By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Monday night’s all Candidates Forum resulted in a number of questions being asked of candidates (particularly the Wildrose’s Link Byfield) regarding moral and social issues.
The Wildrose Party has drawn fire in media and social media circles for some of its candidates’ past views on topics ranging from abortion to gay marriage. Recently Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger, a Christian pastor, took criticism for a blog post he made on his church’s website expressing his view gays would spend eternity in a lake of fire. Other Wildrose candidates have been criticised for past behaviours and views, including Link Byfield who was taken before the Human Rights Commission (HRC) for an article he published while at the helm of the Alberta Report. The candidate made a passing acknowledgement to that with some humour Monday night.
Concerns about social and moral issues were brought forward by some questioners during the forum in an attempt to see just where the candidates stand on the issue of abortion, gay marriage and the matter of conscience rights, the latter a subject of much criticism over the past couple of weeks.
One of the first questions of the evening was asked in light of the Hunsperger controversy about candidate’s thoughts on the protection of those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) community within the school system.
For Wildrose candidate Link Byfield there is the realization although people should be free to believe as they do, government cannot impose that will on the people.
“No premier and no party should try and impose a uniform belief system on the Legislature and the people of our province,” Byfield said. “We should be free to believe what we honestly believe.”
PC candidate Maureen Kubinec, in responding to the question, took a veiled shot at her Wildrose opponent’s party. “I think we need a government that is peopled by forward-thinking, open-minded people,” Kubinec said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Trudy Grebenstein, in speaking specifically to Edmonton Public Schools LGBTQ policy, something Hunsperger had criticized in his blog post, said much work went into the policy. “There was an investigation across the country [into] different public school systems to see who had the best quality policy [and] who didn’t have one at all,” she said. “I can tell you that large urban school boards had those policies long before Edmonton Public.”
Liberal candidate Leslie Penny said people need to remember that along with rights come responsibilities. “When you have a right to speak, you have to know what the responsibility and the result of your speaking is going to be. If that speaking is hurtful, particularly to a young person, particularly to someone who is struggling with their sexual identity, where they are struggling with the fact they are of a different colour than the people in the community, we need to protect them as well. I do not believe you have the right to say things that are hurtful to others.”
Abortion and gay marriage
Candidates had a couple opportunities to discuss their views on abortion and gay marriage.
Byfield, whose wife Joanne has been a long time pro-life advocate, shares a pro-life view. “My own belief is that abortion is wrong and people shouldn’t do it,” Byfield said. “Now that’s a personal belief. I’ve believed that all my life. When you are an MLA you represent everybody, you do not just represent the people you agree with. You represent everybody in the area. Our government, if we form one, will not … bring forward any legislation on controversial moral issues. We will leave that to provincial referendum if people want to bring it forward on their own.”
Penny said abortion is legal under federal law. As such the only thing that could be dealt with provincially is delisting it so it is not covered under the province’s health care system. “I am against that because if a procedure can be done then it has to be equal access,” Penny said, adding she believes it is a woman’s right to ask for the procedure.
Grant said she believes in individual autonomy. “Whether you choose to have an abortion is up to you,” the candidate said. “It’s none of my business.” NDP Grebenstein echoed Grant’s views.
PC candidate Kubinec takes a pro-life position. “I have my own personal beliefs on abortion and that is that I believe in the sanctity of life,” she said, adding she agreed with Grant and Grebenstein that the matter was between the individual and their creator.
On the issue of gay marriage Penny said she belongs to the United Church of Canada and has been to gay weddings. “I have friends who are gay and there’s no problem [with gay marriage],” she said.
Grant took a similar stance to gay marriage as she did on the matter of abortion. “Who you choose to marry is none of my business,” she said. Grebenstein agreed with Grant’s position on gay marriage as she had on the matter of abortion.
Kubinec said she had no issue with gay marriage. “I know people who are gay and love them anyway,” she said.
Byfield said provincial governments have no say in the legality of gay marriage or abortion and that the topic was not really a subject suitable for a provincial forum. “The only thing that can change that fact would be a constitutional amendment, which I don’t think anybody is going to seriously propose.
Human rights and the Human Rights Commission
Candidates were also asked their views on the Human Rights Commission, an agency one questioner said had come down hard on a number of Albertans, including former Western Standard publisher and current Sun News commentator Ezra Levant.
Penny said she would not be in favour of disbanding the HRC “I do believe that we need a body that people can appeal to when they feel that their rights have been violated,” Penny said.
Grant said she believes the HRC has too much power. “There are too many examples of people being guilty until proven innocent,” she said. “They abuse that power a little too much in my opinion.” She agreed with Penny there must be some recourse for Albertans.
Grebenstein said her party is very concerned the PCs have made it possible to bring teachers before the HRC for discussing sex, sexual orientation and religion in the classrooms. “We say that everyone deserves to be included and to be given an opportunity to contribute,” she said.
Kubinec said it is absolutely fundamental to have an HRC in the province. “Does it need to be tweaked?” she asked. “Things can always be improved.” Kubinec said she thinks the people should have a say in how the HRC is changed.
Wildrose candidate Link Byfield was the sole proponent of doing away with the HRC. “I think we have to distinguish between the Human Rights Act, which our party – the Wildrose – would keep in place although we would amend it, and the human rights tribunals which lead to the abuse of processes you mentioned,” Byfield said to the questioner. “We would leave the Human Rights Act intact, except if we govern we will amend it to emphasize the primacy of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and belief. That’s very important.” As to the HRC itself, Byfield said a Wildrose government would replace the HRC tribunals with a special division of the provincial court system.