Bill 179: A Followup and a Valuable Lesson

It can be hard, when taking on the mantle of skeptic activism, to not take things personally. When you care deeply about a particular issue, you tend to put a great deal of yourself into the necessary tasks, even if those tasks don’t particularly need your ego or your personality getting in the way, mucking things up. The problem gets worse when you take on a particular issue, and things don’t turn out the way you had hoped.

Recently, members of the Skeptic North team were involved in the issue of Bill 179, a piece of legislation that contained an amendment that would allow naturopaths the right to prescribe drugs. The bill itself was detailed and comprehensive, and was aimed at expanding scope-of-practice for healthcare professionals in Ontario. It was only that one problematic, last-minute naturopath-addition that we took exception to.


The bill itself passed the Ontario legislature last week with unanimous support, and since then, it’s been a weird week of conflicting emotions and communications with our supporters. Once I heard the news that the bill was carried, I confess I felt like I had been shot (but I’ve never been shot before, so take that simile as you may) in the heart: We had worked so hard, lost sleep, stressed out over it, and we’ve had people make terrible accusations of us in the mainstream media, as well as in the comment threads at Skeptic North. It’s hard to not take things so personally when people make personal attacks about our intelligence, our motivations, and our honesty.

But it’s been a week since then, and now that the smoke has cleared, it’s a lot easier to step away from it and see the issue in a much clearer light. Despite my initial reaction, I find it rather difficult to see this as a “loss” for “our side”. I’m truly convinced that we have a great deal to be proud of, and the positive effects of our activities are very real, and I now wish to not only thank, but congratulate all of our supporters.

This is not spin, let me explain…

Our blog launched on Oct 1. As a two-month old blog, we should be writing to an audience comprised of our friends and family at this point. We also managed to build our skeptic media and mainstream media contacts at the same time that we were asking them for their help. With the help of our friends, contacts and supporters, our infant blog made this a national news story.

But far more importantly, this issue has a positive outcome for people that may not have known or thought about it before. The night that the bill passed, a skeptic-friend of mine put it very well to me: skeptic activism is a bit like trying to stop mugging. We can put as many cops on the streets as we want, but we’ll never be able to stop mugging. However, we can stop some mugging. Thanks to everyone helping out spreading the word (such as The National Post, Calgary and Toronto Radio, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, various Scienceblogs, Science Based Medicine, just to name a few), this sleeper issue was forced to roll out of bed and step onto the cold, scrutinizing floor. Similar legislation is going to be tabled before the Legislatures of Nova Scotia and Alberta. When that happens, we can all build on the momentum and foundation that we all helped generate the first time around.

Chances are, there will be some people who will think twice about naturopaths prescribing, or about naturopaths being presented as primary-care providers. It’s not always the mission of skepticism to make change in government policy, because harm-reduction is a noble, and valuable end-result. Indeed “affect media and culture” is one of the primary mandates of Skeptic North.

Thinking about it now, I actually find it hard to get back into the headspace of last week. I look back on last week and I am very glad of a few key things:
1) Skeptic North, with the tremendous help and support of our friends / colleagues, made this a national story when it wouldn’t have otherwise.
2) When we started in October, one of the things we knew would be part of the process would be that we had to learn how to be a skeptic organization, and we now have enough lessons to fill volumes.
3) When we had a chance to do something about this last-minute amendment, we took that chance, and did absolutely everything we could have. We can go to sleep at night knowing that.

This was not a loss, not by a long shot. Call that ‘spin’ if you like, but I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do, glad of our support from everyone else, wiser for all the lessons learned, honest knowing that we did our best, and confident in our ability to use what we learned in the future. This is not about naturopathy, nor about Skeptic North. This is about being an organization which is about science advocacy, and in this regard, I can say that we did that in spades.

Thank you, and congratulations to everyone who took the time to get involved. We all have a great deal to be proud of.

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  • Steve Thoms

    Steve is a professional music teacher living in Kitchener, Ontario. He studied recorded music production at Fanshawe College, and Political Studies/History at Trent University, where he specialized in political economy and global politics. He is an amateur astronomer, and an award-winning astro-photographer. Steve also runs the blog, Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic." can can be followed on Twitter, @SomeCndnSkeptic.