Tag Archives: Sexual Minority Rights Alberta

Michael Janz

Public schools should be the priority, says trustee Michael Janz

With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table Alberta’s budget in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, March 22, there was plenty of activity today by advocates wanting to see big changes in provincial education.

Public schools should be the priority, says Janz

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Michael Janz is calling on the province to prioritize the construction of public schools in new communities. Janz will introduce a motion encourging the board seek a commitment from the provincial government that ‘the first school built in any community or neighbourhood be a public school or a shared public, separate, and/or francophone board facility.’

As of September 2017, around 100,000 students were enrolled in Edmonton’s public school system, a 3.4 percent increase from the previous year. According to Janz, the board’s draft projections indicate an increase of an additional 3,000 students in the 2018-2019 school year.

The board is currently debating its Three Year Capital Plan.

3 out of 4 taxpayers say no money for elite and exclusive private schools 

Progress Alberta released a poll from Environics showing that 75 percent of Albertans agree that schools charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition should not receive public funding. According to data released by Progress Alberta in 2017, 15 private schools that charge more than $10,000 in annual tuition fees received more than $30 million in taxpayer subsidies from the Alberta government in 2015-2016.

Some school boards falling behind on protecting sexual minority students

Public Interest Alberta has released a new report on four school boards’ policies and procedures on sexual and gender minorities that points to the need for changes to protect students and their rights. “Policies should be clear, comprehensive and unequivocal in their support for LGBTQ students, staff and families. Students shouldn’t need a lawyer to make sense of their school policies, or to find out if they’re fully protected or not,” University of Alberta assistant professor Kristopher Wells told Metro Edmonton.

Photo: Edmonton Public School Trustee Michael Janz

What if politicians could stop school kids from starting clubs?

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman (second from the left) introduced a private members’ bill that would stop school boards from blocking the student-led creation of Gay-Straight Alliances.

What does it look like when a politician tries to build his credibility among social conservative voters? We found out this week when Premier Jim Prentice sideswiped Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s private members’ bill – Bill 202: Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 – that would allow students to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools.

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta

Jim Prentice

A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

Although Mr. Prentice initially said Progressive Conservative MLAs would be allowed a ‘free vote’ on Bill 202, he changed his mind late this week.

At a hastily called press conference held on Nov. 27, Mr. Prentice declared that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he was going to introduce his own bill.

Under the guise of protecting school board rights, Mr. Prentice’s soon to be introduced bill would add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Alberta Bill of Rights while continuing to allow individual school boards to decide whether the student GSA clubs can exist.

Gordon Dirks Education Minister Alberta MLA

Gordon Dirks

This would allow publicly funded religious schools, like Catholic school boards, the power to deny students the ability to create safer and more welcoming environments for their sexual minority classmates. Essentially, if a school board votes to discriminate against students for religious reasons, it is okay.

Although Mr. Prentice’s bill has not yet been made public, it is expected to allow some recourse for students. If students feel their attempts to create GSAs were unjustly blocked, they can take legal action against the school boards. That is correct, Mr. Prentice’s bill could force schools kids to hire lawyers to fight school board decisions.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of outrage on social media against Mr. Prentice’s bill. But Ms. Blakeman’s bill was never likely going to pass in the first place.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals

Kent Hehr

Earlier this year, a coalition of 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs voted against a similar private members’ motion introduced by Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr. Only a handful of PC MLAs, including then anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen, voted with the Liberal and NDP MLAs in favour of the motion.

It is not hard to see what Mr. Prentice is doing. He is a shrewd politician and he is trying to play both sides of the debate with the next election in mind. On one side, he cannot afford to allow Ms. Blakeman to make his party look like a group of backward social conservatives by not supporting her bill. At the same time, he is trying to appeal to those same backward social conservatives who want him to oppose her bill.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith may have created an opening for Mr. Prentice to appeal to these social conservative voters when she openly suggested her party’s MLAs would vote in favour of Ms. Blakeman’s bill.

Ian Donovan Wildrose

Ian Donovan

Before the Premier’s announcement, Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson had introduced a series of amendments to the Liberal bill that would have watered down sections considered the most offensive to social conservatives.

Speaking to CBCLittle Bow MLA Ian Donovan, who crossed the floor from the Wildrose to the Progressive Conservatives this week, told host Mark Connolly that the PCs are now more social conservative than the Wildrose.

Education Minister Gordon Dirks, who is also the former chair of the Calgary Board of Education, has remained noticeably silent during this debate. Having faced criticism during his recent by-election about his relationship with evangelical religious schools in Calgary, perhaps it is not surprising that he is not Mr. Prentice’s spokesperson on the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools

After you wade through the politics on all sides of this issue, it is important to remember what this debate is really about: whether individual students can, without interference from narrow-minded school administrators, board politicians or parents, create clubs that are proven to help make school environments more safe and welcoming for some of their classmates.