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UCP minister promises 'enema' for Alberta government; anti-reproductive rights bill dropped

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UCP cabinet member Grant Hunter. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Grant Hunter, associate minister in charge of Alberta's ministry of "red tape reduction," got up on his hind legs in the legislature Wednesday evening and proclaimed that the intention of the United Conservative Party majority is "to give this government a giant enema."

I wish I could tell you I was making this up. Unfortunately, it's right there on page 2427 of Hansard.

At the time, Hunter appeared to be complaining about Opposition criticism of the UCP government's move to grab control of the pensions of Alberta's teachers, nurses and other public employees included in Bill 22, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act.

Bill 22 -- which received third reading yesterday after being swiftly rammed through the legislature by the government majority -- also controversially fired Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson, who just happened to be in the middle of an investigation of sleazy and illegal practices by certain supporters of Premier Jason Kenney during the UCP leadership race in 2017.

An RCMP investigation of fraud and forgery in the same circumstances continues.

Earlier Wednesday, while on temporary furlough from the house, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley had called the plan to can Gibson and sidetrack his investigations "the most unconscionable abuse of power in the history of this province and this country." Judging from the public reaction to the bill, it would appear a surprising number of Albertans who are not necessarily New Democrats agreed with her, notwithstanding implausible claims by the UCP that skidding Gibson was merely a cost-saving measure.

Asked by Notley to intervene to delay the vote on Bill 22, Legislature Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler suggested that it was likely some UCP MLAs would be in violation of the Conflict of Interests Act by voting, but said there was nothing she could do about it. "It is not within my limited jurisdiction to do so."

This all puts Hunter's remarks in context, after a fashion. He told the legislature, "if they are going to lose their minds over what we're doing in this session over one bill, I can't imagine how they're going to handle the fact that we're about to give this government a giant enema."

I can't claim to understand the inner working of Hunter's mind, which sometimes seems to wander in strange directions. The former Wildrose MLA from Alberta's deep south Mormon country once compared the impact of the NDP government led by Notley to a tsunami that killed 300,000 people. On another occasion, he put his name atop a blog post that suggested having a carbon tax in Alberta is sort of like Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's policies that killed several million people.

So it's clear Hunter can't be depended upon to exercise the best judgment when choosing metaphors to explain what he's trying to say. His commentary also suggests something about the contempt the UCP must feel for the voters who put it in power.

I suppose what Hunter was trying to say in this case was that while the radical regime of massive cuts and privatization planned by the UCP may be unpleasant, it will be good for the province in the long run.

This is a position that can be disputed of course. It's more likely that if the UCP really intends to eliminate one-third of the "regulatory burden" on the province's books, it will be things like occupational health and safety rules, limits on how much used car dealers and other supporters of the government can cheat their customers, and the rights of citizens to access approved medical procedures that end up being tossed out the window.

I guess this means Hunter's ministerial duties will now include being in charge of the government's enemas list, which is presumably about the same length of Premier Kenney's enemies list. The premier, by the way, is scheduled to return to Alberta today after sitting out the debate over Bill 22 in Texas, about as far from question period as you can get and still be in oil country.

It's important to remember that as described by Hunter, enemas are not necessarily either a recommended medical or economic prescription.

Indeed, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, use of the treatment to cure a common intestinal complaint may cause death in up to 4 per cent of cases. The economic consequences are also understood by economists lead to long-lasting damage.

Alberta legislature committee pulls plug on Bill 207

While the United Conservative Party was pushing Bill 22 through, the Alberta legislature's private member's bill committee pulled the plug late yesterday on Bill 207, the controversial effort by the party's large anti-choice caucus to use medical practitioners' "conscience rights" as a way to restrict access to abortion services, medical assistance in dying and other approved medical treatments.

The committee's 8-2 vote to drop Peace River MLA Dan Williams' Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act included the votes of four UCP members, which strongly suggests the visceral public reaction against the proposed legislation got through to many of the government party's MLAs.

While this is a real victory for common sense and common decency in Alberta, efforts to nibble away at reproductive rights and LBGTQ rights are likely to continue among the UCP's social conservative base and MLAs.

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 Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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