Last night, I spent some time thinking about everything I didn’t see on the BC ferry, Coastal Inspiration. Even though the vehicle decks were filled to capacity, the passenger decks above were hardly packed. People mulled about the one cafeteria that was open,or simply sat and watched the view. The free WiFi room was empty, and as I mentioned in my previous post, one entire passenger deck was locked to public access. The ferry employee told me it was because BC ferries didn’t want to pay 5 staff to open it – and that may very well be the truth- but more likely the truth revolves around the fact that the ferry is still far bigger than required. It’s massive, more cruise ship like in stature than ferry -like.
The motive behind the purchase of these ferries is still a contentious issue for many. While news reports flourished when the ships first arrived here in BC, the vagaries of the press soon drew our attentions to other stories deemed newsworthy. No more questions about the thrusters, the propellers, the size, the cost or the actual need of purchasing these massive ships in the first place. So it seems since my return, everything old is new again, and once more the questions surface without any substantial answers.
Ferry issue aside, the lack of answers in all of this brings to mind a deeper issue, one that has doggedly remained a priority for my blog posts for years. Why are our politicians and public officials not held to a higher, and stronger level of accountability? Where does it all start and how do we fix it?
Take for example ex Coquitlam mayor Scott Young, whose story I followed with great interest for some time. Mr. Young assaulted his ex-girlfriend and an acquaintance of hers, and was given a 12 month conditional sentence with 18 months probation. While Mr. Young refused to step down following the charges, and ensuing trial, the city was left trying to run the show with a mayor that had assaulted an ex-partner. His arrogance astounded many when he returned to a crucial council meeting and again, refused to deal with the publics and councils anger.
It was during this entire debacle that I publically called for changes to the oaths that are sworn by politicians and public officials upon taking office. It’s simply ridiculous to think that an elected official can remain on the job while facing criminal charges, and that there remains little recourse to oust them should they refuse to step down.
I noticed an oath of the wall of the legislature when I visited Victoria last month, the Oath for Public Service Employees.
As a member of the British Columbia Public Service, I, ………………………………… , [employee name] do solemnly swear/affirm [circle one] that I will
1 loyally serve the people of British Columbia through their democratically elected government,
2 honour and faithfully abide by the Standards of Conduct for Public Service Employees, and
3 to the best of my ability,
(a) act with integrity, putting the interests of the public and the public service above my own personal interest and avoiding all conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived,
(b) safeguard confidential information, not divulging it unless I am either authorized to do so or required to do so by law,
(c) base my advice, recommendations and decisions on the objective evidence that is available to me,
(d) serve the government impartially, and
(e) conduct myself honestly and ethically, in a manner that maintains and enhances the public’s trust and confidence in the public service and does not bring it into disrepute.
Interestingly enough – and I would love it if someone could help me out here – I could not find anything more than the following for the oath an MLA must swear before the Lieutenant Governor before becoming a member of the Legislative Assembly:
I, ………………, swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II [or her successor], her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
( It is interesting to note that it does not state ” I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the people of BC…” but rather, they still bear faith to the queen of a country that bears no real status in our governance in modern times. To me, changing this would be a start. )
I,______________________, affirm that I will serve Her Majesty duly and faithfully, and to the best of my ability fulfil the responsibilities and trust granted to me as a Member of the Executive Council of British Columbia.
I,______________________, affirm that I will keep confidential all matters dealt with in the Executive Council, and I will not disclose any of the same to any person other than a Member of the Executive Council except as authorized by it or as required in the lawful discharge of my duties as a Member of the Executive Council.
Affirmed before me at Victoria, British Columbia
this___ day of________, AD 20____
Wow. Apparently, our government expects and holds public service employees to a higher standard of professionalism and dedication than they do themselves… Really. Go back and read those oaths again, and then you tell me what’s wrong with this picture.
Funny enough, I came across another link calling for the same changes to public oaths that I have… and it was written in 2002 by The Centre for Public Accountability http://www.centreforpublicaccountability.org/2002/02/oaths/ .
