Harper himself shamed Chretien for using it years ago, saying “The government will prorogue the House so that it will not be held accountable for its shameful record”. The same is true now. Hide from torture Mr. Harper. Hide from possible international war crimes and take the time to hide the evidence and gain back public opinion with your lies. Stack your House full of cronies who will follow you down the rabbit hole dismantling our democratic rights. The people will not stand for it.

Or will they? Do they even care anymore? Is there even a responsible alternative to choose? It seems many politicians lie and do very little work, and the ones who do are lost in independence and discounted for going against the party-line. What’s worse is that we so often sit back while political atrocities occur. We let the MLAs work only 81 days since November of 2008 (must be nice!) and don’t seem to even notice or care. We ignore Bills and committees that are discussing our human rights and our futures and driving our Canadian values behind the voice of profit and corporate greed. We so often stay silent.

Why do we feel so apathetic? Why do we not speak up?

I think I know why. Because we are lost in it. There is so much going on around us and so many lies being told, we don’t know who to trust. We don’t understand how the system even works because it is so lost in legislative process that we can’t begin to comprehend or concentrate on it unless we are daily involved and we just don’t have the time or energy to care. We have no idea what’s really going on behind closed doors, what propaganda is being spouted, what back deals are happening, where endless budgets are really going, and whose friends stand to make great profits. There is little way to truly find out even if we wanted to. We have no idea even the political jargon behind the legislation when it sits in front of us in its pure form and have trouble understanding the point of some of the House debates we watch on tv. And so many newspaper articles barely touch on the full details of what’s happening preferring short slamming pieces that do not begin to really discuss the issues behind what’s going on or affected by legislation, and every channel spouts the same three lines instead of logically looking into arguments and doing real journalism. So instead of potentially looking foolish, or being called into a political argument we are afraid of losing, we stay silent. We sit back and not voice what we are really thinking and nothing changes. It’s not enough to vote. It’s not enough to write letters.

We need to not be afraid of our government. Our government needs to be afraid of us. If we do not understand what’s going on, we have the right ask our representatives about it and we deserve reasonable and clear answers that explains the details. We deserve the details of what’s going on with our money and our political power. We deserve the details of breaches of international law. We outnumber the politicians and our will and well-being should count. We need to act with non-participation if necessary and show them again that we have a voice that must be heard. Imagine if civil workers and unions all striked at outrages of democracy. Refused to work. They would need to listen or their economy would collapse. We have the capability of this power, and so often we forget, or can’t rally together enough to make that power felt. We let the status quo reign and stay silent while we lose more and more control over our own lives.

Why don’t we all take a prorogue from our own work until our government goes back to work. Shut down the system and tell them “no”. Be responsible and transparent.

Instead we attack each other with personal degradation and insults along party lines.

We need to engage in conversation and come together for all our futures. We are not that different, you and I. The more we talk, the more we can see this.

“You disagree, ok, well what part do you disagree with and why?”  If we logically break down the arguments and reveal real objections we can come to a compromise. We need to discuss alternatives. THERE ARE ALWAYS ALTERNATIVES! We need to compromise and discuss and come to reasonable solutions like adults.

Come on people! End rant. 🙂

Speak your voice:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6
Canada

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament-  Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

Find your Member of Parliament here.

And find your MPP here.

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Actions are taking place all over Canada. Check out http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=227662474562 for details of rallies happening in your city or start your own!