To date I have been greatly enjoying my summer listening tour– the opportunity to meet with citizens, organizations and employers firsthand is very valuable and helpful in the work that I do as a Member of Parliament. I also find that consistently the issues raised by citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla are very different than many of the topics raised by the media in Ottawa. At times there seems a strong disconnect.In Ottawa I find increasingly that the views and opinions of experts are often pushed to the forefront, while the views and opinions of every day citizens fall to the waysideand that should represent a growing concern to all of us.
As an example during the debate on the Fair Elections Act, one of the key areas of disagreement was over the reasonableness of requiring ID to vote in a Federal election no differently from what is used in local elections where a Mayor or council, rural director or school trustee are elected. The reality is the requirement on how reasonable it is to produce ID to vote is a matter of opinion- one that all Canadians can and should feel entitled to have or share. Yet in Ottawa the opposition and some in the media suggest that these are matters for expert opinion and that everyday Canadians voices are somehow lesser or don’t count. By not being inclusive in our institutions and processes we risk ignoring, perhaps even alienating individual Canadians. This leads to another subject that I believe is worthy of consideration–the Supremacy of Parliament.
What is the Supremacy of Parliament and why should you care? A fundamental principle of democracy is that ultimately citizens, through the democratic process, can elect a government they believe is best suited to make the decisions, policy and draft laws, that in our case will help build a stronger Canada. Obviously in any democratically diverse society there is a difference of opinion on these subjects and that is why we have elections. It should also be pointed out a Government that citizens disagree with can also be voted out of power. Where does the Supremacy of Parliament come in? To illustrate the answer to this question I will use an example: in 2009 a Liberal MP introduced Bill C-428 that proposed newly immigrated citizens could begin collecting OAS retirement benefits within three years of arriving in Canada (assuming they were 65 or older) rather than wait the ten year residency requirement. The outrage from Canadians opposing this bill was significant- in fact to this very day I still receive frequent opposition from citizens to this bill. What happened to Bill C-428? In a word: democracy. Ultimately an election occurred and the Liberal MP who authored Bill C-428 was not re-elected. In other words the bill was defeated through our democratic process.
To illustrate the Supremacy of Parliament, suppose after the election instead of accepting electoral defeat of the Member and the bill, that a court challenge was mounted and a judge then declared Bill C-428 to be a charter right and ordered that newly arrived citizens to Canada could begin collecting OAS benefits within three years of residency in spite of the fact that Canadians opposed this bill and voted against it. In essence an un-elected and unaccountable judge would have enacted policy against the democratic will of an elected Government. In essence this is where the Supremacy of Parliament is a consideration– should democratically elected Government set policy or un-elected judges? To be clear, this is for some an easy answer and to others a point of considerable debate. Courts can provide valuable guidance in complex cases as not everything can be anticipated when drafting law; however to see policies rewritten that download cost to taxpayers without representation is a concern we should be mindful of. The intent here is not to persuade opinion but rather to provoke discussion on this subject. While my example of Bill C-428 is a hypothetical one, in reality a recent case has provided further grist for the mill on this topic.
In 2012 our Government made changes to health care coverage for refugee claimants attempting to seek permanent entry into Canada. At the time it was noted that the refugee health care plan was more generous than the health care plans available to and paid by Canadian taxpayers. It was also observed that some of the refugee claimants accessing our taxpayer financed medical plan were coming from free, democratic rule of law countries such as the United States. As a result of these and other factors, changes were made by our Government to the refugee health program to ensure that legitimate refugee claimants were recognized and that abuses could not take place. Recently (as you may have heard) a Federal Court judge has ruled that the changes made by the Government contradict the Charter and has ruled against them. Our Government believes it is unfair for Canadians to pay the costs of a health care program for asylum seekers that is more generous than what they themselves receive and to exclude illegitimate claims. As a result our Government is appealing this ruling. This is a decision that some citizens are very supportive of and others strongly oppose. I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.