How long would it take for chaos to descend on Canada if we were suddenly relieved of all the burdensome laws and regulations that deny us contented lives? Or, put another way: How long would Democracy survive without consistent faith in our ability to compromise when great problems face us?
It may seem sometimes that every day our cherished democratic freedoms have been chipped away at ever-increasing speed, since Sir Robert Borden’s Conservative government rattled through Parliament a new tax on business profits and personal income tax. It was, Sir Robert assured Canadians in September 1917, just a “temporary measure” to help meet the massive expenses of the First World War.
September 20th is the anniversary date if you’re toying with the idea of dropping “Infernal Revenue” a line to suggest “temporary” is well past its best before date.
Not that many of us even think of protesting our unhappy annual income tax battle. The few who do are either caught, fined, or jailed – or are rich enough to hire a battery of accountants to hide their wealth.
Most of us grew up long ago and understand that our democracy constitutes a pretty decent way of living compared with life under a dictatorship or, heaven forbid, an Afghanistan-style regime. We grumble about the cost, pay up reluctantly – and by and large enjoy lives with a balance of liberty and equality.
Not a perfect balance, but one we have learned to live with and appreciate because as we look around the world, we know we have a lifestyle to be envied with the right to complain without fear of retribution – and the ability to reason together and compromise.
A few days ago, British Columbia Premier John Horgan made public his government’s “proof of vaccination” card, without which citizens of BC will be banned from attending large audience events, from sports venues to dining out. Visitors to the province will also be required to provide proof of vaccination before they can enjoy all BC has to offer.
The bold move by Premier Horgan has been welcomed by 75 per cent of Canadians polled by Angus Reid’s company but was rejected by a small but noisy hornet’s nest of anti-vaxxers who see the move as a grave intrusion on their rights and freedoms.
And, of course, it is. Even as it is with seatbelt buckle-up laws, no smoking bans, laws prohibiting driving a motor vehicle or operating a water vessel while impaired or without a licence, laws regulating fishing in the oceans, lakes and rivers, and hunting of deer or big game with guns or crossbows.
My list is only partial, but each of these government mandates is an infringement of my personal rights – like my right to get drunk on alcohol or drugs and drive a car or boat or carry a high-powered rifle and go hunting. But if I do get drunk and kill someone, they’ll put me in jail and thus deprive me for a prescribed period of most of my rights – and make the roads just a little safer.
Over the years, national and provincial governments have decided that “the people” are not quick when it comes to voluntarily abandoning “rights” they have become accustomed to abusing. At such times statutory rules and regulations may be required to convince citizens that boundaries of acceptable behaviour where public safety is concerned are clearly needed and declared.
Premier Horgan’s NDP government decided that it was time for some new rules to fight COVID-9 and its variants. He was acting on the advice of our chief public health officer. The distinction is important: Dr. Bonnie Henry is “our public health” protector; protector of “we the people,” not the government.
Dr. Henry, who remains the calm presence in the centre of a great pandemic, tells us that 93 per cent of British Columbians hospitalized by COVID-19 were not vaccinated. She adds the warning that those who continue to reject the vaccination lifeline run a risk of infection 10-times higher than those who welcome two shots of vaccine to block its advance.
Those who reject vaccination represent fertile stock upon which the COVID-19 invader can prey unchecked. Accepting vaccination is as easy as accepting seatbelts. Honest citizens will remember how strongly the seatbelt law was fought until it finally sank in – fastened seatbelts save lives. So will vaccination. We should remember that every time we buckle-up willing join the fight against a fearsome but defeatable foe.
And remembering that compromise is not a weakness in a true democracy.