Brian Mason or Joe McCarthy?

All right, that’s it!  The headline in yesterday’s Calgary Herald was Moral issues fire up the parties.  All that’s missing is three exclamation points (!!!) at the end of that sentence and we can decide the outcome of this election by throwing Alison and Danielle into a mud wrestling pit and asking Raj to officiate.

We can’t allow the media to reframe this election as a battle between the extremes—the free thinking left wing (“good”) and the small “c” conservative right wing (“bad”).  If we do we’ll lose sight of the issues, including the most important issue of all—that we live in a democracy and every Albertan has a right to his beliefs and a right to vote for the party he/she feels best represents his values.

That is why I shuddered when Raj Sherman said “There is no place in this province and this country for this hard right-wing Tea Party thinking.”  If Raj had said:  “There is no place in this province and this country for this hard left-wing New Democratic Party thinking” we’d all agree he’d gone too far—in a democracy every political party that espouses policies that are legal under federal and provincial laws has the right to be heard.

I know what you’re thinking…I’ve lost my mind and jumped into the Wildrose camp.  I haven’t.  I’m simply trying to filter the bombastic rhetoric out of the election campaign so that I can compare where the parties stand on the key issues.

So let’s apply the rhetoric filter to a a real-life hot button issue—delisting  abortion so that it would not be covered by public healthcare.  This firestorm was unleashed when Jeffry Trynchy, the Wildrose chief administrative officer, responded to a questionnaire** asking all of the political parties about their policy on abortion.  So far only the Wildrose and the Alberta Party have responded, leaving us in the dark about where the PCs, Liberals and NDP stand on this issue.  Trynchy replied that abortion was federally regulated but that a Wildrose government would “Immediately introduce legislation allowing citizens to put issues like abortion to a citizen initiated referendum”.** 

Danielle Smith said that the Wildrose was not going to delist abortions but would implement a public referenda process to decide issues like abortion which “split politicians apart, where if you take a position, 50% of the people will love you and 50% will hate you.*  Before an issue was put to a referendum it would be vetted by a judge to ensure that if it was supported, it could be implemented without breaking the law.

The Calgary Herald was horrified because “A group of Albertans …could theoretically force a province wide vote on public funding for abortion”.*  Yes they could…so what.  One would hope that Albertans would care enough about the issue to vote in the referendum and put an end to the suggestion that abortion be delisted.

Some might argue that putting controversial issues like abortion funding to a referendum is an abdication of responsibility on the part of our elected representatives.  Not so.  Referenda have been used successfully at the provincial and federal level to engage the public on critical issues–the landmark 1992 federal referendum on whether to amend the Constitution per the Charlottetown Accord (71.8% of Canadians voted and 55% of them said no) is a prime example.

Oh and one other thing.  If the press is so interested in Danielle Smith’s personal beliefs on abortion, or same sex marriage, or any other so-called “left wing” issue, they should ask all of the political party leaders the same question.  In fact why don’t we could put them through an inquisition a la Joe McCarthy to determine whether they possess the moral character required to be an elected representative of a political party.  Do you now or have you ever in the past signed a petition [insert “in support of” or “opposed to”] abortion?   

The relevant question isn’t where a party leader stands on a controversial issue but rather where his/her party stands on the issue.  Believe it or not, intelligent people can hold a personal opinion that differs from the group to which they belong (just ask the 98% of Catholic women who use birth control).     

Ultimately this boils down to trust…do you trust a political party to deliver on its promises?  This is where the citizen initiated referendum concept is so helpful.  It would force a party to deliver what the public wants regardless of whether a particular MLA falls into the 50% that supports the proposal or not.

So let’s not fall all over ourselves stomping on the other guy’s right to his convictions (be they evangelical Christian or atheist) instead let’s listen to Brian Mason, the only left leaning political party leader***who’s making any sense right now and start focusing on the key issues:  is increased privatization of healthcare the only solution to the healthcare crisis?  How do we fix the crisis in education?  Should we increase taxation (corporate and personal) and royalty rates?  How do we transition from a non-renewable resource based economy to one based on…what…?

