With less than a week left until Alberta’s provincial election, the rhetoric has heated up as all sides vie for precious votes that will decide the province’s next government. For the first time in over forty years, Alberta is positioned to make a change in its government, with the Wildrose party helmed by Danielle Smith poised to win. But is this real change?
Conveniently overlooked by most in this heated competition between the old-guard Progressive Conservative party and the “new” Wildrose alternative is the fact that most of the latter is comprised of disgruntled members of the former. As such, it can be argued that the proposed change is minimal, if present at all.
One area where there does seem to be a fracture is in the controversial “conscience rights.” The Wildrose are proponents of allowing Albertans to hold referendums on issues that fall under provincial jurisdiction, but what exactly does this mean? Opponents have suggested that “conscience rights” is code for controversial moral issues, most of which have previously been settled at the federal level via the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Danielle Smith, responding to allegations that the proposed referendums will be used to reopen issues of gay marriage rights, abortion, contraceptive provisions and related issues, insists that the only issues that will be put to referendum are those that fall under provincial jurisdiction, which none of the above do. However, given that Alberta possesses the ability to use the notwithstanding clause, is it really such a reach to suggest that the Wildrose may use the loophole to kowtow to those with special agendas?
As long as Alberta remains a province of Canada — until and if it secedes — it is obligated to abide by the laws of Canada. Although this should be a panacea against the “fearmongering” those on the left are accused of waging on the Wildrose, it isn’t quite enough. “Conscience rights” must be taken off the table and relegated to where they belong. Private, religious institutions have every right, under s. 2(a) of the Charter, to their religious beliefs — what they don’t have is the right to force their beliefs on the rest of us. Church and state must remain separate if we are to remain united.