I wasn't going to talk about Smith and the School Board. The focus of this blog is abortion and reproductive rights. But this is about reproductive rights. It's about protecting them. Here is part one of a three part series.
In Smith's ten months as a Trustee on the Calgary Board of Education, (Oct 19, 1998 to Aug 19, 1999) she told us some important things about who she was. Her actions in this present election period and the policies she has put forward indicate she hasn’t changed. Since the best indicator of future performance is past performance, the past is worth bringing up.
Danielle Smith, as everyone knows, was part of the infamous CBE Board of Trustees that got removed from office in 1999. Colloquially, people say they got fired. I know quite a bit about this time. My daughter was in elementary school and I was paying attention. I was a member of a parent activist group supporting public education and after the Board was sent packing, I thought I should try to help. I ran for Trustee in Wards 6 and 7 and won. I was the Trustee for Wards 6 and 7 after Smith.
Part One: The "Fauxgressive" Ms Smith
Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are, goes the saying. In 1998, Danielle Smith and another Trustee, Peggy Anderson, were Reformers/neo cons elected to a board that had been made up of Liberals and non-partisans (sometimes referred to in the media as moderates). Seemingly joined at the hip, they shared a campaign manager who was also Jason Kenny's Executive Assistant. Smith campaigned with Rob Anders. They waved at traffic together on 17th Ave. S.W. Both Kenny and Anders are anti-choice/pro-life. Smith and Anderson were elected on narrow margins based on a platform of support for charter schools, back to basic education, and increased school discipline among other things. Anderson's day job was in Jason Kenny’s office. She also worked with some joint I think was called the Family Values Coalition, a group espousing the kind of values that say only straight and patriarchal families have value. In her first week in office, she put a poster up on her door that said, “Abstinence works every time.” This was no surprise. She spoke in candidate forums in favour of abstinence only education.
There were glowing reports written about them both many times in the now defunct Alberta Report. The message was always the same. The right finally had someone on the school board to put those progressives in their place.
The conflicts that this board was so famous for were, in part, generated by a conflict of values around human rights.The previous Board of Trustees, three of whom were returned to the Board in that same election, had managed to bring forward new policy ensuring the safety and security of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual staff and students. This was contentious. Remember back in the day when it was okay to say homosexuals didn’t deserve protection, security of the person and all the human rights straight people have? If you don't, don't worry. We might get to re-live it soon.
Today, Smith is interested in protecting “conscience rights.” That means she is interested in allowing certain people, like public marriage commissioners, to discriminate against LGBTI persons.Wildrose is trying to convince us that conscience rights are a progressive notion, even a way to protect rights. In a Libertarian view of the world like hers, the individual is everything. As my fellow blogger Pedgehog would say, it's "fauxgressive." It's a way of co-opting the language of progressive people and using it to establish regressive policies.
[Addendum: April 14, 2012. Thanks to Warren Kinsella for researching Smith's conscience in her own words. Read her record on these issues here.]
It is not progressive or gay friendly to give people a means to discriminate against gay people. No one is going to give Smith a rainbow pin for that.
Where would this right to discriminate end? The Globe and Mail in it's main editorial yesterday derides the idea and asks if it would extend to being allowed to refuse to marry inter-racial couples. Could doctors refuse to prescribe birth control, or could pharmacists refuse to dispense it? In many towns throughout Alberta, there is only one pharmacy. This could seriously affect people's capacity to access birth control and emergency contraception like Plan B.
I'm interested in how conscience rights would apply to teachers. Would teachers who objected to the idea of evolution be forced to comply with the curriculum? Would a policy like the one mentioned above, the one that protects gay students and staff be enforceable in a world where conscience rights can trump human rights protections?
Conscience rights could be used to justify all sorts of nonsense in schools. For example, once I joined the Board, I met with a group of parents concerned that an anti-choice group related to American Crisis Pregnancy Centres, an outfit called the Pregnancy Care Centre, was being invited into schools to provide sexuality education. They said they had not been able to make any headway on the issue and had been unable to get a response from their Trustee in the past. This did not surprise me. I met with many constituents who had been unable to get a response from Smith while she was in office and were frustrated by this. In an article by Maurice Tougas for Alberta Views about Smith’s leadership potential, Tougas interviewed Jennifer Pollock, who indicated that, "Smith had no interest in attending meetings with the public, and claims that Smith told people: 'We’ll tell you what we want you to know.' Smith and Anderson, Pollock says, only wanted to hear opinions from the public that reflected their own views, and were not interested in more 'esoteric' matters, such as art education." This parent group I met with had a well-founded concern that the CBE was not living up to its responsibility to offer comprehensive sexuality education according to Alberta Curriculum. One parent reported that the representative from the anti-choice group was in her child's class. She held out an oreo cookie and asked the class who wanted it. Hands shot up. Then she opened it, licked the filling, put it back together and asked who wanted it now. Groans and gags ensued. The representative said that's what the students would be like if they had sex before marriage.
