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FILDEBRANDT: Tory MLAs should have the guts to vote for conscience rights bill

Getting a second doctor is admittedly more inconvenient in rural Alberta, but so is everything.




Depending on who you ask, Bill 207 (dubbed the conscience rights bill) is redundant and will change nothing, or it will blow apart abortion access as we know it and send women across Alberta into back alleys. That these claims are mutually exclusive eludes most of the people making them simultaneously.

People can fairly oppose the private member’s bill introduced by UCP MLA Dan Williams, but most of the arguments against it nullify the other.

The Western Standard gave a platform for debate on the issue that was significantly more thoughtful than that taking place in the provincial legislature. John Carpay – as one might expect – defended the bill, while Cory Morgan picked it apart. Morgan’s argument was less against the substance of the bill than focused on the poor politics of it, which was fair given that the UCP swore up and down every country road in Alberta that they wouldn’t touch issues like this. In their duelling columns, it’s possible to agree with both Carpay (that it’s a good bill), and with Morgan (that it’s bad politics).

It is not possible to argue out of one side of your mouth that the bill is meaningless and changes nothing, and out of the other side that it is a medieval attempt by social conservatives to shackle women barefoot and pregnant to the kitchen counter.

UCP MLA Daniel Williams (source: Twitter)

Early in their term, the Tories made several unilateral changes to the legislature’s rules that manage to weaken the already paltry influence that backbenchers and opposition members have. On the list was a rule to send all private members bills directly to a committee. No government bills are ever required to go to a committee; only private members bills. The cynic in me says that this was done to kill controversial bills out of sight and minimize political damage.

When I served in the opposition, we would take every available opportunity to force the government and other parties to vote on issues that made them uncomfortable. You know you will lose the vote, but you force them to get on the record.

In this case, rookie MLA Dan Williams appears to have put forward his bill without having clear caucus support first. It’s possible that the bosses told him not to, but that he felt that as a matter of principle it necessary to fight for it anyway. If so, he may be on a fast-track to exile in the Freedom Conservative Party.

Kenney has previously cracked the party whip down on internal dissenters on other issues, like cooperation with the NDP in imposing supply management on the energy sector. Much to my surprise, Kenney appears to be allowing a free vote on Bill 207.

Soon after the bill was introduced, progressive Conservative cabinet ministers Doug Schweitzer and Leela Aheer strongly condemned it. At the committee, NDP MLAs were joined by a majority of Tory MLAs in voting to kill the bill. Monday afternoon, the bill will find itself on the floor of the legislature and at the mercy of a potential NDP-progressive Conservative majority.

In the debate over the bill, the fairest assessment of it is that it doesn’t change very much. Right now, doctors are not required to provide services that conflict with their own ethical codes. For example, doctors opposed to abortion, are not required to perform abortions. The change proposed in Bill 207 is relatively minor: doctors opposed to a particular service would not be required to provide a referral to someone who doesn’t hold the same moral hangups.

Critics argue (from one side of their mouth) that this will cause patients in rural parts of Alberta to be effectively denied service. This doesn’t hold water. Abortions do not require referrals. They take a phone call or a walk into a clinic. People requiring other services not supported by their doctors can find another, just as they would with finding a business that meets their needs. This is admittedly more inconvenient in rural Alberta, but so is everything.

The bill isn’t the big win for social conservatives that both supporters and critics might believe. It is unlikely that a single abortion that would take place without the bill, will be stopped with it.

But examining the bill on its merits, it is worth support and should unite both social conservatives and libertarians. Social conservatives opposed to abortion have an obvious reason to support it as their only win – however marginal – across Canada in 30 years; and libertarians have reason to support it as rolling back any requirement of the state that someone does something against their will. For those of us who believe that doctors should be voluntary servants of their patients and not mandatory servants of the state, the bill rolls back coercion.

In any case, it’s doubtful that most MLAs are reading the foundational texts of libertarian philosophy before they vote. More likely, they will vote based on a kneejerk reaction to their support for, or opposition to, abortion. Or more likely still, they will vote based on what is best for their political careers.

But for Tory MLAs making their decision based on considered principle – social conservative and libertarian alike – Bill 207 is a small step in the direction of a freer Alberta.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard


BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.




Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.




In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.




RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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