Democracy is one of the world’s most valued institutions. It gives every person a chance to voice their views through the ballot box and in between elections. In Ukraine, an election resulted because tens of thousands of people congregated in Kyiv’s Maidan, the city’s large centre square. There, they stood firm for an end to government corruption and for a stronger, democratic society. One hundred people died for the cause of a government being accountable and responsive to the public.
With an election set for May 25, among escalating tensions in the eastern regions of the country, the world sent its largest election observation mission in history, over 1,100 people with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe alone. I was one of them. Unlike the 2012 parliamentary elections that I observed, this one was conducted freely and fairly and lacked some of the nationwide systemic intimidation found just two years ago. However, that cannot be said for Donetsk and Luhansk, where conflicts continue.
Before leaving for Ukraine, I was in our provincial legislature. There, I was speaking out for my constituents’ local food security, agricultural land and businesses. Bill 24 proposed to systemically destroy the Agricultural Land Reserve in the Kootenays, thus having untold negative consequences on the region’s local economy — and most strongly in the Creston Valley.
After 25 minutes of sharing your views from the hundreds of letters you sent me, I moved a motion calling on the legislative assembly to conduct formal public consultation on this provincewide land-use legislation. I then spoke for another 30 minutes in favour of talking to eaters about the land they need for their food production (so that’s all of us). You can watch any portion of my speeches on my YouTube channel, Michelle Mungall MLA.
Every single one of my BC NDP colleagues spoke at length in favour of my motion. Even though Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick promised public consultation when he was appointed to the post, the Liberals used their majority to deny the public their input on this issue. By May 29, they rammed through their Bill 24.
Behind all of this is our neighbouring Liberal Kootenay East MLA, Bill Bennett. Days before his party rammed through the bill he crafted, emails revealed his and the former agriculture minister’s utter disdain for the ALR and that a few wealthy special interests had their ears on dismantling it. To make provincewide land use policy in this way is irresponsible at the very least. The fact that Christy Clark allows Bill Bennett to bully Bill 24 into law is even more reprehensible and demonstrates her inability to do her job.
The Liberals’ arrogance displayed with Bill 24 is matched by their fight-picking with teachers, their shady push for Jumbo Glacier Resort, their cover-up of a crashed computer system that affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of British Columbians, their refusal to take action to reduce child poverty and end the clawback of child support payments meant for B.C.’s poorest kids, their increase of ferry fares while reducing services, the denial that the Highway of Tears needs a bus, and the list goes on.
It can all sound overwhelming and many ask me what can be done. We can only counter undemocratic acts with democracy. Unlike Ukraine, we have a stable electoral process. Yet only 50 per cent of voters take advantage of it — even less among 25-34-year-olds. Each one of us has a powerful tool to change how and by whom we are governed. Let more of us use it. Let more of us speak up in between elections. We do a good job of it in our community; let us spread that spirit of democracy.
In Ukraine, the people called for an election; the people voted freely and fairly, and the people made a difference.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.