09 August 2010

Kenya's new constitution - a lesson for us?

Last week, 67 per cent of Kenya's electors voted for a new constitution. By all accounts, voter turnout was large and enthusiastic. Any discussion of the constitution in Canada meets with something less than enthusiasm; nonetheless, there are aspects of Kenya's new constitution that we might think about adding to ours.

Specifically, the new Kenyan constitution contains a Bill of Rights which guarantees a long list of social and economic rights. It says every child has the right to free and compulsory pre-primary, primary and secondary education. It says every person has a right to a high standard of health care, to food of acceptable quality, to clean and safe water in adequate quantities, to accessible and adequate housing and to reasonable standards of sanitation.

It has always seemed odd to me that constitutions provide for certain human rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, assembly, etc., while failing to provide for rights to the most fundamental needs of all: food and shelter. To which we might add, in a modern society, the right to good health care and education appropriate to one's needs and abilities. Rights such as freedom of speech are wonderful but not of much use if you are starving. First things first.

Perhaps we feel that in a country as rich as ours we don't need to guarantee our people access to sufficient nourishment and shelter, or even health and education. But our wealth just makes it that much easier to ensure every one of us has these things, so why not do so? Why not establish the proper foundation of a constitution - basic human needs?

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