We have an opportunity to unseat a government that after 41 years in power has lost the ability to act in the public interest.   Let’s not squander it by allowing the media to turn this election into an ideological battle of (nit)wits.  Sensationalized press coverage may sell newspapers, but it leads to irrational decisions in the polling booth.

PS  For those of you searching for a non Wildrose/non PC candidate who stands a chance at winning in your riding—check out

*Calgary Herald, Apr 12, 2012, A4

**Jane Crawthorne’s blog The Abortion Monologues 

***other than Glenn Taylor who is getting virtually no air time

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7 Responses to Brian Mason or Joe McCarthy?

  1. roy wright says:

    Your description about how the media is attempting to “reframe” this election for whatever reasons it may think is appropriate is very disheartening. The election platforms of each Party have clear and discernible choices for Albertans. However, the media appear to want to portray the choice as being between two parties and more importantly, want to separate these two parties with hot button issues rather than issues of substance (such as provision of health care).

    I always thought the media were supposed to report the news rather than make the news. While it is fine to offer opinions in columns and editorials, I do not like seeing “news” articles being selective and biased, which I feel is happening here in Calgary. If you really care about the future direction of this province, I would suggest you do three things (with apologies to our Mayor):
    1- Check out each Party on their web site to see the approach taken with the issues that concern you the most
    2- Attend a forum in your riding (and compare your understanding of the meeting with the media coverage after)
    3- Vote!

    • Roy, excellent idea. Instead of relying on the media which is in the business of selling papers (hence their reliance on a juicy story), we’d be well advised to follow your 3 suggestions. Your second suggestion is particularly useful. A forum gives the voter an opportunity to see how the candidates in his riding stack up against each other. It’s amazing what one can learn about a candidate when you see him/her hogging the microphone so the other candidates’ time is cut short or when he/she makes snide remarks about the competition instead of telling the voters what he/she is going to do about the issues that concern us the most. This is a critical election. We owe it to ourselves to be as informed as possible going into that voting booth.

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    Interesting post this week. Although I agree with you in terms of what democratic process really means I am not so sure that I agree with you in terms of what is currently going on in Alberta.

    First of all I was very surprised that you, in Calgary would have the feeling that the left was kind of the predominant voice against what you call ‘bad’ right wing ideology. Here in Edmonton I felt exactly the opposite and for a short while it felt like the Wildrose Party had it in the bag and no one was even going to question Danielle Smith on her policies. If it was not for Paula Simon and Graham Thompson in the Journal, I guess no one had a voice to question her. Alison Redford has basically disappeared in Edmonton, and other than the argument between Lukaszuk and Castledown Al, very little has been happening.

    Now the main point of your post that kind of surprised me in a way. You talk for example about abortion. This is a complex issue that when touched it is to be resolved by all Canadian citizens. Issues like abortion, death penalty and others are too important to be decided by a party like the Wildrose Party in Alberta. I believe that their challenge is simply to do what they do best and that is to play bullies and this is where I disagree with you as to the behaviour or Raj Sherman. Far right wing parties have this idea that they have this God given right to feel superior because in general they are more religious and as a consequence closer to the truth.

    This is a difficult discussion and I am not a good writer. I am not even going to attempt to extend it further. I think that I made my point.

    I just hope that Danielle Smith’s idea of abortion is not like Santorum in the US.

  3. Carlos, I think that we’re actually in substantial agreement which makes me think that I didn’t express myself very clearly. So I’ll take another shot at it. You’re correct, moral issues like abortion and the death penalty are complex and very personal. That means that they shouldn’t be decided unilaterally by any government, whether it’s the PCs, WR, ALP or NDP. These issues need to go to the people. That’s why I’m comfortable with the idea of a referendum. The federal government trusted the question of a constitutional amendment to the people and the Quebec government trusted the question of sovereignty to its people. The people in turn exercised their democratic right to vote and gave clear instructions back to their governments.
    The reason I was troubled by Raj’s statement and the comment in the Calgary Herald is that (1) they assumed that the only people who belong to the Wildrose are right wing red necks who’d vote for no public funding for abortions (not true, many “blue” conservative PCs have switched to the WR and are as open minded on this issue as the rest of us), (2) there are enough right wing red necks to swing a referendum to cut public funding for abortions (surely there are more of us in support of funding than against it so this would be true only if the rest of us didn’t bother to vote), and (3) Alberta can’t take the risk that the red necks would somehow win such a referendum. This last point caused me the most grief. I like the concept of participatory democracy and don’t think I can stop it on a particular issue just because I’d be afraid that it would come up with the “wrong” answer. That would be just as offensive as the moral superiority we’ve seen from right wing evangelical christians like Rick Santorum. So that was the point I was trying to make…that parties of all stripes can exist in a democracy so long as their platforms comply with the law.

