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Alberta Election - Reproductive and Sexual Health Survey

Written by Joshua Dias.

By Joshua Dias, NORSH

On Monday, April 23, Albertans will be heading to the polls to decide which party will lead the next provincial government. As the National Officer of Reproductive and Sexual Health with the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, I thought it would be important to determine where the parties stand on key issues in order to make that decision easier for you.

Two weeks ago, four questions were sent out to each party on topics including LGBTQ health, abortion and the health of sex workers. Only two parties responded to all four questions (New Democratic Party & Liberal Party) and their answers can be found below. Information on where the other parties stand on these issues (Wildrose Party, PC Party and Alberta Party) can be found at the end, and was based on information collected from a variety of news sources.

AlbertaLeaders

The Survey

 

LGBTQ Health

Question 1: In April 2009, the Alberta government cut funding for sex reassignment surgery. This came at a time when other provinces re-listed the procedure. The government faced criticism because it allegedly failed to consult with medical authorities and trans community members. Since sex reassignment surgery is internationally recognized as medically necessary, what will you do as Premier to ensure that the medical needs of trans people are properly addressed?

 

Alberta’s New Democratic Party Leader – Brian Mason

I would fully restore the funding that was cut for sex reassignment surgery and ensure that sex reassignment surgery, counselling, and support services remain accessible, publicly-funded, and governed in accordance with medical and psychological best practices.

Alberta Liberal Party Leader – Dr. Raj Sherman

I was disappointed and felt speechless as a newly elected official when this decision was made by the Progressive Conservative government.

As a physician I agree with the medical evidence that sex reassignment is recognized as medically necessary and I will reinstate the funding.

 

Question 2: The June 2011 publication “Vulnerable Populations in Alberta”, published by Alberta Health Services, indicated that gay men and transgendered individuals have higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation, and lesbian women have lower rates of preventative screening. It also indicated that LGBT members who have experienced bias, insensitivity, discrimination and inappropriate/inadequate health-related services can result in having a distrust of the healthcare system. What will your government do to tackle homophobia and transphobia and help create equal health outcomes regardless of sexual orientation?

Alberta’s New Democratic Party Leader – Brian Mason

An Alberta NDP government would ensure Alberta Health Services works to identify best practices for removing barriers that any vulnerable populations face in the health care system. We would also create a province-wide policy for reducing bullying in the public education system, with provisions for addressing generalized, bullying/exclusion, cyber-bullying, and bullying related to minority identifications and sexual orientation. We would improving the human rights content of Alberta public school curriculum, to include increased representation of visible and sexual minorities, and a better understanding of the history of human rights in the 20th century. The combination of excellent education in all contexts, not only school curriculum and particularly in workplaces, and enforcement of existing laws is known to greatly improve the ending of all types of discriminatory actions in a society. This has had far too low a priority with the Alberta government over the years. The education programs for all health professions need to have specialized content and training that relates to fully-inclusive approaches to providing services.

Alberta Liberal Party Leader – Dr. Raj Sherman

Alberta Liberals do not accept any kind of discrimination; all Albertans are equal regardless of colour, sex, or sexual orientation. Ridding our society of discrimination starts with our children; the Alberta Liberals will institute a zero-tolerance policy on bullying; and will remove the ability to take our teachers to the Human Rights Commission for having open, honest discussions on a broad range of issues in our classrooms.  

 

Women’s Health

 

Question 3: The 2006 study entitled “Reality Check” by Canadians for Choice outlined that Alberta has one of the lowest percentages of hospitals providing abortion services to women (6%) and that most staff members at Alberta hospitals don’t know what to do when a woman calls regarding abortion services. While abortion may not be illegal in Canada, many barriers such as the ones mentioned prevent a woman’s access to this medically accepted, time sensitive procedure. What will your government do to reduce the barriers for women seeking abortion in Alberta?

Alberta’s New Democratic Party Leader – Brian Mason

The inaccessibility of abortion services in Alberta is an issue we heard at the NDP's public hearings on health care in the fall of 2009. In the report we published following those hearings, we made the commitment that the Alberta NDP will ensure consistent access to abortion services throughout the province. We will also ensure funding for abortions and abortion-related services including preabortion ultra-sounds, and counseling.

Alberta Liberal Party Leader – Dr. Raj Sherman

The decision to have an abortion is a very difficult and personal one between a woman and her doctor. Women need to be able to access information, support and services without having to jump through hoops when faced with this difficult decision. It is the duty of the government to provide these services, and the appropriate funding, not to put up barriers.

We also need to properly invest in education to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, STDs (which have run rampant under the PC government) and start addressing the social determinants of health. Education, intervention and preventative health in the school system and in the community are Alberta Liberal priorities.

Health and Safety of Sex Workers

 

Question 4: In March, Ontario’s Court of Appeal ruled that the provisions prohibiting common bawdy-houses and living off the avails of prostitution are both unconstitutional in their current form. Many health professionals and organizations viewed this as a step forward in making sex work safe and increasing the health of sex workers. What will your government’s response be to this ruling and how will your government increase the health and safety of sex workers?

