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Stateside With Rosalea: Moral Dilemma Month

Stateside With Rosalea: June Is Moral Dilemma Month In North America

It was a little moral dilemma that raised its two heads at first: should I follow the signs pointing the way for 'background players' and bluff my way into being an extra extra - read all about it! - on one of the movies being filmed at the University of British Columbia campus when I was staying there. Easy decision - would you want to be an extra in "Halloween 8" without several changes of clothing on hand?

The next one was a bit bigger: should I buy a ticket to ride on the Skytrain, the one and only piece of public transit still operating in Vancouver during the transit strike. Skytrain is a monorail system that links downtown Vancouver with its south-eastern neighbours, and it doesn't have drivers - being totally automated. It does however have people who make random checks on whether you have a ticket, and they had gone on strike forming 'an invisible picket line in front of the ticket vending machines' , as someone described it to me. I'm a big supporter of public transit and admire that Skytrain uses an honesty system for travel. But, crossing a picket line...?

The effects of having to make a choice between two conflicting loyalties were dramatically highlighted in a theatre work I chanced upon when doing a walking tour of Vancouver's downtown. One of the recommended sights of the tour was Christ Church Cathedral, and it happened that on the afternoon I strolled by a theatre group based in the cathedral was presenting "Articles of Faith (The Battle of St. Alban's)".

The play had been commissioned by Savage God to present the arguments for and against same-sex unions, a hot topic within the Anglican Church and one that was on the agenda for the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster at the cathedral that very weekend. The playwright, Mark Leiren-Young, had interviewed a number of people involved with the break away of a congregation at St Alban's church in Port Alberni. That group, led by their Anglican minister, felt that the issue of formal condoning and blessing of same-sex unions was the last straw and that they had to choose between their loyalty to their faith and their loyalty to the Church.

Intended as a work to promote discussion and understanding of the issues within parish communities, the play succeeded admirably in presenting every viewpoint in such a way that you could clearly see and identify with honestly held opinions no matter which of those opinions you might agree with the most. The coincidence of the play's world premiere with the synod vote on same-sex unions was not, the director said, deliberate. This was the second time a vote had been taken on the issue and the small 'yes' margin of the first vote was slightly increased this time, but still not enough for the bishop to change the status quo. That would have required a 60% majority.

As fate would have it, the next day, far away in Nova Scotia and for the first time in Canada, the first civil registrations took place of same-sex relationships - a strange kind of situation indeed since the registration is not of a marriage, nor is it transferable if the couple moves to any other province. I guess that's how bureaucracy solves its moral dilemmas.

Politicians themselves, of course, are always facing moral dilemmas. Gordon Campbell, the premier of British Columbia, found himself leading 77 members of the 79-seat Legislative Assembly after a recount in one constituency confirmed the seat for the 77th Liberal. Golly. With numbers like that what else can you do but create the largest cabinet ever assembled in the province - 27 ministers. His moral dilemma was to do with the overtime ban and impending strike by health workers. Having argued that deputy ministers need a 32 percent raise in order to attract and retain the brightest and the best, how could he not concede that health workers need the same sort of pay rise for the same reason? There is a shortage of 1000 nurses in British Columbia.

Another moral dilemma related to money also came to head last week in Canada. In a rather bizarre comment reported on the news on CBC an energy consultant said: 'There's not enough pipe in the world to build gas pipelines in both Alaska and Canada.' Which seemed to be saying that the aboriginal nationals who own 40 percent of the land through which a Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline would go had better not start putting roadblocks - in the form of conservation issues - in energy companies' way or they'll lose the opportunity for 1/3 ownership of the pipeline for good. How the communities meeting at Hay River in the Northwest Territories will respond to that ultimatum is yet to be decided.

To read the report on sustainable development commissioned by the Canadian Government in 1994 and only this week released is to read the definitive manual on how a government can give resource developers as much help as they need (down to mapping the area for them) to exploit the resource. The federal government will, no doubt, be the big benefactor who gives the aboriginal communities the $1 billion they need to invest in the pipeline project if they want to benefit from it. So much for National Aboriginal Month, as June is in Canada.

Back here in the States, I imagine a few newsrooms have been facing moral dilemmas over the amount of coverage they give the execution of Timothy McVeigh. "Face the Nation" on CBS was the only free-to-air Sunday talkshow to completely ignore it, for which I'm grateful. It concentrated instead on the bills coming up now that the Democrats have got control of the legislative agenda again. The first of these is to do with a patients bill of rights and one of the sticking points on this is whether cases patients bring against their health care providers will be dealt with by state or federal courts. Despite their avowed intention to keep federal government involvement in people's lives to a minimum and despite the Texas state justice system, for example, already hearing such complaints, Republicans are seemingly insisting cases should be heard in federal courts.

To understand the average American's suspicion and distrust of 'the feds' - by which they mean not just the FBI but all federal agencies - you need to understand that what is taught in school about the nation's history and values stresses 'the ideal of the free individual'. That is even the title of one of the sections in "The American Way", a book that's recommended for new citizens. That ideal originated with Jefferson, 'who favoured a small, weak form of government, which he believed would encourage the development of a nation of free, self-reliant farmer citizens.'

In its rush to make a martyr out of the misguided, the Bush administration seems to some people to be very small and weak indeed.

Lea Barker
Sunday, 10 June 2001

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