Jason Kenney’s Alberta government is putting individual liberty over the common good, says Glen Argan. Register file photo

Glen Argan: Ideology matters. Life? Not so much

  • December 3, 2020

Although Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was elected in 2019 on a platform of improving the economy, providing new jobs and eliminating the government deficit, his election as both party leader and premier came with the support of Alberta’s pro-life movement. The current pandemic has made it clear that the Kenney government’s overwhelming priority is to keep businesses open even if it means a loss of human life. The government shows no sign of a pro-life commitment.

Amidst its anemic fight against COVID-19, the government plans to privatize the jobs of 11,000 health-care workers, is in a contract fight with the province’s doctors and delaying negotiations with nurses. On Nov. 24, CBC News reported on leaked tapes of meetings of the government’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre, a committee which includes the premier, cabinet ministers, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and others.

Most of the debate over the leaked tapes focused on the morality of a civil servant leaking the tapes and ignored the content of those recordings. Hinshaw said she sees the leak as a personal betrayal and a betrayal of the work of the committee. Indeed, the possibility that free-wheeling discussions might be made public could lead to reticence of committee members to speak freely.

Still, what the leak revealed was disturbing. It showed the cabinet not only trying to “balance” public health and economic concerns, but even making public health decisions that Hinshaw had recommended against. As well, the premier, before imposing any restriction on economic activity, demanded a level of evidence that such activity was linked to the spread of COVID that medical experts argued was unachievable. As a result, casinos, lounges, pubs and bars remain open while infection rates soar.

Kenney has poo-poohed the importance of the pandemic, saying that only a small percentage of deaths in the province are due to the virus. Still, at this writing, Alberta, with about 12 per cent of Canada’s population, has more than a quarter of the country’s active COVID cases.

It is no wonder that only 37 per cent of Albertans in a mid-November Leger poll say the government is doing a good job of handling the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 341 physicians from across the province signed a Nov. 22 letter urging a lockdown to slow the spread of COVID. Further, Edmonton-area physicians have set up a pandemic response committee to advise the public, combat misinformation and comment on the government’s pandemic response.

Lack of public trust in the government has been eroded as it remains blinded by a libertarian ideology and single-minded focus on the economy.

Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) was largely devoted to an impassioned plea to end abortion and assisted suicide. In that context, the pope referred to other threats to human life which are part of a culture of death — poverty, environmental abuse, the death penalty, war and others. He also critiqued “a perverse idea of freedom” which makes personal liberty the ultimate concern and downplays the common good.

Kenney appears to be enamoured with this perverse idea of freedom as is the small and sometimes violent minority who lash out against even the tiniest restrictions, such as wearing a face mask in public.

The Alberta premier falsely decried proposals for a limited lockdown as a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta, refuted the premier, writing that “courts will grant considerable deference to governments when limiting rights in the pursuit of other equally compelling rights and freedoms — like the right to life and security of the person, and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of age or disability.”

The Canadian Charter allows governments to put reasonable limits on the rights it defines. This differs substantially from the American Bill of Rights which makes personal liberties absolute.

The rationale for calling for a lockdown of most public activity in the province is not a socialist ideology as the premier has hinted. It is based on a need to respect and defend human life, the most basic right for every person. That right is endangered by another ideology, a perverse one, in which individual liberty squelches the common good.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

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