Manitoba

'Conscience rights' questions dog Wildrose leader

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith would not say on Wednesday whether she believes provincial employees can refuse to perform abortions or marry gay couples if those duties go against their personal beliefs.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was asked about her stance on 'conscience rights' during a stop at Concordia University College in Edmonton on Wednesday. (CBC)

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith would not say on Wednesday whether she believes provincial employees should be able to refuse to perform abortions or marry gay couples if those duties go against their personal beliefs.

In a survey last fall for the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, Smith wrote that her party would "ensure conscience rights for marriage commissioners and health professionals."

But Smith tried to sidestep reporters' questions about the issue during a campaign stop in Edmonton.

"I'll tell you where I stand," she said. "I am fundamentally a populist. I fundamentally believe that Albertans should decide the direction of the province.

"What Albertans are telling me is they want to be able to see a venue where they have a balance of rights."

The Wildrose Party believes that venue should be a new human rights division of the provincial court of Alberta. This body would replace the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which the party says will be dismantled if they win the election. 

"It would move those kinds of decisions out of the hands of unelected bureaucrats into the hands of the courts," Smith said.

"So that you have rules of evidence, so that you have both complainants and defendants able to have equal rights, so that you are making sure that these cases are being assessed by real judges."

Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford said she was "frightened" to hear the discussion on Wednesday.

"My sense is that the Wildrose hadn't been talking about that even though it was part of their policy platform," she said.

"I believe that the future of this province is about building diverse communities, including and welcoming new people to this province, and ensuring that everyone who comes here feels welcome, respected and included."

With files from The Canadian Press

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