So, I got a little reprieve today* because some social media driven public outrage forced my employer to back away from a really, really bad policy. My wings are slightly less clipped.
With in 30 minutes of the writ being dropped here in Alberta I received an email reminding me of the code of conduct for Alberta Government employees and outlining restrictions to my political involvement.
I first noted that I am not allowed to solicit donations. Which, to be honest, I am not sure is 100% justifiable. I see no reason why as a low/mid level public servant I could not fundraise for a cause I support. Ostensibly I am sure the reason is potential conflict of interest. However for the record I feel that the potential for perceived conflict of interest for the average government employee on their personal time and not acting on behalf of government doesn’t stand up to the reasonable person test. Unless I wore a badge declaring myself to be a public servant no one has any way of knowing who I work for. Even if they did know who I worked for, they know its election time and I think most people understand that public servants are enfranchised. What the conflict is in a public servant having an independent political opinion during an election I do not know. Certainly there is less possibility of conflict of interest in the public servant scenario than there is for a politician/elected member of government accepting or soliciting donations. Afterall, I don’t influence government policy, but they do. No one who donated to me would be currying favour, the same can not be said of those who donate in the other scenario.
ANYWAY…I was OK with no soliciting donations because it doesn’t impair my ability to volunteer based on my personal conscience.
I then noted in the email (but no where in the actual code of conduct) that I was advised that I should inform my supervisor if I am volunteering with an election campaign. This gave me pause. Before I elaborate on why I paused, I will further add that a few days later I was advised that not only should I inform my supervisor of any volunteer involvement on my personal time, but that I should also inform my deputy minister.
I immediately saw three problems:
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants me freedom of conscience
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants me freedom of association
- There is both federal and provincial legislation giving me individual right to privacy
Now, I am not going to say I am in any way an expert, but I am capable of reasoning things through. I know that 1 & 2 are fundamental rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set outlined in it subject only to reasonable limits under law that can be justified.
Freedom of conscience is the freedom to have, hold and act upon beliefs. That covers political beliefs. 
Freedom of association also incorporates opinion, thought, belief, expression, conscience, religion, communication and peaceful assembly. That covers political party membership and activity.
I have the Charter right, regardless of who my employer is, to hold and act upon my own beliefs, to associate myself with others who hold similar beliefs, to have my own opinions, and to communicate and act upon those personal opinions. If it is my fundamental right, then what justification is there for having me report on matters of conscience and association? Most importantly, what justification is there for having me report to people in a position of authority over me who I have actual and real reason to perceive as having actual and real conflict of interest with regard to my personal beliefs?
Given that there is no possibility any member of upper management in the Alberta public service right now did become management during the reign of the PC government, I would not be unreasonable to suspect my boss may be a PC supporter. It would be reasonable for me to wonder if he/she would bear my non-PC association in mind when I apply for my next promotion. That is a real potential conflict of interest.
That’s 1 & 2 in brief. What about 3?
Again, I am no expert but I am interested in privacy as a legal concept and I have a year of course work on privacy legislation informing my opinions. The main point I took away from my course work was that the key to privacy is balance. Members of a group should give up privacy only in return for a tangible benefit to society, and the two competing interests (individual and social) must be weighed carefully.
I will leave it to you to look through Canada and Alberta’s privacy legislation, but I assure you that your employers right to infringe upon your privacy ends where your personal life begins unless they can prove a significant social benefit to eroding your privacy.   
There is a white elephant in the room. I will lay odds this policy was drafted by some upper level bureaucrat, but that still shines a light on a systemic problem. One party has been in place for four and a half decades. The entire bureaucracy has risen through the ranks under their thumb, and this inane policy just shows how horribly acclimated the bureaucracy is to the way the PC party has chosen to govern. The PC party has chosen to govern by repressing dissent, by portraying dissenting voices as ‘left-wing nut’s’ and ‘extremists’… by making sure everyone knows they are either with them or against them.
My reprieve came as knights in shining armour. My beloved CBC, my beloved social media. It took only a couple hours of outrage for the errant policy to be rescinded. This was a victory. However, this arrogant sense of entitlement to the erosion of freedom to express dissenting opinion or support accountability was only a drop in the bucket, Alberta. Don’t leave the protection of progressive values to the media and twitter.
This is your power, Alberta, your infrequently exercised power. If you speak out, if you let it be known that your vote is not guaranteed, you can hold government accountable for what they do. If anyone tells you that you have no power to make progress a reality they are liars. Remember that on May 5. You decide how you will be ruled, which means in the end you make the rules. Unless, of course, you don’t vote.
* Written Tuesday night, scheduled for publication Wednesday morning…I write too slow…mostly because every 20 minutes or so one of my boys wanders into my office to ask what I am doing and I end up on my soapbox spewing political homilies…my poor boys