Sometimes it feels as if Internet platforms are turning everything upside down, from politics to publishing, culture to commerce, and of course swapping truth for lies.
This week’s bizarro reversal was the vista of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, a tech CEO famed for being entirely behind the moral curve of understanding what his product is platforming (i.e. nazis), providing an impromptu ‘tweet storm’ in political speech ethics.
Actually he was schooling Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — another techbro renowned for his special disconnect with the real world, despite running a massive free propaganda empire with vast power to influence other people’s lives — in taking a stand for the good of democracy and society.
So not exactly a full reverse then.
In short, Twitter has said it will no longer accept political ads, period.
Whereas Facebook recently announced it will no longer fact-check political ads. Aka: Lies are fine, so long as you’re paying Facebook to spread them.
You could argue there’s a certain surface clarity to Facebook’s position — i.e. it sums to ‘when it comes to politics we just won’t have any ethics’. Presumably with the hoped for sequitur being ‘so you can’t accuse us of bias’.
Though that’s actually a non sequitur; by not applying any ethical standards around political campaigns Facebook is providing succour to those with the least ethics and the basest standards. So its position does actually favor the ‘truth-lite’, to put it politely. (You can decide which political side that might advantage.)
Twitter’s position also has surface clarity: A total ban! Political and issue ads both into the delete bin. But as my colleague Devin Coldewey quickly pointed out it’s likely to get rather more fuzzy around the edges as the company comes to defining exactly what is (and isn’t) a ‘political ad’ — and what its few “exceptions” might be.
Indeed, Twitter’s definitions are already raising eyebrows. For example it has apparently decided climate change is a ‘political issue’ — and will therefore be banning ads about science. While, presumably, remaining open to taking money from big oil to promote their climate-polluting brands… So yeah, messy.
There will clearly be attempts to stress test and circumvent the lines Twitter is setting. The policy may sound simple but it involves all sorts of judgements that expose the company’s political calculations and leave it open to charges of bias and/or moral failure.
Still, setting rules is — or should be — the easy and adult thing to do when it comes to content standards; enforcement is the real sweating toil for these platforms.
Which is also, presumably, why Facebook has decided to experiment with not having any rules around political ads — in the (forlorn) hope of avoiding being forced into the role of political speech policeman.
If that’s the strategy it’s already looking spectacularly dumb and self-defeating. The company has just set itself up for an ongoing PR nightmare where it is indeed forced to police intentionally policy-provoking ads from its own back-foot — having put itself in the position of ‘wilfully corrupt cop’. Slow hand claps all round.
Albeit, it can at least console itself it’s monetizing its own ethics bypass.
Twitter’s opposing policy on political ads also isn’t immune from criticism, as we’ve noted.
Indeed, it’s already facing accusations that a total ban is biased against new candidates who start with a lower public profile. Even if the energy of that argument would be better spent advocating for wide-ranging reform of campaign financing, including hard limits on election spending. If you really want to reboot politics by levelling the playing field between candidates that’s how to do it.
Also essential: Regulations capable of enforcing controls on dark money to protect democracies from being bought and cooked from the inside via the invisible seeding of propaganda that misappropriates the reach and data of Internet platforms to pass off lies as populist truth, cloaking them in the shape-shifting blur of microtargeted hyperconnectivity.
Sketchy interests buying cheap influence from data-rich billionaires, free from accountability or democratic scrutiny, is our new warped ‘normal’. But it shouldn’t be.
There’s another issue being papered over here, too. Twitter banning political ads is really a distracting detail when you consider that it’s not a major platform for running political ads anyway.
During the 2018 US midterms the category generated less than $3M for the company.
And, secondly, anything posted organically as a tweet to Twitter can act as a political call to arms.
It’s these outrageous ‘organic’ tweets where the real political action is on Twitter’s platform. (Hi Trump.)
Including inauthentically ‘organic’ tweets which aren’t a person’s genuinely held opinion but a planted (and often paid for) fake. Call it ‘going native’ advertising; faux tweets intended to pass off lies as truth, inflated and amplified by bot armies (fake accounts) operating in plain sight (often gaming Twitter’s trending topics) as a parallel ‘unofficial’ advertising infrastructure whose mission is to generate attention-grabbing pantomimes of public opinion to try and sway the real thing.
