In the news:
The stakes are being raised in a showdown over parental rights in Alberta. A Baptist group that runs two Christian schools near Edmonton could be losing more than a million dollars in operational funding in the next few weeks over its’ refusal to bow to the demands of the government on LGBTQ issues. Click here to read more.
ARPA lawyer André Schutten has some thoughts this week on a decision by the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society not to take the Trinity Western Law School caseall the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Click here to read more.
And the province of Quebec has released the first round of statistics on euthanasia since legalizing the practice late last year. Click here to read more.
The government of Alberta is considering a move to strip a Christian school board near Edmonton of more than $1.5 million dollars in operational funding. the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, which operates Harvest Baptist Academy and Meadows Baptist Academy, is refusing to abide by a government directive to host “Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs” – support groups for LGBTQ students – on school property. Education Minister David Eggen says that the school board’s stand is “not acceptable” because it sends a “negative message” across the province.
Board Chair Pastor Brian Coldwell tells Lighthouse News that this is fundamentally an issue of religious freedom, and his Board won’t be backing down. “Minister Eggen keeps saying that every school board needs to follow the law,” Coldwell says. “We are simply saying that the Alberta government also needs to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the autonomy of local school boards. We should not have to surrender our education tax (revenues) if we don’t want big government abusing its power (and) acting as dictators to take the place of God, family, and churches. There needs to be some respect there, both ways.”
The interim leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, David Swann, has urged the government to pull funding from the schools, calling the Society “an antagonistic school board (with) a strong bias against the LGBTQ community.” Coldwell says that’s simply not true. “Our school board has a history of 20 years of safe, caring, loving Christian school programs. There’s never been a case of a gay youth ever (being) harmed here. We don’t have that type of issue because if the fundamental teachings of the home, and the church, and the school complement one another, as opposed to contradicting one another, that minimizes a lot of these issues.”
The issue has prompted rival online petitions: one urging the government to withdraw the funding, and another in support of Coldwell’s Board.
The Education Minister has indicated a decision on the funding allocation could be made within the next few weeks.
The Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society has dropped any further court action on the Trinity Western Law School case. The Society had wanted to refuse admission to the Nova Scotia Bar for any graduates of the proposed law school because of Trinity’s “Community Covenant”, in which students promise to confine their sexual activity only to the bounds of heterosexual marriage.
Last year, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that the Society was out of line with that request because it violated the principle of religious freedom. Earlier this summer, the Nova Scotia Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling. And now, the Barrister’s Society has announced it will not be appealing the latest decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
ARPA Lawyer André Schutten says it appears the Barrister’s Society’s members in Nova Scotia were “sick of paying thousands and thousands of dollars to argue for a case that (many of them) thought they shouldn’t have been arguing in the first place.”
In a sense, Schutten says he would have liked to have the Nova Scotia case appealed to the Supreme Court because of the quality of the lower court’s ruling with regard to the religious freedom argument. He says it was a “great ruling”, and if appeals from BC or Ontario end up before the Supreme Court of Canada, he expects lawyers for TWU to be citing the Nova Scotia ruling as part of their arguments.
TWU has already announced plans to appeal the Ontario ruling to the Supreme Court. The BC Court of Appeal has yet to issue a ruling in a similar case.
The government of Quebec has released the first six months’ worth of statistics since it moved to legalize euthanasia late last year. The numbers show 243 requests for euthanasia across the province from December of last year, when the law came into effect, and early June. Of the requests, 156 were fulfilled and 87 were denied.
The Quebec law is based on similar legislation in Belgium, and Sean Murphy with the Protection of Conscience Project says the Quebec numbers seem to be trending in the same direction as statistics for the first year after Belgium’s law took effect.
An article in the newspaper Le Devoir questioned some disparities in the numbers; specifically the higher number of euthanasia deaths in Quebec City compared to Montreal. The article questioned whether there was a difference in the availability of euthanasia, but Murphy says it appears those statistics are simply a reflection of the fact that there were “many, many more requests” for euthanasia in the Quebec City region than in other parts of the province.
The Protection of Conscience Project experts to be posting an analysis of the statistics on its website soon.
The federal Conservative Party leadership race is getting more interesting for social conservatives. A few weeks ago we presented an interview with Saskatoon MP Brad Trost, who is running for the leadership on an unabashed pro-life platform. Another candidate who is expected to get into the race before mid-September is Regina MP and former House Speaker Andrew Scheer. His approach to issues like abortion is somewhat more nuanced than that of Mr. Trost.
Conservative MP Andrew Scheer asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday, May 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Last month, Lighthouse News spoke to Mr. Scheer from his constituency office in Regina.
Lighthouse News: Mr. Scheer, welcome to program.
Andrew Scheer: Thanks very much for having me.
LN: Let’s start with the general state of the Conservative Party with respect to the social conservative movement. There was a fair bit of angst earlier this summer when Rona (Ambrose) and some of the other leadership candidates marched in the Toronto Gay Pride parade. There was of course the change of the definition of marriage at the convention. What’s your take on the state of the Party right now with respect to that aspect of the politics? The waning support, if you will, from the social conservative wing?
AS: Well, I still think there’s a great number of reasons for optimism for Conservatives, both socially and otherwise. I think what we saw at the convention was a desire to focus on some of those issues that are more achievable in the near-term, and that all different kinds of Conservatives can agree on. So for example, we saw very good language put into our Party platform on protecting conscience rights (and) we condemned the practice of gender selection. So I think there’s a realization that there are a lot of different types of things that Conservatives disagree on, and lots that we do agree on. And we can make more progress if we say “OK, well what are the issues that unite all different kinds of Conservatives; let’s focus on those, and try to achieve them.”
