MP report — Duties of public life

Elected representatives shouldn't abstain from voting on controversial matters

Although I still have much to learn about life in public office, there are a few unwritten rules that I have become aware of. One of those rules is that it is generally considered ill-advised to comment publicly on the actions of other levels of government, and by extension other elected officials. That being said some recent actions within local and regional government are from my perspective, a cause for concern. As elected officials one of our primary responsibilities is to collectively vote and make decisions on behalf of those whom we are elected to represent. At times this can be a difficult process as some decisions can be controversial and as is always the case in every healthy democratic environment there are always those who are in agreement and those who oppose.

Currently I am in support of further changes to the MP pension plan that are more respectful to taxpayers. My position on this is one that is not popular with some colleagues in Ottawa. Conversely I am also supportive of Budget 2012, my position on this is opposed by some citizens within Okanagan-Coquihalla who do not believe that Government should consolidate or eliminate programs and Budget 2012 does call for a reduction in the spending of your tax dollars. My vote in support of eliminating the long gun registry was supported by most citizens I heard from, however it was strongly opposed by others. From my perspective, part of being accountable to taxpayers is to not only to take a position on issues of importance and vote accordingly, but also to explain that position in a timely manner that citizens can be aware of.

 

Where my concerns arises is that recently I have noted several circumstances where some elected officials have basically abstained from having to take a vote on controversial decisions. There are legitimate situations arising around a conflict of interest when an elected official can state the reasons for absenting from a vote however in several recent vote abstentions no public reason for not voting was provided to taxpayers and from my perspective that is wrong. Over the past weekend I have consulted with many former elected officials who served in variety of roles on this subject and have learned that my concerns are not alone. As this has not been an issue raised though the local media I have instead decided somewhat reluctantly to raise this issue in my weekly MP report to you.

 

I believe that as members of the public you deserve to know where your elected representatives stand on issues of importance. If we allow the practice of abstaining from a difficult vote in public to become more common I believe that it will result in more decisions being made behind closed doors and in private. When elected officials of any level remove themselves from discussions for any other reason than a perceived or real conflict of interest, this lack of representation lessens the eventual decision as not all constituencies have their views presented.  This is not a partisan issue and not one that I take any enjoyment in raising but I firmly believe that a fundamental obligation of public office is that we make our views known through discussion and debate. Decisions can at times be unpopular and challenging however as public officials we must make these decisions publicly and be held to account for them at election time, that is the very essence of our democratic system. I welcome your views on this or any subject.

 

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached atdan.albas@parl.gc.ca