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Brian Mason Dave Taylor David Swann Ed Stelmach Ken Kowalski Ted Morton

bill 44, evolution, & hyper-partisanship in alberta.

When the controversy over Bill 44 and evolution erupted earlier this week, I wasn’t sure whether it was just a continuation of NDP leader Brian Mason’s weekly outrage, the result of a clumsy communications strategy, or actually a real issue. Turns out, it’s all of the above.

Although I have a hard time believing that Education Minister Dave Hancock has an agenda to undermine Alberta’s science curriculum, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that certain MLAs in the governing caucus do. In March 2008, Albertans re-elected the Progressive Conservatives with a large 72-MLA caucus, with a number of socially conservative ideologues in their ranks.

While it’s likely that the outrage over Bill 44 is largely the result of a poor communications strategy (including Premier Ed Stelmach bringing up the evolution example himself), the genesis of the controversial amendments are politically suspect. Are the controversial sections of Bill 44 simply concessions that Hancock needed to make in order to appease his social conservative caucus-mates? The governing PC caucus consists of nearly all the MLAs in the Legislature, and because of this many legislative concessions and debates occur in closed-door Caucus meetings, rather than in public debate on the floor elected Assembly. This isn’t the first time in recent memory that social conservative politics made headlines by influencing government policy (earlier this month, the PC caucus decided to de-list transgendered medical operations).

Three years ago, now-Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton introduced a Private Member’s Bill that would have banned any mention of homosexuality from Alberta’s educational curriculum. The longest-serving PC MLA, Speaker Ken Kowalski proudly placed “While human beings can create laws, the laws of God must take precedence” as the first bullet point in a campaign advertisement during the March 2008 election.

When an apology isn’t enough.

Liberal MLA Dave Taylor used some pretty tasteless language in the Legislature this week. While it was only a matter of time before a heckler like Taylor said something that he would regret, he accepted responsibility for his comments and publicly apologized on the Assembly floor the next day. However, it appears that Taylor’s public apology wasn’t enough for some members of the Legislature.

Seconds after Taylor’s public apology, Premier Stelmach presented a letter to the Legislature shaming the opposition MLA and Liberal leader David Swann. The letter was posted on the Premier’s official website shortly after that. It appears that Stelmach saw Taylor’s screw-up as an opportunity to make an example of the vocal critic, but no MLA, including Stelmach, has a track record to boast moral superiority in the Legislature. While it may have been posted during a fit of hyper-partisanship, there is no reason that this letter needed to be posted on the Premier’s official website after Taylor apologized.

Once again, we see more of the same old politics, and more of the same old games.

A couple weeks ago, a Calgary journalist suggested to me that ‘at some point, we’re going to have to start treating political ideologues like religious nutcases.’ Maybe we have reached that point.

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