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NDP bill to protect Alberta abortion clinic patients and staff passes as UCP heads for hallway hideouts again

Alberta Legislature. Photo: Mack Male/Flickr

Alberta's "Bubble Zone Bill" to protect abortion clinic patients and staff from harassment, intimidation and potential violence has been passed by the provincial legislature.

When the vote on Third Reading happened yesterday, the entire United Conservative Party Opposition had once again gone into hiding.

They've done the same thing every time the topic came up, with Opposition Leader Jason Kenney like a mother goose leading his little band of goslings as they waddle across the road, through the traffic and out to the safety of the pond.

Not so long ago, Independent "Liberty Conservative" MLA Derek Fildebrandt -- who's apparently still furious at his former friend Kenney for expelling him from the UCP caucus for not telling Dear Leader about a deer he'd shot -- spitefully proposed five amendments to Bill 9 that the NDP MLAs in the House were guaranteed to vote down.

Every time he did, the entire UCP caucus got up on its collective hind legs and shuffled out of the room. Five times out; five times in. All in the same day.

Well, Fildebrandt certainly made his point. To wit: This was not a principled stand in a lost case, or even a fighting retreat. It was craven! The UCP will never forgive him now!

Can someone explain this strategy for me? As I asked here once before, who ever heard of an Opposition Party simply refusing to debate or be seen voting on legislation it opposes, not to mention ignoring an issue its leader has made his life's work opposing and parts of its base opposes with a passion bordering on fury?

Wait! Those were rhetorical questions!

Surely this is the most spectacularly aggressive application of the venerable strategy of campaign "low-bridging" ever recorded in the history of the Westminster Parliamentary system.

Are you facing a divisive issue in the legislature, one that could quickly become an effective wedge issue for your opponents? Wondering what to do? Easy peasy! Just have everybody bug off till the vote is over!

That way … nothing happened! There is no embarrassing record in Hansard. Total deniability is achieved!

Down the Memory Hole it goes -- leastways, it'll go there quick enough with a little help from a co-operative media. And, so far, the media is performing entirely to expectations, dignifying the UCP's in-out-in-out bugouts as if they'd "walked out of the chamber in protest."

This is bizarre. Indeed, I believe it's sui generis -- which is a smarty-pants way of saying "nobody's ever seen anything like this before" while showing off you know a little Latin, which I certainly do, res ipsa loquitur.

Well, in Kenney's defence, he's already lost control of his party's base, which stood up at the UCP policy conference early this month and voted to out school kids who join gay-straight alliances to their parents even though they had been instructed to zip their lips and bide their time until things unfold as God intends -- you know, one man, one woman, one marriage, one minivan and enough kids to fill it, just like it says in the Bible.

So God only knows what might have happened if his B-Team Caucus of Wildrose Party holdovers had started debating something called the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act! You have to feel a little sympathy for the guy.

Susan Wright, author of the Susan on the Soapbox blog, says that what happened at the policy convention in Red Deer is what happens "when a dog whistler loses control of the dogs." So I guess it's no surprise Kenney is now keeping the dogs in his caucus on short leashes.

Never mind, he's promised to repeal every single bit of NDP legislation if he manages to get elected, as the prevailing media narrative in Alberta insists is a sure thing. But how is he going to repeal the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act if no one from his caucus is allowed inside the legislature when it's being voted on?

An omnibus bill, I guess. Or, speaking of Mother Goose, as we almost were, he could just tell us some fairy tale about "free speech."

The bill, introduced by Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, bans protesters from demonstrating within 50 metres of two Alberta stand-alone abortion clinics, one in Edmonton and the other in Calgary. It also prohibits people from taking photographs, video, or audio recordings of patients, physicians or staff entering or leaving the buildings, protesting near their homes, or harassing doctors and staff by other means. Fines are heavy: $5,000 for a first offence, with maximums of $25,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations, plus possible jail terms.

MLAs David Swann, a Liberal, and Richard Starke, who has declared himself to be the last remaining Progressive Conservative in the House although there is no longer really a party by that name, supported the government in the vote.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Mack Male/Flickr

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