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.
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