United Conservative Party Joseph Schow as portrayed in his campaign literature; that’s Ninaistako, commonly known in Southern Alberta as Chief Mountain, in the background (Photo: josephschow.ca).

“On abortion, we’re never going to see a black and white, yes or no question. My job as your MP is to fight for incremental changes. … It’s called the foot-in-the-door tactic.” — Joseph Schow

On a day when there’s serious talk in the United States that women’s right to reproductive freedom may not just be restricted, but soon all but eliminated, it’s scary to think the social conservative movement is working effectively behind the scenes in Canada to achieve the same goal.

With one more judge appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, “the court would most likely gut its current abortion standards and allow legislatures to enact restrictions that would make access to abortion practically impossible in hostile states,” wrote Yale Law professor Reva Siegel in the New York Times yesterday, as our American neighbours contemplate the unfolding nightmare south of the 49th Parallel.

Here in Canada, have no doubt that Canadian social conservative politicians would very much like to do the same thing.

Now, if you were to suggest on social media that Jason Kenney, the lifelong social conservative and anti-abortion campaigner who now leads Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party, you would be met with howls of protest from his supporters. They would shout he’s promised to change nothing on the abortion rights file and you’re just a scaremongering supporter of the Alberta NDP.

But is this really scaremongering?

In the past few hours, 2016 comments made by Joseph Schow, the successful candidate for the UCP nomination in the deep-south Alberta riding of Cardston-Siksika, have resurfaced that show this is the goal of at least some other UCPers, and what the strategy is for achieving it.

By way of background, the new Cardston-Siksika electoral district includes most of the current Little Bow Riding, and part of the existing Cardston-Taber-Warner district. Blogger Dave Cournoyer, the only Alberta writer who pays attention to the important technical electoral details that are habitually ignored by our neglectful mainstream media, calls it the heart of Alberta’s Bible Belt. Given the location of the town of Cardston in the riding, site of the first Mormon Temple outside the borders of the United States, the Book of Mormon Belt might be more like it.

It’s located in a region where social conservative values may be more the norm than the exception, where child vaccinations are resisted by unusually large numbers of parents, and which includes a few out-of-the-way spots where plural marriage is discreetly practiced.

So it is undeniably an electoral district in which social conservative notions are closer to the mainstream than almost anywhere else in Canada.

Mr. Schow’s comments were made when he was vying for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in the 2016 Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner federal by-election that was eventually won by Conservative Glen Motz.

There were six candidates for the nomination and every one of them demonstrated their anti-abortion credentials at a public forum in Medicine Hat on June 15 that year.

That was where Mr. Schow, a married father of two and former Tory staffer in Ottawa during Mr. Kenney’s time there, made the comment quoted at the top of this post. His official biography highlights “promoting religious freedom in Canada” as a special interest, as well as his role as an “activist fighting for the values he was brought up with while living in Southern Alberta.” Ah-hem!

Now, a caveat. We are depending on a story in the Medicine Hat News that is incredibly sloppy – rife with spelling errors, incorrectly transcribed words, and misplaced quotation marks, which I have taken a risk and tried to correct. Still, the intent and meaning of Mr. Schow’s words are quite clear despite these technical difficulties.

“Our party is about conscience rights,” he told the meeting. “On abortion, we’re never going to see a black and white, yes or no question. My job as your MP is to fight for incremental changes such as (restrictions on) sex-selective abortions, then on late-term abortions.” The explanatory phrase in brackets is the Hat News reporter’s. “It’s called a ‘foot-in-the-door tactic’.”

Mr. Schow’s comment is not exactly news. Anyone concerned with women’s reproductive rights knows this is how the social conservative right plots to achieve its unpopular and dangerous goals. What’s interesting is that he felt confident enough among his supporters to say so aloud.

Mr. Schow, 34, whom I imagine Mr. Kenney knew well in Ottawa, was clearly the leader’s choice for this riding, where it is likely the UCP candidate will win regardless of his views on this or other topics. (And where, by the way, the Conservative candidate will likely always be a he.)

The party will do its best to divert our attention in the rest of the province if the topic comes up. If it does anyway you can count on it we will be given the same bland assurances not to worry, that nothing can change. But you can be equally assured Mr. Schow’s views and his preferred strategy will remain the same.

In a congratulatory Tweet, Mr. Kenney said of the new UCP candidate, “Joseph is a smart, principled young Albertan, part of a new generation of leadership who will work hard to get Alberta on track.”

He’s also a guy who knows how to get a foot in the door to incrementally restrict the reproductive rights of all women, whether or not they share his beliefs.

We don’t know what he thinks about the rights of our LGBTQ+ fellow citizens, but it might be worth asking him about that sometime too, if the opportunity ever arises.

