The UCP Vote on the GSA Bill: Free Vote or Rubber Stamp?

It started innocently enough…

The NDP government introduced Bill 24, an act to prohibit teachers from informing parents their kids had joined a gay-straight alliance (GSA) unless the kids consented.   (Note: The Bill does not change a teacher’s general obligation to notify parents if there’s a risk a student might harm him/herself or others.)

All eyes turned to the UCP…

Jason Nixon, leader of the UCP caucus, said the Wildrose tradition of allowing free votes would continue under the UCP even as it considered Bill 24.

All eyes turned to the other Jason…

Jason Kenney, the leader of the UCP, said his MLAs would oppose Bill 24.

To make sure his MLAs understood his/their position Mr Kenney issued a statement saying the UCP supports GSAs, does not support mandatory parental notification, and objects to Bill 24 because teachers should have the discretion to out kids as they see fit, especially if they’re 5 years old or developmentally challenged.  Also, the amendment to section 50 of the School Act was a covert attempt to sneak sensitive subjects that normally require parental notification into the curriculum, etc.

All righty then.

A rubber stamp by any other name

We settled in for a spirited debate in the Legislature–would the “free voters” speak for themselves on this matter of conscience or would they’d cave under pressure from their new leader and toe the party line?

They caved.  Sure, some tried to argue they weren’t caving but in the end, they all caved.

Here’s how they did it:

The outraged abstainer:  Leela Aheer was all over the map.  She was comfortable with 80% of the Bill but objected to the amendment of Section 50 of the School Act implying it was part of a grand conspiracy to sneak god knows what into the curriculum.*

Ms Aheer used most of her allotted time making a speech about…Ms Aheer.

She’d been bullied by the government.  People who suggested she’d been directed to vote against the Bill didn’t know her very well.  She was upset because constituents and loved ones couldn’t understand why she refused to support the Bill.  She was an ally of the LBGTQ+ community, how dare anyone say her actions suggested otherwise.  She dared the government to tell her to her face, here and now, what they thought of her.  Oh my.      


Leela Aheer and the other former WR MLA who missed the vote

The puppet MLA:  Mark Smith didn’t need a “free vote”, he didn’t even need a voice.  He was content to use his allotted time reading Jason Kenney’s statement into the record and then summarizing them in case we missed the point the first time around.**

The parrot MLAs:  Most of the MLAs regurgitated one or two talking points from Jason Kenney’s statement.  They offered lots of criticism but no suggestions for amendments other than the elimination of the change to School Act section which would render Bill 24 useless.

At the end of the day

The purpose of Bill 24 is to protect students and allow them (and no one else) to determine if, when, and to whom they want to disclose their sexual identity because the  consequences of premature disclosure can be devastating.

The allegation that the amendment to Section 50 of the School Act is a precursor to something more sinister is red herring.  Section 50 requires parental notification when the curriculum deals primarily or explicitly with human sexuality or religion.  GSAs like other extracurricular activities are not part of the curriculum, they’re clubs, however some people have tried to justify outing kids by interpreting Section 50 to include GSAs. The amendment in Bill 24 addresses this by making it clear that the obligation for parental notification does not apply to GSAs.

Whether or not we protect LBGTQ+ students is a question of morality, not politics.  It is shameful that under Jason Kenney’s leadership former Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs traded the right to exercise a free vote for the safety of being a rubber stamp.

The rubber stampers should be proud of themselves, I’m sure their leader is.

*Hansard, Nov 15, 2017, pp 1921 – 1924

**Hansard, Nov 15, 2017, pp 1926 – 1927

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11 Responses to The UCP Vote on the GSA Bill: Free Vote or Rubber Stamp?

  1. Brent McFadyen says:

    Love your frankness Susan. May the by-election have some of the same discourses described here. Then the voters can see who the UCP really are, backward thinkers.

    • Brent the Calgary Lougheed by-election is hugely important. I hope Albertans get a chance to see the candidates express their views in an all-party debate. I’d love to see Jason Kenney defend his position on Bill 24 in a debate with Dave Kahn (Lib) and Philip van der Merwe (NDP). It might be the first time Kenney has had a chance to ask two openly gay men why they find the UCP position so odious.

  2. Ed Henderson says:

    Ahh, the great thing about a Political party is that to get a party’s support a candidate must become a slave to the parties whim. So we the voters don’t have to know anything about any political parties candidate, just that Jason Kenny or Rachel Notley, or some other actor selected them.
    Great, isn’t it…makes things so much simpler. We don’t have to even think anymore, it’s all done for us. Welcome to 1984, 2019 style.

