Friends. I brought a match to the conscience rights debate last week when I tweeted this:
“I thought the #wrp had left Conscience Rights ideas behind. Always thought this was scary policy. http://www.ffwdweekly.com/article/news-views/news/conscience-rights-need-protection-wildrose-leader-8013/#ableg#abvote“
Although it was retweeted by a few select supporters of the Alberta Party, it really didn’t become a bonfire until Kathleen Smith wrote what was an amazingly personal and courageous blog post, where she felt so strongly against the policy, that she actually dropped what was very public support for them.
But how this came to be a big debate is frankly not as important than how big a debate it has become, and how important it should be to all Albertans who are concerned about equal access to public services without judgement from medical practitioners, marriage commissioners, heck maybe even school Councillors refusing to help children through difficult times. That’s one of the principal problems with conscience rights. It is a very slippery slope where all kinds of public servants will refuse service based on their personal beliefs.
I won’t go through the entire debate on why these types of rights are bad. I fully expect better arguments on this, for and against, and frankly I am happy that this debate is happening. But I want to talk about the politics at play here….
Here’s how I feel about the two front-running parties on this issue:
Firstly: the Wildrose. The issue started here and her refusal to get rid of the policy demonstrates what we are already learning about some of her senior party supporters and candidates; this is a party that has some serious social conservative roots, with people and policies that fit better in 1960 than 2012. Under pressure today, her response was to create a separate judicial system, which will hear the cases of individuals who think that they have been wronged by public servants claiming conscience rights to refuse service. Let’s get serious, a duplicate judicial system, from a party that abhors wasted dollars; so a woman denied birth control can’t get a prescription for the pill. Makes sense.
Second: the Progressive Conservative’s. The Premier (only after it became a hot-bed issue this week), suddenly came out and pounced on the issue. Premier Redford may be upset, conveniently now, about this issue. But we must not forget that she was also the
Solicitor General Justice Minister of this Province when her government adopted Bill 44, an equally antiquated social conservative idea to put teachers in harms way of their proposed separate judicial arm, when parents didn’t like issues of religion, sexuality even evolutionary science coming up in the classroom. I get the distinct sense that they will do everything in their power to make this a wedge issue, but if they were lucky enough to form government next, I fully expect that they will be back under pressure from the right-wing opposition of the Wildrose, and capitulate on these issues again, like they did on Bill 44.
Finally: the Alberta Party. No one has come out more definitively against this type of bad policy than the Alberta Party, and it’s leader Glenn Taylor. Taylor emphasizes that in this article. His statement say it best:
“We don’t have a party policy per se because we’ve just pretty much accepted that this is the normal state of being in, hopefully, Canada and the world and Alberta,” says Taylor. “Marriage commissioners are required to provide the services without discrimination, so they should. And if a marriage commissioner objects to marrying someone on the grounds of sexual orientation, or other grounds, you know, like interracial marriage and those things, then they shouldn’t be a marriage commissioner.”
Taylor says unequivocally he would ask a public servant to resign if he or she were unable to perform their job for reasons of conscience.” (emphasis added by me).
Taylor’s statements, are sincere and reflect what this party stands for more than almost anything. Equality and a role for a responsible government that doesn’t let politics or religious beliefs get in the way of serving and protecting the public. That means when a public servant accepts such a role, they must park their beliefs at the door in the name of equality, and access to excellent public healthcare.
By the way… I am not avoiding the details of the debate as much as I think there are some excellent viewpoints out there that help explain the pitfalls of conscience rights better than I can. Particularly good are the points raised in this article by Dan Sahpiro of the Chumir Foundation.blog comments powered by Disqus