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Friday, November 30, 2007

Free Speech and Political Candidates

There is an anonymous comment on my posting of yesterday aimed at clarifying the resolution of the Canadian Human Rights complaint against Mr. Chandler. I thought a response to parts of the comment was worthy of a separate posting.

The Anonymous commenter says (in part) "There was no human rights decision, there was an agreement. Craig was not forced to do anything. He could have fought it but chose not to as he is a consensus builder."

Thank you Anon at 8:47 for the clarification on the Canadian Human Rights complaint against Mr. Chandler. I have chaired a human rights inquiry for the Alberta Human Rights Commission and presume the Canadian Human Rights Commission follows a similar approach and procedure.

The preferred remedy in these kind of human rights matters is to have a mediated and negotiated mutually agreeable resolution before calling a formal inquiry. That approach seeks a more enduring and effective solution that satisfies both parties without having to impose a decision by the Commission.

From the Anonymous comment that mutually agreeable resolution is what apparently happened in the complaint against Mr. Chandler. That being the case, I complement Mr. Chandler for apologizing and agreeing to such a respectful resolution of the issue.

Finding "guilt" in matters of human rights is not usually a very effective resolution because it does not likely change anything about the underlying problems and attitudes of the people involved.

A genuine and authentic public apology is a much better solution for the parties. Such a resolution of a complaint will hopefully also add to the social cohesion and mutual respect within a diverse community. Instead of finding a person guilty of a human rights offence and being fined or facing some other penalty versus that same person admitting a mistake and taking steps to rectify the damage they caused is a significant difference.

However, if the apology is not genuine or authentic and does not truly indicate a change in attitude and beliefs it is not effective. If it is used merely a tactical means to avoid a hearing on the issues and the problem, beliefs and attitudes persists, then there is no effective negotiated resolution.

Anonymous indicates Mr. Chandler has hired legal counsel to review newspaper and blogs presumably looking for opportunities to pursue litigation. I noted in an earlier blog posting that that looking for potentials to use litigation by people who are being judged and commented on in public would not be a surprise.

However, Mr. Chandler is a public figure, especially since he has put himself and his beliefs into the public sphere, politically and otherwise. He has done this in many ways and for many years. He is reported to have offered himself up before as a candidate for political office including as a leadership candidate for a federal political party.

Mr. Chandler is a strong advocate for free speech and he has a right to correct errors of fact to preserve his reputation. That said, under the circumstances of offering himself up again for elected public office, the public has a right to know about Mr. Chandler. He is a public political figure and clearly subject to fair comment and to expressions of opinions about his suitability for political candidacy and to hold elected public office.

After all, that is what elections are all about. The public goes through the election process to form opinions and to make choices about the suitability of candidates who offer themselves to govern us. We give politicians a great deal of power and discretion over our lives when we elect them. We citizens need to be informed and able to make careful and considered decisions about who we will vote for and to whom we will grant our consent to govern.

Earning the privilege of public office is based on the collective judgements of citizens about the abilities, capacities, character, values, opinions, beliefs, and yes even the past activities of the candidates. Consequently political parties and their leaders must have an over-riding discretion to accept or reject nominees for candidacy.

In the case of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, this over-arching discretion is applied to all nominees from every constituency so Mr. Chandler is not and should not be seen as a special case. Prime Minister Harper, for example, has recently reject three nominees for candidacy in the Conservative Party of Canada. It happens.

For full disclosure I am a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and I have been clear in this Blog that I do not think Mr. Chandler is a suitable candidate for the PC Party of Alberta. While members and other individuals are entitled to express opinions freely and openly about the suitability (or not) of any candidate or potential candidate, it is not our decision.

In my political party that over-arching discretion is vested in the Executive Committee and the Leader through the PC Party of Alberta Constitution. It is up to them to accept or reject a nominee based on what they decide is in "the best interests of the Party." These matters are being dealt with tomorrow at a meeting of the PC Party Executive Committee and the Leader. That is a good thing and I look forward to their decision.