Should the rural health minister be tabling a pro-life petition?

REGINA – The opposition NDP is questioning whether Saskatchewan’s rural health minister should be tabling an anti-abortion petition.

The Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association is lobbying the provincial government to change the abortion law to include parental consent. The group said it submitted numerous petitions to the legislature since last February, totaling more than 6,000 signatures.

Last week, Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit tabled a petition in the legislature presented from the Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association.

“As the minister of health, I’ve got to represent all constituents and everyone that brings issues to our office,” said Ottenbreit. “We equally hear from the Planned Parenthood people and the Pro-Life people. It’s something that we all have to pay attention to and represent the constituents fairly.”

Ottenbreit has been open about his stance on abortion: “I’m a pro-life person myself.”

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Saskatchewan MLAs often bring forward petitions for various causes on behalf of their constituents. An NDP MLA submitted a similar abortion petition last April.

However, the issue creating debate is the fact that Ottenbreit is a health minister.

“This is the Health Minister who is petitioning himself,” said Danielle Chartier, NDP Health Critic. “His ministry sets the policies and the funding and there in lies the problem.”

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said as an MLA his first obligation is to his constituents: “We just happen to have a system where we have to play both roles at the same time.”

Duncan said Saskatchewan is not considering revisiting abortion legislation.

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“It’s a long stretch from presenting a petition to changing government policy,” said Duncan.

Jim Farney, a University of Regina political scientist, said cabinet ministers are technically allowed to table petitions but doing so for a topic that relates to their own portfolio might not be a wise decision.

Farney also said had the petition been about a less contentious issue, likely no one would be questioning Ottenbreit’s actions.