Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Where will Ontario fall in the secularism vs Conscience Rights debate?

"Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” - anonymous judge.

It has always been the case that rights cannot be treated as absolute, and that one right must end where exercising that right infringes upon someone else's rights.

This debate is in full swing in Canada as it relates to the religious rights of employees providing provincial services and the sometimes conflicting rights of the public that receives these services.


On June 16, 2019 Quebec passed Bill n°21 : An Act respecting the laicity of the State (Official Status legislation), which discusses which subset of employees of provincial services must offer that service with their face uncovered, and a further smaller subset that must do so without wearing religious symbols.   The idea is simple:  when employees are within specific positions they have an additional duty of impartiality, and must not only be impartial but be seen by those receiving the service to be impartial.

There have been arguments, including from some federal politicians during the recent federal election, suggesting that this infringes too far upon the religious rights of the employees.

It might have been a response to the critique of Quebec's laicity bill that lead to the tabling of Bill 207: Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act in Alberta.  In this proposal the religious rights of a health care provider or religious health care organization is suggested to be paramount.


In each case there is an obvious conflict between the religious rights of employees and a wide variety of rights of those receiving government services.  In the objections to Bill 207 several policy areas were often raised: abortion, services for sexual "minorities" (LGBTQ), and medically-assisted death.  These issues were being raised as that bill only related to health care providers, but if a bill extended to other provincial service providers the list of conflicting rights would have grown considerably.

When it comes to religious rights, I suspect for most people being forced to carry out a procedure that is offensive to ones religious identity is more severe than being asked to refrain from wearing religious symbols.  While bill 207 has not yet passed, and has thus far been rejected by a committee, I suspect this is only the beginning of the discussion in the province given how high-profile this issue is being made throughout Canada.


One of the main problems I'm having with this debate is that the loudest arguments against Quebec's bill 21 end up being arguments in favor of Alberta's bill 207.  The reverse is also true, where objections to bill 207 should be seen as arguments in favor of bill 21, and yet the conversions are happening in information silos.


Schuklenk pointed to countries such as Sweden, where there is no legal right to conscientious refusal for workers in any profession, including in health care. This is also the case in Finland and Iceland. 
Sweden holds that because no one is forced to enter into a profession and may resign at any time, no one can be prevented from acting on their own moral or religious beliefs.
(Global news: Medical schools should deny applicants who object to provide abortion, assisted death: bioethicist


While the government does not have a monopoly on employment, it does have a monopoly on the provision of government services.  Governments are left with 3 different scenarios, each of which will be seen by someone to infringe upon someone's rights.

  • Have some separation of church and state where specific employees must carry out the provision of government services impartially, expecting them to represent the state over their religious identity and/or expression.  It should not have been surprising that Quebec would take this position, as it can be seen as the general direction initiated during The Quiet Revolution.
  • Protect the religious identity and expression of the employees, even if this is in conflict with the impartiality of services offered by the government.  This is the direction being proposed in Alberta, with some suggesting that conscience rights are already protected in the province.
  • Try to operate in some middle-ground where the state subjectively determines what religious identity/expression rights to respect and which to deny.  This last option is the option taken so far by most governments in Canada, and I do not believe this is a sustainable way to operate.  I am very uncomfortable when the state is effectively being asked to regulate aspects of religion.

I live in Ontario, so am concerned with this province.  Ontario is one of 3 remaining provinces to have a separate school system, the others being Alberta and Saskatchewan.  While it is unfortunate that this is still the case in 2019, as I believe the separate school system infringes on both laicity and religious rights, it might be an indication of the direction that Ontario would lean in this debate.  As with Alberta, Ontario may lean towards protecting religious identity and expression over protecting the rights and interests of those requiring provincial services.

It has been frustrating to watch Ontario's NDP fighting so strongly against Quebec's secularism bill, especially as we currently have a premier who has sided with Alberta and Saskatchewan on a number of other controversial issues.  The last thing we need is for the Ontario government to start looking seriously into protecting the religious conscience rights of providers of provincial services, as I believe far more rights are threatened by that position than is theoretically protected by it.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Conservative party members should stop pointing fingers at Scheer

You can see it all over the media: Conservative caucus members and other party members trying to lay the blame for perceived electoral failures at the feet of Andrew Scheer.  There have been multiple calls for his resignation.

As someone who actively watched and voted in the 2017 leadership race, I can only remind people that Andrew Scheer and the predictable outcome of the recent election was what party members wanted.  Andrew Scheer became leader not because of some slight of hand, which can easily be the case under voting systems not based on ranked ballots, but because this is what the majority of Conservative party members wanted.


The vast majority of Canadians recognize the climate crisis is the most important economic issue of our era, and agree that putting a price on carbon is a critically important tool in the toolbox.  This fiscally conservative tax policy long predates Justin Trudeau becoming an MP, so any attempt to label it as Justin Trudeau's idea only demonstrates a lack of understanding.  Even calling it a "left wing" policy makes no sense, as it is not a so-called "progressive" tax (IE: not focused on ability to pay).

When it was obvious that party insiders were campaigning against the best possible candidates if the Conservatives wanted to form a majority government, I asked:  Will the Conservative Party choose to fail like the US Democrats?

The outcome of that leadership race confirmed that the answer was: Yes, they did choose to fail.


The notion that a party should be allowed to form government when one of their most visible and promoted economic policies is opposed by a majority of citizens makes no sense.  If the Conservatives want to form government, they must change themselves and become more palatable to the rest of Canadians. It wasn't that Justin Trudeau's Liberals won as there were many reasons to be disenfranchised by that leadership, but that the Andrew Scheer Conservatives lost.


