Medicine Hat News
Democracy doesn’t end in a pandemic
Seventeen UCP MLAs, including two from the Gas City, made headlines and controversy last week by signing a letter criticizing the government’s decision to downgrade our COVID status from Step 2 to Step 1.
Members of the opposition, media and general population have called on Jason Kenney to boot these members out of caucus. Rachel Notley has labeled the actions of these MLAs as “undermining public health.” In Notley’s mind, heavy handed restrictions are not up for discussion and she argues that we must “listen to the health experts.”
The problem with this sentiment is that health experts are only experts in the field of health. Health is only one piece of the puzzle and does not take into account the social, psychological and economic impacts of pandemic policy.
The fact is that the restrictions are having major negative impacts on Albertans. People are losing their jobs, forced to close businesses, barred from seeing their loved ones and so on. It seems only natural in a democracy that any policy that has such huge consequences should be subject to scrutiny and debate.
The aversion to restriction debate lies in the idea that it may embolden people to break public health orders. While this is a valid concern, it isn’t grounds to shut out debate completely.
Unless politicians are encouraging people to break the health orders (which they aren’t) they can’t be held responsible if people misinterpret their disagreement to the law as permission to break it. One of the roles of politicians is to create, change and oppose laws. Disagreeing with certain laws and rules is simply part of a politician’s job.
Furthermore, the first and foremost job of an elected official is to represent the people who have elected them. If a constituency is overwhelmingly opposed to a specific policy, the politician representing them has a duty to reflect this opposition regardless of their personal or partisan perspective.
I can’t speak for other parts of the province, but in our own city I think it is pretty clear that a good portion of the population has had enough of restrictions and are not happy with the government’s return to Step 1. Drew Barnes estimates that 90% of his constituents fit into the anti-restriction category. I’m not sure the number is that high, but I have no doubt that it’s well over half. I realize this sentiment is not uniform across the province, and I don’t expect this letter to change the government’s position, but nevertheless it’s important to have voices from all parts of the province heard in the legislature.
It’s a shame that debate on pandemic policy has become so divisive. Nobody has malicious intentions, whichever side they are arguing for, whether it be pro or anti lockdown.
People have a diverse range of values, experiences and perspectives which naturally lead to differing opinions on what the best course of action is. The beauty of a free and democratic society is allowing these different perspectives to be expressed and interact with each other. This must be allowed to continue in the public sphere, even in the face of a pandemic.
Cash Moore is a political science student at the University of Alberta from Medicine Hat. His column, For What It’s Worth, will run on the third Thursday of each month. Feedback for his columns can be sent to email@example.com