EDMONTON — Alberta’s abortion clinic bill moved closer to passage Tuesday following a legislature debate that saw Opposition United Conservatives walk out of the chamber en masse five more times to avoid casting a vote.
At one point, the votes on amendments came quickly, forcing UCP members to leave their seats, exit the chamber, return and sit down, only to pop up minutes later and walk out again.
Each time they swivelled in their chairs to head to the door, some NDP members across the aisle would wave or sarcastically shout ”Bye!”
Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman was more pointed.
“Livin’ the dream! Livin’ the dream!” Hoffman taunted the UCPers as they headed for the exit during one vote.
Hoffman serenaded them out the door on another vote with a few bars from the ”The Sound of Music” soundtrack, crooning “Adieu, adieu.”
The amendments put forward by Independent Derek Fildebrandt were defeated by the NDP and other parties, moving the bill to third and final reading.
Liberal David Swann, Independent PC Richard Starke, and all Alberta Party members voted with the NDP.
The bill calls for putting a legal buffer zone around abortion clinics to prevent staff and patients from being harassed by anti-abortion protesters.
Other rules would keep protesters away from doctors’ offices or harassing staff online or by phone.
The bill calls for fines up to $10,000 for violators.
Fildebrandt said women have a right to access abortion services without being harassed, but that has to be balanced against the right to free speech.
He said the bill needlessly tramples on free speech rights, and proposed amendments to address his point.
He noted the bill’s proposed 160 metre no-protest zone outside a doctor’s home would capture anyone just driving by with an anti-abortion sticker on their car.
And he said the bill’s broad definition of protest would capture not only the vocal harassers but silent protesters, too.
“If someone is engaging even in silent prayer as a form of protest I think it would be a gross over-reach and violation of freedom of expression, assembly, and religion to ban that,” Fildebrandt said.
The number of UCP members ranged from three to nine during Tuesday’s session. They didn’t react to any of the taunts, and sat silently during debate, looking at their phones or reading.
Including debate and votes, the UCP have walked out of the house en masse 12 times since Hoffman introduced the bill April 5.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney was not in the house.
Kenney is against abortion, but has said he won’t legislate on it.
He has said the bill is a political game by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP to stir up divisive social issues, and has said his caucus will not participate.
Notley has said the UCP members are failing to fulfil their basic jobs.
Hoffman told Fildebrandt that while she disagreed with his amendments, she appreciated his work ethic.
She told Fildebrandt: “You joked, I think, a few days ago about being the leader of the opposition (on this issue) and I have to say you are certainly holding government to account and doing your job.”