Last week the NDP government introduced Bill 9 which will create a 50-metre bubble zone of safety and privacy for women accessing healthcare, including abortions and other reproductive health services,* in Calgary and Edmonton.
Jason Kenney and the UCP caucus bailed on the debate, sending their colleague MLA Angela Pitt to deliver a message on their behalf. Ms Pitt said Bill 9 was a cheap shot intended to “politicize and reignite a deeply divisive debate” in order to paint “the opposition and its supporters as fundamentally incompatible with women and women’s rights.” Ms Soapbox is biting her tongue…
Ms Pitt made the following arguments.
The government wants to reopen the abortion debate:
Abortion falls under federal, not provincial jurisdiction, it’s been legal since 1969. As a federal MP Jason Kenney supported a fellow Conservative’s effort to reopen the abortion issue. Stephen Harper shut them down. The UCP may want to reopen the abortion debate but the NDP and the country have moved on to protecting women exercising their legal right to get one.
Clinics are protected by injunctions:
Injunctions don’t apply to public property. Protesters use roads and sidewalks to block women from opening their car doors and entering clinics. Injunctions don’t protect doctors and service providers from harassment at their homes and offices. They don’t protect pharmacies (which dispense Mifegymiso) from harassment at the workplace. Injunctions are ineffective because raucous protesters who are told to leave simply return. Bill 9 expands safe areas and creates real consequences for egregious behavior by imposing fines or jail terms.
Bill 9 infringes the fundamental freedom of speech and peaceful assembly:
If this were true Jason Kenney abandoned Albertans when they needed him the most.
But it’s not true. A protester’s freedom of speech and assembly does not extend to preventing a woman from exercising her legal right to access healthcare, or harassing women with 40-day campaigns twice a year, or taking unauthorized photos and videos of women, their families and their healthcare providers for distribution to third parties.
Protesters are free to exercise their fundamental freedoms of speech and assembly as long as they do so outside the bubble zone.
What Women Really Need
Instead of having the courage to debate bubble zones with the NDP and actually represent the Albertans who voted them into office, 25 UCP MLAs hid behind a Jason Kenney video in which Kenney told women that their biggest issue was…wait for it…the economy, you silly goose!
Apparently the UCP leader’s real concern with Bill 9 had nothing to do with violation of fundamental freedoms or the sufficiency of injunctions to protect women or even the NDP’s nefarious attempt to reopen the abortion issue; in fact it had nothing to do with Bill 9 at all. It’s all about women and the economy.
Here’s how Mr Kenney put it:
I’ll tell you what I think the most important women’s issue is in Alberta: Our economy. I don’t care whether you’re a woman or a man. Whether you’re straight or gay. Whether you’re an immigrant or you’re a sixth generation Albertan. If you’re out of work I want to get you a job. If you’re a small businesswoman, who’s put your life savings into a business, I don’t care about your gender–I want to ensure that that business dream is successful. So I think that the most important issue for Alberta women is getting our economy back on track. And not mortgaging the future of children.
Kenney’s female supporters lapped it up. The rest of us were stunned.
The UCP’s Job
Jason Kenney is the leader of the Official Opposition. The work of the Opposition is to “ensure…legislation is carefully considered and…differing views on important initiatives are publicly expressed and defended.” He and his caucus have a duty to debate and vote on all the legislation tabled by the government. It’s called holding the government to account. They can’t pick the debates that suit their fancy and skip the rest.
Mr Kenney sent Ms Pitt into the Legislature to speak on behalf of her leader and the UCP caucus. Ms Pitt said Bill 9 could be seen as “an attempt to curtail Albertans’ right to free speech and peaceful assembly.” And yet Mr Kenney pulled every member of the Official Opposition out of the Legislature and left the building.
Mr Kenney tried to rectify this appalling breach of duty by posting a video on social media recasting the Bill 9 debate as an economic issue. So now the Official Opposition is doing its job by mansplaining and sound bites?
If we’ve learned anything from the Bill 9 bubble zone debate, it’s this. When the going gets tough, the NDP stay on the field; Jason Kenney and the UCP run away.
*In addition to providing abortion services, clinics provide early and late pregnancy loss care, support services for pregnancy loss, birth control counselling including IUD insertion and STI testing and treatment.
Sources: Alberta Hansard, April 10, 2018, starting at p 498 https://www.ourcommons.ca/About/Compendium/ParliamentaryFramework/c_d_roleoppositionpartiescanada-e.htm