There seems to be an airborne virus that threatens premiers. For Jason Kenney, chartering a plane for $16,764, to fly some friendly premiers to Saskatoon, is inexplicably foolish.Now, this is nothing like ex-Premier Alison Redford’s “ghost riders in the sky” — the technique of booking non-existent passengers on a government plane, leaving the leg room to herself and her entourage.Air Kenney’s passengers do appear to be real rather than ghostly. The excuse — Stampede hospitality plus government business — is at least defensible.But still, the optics of chartering a plane when you’ve just dropped the most difficult cost-cutting budget in a generation are horrible.The episode masked a much more consequential matter this week — the introduction of Bill 207, called the “Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers Protection Act.)”It might seem innocuous at first, but this bill is a significant backdoor effort to limit patient access to abortion, all in the name of conscience.The private member’s bill, sponsored by Peace River UCP MLA Dan Williams, will be debated and quite possibly passed.It provides immunity from complaint or discipline to health providers that refuse to deal with patients whose needs offend their conscience.The bill never uses the word abortion, which makes it potentially wide-reaching, because it implies that conscience rights could also extend to denying service to LGBTQ people and others.None of this should come as a surprise. Kenney has always said he will not interfere with abortion service. But there’s a twist that suggests something like Bill 207 was inevitable if the UCP won the election.Asked about abortion access last Feb. 12, Kenney said:“Amongst the so-called social conservatives I know in the party, they’re not talking about that issue. They just want the government to leave them alone when it comes to certain constitutionally protected freedoms of conscience and religion.”But Bill 207 wouldn’t just leave these health providers alone. It would expand their right to impose their conscience on patients, while making them immune from criticism.In this week’s edition of Inside Alberta, Calgary Herald columnists Don Braid and Chris Varcoe speak about the possibility of an Alberta Pension Plan, the state of Alberta’s economy and the tabling of a new anti-abortion bill.
First, it would require any health regulatory body that receives a complaint about a doctor’s refusal to “immediately dismiss the complaint.”Further, any objection to a decision based on conscience could not even be recognized as a complaint or grounds for complaint. Nor could the doctor’s behaviour be regarded as unprofessional conduct.Health providers would also be immune from lawsuit or any decision “based on their conscientious beliefs.”While eliminating the ability to question a health provider, the bill also extends the grounds for refusing service from simply “religious beliefs” to include “conscientious beliefs.”One of the biggest issues for these conscience health providers is whether, in denying service, they are obliged to refer a patient to someone who will provide the service.Many were alarmed by an Ontario court decision in May which required physicians to make an “effective” referral to a willing health care provider.Bill 207 skirts the issue.It says: “For greater certainty, nothing in this Act derogates from a health care provider’s or religious health care organization’s obligations to their patients, which may include informing individuals of options in respect of receiving a health care service.”Note the word “may.” The bill does not concede that physicians have a duty to refer patients.Basically, this bill allows this whole category of doctors to behave pretty much as they like in these matters, once they say “conscience.”
Leader Jason Kenney addresses party members at the UCP general meeting and founding convention in Red Deer on May 5, 2018.
Many UCP MLAs — maybe more than one-third — are against abortion. Anti-abortion groups aggressively recruited and funded their campaigns for UCP nominations.It worked. “The nominations have gone very well for the pro-life movement,” said a February note over the name of Cameron Wilson, director of political action for the Wilberforce group.“However, as always, we now need to keep the candidates who won their nominations accountable and on track to enacting pro-life policy should they win in the general election.”Kenney, himself an abortion opponent, has always said he learned a lesson from ex-Prime Minister Steven Harper — don’t re-legislate contentious matters that are already fixed in law.Well then, the premier should vote against Bill 207.It is not just a minor guarantee of conscience rights. It empowers medical professionals and organizations to effectively block access, without any fear of criticism.Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @DonBraidFacebook: Don Braid Politics