Somewhere between the time that Premier Hancock stepped down and Premier Prentice ascended to the throne, the PC caucus turned into a bunch of sniveling crybabies. Not to worry, Mr Prentice will save the day with a maneuver befitting his mentor, Mr Harper.
Apparently the Liberal’s Bill 202 wedged the PC caucus between a rock and a hard place.
Bill 202 obligates schools boards to let students form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and eliminates the right of parents to pull their kids out of classes on religion, sexuality and sexual orientation.
The PC caucus was afraid that if they voted against Bill 202 they’d look like they didn’t support gay students, but if they voted for Bill 202 they’d upset parents (voters) and school boards.
Hmm, tough decision…what to do? Help vulnerable students or appease right wing parents and school boards? Ask for amendments in public debate or be absent from the Leg on “important” business across town?
The PC caucus met secretly with the Premier and he came up with the Harper solution—he’d shred one of the few democratic processes we have left in the Alberta Legislature—“lively and meaningful” debate*—in order to produce a solution that’s worse than the status quo.
Dismantling democracy Harper’s way
Limit debate: Lively and meaningful debate is vital to democracy, particularly in Alberta where the Legislature sits fewer days than all of the other provinces except PEI. (PEI may be forgiven its laxness; unlike Alberta, it does not wear the crown of energy superpower).
If the paucity of days-in-session weren’t enough, Mr Prentice limited the time available to debate Bill 202 by hi-jacking the agenda.
He jammed it full of Written Questions and Motions from the Opposition. There was no urgency around the questions and the government rejected every last one of them so the schedule change was unnecessary.
However it served its purpose. It chewed up hours that should have been devoted to a debating Bill 202.
The Liberals responded by withdrawing their remaining questions and motions, which hamstrung their ability to hold the government to account, but cleared the calendar for debate of Bill 202….then Prentice shut down the Legislature early on account of snow. Is the Premier going to call a “snow day” every time the going gets tough and his MLAs aren’t tougher?
Launch a PR attack: The Premier simultaneously unfurled a full scale PR campaign denouncing Bill 202 as “unfair”, “unbalanced”**and “unnecessarily divisive”.***
He said it pitted a student’s right to a safe, caring and tolerant learning environment against a parent’s right to make informed decisions about their child’s education and the democratic, legal and constitutional autonomy of school boards.
Roll out a “better” bill: Instead of debating the issue of students’ rights versus parents/school board’s rights in the Legislature, the Premier chose the Harper solution—the PCs would introduce their own bill to trump the Liberal’s Bill.
No one has seen Mr Prentice’s bill because it’s being cobbled together as we speak. But never mind, Mr Prentice provided the highlights. He’ll amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to (1) include “sexual orientation” as a protected right (indeed, this is a good thing) and (2) add a new right—the right of parents to make informed decisions about their children’s education (good luck litigating the meaning of “informed”).
Parents will continue to get notices and be able to pull their kids out of classes on religion or human sexuality but they won’t get a notice if the topic is sexual orientation. How the topic of sexual orientation comes up in isolation from human sexuality is beyond me.
School boards will continue to have the power to refuse to let students form a GSA, but if they refuse, students will have a “clear legal recourse”—they can sue the school board!
The PCs Pre Harper and Post Harper
Leaving aside the injustice of forcing vulnerable school children to hire a lawyer to fight for their rights under the Alberta Human Rights Act, an equally grave concern is the fact that Mr Prentice aborted the democratic process of lively and meaningful debate in order to spare his MLAs the political fall-out of recording their views and votes in public.
Laurie Blakeman’s Bill 202 is an extension of Kent Hehr’s Motion 503. When Mr Hehr asked the government to pass legislation requiring school boards to allow students to create GSAs the PC government and the Wildrose fell all over themselves professing their support for GSAs but couldn’t bring themselves to infringe on the sacred independence of school boards.
Every member of the WR caucus in the Leg that day voted against Motion 503…but 12 members of the PC caucus, including Sandra Janzen, Thomas Lucaszuk and Ken Hughes, supported it. The names of PC MLAs who opposed are recorded in Hansard for posterity.
The PC government wouldn’t support GSAs under Premier Hancock and they won’t support GSAs under Premier Prentice. The only difference here is that under Premier Hancock they were prepared to come out and say so. Under Premier Prentice, they’re hiding in a PR fog that starts with blaming the Liberals for violating Albertans’ values and ends with forcing students to go to court if they want to form a support group.
According to Caeleah Bartosek, a 13 year old lesbian who came out earlier this year, “Queer youth need to know that school is a safe place”. When she was told that by publicly supporting Bill 202 she risks becoming a target, she said “I’m not the one that needs to be targeted, it’s the politicians.”****
Damn right Caeleah! Mr Prentice turned the protection of Alberta’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens into a political football.
Here’s his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Mr Prentice in Hansard, Nov 25, 2014, p161
**Calgary Herald, Nov 28, 2014
***Alberta Government News Statement, Nov 27, 2014
****Calgary Herald, Nov 29, 2014, A7.