In short: Propaganda.
Who needs to pay to run a political ad on Twitter when you can get a bot network to do the boosterism for you?
Let’s not forget Dorsey is also the tech CEO famed for not applying his platform’s rules of conduct to the tweets of certain high profile politicians. (Er, Trump again, basically.)
So by saying Twitter is banning political ads yet continuing to apply a double standard to world leaders’ tweets — most obviously by allowing the US president to bully, abuse and threaten at will in order to further his populist rightwing political agenda — the company is trying to have its cake and eat it.
More recently Twitter has evolved its policy slightly, saying it will apply some limits on the reach of rule-breaking world leader tweets. But it continues to run two sets of rules.
To Dorsey’s credit he does foreground this tension in his tweet storm — where he writes [emphasis ours]:
Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.
These challenges will affect ALL internet communication, not just political ads. Best to focus our efforts on the root problems, without the additional burden and complexity taking money brings. Trying to fix both means fixing neither well, and harms our credibility.
This is good stuff from Dorsey. Surprisingly good, given his and Twitter’s long years of free speech fundamentalism — when the company gained a reputation for being wilfully blind and deaf to the fact that for free expression to flourish online it needs a protective shield of civic limits. Otherwise ‘freedom to amplify any awful thing’ becomes a speech chiller that disproportionately harms minorities.
Aka freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of reach, as Dorsey now notes.
Even with Twitter making some disappointing choices in how it defines political issues, for the purposes of this ad ban, the contrast with Facebook and Zuckerberg — still twisting and spinning in the same hot air; trying to justify incoherent platform policies that sell out democracy for a binary ideology which his own company can’t even stick to — looks stark.
The timing of Dorsey’s tweet-storm, during Facebook’s earnings call, was clearly intended to make that point.
“Zuckerberg wants us to believe that one must be for or against free speech with no nuance, complexity or cultural specificity, despite running a company that’s drowning in complexity,” writes cultural historian, Siva Vaidhyanathan, confronting Facebook’s moral vacuousness in a recent Guardian article responding to another Zuckerberg ‘manifesto’ on free speech. “He wants our discussions to be as abstract and idealistic as possible. He wants us not to look too closely at Facebook itself.”
Facebook’s position on speech does only stand up in the abstract. Just as its ad-targeting business can only run free of moral outrage in unregulated obscurity, where the baked in biases — algorithmic and user generated — are safely hidden from view so people can’t joins the dots on how they’re being damaged.
We shouldn’t be surprised at how quickly the scandal-prone company is now being called on its ideological BS. We have a savvier political class as a result of the platform-scale disinformation and global data scandals of the past few years. People who have have seen and experienced what Facebook’s policies translate to in real world practice. Like compromised elections and community violence.
With lawmakers like these turning their attention on platform giants there is a genuine possibility of meaningful regulation coming down the pipe for the antisocial media business.
Not least because Facebook’s self regulation has always been another piece of crisis PR, designed to preempt and steer off the real thing. It’s a cynical attempt to maintain its profitable grip on our attention. The company has never been committed to making the kind of systemic change necessary to fix its toxic speech issues.
The problem is, ultimately, toxicity and division drives engagement, captures attention and makes Facebook a lot of money.
Twitter can claim a little distance from that business model not only because it’s considerably less successful than Facebook at generating money by monopolizing attention, but also because it provides greater leeway for its users to build and follow their own interest networks, free from algorithmic interference (though it does do algorithms too).
It has also been on a self-proclaimed reform path for some time. Most recently saying it wants to be responsible for promoting “conversational health on its platform. No one would say it’s there yet but perhaps we’re finally getting to see some action. Even if banning political ads is mostly a quick PR win for Twitter.
The really hard work continues, though. Namely rooting out bot armies before their malicious propaganda can pollute the public sphere. Twitter hasn’t said it’s close to being able to fix that.
Facebook is also still failing to stem the tide of ‘organic’ politicized fake content on its platform. Fakes that profit at our democratic expense by spreading hate and lies.
For this type of content Facebook offers no searchable archive (as it now does for paid ads which it defines as political) — thereby providing ongoing cover for dark money to do its manipulative hack-job on democracy by free-posting via groups and pages.
