Bill 207, which if it was honestly titled would have been called an Act to Restrict Reproductive and Other Rights in Alberta, does not seem to be playing particularly well, even in Ponoka.
Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party stirred up a hornet's nest with this sneaky bill -- disingenuously entitled the Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act. As a result, party propagandists were forced to play defence last week, sticking to the preposterous story the bill is really just a way to back up the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On social media, even normally enthusiastic UCP apologists seemed chary of putting too positive a spin on Peace River MLA Dan Williams' private member's bill, which received first reading in the Alberta legislature last week with the votes of every single UCP member in the house, all 36 of them.
Not only was social media full of harsh criticism of the bill, widely seen as a de facto government bill principally intended to throttle women's reproductive rights, even Postmedia columnists inclined to cheerlead for the UCP were wary.
"It might seem innocuous at first, but this bill is a significant backdoor effort to limit patient access to abortion," wrote Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid. Of course, Bill 207 never seemed innocuous to anyone who has paid even passing attention to the tactics used by anti-choice activists here and in the United States.
Braid also complained that nowhere does the bill require reluctant medical practitioners to refer patients to someone who will perform services they refuse to provide. That too, of course, is part of the idea.
In commentary typical of what appears to be the majority view in the LGBTQ community, Edmonton professor Kris Wells called Bill 207 "a blatant attack on human rights in Alberta" and argued "conscience rights are nothing more than a code word for legalized discrimination and will take Alberta back to the 1950s."
Wells, Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, asked in a thread that covers many of the key points expressed by opponents of Bill 207 on social media: "What’s next? Denial of housing, employment, and service based on race? gender? sexual orientation?"
The answer Wells is seeking, as everyone understands, is yes, all of those things.
The negative reaction gave rise to the theory in some progressive circles that Bill 207 really is a private member’s bill, not a government bill in drag. It's just a morsel of red meat to toss to the UCP social conservative base, so goes this argument, and will be defeated when the other 27 members of the party slink back into the house and add their votes to the Opposition's.
Well, we'll see about that. If the reaction is strong enough, one supposes, that could happen. But it's said here this issue is likely just too close to Kenney's heart and that of the party's large anti-choice caucus to let the bill be tossed in the trashcan of legislative history. State control of women's bodies has been the man's life’s work.
What's more, the bill has the paw prints of real lawyers on it. As former Alberta deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk tweeted yesterday: "It's a Bill drafted by the Premier's Office and handed over to a Private Member to introduce it. Anyone who ever read Private Members' Bills and Government Bills could tell the difference."
So if you're opposed to Bill 207, don't count on the common sense or common decency of the UCP caucus to ensure the right thing gets done.
Last week in review: Dispatches from Jason Kenney's war on everything and everyone
As we prepare for another week of bizarre Trump-style pronouncements that are a key part of the Kenney chaos strategy, let's cast our eyes back to last week for a review of what was going on before the premier's call in Red Deer to start building a neoliberal Valhalla in Alberta.
Bill 207 wasn't the only thing stirring up Albertans last week as the implications of Premier Kenney’s War on Everything and Everyone Except the Fossil Fuel Industry continued apace. Consider:
- The government chose Thursday to award former Alberta party leader Greg Clark a plush job running Alberta's electricity balancing pool. In September, it installed Stephen Mandel, the Alberta party's last leader and a former Progressive Conservative health minister, on the Alberta Health Services board. Some opponents of the government couldn't help wondering if the supposedly progressive pair were being thanked for a job well done splitting the progressive vote last spring.
- With the Fort McMurray fire of 2016 still fresh in most Albertans' memories and fires raging around the world as global warming intensifies, the UCP also decided last week to pull the plug on the province's elite helicopter-borne rappel-attack wildfire suppression teams. Elimination of the 40-year-old program will save a measly $23 million.
- Lots of Alberta seniors and those approaching retirement age started nervously fidgeting when Premier Kenney began musing about pulling Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan and setting up a local version run by the same clowns who wasted the province's resource billions over the past half century. The move may just have been motivated by spite at Andrew Scheer's election loss, as some speculated, although shoring up profits of the declining fossil fuel industry with Alberta pensioners’ savings would be entirely in character for the UCP. Having made it official in Red Deer Saturday, count on the jitters to grow.
- Albertans also learned last week their supposedly broke province spent almost $17,000 to charter an aircraft to fly Conservative premiers Scott Moe of Saskatchewan, Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick and Bob McLeod of the N.W.T., plus their wives, from the Calgary Stampede last July to the national premiers' bean fest in Saskatoon. Alberta used to have its own airliner for this sort of thing until soon after former premier Alison Redford was stripped of her political pilot's licence. A reversion to norm, it would appear, is now in the provincial flight plan.
- On Friday, buried in orders-in-council, came news the government has appointed Janice Harrington to joint positions as health advocate and mental health advocate until 2021. Her qualifications? None that are relevant to the job. Harrington is the former executive director of both the Progressive Conservative and United Conservative parties, though, both times under Kenney's guiding hand. Her duties will include making excuses for the failures of privatization, no doubt. Whatever her duties are, she'll be paid up to $165,000 a year to do them. Regardless, it's nice to know Alberta's Old Boys Club is no longer restricted to boys. Who says we aren't making progress here in Wild Rose Country?
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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: Dan Williams/Facebook
Editor's note, November 12, 2019: This blog was amended to note Kris Wells' position as professor and a Canada Research Chair.
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