About the Citizens Centre

About the Citizens Centre

  • WHAT IS THE CITIZENS CENTRE?


The Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy
is a non-profit organization that promotes responsible government. This means government that is honest, accountable and constitutional.

Honest government
Honest government is self-policing, transparent, open, respectful and impartial.

Accountable government
Accountable government is democratic. All public policies set by courts and cabinets are subjected to approval, scrutiny and amendment by the elected representatives of the people, or by referendum.

Constitutional government
Constitutional government is self-restrained, confining its activities and taxation to the responsibilities laid down by the Constitution Acts.
  • "RESPONSIBLE" versus "COMPASSIONATE"


From its origins two centuries ago, the emphasis in Canadian democracy was on "responsible government," as defined above. Since the 1960s, however, the focus has shifted to "compassionate government," whereby the federal government now presumes to direct and fund social and economic development, both of which are provincial or private responsibilities.

Unfortunately, while "compassionate government" may sound attractive, it violates one of the most central principles of the original federal pact between Canada's provinces, and negates the concept of responsible (i.e. constitutional) government.

As a result, the effect over time has been to make government neither compassionate nor responsible. Instead it has become increasingly corrupt, unaccountable and coercive.

Ottawa forced its way into the provincial sphere of social and economic development, mainly by abusing its unlimited power to tax and spend, even in areas that are beyond its jurisdiction. Some provinces, notably Alberta and Quebec, resisted. However, Quebec was bought off and Alberta was looted. Alberta's net contribution to federal programs since 1961 is now over $200 billion.

The consequences of allowing Ottawa to negate the original scheme of Confederation have been bad for the whole country, not just Alberta.

It has created costly jurisdictional overlap, political confusion, high taxes, needless eastern dependency and western alienation, and a political culture that no longer understands the principle, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Instead we are constantly told that social entitlements like "free" medicare and unemployment insurance represent the core values of Canadians.
  • POLITICAL PARTIES ARE NOT ENOUGH


The essence of freedom lies in keeping responsibility as close to the individual as possible.

Responsible government succeeds only when citizens involve themselves in scrutiny and policy development outside the sphere of party politics. Party politics have their place, but nonpartisan political action is just as important. Through education and activation on key issues, the Citizens Centre helps make this action possible.
  • CONVERTING ATTITUDE INTO ACTION


Canadians are beginning to realize (or rediscover) that in a democracy, governing responsibility resides ultimately with the governed, not political parties, cabinets and courts.

For the governed to take responsibility, however, they need to move beyond vague, resentful attitudes to rational and specific actions. If this shift from attitude to action does not take place, nothing can change.

Since it formed in 2003, the Citizens Centre has discovered that it's possible to pressure politicians and decision-makers through a combination of public advertising and mass e-mails.

This formula combines the advantages of traditional public demonstrations, petitions, policy newsletters and town hall debates.

The Citizens Centre has conducted effective campaigns opposing the national gun registry, promoting free speech, urging criminal prosecution of Svend Robinson, promoting greater provincial autonomy in Alberta, and demanding that disgraced Canada Post president Andre Ouellet pay income tax on $2 million in unexplained expense payments.

These campaigns have generated over 600,000 e-mail letters and have raised the profile of these issues.
  • The CITIZENS CENTRE IS NEITHER "RIGHT-WING" NOR "LEFT-WING"


Our mission is to promote responsible government in Canada by advocating honest government, a clear division of power between the federal and provincial governments, and a democratic counterbalance to the increasing power of the courts.

  • GOALS of the Citizens Centre

To persuade provincial governments to exert their full constitutional leverage in such areas as the Canada Pension Plan, medicare, provincial police, tax collection, gun registration, carbon emissions, urban affairs, environment and grain marketing.

To create demand in Canada for privately-paid medical treatments and regulated private alternatives to the national pension plan, as is found increasingly in all developed countries.

To create pressure for a meaningful reduction in federal fiscal transfers (both direct and indirect), and a permanent reduction in government share of GDP.
  • VALUES of the Citizens Centre


The Citizens Centre is guided by respect for: adherence to the rule of law, freedom of political speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and security of persons and property, within strong and autonomous provinces responsible to the people they govern.
  • THE ORIGINS OF "RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT" IN CANADA


Two myths are very prevalent today -- that Canada was never very democratic, and that the federal government is supposed to run the country.

