I’ve given more thought to my support for a referendum on controversial issues such as abortion funding (the delisting question) and have decided that it’s Ki Ki Planet time. Ki Ki was a staunch support of the Wildrose Party until she became aware of the party’s position on conscience rights. She describes her own crisis of conscience in an insightful blog Pruned Bush: Confessions of a Wilted Rose.
I find myself in a similar position—having to backtrack—for a different reason. Unlike Ki Ki, I wasn’t an active Wildrose supporter, however their support of increased transparency in government, allowing free votes for MLAs and encouraging participatory democracy resonated with me. So when the Wildrose announced the citizen referendum process I jumped for joy. At last, an opportunity for citizens to make substantial changes in controversial government policies without having to wait for the next election.
Unfortunately (being the cool analytical person that I am) I did not delve deeply enough into the issue being proposed as an example for such a referendum—delisting abortions so they would no longer be funded by taxpayers dollars. I focused on the value of the process which worked just fine with the referendums on the federal Constitutional amendment, the Quebec sovereignty question and the repeal of the HST in BC. I focused on the fact that the majority of Albertans would never vote in favour of such a proposal in any event (I hope!). What I failed to focus on was the fact that such a proposal would create an illegal result and should never be put forward in the first place.
Here’s why. Federal law makes abortion legal. Consequently all of the provinces, including Alberta, are pro-choice. If the Wildrose proposal went ahead and successfully delisted abortions, Alberta would still be pro-choice, however in practice Alberta would become pro–life but only for the women who couldn’t afford to pay for an abortion. This would be both elitist and hypocritical. It would also turn the law on its head.
Lawyers have a saying: “You can’t do through the back door what you’re not allowed to do through the front door”. And yet this is exactly what happens if this referendum is successful: the legal right to choose is subverted simply by making an administrative change to the public healthcare funding schedule.
So I stand corrected. I’d like to thank you for patiently pointed out the obvious and I’d like to thank Ki Ki for demonstrating how easy it is to climb back off the ledge.
I’ll talk to you again after the BIG DEBATE. I can hardly wait.
The phrase “participatory democracy” is sooo seductive, even when the “participation” being promoted would actually mean a libertarian world in which your “rights” depended on your neighbour’s approval and legislators (and judges?) had to keep winning a perpetual popularity contest to keep their jobs and, as Susan points out, “yes” actually means “NO”. The emotion – or in some cases, mass hysteria – created by these processes are probably not a good way to develop public policy.
There’s another implication of the citizen referendum policy; when it’s extended to remove an elected representative we have a certain irony, which David Climenhaga pointed out yesterday: “…: If two thirds of the electorate in a given constituency elect an MLA, the Wildrose Party proposes that one third of that electorate should be able to have her recalled?”
[By the way, Susan, thank you for pointing out that the funding mechanism is the critical factor in policy implementation. That’s a time-honoured political manipulation of policy.
Back in 1995, the Canada Health Act was surreptitiously amended with a budget amendment which changed how the federal government provided health care funding to the provinces, and had the effect of removing specific funding for extended health care services (including LTC]
Great comments Carol. There’s another saying that fits very well in this situation: “the devil is in the details”. Unfortunately most voters don’t have the time or the inclination to keep track of “innocuous” amendments (like the one to the Canada Health Act that you described). These amendments are passed with very little fanfare but the result is a seismic shift in healthcare funding policy and delivery.
Albertans must insist on greater transparency in government–regardless of who wins on Apr 23!
PS Thanks for being one of those voters who makes the time to keep track of the healthcare portfolio. We need many more like you.
Government funding and right and wrong never seem to be able to work hand and hand. The policial arena is not my strong suite but I know right from wrong. Back when I was 35 I developed Rheumatoid arthritis. I was a mother at home with 3 children with a husband who had to work to support us. We made out quite well, considering, but attempted to get a little assistance from the government health care system.
I was limited to what I could do and outtings usually involved a wheelchair as my strength was very limited. This lead to an attempt to get homecare to come in once a week and help clean my house. We were not looking for childcare or additional funding, we simply wanted someone to come in once a week and help clean our house.
According to my family doctor, legally I would be considered “disabled” and should qualify for assistance and he signed the form. We then had to approach Revenue Canada to declare me “disabled” at which point we would qualify for assistance; but then came the catch. In filling out the forms there was a question. “Are you taking medication that could aide in making you able to work in the future?” Well, of course I was. The plan was to get me healthy again, thus the medication and physio. The plan never was to do nothing for the rest of my life. I was only 35.
In answering “yes” to that question I could no longer be considered “disabled”. So according to the government if I sat on my butt and did nothing they would give me all the help I wanted, but, if I made any attempt to help myself I was entitled to nothing.
But what do I know. I am still amazed that the government was able to sell the public on the concept that HST was a good thing, because charging 12% HST was a whole lot better then having us pay 5% PST and 7% GST.
Absolutely bang on. Government funding should never be linked to moral judgements of right or wrong. Those are personal decisions which belong to us as individuals, not to our government. Your example of the the federal government’s “administrative” requirements blocking you from receiving provincial government assistance from a plan that you’re qualified to access boggles the mind. The delisting of abortion procedures would operate in the same way…something a woman is entitled to at law is denied to her through an “administrative” change in listed services. What’s so frustrating is that these “little” administrative changes can slip through with little fanfare and it’s not until we try to access a service that we realize that it’s been taken away.
Thank goodness for activists like Carol, the Whitemud gang, Public Interest Alberta and the opposition party members (praise for politicians what’s next!)…they’re the folks trying to instill some honesty into the politicians in power.