Tag Archives: Betty Unger

Jason Kenney and the Secret Gay-Straight Alliance Agenda

Despite pledging to build a big tent conservative party, Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party MLAs appear to be doing their best this week to define themselves as the voice of social conservatism in Alberta. While I was convinced this new Conservative party would be disciplined enough to avoid being caught in the trap they found themselves in 2014 and again earlier this year, their actions this week suggest otherwise.

Mike Ellis MLA Calgary-West United Conservative Party

Mike Ellis

UCP opposition to Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, has caught the party on the wrong side of public opinion and on the wrong side of history. The bill would protect the privacy of students who decide to participate in a student-organized Gay-Straight Alliance and prevent those students to be outed to their parents by teachers or school administrators.

While introducing an amendment to Bill 24, Calgary-West UCP MLA Mike Ellis suggested GSAs could be a cover for the teaching of a covert sexual education curriculum. Ellis told the Assembly that his party “unequivocally support GSAs” but he believed the bill “deliberately or unwittingly erodes parental rights.”

“…it’s deeply disappointing that the members opposite continue to peddle dangerous conspiracy theories instead of accepting the simple fact that this is about protecting kids,” said Calgary-Hawkwood NDP MLA Michael Connolly in response to Ellis’ proposed amendment.

While Ellis did not actually use the words ‘secret gay agenda’ when suggesting GSAs could have a covert sexual education curriculum (which they do not), one of Kenney’s prominent supporters is actually saying just that.

Ted Byfield Alberta United Conservative Party

Ted Byfield

Conservative commentator and former Alberta Report publisher Ted Byfield, age 88, shared some pretty disgusting opinions  about GSAs on his blog, referring to the student-organized anti-bullying clubs as “sex clubs” designed to push a homosexual agenda.

“If my son or daughter, having reached, say, the age of ten or eleven, is lured into a school sex club, is persuaded that he or she must be homosexual, acts accordingly, acquires HIV and then AIDS and remains crippled for life, whom do I sue?” wrote Byfield. “The government, or the minister that helped bring this tragedy upon us?”

Byfield’s blog post made a powerful argument for why Bill 24 is necessary to protect LGBTQ students, wrote Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson.

I was surprised to discover the recent announcement that Byfield will be awarded a Senate 150 Medal by Edmonton Conservative Party Senator Betty Unger. The medal recipients were chosen “in recognition of their significant contributions to their communities.” According to a message on Unger’s Facebook page, the medals will be presented in a ceremony on November 14.

Michael Connolly NDP MLA Calgary Hawkwood

Michael Connolly

Despite the opposition of the UCP and some outdated conservative commentators, educators and school board trustees continue to voice their support for the NDP’s Bill 24.

Cheryl Low, chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, told the Calgary Herald that the changes included in Bill 24 align with the school division’s current procedures.

David Keohane, superintendent of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, told the St. Albert Gazette that his board appears to be in compliance with the new bill. “Job number one is ensuring the safety and well-being of a child while they’re at school,” Keohane told the Gazette, noting that outing a child before he or she is ready can harm them.

John Lehners, chair of the Grande Prairie Public School District, told the Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune that “I don’t think we’d have a lot of problems adhering to (the new requirement) because I think a lot of our policies reflect that.”

Despite school trustees from across the province voicing their support for Bill 24, Kenney argues that teachers should be allowed to decide when to inform parents when a student joins a GSA.

“We trust highly trained educators to use their professional judgment to make decisions in the best interests of children, particularly given that this policy applies to children as young as five years of age,” Kenney said in a press conference on November 2. It is unclear where Kenney found evidence that five year olds have been organizing GSAs, which seems like a fairly silly and weird claim.

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Greg Jeffery, says his organization supports Bill 24. Jeffery also says a lack of response by Kenney is the reason he has been unable to arrange a meeting to discuss education issues with the new UCP leader.

Perhaps the most convincing argument I have heard this week in response to Kenney’s opposition to Bill 24 came in the form of a comment on Facebook:

“I’m frustrated by the way he is using the “teachers know better than politicians” line. Actually, as a teacher, we don’t. The point of the legislation is that the student gets to decide when and to whom they come out, because that is best for the mental health of the student. I feel like he is trying to frame the issue to make himself appear that he is on the side of the teachers, when in reality, many support this bill because it supports the mental health of some of our most vulnerable students. He says he doesn’t want to out LGBTQ+ students, when mere months ago he was saying exactly that to pander to his social conservative base. So frustrating.”

Kenney’s reaction to Bill 24 this week actually surprised me. I did not expect the UCP leader to embrace a progressive agenda, but I believed a 20-year veteran of Ottawa politics would at a bare minimum take a reasonable approach to creating safe school environments for students, not, as Postmedia columnist Paula Simons tweeted this week, sound an “air raid siren of homophobia.”

The Senate Chamber in Canada's Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

2016 will mark the end of Senate Elections in Alberta

The Senatorial Selection Act, the law that governs Alberta’s unique Senate nominee elections, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. The longstanding policy of the Alberta New Democratic Party which supports the abolition of the Canadian Senate likely means the Act will be allowed to expire, into the dust of legislative history.

