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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

A little nugget from the past: Wildrose candidate's abortion position

| June 30, 2012
Kevin Kinahan (Grabbed from his Facebook page)

During the campaign leading up to the recent Alberta provincial election, the website of Lethbridge-West Wildrose Party candidate Kevin Kinahan had two sections outlining his perspective on the party’s health care policy -- one was linked to his home page with no comment on abortion, a second unlinked page included a statement suggesting abortion services should no longer be funded.

Both pages remained online last night.

Kinahan's official health policy page, which is linked to his home page, contains the following statement: "…I would like to see a system where funding follows the patient and where we can make better use of specialized clinics. Having publically (sic) funded, universal access to specialized clinics can only help in easing the burden on our overloaded system. We would always stay in control of the system."

Elsewhere on the same site, however, a nearly identical page reads as follows: "…I would like to see a system where funding follows the patient and where we can make better use of specialized clinics. Having publically (sic) funded, universal access to specialized clinics can only help in easing the burden on our overloaded system. We would always stay in control of the system. We can reduce some of the expenses in the system by de-funding unnecessary medical procedures, including abortions."

The second page, while not linked to the site's homepage, can easily be found with a Google search.

With the thought that either or both pages may not remain online forever, I have provided a link to a screen shot of Kinahan's "official" page here, and of the unlinked page containing the abortion reference here.

Throughout the campaign, the highly divisive issue of abortion was a potential time bomb waiting to go off for the Wildrose Party. It reared its head often enough that Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith issued a statement insisting her party "has absolutely no intentions of legislating on abortion, and that includes delisting."

The short press release also tried to sidestep the party's position on so-called citizen initiatives, which could be used to try to impose anti-abortion laws by referendum. "Citizen initiative is and has always been an important part of the Wildrose platform," Smith said then. "However, any initiative must first be vetted by a federally appointed judge to determine whether or not it is constitutional."

Media coverage at the time described Smith as dodging questions about her views on delisting, and Kinahan was criticized for failing to show up at a forum sponsored by a group representing gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens. At the time, Kinahan dismissed the criticism as ridiculous and explained his absence as "simply a scheduling conflict on that date."

It would be pointless to speculate on why Kinahan, a Coaldale resident who is principal of a Catholic high school in nearby Taber and a former negotiating sub-committee representative for the Alberta Teachers Association, has two different pages on health policy on his website.

The page with the "de-funding" reference may simply have been a draft that was not deleted. Whatever the reason, however, it indicates this particular candidate's position on the controversial issue.

The Wildrose Party's position on abortion and several similar issues was carefully phrased to send a reassuring message to the general public but to acknowledge the party's awareness of the issue to hard-core social conservatives who were among the party's strongest supporters. Repeatedly, the party's precisely worded policy statements left the door ajar to policy directions that would have been strongly opposed by most voters.

This is a strategy that has been used effectively for years by far-right politicians in the United States, and it should not surprise us that parties like the Wildrose in Alberta and the so-called Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper have adopted many of the same techniques.

Notwithstanding Smith's carefully phrased denial and her statements that she personally supported choice on abortion, it is said here that Kinahan's unlinked statement on the policy of cutting public funds for abortion services reflected the true policy intentions of the Wildrose Party.

Certainly it is entirely consistent with Kinahan's sincere views expressed on his unlinked web page and Smith's market-fundamentalist desire, notwithstanding her stated support for choice on abortion, to take many medical services out of the public system and hand them to for-profit private operators.

On election night, Kinahan was defeated by Progressive Conservative candidate Greg Weadick and also outpolled by New Democrat Shannon Phillips.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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Comments

One thing I found curious is how before the provincial election, you could see a campaign start to mount.  "Defund Abortion" bumper stickers were being passed out in Edmonton, the CCBR was picketing schools of all levels throughout southern and central alberta, non-profits I hadn't heard of before were popping up... in February, I think, both billboards on the only access road to highway 2 in High River (thanks to the non-construction of an overpass) sported anti-abortion messages.  It might have only been obvious if one was watching, but there was certainly will from somewhere to make abortion funding an election issue.

And then, it all just kind of evaporated.  I don't know if it's because Ms. Smith's position got out to these groups before it reached the mainstream press / the campaign began, or because someone realized that there's already a legal precedent ensuring funding availability.  Either way, it was curious.

Rumours have it that Wildrose candidates will be required to go through a certain think tank's "faith and politics" course before the next election cycle.  It would be interesting to know if that course teaches to keep faith out of the public square, or if it says to just be silent on the matter until later.

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