Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why I'm glad an MLA is bashing the Charter of Rights

On one hand, MLA Pat Pimm's preference for getting rid of the Charter or Rights is alarming. It suggests that he's a lot more comfortable with government intrusions into the private lives of citizens than he should be.
But it is refreshing to have a new MLA who isn't sticking to a script crafted by communication staff. Pimm is, so far, apparently willing to say what he thinks, even if it's not in line with party policy.
Pimm is a Liberal, newly elected in Peace River North to replace Senator Richard Neufeld.
And in one of his first speeches, during debate on a bill to deny welfare to people facing outstanding arrest warrants, he took aim at the Charter.
"I just don't think it's a good document whatsoever myself," Pimm said in the legislature. "For 99 per cent of the people out there, that document doesn't even need to exist, first off. It's only about one per cent or two per cent of the people that it's even developed for, and it's to keep the lawyers and the judges and everybody working to support the system." (Thanks to the Lower Langdale Tattler, an irregular publication of NDP MLA Nicholas Simons, for reporting Pimm's comments.)
What the Charter does is set out the basic rights of Canadians. We can say what we think and follow our religious beliefs without government intrusion. Basic principles of justice have to be followed if the state wants to interfere with our lives.
Police can, for example, search our homes, but only if they have a good reason.
Pimm's position appears to be that decent citizens don't need their rights protected. Governments know best about what must be done for the greater good.
That's too trusting. The world is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a reminder that governments can't always be counted in to respect the rights of citizens.
It is troubling when a drug dealer avoids trial because a police search violated his rights.
But that's the trade we make for enshrining the rule of law and our own freedom from government messing in our lives.
Still. Pimm was speaking his mind. A lot of his constituents would likely share his views. That's good for an MLA. And not all that common.
MLAs and cabinet ministers, especially in government, tend to avoid saying anything.
Consider the example recently offered by Ida Chong, junior minister for healthy living. Two health officials in Alberta have been fired because the Calgary Flames jumped the queue for H1N1 flu vaccinations.
So Chong was asked whether the Vancouver Canucks would get special access to flu shots, ahead of vulnerable members of the public.
The answer should be easy. No, the vaccine would be provided based on health needs. A vulnerable five-year-old or pregnant woman would be protected before an incredibly fit professional hockey player.
But Chong instead, offered this response. "I believe that what is important is that those who need access to this vaccine to mitigate the possible spread will be looked at by our health experts," she said.
It was an easy question. On principle, should the survival of a child come before the playoff chances and profitability of hockey team?
And Chong is no fool. But politicians are told to say nothing. And they do, even when it makes them look ridiculous.
All in all, I'm rooting for Pimm. The voters sent him down to the legislature to speak for them, based on his experience in business, community sports and municipal government. They know him. He's wrong on the importance of the Charter, but at least he is saying what he thinks.
Imagine 85 MLAs, from all across the province, with different individual skills and experience and perspectives, debating and listening and learning from each other and really shaping government policy. Still committed to core party principles, but not blindly.
That's how our government is supposed to work. Our representatives, making decisions based on their best judgments about what is good for the people they represent.
Instead, MLAs sign up for their teams and do what they're told.
Footnote: You can judge the level of MLAs' independence. The legislature sessions are televised, though they're off this week. Question period, about 1:50 p.m., offers a chance to assess their efforts and let them know what you think.


Norm Farrell said...

BC Liberal Cabinet Ministers usually have personal minders hovering by their shoulders, taping all words uttered in public. That prevents variation from assigned talking points.

Maybe back row MLAs need personal aides provided, along with digital voice recorders, by the Premier's Office. Speaking openly is a dangerous wedge. Next they'll be worrying about integrity or some other airy fairy principle.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we could have minders keeping an eye on the personal minders. Think of all the job opportunities.

Anonymous said...

From a free-speech point of view, I'd agree with you, Paul. Except it would be nice if our MLAs were smart enough to understand the necessity of a charter of rights. Pat Pimm clearly is not that smart.

Sean Holman said...

I couldn't agree with you more Paul...

Anonymous said...

Once in a while we get Mary Polak to shoot straight with the truth. Let's face it - we need Gordon Campbell to retire after the 2010 Games in style and the BCLibs need a leader who loves liberty.

Of course, if I were a senior staffer for the BCLibs, I'd need to pop an anti-anxiety pill anytime Sean Holman got w/in 15 feet of a BCLib MLA.

Stare Decisis said...

The Charter Americanized Canada. Everyone had the rights that are enshrined in it-- they just weren't written down.

Are the Brits less free than Canadians? Check out:

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm part of that 1 one per cent.

And Gordon Campbell retire in style? Impossible.


Anonymous said...

I find you comment that " I am sure a lot of his constituents would likely share his views" totally inaccurate. Mr. Pimm does not represent us on this matter and he certainly did not ask us. We in the North Peace are progressive and respect the Charter of Rights. If you want to find out how people are feeling about his comments, go to:http://energeticcity.ca/fortstjohn/. In the future, Mr. Wilcocks, check with us first!