Lessons Prentice Learned at Harper’s Knee

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.

Laurie Blakeman (Lib)

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.

Kent Hehr (Lib)

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: calgary.foothills@assembly.ab.ca

*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.

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21 Responses to Lessons Prentice Learned at Harper’s Knee

  1. John Smith says:

    Thank you Susan for exposing Jim Prentice’s fear (or loathing) of democracy.

    Albertans deserve better than this. This is not leadership; it’s pandering to the bigots for political gain.

    • Exactly! There’s a reason why Rachel Notley slammed Prentice in Question Period with a reference to a CBC interview given by Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan. Donovan said he crossed the floor to the PC caucus because they are more socially conservative than the Wildrose. Wow!

  2. Liz says:

    My latest library book is called “Party of One” by Michael Harris, dealing with Stephen Harper and Canada’s radical makeover. I have only read the first few chapters and quite honestly it is one distressing read. The details of the influence on Harper’s rise to power by the NCC (National Citizens Coalition) and the despicable politics of Arthur Finkelstein (an American pollster and strategist) are astonishing. These folks believe in extolling negative points about opponents, whilst hiding their own candidates.
    So yes, I believe that Jim Prentice had apprenticed well at the feet of his former Dear Leader. For them both, once majority power is secured, let policies and principles be damned!

    • Liz: Your description of the Harper process–extolling negative points about opponents, whilst hiding their own candidates–is exactly what’s happening here with Bill 202. Virtually all legislation is controversial in one way or another. That’s no excuse for shutting down debate. The public has the right to see how the government comes to its decisions–the factors it considered before tipping the balance in favour of one segment of the public at the expense of another. Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, says “a debate that takes place in secret is usually a recipe for waste, corruption and abuse of public resources–not for solving problems”. If the Harper regime taught us anything it’s this: The longer we allow the PCs to stay in power the more extreme they will become.

  3. Jim Lees says:

    The colourful poster closely resembles one I saw on the tv show South Park, also dealing with discrimination. What happened during the TV show made about as much sense as how the PCs dealt with this. And they wonder why people, in particular our youth, are turned off by politics…..

  4. Jim your point about the youth is bang on. The Herald story on Caeleah Bartosek included a quote from Nicholas Diaz who said that as a bisexual student at a Catholic elementary, junior high and high school he would have benefited from the support of a GSA. He asked “What’s more important? Our children being successful and happy or this political game that’s going on?” What indeed?

  5. Neil Fleming says:

    This is a very disappointing development on many levels. Mr Prentice has announced repeatedly that the province is under new management but the electorate will not be given the opportunity to see how there MLA would vote on this very telling issue of societal tolerance. When Ian Donovan crossed from the Wildrose and declared that the PC’s were more socially conservative than the WR, I had trouble digesting that comment. It now appears that Mr Prentice is afraid to show the true colours of his party and Mr Donovan may have found a new more comfortable home.

    • Neil your conclusion is supported by Mr Prentice’s responses to literally every question the Opposition lobbed at him in Question Period. He said it’s complicated, we support a safe, tolerant learning environment, and we need to balance the rights of children to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation, the rights of parents to have a say in their children’s education and the rights of the school board to administer education. Frankly I don’t see how he can balance the right of a child to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation with the “right” of a school board to label an LBGQT orientation deviant. This is a moral issue. That’s why we need to see where he and his caucus stand. Looks like restoring the trust of the people by being accountable to them only applies when it works for the premier.

  6. edwinmundt says:

    The solution is actually quite simple, but it requires intestinal fortitude. There will be GSAs and proper resources for any student in the province that requests one, private school or public. Full stop. School Boards that refuse to comply will be dissolved by fiat. This means all religious schools, Christian, Muslim, Hutterite, Catholic, etc. ALL. This is about the children.

    I doubt we see this happen however.