Plus, even where Facebook claims to be transparently raising the curtain on paid political influence it’s abjectly failing to do so. Its political ads API is still being blasted by research academics as not fit for purpose. Even as the company policy cranks up pressure on external fact-checkers by giving politicians the green light to run ads that lie.
It has also been accused of applying a biased standard when it comes to weeding out “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, as Facebook euphemistically calls the networks of fake accounts set up to amplify and juice reach — when the propaganda in question is coming from within the US and leans toward the political right.
Facebook denies this, claiming for example that a network of pages on its platform reported to be exclusively boosting content from US conservative news site, The Daily Wire, are “real pages run by real people in the U.S., and they don’t violate our policies“. (It didn’t offer us any detail on how it reached that conclusion.)
A company spokesperson also said: “We’re working on more transparency so that in the future people have more information about Pages like these on Facebook.”
So it’s still promising ‘more transparency’ — rather than actually being transparent. And it remains the sole judge interpreting and applying policies that aren’t at all legally binding; so sham regulation then.
Moreover, while Facebook has at times issued bans on toxic content from certain domestic hate speech preachers’, such as banning some of InfoWars’ Alex Jones’ pages, it’s failed to stop the self-same hate respawning via new pages. Or indeed the same hateful individuals maintaining other accounts on different Facebook-owned social properties. Inconsistency of policy enforcement is Facebook’s DNA.
Set against all that Dorsey’s decision to take a stance against political ads looks positively statesmanlike.
It is also, at a fundamental level, obviously just the right thing to do. Buying a greater share of attention than you’ve earned politically is regressive because it favors those with the deepest pockets. Though of course Twitter’s stance won’t fix the rest of a broken system where money continues to pour in and pollute politics.
We also don’t know the fine-grained detail of how Twitter’s algorithms amplify political speech when it’s packaged in organic tweet form. So whether its algorithmic levers are more likely to be triggered into boosting political tweets that inflame and incite, or those that inform and seek to unite.
As I say, the whole of Twitter’s platform can sum to political advertising. And the company does apply algorithms to surface or suppress tweets based on its proprietary (and commercial) determination of ‘engagement quality’. So its entire business is involved in shaping how visible (or otherwise) tweeted speech is.
That very obviously includes plenty of political speech. Not for nothing is Twitter Trump’s platform of choice.
Nothing about its ban on political ads changes all that. So, as ever, where social media self-regulation is concerned, what we are being given is — at best — just fiddling around the edges.
A cynical eye might say Twitter’s ban is intended to distract attention from more structural problems baked into these attention-harvesting Internet platforms.
The toxic political discourse problem that democracies and societies around the world are being forced to grapple with is as a consequence of how Internet platforms distribute content and shape public discussion. So what’s really key is how these companies use our information to program what we each get to see.
The fact that we’re talking about Twitter’s political ad ban risks distracting from the “root problems” Dorsey referenced in passing. (Though he would probably offer a different definition of their cause. In the tweet storm he just talks about “working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info”.)
Facebook’s public diagnosis of the same problem is always extremely basic and blame-shifting. It just says some humans are bad, ergo some bad stuff will be platformed by Facebook — reflecting the issue back at humanity.
Here’s an alternative take: The core issue underpinning all these problems around how Internet platforms spread toxic propaganda is the underlying fact of taking people’s data in order to manipulate our attention.
This business of microtargeting — or behavioral advertising, as it’s also called — turns everyone into a target for some piece of propaganda or other.
It’s a practice that sucks regardless of whether it’s being done to you by Donald Trump or by Disney. Because it’s asymmetrical. It’s disproportionate. It’s exploitative. And it’s inherently anti-democratic.
It also incentivizes a pervasive, industrial-scale stockpiling of personal data that’s naturally hostile to privacy, terrible for security and gobbles huge amounts of energy and computing resource. So it sucks from an environmental perspective too.
And it does it all for the very basest of purposes. This is platforms selling you out so others can sell you stuff. Be it soap or political opinions.
Zuckerberg’s label of choice for this process — “relevant ads” — is just the slick lie told by a billionaire to grease the pipes that suck out the data required to sell our attention down the river.
Microtargeting is both awful for the individual (meaning creepy ads; loss of privacy; risk of bias and data misuse) and terrible for society for all the same reasons — as well as grave, society-level risks, such as election interference and the undermining of hard-won democratic institutions by hostile forces.
