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Bill 24 passes, protecting Albertan students in gay-straight alliances

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Alberta Education Minister David Eggen. Image: David Climenhaga


Bill 24An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, passed third and final reading by 42 votes to 23 in the Alberta Legislature yesterday morning.

Thanks to the efforts of the NDP majority in the Legislature, as soon as the bill comes into force it will be illegal for teachers and school administrators to tell parents their child has joined a gay-straight alliance at school without the permission of the child. The bill also closes loopholes now used by some schools to obstruct efforts by their students to form GSAs.

Yesterday's vote brought to an end two weeks of often emotional and angry debate about the human rights of students still in school, the rights of their parents to be informed about their children's activities, and competing inclusive and social conservative visions of how society ought to be organized.

Schools were already required to allow students to form GSAs if the students saw the need, in legislation that was reluctantly introduced and passed by the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Jim Prentice in 2015 under pressure from Liberals and New Democrats in the House and many voters throughout the province.

Passage of the 2015 law was described by media as "a stunning about-face," and didn't happen until after the same Tories had defeated a similar private member's bill by Alberta Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.

In the event, this dramatic change of heart by the Prentice PCs was apparently deemed insufficient by Alberta voters, who soon thereafter for a multitude of reasons surprised everyone, including themselves, and elected an NDP majority government led by Premier Rachel Notley.

Since then, of course, the PC Party has been absorbed by the Wildrose Party – now rebranded the United Conservative Party -- in what appears to have been a project by the Manning Centre, remnants of Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada, and other well-connected social conservative allies to make Harper lieutenant Jason Kenney premier of Alberta.

The amendments to the original GSA law passed yesterday morning will not be an undue hardship for teachers, of course, who close to unanimously support it. The amendments may also save the lives of some students who come from homes where parents put their religious or social ideology ahead of their natural duty to love their children unreservedly.

Passage of the law is also a backhanded tribute to the influence of Mr. Kenney, leader of the UCP since October 28, whose legislative caucus, their thinning hair afire, mostly manfully opposed the legislation from the get-go. (Only two UCP members skipped the vote yesterday, former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, still licking his wounds from his leadership loss to Mr. Kenney, and Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Leela Aheer.)

After all, it was Mr. Kennedy's leadership campaign rhetoric that parents must have a right to know everything thing their children do at school -- in particular whether they decide to join a GSA -- that resulted in the decision by Education Minister David Eggen and the NDP Caucus to draft the law in the first place.

So, really, in the style of our Republican neighbours south of the Medicine Line, it would be fair to call this "Jason's Law," after the man whose assiduous efforts to satisfy his social conservative base, which was energized and influential in the PC and UCP leadership races Mr. Kenney won, inspired it.

Since then, Mr. Kenney and his supporters have tried with only limited success to deny he is in favour our "outing" young people who may be at risk from their own families because of their emerging identities. UCP Education Critic Mark Smith claimed yesterday, for example, that the party supports GSAs, it just supports parents who want to help kids at risk more.

While there is a legitimate debate about who trapped whom in this dramatic political skirmish, the evidence suggests it was the NDP, this time, which outmaneuvered the UCP and not the other way around.

Accordingly, it is said here, the UCP would be smart to drop the whole matter like the proverbial hot potato now that they have amply demonstrated their fealty to their social conservative base.

After all, as the Manning Centre's own research, uncovered and exposed yesterday by Press Progress, illustrates, this effort to put "parents rights" ahead of human rights is unlikely to win the UCP many friends among the next generation of voters.

"Conservative-oriented political parties are among the least-trusted group by Millennials across Canada," said the leaked papers about polling by the Manning Centre. "There are some traditional conservative positions which will be seen as 'deal-breakers' by Millennials, such as abortion, gay marriage, opposition to immigration, etc." (Emphasis added.)

While the Manning Centre was using this not-very-startling revelation in a bid to raise money for its own efforts to remain relevant and in business, it does confirm a reality that almost any parent of Millennial children understands.

Notwithstanding the hopeful prediction by Postmedia political columnist Graham Thomson yesterday that the UCP is ready to put the issue behind them, fast, it will be hard for the rebranded Conservative party to do.

Even at the risk of facing more savage mockery by the likes of comedian Rick Mercer, the vocal and angry social conservative rump that makes up the hard core of UCP voters demands constant attention to its bugbears.

Consider John Carpay, the annoying social conservative activist from Calgary who has vowed to challenge Bill 24 in court at the first opportunity.

Mr. Carpay, president of an entity called the "Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms," argues Alberta's whole approach to GSAs, including the part that dates back to when the Conservatives were in power, "attacks and undermines the religious character of schools by forcing them to have GSAs, which are not peer support groups, but they are political clubs that promote an ideology that is hostile to Islam, to Catholicism, to evangelical Christianity, to Orthodox Judaism and to other religions…"

It's odd that this wasn't on the "Justice Centre's" agenda when Conservatives supported by the Manning Centre passed the original law, but there is little doubt Mr. Carpay and his allies in the social conservative movement are quite sincere in their vision of what Canadian society ought to look like -- regardless of how unappealing that vision may seem to some Boomer bloggers and Millennial voters.

But if he keeps his promise to keep the GSA pot boiling, Mr. Carpay will likely ensure Mr. Kenney remains in hot water too.

You have to ask, with friends like Mr. Carpay -- if he persists in his determination to play a role in the Conservative camp not unlike the one environmentalist Tzeporah Bean played for the NDP -- does the UCP need enemies?

Image: David Climenhaga​

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

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