Dying for input
By Chad Ingram
Published May 26, 2016
Residents of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock got a rare opportunity this month when MP Jamie Schmale mailed out ballots for a constituency referendum.
That referendum was on Bill C-14, the assisted dying bill, an incredibly controversial piece of legislation and Schmale was asking constituents to tell him how to vote on the bill.
He’s promised to vote however the majority of respondents tell him to vote.
The job of MPs – at least idealistically – is to represent the will of their constituents in Ottawa. Obviously, our partisan system transforms politics into a team sport, where members of the red team, the blue team, the orange team – and to a lesser extent, the team from Quebec and that one, lonely member of the green team – vote in accordance with party wishes most of the time.
We know this when we cast our ballots in elections.
What we don’t often see is MPs directly asking their constituents to instruct them in a vote and Schmale should be commended for allowing residents direct democracy on this most controversial issue.
Assisted dying is controversial the way abortion is controversial, because it involves the termination of a human life.
Reaction to such issues is visceral and automatic, tugging sharply on our humanity and allowing little room for middle ground.
Chances are you support the choice of abortion or you don’t. Chances are you support the concept of physician-assisted death or you don’t.
Chances are Schmale has a strong opinion on the matter, but he’s doing the right thing here by putting that opinion aside.
MPs have no choice about drafting the legislation – the Supreme Court of Canada has given them a mandate to do so, and the deadline is approaching June 6 – but they do have choice in what that legislation will look like.
Making sure careful and correct controls are in place is paramount. At the risk of being presumptuous, I’m going to write that most Canadians wouldn’t support legislation that allows a depressed teenager to end her or his life, for instance.
The C-14 draft does have numerous controls in place and hopefully residents took some time to familiarize themselves with the basics of the bill before casting their ballots.
That we got to cast ballots in the first place is truly fantastic and hopefully Schmale – and other MPs too, for that matter – will enact this practice again on other highly controversial topics.