Senator Ghitter has done Albertans a favour by addressing the more fundamental issues that lie behind the this year's political skirmishing over court-ordered prisoner-voting, the Vriend case and the federal pay-equity ruling. He has shown that these are not isolated and unconnected incidents, but rather part of growing conflict in Canadian (and other Western) societies.
On the one hand are the partisans of Senator Ghittter, the self-styled "equality-seeking groups" who travel under the banner of human rights. Their mission is social and economic reform, and they conduct most of their politics through the courts and human rights commissions. Let us call them the Equality Party.
On the other side are what the Senator calls "theo-conservatives," but are more accurately described as social conservatives. (Some find the source of their views in the judeo-Christian tradition; others just think there are good secular policy reasons for defending such institutions as the natural family.) For the most part, social conservatives find ourselves defending Canada's social, moral and political inheritance of Western European liberalism. We prefer to conduct politics through democratically accountable legislatures. For this reason, let us call this group the Democracy Party.
Senator Ghitter has tried to identify the different first principles that animate this growing competition between the Equality and Democracy Parties in Canadian politics. Inevitably, his account is partial and, in my opinion, self-serving and inaccurate. No doubt many readers will think the same of my reply.
According to Senator Ghitter, a new strain of conservatism, theo-conservatism, is today the greatest threat to human rights in Canada. Certain details aside (there is hardly anything "new" about the policies that I and other social conservatives have been defending), I agree with Senator Ghitter: We are "the real threat to the advancement of human rights in Canada today," human rights, that is, as redefined by Senator Ghitter and the Equality Party.
The question is, what does the Senator mean by human rights? Those standards of moral right and wrong that transcend dominant majority or minority opinion in any one nation? Those minimum conditions of civilized conduct that are recognized by all religions and all codes of ethics? Natural rights--those first principles of individual freedom that limit both what governments can do and how?
No. The Equality Party has reconstructed the meaning of human rights. Following their lead, Senator Ghitter proposes a version of human rights that means little more than an inflated notion of equality. This new egalitarian version of human rights has come to mean supporting the cause-du-jour of the coalition of self-styled (and state-funded) "equality seekers"--feminists, anti-poverty groups, the gay-rights movement, natives and other ethnic or racial minorities. (Interestingly, the Equality Party has largely left organized Labour behind. Its grass-roots members are too hopelessly traditional and middle-class in their social views.)
The human rights gang is playing a double game. They appeal to the political principles of Western civilization that have become the touchstone of political legitimacy world-wide, but they then use these terms to advance their own narrow, partisan agendas.
This is evident in Senator Ghitter's own examples. Despite "great progress," the Senator tells us that human rights are still under attack around the globe: Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Tiennamen Square and Rwanda--and yes, Alberta! Suddenly genocide, ethnic cleansing, torture, and political prisoners are on a par with supporting private schools and opposing pay equity.
Such rhetorical overkill--which lumps together the Holocaust with the Vriend affair--leads to curious paradoxes. In just the past month, various United Nations human rights agencies have denounced Canada for violating the fundamental human rights of Canadian children, poor people, women and natives. Is this the same UN that has repeatedly told us that Canada is one of the best places in the world to live?
Are we really violating the human rights of all these groups? Or has the concept of human rights been redefined to include the NDP's policy manual and the demands of the various left-wing interest groups that both demand and depend upon state-funding and state-intervention? Is there any issue on the feminist or gay-rights agenda that is NOT presented as a "human rights issue"?
This new version of human rights means not just economic leveling but also moral leveling; not just the old Left's socialist program of state-coerced redistribution of wealth, but the new Left's embrace of moral relativism. This is evident in a variety of pet "human rights" issues: abortion, homosexuality, pornography, euthanasia, legalization of drugs.
On all of these issues, we are now told that "freedom of choice" is a basic human right. That is, the important thing is not what I choose, but that I be completely free to choose it. It is the act of choosing, not the contents of that choice, that matters. The freedom of choice principle is tarted-up as an issue of "individual human dignity," regardless of how undignified or socially destructive the actual choice may be.
The new role of moral relativism in the redefinition of human rights is obvious in such issues as abortion and gay rights. But it has also been evident in the Stanley Faulder case, the Canadian murderer on death row in Texas. Opponents of capital punishment denounce it as a violation of human rights. Yet these same people, with few exceptions, have no problem with other contemporary forms of taking of human life--such as abortion or doctor-assisted suicide.
