Over this past summer I have been fortunate to receive some favourable comments in a local editorial on my work as a Member of Parliament and also have been the subject of some rather intense criticism for raising a subject that some citizens had strong opposing views on. Being in the middle of a media firestorm and the target of some opposing citizens is overall not an enjoyable experience; however it is a very important one. In a vibrant democracy in a country as diverse as Canada we expect disagreement and a difference of views. It is understandable that we would prefer opposition to be neatly delivered, constructive and without personal attacks or profanity; however we also recognize that citizens at times express points of views in unique ways. This can all be unpleasant for certain but we should also not overlook that ultimately when people make an effort to pass on questions, comments or views they are attempting to engage in our democratic process- a good thing indeed.
I mention these things due to the fact that in one municipality within Okanagan-Coquihalla, a local government is reported to have threatened litigation against a senior citizen who can be quite vocal on local issues of importance. As an elected official I can relate to the fact that at times we have critics who can be quite aggressive and we would prefer that they communicate in a more civil tone. It should also be pointed out that if a citizen is behaving in such a manner, that elected officials, if necessary through government, can state reasons why a certain behaviours are not tolerated and responses to vitriolic or vexatious inquiries not provided. Drawing a line between legitimate but uncomfortable inquiry and harsh or impassioned language is a difficult task and should be taken with care. In my view when local officials sanction legal means to attempt to silence members of the public, it crosses a line and that is a concern that I believe we should all share.
Withstanding criticism is never enjoyable however if we are to lead in public office at times difficult and unpopular decisions will be required to be made. Accepting criticism for those decisions is part of the process. We should also recognize that our more senior levels of government at the Provincial & Federal level were structured by design to have a funded and working opposition with certain legal and traditional immunities to raise issues when in legislative chambers. In Municipal Government, particularly in small to mid-sized communities, where there is no formal funded official opposition; often the opposition may well be from members of the public, who in this case we are reminded, may have no legal immunity to raise issues of concern.
The intent of this week’s report is to recognize that while criticism can be at times difficult to accept, it remains an important part of governance and elected office. Criticism, in my view is not something we should fear nor shy away from and most importantly should not attempt to silence. There is little doubt that some will criticize my report this week. From my general observation there are far fewer subjects that receive complete agreement than the vast amount of subjects that citizens agree to disagree on. That is the sign of a healthy democracy where citizens enjoy the freedom to express opposing views without fear of repercussion. I can be reached via email at email@example.com or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.