Alberta’s New Democratic Party Leader – Brian Mason

While the reform of solicitation laws is a federal matter, the Alberta NDP is committed to protecting the safety, rights and dignity of sex workers and to reducing exploitation and violence they often experience. My government will consult with sex workers and their advocates to ensure appropriate harm reduction policies are put in place and to review other possible measures that would be useful in ensuring healthy and secure lives for all.

Alberta Liberal Party Leader – Dr. Raj Sherman

It is our duty to protect every citizen. Women and men who are selling their bodies on the streets is an absolute tragedy. At the end of the day, we have to help those who have chosen what are often considered high-risk lifestyles, including prostitution. Social determinants of health and poverty, and mental health and addictions are all issues that need to be addressed from social, safety and health perspectives.

In reference to the Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling, if the court makes the decision it is the duty of the government to uphold the decision. I will be watching closely how this ruling impacts public policy across the country.

Alberta NDP staff member Jocelyn Stenger also sent the following statement:

“It has always been a key value of the NDP to respect and protect those most vulnerable in society. This includes those in social minority groups such as the LGBT population.

 

It is important to develop legislation and policy using research and evidence based knowledge, as opposed to making decisions that affect individuals in society based solely on ideology. We respect the rights of people to make their own decisions regarding abortion and sexuality. That said, we also feel that meaningful supports need to be readily available to those who may require assistance in the form of counselling, medical services, mental health services, group support, or community centers.

 

Brian Mason and the Alberta NDP are fighting to: 

-Expand the Human Rights Commission's authority and jurisdiction

-Repeal the section of the Human Rights Act that may censor classroom discussion and allow teachers to be brought before the Human Rights Commission

-Name a minister responsible for the Status of Women and re-instate the Women's Secretariat

-Improve the human rights content of the public school curriculum

 

The NDP believes that no Albertan should be discriminated against due to gender, sexual orientation, class, race, or age.”

A Look at Some of the Other Parties

While the other three parties didn’t answer the above four questions specifically, I still think it’s important to try and determine where they stand on these issues based on resources available.

Wildrose Party

In response to the survey, I received the following statement from Wildrose Policy staffer, Bill Bewick:

“Wildrose has never had an opportunity to develop positions on the specific issues you raised, so I'm afraid I cannot give you any specific answers.  Our Health policies are in our Platform and policy book - both of which are on our webpage. I can assure you that Wildrose values fair access to health care to all Albertans.”

Abortion

It should be noted that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, has affirmed openly that she is both pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. However, she has faced criticism for not completely ruling out citizen-initiated referendums on such issues.

CBC’s Vote Compass (an amazing tool) asked each party to rate their level of agreement or disagreement with the statement “There should be no government funding for abortion”. The party’s response was neutral, saying “Wildrose has no position on this issue, except that we would expect any changes to current policy to be the result of a citizen-led referendum.”

LGBTQ

The party has also been criticized for statements made by a few individual candidates. In 2011, Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger (Edmonton South West) wrote a spirited post in his blog on sexual orientation. He suggested that if gays and lesbians choose their sexual orientation, they will “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering. Now at this point I am not judging, I am just stating fact.” He went on to say “Accepting people the way they are is cruel and not loving.” After public outcries, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was asked if she would fire Hunsperger who has not yet apologized for his remarks. Smith said she would not fire Hunsperger because his views are religious in nature and she believes in freedom of religion. 1, 2

Smith has also declined to say whether she supported public workers being allowed to opt out of jobs such as marrying gay couples. 3

Prostitution

The party has released a statement against the recent Ontario Court Prostitution Ruling:

“No little girl ever dreams of growing up and becoming a prostitute and no parent wants to see their child become a sex worker. Girls become prostitutes because they are coerced, degraded, and give up hope for their futures. Instead of making it easier and safer for young girls to sell their bodies, our government should be focused on stopping those who seek to victimize women, and ensure all our children receive the education they need to be successful in their lives. The Wildrose Caucus supports the federal government in seeking an appeal to this decision.”4

In 2003, Smith did write an amazing column which eloquently advocated for legalizing the sex trade. However, asked if she still agrees with legalization, she said “I have personal views on a lot of issues that really have no bearing on what I would do as a premier of the province. I take my marching orders from Albertans, and they are not interested in legalizing prostitution. Until and unless they change their minds, I would never do anything to advance that.” 5

Alberta Progressive Conservative Party

As of writing this, I had not yet received a response from the Alberta PC party. However, as with Wildrose, using available sources it is possible to determine where the party stands on these important issues.

Abortion

Again, looking at CBC’s Vote Compass, the PC’s response to the statement “There should be no government funding for abortion” was ‘somewhat disagree’ based on a statement during question period in which PC MLA Ron Liepert said there is no intention for the government to delist public funding for medically necessary abortions.