Individual privacy is a common good, akin to public health. Inoculation — against disease or indeed disinformation — helps protect the whole of us from damaging contagion.
To be clear, microtargeting is also not only something that happens when platforms are paid money to target ads. Platforms are doing this all the time; applying a weaponizing layer to customize everything they handle.
It’s how they distribute and program the masses of information users freely upload, creating maximally engaging order out of the daily human chaos they’ve tasked themselves with turning into a compelling and personalized narrative — without paying a massive army of human editors to do the job.
Facebook’s News Feed relies on the same data-driven principles as behavioral ads do to grab and hold attention. As does Twitter’s ‘Top Tweets’ algorithmically ranked view.
This is programmed attention-manipulation at vast scale, repackaged as a ‘social’ service. One which uses what the platforms learn by spying on Internet users as divisive glue to bind our individual attention, even if it means setting some of us against each another.
That’s why you can publish a Facebook post that mentions a particular political issue and — literally within seconds — attract a violently expressed opposing view from a Facebook ‘friend’ you haven’t spoken to in years. The platform can deliver that content ‘gut punch’ because it has a god-like view of everyone via the prism of their data. Data that powers its algorithms to plug content into “relevant” eyeballs, ranked by highest potential for engagement sparks to fly.
It goes without saying that if a real friendship group contained such a game-playing stalker — who had bugged everyone’s phones to snoop and keep tabs on them, and used what they learnt to play friends off against each other — no one would imagine it bringing the group closer together. Yet that’s how Facebook treats its captive eyeballs.
That awkward silence you could hear as certain hard-hitting questions struck Zuckerberg during his most recent turn in the House might just be the penny dropping.
It finally feels as if lawmakers are getting close to an understanding of the real “root problem” embedded in these content-for-data sociotechnical platforms.
Platforms that invite us to gaze into them in order that they can get intimate with us forever — using what they learn from spying to pry further and exploit faster.
So while banning political ads sounds nice it’s just a distraction. What we really need to shatter the black mirror platforms are holding against society, in which they get to view us from all angles while preventing us from seeing what they’re doing, is to bring down a comprehensive privacy screen. No targeting against personal data.
Let them show us content and ads, sure. They can target this stuff contextually based on a few generic pieces of information. They can even ask us to specify if we’d like to see ads about housing today or consumer packaged goods? We can negotiate the rules. Everything else — what we do on or off the platform, who we talk to, what we look at, where we go, what we say — must remain strictly off limits.
Canada voted for a UN resolution in support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination
Canada voted for a UN resolution this afternoon in support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
Tuesday’s resolution was opposed by Israel, the United States and three Pacific island nations that depend heavily on U.S. aid and tend to vote with Washington at the UN: the Marshall Islands, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Speaking on background, an official at Global Affairs Canada said the vote sends a message that Canada does not agree with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertion on Monday that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”
The official added that Canada has in the recent past opposed motions that are consistent with its own policy positions — to send a message that it considered the UN’s focus on Israel’s sins one-sided and inconsistent with the treatment of other nations. The official said that today’s vote reflected core Canadian principles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which include embracing a two-state solution with viable borders for both peoples.
A significant reversal
The vote represents a sudden shift in the direction of Canada’s policies on the Middle East, which began to drift toward a more pro-Israeli stance under former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. That trend accelerated dramatically under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
There are 16 UN resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that come up every year, dealing with issues such as sovereignty, refugees, East Jerusalem, human rights, settlements and holy places. All of them are passed by overwhelming majorities while being opposed by the United States and Israel, which are sometimes joined by a handful of other nations. Those other nations typically include an assortment of Pacific islands — none of which can boast the population of Kelowna, B.C. — and Canada.
Canada was not always a member of the small pro-Israel voting bloc, though.
In 2003, Canada voted yes to 13 of the 16 resolutions on Israel and abstained on three. In 2004, it recorded its first two “No” votes, alongside the U.S. and Israel, and supported only 12 resolutions. After Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, the “No” and abstention votes gradually increased.
After Harper won a majority government in 2011, Canada voted “No” on 14 of the 16 resolutions, abstaining on another. From that point onward, the only “Yes” vote before today was on a non-controversial motion calling for assistance for Palestinians displaced by conflict.
