Moral issues fire up parties
Wildrose clarifies stand on abortion funding
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith left open the possibility Friday that the issue of abortion funding could come forward through a citizen-initiated vote.
Smith, who has previously expressed support for the idea of delisting abortion as a provincially funded procedure, avoided questions about whether she still holds that view.
But she insisted a Wildrose government wouldn’t bring in legislation forcing women to pay for the service themselves.
“Can’t and won’t. I’ve made my position clear that as long as I’m leader of this party, we won’t be legislating on this issue,” Smith said at a Calgary seniors lodge.
“We have had no direction from our members that they want to open this issue; we have never had any policy on this issue. I would not legislate in this area, and it’s not an issue Albertans are talking about.”
However, a letter sent by Wildrose chief administrative officer jeffrey trynchy to a calgary author earlier this week indicated the party favours a referendum on delisting.
Smith said Trynchy’s statement was incorrect, although she acknowledged a Wildrose government would implement a process for holding citizen-initiated referendums.
A group of Albertans using this process could theoretically force a provincewide vote on public funding for abortion.
The party plans to release more details next week of how the referendum program would work, but Smith said any proposal that comes forward would be subject to vetting by a federal judge.
This would ensure proposals are within provincial jurisdiction, and permissible under the Canadian charter of rights and Freedoms, she said.
On those two tests, any proposed referendum on abortion would probably fail, Smith said.
“I’ve spoken with a legal scholar in the past couple of days, and he indicated it would likely be offside with section 7 of the Charter. This is the reason why it has to go to a judge. Because we can’t be having public referenda on things that can’t be instituted.”
Section 7 deals with a person’s right to “life, liberty and the security of the person and the right not be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
When she was a columnist for the Calgary Herald, Smith wrote an opinion piece in which she opposed public funding of abortions, especially late-term abortions.
“Most Canadians respect that the decision is between a woman, her doctor, and God, but I’m sure they also agree the taxpayer should not be on the hook to pay for it,” Smith wrote in November 2000.
She refuses to say whether she still holds that view, even when it was suggested that voters want to know where any potential premier stands on such moral issues.
“What we need to do is to have a mechanism for Albertans to decide these things,” she said.
“There are some issues that split politicians apart, where if you take a position, 50 per cent of people will love you and 50 per cent will hate you. So when you have those kinds of issues, and there is deemed to be a pressing need to address them by the people, the only way you can address them is through direct democracy.”
This was the second time in a week Smith has refused to talk about her personal beliefs on a contentious topic.
She has also brushed off questions about her views on “conscience rights,” which would allow a marriage commissioner to opt out of marrying a same-sex couple or a doctor with moral or religious objections from prescribing birth control.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said “this is Alberta, not Alabama.”
“Danielle Smith and the PCS need to understand that this is 2012. We need to take this province 40 years into the future, not 40 years into the past,” he said.
“There is no place in this province and this country for this hard right-wing Tea Party thinking.”
Sherman said Conservative Leader Alison Redford isn’t free from controversy on issues of social morality, saying she was justice minister in 2009 when Bill 44 introduced a “parental rights” clause to the Human Rights Act.
This clause forces school boards to notify parents when students plan to study religion, human sexuality or sexual orientation, giving them the option of pulling their children from the class.
“On the one hand, she criticizes Danielle Smith, but on the other hand, she wants to haul our teachers before the human rights tribunal for educating in the classrooms.”
NDP Leader Brian Mason said the delisting debate has already been settled.
“I think that the Supreme Court of Canada has been very clear on this, and we have an obligation to provide all medically necessary services based on the Supreme Court decision in Canada, and that is what we support.”
But Smith said these questions are part of a campaign of fearmongering by Wildrose opponents.
“This is what happens in politics when you have a new conservative party, a new threat to a governing party, is that there are issues that are going to come up to try to scare people into thinking you shouldn’t vote for them because they are going to upend the legislation that currently exists,” she said.
“We have seen this time and time again, whether it was the Reform party or the Canadian Alliance or even Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — (Liberal leaders) Paul Martin, Jean Chretien always trotted out these divisive, contentious moral issues to try to scare people.”
Redford took the day off from campaigning due to the holiday Good Friday.