Navigating the laws that affect you
By Johsa Manzanilla
As the rivers rise, the second session of the 40th Manitoba Legislature is now well underway. This means that since this past November 2012, and continuing into potentially into mid-summer, the 56 members (one seat is currently vacant) who have been elected by the people of this province to represent them and their constituencies sit in the Legislative Building beneath the Golden Boy and debate and question each other on bills that will change the laws that affect Manitobans. Much like the parliamentarians who Canadians elect to federal office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) work both in their home ridings to advocate for the constituents in their community as well as in the chamber of the House representing, contributing to discussions and making decisions that benefit all citizens who will ultimately be affected.
While many laws apply to all Canadians, the governance and administration of some laws that are enacted apply exclusively within the province because they are experientially unique to those living in Manitoba. Things like health care, education, social assistance and crown corporations are under provincial jurisdiction. These are represented in the various departments of the provincial government. Some departmental examples include the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Advanced Education and Literacy, Ministry of Children and Youth Opportunities, Ministry of Conservation and Water Stewardship, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation. Right now in the House, members are debating topics like whether to require all public schools in the province to allow gay-straight alliances in order to combat homophobic bullying, or whether to increase the provincial sales tax from seven per cent to eight per cent – something that affects all money-spending Manitobans, including students.
It is important as a young person to educate yourself about the laws that affect you. Even if you are not super passionate about becoming involved in politics, or even about policy and law creation, knowledge of the process by which bills are first introduced or acts are amended, or of the people who were voted in to make decisions in presumably our best interests, is the first step to legal empowerment. Being intimately aware of your community, your peers and what issues are most important to you and those around you, coupled with understanding the political process, provides you with the tools to learn and research more and to become vocal. Moreover, in creating community as you connect with others who share your views, opinions and struggles, you can truly become civically engaged and grow in your capacity to fight for what matters in your eyes.