Their opposition to capital punishment is not based on the sanctity of human life, a traditional human rights position. Rather, as David Frum recently pointed out, "what offends them is not that the death penalty kills, but that it judges. They object not to a specific punishment, but to the very ideal of justice."
Here then is a second paradox in the "new improved" version of human rights. Whereas human rights once stood for something objective and eternal, now it stands for the subjective and the temporal. Whereas once human rights pointed toward what is right always and everywhere, regardless of government policy or public opinion; now it means "what I want, here and now." We've come a long way, baby!
So yes, Senator Ghitter, we agree. If this is what human rights means to you--then I'm opposed to them. As are, I suspect, not just most Albertans, but most Canadians. This just might explain why you must spend so much time praising the work of unelected judges and human rights commissions for their earnest efforts in overturning the policy choices of our elected governments.
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I also agree with Senator Ghitter on a second point: that we must avoid choosing public policies that risk leading us down the path toward a totalitarian regime. Social conservatives are as strongly opposed to any rebirth of communism or fascism as Senator Ghitter and his friends. So who is the guilty party here?
The Senator paints social conservatives as the partisans of government coercion. We are, he says, trying to impose our "moral agendas" on a pluralistic Canadian society.
But I ask: who are the real partisans of big government by Big Brother? Consider the institutional consequences of the Equality Party's current human rights agenda?
Censorship: Currently, the only active government censorship programs are run by the various provincial human rights commissions. In the past year, The Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun and Alberta Report have all been charged and investigated for publishing politically incorrect opinions.
Pay equity: Rather than let the market--employers and employees and their unions--negotiate a fair wage, the federal government, Ontario and Quebec have set up special commissions to determine if different jobs have "equal value" and thus are entitled to "equal pay." This is basically a retake on the old Soviet approach to setting prices and wages by government decree. The results are predictable: this year the federal Human Rights Commission ordered Ottawa (i.e. taxpayers) to pay $5 billion dollars in back wages to "under-paid" federal civil servants. Not only do pay equity programs restrict the freedom of the private sector, they are used to bankroll the expansion of state bureaucracy.
Freedom of association: all provincial human rights acts are prima facie violations of freedom of association--which includes the right of citizens not to associate, a right supposedly protected by the Charter. In the Vriend case, the Supreme Court sacrificed the freedom of association of the Lutherans who run Kings College in preference to the sexual proclivities of Delwin Vriend. Why should religious freedom be sacrificed to equality claims, especially when sexual orientation is not even listed in the Charter?
private education: Arguably one of the most important forms of freedom of association is the right of parents to choose what kind of education they want for their children. For Catholics and Protestants, this right was enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1867, long before the Charter. Alberta and several other provinces have sought to extend this freedom to other religious sects, including those represented by recent non-Western immigrant groups.
Rather than welcome the expansion of religious freedom through programs of school choice and parental direction, Senator Ghitter denounces programs that provide "reimbursement from the public purse for their schools." Who, I dare ask, does Senator Ghitter think provides for the "public purse"? Whose tax dollars are these? Whose children are these? Are parents not taxpayers? In denouncing educational pluralism in favour of strengthening the state's monopoly on public education, Senator Ghitter shows his true colours on big government and his alleged love for multicultural diversity.
Gun-registration: This is both a civil liberties and a property rights issue. At the urging of the Equality Party, Feminist Wing, the Liberal government has enacted Bill C-68, a monolithic gun-registration program that will create a nightmarish gun bureaucracy and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Since this program will have absolutely no effect on the criminal use of guns--What criminal is going to register his guns?--it can only be understood as a policy-bridge to the ultimate goal of confiscating all privately owned firearms. This of course is standard operating procedure in all totalitarian regimes: disarm the citizenry and enforce a state monopoly on weapons of self-defense.
Senator Ghitter would have us believe that the "moral majority" wants to use big government to force its "moral agenda" down the throats of all non-believers. But as the preceding examples make clear, the Equality Party is every bit as moralistic and coercive as social conservatives.
Indeed, they constitute a sort of new "moral minority," whose claim to legitimately coerce the rest of us is also based on scriptural authority. "In the beginning was the word"--only for Senator Ghitter (or is it Saint Ron?), the word was the Charter. For the true-believers, Equality replaces God; Trudeau is the Messiah; the Charter, the Bible; the Supreme Court justices are the apostles; their writings the Epistles; the human rights commissions are the elect; the law schools, the new seminaries; 1982 the Second Coming; hell is Alberta (and small towns everywhere); Preston Manning is the Devil; and Bob Ray's NDP version of Ontario the kingdom come. Amen!