Not all conservatives are social conservatives, of course. But if the success of Mr. Trump in the United States is any guide, many economic conservatives are willing to sacrifice almost any principle if having a social conservative in office is what it takes for them to win. Presumably, they assume they can carve out exceptions for themselves and their own families.

Naturally, at the provincial level, the foot-in-the-door strategy is more likely to come through tactics such as delisting medical services – citing the cost, not the desire to control women’s bodies, of course. But it will come nevertheless, a bit at a time, just as it did in the United States, if we entrust our governments to them.

This is how it started in the United States, and this is how they intend to see it start in Canada too.

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  1. Why is it attacks on abortion rights are usually espoused by church going white males?
    Is there something in their psychological makeup that makes them obsessed with women’s bodies?
    “Foot in the door tactics.” How about a boot up the arse.

    1. It has to do with their notion of a man as the rightful authority over women and their lives. All very biblical and literalist. What I find more odd is why many libertarians, particularly in the US, are anti abortion (see Ron and Rand Paul) when they’re supposed to be all about individual liberty.

  2. As with their bodies, so too with their minds. And then their children, then their husbands, brothers, fathers.
    Incrementalism is the modern conservatives way, unlike traditional conservatives who were outspoken and rational about what they believed. Today it’s fascism disguised as populism disguised as conservatism.

  3. Alberta is often cited as the province that wants most to be American. There are more tangible measures of US-Canadian intercourse, the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, the superlative example of commercial intercourse of the biggest bilateral trade in history, the cultural intercourses of the New York-Montréal-Toronto triangle or, of film alone, LA and Vancouver; lo, where did all those West Coast hippies come from during the Vietnam war? Indeed, the mass of draft evaders ties with that of ‘United Empire Loyalists’ fleeing the American Revolution at about 100,000 souls each, the largest single emigrations in US history—by far—and both having major impact on Canadian history. The cross-border propaganda excursions of Canadian neo-rightists is vanishingly puny in comparison.

    Yet the Mormon ‘colonization’ of the Cardston area of southern Alberta has become, once again—or remains—a particular kind of cross-border phenomenon, a redoubt or refuge of sufficient remoteness or defensible terrain to hinder anticipated pursuit by real or perceived persecutors, which finds itself at an interesting intersection of American-Canadian relations in this Trumpian interlude with the symptomatic crisis of right-wing politics and, especially (as noted above), that of the ‘social’ or religious faction of conservatism.

    It’s geographical fact, not accident, that the American Redoubter movement of white Christian evangelicals, whose smouldering ardour Trump is currently pouring gasoline all over, has targeted Idaho, Montana and parts of bordering states as a refuge—or ‘The Redoubt’—at which to gather to defend their ‘way of life’, quasi-religiousiosity and racial exclusiveness. This region is the only place in North America with negative population growth (Saskatchewan has only recently graduated out of this category) which, combined with remoteness and relative natural inhospitality, makes it the redoubt par excellence in the USA. It has already attracted far-right survivalist and self-styled ‘militias’ for the same reasons, loose state gun laws sweetening the pot. Utah’s Salt Lake Valley met the same criteria for the Mormons in the 1840s, long before it became today’s regional population centre. The notable contrast, aside from the trappings of modernity then unimaginable, is that, back then, the Mormons were fleeing real persecution: their ‘Prophet” Joseph Smith Jr and his brother had been lynched, “Saints’” farms burned with often officially sanctioned rapine and murder, and a certain faction of Mormons (who were and remain as schismatic as Revolutionary Russians) fled westward with armed rearguards; the alleged ‘persecution’ of American Redoubters is today largely notional and inflamed by totally false assertions that they are rapidly becoming an unjustly beset minority. Alberta has, at various times past to present, had its parallels and, most recently, reflections of this imagined persecution.

    British North America’s high prairie remoteness and relatively inhospitable climate had also been availed by refugees of real persecution, from Sitting Bull’s Sioux fleeing US Cavalry revenge for defeating General Custer to Gabriel Dumont’s Metis-Plains Indian alliance, the former starved into leaving, the latter defeated by Canadian arms in the Northwest Rebellion. This remoteness also doubled as a suitable place to atomize, disperse and corral factions of dissent, similarly to solicit settlement by anarchistic Christian sects fleeing persecution in Slavic Eurasia attracted to the communal isolation the West offered.