Trudeau’s Liberal government has maintained the voting pattern it inherited from the Harper government — until now.
That voting pattern continued in spite of the fact that it clearly undermined another Canadian foreign policy goal: winning a seat on the UN Security Council.
Resolution condemns occupation, barrier
The resolution that Canada supported today does not include harsh language condemning Israel — language Canada has objected to in the past. It does, however, contain language that criticizes the barrier wall Israel has built close to (but not always on) the 1949 armistice line that most countries consider to be the real border of Israel.
It also stresses “the urgency of achieving without delay an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967” and calls on all states “to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination.”
A Global Affairs Canada official, speaking on background, told CBC that of all the resolutions, this was the easiest to adopt. The official said Canada could vote differently than it has in the recent past on resolutions regarding Israel that are coming up in November and December, although there are no current plans to do so.
Strong reactions at home
It is unusual for a country to switch votes at the UN directly from a “No” to a “Yes” on the same issue. Usually, nations signalling a change of policy simply abstain from the vote. By reversing its vote, Canada’s UN delegation sent a clear message that immediately caused strong reactions at home.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs condemned the vote in a statement:
“This afternoon, Canada joined with the anti-Israel chorus at the UN and voted in favour of a General Assembly resolution co-sponsored by North Korea, Zimbabwe and the PLO that condemns Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and characterizes it as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’.
“Canadian support for the resolution represents a dramatic departure from a 10-year record of principled opposition to UN resolutions that single out Israel for condemnation and ignore Palestinian intransigence and provocations aimed at sabotaging efforts to advance peace and reconciliation.”
CIJA National Co-Chair Joel Reitman added that “while Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland offered assurances that no other changes in vote were being contemplated, we are very disappointed that the Government of Canada did not stand firm in opposition to the annual Israel-bashing ritual at the UN General Assembly.
“That neither this resolution nor any other currently being considered even acknowledge the obscene barrage of Palestinian-launched rockets and missiles raining down on Israel’s civilian population reflects just how distorted and one-sided these resolutions are.”
‘A slap to Trump’
But the change was welcomed by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, a group which has long lobbied for what it calls a more even-handed approach to the conflict.
“We are extremely pleased that the Liberal government has voted in support of Palestinian self-determination at the UN,” said CJPME’s Miranda Gallo. “This is a long overdue step and is entirely consistent with the government’s support for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. In fact, Canada could not support a ‘two state’ solution if it did not support the creation of a Palestinian state.”
Noting that “the Liberal government has changed its position as compared to previous years,” Gallo added: “This may be a slap on the wrist to the Trump government to communicate that, given Pompeo’s outlandish statement in support of illegal Israeli colonies, Canada feels the U.S. is failing to provide fair leadership on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“The Liberal government may have also concluded that it can no longer ape the lopsided positions asserted by Israel and the U.S. on these resolutions, which have overwhelming support at the UN and overwhelming support among many Canadians.”
Abortions rights advocates urge Liberals to turn politics into policy
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned for re-election on a promise to support abortion rights, a stance that put his Conservative rival on the defensive, and now advocates are anxious to see the Liberals turn those words into action.
“It’s good that we are getting the federal support at least in words, but words don’t mean very much when it comes to people’s lives,” said Olivier Hebert, an LGBTQ advocate involved in efforts to save Clinic 554, a family practice in Fredericton at risk of closing without provincial funding. The clinic includes abortions among its services.
The clinic received national attention last month when Trudeau stressed he would remind New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs that his province has an obligation to fund out-of-hospital abortions, or risk having Ottawa enforce such requirements under the Canada Health Act.
The practice, which also serves the LGBTQ community, is up for sale due to financial difficulties stemming from the provincial government’s refusal to expand its health-care funding to include surgical abortion procedures at private clinics, a stance held by both Higgs’s Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals who governed before them.
“A Liberal government will always defend women’s rights, including when challenged by conservative premiers,” Trudeau said Oct. 15 in Fredericton.
The issue of abortion played a prominent role in the federal election campaign this fall.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was pressed to clarify his stance abortion over several weeks, eventually confirming that he remains “personally pro-life” but would oppose any attempt to revive the issue in the House of Commons. The Liberals drew attention to the confusion throughout the campaign, especially as the Bloc Quebecois began to surge in Quebec, where anti-abortion views are unpopular.