In debates, PC leader Alison Redford has referred to abortion as a basic human right “determined in this province about 20 years ago.”3 She has also said “I will tell you that in our view, a Progressive Conservative view, everyone in our caucus, takes the view that these matters have been settled.”6

LGBTQ

I couldn’t find any specific policy recommendations by Redford to improve the health of the LGBTQ population. She did however comment on Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger’s blog saying “The fact that there are people who think that's a legitimate perspective just absolutely blows my mind…I think they're shocking and I think it goes back to Albertans are about to decide who is going to govern their province.”7

Prostitution

Redford has also taken a negative stance to Ontario Court of Appeal rulings declaring some of the country’s anti-prostitution laws unconstitutional. She stated “I urge Prime Minister Harper to reconstruct the relevant sections of the criminal code to continue Canada’s strong opposition to legalized prostitution.  As Justice Minister, I saw first-hand what this type of life does to families and communities. That is why I am very proud of our Safe Communities programs.”5

The Alberta Party

The following statement was given by Alberta Party staffer Midge Lambert:

“The Alberta Party believes that Alberta should be an inclusive and diverse province.  Our party has condemned the intolerant views of other parties' candidates in recently.  Please see our platform, available at http://www.albertaparty.ca/2012_election_platform, and our health policy, available at www.albertaparty.ca/health, to learn more about our stance on health.”

Abortion

The following is a statement I found by the same Alberta Party staffer in response to the question ‘Does your party support a woman’s right to choose?’

"Officially, the Alberta Party respects that this issue is under federal jurisdiction and has no intention of legislating in this area. We trust and respect the right and ability of Albertans to exercise their moral and religious conscience with regard to this very personal issue…I also completely support the statement from our leader Glenn Taylor on conscience rights. It is framed around the marriage commissioners, but I believe it extends to all the other areas that still continue to be so contentious, including women's choice, sexual orientation and gender reassignment."

LGBTQ

Again, I couldn’t find any specific policy statements by the Alberta Party to improve the health of the LGBTQ population; however in response to Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger’s blog, Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor released this statement

“Over the weekend, it was revealed that Wildrose Candidate Allan Hunsperger had condemned the Edmonton Public School Board for adopting a policy to prevent bullying of gay and lesbian children in the public school system in a blog post. It is one thing to hold personal views; it is quite another thing to condemn a public institution for trying to make our schools safe places for all children. Every day gay and lesbian children are bullied in schools and too often this bullying leads to tragic results. The fact that Mr. Hunsperger has advocated against policies that protect children makes him unfit for public office…While a political party should allow for a diversity of opinion amongst its members, there must be a baseline of common values.” 8

Prostitution

No party position could be found on this issue.

‘Fin’

So there you have it. A quick look at where each of the five parties stands on important reproductive and sexual health issues. Hopefully this will help you guide your decision this upcoming Monday.

Joshua Dias

National Officer of Reproductive and Sexual Health

Canadian Federation of Medical Students

1 Edmonton Journal, April 21 2012, Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger on gays: “You will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell.” http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/04/15/wildrose-candidate-allan-hunsperger-on-gays-you-will-suffer-the-rest-of-eternity-in-the-lake-of-fire-hell/

2 Edmonton Journal, April 21 2012, Danielle Smith launches spirited defence of Wildrose party http://www.edmontonjournal.com/life/Danielle+Smith+launches+spirited+defence+Wildrose+party/6492474/story.html

3 Huffington Post Canada, April 21 2012, Alberta Election 2012: Wildrose and Conservatives Make Promises As Debate Over Abortion, Social Issues Simmer http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/alberta-election-abortion-social-issues_n_1409963.html

4 Wildrose Caucus, April 21 2012, Wildrose Statement on Ontario Court Prostitution Ruling http://www.wildrosecaucus.ca/wildrose-statement-on-ontario-court-prostitution-ruling/

5 Calgary Herald, April 21, 2012, And the First Big Issue is – Prostitution? Read Redford’s attack, Smith’s old column http://blogs.calgaryherald.com/2012/03/26/and-the-first-big-issue-is-prostitution-read-redfords-attack-smiths-old-column/

6 The Canadian Press, April 21, 2012, Opposition piles on Redford in Alberta election leaders debate http://ca.news.yahoo.com/sparks-fly-pivotal-debate-alberta-provincial-election-campaign-083011536.html

7 The Star, April 21, 2012, Alberta premier shocked at Wildrose candidate’s anti-gay blog post http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1162054--alberta-premier-shocked-at-wildrose-candidate-s-anti-gay-blog-post

8 Global Edmonton, April 21, 2012, Alberta Party wants Allan Hunsperger removed from the ballot http://www.globaltvedmonton.com/alberta+party+wants+allan+hunsperger+removed+from+the+ballot/6442621921/story.html

9 The Abortion Monolouges, April 21, 2012, Alberta Party on Abortion

http://abortionmonologues.blogspot.ca/2012/04/alberta-party-on-abortion.html

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