    The geographical fact of southwestern Alberta also has attracted self-styled ‘refugees’ of notional, perceived or anticipated ‘persecution.’ And its featured factionalism is fascinating to behold, particularly the recent schisms and reuniting contusions the provincial right has been going through. Going back to early post-NW Rebellion Alberta (then the Royal-chartered Northwest Territories), cleared of rebels and the bison on which they depended and newly traversed by the railway, attracted the fundamentalist Mormon Charles Ora Card (whence the town of ‘Cardston’) in 1887, seeking to evade the anticipated outlawing of polygamy in Utah in 1890, a condition of its pending statehood in 1896

    The Mormon movement split into many sects immediately upon the Prophet’s assassination, in no small consequence of his polygamy edict which was, in fact, not one of the precepts many original Mormons had converted to. Even Brigham Young had a hard time accepting ‘plural marriage’, but eventually married 16 connubial wives who bore him 57 children, and 9 allegedly nonconnubial wives. Such was the ‘freedom’ afforded by the Utah redoubt to which the de facto dictator led tens of thousands of converts to his sect of Mormonism. His—and compulsorily his followers—aspiration was to build a sovereign Mormon state named “Deseret” into which no “Gentiles”—or nonMormons—would be permitted. As the idea of proselytizing and colonizing its way to tidewater, either Gulf of Mexico or Pacific, became unrealistic Young presaged Stalin in his quest for the technological innovations of his enemies in order to sustain and protect his inevitably landlocked state. Megalomaniacal optimism rendered down to paranoia as the US now admitted states on three sides of Deseret, paring it down to what eventually became present day Utah, and by the singular force of Young’s religious dictatorship that paranoia instilled in all his followers, provoking warfare with, and eventual armed occupation by, federal forces enveloping it. The electoral unanimity of his governorship in the newly recognized US Territory was enforced by spiritual excommunication and deportation of dissidents; rigging of elections was ended by threat of—and occasional use of—main federal force, thence puppet governors of Young’s choosing—but not of federally appointed judges—barely reduced his influence until he died in 1877. His was the classic redoubt that ultimately could not resist the fast evolving world surrounding it; the perception of persecution remains, if not in fact, at least in the minds of Utahns to this day. Without him the state was legally compelled to abandon polygamy and, pertinently for Canada, fundamentalist factions sought either the harshest remoteness to practice it secretly in the US or, as with Charles Card, unorganized territory to practice it freely.

    Thence to what is now SW Alberta these fundamentalists emigrated, establishing a dozen towns and settling the adjacent countryside where, after Alberta’s confederation in 1905, polygamy could be practiced discreetly, if not legally. Only in such remoteness could a fundamentalist-sect-of-a-dictatorial-schismatic-of-a-charismatic-heretic (phew!) deal with the doctrinal inconsistencies, contradictions and practical anachronisms inherent in the fraudulent scriptures of a conman in peace. For those who found even this temperance intolerable, the fastness of BC’s isolated mountain valleys offered, as it did militant Dukhobour anarchists, a final shangrila only recently taken to task for the practice of polygamy. Bountiful, BC, was settled in 1946 and maintained contact with American fundamentalists whence young brides for plural marriages were supplied across the border. American FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was convicted of a number of criminal offences in this regard and imprisoned, and two fundamentalist leaders—schismatics of eachother in the same town of Bountiful—have been convicted recently of the crime of polygamy.

    As we see UCP members invoke their persecution mantra in SW Alberta we can’t help but notice parallels between the reassemblages of butchered progressive conservatism and the perennially schizophrenic Mormon church, now with over 20 sects, some fundamentalist, some moderate: both are predicated on fraudulent ideologies, the Book of Mormon and neo-right doctrine. With the current ascent of particularism, one is reminded of the destruction of holistically moderate Tory parties, Mulroney’s, Lougheed’s, Davis’s—even WAC Bennet’s Socreds—by the neo-rightist heretics in their attempt to create a dictatorship of stateless profiteering, and of the the revelation of their charlatanism and resort to recruitment of extremists to make up for the exodus of moderates and, finally, to hustle their ragtag followers to a defensive redoubt under the mendacious rubric of persecution. Striking, too, is the hypocrisy conveniently tolerated by such ostensibly doctrinaire SoCons when allying with characters of whom Jesus would not approve and, in SW Alberta, with the established ‘native’ Mormons who, technically, are Christian heretics.

    But they all know eachother in the continental remoteness of white Christian redoubts, crossing borders which their god allows them to ignore in circumstances they truly believe are desperate.

    God help us! They’ll justify revenge as easily if they ever regain power.