Now, abortion-rights advocates are watching closely to see whether Liberal politics become policy.
Sarah Kennell, director of government relations for the advocacy group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said she would have liked to see Trudeau raise the issue in his one-on-one meetings with opposition leaders this past week, particularly with New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Singh, who criticized Trudeau for being slow to push the issue, campaigned on a promise to enforce the Canada Health Act right away. One of the ways to do that could include holding back the funding that Ottawa transfers to New Brunswick to pay for its health-care system.
Kennell said she also wants to see the mandate letter for the new federal health minister include a clear commitment to resolve the issue quickly.
“It’s imminent, the closure of the clinic, and that’s why swift action is needed now,” she said.
The issue did come up in Trudeau’s meeting Friday with the Greens’ Elizabeth May, though she was the one to raise it.
“It’s abortion access that’s about to be closed. We need desperate help from some level of, I think the federal government,” she said in front of Trudeau before their formal session began.
May emerged encouraged.
“I was very pleased that there was common ground on acting to stave off the loss of abortion services in New Brunswick,” she said afterward. “Clinic 554 is in danger of closing imminently and I am pleased that he also is concerned about that and wants to take steps within the Canada Health Act to ensure abortion access in New Brunswick. I’m not quite sure what he’ll do with it in terms of the emergency of this particular clinic closing that provides services for abortion services as well as health care services for the LGBTQ+ community.”
Ginette Petitpas Taylor, a New Brunswick MP who has been the health minister since 2017, sent a letter to her provincial counterparts in July warning them that making women pay out of pocket to terminate pregnancies, even at private clinics, went against the Canada Health Act.
The timeline for picking things up where she left them remains unclear.
Matthew Pascuzzo, a spokesman for Trudeau, said it is too early to comment on the content of the mandate letters or the speech from the throne.
He did leave the door open to the topic coming up when Trudeau sits down with Higgs.
“As the prime minister has said, we will ensure that the New Brunswick government allows paid-for access, to clinics that offer abortion services outside of hospitals,” Pascuzzo said in an email. “The prime minister is eager to work together to keep making progress, and looks forward to meeting with all premiers one-on-one in the near future, including with Premier Higgs.”
Higgs, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, accused Trudeau last month of playing politics with the issue of abortion services.
He also noted the provincial regulation limiting funding to abortions performed in hospitals had also been there under the previous Liberal government of Brian Gallant.
Abortion-rights advocates are not the only ones anxious to see how the Liberals will handle the issue.
Campaign Life Coalition has said that it welcomes the news that 46 Conservative candidates identified as being against abortion were elected in October.
At the same time, its November newsletter suggests the anti-abortion organization is worried the fact that the Liberals won a minority government means they will go even further to expand access to abortion services in Canada and elsewhere.
“We are concerned that Trudeau will co-operate with the NDP, Greens, and Bloc Quebecois to further liberalize euthanasia, the legal drug regime, and promote abortion throughout the land and abroad,” said the newsletter from the organization, which did not respond to an interview request.
Meanwhile, Alberta is another province where abortion rights advocates could end up urging Trudeau to intervene.
United Conservative Party backbencher Dan Williams introduced a private member’s bill in the Alberta legislature earlier this month that would reassert the Charter-protected freedom of conscience and religion for physicians and other health-care providers.
Williams has said his Bill 207 is a response to a decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario this spring, which affirmed a lower-court ruling that found physicians who object on moral grounds to things like abortion or medically assisted death must offer to refer patients elsewhere.
He has also denied the charge from his Alberta NDP critics that his legislation, which would face an uphill battle without government support, is an indirect attempt to limit access to abortion services. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he would not reopen the debate on abortion.
The Prime Minister’s Office was asked whether the federal Liberal government has a position on the bill.
“Our government has been clear that women have a right to access reproductive services. We will use all options available to defend a woman’s right to choose, including those that exist under the Canada Health Act,” Pascuzzo said in an email.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2019.
— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter
Jason Kenney hopes of returning to federal politics
Well, if nothing else, we know he’s not interested in running federally.
When Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered his fiery “fair deal” speech last weekend, he was not only burning bridges with Ottawa but torching any lingering ambitions he may have had to become federal Conservative leader.
