Jason Kenney leads his caucus out of the Legislature; actual UCP politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated (Photo: Dhinakaran Gajavarathan, Creative Commons).

Alberta’s “Bubble Zone Bill” to protect abortion clinic patients and staff from harassment, intimidation and potential violence has been passed by the provincial Legislature.

When the vote on Third Reading happened yesterday, the entire United Conservative Party Opposition had once again gone into hiding.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, who introduced the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

They’ve done the same thing every time the topic came up, with Opposition Leader Jason Kenney like a mother goose leading his little band of goslings as they waddle across the road, through the traffic and out to the safety of the pond.

Not so long ago, Independent “Liberty Conservative” MLA Derek Fildebrandt – who’s apparently still furious at his former friend Mr. Kenney for expelling him from the UCP Caucus for not telling Dear Leader about a deer he’d shot – spitefully proposed five amendments to Bill 9 that the NDP MLAs in the House were guaranteed to vote down.

Every time he did, the entire UCP Caucus got up on its collective hind legs and shuffled out of the room. Five times out; five times in. All in the same day.

The real Jason Kenney, looking as if he were contemplating what his UCP Caucus might get up to if left unsupervised (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Well, Mr. Fildebrandt certainly made his point. To wit: This was not a principled stand in a lost case, or even a fighting retreat. It was craven! The UCP will never forgive him now!

Can someone explain this strategy for me? As I asked here once before, who ever heard of an Opposition Party simply refusing to debate or be seen voting on legislation it opposes, not to mention ignoring an issue its leader has made his life’s work opposing and parts of its base opposes with a passion bordering on fury?

Wait! Those were rhetorical questions!

Surely this is the most spectacularly aggressive application of the venerable strategy of campaign “low-bridging” ever recorded in the history of the Westminster Parliamentary system.

Are you facing a divisive issue in the Legislature, one that could quickly become an effective wedge issue for your opponents? Wondering what to do? Easy peasy! Just have everybody bug off till the vote is over!

That way … nothing happened! There is no embarrassing record in Hansard. Total deniability is achieved!

Liberal MLA David Swann (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Down the Memory Hole it goes – leastways, it’ll go there quick enough with a little help from a co-operative media. And, so far, the media is performing entirely to expectations, dignifying the UCP’s in-out-in-out bugouts as if they’d “walked out of the chamber in protest.”

This is bizarre. Indeed, I believe it’s sui generis – which is a smarty-pants way of saying “nobody’s ever seen anything like this before” while showing off you know a little Latin, which I certainly do, res ipsa loquitur.

Well, in Mr. Kenney’s defence, he’s already lost control of his party’s base, which stood up at the UCP policy conference early this month and voted to out school kids who join gay-straight alliances to their parents even though they had been instructed to zip their lips and bide their time until things unfold as God intends – you know, one man, one woman, one marriage, one minivan and enough kids to fill it, just like it says in the Bible.

So God only knows what might have happened if his B-Team Caucus of Wildrose Party holdovers had started debating something called the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act! You have to feel a little sympathy for the guy.

Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Starke (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Susan Wight, author of the Susan on the Soapbox blog, says that what happened at the policy convention in Red Deer is what happens “when a dog whistler loses control of the dogs.” So I guess it’s no surprise Mr. Kenney is now keeping the dogs in his caucus on short leashes.

Never mind, he’s promised to repeal every single bit of NDP legislation if he manages to get elected, as the prevailing media narrative in Alberta insists is a sure thing. But how is he going to repeal the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act if no one from his caucus is allowed inside the Legislature when it’s being voted on?

An omnibus bill, I guess. Or, speaking of Mother Goose, as we almost were, he could just tell us some fairy tale about “free speech.”

The bill, introduced by Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, bans protesters from demonstrating within 50 metres of two Alberta stand-alone abortion clinics, one in Edmonton and the other in Calgary. It also prohibits people from taking photographs, video, or audio recordings of patients, physicians or staff entering or leaving the buildings, protesting near their homes, or harassing doctors and staff by other means. Fines are heavy: $5,000 for a first offence, with maximums of $25,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations, plus possible jail terms.

MLAs David Swann, a Liberal, and Richard Starke, who has declared himself to be the last remaining Progressive Conservative in the House although there is no longer really a party by that name, supported the government in the vote.

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  1. Great bill – should be expanded to all protestors, i.e. no protestors, including those on strike, should be permitted within 50m of a business, residence or government building.

  2. David, I loved your photo choice! It made me laugh out loud when I saw it.

    I wonder if you are correct about Kenney simply not wanting a permanent record of the UCP position. Anti-abortion groups have certainly praised Kenney for his perfect voting record. I never thought I could appreciate anything Derek Fildebrandt did, but I am sure loving his proposed amendments!

