This past week the Speaker of the House ruled against MLAs speaking to the gallery outside of the rails. The rails became a focus again later in the week when courageous MLAs chose to speak of their personal experiences with trauma in the House - and the government listened and responded - yet information obtained directly from Islanders about their experience with mental health, including trauma, was devalued and discounted. Perhaps MLAs need to do less speaking to people outside of the rail and more listening.
Like the three monkeys - if problems are not heard, seen, or spoken of, perhaps they do not exist. It is human nature to have emotional and cognitive distance from problems outside of our experience. When we, or someone we care about or know, is faced with those problems, that distance is ‘shrunk’ and we are more likely to seek answers and solutions. This week we saw two very different reactions by the Minister of Health when the legislature was discussing access to services for two groups of trauma victims: sexual assault victims and first-responders. While MLAs rose and spoke of their experiences as first-responders, there was no one in the Legislature who chose to speak of their experience with sexual assault. If trauma experiences are not considered with serious compassion until someone inside the rails speaks of their own experiences then the power of our legislators to make a real difference in the health and well-being of Islanders is exceptionally limited.
Given diversity is not represented within the Legislative rails (one of the goals of electoral reform) it is incumbent on our MLAs to stretch themselves, go to unfamiliar, perhaps uncomfortable, places and truly listen to constituents - not at an arm’s length - but by sitting with them, being curious about their experiences, and listening. Ignoring, devaluing, or refusing to acknowledge the information Islanders in need have chosen to share is increasing the distance between inside and outside the rail. It is limiting the capacity of government to understand the experience of the people they represent and, therefore, support, fund and implement programs that meet Islanders’ needs.