  3. You make a good point Ed. This month’s edition of Alberta Views featured a story entitled “Where Leaders Matter More Than Party”. The author made the same point you’re making–in the past Alberta’s political system was more non-partisan and focused on the independence of individual members, today it’s all about the leaders and party discipline. It’s a real shame when MLAs don’t think they can exercise a free vote on matters of conscience without jeopardizing their political future.

    • jerrymacgp says:

      So, here is a counter to that argument: if a party’s principles & policies are developed from the bottom up—by grassroots members rather than in the stereotypical “smoke-filled back rooms” of a Party machine—should a party’s candidate in an election, or its representative in a legislative caucus, be able to act against that policy, either for good or ill? Don’t party members get to expect that the individuals carrying their banner forward into an election would advocate for those communally-developed policies?

      Let us say that someone ran under the banner of, for example, the Green Party. Could that person then go ahead and defy Green policy on oil & gas development, pipelines, etc.? Of course not. They would no longer be entitled to be called a Green. I’m sure there are similar policy distinctions in all of the parties, such that one cannot argue or vote in conflict with those policies and remain a member of that party.

      Free votes should be limited to those questions upon which a member’s Party has no established position.

      • Jerry, I agree with you that free votes should be limited to questions upon which an MLA’s party has no established position.

        If we apply that reasoning to this situation the UCP MLAs should have been able to exercise a free vote on Bill 24. Kenney has consistently said he will not legislate on hot-button social issues. He campaigned on having no policies whatsoever. Into this void steps Jason Nixon who said the UCP would honour the WR tradition of free votes and voila Kenney makes the statement that all of his UCP MLAs will vote against Bill 24. The free vote goes up in smoke and the WR tradition of free votes morphs into two MLAs abstaining by leaving the Chamber when it’s time to record their votes.

        It’s yet another example of Kenney saying one thing (he won’t legislate on social issues) and doing the exact opposite.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Same old same old – a pseudo democracy In action.
    It will get worse because if you think Harper was bad, wait for Jason Kenney’s show.
    Again Rachel Notley had a great opportunity to change the system but she, like the rest of them, is comfortable to always have the hammer. I just cannot believe we have the guts to call this a democratic process. It is nothing but a compassionate dictatorship. It is a three piece suit free voting system. Other than that it is nonsense. Party discipline is as outdated as the cassette player but God forbid taking away power from the Leader. If we are electing MLAs to stay quiet with their heads down, just save some money and get whoever is unemployed to sit in the house.
    I doubt that Jason Kenney will loose the by election. It is hard to admit but many Albertans love his bully ways. People cannot wait to have Jason Kenney blaming everyone for not having another boom. I wish the very best to the other two candidates and I will be 20 years younger if any of them beats Jason Kenney. Otherwise the Legislature is going to turn into an asylum.

  5. Carlos, you’re probably right about the outcome of the Calgary by-election, but I think the NDP will do better than expected. Many Calgarians (not all mind you) are sick and tired of Kenney’s divisive politics. Interestingly, the only people being hurt by the divisiveness are Kenney supporters (including UCP MLAs) who want to support his conservative fiscal policies but are having a hard time justifying his ultra-conservative social policies. Leela Aheer is a good example. Her comments in the Legislature were borderline hysterical. She was defensive, aggressive, and incoherent. It was bizarre. Kenney’s “attack dog” politics will likely sway enough people to get him elected–it is a Tory stronghold after all–however he won’t be as successful in Alberta as a whole.
    On your point about democracy being a sham, I think there is much we can do to improve democratic processes here in Canada, but I’m not as pessimistic it in Alberta as you are.
    (But that’s par for the course isn’t it :))

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Yes it is – I am certainly not as positive as you are. I am extremely concerned with the state of democratic politics everywhere. People like Trump and Putin are taking advantage of it and the US, if Trump survives the 4 years, will have profound scars to deal with. I think people are underestimating the consequences of what he is doing there.
      As far as Alberta I do hope you are right but I cannot say I agree with you.

  6. Carlos Beca says:

    Here is an interesting article from one of the very few newspapers I still trust (not 100%)

    I hope you enjoy it

    • Carlos, thanks for the link to this inspiring article. I’ve been reading the Guardian for a while now so it was good to get a better understanding of how it came into being (Peterloo) and what it hopes to do in the future to live up to its principle that “facts are sacred”. This is particularly important today with people like Kenney and Trump fabricating “news” that’s picked up without question by outlets like Post Media and dispersed through social media.

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