Members of Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) said they left the House during second reading of a controversial abortion-related bill Tuesday night because they were heckled.
UCP MLAs left during the debate over Bill 9, which is meant to establish no-go zones for protesters around abortion clinics.
“We heard language that was extremely vulgar, very much so attacking myself as the member from Airdrie,” said UCP MLA Angela Pitt, who gave a speech about her opposition to the bill before MLAs walked out.
“It’s just really unbecoming of decorum there in the Legislature. I said my piece. It’s on the record.”
UCP Leader Jason Kenney responded to questions from reporters about the move on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve said when the other side tries to be provocative and shout insults, just don’t respond and if necessary, get out of the chamber for a while until things calm down,” he said.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said she did not realize UCP members would be abstaining from the debate.
“I think a lot of Alberta women have issues that they want to know their elected officials are hearing and responding to,” Hoffman said.
That sentiment was echoed by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark, who said the move by UCP MLAs was not surprising.
“It’s totally inappropriate. Regardless of what you think of the issue, your job as an MLA is to be in the House. That’s your job,” he said.
“You don’t need to agree with everything the government does. Your job is to represent the constituents and you can’t do that if you’re outside the Legislature.”
The NDP government said incidents of patients being intimidated and harassed at the clinics is on the rise. The legislation would keep protesters at least 50 metres back from the clinics and make it illegal for demonstrators to record video and audio and to take photos of people coming and going.
Members of the UCP said the debate over Bill 9 is merely a distraction from the bigger picture.
“I’ve never heard anything in regards to this in the three years I’ve been an elected official,” Pitt said. “It would certainly be accurate to say this government is definitely using this as a political tool against the official opposition.”
Kenney shot down the idea that the UCP is not concerned about women’s safety and reiterated that the party would not debate the bill.
“We don’t want to allow the NDP to deflect attention from the pressing issues that the vast majority of Albertans thinks we should be focusing on: jobs, the economy,” Kenney said.