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Governments’ incremental assaults on democracy undermine Canadian principles and values

Paul Taillefer

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"69","attributes":{"alt":"Picture of parliament with the text \\\"Stop Bill C-377"","title":"stop_bill_c_377_250","height":"158","width":"251","class":"media-image wp-image-512 alignleft media-element file-media-large"}}]]Many Canadians have, of late, expressed concern about the state of their political representation and democracy. This concern was echoed  by a recent survey. On Dec. 3, Samara, a not-for-profit organization aimed at improving political participation released the results of its online survey of 2,287 Canadians. Of note, just 55% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada, down from 75% in 2004.  A majority of respondents also expressed the view that elected officials do a better job representing the views of their party than that of their constituents. This discontent was felt across the country.  Are we surprised?  A reading of newspaper headlines over the past few years has given proof to these results.  When Federal and Provincial governments of all stripes interfere in collective bargaining and reduce the voices of those most vulnerable in our society, it is easy to feel that democracy is under assault. Teachers and their organizations have been targets of this trend where the political imperative overrule democracy and our elected officials use the rule of law to advance policy that is ideological or expeditious.` On the national scene, we have seen a philosophical shift where Canada’s foreign aid agency – the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has moved towards a more active role in promoting Canada’s economic interests abroad and reduced its focus on poverty reduction.  This has resulted in a shift towards aiding Canadian mining companies while cutting off financing to organizations with a distinguished record of international aid such as CTF and Kairos. Of late, the federal Conservatives, have also moved to restrict the ability of unions and teacher organizations to effectively represent their members through the introduction of Bill C-377, a bill which would unnecessarily burden these organizations including -- CTF and its Member organizations – with the responsibility, through changes to the Income Tax Act, for extensive financial reporting, the likes of which has never been seen before.  The pretext for this is a need for transparency for members, even though most provinces and territories - and unions and teacher organizations themselves - have mechanisms in place that allow free access to those financial records. In Ontario, the provincial Liberal government - once the champion of public education - has passed Bill 115 which curtails the right to free collective bargaining and imposes a collective agreement on the province’s teachers.  The bill also gives the government unprecedented powers over school board negotiations with no accountability through legislative debate. Teachers across the country are standing up to these kinds of initiatives and trying to engage the public and their students in a larger debate about the current state of our democratic institutions.  Teachers take their civic responsibilities seriously and are engaged in sharing that commitment with their students and the community.  They adhere to the idea that all education programs must be designed to prepare students to become responsible members of society.  That’s a pretty tall task as it involves more than getting students to obey the rule of law, to pay taxes and to vote.  Education programs must promote student inquiry, must familiarize them with the issues that affect their communities and define their lives and incite them to become engaged. Teachers always look for authentic learning experiences for their students.  There is some irony in the way in which governments are providing them with the tools to do this. More than ever, as is evidenced by the results of the Samara report, teachers in classrooms across Canada need to encourage students to take an interest in democracy and in public service.  By standing up to ensure that democratic processes are respected, teachers are helping to ensure that in the future, public interest will increase and policy debate will reflect the values which we, as a society, hold dear. Stand up for democracy and sign the petition against C-377.   Paul Taillefer is the President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation