Controversial conscience rights bill will die on order paper

A controversial private member's bill on conscience rights for medical providers will be dropped now that the government intends to prorogue the first session of the 30th legislature. 

Government House Leader Jason Nixon announced on Wednesday that the second session will start Feb. 25 with a speech from the throne. 

The government intends to prorogue the first session prior to that date, a process that must be approved by the province's lieutenant governor.

Under parliamentary procedure, bills that weren't passed in the previous session are said to "die on the order paper," which means they won't be debated unless they are reintroduced.  

Bill 207, proposed legislation to protect the conscience rights of medical providers, is one of four private member's bills that didn't make it to third reading in the last session, which wrapped up on Dec. 5.

Other pieces of unfinished business include: Bill 204, the Election Recall Act; Bill 205, the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Amendment Act, and; Bill 206, the Workers' Compensation (Enforcement of Decisions) Amendment Act.

Dan Williams, the UCP MLA for Peace River, introduced Bill 207 on Nov. 7.

"Private members bills will always have time constraints in the legislative process, and I understood from the start that the normal prorogation of the legislature could affect my bill," Williams said in a written statement.

Craig Ryan/CBC

"Every voice in the discussion told me that conscience rights are important and that the question is how to protect these freedoms thoughtfully.  I will always continue to defend the fundamental freedoms of Canadians – conscience the first among these."

Williams said the bill reinforced the constitutional right of health care providers who refuse to perform services that violate their personal beliefs. 

Opponents said the bill would allow doctors to discriminate against LGBTQ patients, limit access to birth control and abortion in rural areas, and make it difficult for terminally ill patients to access medical assistance in dying. 

The Alberta Medical Association said physicians already had the right of refusal, as long as they referred patients to another provider. A spokesperson for Williams said the goal of the bill was not to change the standard of practice, simply to enshrine it in law. 

An all-party committee of the legislature that reviews proposed legislation from private member's rejected the bill. 

On Dec.2, MLAs were set to debate whether to accept the committee's report when the sitting was suddenly adjourned after a man died by suicide on the steps of the legislature building. 

Private members business is only debated on Mondays and the fall session adjourned three days later. 

Committee member Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud, said it is a "huge relief" to know the bill will drop off the order paper. 

"Even since the end of the debate, and the committee decision not to refer the matter to the legislature, I have heard from numerous Albertans who were really concerned that Bill 207 could still go forward in the legislature," she said.

"I think for a lot of those Albertans it will be a relief to know that for now this piece of legislation has died on the order paper." 

MLAs get to introduce private members bills based on a draw. It isn't clear if another MLA will introduce a similar bill in the legislature.