Will conscience rights bring us back to abstinence lessons like this? Conscience rights will not move us forward. They invite discrimination and the kind of thinking that we have spent decades evolving beyond.
In a column written by Smith in 2000 and reproduced here, (go to the bottom) Smith mentions the Pregnancy Care Centre to say they seem to be doing things right because they want to help youth with sexual decision making. Yes, they do, as long as the decision isn't pro-choice. If Ms Smith is pro choice and stands for gay rights, her actions do not reflect it, then or now.
Looking at the potential candidates for a Wildrose Cabinet noted by blogger Daveberta, I’m concerned that protecting the human rights of LGBTI persons is going to be contentious again. Link Byfield (candidate in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock) is the former publisher of Alberta Report, a magazine remembered by my gay and lesbian friends for the hateful nonsense it obsessively printed about homosexuals. Another potential Cabinet Minister is John Carpay (candidate in Calgary-Lougheed). He thought Ralph Klein should have used the Notwithstanding Clause so Alberta could continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Carpay has defended Bill Whatcott against charges in Saskatchewan. Whatcott recently delivered disgusting homophobic flyers door to door in Calgary. The Charter protects his right to free speech. He doesn't need a conscience clause for this. He does need a conscience clause if he wants to take this ideas one step further, become a marriage commissioner and refuse to marry gays or lesbians.
Moving on to reproductive rights rights, as Daveberta notes, potential Cabinet Member Carpay also defends the University of Calgary Campus pro-life group, a group discussed on this blog many times. They bring the CCBR's GAP presentation, also known as the fetus porn show, to campus. Many of the same faces from campus pro-life show up at various Calgary locations like Stampede to share their fetus porn with unsuspecting families and passersby. The GAP presentations compare abortion to the Holocaust. The CCBR also operates the dreadful fetus mobile that drives around Calgary. Many Calgarians despise this truck. Even Bishop Henry finds the tactics of this group offensive.
One way to test if policy is in any good is to apply specific cases and see what happens. For example, we have learned, thank goodness, that the application of the case of abortion in the Wildrose policy of citizen initiated referendum shows how the policy fails and fails spectacularly. Such a case would violate Charter rights. Worse, while it was fought, it would leave women vulnerable.
Smith is on the record stating that she doesn't think the public should have to fund abortions. Again, the column is reproduced here. In it, she says much more than that. She says:
"Any politician who challenges the status quo gets pilloried by the media, abortion-rights groups and opposing politicians.
Yet when the courts struck down the Criminal Code sections that dealt with abortion in 1988, they never said, 'And ye shall never pass laws on this matter again.'
What they did say was that the process for approving the procedure, through therapeutic abortion committees, was flawed and cumbersome, and denied a woman her right to security of the person.
However, writing in favour of striking down the legislation, Justice J. Wilson also said that the protection of the fetus 'is a perfectly valid legislative objective' and that 'Section 1 of the Charter authorizes reasonable limits to be put upon the woman’s right.'
In fact, the court said a fetus should be treated differently depending on its level of development, suggesting 'a permissive approach to abortion in the early stages where the woman’s autonomy would be absolute and a restrictive approach in the later stages where the state’s interest in protecting the fetus would justify its prescribing conditions.'
And where does the line get drawn?
The esteemed court said it 'should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature.'"
If Ms Smith looks progressive, it's only because she associates with the most regressive politicians in Canada. It has been made clear that de-listing could happen through a referendum and she has not definitively ruled that out. Meanwhile, the campaign to de-fund abortion has already started at Alberta Pro-Life. They seem pretty pumped. I wonder what they know?
If Ms Smith really is pro-choice and supportive of gay rights, I for one would like to see her act on those beliefs. Until then, I'll remain unconvinced.
Part Two of Smith's Risky History - Creating a Narrative of Persecution
Part Three of Smith's Risky History - Government Smith Style
The Abortion Monologues is available as an e-book on Smashwords