    The UCP walkout raises a couple of interesting scenarios if, God forbid, they form the next government.

    One, how will the media treat the NDP opposition if they similarly walk out en masse? and

    Two, how will a UCP government react to a similar bill presented by an NDP opposition? Would they walk out as a government?

  3. Perhaps the blogger is being overly tough on Jason and his band of legislative deserters. Did the UCP caucus wolf down too many spicy tacos the night before? Were they afflicted with Montezuma’s quickstep forcing them to race for a washroom seat each time a vote came up? There must be a simple explanation.

  4. What’s incredibly sad and disappointing about the UCP and the Bill 9 debates is the lack of gumption and intestinal fortitude from their female MLA members — Leela Aheer and Angela Pitt. Both woman, who are mothers, were pretty much AWOL during debates and votes. Standing up for women and clinic staff was obviously trumped by fidelity to the leader of the party. Hopefully, for Aheer and Pitt there will be a day of political reckoning for shirking their duly elected responsibilities — a reckoning that does not end well for either of them.

    1. Hana: The zones are 50 metres, but the legislation includes a provision to expand them to 150 metres if 50 metres proves to be ineffective. I probably should have included this, but I am inclined to prolixity as it is. DJC

  5. Not exactly a stellar moment for UCP members, most especially their female members.

    How can the UCP be expected to form Governement when they turn their backs on their responsibility as the Opposition?

  6. I can see the division hardening in my community. Don’t talk about certain things with neighbours. Disheartening. The UCP enforced silence regarding their core beliefs is actually chilling. It’s as if they’re determined to achieve power at any cost so as to then do as they wish. Isn’t this a bit self defeating for them and us? Don’t we feel winter coming as the kids like to say?

  7. Between the 57 percent vote and the UCP absence from the Legislature, it sends a message to Albertans about the real UCP.

    Kenney is always huffing and puffing about something. He is a hot air balloon extraodinaire. Yet he appears afraid to do the slightest thing to offend the social conservatives in his party and the public in general. He would even abrogate his responsibility as Opposition Leader to do this. This, IMHO, this provides a clear view into his true character and what we can expect should he be elected Premier.

    As an aside, I still do not know where he stands on the pipeline. He is for it, and against it. Not yet a peep from any sitting members of his party. I guess they are either not yet sure or still have that duct tape firmly over their mouths.

  8. Kenney’s staccato eruptions of self-begun Westmintser precedent looks just crazy Biblical.

    So to Strong’s I go to find “minivan.” To ‘minish’ (cf diminish) is as close as KJV gets to ‘mini.’ It’s in Exodus 5:19 and to do with Phaoroh’s punishment of the Israelites whom he suspected only asked for time off to worship because they were basically lazy, so he ordered they gather the straw for making bricks themselves—but their daily quota of bricks was not to diminish from when straw was supplied to them. Mightn’t we divine (it’s okay, I’m not Jewish) of Kenney’s tactics as resort to mini-bricks so’s not to let his quota fall off? Perhaps, concurrently, in relief?

    “Van” does not appear in the KJV, so I tried ‘caravan’ without getting closer than “carriage” mentioned in Judges 18:21, to do with where the Danites put the idol, image and priest they’d stolen from Micah’s house—perhaps a divine reference to the buffer zone Micah claimed but the murderous Danites (600 of them) denied him on pain of death (they later set the idol and image up for themselves). There are other more obscure mentions of carriages in 1 Samuel, Isaiah and Acts. At least obscure to me.

    There are many dozens of mentions of “chariots” which we can disqualify since most refer to warfare (where the traditional nuclear family would be out of place) or some kind of magic chariots visible in the sky.

    Although dogs get a surprising number of citations in the Bible, none refer to a whistle, neither noun nor verb. “Whisper” is about as close to ‘whistle’ as the KJV gets, in every case to do with rumour or deceit. The only free association that ocurs to me is ‘dog-whisperer.’ Still trying to divine what this might have to do with Kenny’s immaculately trained MLAs.

    Both he and I probably have better things we could be doing.

    1. I was just courting a fall by being a prating fool. There is actually no mention of minivans in the Old Testament. As for the New, you could get Jesus, the Apostles, Mary and Mary Magdalen into a 16-passenger airport van with one seat left over, but it would be tippy. Faster than a donkey, though, and not much space required for luggage. However, you can take it from me, I’ve made a study of this … the Bible is seriously down on winking. “He that winketh with the eye causeth sorrow….” Etc. DJC

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