MPP Toby Barrett
Over the years, unexpected issues rise to provincial significance. It is the responsibility of elected representatives to confront these new issues as they arise, based on unwavering principles and beliefs. When faced with difficult issues, government must always remember that the rule of law is not negotiable.
The rule of law is of particular interest along the Grand River and across sand country. Illegal land seizures, the illegal tobacco trade, and the burden of government regulation have done more than cripple our area’s economy – they have caused many to question whether we are all governed by the same set of laws.
To be clear, politicians do not tell the police or bureaucrats how to conduct day-to-day operations. There are other ways that government can demonstrate its commitment – or lack thereof – to laws.
Last summer, after purchasing the occupied land at Caledonia, Premier McGuinty sent taxpayer-funded lawyers to court to then legalize the land occupation. They argued that since Premier McGuinty’s government welcomed protesters on the occupied site, there should be no injunction against their presence. In my view, this was an easy-fix by a government with a weak commitment to the rule of law.
Aboriginal people have many legitimate grievances. Government must make it a priority to resolve native land claims, and to address the disastrous conditions on many of Canada’s reserves. Canadian citizens of all cultural backgrounds must share equally in our country’s opportunity.
However, a Premier must be prepared to pursue measures to ensure all parties comply with the rule of law. Standing by and welcoming land occupations and railway blockades that defy court injunctions cannot be an option. Instead, government should pursue civil remedies against those who lead protests that cross that line between free speech and disregard for public safety and the rule of law.
Over the past few years, farmers and rural landowners have increasingly felt that government is unfairly seizing their land and their livelihood – through rules and regulations and red tape. Government has a responsibility to regulate certain land-uses, and commodities like tobacco, for the public good – but, it also has the responsibility to notify those affected in advance, offer fair compensation, and allow a fair opportunity to appeal.
Recent farm and tobacco policy is heavy on taxes and regulations, but short on compensation for impacted farmers. By way of analogy, people feel as though Premier McGuinty took them to an expensive restaurant, but when the bill arrived, he was in the washroom.
In short, there are times when government needs to take action in the public interest – but individuals should not be expected to single-handedly foot the bill for the public good, or be put at a competitive disadvantage by government’s toleration of law breakers.
And we must recognize that the law is more than prosecuting those who break it. Upholding the rule of law means working to ensure that all people – in all areas – feel secure that they are protected. To me it is unacceptable for lawlessness to be an accepted fact in any community. For all people to be subject to the rule of law, all people must feel protected by the rule of law.
It’s time for all elected representatives to view the rule of law as non-negotiable – and to keep that in mind when confronting new issues as they arise.