Faraway election shows how manipulative politicians can get when accountability breaks down

Protests are scheduled to take place in Winnipeg and throughout the country today over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament until Mar. 3.

The decision to prorogue Parliament has been a controversial one, as it leaves the impression that a government elected on a promise of greater accountability to voters was pulling a fast one to avoid being grilled in Parliament over the torture of prisoners who had been handed over to local Afghan authorities by Canadian forces.

A year and a half before the prorogation debacle, University of Moncton political scientist Donald Savoie had warned that Canada’s government had become akin to a royal court in that power was largely concentrated in the hands of the prime minister and his inner circle, with Parliament and Cabinet counting for less and less every year.

In spite of our flawed democracy here in Canada, we still live in one of the world’s more relatively honestly governed countries.

While this weekend’s protests are taking place, events in a small country few Canadians have ever heard of will show what can happen when governments get really manipulative.

The 40,000 residents of the tiny Caribbean country of St. Kitts and Nevis — 90 kilometres west of the popular resort island of Antigua — are expecting sunshine and a high of 29 degrees Celsius today. Granted its independence from the U.K. in 1983, the western hemisphere’s smallest independent country will at least have good weather for the final weekend of its election campaign before Kittitians and Nevisians go to the polls on Monday.

Despite the good weather, there will be a cloud hanging over the final weekend of the campaign. The opposition Peoples’ Action Movement (PAM) has accused the incumbent Labour government of using ZIZ television and radio, the government-owned and taxpayer-supported broadcaster, as a propaganda machine.

A visit to the ZIZ web site suggests that there might be something to the opposition’s complaints.

There is one reasonably favourable news item about the opposition party, about a PAM youth rally that drew a “huge crowd”. Much of the content on the government-owned broadcasters web site, however, is either laudatory of the incumbent administration (“The investment in education over the past 14 years [i.e., since the current government was elected] has significantly transformed the professional landscape in St. Kitts and Nevis producing doctors, engineers, business persons, accountants and technicians”) or damning of the opposition (“Former PAM officials accepted bribes from investors to keep wages low and hold down job opportunities”).

For example, take  a look at this piece about housing in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Copyright © ZIZ, 2010

Maybe an employee at ZIZ was trying to tip off the public that the government-owned broadcaster was reprinting the ruling party’s press releases verbatim by not even bothering to make the headline a little less overtly partisan?

Copyright © ZIZ, 2010

The suburban dream arrives in St. Kitts and Nevis? Just to make sure everyone knows who was responsible for these newer-looking homes, ZIZ helpfully provided a neon-green link just off to the right of the photograph. Hold your mouse over it, and up comes a picture of the prime minister.

Copyright © ZIZ, 2010

This property, however, doesn’t look quite as nice. In fact, it appears to be derelict and overgrown. It’s a house built back when the opposition PAM party was in office, as the ZIZ news team points out. A “crasher rat” wouldn’t be out of place here, but was probably unavailable at the time.

The St. Kitts and Nevis example is a picture of how manipulative politicians can become if they’re not held properly accountable.

For all its problems, at least this tiny Caribbean country many Canadians have never heard of can at least boast of a year-round summer, and an eclectic little radio station called The Voice of Nevis (VON) that streams its content on the Internet.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to Faraway election shows how manipulative politicians can get when accountability breaks down

  1. Mike Waddell says:

    Given that we are still under a winter storm warning here in Manitoba I am now kicking myself that I did not sign up to go help a candidate campaign in St. Kitts.

    That being said, I am going to go out on a limb this morning and suggest that a significant number of the people who have been keen to sign on to Facebook groups against the prorogation situation are going to be busy playing farmville this afternoon.

    On one hand, as a believer in the freedom of speech and expression that democracy needs to thrive I would enjoy being pleasantly surprised by large numbers at rallies across the country.

    If we look back at the backlash to the attempted coalition by the three opposition parties and the gatherings that happened across the country they were backed up by some serious organizing by those who were driving the rallies.

    This weekend will, in my mind, be a tremendous test of Michael Ignatieff’s organizational capacity and his influence.

    As a case in point, check out the comments at the following link….

    http://noprorogue.ca/mississauga/

    From the media coverage it would appear that the NDP have not engaged this issue on the same public, draw-the-line-in-the-sand fashion.

    Without the NDP grassroots organizers driving the events today they will not have the same punch that they could have had. One only needs to look at the CBC Greatest Canadian process to see what sort of influence that machine can have if it is focused and engaged on a national level.

    Concerning incumbent government’s influence in an election it would be interesting to do a simple poll of all of the billboard advertising in Manitoba. While this could be considered anecdotal a large portion of the billboards in Brandon are advertising government programs, crown corporations, and educational institutions.

    The most interesting billboard placement I saw this past year was a large one promoting the University College of the North on Brandon’s first street at the halfway point between the currently divided ACC Campus locations.

    If one were to determine the percentage of government advertising that is in play in the combination of the billboard, print and broadcast media it would be interesting to determine what sort of a hit the advertising industry might take if it were to see that advertising flow ease up.

    I would suggest that there may well be a similar trend Federally but due to the fact that the majority of my national media comes to my eyes by way of the internet I cannot accurately comment on this.

    For those who claim democracy is taking a significant hit due to the prorogation of Parliament and a concentration of power in the PMO I would say this…..

    Nothing stops the opposition parties from actually stepping up and taking that power back except one thing….. Their own self interests as parties.

    Nothing has stood in the way of any of the three leaders from sitting down with the others and actually leading a charge with a confidence motion. While I am clearly not an expert on Parliamentary procedure there is a concentration in power largely because others have abdicated that power.

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