In the same week that the Alberta government debated and rejected Motion 503, Rob Anderson, Wildrose House Leader, made an emotional plea to put an end to name-calling—specifically “Lake of Fire Party” and “homophobe”.
It was a bizarre week. Here’s how it rolled out.
On Monday, Liberal MLA Kent Hehr brought Motion 503 to the House. He asked the government to make school boards develop policies to support students who wanted to set up gay-straight alliances (GSAs). Note: Motion 503 did not force school boards to create GSAs. It simply required school boards to support them with good policies if a group of students wanted to create a GSA.
The PCs and the Wildrose fell all over themselves trying to assure us that nobody was more anti-bullying than they were…then while extolling the virtues of GSAs they confirmed a school board’s right to kill them with impunity.
The similarities between the PC and Wildrose positions were unnerving. Both parties started with statements that sounded plausible but quickly degenerated into utter nonsense.
Motion 503 must die because…
The PC/Wildrose Brain Trust came up with five reasons to reject Motion 503. (Can you figure out which party proffered which argument?)
- LGBTQ students are already protected from bullying under the new Education Act. Perhaps, but the Education Act will not become law until 2015, what are these kids supposed to do in the meantime?
- The Motion singled out a specific group of students, potentially at the expense of others and “we can’t possibly legislate for each and every one of these groups.”* Actually we can and we must when the school boards responsible for “these groups” prevent them from protecting themselves against bullying.
- School boards are elected to make schools a safe learning environment. There is no room for government micromanagement. Wrong. The government must step in when school boards do not act in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Alberta Human Rights Act.
- Urban schools are different from rural schools and faith-based schools are different from public schools; what works in one school won’t necessarily work in another. All of these schools are publicly funded. Their size, location and curriculum are irrelevant; the real question is whether the fundamental rights of their students are violated.
- Forcing schools to “sanction” any organization that promotes concepts that contradict their “sincerely held religious belief” effectively protects the rights of one group by disrespecting the beliefs of another group.** Ahhh. Now we’ve come to the nub of the issue. This requires thoughtful discussion, starting with the question: should a faith-based school that denies a specific group of students their fundamental rights continue to receive public funding?
A few PCs break ranks
Not all PC MLAs voted the party line. Twelve MLAs, including potential leadership candidates Ken Hughes and Tom Lukaszuk, broke ranks and voted with the Liberals and the New Democrats in support of Motion 503.
Sandra Jansen, Associate Minister for Family and Community, provided evidence demonstrating the vulnerability of LGBTQ students: 64% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe in their own schools; a gay student is 5 times more likely to drop out of school than a straight student and a gay student is three times more likely to make a suicide attempt than a straight student.***
Unfortunately Ms Jansen was unable to move the majority of her colleagues. The Deputy Speaker called the vote and the Motion failed.
Which brings us back to Mr Anderson’s “can’t we be nice” speech.
What does bullying feel like?
On Wednesday, Mr Anderson, Wildrose House Leader, was visibly distressed when Human Services Minister Bhullar referred to the Official Opposition as “the Lake of Fire Party over there”. He objected when Dr Sherman, Liberal leader, challenged Premier Hancock to decide whether he was a “placeholder Premier or a real Premier who stands up to the homophobes in [his] caucus”. ****
Mr Anderson gave an eloquent speech, pausing frequently, his voice cracking as he explained to the House that some of the Wildrose caucus had gay and lesbian family members. Their families included visible minorities. He reminded the Assembly that the Wildrose party changed its policies to include protection of the rights of others regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical or mental disability, age, ancestry, marital status, income, family status or sexual orientation
He said: “I think that some people can imagine the hurt and the pain that it causes certain members in this House and their family members and friends when they are referred to as bigots and homophobes.”****
It was a poignant but hollow moment given that on Monday not one member of the Wildrose caucus joined the renegade PCs, the Liberals and the NDs to give LGBTQ students a way to protect themselves from the “hurt and the pain” caused by bullies in their own schools.
Not everybody is as resilient as k.d.lang or Rae Spoon, unique individuals who survived adolescence in Consort and Calgary to become internationally acclaimed singer-songwriters. Some LGBTQ students could use a little help; but in Alberta it’s all about politics, at least for 31 MLAs who killed the Motion and the remaining 37 who failed to show up
*Hansard, Apr 7, 2014, 362
**Hansard, Apr 7, 2014, 364
***Hansard, Apr 7, 2014, 367
****Hansard, Apr 9, 2014, 389, 390, 398