I strongly believe that if the party and membership had put down their blinders, and had the rest of the country in mind, we would currently be talking about a strong Conservative majority under Prime Minister Michael Chong or Prime Minister Lisa Raitt.

I put Andrew Scheer as #8 and Maxime Bernier as #9 on my ballot. This was not because I thought either had a credible path to become PM, but because there was actually even worse options to put below them.

I will continue to vote in Conservative party leadership races whenever I see candidates I consider worthy of being Prime Minister.  I wonder if I will ever have someone in my local riding nominated by the Conservative party that is worthy of my vote.  That has yet to happen, and that remains the choice of the party executive and membership.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

2020 Green Party of Canada leadership race

With Elizabeth May stepping down, the Green Party of Canada will start a leadership race starting in the new year and ending in an election at the fall 2020 convention in Prince Edward Island.

While I am currently not a partisan, I plan to re-join the party to participate in the leadership vote, just as I did for the Conservative party leadership to show support for Michael Chong.

I don't know who the leadership candidates will be yet, but given I have history with the Greens I suspect I will have strong preferences.  I haven't received details yet, but I hope they will be using a modern voting system for the leadership that actually allows preferences.

I first learned about the Green Party some short time prior to the 1995 provincial election, directly from the then provincial leader Frank de Jong who also lived in Ottawa at the time.  He understood the international context of the party, and explained to me in numerous personal conversations the principles behind what is now called the Global Greens charter.

  • Participatory Democracy
  • Nonviolence
  • Social justice
  • Sustainability
  • Respect for Diversity
  • Ecological Wisdom
(The 10 key values of the GPO at the time are available on the Wayback engine).

Like Frank, I consider myself "socially progressive, fiscally conservative, and environmentally aware" (See historical leader profile).  Ignoring some odd problems surrounding a free speech issue, we pretty much always got along and I shared many values with Frank.

I offered my technical skills to the party and hosted websites, as well as participated in policy and other conventions.  While I was asked several times, I never put my name on a ballot as I am uni-lingual English and believe this isn't appropriate for a candidate running in Ottawa.  Several of my friends did put their name forward in Ottawa area ridings.

In the 1990's there wasn't a separation between provincial and federal parties, and the Ontario party organizers essentially organized the federal party within Ontario.  When there was federal elections in 1997 and 2000 we participated from Ottawa, but I didn't quite see myself in what I heard from Joan Russow.  She didn't seem to mirror the values I had understood the greens to stand for, but being a partisan at the time I didn't question whether the federal party had to have the same underlying values that made me interested in the Green Party of Ontario within Ottawa.

Then Copyright Happened. 

As technology property rights is very important to me, I discussed this area of policy across party lines and started to meet members of parliament. I came to realize I had as much in common with some of those MPs as I did with some of my fellow Green Party members.  There were MPs in the same parties I had strong disagreements with, and there were strong disagreements within the Green Party.  My experiences from this area of policy made me realize that party affiliation was not an important determination of what policy persons and politicians I could work with and those I could not.

That brings me to today.  When I vote, I vote for the person who can best represent my values.  Provincially that is sometimes a person nominated by the Green Party, and sometimes not.  Federally I have felt that David McGuinty is the most (lower-case) green thinking candidate in the district I moved to in 2003, and I vote for him despite having absolutely no trust in the Liberal Party of Canada (or its various leaders other than St├ęphane Dion).

While the leader is only one person among many, they set the tone and help recruit like-minded candidates.  As much as Elizabeth May has repeated current green party policy that she is only the primary spokesperson of the party, not in control of it (and can't whip votes), she has put a major stamp on the party and what candidates will run.


I don't know how things will change.  Federally I obviously supported Chris Bradshaw as he was a close personal friend before and after his interm leadership roll.  I never got to know Jim Harris I was spending far more time on technology law than party politics during his time.  I was happy to see the organization grow, partly as organizers and supporters of the historical federal Progressive Conservative party went different ways with the merger/takeover of the PC party by the Reform/Alliance party.


I've not had personal conversations with Elizabeth May, and have mixed feelings about the policies she puts forward even if I am far more supportive than I was of Joan Russow.  I expressed some of these concerns in a posting during the election.

That said, I am very grateful for Elizabeth May's ongoing work with the greens and for her constituents in public life.



My hope for the future leader:

  • I want someone with a science background.  While Elizabeth was very strong on climate and environmental issues, I found she (and whoever she was using as advisers) lacked a STEM background whenever other technology or technology law issues came forward.
  • I want someone who understands and believes in the principles behind the Global Greens charter.  While I have a stronger connection to the historical 10 key values of the Ontario party (which included Grassroots Democracy, Decentralization, Community-based Economics, Personal and Global Responsibility, and Gender Equality/Feminism), these are all values that the short-form 6 values of the global greens should be understood to include.
  • I want someone who recognizes the need for parliamentary and democratic reform, but helps articulate and promotes reforms that are consistent with green values and not those which temporarily appear politically expedient. I think Elizabeth's participation in the electoral reform committee was a major missed opportunity.  Joining the NDP with their promotion of the Ghallagher index, which only promotes the centralizing interests of party executives, is inconsistent with green principles.  It is also inconsistent with the parliamentary reforms Elizabeth has personally spoke about for decades.  Expressing some of those personal and global green principles might have enabled rather than blocked electoral reform.
  • I want someone who can articulately and calmly explain what makes the green principles different that those of all other parties, and not to mimic the other parties because they are perceived as being historically successful.

I don't expect the federal leader to be "socially progressive, fiscally conservative, and environmentally aware", but if the federal Greens have a leader closer to the above then they may again attract candidates (and grow a caucus) that can include some of these people.   Diversity is a value and potential strength of the Greens, but only if the executive allows that diversity to exist within the party.