Rights and Democracy: Qui veut noyer son chien...

There’s no reason to believe three years’ worth of relentless negative coverage led to the Harper government’s decision, announced today, to shut down Rights and Democracy. No negative coverage preceded the government’s decision, announced last Thursday, to shut down the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy; Katimavik; the National Council on Welfare; and the First Nations Statistics Institute. It’s reasonable to suspect that if nobody at the PMO had taken an interest in Rights and Democracy in 2008, it would have run much as before — that is, as a beacon of hope for oppressed millions around the world — until it would have been dumped last week for the crime of having been created while Joe Clark was a minister of the Crown.

But the PMO did take an interest, and a Volkswagen was parked in front of R&D’s downtown Montreal office in late 2008, and an amazing succession of clowns started tumbling out of the Volkswagen, led by Perfesser Aurel Braun with his squirting lapel daisy, and pretty soon the place was in crisis, and it never came out. I have chronicled it all too many times to repeat; click the Rights and Democracy tag at the bottom of this post for the complete archive.

One little excerpt from the record, for posterity’s sake. In 2010 Braun and his board colleagues tried to dispute the assertion that they had hidden a damning evaluation from its subject, the former president of the organization. Rémy Beauregard, now deceased. As I wrote then:

[Braun and his colleagues claim they] “gave the former president [Beauregard] repeated opportunities to meet and discuss the evaluation in Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal. He chose not to avail himself of those opportunities.”

Rémy Beauregard actually addressed that point in a long letter to the board of Rights and Democracy on Oct. 26, 2009. “With respect to the efforts made to accommodate the President for a meeting of the Committee,” he wrote, “it is important to clarify that of the 55 days proposed by the Secretary of the Board for such a meeting, the President indicated he was available for 45 of those days.”

Then why was there no meeting? Because, as I’ve learned when trying to seek comment from them, Aurel Braun and his pals can be difficult to pin down. The Executive Committee of the R&D board is supposed to meet four times a year. How’d that go in 2009? “In June 2009, the dates for these meetings were not set because some members were not sure of the days they would have to teach. The Secretary of the Board was mandated to hold an e-mail consultation to try to set a date that would be suitable for as many people as possible. Starting in early August, she proceeded with this consultation and offered fifteen possible dates for the meeting. None of the proposed dates was convenient.”

So Beauregard was available on 45 of 55 proposed days for a meeting that never happened. The Executive Committee of the Board was available on none of 15 proposed dates for a meeting that never happened. Once Beauregard was dead, the board blamed him.

That story matters less than much of what happened, but I wanted to reprint it for the sake of memory.

Canada still has no organized democracy-promotion effort, despite a 2008 campaign promise and throne speech commitment. It has lately preferred more robust techniques for promoting democracy, such as jet fighters. Oops. I can’t help thinking that if the government of  Stephen Harper had paid less attention to a $50,000 grant, and more to a $25 billion procurement contract, it would stand less shamed and disgraced than it does today.