    • Edwin: Prentice cleverly framed Bill 10 as an effort to “balance” students’ rights to a safe/caring educational environment with parents’ rights to make informed educational decisions and school boards’ rights to autonomy. Prentice is a lawyer. He should read the preamble to the Education Act. It says “the educational best interest of the child is the paramount consideration in making decisions about a child’s education”. The School Act has similar language. “Paramount” means a child’s best interests trump everything else. Under the law there is no need to “balance” anything. Prentice is pandering to his right wing base, including his own Education Minister.

      The real issue is this: if a school board refuses to meet its paramount objective then it puts itself outside the School Act and the Education Act and is not eligible for public funding. No need for a fiat to push them out. They’ve pushed themselves out.

  7. We still have schools in Alberta where “lake of fire” comments are still allowed in Religious Instruction classes in middle schools where the school board does not require any curriculum from the people volunteering to teach the children. The last time I ask for copy of the curriculum in Athabasca for the protestant curriculum, the superintendent provided the curriculum of the Catholic School curriculum which is also taught. When I called him on it nothing was ever done. School Board chairs did not want to discuss the lack of curriculum. Parents were coming to me as a minister, that their children were wanting baptism because they did not want to end up “in the lake of fire”.

    • Holycow: when I wrote the Motion 503 blog I googled “lake of fire”. The images were shocking. Children taught this stuff must be terrified.

      We have good reason to be worried about Prentice’s Bill 10 and his selection of Gord Dirks as the new Education Minister. In the Legislature (Nov 25) NDP leader Rachel Notley referred to Dirks as the man “who led a private college with a morality clause that discriminates against homosexuals and who was a leader within a church which equates bestiality with being in a same-sex relationship.” She added “So the welcoming home the Premier is providing to many extreme social Conservatives is troubling to many Albertans committed to protecting LGBTQ rights.” No kidding!

  8. HI Susan, great post. If Prentice’s bill goes through perhaps we can all form an organization that will help take any school boards or schools to court re refusing to support gay straight alliance groups… I think there was an organization that fought successfully for HPV vaccinations to be offered in all schools. Would that work in this case?

    • Excellent idea Linda. I don’t know how the HPV organization overcame the small minded opposition they encountered, but I’ll look into it. We can regroup when we know the status of Bill 10. I’m pretty sure it will get through given the fact the Wildrose will support it as well.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    I said it before and I repeat – same pile and same flies. Could be used for a commercial on Febreze.
    Since the win on the three by-elections the tone has changed to ‘same old same old’

  10. Carlos, the PC caucus’ performance today in the Assembly confirms everything you’ve said. When Kent Hehr first raised the issue of GSAs in April 2014, Sandra Jansen was one of the few PC MLAs to support his motion. She said 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 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than a straight student. So guess who sponsored Prentice’s Bill 10? Yep, Ms Jansen.
    She vigorously defended Bill 10 which allows small minded school boards to shut down GSAs and allows appeals of the school boards decision ONLY if there’s “jurisdictional error” (highly unlikely) or “unreasonableness” (based on what legal test–the reasonable man or the reasonable religious man?). Unbelievable!

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Yes unbelievable, but true. These are the same people that do not understand why youth is not involved in their neolithic process.

  11. Malcolm says:

    Susan (W)right you are.

  12. Prentice’s Bill 10 went to a vote yesterday. The vote was 42 in favour of Bill 10 and 10 against. The only PC MLA to vote against Bill 10 was Thomas Lukaszuk who said “I simply do not believe in incremental granting of human rights.”
    You may recall that in April Kent Hehr brought a motion, Motion 503, to prevent school boards from shutting down GSAs if students wanted to form them. The six PCs who supported Kent’s motion were Sandra Jansen, Kyle Fawcett, Cal Dallas, Neil Brown, Pearl Calahasen, Alana Delong, and Lukaszuk. Only Lukaszuk stayed true to his principles.
    Two Wildrose MLAs joined the Liberals and the NDP in opposing Prentice’s Bill 10. They were Danielle Smith and Jeff Wilson.
    The debates were very moving. They can be found at http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files%5Cdocs%5Chansards%5Chan%5Clegislature_28%5Csession_3%5C20141202_1330_01_han.pdf Starting at page 302. Well worth a read.

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