    I knew this would be a tricky post to write. I support a woman’s right to choose, I support public funding for abortions, I’m against the death penalty. But some people, likely members of the WR, hold other views and have a right to express them and people like you and me have the right not to vote for them.

    Thanks for your comments Carlos, they were thoughtful and well written.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan your reply to my post confirms clearly that we do agree on most points. That makes me happy because I do think you have a great common sense.

    I understand what you mean about Raj Sherman and I do not disagree at all, but I also have to say that I understand Raj’s point. It is not easy to be a politician in Alberta and you can easily feel the frustration when these people talk about their personal views. A lot of times is not even the disagreement in ideologies but the arrogant way the right wing parties behave. I believe that is about to change for the PCs. Nothing better than understanding real competition to bring about some humility. The Wildrose Party is not any different and I for one despise the sarcastic way Danielle Smith sometimes responds to anyone’s questions. This feeling that her moral superiority does not allow for more detailed explanantions because of our earthlings many restricitons on the understanding of complex issues like abortion, is profoundly irritating.

    I am old enough to remember what women that had no money to fly to clinics outside the country where I was born, had to do in order to get an abortion. I do remember how many died and how many suffered for a long time with the aftermath of infections and botched jobs. Anyone that thinks that is better than what we have now is to say the least delusional or a DNA sibbling of people like Santorum. I am a democrat but people like this to me have the right to say whatever they want in a democratic system, but do not have the right to impose this on anyone. Unfortunately, I do believe that these people do have the means to force some of their views down our throats. We saw examples of this in the election in the US in Florida, we saw this on the illegal invasion of Iraq, we saw this in many other examples that may not have happened in Canada but it does not mean they will not. Canadian authorities were very quick and efficient in silencing a man like Lebo Ludwig because he fought against big money, but they do not seem to care when the money is talking. This is where I have a concern. Unfortunately referendum has been used quite frequently to serve these purposes. I am 100% for them but with clear and strong guidelines. Otherwise they can be easily manipulated and to be honest within the political environment of Alberta I doubt we could run them with0ut corruption. Interestingly enough Danielle Smith, who is their number one supporter, is challenging the verdict on the only one I remember being done in Alberta – the municipal airport. This is exactly my point.

    As far as the death penalty, which you are against, I am not in clear and horrible cases. It is profoundly sad to me that we question pitiful social security to the working poor, but we automatically process whatever money is required to keep people like Olson alive and fed for decades. This man has even been allowed to negotiate money for where the bodies of his victims were, was allowed parole, public complaints……etc. I know you are a lawyer and you will be able to easily disarm me on this one, but to be honest, as a human being, I cannot understand this to be justice at all. The parents that lost their kids to this monster, never got any help, will never be fully happy again and have no voice whatsoever. It is to me a very sad state of affairs.

  5. Pingback: Following in the Footsteps of Ki Ki Planet | Susan on the Soapbox

  6. Carlos, I’ve given more thought to your comments and those of others and have decided that I was mistaken when I supported the referendum on delisting public funding for abortions. While I like the idea of referendums there are certain issues that should not be put to a referendum and delisting abortions is one of them. You’ll see my rationale in the next blog–Following in the Footsteps of Ki Ki Planet.
    Now with respect to the death penalty, I hear what you’re saying and respect your opinion…I just have a different perspective. Given the lateness of the day I’ll have to let that one rest for a little while.
    Thanks for following up on the referendum issue. Good dialogue.

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