Oh, Kenney might have said he had no desire to return to the federal stage but the speculation has never faded since he entered provincial politics three years ago.
In a question-and-answer session on Facebook two weeks ago Kenney declared, “I have absolutely no interest or intention of pursuing federal office.”
But it was an answer that left wiggle room.
Might he have a sudden interest or intention tomorrow?
The conjecture only intensified after the federal election, which saw a bumbling Andrew Scheer unable to defeat a badly wounded Justin Trudeau.
The question around the provincial water cooler: was Kenney interested in replacing Scheer?
This was no idle speculation.
This was speculation that worked really hard.
On paper Kenney would make an ideal candidate for leader of the federal Conservatives.
Besides being a former cabinet minister and acolyte of Stephen Harper, Kenney is bilingual, a skilful organizer and tireless campaigner. Since becoming premier in April he has criss-crossed the country building alliances with other Conservative premiers. He was even called in to campaign for the Conservatives in Ontario and Manitoba during the federal election.
In many ways he already is the spiritual leader of the Conservative movement in Canada.
And Kenney is so obsessed with defeating the federal Liberals that during the Alberta election campaign he attacked Trudeau as much as he did his actual adversary, NDP Leader Rachel Notley.
This is a guy straddling two worlds: with one foot in Alberta and the other on the prime minister’s throat.
You could certainly argue Kenney’s socially conservative background would prove an impediment in a federal campaign, as Scheer discovered about his own history. But Kenney is more politically nimble than Scheer and Kenney managed to overcome that handicap in the Alberta election despite being aggressively targeted by the NDP.
Taken together it almost seemed Kenney was destined to return to federal politics.
Then came his “fair deal” speech in Red Deer last Saturday.
“Albertans have a right to be fed up,” declared Kenney. “I get it. I’m as fed up as anybody else is in this province.”
Kenney is fed up with delays in getting a new energy pipeline to the West Coast. He is fed up with “hostile and discriminatory policies that are being aimed at our province.” He is fed up with “the divisions that welled up in Canada during the Trudeau government’s first term.” He is fed up with anyone not supporting Alberta’s oilsands.
Most of all he is just fed up with Trudeau, who managed to irritate Kenney by surviving with a minority government in October’s election.
Kenney’s solution: he wants Alberta to have a “fair deal.”
That includes possibly withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, having Alberta collect its own income taxes and replacing the RCMP with an Alberta provincial police force.
He has appointed a panel of “eminent Albertans” — including former Reform Party leader Preston Manning — to see if the ideas are feasible. If they are, Kenney would put them to a vote by Albertans.
Alberta has been down this bumpy road before.
In 2001, a band of disgruntled Alberta Conservatives (including Stephen Harper, before he became a politician) was so upset after the federal Liberals won yet another election that the unhappy group wrote what came to be called the “firewall letter.”
They wanted Alberta to distance itself from Ottawa by collecting its own income taxes, forming its own provincial police force and creating an Alberta pension plan.
The idea was to make Alberta something of a western version of Quebec but this would be a province seemingly acting out of spite, not a province trying to protect a unique linguistic and cultural identity.
Ralph Klein, premier at the time, didn’t support the letter but, to quell grumblers within his own party, he did create a panel to look into the suggestions. The panel concluded that many, particularly collecting income tax and creating a provincial pension plan, would be cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary.
Here we are again, but this time the main grumbler is Alberta’s premier.
“We’ve had it with Ottawa’s indifference to this adversity,” said Kenney, referring to Alberta’s economic downturn. “Albertans have been working for Ottawa for too long, it’s time for Ottawa to start working for us.”
This is Kenney as Captain Alberta. He has wrapped himself in the provincial flag and it’s difficult to imagine how he can ever untangle himself to run one day as Captain Canada.
In Canadian history, no provincial premier has ever won a federal election to become prime minister. Premiers are seen as too parochial, too regional, too insular.
Viewed from anywhere but Alberta — and probably Saskatchewan — Kenney’s speech is arguably all three.
Stephen Harper, of course, did manage to become prime minister despite co-authoring the firewall letter. But he wasn’t premier when he wrote it.
Besides, Kenney didn’t pen a mere firewall letter; he delivered a fire-breathing speech.
In so doing, he ignited the passions of many Albertans. However, any ambitions he might have had to run federally have been reduced to ashes.
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