So I repeat: Who are the real partisans of big government by Big Brother? The Equality Party's agenda is a state-building agenda. Its various social engineering projects require expanding the scope of state power to promote--if necessary, coerce--social change.
Senator Ghitter concludes his sermon on human rights by denouncing social conservatives' support for the traditional two-parent family. Again, he is right in his diagnosis if not his prescription.
The family has become a political lightning rod for social conservatives: tax credits for child care, gay rights issues, parental choice in education, pornography, marriage, divorce and custody law, abortion and even the recent VLT issue. For social conservatives, the common thread through these diverse policies is the protection of the natural family and the ethic of responsibility.
Senator Ghitter's critique of traditional family values is two-fold. It is out of date, and, as a result, it excludes too many Canadians from the "mainstream of Canadian life." Because the traditional family values perspective is based on a moral "puritanism," the Senator suggests that it can be safely rejected.
This claim is twice false. First, it is yet another example of the Senator's intolerance--dare I say bigoted views--toward practicing Christians--not to mention believers from other religions--who draw some of their political views from their religious faith. While secular minds are free to reject such claims as unpersuasive, they cannot dismiss such Christians as second-class citizens whose votes are not to be counted. The sources--secular or religious--from which a Canadian citizen derives political beliefs is irrelevant to their being counted equally.
Senator Ghitter's homily against the traditional family is problematic in a second sense. It ignores secular social science's growing recognition of the importance of intact, two-parent families in government policy. The family has been identified as the key institution of civil society.
Civil society is important because it produces "social capital." Social capital is a new expression for an old concept--civic virtue. At a minimum, it means law-abiding behaviour--respecting the rights of others. More expansively, it denotes helping others, or public spiritedness. Recognition of the importance of social capital has focused attention on the institutions that generate "the habits of the heart"; that transform the "I" into the "we."
Harvard University professor Robert Putnam's research has proven that societies in which civil society is strong enjoy better schools, faster economic development, lower crime and more effective government.
Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan's research on the effects of family breakdown shows that children who grow up with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who are raised in a household with both of their biological parents.
Children from single-parent families are twice as likely to drop out of school; twice as likely to have a child before the age of 20; and twice as likely to be unemployed in their late teens and early twenties.
This trend holds regardless of family income, educational background, race or whether the resident parent remarries. There are also higher correlations with drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and criminal behaviour. Social capital, McLanahan concludes, can be just as important as financial capital in promoting children's future success.
The importance of preserving social capital--and the natural two-parent family--is beginning to find its way into Canadian public policy debate. In Retooling the Welfare State, John Richards repeats the social advantages of two-parent families; the superiority of parental care to commercial day-care for young children; and the dangers of tax policies that subsidize--and thus encourage--divorce.
Richards' findings and recommendations mirror those made by Professor Mark Genuis, Director of the Calgary-based National Foundation for Family Research and Education. More surprisingly, even the usually liberal Editor of the Globe and Mail, William Thorsell, publicly endorsed most of Richard's policy recommendations.
These new truths--and really, they are old truths--cannot be ignored by Senator Ghitter and the Equality Party. Anyone who is serious about increasing human freedom by limiting the scope of state power, must pay attention to the institutions of civil society. The stronger these institutions are, the less need there is for government intervention and regulation.
To summarize, the concept of human rights has been redefined to mean nothing more than the various social-engineering projects of the of the Equality Party.
In the name of equality (both moral and material), they endeavor to repeal the social, moral and political heritage of Western European liberalism, of which Canada is a beneficiary, and reconstruct in its place an egalitarian utopia.
Since the principal obstacle to the achievement of this brave new world are the present occupants of the old world (i.e. the middle class), the project must be conducted through non-accountable institutions--the courts, human rights commissions and now even more distant UN rights bureaucrats.
The first stage of this project is to undermine the existing institutions of civil society--family, community, church, local government--since these all represent competing sources of authority that perpetuate our corrupt, inegalitarian inheritance. The common denominator of these various projects is the need for enhancing the power of the central state, the agency which will "force us to be free."
This, I suggest, is the gravest threat to our future freedom and happiness: those egalitarian reformers who, in the name of human rights, are constantly weakening the institutions of civil society while stregthening the powers of the state.
To conclude, if Senator Ghitter wishes to continue this debate, I hope he will not feel compelled to go to Atlantic Canada to discuss Alberta politics. I would be happy to debate him on any of these issues, anytime and any place, in Alberta.