David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Political Correctness and the Manitoba Election

Brandon Sun, March 21, 2016 - David McConkey

“Manitoba is among the worst in the country for . . . “ Well, you can fill in the rest. We are so used to reading in the news a sentence that starts this way. That the province has problems like crime is an existential challenge for the governing NDP. And also for the other political parties. And for us – the citizens. Coming to grips with problems, however, can be even more difficult because of political correctness.
Perhaps the most appalling of these Manitoba “worst in the country” statistics are the thousands of children in government care. Almost 90% of these children are indigenous. But political correctness stops us from fully understanding the issue and from taking more effective action. That’s the assertion of my friend Brian Giesbrecht, in a recent op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press. Manitoba government officials say that half of the children in care have “developmental or addiction issues.” Giesbrecht points out that this is “politically correct code” for three words they do not want to say out loud: “fetal alcohol syndrome.”

Fetal alcohol syndrome is part of the more general fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Children born with FASD suffer their whole lives from a range of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional problems. Yet FASD is completely preventable. It is caused by the mother-to-be drinking alcohol during pregnancy. FASD is a tragedy for the kids themselves, for their families, and for our whole society. Many of the Manitobans affected are indigenous.

Giesbrecht, who is a retired judge, has called for a national inquiry to investigate the fetal alcohol issue and suggest strategies to deal with the problem. FASD should be recognized as being on the scale of the challenge of missing and murdered indigenous women. (Another issue, by the way, where Manitoba – especially Winnipeg – is “ground zero.”)

There are many complex and controversial aspects to FASD that a national inquiry should explore. Among these are economic, cultural, social, and gender considerations. There is also debate about the nature of alcohol addiction. And there is the question of whether there are any genetic predispositions to this condition.

But how can we contemplate an inquiry about the fetal alcohol issue if we are afraid to even say its name? So while we are waiting for the political will to actually discuss this issue, there are two specific actions we could do in Manitoba right away.

One: stick a dramatic label about FASD on every bottle of alcohol sold in Manitoba. Remember: FASD is entirely preventable. Just as we learned that smoking causes cancer, we know now that drinking during pregnancy causes FASD. So why aren’t there graphic warnings on bottles of alcohol like those on packs of cigarettes?
Two: increase the money devoted to FASD research and awareness programming by the agency in charge of alcohol: Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries. That agency spends two percent of its net income on alcohol and gambling “social responsibility programs.” This totals over $10 million annually. But given the enormity of the FASD problem, this money is nowhere near enough. Especially considering that FASD can be only part of this effort, which deals with other concerns like binge drinking, drunk driving, and problem gambling.
Of course, we must be prepared to talk about FASD in the first place. And so we come back to our politicians and our current election. What about recognizing the importance of the fetal alcohol issue and putting forward proposals to address the problem? But you will search in vain for any mention of this on the website of not just the Manitoba New Democrats, but also the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals, and the Greens as well.

And that is the difficulty with political correctness. It is not just a problem of the right wing, or of the left wing, but of all politicians. (And sometimes the media as well). They are in effect conspiring to keep a discussion out of the public square.
I guess raising some controversial issues is up to us – the citizens.

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See also: 

The Most Politically Incorrect Issue of All?

Retired Brandon Judge Speaks Out

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Remember Lesson of History on International Women's Day

Politically Incorrect Issues This Election

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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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