    1. Well said – and researched. Here’s my take on this article: IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN KNOWN that the CONservatives, especially in Alberta, are nothing except Republicn Lite and their intent is no different from that of the Republicans in the US who are intent on controlling all aspects of womens rights including our Right to Choose as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada does not have an abortion law, but we women do have protection afforded to us as persons under the Charter. It’s no secret that the conservative religious right wing in Canada has been looking at the long term seeding of people who would take away our right to choose. This began decades ago and many of these people came up through the mostly christian schools and colleges and have been groomed for positions in our city, province and federal government agencies, ready to influence whatever politician they are working for. Their job is to gently steer the politician on policy and the policies they steer them to are right wing and regressive, not progressive. In Alberta, the culmination of their dreams was having Stephen Harper as Prime Minister and for a decade, he began to curtail the rights of citizens and ignored our Charter as he began to unmantle Canadian rights and protections and protections of the environment for protections of the corporate, stifled the ability of our scientists to speak and share, ignored the media, was trying to whip up Canadian ultra-patriotism (Trumps big baby at the moment… a la the parade given him in France), shredding and destruction of years of government information (literally throwing years of scientific studies into the garbage!), concentrating on a new religious ministry that concentrated on the global plight of Christians in war torn countries, espoused an ‘old stock’ (meaning ‘white’) format in his government, and so much more. But Harper also never came out directly against abortion in the House. What he did though, was to allow any of politicians to keep putting forward nuisance, seemingly minor, private member bills which were chipping away at the rights of women to choice — and they are still doing it but less effectively under this Liberal, inclusive and progressive, government.

      Our freedoms under our Charter are not to be taken for granted or thought to be written in stone nor is our democracy. All of that is tenuous and could be lost with simply one election cycle. WE ALL, especially women, must guard against and vote against this insidious evil that is crossing the border into Canada and once again, emboldening our right wing politicians particularly those in Alberta.

      1. Readers should be reminded Harper has appointed just about a majority of Federal Judges scoring a double coup: getting his fellow travellers into positions of legal authority and bringing into disrepute our legal system.

  4. It is a bit of an unholy alliance between social and fiscal conservatives. The gist of it seems to be businesses have rights, individuals not so much. The contradictions of it are most obvious in the US where a President who has no personal morality has got the support of a very politically powerful minority group – evangelical Christians.

    Here is Canada the leadership on the right is more conventional – Mr. Scheer hasn’t been married three times as far as I can know and certainly has enough children to satisfy the more devout church going crowd. Kenney is a bit of more of a puzzle however – no spouse and no children. Perhaps that is one reason why the Federal Conservatives decided he was not the right man for them, a bit of a risk there so Kenney had to rediscover his almost forgotten Alberta roots in an alternative route to political power.

    I think social conservatives have figured out when society started to change some years ago, they were out of step and they could not be too obvious about what they wanted to achieve or it would just be rejected by voters. Under Harper, some of it was by stealth like tax cuts aimed specifically at traditional families that single parent families did not get. However, I think Harper was more interested in fiscal than social conservatism and he did things like that mainly because he realized he needed to throw them a bone everyone once in a while in return for their ongoing support. Unlike Harper, I think Kenney really believes and wants to achieve what social conservatives want – his anti abortion activities and his religious school background would certainly suggest that. However, he also realizes he can not be too obvious about it to avoid turning off voters that might be ok with fiscal conservatism but not social conservatism. It is a lesson that the Wildrose Party learned the hard way. However, as events in the US indicate and the merger of Wildrose with the PC’s here suggests, they have become a package deal.

    As the old song says, like “love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage, you can’t have one without the other”. I suspect this is in part because of the diminishing number of social conservatives, they need fiscal conservatives to help implement their agenda. However, many fiscal conservatives are nervous about social conservatives, so social conservatives have to be stealthy and fool their potential allies, just as they try to their political opponents.

    They seem to have been quite successful in the US in getting the Supreme Court modified how they want it and that is with Trump, who is not particularly religious or has any interest in morals. Imagine what they could achieve in Alberta, where they have one of their own leading a Conservative Party.

  5. David, search out the 1992 Educatipnal Leadership magazine. There you wil” find reports on the not so secret plan to make America Zchristia, that’s 26 years. A generation

  6. David: I have a question for you, as a man of faith, capable of quoting the Bible at the drop of a bishop’s mitre, about a topic that, as a secular humanist, continues to baffle me.

    Once upon a time, Christianity was all about how people should behave towards one another, with the whole “love thy neighbour” and all of that; it also argued for charitable behaviour towards those less fortunate than the rest of us, and for tolerance and understanding towards those whose lifestyles are not the mainstream. It was, and supposedly is, also supposed to favour forgiveness over retribution or vengeance.

    But now, all we ever seem to hear from Christians, or at least evangelical and Catholic Christians, is sex. Birth control, sex ed in schools, abortion rights, LGBTQ2S+ rights, GSAs: one would think there isn’t a single societal issue—poverty and inequality, hate and intolerance, greed and avarice, violence and theft—upon which to take a moral stand, except about sex. What’s up with this apparent modern Christian obsession with sex?

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