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DZIADYK: Time to end Edmonton’s State of Emergency

The amount of decisions being made – without democratic oversight – should cause anyone with faith in government to take a pause. Those without faith in government should be demanding immediate action.

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After five weeks of saying “yes”, I have now voted to end the Local State of Emergency in Edmonton for three weeks in a row. I am the only councillor to dissent on this long-burning emergency. If you live in Edmonton, you are still under the rule of a multi-layered bureaucracy, despite my efforts to return local power to the people.

You’re probably wondering why I have been voting against renewing the municipal state of emergency during these challenging times. After all, we are in the throes of a pandemic. Simply put, Edmonton city councillors – like myself – are making next to zero substantial decisions in regards to how the COVID-19 recovery process is shaped and implemented. I’ve watched spacious dog parks get closed and there is now a possibility that backyard fire pits are in the sights of City Administration. Walmart is essential, but the mom and pop shop isn’t. The amount of decisions being made – without democratic oversight – should cause anyone with faith in government to take a pause. Those without faith in government should be demanding immediate action. The legacy of this might very well be mistrust in officials. My personal views have evolved over these past eight weeks and I don’t want to be complicit in what may later prove to be government overreach.

As I always caution, one needs to understand the technical nature – and powers granted and to whom -of emergency rule. Cessation of an emergency declaration simply means that we respond to the pandemic under normal, more accountable methods. When we declared the emergency, it was mostly redundant with the still-in-place provincial health emergency. We gave power to the City Administration to take swift measures to ensure the safety of our city. It was necessary to allow decisions to be made on the fly and the time for a Council meeting was a luxury we could not afford. 

So, we gave power over to the Administration. The special declaration unlocked some heavy additional powers such as allowing for the destruction of private property to respond to the emergency and warrantless search and seizures which – thankfully – have not been necessary. We did an amazing job of flattening the curve and managing the situation without invoking authoritarian measures. Why should we continue to hold onto these power, especially when they are redundant under the provincial emergency? The time for swift responses is no longer needed and the expectation should be that we return to thoughtful public debate. 

To be perfectly clear, if we ended the “State of Local Emergency” in Edmonton, social distancing would still be in place, whole classes of businesses would still be closed, and we would still be teaching our kids from home. The summer will be silent with festivals canceled and outdoor pools closed. While I embrace the reopening of the economy, many businesses will remain shuttered, and that will have nothing to do with or without Edmonton being in a State of Local Emergency. 

After impressive compliance to the new norms by Edmontonians, our response now needs to evolve to steady guidance and measured adjustments as needed. That means that Council should regularly meet, discuss, and debate how best to proceed on all COVID issues. We will defer to expert testimony, but we will also question scope creep and hopefully set the stage to discourage abuse of power before it is even contemplated. We need steady guidance from your duly elected officials instead of administration. That is why I will continue to vote to end the state of emergency so that we can manage the recovery thoughtful and through steady guidance.  

Jon Dziadyk is the Edmonton City Councillor for Ward 3 

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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