LN: You’re perceived as one of two social conservative candidates when it comes to questions like abortion and gay marriage and those kinds of issues. The other one of course being your colleague from Saskatoon, Brad Trost.
Stephen Harper made it pretty clear during his time as Prime Minister and as leader that there’s some things we’re just not going to talk about; we’re not going to re-open the (abortion) debate.
Should you win the leadership and become the Prime Minister – I mean, that’s what this is ultimately about – do you echo that position or do you have a different perspective?
AS: Well I think through several Party conventions and of course the dynamic in caucus there are some of those issues that there’s not really an appetite to revisit or to open up. A lot of the
change that will come on those issues will come from outside Parliament. There’s a lot of organizations that are doing that now. I’m a big believer in the rights of individual backbench MPs. When I was Speaker I did my best to empower individual MPs and to make sure that their ability to represent their conscience or their constituents was protected as much as the Standing Orders allowed me to. So I think it’s important for any leader of a caucus to implement his or her vision for what government should do as a government but to always allow that strong role for individual MPs.
LN: OK, that’s fair enough. You say there’s outside groups that’ll continue to apply pressure, there are individual MPs who are free to presumably bring forward Private Member’s Motions and try to advocate for some of these issues. But I’m not hearing you say that as Prime Minister, the government would initiate another debate as the Supreme Court told the government to do all those years ago in the Morgentaler decision, where the Supreme Court said “You know what? It’s up to Parliament to set some restrictions on the abortion thing – that’s not up to us – and Parliament is fully within its right to do so.” Justin (Trudeau’s) claim notwithstanding that abortion is a Charter right, that’s not what the Supreme Court said. The Supreme Court said Parliament should deal with this. Is Parliament going to deal with it if you become leader?
AS: Well you raise a very good point that a lot of politicians have read things that were not there in the original decision. Parliament did deal with this subject matter (in the) last Parliament; we had a Conservative MP bring forward a motion – it was a backbench MP. Our Party has a free vote on these types of issues.
“…it’s not likely in the short term that legislation on this type of subject matter (abortion) would be successful, so are there other areas where we could make inroads? Would it be protecting conscience rights for physicians and nurses? Would it be perhaps a strategy to fund women who are in situations where they feel like they don’t have a choice but would like to keep their child?”
But you know when you think about the likelihood of legislation on this issue succeeding, the Liberals used to have a pro-life caucus; there used to be a dozen or two pro-life Liberals who would work with pro-life MPs from other Parties and there was kind of that probability of success that might have been a little bit higher on some issues depending on the year. (But now) we’re looking now at a situation where those MPs just don’t exist, so for any Prime Minister to kind of consider what type of legislation would be likely to succeed and to get Members of Parliament who are sympathetic to the issue; it’s not likely that in the short term that legislation on this type of subject matter would be successful so I guess my whole point is, you know, are there other areas where we could make inroads? Would it be protecting conscience rights for physicians and nurses? Would it be perhaps a strategy to fund women who are in situations where they feel like they don’t have a choice but would like to keep their child? Is there a role for the federal government to work with the Provinces to provide those types of safe places for them to go to? Those are the types of things that I think are achievable in the short term while keeping Conservatives of all different stripes united. So I go back to kind of the original point that I think the caucus and the Party have been clear over the past few years that as a government this type of issue should not be revisited. There are other types of things that we can do, and a lot of social conservative policies are in the platform – have been inserted in the platform very recently – and were implemented in legislation in the last few years of the Harper government.
LN: Beyond those issues, what else does Andrew Scheer bring to the table as a more broad candidate?
AS: I really do think that there are areas that we could achieve some inroads on, you know.
“I (would be) looking at some (other) areas; family-friendly tax cuts, assisting parents who have children or would like to have more children; those are the things that unite social conservatives and fiscal conservatives.”
If someone were to bring in a piece of legislation tomorrow, or campaign on it in the next election, the likelihood of success would be very low. I think your listeners would agree that that type of approach so far hasn’t worked, and I think some hearts and minds would have to change around the country, in every region, for that type of thing to be successful. So are there other things that we can achieve in the short term? And I really do think there’s a growing appetite in Canada for protection of conscience rights. When you look at the last debate we had on euthanasia in the House of Commons, the Conservative Party was really making a strong case for physicians and nurses who could not assist in ending a human life because of their deeply held beliefs; we need stronger protections for that. The medical community – people of all different faiths within the medical community – are expressing to us that they feel that their rights are not being protected. That they could lose their job; they could lose their accreditation if they don’t participate in some procedures that violate their conscience rights. And I think that’s something that has been lost in the debates in the last 20 years; the rights of people to live their faith or live their beliefs in the public realm have been greatly diminished. So I’d like to work with my caucus and draw some lines around what people in the medical community are forced to do, especially (with) this new ruling on euthanasia. I would work very hard on that.
And I (would be) looking at some (other) areas; family-friendly tax cuts, assisting parents who have children or would like to have more children; those are the things that unite social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. You know I always joke that I might have to recuse myself when we vote on family-friendly tax cuts or child tax credits because, having five children of my own, it might look self-serving. But I really do believe that it’s important for a society and for Canada to have families feel like they can have that choice to have children and have more children if they already have some. So those are the types of things that are obviously socially conservative but also fiscally conservative and could keep the caucus united.
On the western Canadian piece I’ve got a lot of policy positions that I believe are important and appeal to the Conservative membership. I’m vociferously against a carbon tax. I’m also from Ottawa originally; I grew up in Ontario, so I am very aware of some of the issues going on in Ontario right now with carbon taxes and skyrocketing power rates. You know, these are the types of issues that Conservatives can really focus on that will not only have a good impact on the economy but a very positive impact on Canadian society.
LN: Sir, thank you very much.
AS: You bet. Thank you very much.
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