Posts Tagged ‘notwithstanding clause’

Conscience Rights — with thanks to Graham Thomson and Danielle Smith

April 10, 2012

Alberta is in the midst of a great election campaign. Voters and the media are talking to each other, and listening to each other, and sometimes politicians join the conversation. Ideas are being tested, and sometimes changing, and all of us are being informed.

Graham Thomson’s column in today’s Edmonton Journal is a good example (see previous post).

His exchange with Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith provides some clarification about positions. The exchange also raises further questions.

Ms. Smith seems to be downplaying conscience rights as a matter of much concern for voters. Her argument is that the mechanics of operationalizing conscience rights make them more theoretical than real.

But, a provincial government could always use the “Notwithstanding” provision of the Charter (section 33) to override the Saskatchewan decision. Professional codes of conduct are always subject to provincial law, so the issue for government — and for voters — is not whether the government needs to get involved. The issue is whether the government wants to get involved.

As Ms. Smith makes clear, she is most often going to follow the direction set by her Party. If the Wild Rose party forms the government, as they have these wide-open conversations and set the direction for the government and the province, what arguments will Ms. Smith bring to the table, about ends. She says she is not going to be pre-emptory, and I accept that. But she is also not going to be silent — at least, I hope not. What personal leadership will she offer?

With all of her ‘clarification’ about process, Ms. Smith has not been any more clear about whether she herself favours or is opposed to legislating conscience rights. In the absence of any clear statement from her about her personal position, we have to believe that she would accept and implement whatever the Party decides. If the Party can find a way of overcoming the Saskatchewan decision, where would Ms. Smith go with conscience rights? If the Party decides to explore invoking the “Notwithstanding” clause, where would Ms. Smith stand on that issue, and then where would she go with conscience rights?

Grahams, give her another call.