The right not to be pushed around by government
Last year, Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons came close to implementing a policy that would have made it “unethical” for doctors to decline, as a matter of conscience, to perform controversial medical procedures on otherwise healthy patients. If adopted, the policy would have compelled doctors who consider abortion the taking of innocent life to provide such a “service” themselves or risk losing their license to practice medicine in Ontario.
Fortunately, after an outcry from the public prompted some sober second thought, the College stepped back from the policy, allowing doctors to continue exercising their conscience in the performance of their duties. In doing so, however, it also warned doctors that they could still be subject to prosecution by other quasi-judicial bodies such as Ontario’s human rights tribunals.
This is just one of many reasons why I believe that Ontario’s human rights tribunals need to be drastically reformed, if not abolished altogether.
Even without out-of-control human rights tribunals, though, there is still plenty of opportunity for government to suppress dissent or prevent citizens from acting according to their own conscience. The temptation for regulatory bodies and activist liberal judges to impose their personal views on society may be too great for them to resist, even in the absence of human rights tribunals.
This is just plain wrong, and elected lawmakers have a duty to address the problem. That’s why, as leader of Ontario’s PC party, I intend to push for legislation that will explicitly establish and protect the right of all Ontarians to refuse to act in a manner that they consider to be morally objectionable, and as premier of Ontario I will introduce such a law.
Defending freedom of conscience through concrete legislative action is no mere abstract exercise. Sincere principled dissent is not just something to be tolerated in a free and democratic society; it’s the very wellspring from which our democratic traditions flow. Without such principled dissent, it should be remembered, our society might never have rid itself of the scourge of slavery; women might still be denied the right to vote and Jews might still be barred from entering Canada, as they were for a time under the federal Liberal party’s policy of “none is too many.”
Democracy is possible only when freedom of speech, association and conscience are protected and private property is respected. A state that can force doctors to violate their conscience, or that can force private business owners to endorse and promote same-sex relationships in violation of their religious beliefs, is a state that can seize private property on a whim with little or no due process. It’s also a state that can shut down independent schools and outlaw home-schooling entirely as is now the case in Germany, prosecuting parents who choose not to send their children to government run schools where liberal indoctrination is more important than teaching basic reading and writing skills.
In short, a society that suppresses principled dissent is one that turns its back on genuine democratic principles, even if it holds regular elections.
This is why I am running for the leadership of Ontario’s PC party — because I believe that the people of Ontario deserve a clear choice between a Liberal party that is liberal in name only, and a principled Conservative party that understands the connection between its principles and real liberal democracy; a Conservative party that is courageous enough to stand by and defend those principles in the public square, and that is prepared to deliver a legislative and policy agenda that reflects those principles once elected.
Explicitly protecting freedom of conscience is an important part of this agenda.
Some people call this radical — I just call it common sense.
Randy Hillier is the Ontario MPP from Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox-Addington and a candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership race.