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Canada Calgary-area UCP MLAs say they won't support conscience rights bill

14:55  17 november  2019
14:55  17 november  2019 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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a man wearing a suit and tie: Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie. Patrick Gibson/Cochrane Times Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie. Patrick Gibson/Cochrane Times

A controversial private member’s bill meant to extend protection for physicians’ conscience rights will not be supported by a pair of Calgary-area MLAs, who’ve spoken out against the bill in its current form.

Introduced in the legislature by Peace River UCP backbencher Dan Williams last week, Bill 207 would prevent patients from submitting a professional complaint or suing a health care worker for failing to provide a service if medical staff objects to it. The bill would also add “conscientious beliefs” as grounds protected from discrimination in the Alberta Human Rights Act.

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Speaking to Postmedia Saturday, Airdrie-East UCP MLA Peter Guthrie and Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer, MLA for Calgary-Elbow, said they both object to the bill, which its opponents have said could further restrict patients’ access to abortions, contraception, and medical aid in dying.

“I do worry about access to health care and there’s some challenges that are going to come from this — interpretations that are going to be made,” said Guthrie. “I think we have freedom of conscience, freedom of religion already and I think that as far as our mandate to reduce red tape, this will increase red tape.

“Because of the ambiguity around it, and the nature of the bill, it has more questions that arise from it than solutions. I don’t think that this is something that’s going to help Albertans.”

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Guthrie, who voted in favour of the bill in its first reading, defended his vote saying it was vital to actually see what the bill entailed.

“I believe that if an MLA brings forward — and this includes the opposition as an MLA — brings forward legislation they feel is important, it should get heard,” he said. “When a bill is introduced, that’s what the first reading is.

“At that point, we haven’t actually read the bill, we haven’t seen it yet. Once it’s voted upon, then we actually get the bill in hand and can read it.”

In talks with his Calgary-Elbow constituents, Schweitzer said he heard from a vocal community that opposes the bill.

“The last few weeks I’ve heard from my constituents, talking to them about different pieces of legislation that are before us in Edmonton and when it comes to Bill 207, my constituents have been clear to me that we simply cannot support this type of legislation right now in Alberta,” said Schweitzer. “In its current form, it just simply does not work.

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“It’s controversial, it has the perceived and real potential impact on health care services against Alberta. That’s not what I campaigned on locally.”

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Schweitzer said he believes the bill needs greater study.

“I really appreciate private members trying to bring forward ambitious bills and legislation, but something this comprehensive, something that impacts health care … requires study, it requires thoughtful processes,” he said.

On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney said he hadn’t read the four-page bill nor had he contemplated its implications, adding he wouldn’t say if he supported it.

Kenney also said his government will “always have free votes” on bills introduced to the legislature by individual MLAs, as compared to government bills.

On Monday, a legislative committee will consider whether all MLAs should have an opportunity to debate Bill 207 , or kill the Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act.

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Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel said Saturday her north Calgary office has received many phone calls about the bill.

“I have had concerns expressed into my MP office — no one wants people to not have access to health care,” said Rempel, who noted her comments were being made as a concerned citizen, with the bill being a provincial matter. “And I think there are concerns with this bill, should it be passed, that could come to pass.

“Especially people who belong to marginalized communities. I think, for me, because there’s a lot of unanswered questions with the bill, it does concern me. It’s encouraging to see provincial colleagues within the UCP such as Doug and Peter express similar concerns and expect a high degree from the bill that could have wide-ranging consequences for Albertans.”

zlaing@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @zjlaing

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