The truth is that early Canada was exceedingly democratic. Canada was among the first nations in the world (ahead of both the British and the Americans) to establish a universal right to vote, and among the first to introduce the secret ballot.

From the late 1700s Canadian settlers had been electing assemblies. Their elected representatives, however, were all too often ignored by the governors sent out from Britain, who appointed their own governing councils made up of local favorites.

Anger built. Demand arose for "responsible government." Rebellion erupted. Blood was spilled in 1837 in Ontario and Quebec. Rebellion flared for the same reason in Manitoba in 1869, and in 1885 open warfare broke out in Saskatchewan.

Neither is it true that Canada was supposed to be a centralized state. The colonial leaders who founded this country in 1867 -- men like Tilley, Cartier, Tupper, Brown and Mowat -- designed a far less centralized nation than the one we have today.

They were not (as we now imagine) national figures anxious for a strong new central government. They were elected colonial leaders determined to preserve the social independence and to promote their economic potential of their far-flung settlements. They understood that for freedom to remain connected with responsibility, Canada's regions could not be run from Ottawa.

To prevent any such attempt, they preserved for their colonies (henceforth provinces) full constitutional responsibility for social and economic development -- things like health care, pensions, tax collection, urban and industrial development, law enforcement, etc. To the new national Parliament in Ottawa they assigned mainly issues of sovereignty previously borne by Great Britain (defence, immigration, foreign policy, currency, etc.).

This division of powers made sense then and would still make sense today. Unfortunately, it has been marred by four decades of rampant, irresponsible centralism at odds with the original spirit and intent of Confederation.

  • IN OUR FIRST THREE YEARS WE HAVE...


● Organized media coverage for the farmers jailed in Lethbridge for selling wheat illegally, an event which attracted critical international attention to the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly.

● Organized coverage for retired Alberta sergeant-at-arms Oscar Lacombe’s defiance of Ottawa’s gun registry, drawing international attention to the issue.

● With the Alberta Residents League, brought province-wide pressure on the Alberta government to exercise its constitutional right to opt out of the Canada Pension Plan and create a provincial alternative.

● Mounted a national billboard/e-mail/website campaign for a national referendum to decide the legal meaning of the word “marriage.”

● Mounted a national newspaper/e-mail/website campaign to investigate corruption in the Liberal government.

● Organized the successful Senate election campaign of our chairman, Link Byfield, to help keep public attention focused on the need for constitutional reform of Parliament’s Upper House.

● Written and published over 150 weekly media columns focusing on the need for national and constitutional reform.

  • WHAT WE ARE DOING NEXT - A National Constitutional Assembly


Political reforms are more achievable today than they were when the Citizens Centre started three years ago. Public opinion has begun to shift.

But the Constitutional barrier remains. Even a Harper majority cannot make unilateral fundamental changes. We must help prepare Canadians to reform the Constitution.

For it is only in the Constitution that freedom and responsible government meet.

To stimulate national discussion, the Citizens Centre has organized a major public assembly at the Calgary Westin Hotel this fall, from September 29 to October 1.

It will be called the Calgary Congress -- Restoring Responsible Government

Featuring some of Canada’s best political and economic thinkers, it will try to establish a short list of basic principles for constitutional reform:

● Reducing the cost of government.

● Enhancing provincial control of the federal spending power.

● Strengthening federalism through Senate reform.

● Creating democratic counterbalances to the growing power of the Courts.

After the Calgary Congress, the Citizens Centre will propose these principles to the Government of Alberta, to be presented to Canadian governments as a constitutional amendment -- changes the federation has a deadline of three years to approve or reject.

Media interest in this remarkable event is already rising, months in advance.

As Margret Kopala noted in the Ottawa Citizen (“Alberta Will Test Harper,” June 3, 2006),  “It's a dangerous game that could instead result in defederation [i.e. western separatism]. But the timing does seem auspicious for Alberta…”

  • HELP GET CANADA MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION


Free and prosperous countries, such as Switzerland and the U.S., strongly support public interest groups, and they guard their constitutional rights jealously.

The Citizens Centre can help move Canada’s constitutional progress forward if people support it through membership and participation.

We can’t leave it entirely to politicians. It must start with the people.

So please join or renew your membership today and, if possible, register for the Calgary Congress.