Don Getty Premier of Alberta

Don Getty

Members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Alberta is the only province with a general election process to select Senate nominees, which have been held in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.

The Senatorial Selection Act was introduced in 1989, in part to allow the Progressive Conservative government of Don Getty to co-opt the issue of Senate reform, which had become a powerful rallying crying of the populist Reform Party. Reform candidate Stanley Waters won the 1989 election and was appointed to the Senate in 1990 on the advice of then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Stan Waters Alberta Senate

Stanley Waters

Only a handful of Alberta’s elected Senators have actually been appointed to the upper chamber, as the election process exists outside of the Constitution and can be ignored by the federal government. Current Conservative Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas, elected in 2012, and Betty Unger, elected in 2004, were appointed to the Senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

With the exception of the 1989 election, when Liberal Bill Code placed second, only the conservative Reform Party, Progressive Conservative, Alberta Alliance, Social Credit and Wildrose Party, and the environmentalist Evergreen Party have participated in the elections. Progressive candidates have also run as Independents without the backing of their political parties. In 1998, future NDP candidate Guy Desrosiers stood as an Independent Senate candidate (and placed third with 16.7% of the vote).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

A high-level of rejected, declined and spoiled ballots in the Senate elections suggests that many Albertans are unengaged in this process. More than 178,000 ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined in the 2004 Senate election, amounting to 19 percent of Albertans who showed up to the polls. In 2012, more than 189,000 Senate election ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined, compared to only 7,822 in the provincial general election held the same day.

While the NDP have long supported the abolishment of the Senate, the idea has grown popular in conservative circles in recent years. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has echoed the NDP’s calls for Senate abolishment, and in an odd pre-election maneuver, Mr. Harper tacitly endorsed the abolishment of the Senate if it could not be reformed (this took place after he appointed more than 50 Conservatives to the Senate, including Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin).

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

new Senate appointment advisory board created by the federal Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the October 2015 election will review nominated Canadians who meet the criteria of demonstrating a record of leadership in community service or professional expertise, a proven record of ethics and integrity and knowledge of the Senate’s role. It is unclear whether the new advisory board will place future provincially-endorsed elected nominees in higher consideration.

The current Alberta NDP government has not officially announced it will not renew the Senatorial Selection Act, but a speech from now-Premier Rachel Notley in 2009, while she was debating amendments to extend the Act until Dec. 31, 2016, strongly suggests that it will not be renewed again this year:

“…this is a piece of legislation that we can’t support because, quite frankly, it just provides a foundation to continue with what is currently a very ineffective system on the federal level.

As has been previously stated, our view is simply that the Senate should be abolished. It is not something that reflects the democratic makeup of our country. The historical rationale behind appointing a Senate has long since dissipated in terms of sort of the historical political concerns that underlay the initial construction of the Senate. The current elements of the Senate that we would effectively be promoting and encouraging the continuation of are, in my view, quite unacceptable.

Whether we elect our Senators or whether we have elections where the government chooses to appoint our Senators, we’re still dealing with the current situation, which is that the Senate itself does not reflect the national population distribution in that, you know, Alberta has six Senate seats, and New Brunswick, with about one fifth of Alberta’s population, has 10 seats. Eligibility for appointment in the Senate is still based in part on property ownership, and once appointed, Senators just get to hang around there until 75.

Whether we have this legislation or do not have this legislation, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Having had this legislation, we’ve actually, if anything, encouraged the continuation of the Senate. We’ve encouraged buy-in to what is a fundamentally antidemocratic institution.

You know, this was something that came up originally as a means to make a political point when there were substantive discussions around Senate reform a long, long time ago. There have been no meaningful discussions around Senate reform for, I would suggest, about a decade at least.

This piece of legislation will simply give credence to what continues to be a dysfunctional system and one that is costly and one that has long since outlived its purpose. The bill has outlived the purpose, the process in Alberta has outlived the purpose, and frankly the Senate has outlived its purpose. For that reason, we cannot support the bill.”

sitting out the senate election would be a missed opportunity for the liberals, ndp, alberta party.

Senate of Canada

Senate of Canada

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Betty Unger to the Senate of Canada. Ms. Unger was chosen as one of Alberta’s Senators-in-Waiting in the 2004 election and is the third elected Senator to be made a member of Canada’s appointed Upper House.

This spring in conjunction with the 2012 General Election, the Province of Alberta will be holding another election to choose a new batch of Senator-in-Waiting candidates.

While Alberta’s previous Senator-in-Waiting elections quickly became quirky sideshows that attracted a crowd of unknown partisan insiders, the candidates lining up for the 2012 election may bring a higher level of seriousness to the contest. Seeking the nomination for the Progressive Conservative candidacy are lawyer Doug Black, Calgary Police Commission Chairman Mike Shaihk, businessman Scott Tannas, City of Leduc Mayor Greg Krischke, and past-President of NAIT Sam Shaw.

