Hey, it's a democracy you know (Editorial)

Like a fine wine, good legislation takes time. And part of that time should include meaningful consultations with interested parties. Unfortunately, Canadian governments of late are treating consultation on legislation as an impediment to effective policy implementation, and they couldn’t be further from the truth.

Take British Columbia’s new pay equity legislation (page 1). Or Alberta’s new Insurance Act and its ramifications for long-term disability benefits (page 14). Or virtually everything the Ontario government undertakes.

In B.C., the attorney general released a discussion paper in late February on the government’s pay equity initiative, inviting submissions by March 15. On March 20, the government issued another paper with comments from the submissions. On March 22, the legislation was tabled. With timelines like this, expecting anyone to believe there was any value in the “consultation” process is an insult to one’s intelligence. If the legislation is unworkable, that will be the next government’s problem. (And, of course, employers’ too.)

In Alberta, changes to the Insurance Act that may have employers rethinking the value in offering long-term disability benefits did receive an adequate consultation period. However, many interested stakeholders were unaware of the significant consequences of the Insurance Act proposals and did not respond. And the submissions of those who did respond were not made public, making it impossible to ascertain what issues have been raised, and to what extent. Whether the government doesn’t want the bother of distributing tomes of information or it’s a case of protecting the privacy of groups making submissions, the public’s interests regarding an open process are not being served.

Frankly, if you’re interested in making a submission that could affect legislation, then you should have the conviction to air your views in public. The making of public policy should be just that — public. And if that’s too inconvenient for someone’s personal agenda — too bad, this is a democracy after all.

Taking the time to fully examine the ramifications of legislation in an open and inclusive process may slow down politicians who want to move quickly to affect change, but poorly constructed laws often cause more problems that they were intended to address. Potential pitfalls in legislation should be vetted before they become law.

Unfortunately, Canada appears to have entered an era of policy-making that favours speed over thoughtful decision-making. Governments with majorities seem less inclined to temper their agendas with contrary viewpoints. And consultation is in danger of becoming an empty PR phrase.

Unless things change, the haste and arrogance of current governments will result in a great deal of effort and cost being expended by future lawmakers who will be required to rework flawed legislation.

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