Recently, Conservative MP Dan Albas decided to put on his big boy glasses and examine a few court cases. He found a trend: courts were overruling the legislation that his government was introducing. Groups were taking to the courts to make changes that the government didn’t endorse. How, in a democracy, do people get the idea that they have the right to affect government policy? Dan Albas thought this was absolutely outrageous.
Albas lamented that judges have been “quite happy to engage” with citizens trying to affect policy change. What the hell has been going on in Canada? As we know too well, judges are not publicly accountable. Unlike MPs, who can be elected by a minority of Canadians on one platform before crusading around and making legislation on another, judges are bound by nothing more than the Constitution. They are wrecking balls on the loose, and they have the power, if left unchecked, to rip up the fabric of our storied nation. Albas fears that’s already happening.
He succinctly and eloquently voiced his complaint: “What you’re having is a judge can overturn and then cost the taxpayer a lot of money without any accountability or representation on their behalf.” The result, Albas said, is “decisions contrary to what have been decided in our democratic process.” So true. Judges cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, unlike MPs and Senators, who cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and the unexpected extra costs of travel and self-indulgence. Judges have a clear set of rules that they must follow when working on cases and making decisions, unlike MPs, for whom there is no job description. Finally, judges do not have to listen to the public or to elected officials when making their decisions, unlike MPs, who can ignore petitions and protests, don’t have to show up in House, don’t have to attend candidates debates, don’t have to respond to communications with the public, and don’t have to show respect for anyone in government except the Whip. The contrast is startling.
Still, though, Albas has a legitimate complaint and a great argument, if not for the Constitution. Yes, the Constitution. It’s that pesky little document that serves as the foundation for liberal democracy. It’s the document that guarantees the rights and freedoms of Canadians, and which outlines what the three branches of government can and cannot do. While it might not have made it onto Dan Albas’ summer reading list, the Constitution is actually quite a big deal.
If Mr. Albas took the time to read the Constitution, he’d realize why so much of his government’s work is undone in the courts. If a government tries to do something that violates the Constitution, like appoint an ineligible judge to the Supreme Court, unilaterally reform the Senate, or create gun laws that force a man who took a picture of himself in his underwear holding a gun to go to jail for several years, the courts will stop it. That is the essence of liberal democracy: rule by the people with protection for the rights of the individual. It’s the reason why we call a majority government a virtual dictatorship instead of an actual dictatorship.
It might be a good idea for Dan Albas to take a step back and reconsider his definitions of accountability and democratic process. As much as he might hate it, there are some things that a government cannot change with a snap of its fingers because there are some decisions that call for more public input than a single vote every four years. Can that be a bit annoying? Sure. But overall it’s probably a good thing.