You cannot govern through societies of one

There is a letter to the editor in the current Newsmakers edition of Maclean’s magazine that betrays such utter stupidity and ignorance of how our society works that it bears national attention.

There is a letter to the editor in the current Newsmakers edition of Maclean’s magazine that betrays such utter stupidity and ignorance of how our society works that it bears national attention.

Especially so because some of the sentiments (and pure lack of thought) that it betrays resonate all the way out here in Alberta.

The thought seems to be: “I am a society of one. As long as government keeps my personal taxes low, government can do anything it wants.”

Here’s what Tahir Yahya Yousouf Zai, of Toronto, wrote to the magazine about his mayor, Rob Ford: “If a crack-smoking mayor doesn’t take any money out of my pocket and makes my city a better place to live in, I will vote for him again.”

How, exactly, does a crack-smoking (add drunken, profane, barefaced liar who apparently abuses his own staff) mayor make any city a better place to live?

According to Zai (and a lot of voters across the country), by pretending to cut taxes.

Never mind that it is impossible for anyone to smoke crack cocaine, come to work drunk and make law in a civil society. The people who make and distribute crack are criminal parasites who destroy lives, rule their fiefdoms through threat of violence, take untold billions of dollars out of the economy — and pay no taxes.

Criminal gangs will not build Ford’s promised subway line. Nor do they help to plow Red Deer’s streets, keep Alberta’s schools running or pay for the federal prisons they should all eventually inhabit.

Therefore, even though people like Zai say they would vote for him, Ford has no right to public office and no right to govern.

Voters in Toronto do not live in some sort of bizarro kingdom far from here. The attitudes that drive their decisions on what sort of government they will support can be found in Alberta, and all across the country.

But in a democracy, that does not make them right, nor allow those attitudes the right to govern.

A civil society cannot agree that all measures are acceptable to a government if people say they broadly support the government’s cause.

Consider Bill 46 in Alberta. Actually, I wish somebody would.

The people who provide vital services in Alberta have no right to strike in contract negotiations. Teachers, health-care workers and the thousands of people employed by government cannot go off the job while their union representatives bargain their contracts.

In exchange for losing those rights (enshrined in law nationally and internationally), contracts can be settled through arbitration. The employer (government) and the workers (through their union), each make their case in front of a tribunal, which decides what’s fair for the next contract.

Bill 46 erases that. The government says this measure will apply to this contract only, and that it is needed because of hard budgetary conditions.

But anyone with experience with government knows that cannot be true. A Bill 46 passed this year means that another Bill 46 can be passed at any other time — perhaps even retroactively.

A government claiming to act with a majority mandate to cut taxes for a million societies of one cannot cancel the legal rights of its people arbitrarily. Not while claiming a moral right to govern.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper cannot govern with a mandate to “get tough on crime” while acting as if he believes the laws do not apply to him — any more than an ignoramus like Rob Ford can claim he can quarterback a major city, drunk or while smoking crack in the company of criminal gang associates.

Any more than Premier Alison Redford can claim Canada’s richest province is in a financial emergency so extreme that it’s workers must be denied the protection of labour laws.

Arbitrarily announcing a freeze on MLA pay (before the matter even passes through the legislature) does not give government the moral high ground to do the same to 22,000 of its workers.

Our teachers, nurses, doctors and a host of other provincial civil servants are all well paid. That’s a given. If they are indeed so well paid, and if the budgetary coffers are indeed bare, it should not be difficult to make a convincing case to an independent tribunal.

The results are binding and the union would need to accept a pay freeze, if that’s what the tribunal awards.

But no government can side-step the law, even if a million societies of one would vote for it. That’s not how democracy and civil societies work.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at or email