Long-time Conservative Party organizer Vitor Marciano has stepped up to carry the Wildrose Party flag and former Liberal MLA Len Bracko will run as an Independent candidate.

Hugh MacDonald MLA

MLA Hugh MacDonald

The Liberal Party, New Democratic Party, and Alberta Party have all declared that they will not participate in this election. I believe that not running a candidate in the upcoming Senator-in-Waiting election is a real missed opportunity for these opposition parties.

I have heard three main arguments by members of these parties against participating in the Senate election. Here are the arguments and the responses:

Argument #1: The non-conservative opposition parties do not have the resources to run a candidate in the Senate election. Having limited resources does not stop any of the parties from putting a name on the ballot. I believe it is a disservice to the voters not to have an alternative to the two conservative parties on the ballot. There is also political value in having a Liberal, NDP, or Alberta Party candidate on the ballot. These candidates will receive many votes, provide a natural opposition choice for thousands of Albertans, and they can generate positive media coverage for the parties (even if they don’t win).

Raj Pannu former MLA

Raj Pannu

I suggested in an earlier post that retiring Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald could be an ideal candidate for the Liberals. Former NDP MLA Raj Pannu would also make an ideal candidate for the NDP.

Argument #2: The Prime Minister is not obligated to appoint the Senator-in-Waiting. True. If the elected candidate is not appointed it would showcase how serious the Prime Minister is about elected Senators.

Argument #3: [From NDP supporters]: The NDP has a policy supporting the abolition of the Senate. I believe this is a bad policy, but even so, this would not stop the NDP from running candidates in the election. What better way to promote the abolishment of the Senate than to run a candidate in the very election that could choose Alberta’s next Senators?

The NDP now forms the Official Opposition in the House of Commons and has no representation in the Senate, where the Liberals form the Opposition. The NDP in Ottawa have rejected previous attempts by their supporters to represent the New Democrats in the Senate. When Lillian Dyck was appointed to represent Saskatchewan in the Senate in 2005, the NDP refused to recognize her as a member of their Parliamentary Caucus. She now sits with the Liberal Caucus.

If these opposition parties do not step up to the plate, Albertans can once again expect a Senator-in-Waiting election dominated by conservative politicians. Candidates from these three parties would challenge the dominant narrative that the two conservative parties are the only contenders in the next provincial election. It would be a real missed opportunity for them to sit on the sidelines.

alberta senate elections in 2011 or 2012.

Via Postmedia News, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidates are calling for another round of Senator-in-Waiting elections to happen concurrent with the next provincial election:

“We want them (Senate nominees) to be current. We don’t want to end up with a stale list,” said Alison Redford, Calgary-Elbow member of provincial legislature and the lone female candidate in the Tory race. “There must be another election and we may as well hold it in conjunction with the next provincial election.”

Redford believes Albertans should elect three Senate nominees who could fill the three vacancies over the next few years. Liberal Sen. Tommy Banks faces retirement in December 2011; Conservative Sen. Bert Brown must retire by March 2013; and Liberal Sen. Joyce Fairbairn by November 2014.

Alberta has held three Senate elections, in 1989, 1998, and 2004. One of Ms. Redford’s opponents, former Finance Minister Ted Morton was elected as a Senator-in-Waiting in 1998 and gave up the position-in-waiting when he ran in the 2004 provincial election in the Foothills-Rockyview constituency. PC candidates elected in the 2004 contest include Senator-no-longer-in-waiting Bert Brown, and Senators-still-waiting Betty UngerCliff Breitkreuz, and Senator-got-tired-of-waiting Link Byfield (who is now the Wildrose candidate in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock).

The Wildrose announced yesterday that its former Executive Director, Vitor Marciano, would be one of its candidates in the next Senate election. Mr. Marciano is a well-known Conservative Party of Canada operative in Alberta. It is unknown whether the other opposition parties would support candidates in a Senate election.

The last Liberal to stand in a Senate election was Calgary lawyer Bill Code, who placed second in the 1989 contest. The New Democrats support the abolition of the Senate, but in 1998, future NDP candidate in Edmonton-Glenora Guy Desrosiers stood as an Independent Senate candidate (and placed third with 16.7% of the vote).

ed stelmach declares no need for elections, extends senate terms by decree.

December 3, 2004: “It is a worthwhile cause,” says Ed Stelmach, Alberta’s intergovernmental affairs minister. “We are going to continue to push for Senate reform and one way is to hold these elections.”

April 29, 2010: Premier Stelmach announced that Alberta will not hold a new round of Senate nominee elections, and will instead extend the terms for the province’s three senators-in-waiting through a cabinet decree.

While legislation exists governing Senate elections in Alberta, there is a regulation that allows the provincial cabinet to extend the terms of Senators-in-Waiting until cabinet ministers decide to hold another election (which could be indefinite), defeating the purpose of holding Senate elections in the first place.

UPDATEAlberta’s Senators-in-Waiting have some harsh words for Premier Stelmach and the Calgary Herald says he “could use a refresher course on democracy.