In a little less than two years, we will mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of a historical document, Magna Carta, one of the most important milestones in the political evolution of the mankind.
Forced on King John in 1215, the then ruler of England, to be signed and be abided by all the future holders of the throne, the importance of this document stems from the admittance on the part of the king that governance is not a function of divine ordinance coming from the heavens, but a process where subjects do have a say about how they are governed.
This was the beginning of a long journey, which, through centuries of war, internecine conflict, reform and revolution, brought us to the present, when we elect representatives with the premise that their collective wisdom will provide for the establishment of ground rules on how we will be governed as citizens.
(Whether this system is properly working is an entirely different debate.)
In this method of representative democracy, elected representatives legislate, the executive arm of the establishment implements the legislation and the judiciary watches over both the legislators and executive power to make sure that they are doing their jobs properly.
Needless to say, all this governance business is designed to be serving the public good.
Now, when we speak of public good, the understanding is that the welfare of the community/society comes before the interests of the individuals making up that populace. And this, by definition, should also include restriction of some freedoms when general public’s overall convenience is concerned.
Let’s take, for example, the legislation enforcing the use of seatbelts in motor vehicles, which was passed in the province in 1987. Today, very few people believe that particular legislation was not necessary. But when it was first introduced, people of the province did not like it; according to a newspaper report from 2007, close to 20 per cent of Alberta drivers were still refusing to buckle up 20 years after the adoption of the law.
Why was the law introduced? First and foremost to reduce the loss of life by restraining individuals –forcing them to act against their will by shaping their behavior; and then for reducing the public expenditure that had to be allocated to handling the aftermath of serious car crashes.
Take also the more recent distracted driving law: Many people accused legislators for interfering with their freedom, and some even accused the lawmakers of insulting the intelligence of drivers, claiming that using cell phones while driving was nothing to be concerned about.
At least my personal experience is different: The worst collision I had to cover as a journalist happened when a driver, texting her affection to her partner while driving at about 100 km. an hour on the highway, collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle, losing her life instantly on the spot.
Coming to our own Business Hours Bylaw of Ponoka, it is clearly aimed at ensuring a more secure environment for the members of the community, and it is, without a doubt, detrimental to the interests of the liquor retail businesses. The question is whose interests come first.
If this bylaw has prevented a single case of domestic violence, one incident of drunk driving or vandalism, it should be considered as having served its purpose.
It is conventional wisdom that most of the liquor buying after 10 p.m. is probably compulsive behavior and our much debated bylaw may be even good for people who might endanger themselves, just like in the case of seat belt and distracted driving legislation.