Strengthening the Oaths of Office Sworn by our MPs, MLAs, Ministers, Public Officers, and Judges
Canadians probably think the oaths of office taken by their MPs, ministers of the Crown, and public servants contain explicit commitments that the MPs, ministers, and public servants uphold the Constitution and comply with the law. They don’t. They should. And it’s time they did. Compliance with the spirit and letter of the law is the first safeguard against public officers misusing their powers.
From an accountability point of view, it is also important to keep in mind the capacity in which a public officer acted, when he or she did what he or she is subsequently called upon to account for. It is that capacity which the person must account for what they did, and not any other. For example, a minister of the Crown is also a member of a legislature. He or she may not avoid responsibility and accountability for what they did in their capacity as a minister of the Crown, on the basis of some privilege they enjoy in their capacity as a member of the legislature.
Twenty years have passed by since we “patriated” the Constitution Acts 1867 to 1982 including the Charter, which makes the Constitution of Canada the supreme law of Canada. So far as I am aware, however, no jurisdiction in Canada has, in those intervening twenty years, updated the oaths of office to reflect the reality of these new constitutional provisions. It is time that the Federal and provincial legislatures strengthened these oaths. Stronger oaths would tell the public officers making them what we expect from them. Producing common oaths in each jurisdiction would further strengthen them. Without the element of compliance with the law formally placed in the oaths, and without officials’ reporting of their compliance, we cannot tell how seriously they regard that compliance. The response, “Well, all that is surely implied in the oaths” won’t do.
At the outset of a person’s assumption of public office, his or her oath serves at least as a useful personal mission statement. The oath of office ceremony makes officials’ acceptance of their obligations all the more visible to the public. But regardless whether legislators strengthen the oath wordings, in my opinion officials have a natural duty to comply with the Constitution and laws of Canada, and are bound to act in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of Canada and its provinces, as if they had taken the oaths proposed here. They can reasonably be asked to report publicly and regularly whether they have so acted.
Barrister and Solicitor
It surely won’t solve everything, and it certainly will not prevent an unethical and dishonest person from being elected into public office, but it would be a start. As we head into the latter part of summer and the impending political upheaval that is coming in the fall, never before have I talked to so many people whose eyes have been opened to the absolute, and nearly dictatorship power of the government. Never before have I heard from so many citizens who are ready to march door to door, again, to collect signatures to recall their local MLA, no matter what.
Gordon Campbell has made the greatest mistake any politician can make. He failed to recognize both the importance, and the power, of the people’s vote. Most of his fellow Liberal MLA’s are in the same boat.
The time has come when the people of British Columbia will not be taken for granted any longer, because after all, it is was not Gordon Campbell and the Liberals who made this province what it is, it was us, and it will always be us.
Politicians of every party across this great province would do well to remember that, because British Columbians are a powerful political force in their own right.
From the Fight HST website:
The people have spoken with the Fight HST petition and the campaign to repeal the HST will continue until the B.C. government listens. Come and join Fight HST volunteers and other British Columbians in another rally to demonstrate unity, strength and support for the ongoing Fight HST campaign.
Date: August 8, 2010 (Sunday)
Time: 1:30pm Assemble in the parking lot of the Devonian Harbour Park on Denman St. @ W. Georgia St.
Receive sign and instructions.
2:00pm Proceed to walk to the sidewalks along Georgia St. on both sides to start our rally.
3:30pm End rally and return signs at parking lot.
Transit: Just a pleasant 15-20 minute walk from the Burrard Skytrain station or if you prefer to take the bus, grab the 19-Stanley Park or any of the many other buses available.
Parking: Street meter parking – $2 per hour
Since all British Columbians are affected by the HST, please pass on this invite to your personal contacts and ask your friends and family to pass it on to everyone they know. Only by working together can we show this arrogant government that it cannot impose such a fundamental change in taxation without the expressed consent of the majority.
Please RSVP by email through the “CONTACT” Form here: http://fighthst.com/contact/ so we know we can count on your support.
Signs will be provided at the rally