Bound and gagged.

 It must be incredibly frustrating to be a PC MLA with any form of principles these days. I am certain that a few of those MLAs must still hold some conservative values. During provincial campaigns we get to hear PC candidates speaking for themselves for a little while and they certainly can talk the talk. Upon reaching their comfortable seats in the legislature however, these apparent conservatives suddenly go dead silent. Nary a word is uttered without the approval of Ed Stelmach and his crew of spinners and handlers on the Executive Council.

 This frustration clearly is felt by some on the civil service as well. Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson had principles. Gibson worked tirelessly to draft well over 100 recommendations that would improve the electoral process in Alberta. For daring to question the government in power, Lorne Gibson was fired. Doubtless the next appointed Chief Electoral Officer will know his/her place and will never dare show signs of initiative unless ordered to do so by the Stelmach government.

 Auditor General Fred Dunn is tasked with watching government activity on the behalf of Albertans. For daring to question the Stelmach government however, Dunn was told in no uncertain terms to butt out.Dunn’s contract will be up in a year or so and we can doubtless look forward to a Stelmach lackey assuming the position.

 Lindsay Blackett approached his role in cabinet seriously and ambitiously. Being a first term MLA, clearly Blackett did not fully understand that he is not to take on initiatives in his portfolio unless ordered to do so from above.

 Blackett recognized the terrible flaw in Alberta’s Human Rights legislation that has allowed our commissions to be abused and used as tools to stifle contrary debate and free speech. With gusto Blackett announced last February that he will be tabling legislation to reform Alberta’s legislation and the clause that stifles free-speech will be removed. Blackett’s words were quite strong at the time as seen below:

“People have the right to say what they believe and Albertans strongly believe in that right,” says Lindsay.

“We’ve got to try and find what was the purpose of the human rights commission to start with back in 1972.”

“For me, it’s back to the future and the simplicity of what the human rights commissions is supposed to be. It was originally just intended to provide protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed, religion and so on with respect to employment, accommodation and access to services. That’s it.”

“It wasn’t about hurt feelings. The reason a lot of human rights commissions are disrespected across the country is because they’ve forgotten that.

“We want the commission to be a quasi-judicial body that has some teeth, that has some credibility but doesn’t operate like a kangaroo court.”

Alas, what was considered to be a “kangaroo court” only a few months ago is now perfectly acceptable to Mr. Blackett. Blackett has clearly been taken to a backroom and scolded for showing such initiative. Blackett has now tabled a document with no mention of free speech whatsoever and is hiding behind fluffy statements to justify the complete flip-flop.

 At times one really has to wonder why we bother having a cabinet at all. Clearly the ministers have no independence within their demesnes. Lets drop the dog and pony show and simply have Stelmach’s Executive Council openly run the entire show.

 The debate on the role of Human Rights Commissions in speech issues has been raging from coast to coast in Canada in the last few years as these bodies release increasingly absurd rulings. Respected journalists such as Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn were forced to endure hearings and defend themselves for having published words that some found offensive. If an iconic magazine such as Macleans can be taken on the carpet by tribunals; clearly no form of media is immune. The chilling effect on public debate of issues is frightening.

 The attacks on business supported by loopy human rights tribunals have been insane as well. A Wiccan took an Boston Pizza to task over the playing of rock music, some hecklers at a comedy show who happened to be lesbians have charged a comedian for returning the heckling, a restaurant that legally cannot allow smoking has been charged for not allowing a man to smoke pot on the premises, a worker at McDonalds has won the right not to wash her hands and we have seen a recent case where a man owning an all female spa is being charged for not allowing a man to join.

 The sad history of strange and frightening rulings by Human Rights Commissions is long and growing. Reform is clearly required on every level. If we were to work incrementally however, the protection of freedom of speech must come first. Having a free press and freedom of speech is critical in any democratic society.

 In light of Ed Stelmach’s disdain for the democratic process, I guess it should not be surprising that the protection of free speech for the press and citizens is not a priority for Ed.

 When Blackett initially spoke of protecting speech for Albertans, where was the outcry against such a notion? I saw many applauding Blackett and nobody condemning him. Why the flip/flop? This change could have been passed easily in the legislature.

 With no public opposition to the speech protection yet the Stelmach PCs refuse to give us such protections, we can only assume that Ed Stelmach and his government do not want to protect freedom of speech for Albertans. This is not a case of the government being indifferent to the right, they have purposely deleted the initiative that would have protected that right. Ed Stelmach outright opposes free speech for Albertans.

 Yet another sad day under the leadership of Ed Stelmach. Alberta could have been a beacon leading the way for the country to reform the broken HRCs. Instead our government has limp wristedly dropped the issue altogether.

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