Tag Archives: Social Conservatives

Alberta’s Conservatives are obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances

Following Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s comments to the Calgary Postmedia editorial board fifteen days ago when he came out in favour of allowing schools to inform parents when students join a student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance club, Alberta’s conservative politicians have tied themselves in knots over the issue.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools, which studies have found may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students. As I wrote last week, having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

It appeared as if Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean was setting himself apart from Kenney on April 3 by coming out against outing students to their parents, saying that “it’s much like a math club or a prayer club, and I don’t think that would be appropriate (for parents to be told when a child joins).” On April 4, he changed his tune, stating that parents should only sometimes be notified. But by April 5, he switched back to his original position that he did not believe parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA.

On April 6, Jean appeared to be contradicted by Mark Smith, the Wildrose MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, who criticized a letter sent to school officials by Education Minister David Eggen reaffirming the NDP government’s belief that parents should not be informed if students join GSAs.

The NDP have visibly enjoyed the attention that Kenney and Jean’s comments have generated, on a provincial and even international level. These types of social issues generally play to the strength of the NDP, which is why Kenney desperately tried to pivot his message back to the provincial economy before disappearing from public sight last week.

The NDP are trying to frame Kenney as a social conservative – which he is – going back to his days as an anti-abortion activist while enrolled as a student at a Roman Catholic university in San Francisco.

A large portion of the membership base of the Wildrose Party is also social conservative, which both Kenney and Jean are courting for support in their bids to lead a new conservative party.

This week, the president of the Wildrose Party association in Medicine Hat evoked the legacy of residential schools and forced sterilization in a Facebook post supporting Kenney’s position. “How did the native schools turn out? Yup, that was the government telling us they knew best. How about sterilizing handicapped people? Yup, another brilliant government idea,” wrote Maureen Prince on Facebook post published on April 4, 2017. She also claimed in a Facebook post published on March 16, 2017 that the United Nations wants to “redistribute children to be raised by governments.”

Prince appears to be an active member of a conservative education group called Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76, which is a vocal critic of the NDP and its stance on GSAs.

The Concerned Parents group provided “Include Parents” buttons to several Wildrose MLAs who wore them in the Legislative Assembly this week. The group appears to be associated or allied with a province-wide conservative education advocacy group called “Parents For Choice in Education.

Parents for Choice took issue with Jean’s first and third positions against potentially outing students to their parents, saying that he and Education Minister David Eggen had the “gall to falsely and audaciously accuse parents of being the greater danger to these vulnerable youth.”

With conservative politicians stuck on the GSA issue, Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been playing to their strengths, spending the past few weeks announcing lower school fees, school nutrition programs, locations for $25-per day childcare programs, and the construction of new schools, hospitals and affordable housing projects.

The NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working remarkably well for the NDP.

Meanwhile, despite previous claims by Brian Jean that he has “no interest” in social issues and Jason Kenney’s pledge to create a free-market conservative party, it appears that the only issue galvanizing conservatives over the past two weeks is whether or not to allow the state-sanctioned outing of gay kids.

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.